6 Class Exercises to Amplify Innovative Thinking

class exercises

Last year, we shared a collection of cutting-edge class exercises used by our Faculty Grant recipients to prepare student inventors for their innovation and entrepreneurship journey. To kick off the start of the new academic year, we curated a fresh new list of class exercises that you can incorporate into your courses.

From systems thinking to design sprints, these innovative class exercises can help you adopt, implement, and refine your own coursework for maximum impact.

1) The Pin-Up Exercise

Raja Schaar
Drexel University
“I LOVE a pin-up. Constructive critiques of projects has really helped my students grow their ideas. These daily conversations also help me understand my students, gauge their learning, and assess how the class is progressing. I try to switch up the format regularly. Some days it’s a game, some days it’s formal, but it’s always about open conversation.”

2) The Systems Thinking Exercise

Jeremy Faludi
Dartmouth College
“In the VentureWell-supported online course, Tools for Design and Sustainability, there’s a section called Whole System Mapping. It’s a way of both making people better at systems thinking in a very simple, visual way, and incorporating quantitative sustainability measurements (like life-cycle assessment) into the early-stage invention process. The exercise uses systems thinking to help inventors make their product or service more sustainable while still meeting users’ needs.”

3) The 48-Hour Crash Course Exercise

Nathalie Duval-Couetil
Purdue University
“In a New Product Development course, I created a “crash course” activity that had to be completed and presented during the first week of class. Student teams were given products ranging from toys to air fresheners. In 48 hours, they had to create pitches on how to improve these products. The idea was to give them a clear sense of the scope of what they would learn throughout the semester.”

4) The Design with Empathy Exercise

Eric Lima
Cooper Union for the Advancement of Science and Art
“For a freshman design class, I ran a Design Thinking module before I eased into a Lean Launchpad module. The module helped connect students with real people facing real challenges. It was based on the IDEO approach of interviewing the people you are trying to serve to build empathy with them and uncover the underlying (non-obvious) challenges they experience. The process led to insights that redefined the scope of student projects, which improved the overall design of the deliverable.

5) The Tinker Toy Exercise

Steve Tello
UMass Lowell
“The idea of the Tinker Toy Challenge is to engage students who have not yet worked together in creative problem-solving and teamwork. Tinker Toys are sorted by shape and color into separate bags and tucked under chairs or placed on a table. Matching colors and pieces are placed together. We then present a challenge such as building a vehicle to  transport a sick individual across rugged terrain. However, before students can start building, they have to build a team with students who have a different shape or color in order to gather sufficient pieces to build the vehicle.”

6) The Wallet Exercise

Grant Warner
Howard University
“I used Stanford d.school’s Wallet Exercise with a group of mechanical engineering students enrolled in the Capstone Design/Senior Project. The exercise emphasizes the importance of developing empathy, leveraging short design sprints, and building low fidelity prototypes. These are important lessons for the class and their professional careers moving forward.”

For many students, their first exposure to innovation and entrepreneurship happens in your classroom. That’s why it’s important to continuously develop and improve upon class exercises to prepare students to launch a journey to solve the world’s biggest problems through innovation.

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