IMG_2813Back in November I wrote a blog about the excitement of launching marshmallows. Recently, though, I had a teacher ask me how do you turn a simply activity like that into an opportunity for students to practice thinking and working like an engineer? Simple-just ask them to S.C.A.M.P.E.R.!


SCAMPER is a mnemonic that stands for:

  • Substitute
  • Combine
  • Adapt
  • Modify, Magnify, Minimize
  • Put to another use
  • Eliminate
  • Reverse

Robert (Bob) F. Eberle was an educational administrator in Edwardsville, IL. He wrote about creativity for children and teachers. I like to think of SCAMPER as a creative thinking tool that helps people to think of changes they might make to an existing product in order to design something new.

Essentially students go through a brainstorming process that allows them to work through each letter and then pick one or two ideas they would like to try.

Here is how I used the strategy with my own children. As with any new strategy, it is better to teach them with something that had nothing to do with any content. We started with coming up with ideas to design a better Starbucks cup!

Before I tell you what my kids came up with, let me say I had to stop and do a little observing/researching first with them! I quickly realized my children had no knowledge or understanding of how the cups were made and the materials that were used. Without this understanding, the brainstorming process would have been a little more challenging.

Here is the list of observations we made about our cup:

  • Made out of cardboard
  • top is plastic
  • has a number 6 printed on it
  • green logo for company
  • sleeve around coffee cup is made of cardboard
  • cup is white

The observation about the number 6 on the top of the cup generated a question-what does that mean? So we googled it (what would we do without google!).  What we learned was really neat.

Did you know that number 6 stands represents that the object is made of  Polystyrene. It is a petroleum-based plastic made from the styrene monomer. You might know it under the name of Styrofoam.  Polystyrene is a light-weight material, about 95% air, with very good insulation properties and is used in all types of products from cups that keep your beverages hot or cold to packaging material that keep your computers safe during shipping. It can be recycled.

Of course, this led my children to ask more questions about the Starbucks cup. We found this great website and discussed why Starbucks did not use styrofoam for their cup design. My children also wanted to know the purpose of the cardboard sleeve that goes around the cup. To show my kids why it was important, I heated up hot water and poured it into the cup. They then felt the cup with and without the sleeve on. Both of my kids quickly announced you want to use the sleeve so you don’t burn your hands!

Although it took some extra time to do this researching process, it was well worth it!  I felt that when they started brainstorming, they were coming up with good ideas and not guesses.

Alright-time to SCAMPER!!IMG_2810

I created a template so my kids could write down what they brainstormed (we talked about how scientists and engineers write down their ideas!) in terms of ideas for improvements and the benefits.

Here is what my kids generated:

S-What if we used colored cardboard material? Benefit: we could color the cups to match the seasons. Cardboard Sleeve-put the Starbucks logo on it as well as on the cup. Benefit: when the sleeve is on the cup, the sleeve blocks the logo-better marketing!

C-What if we made a cardboard handle like a real coffee mug only made of cardboard. Benefit: easier to hold. What if we combined the coffee mug with water bottle. Benefit: you could carry coffee in your water bottle.

A-What if the lid had a built in straw? Benefit: easier to drink. Adapt the logo to have seasonal images. Benefit: fun and festive-think of leaves around the lady in the fall.

M-Enlarge the cardboard sleeve. Benefit: better protection for your hands. Modify the shape-use a square shape. Benefit-if you order drinks for your kids, less likely to drop them-squares are easier to hold.

P-Design the cup so it could be used as a planter-the material in the cup could be biodegradable and then it would break down as the plant grew. Benefit-you could save all your old cups and plant plants or flowers.

E-Redisgn the lid. Benefit: so it won’t leak

R-Rearrange colors for season. Benefit: People might like to have colors to represent the seasons.

As we were going through the process, my daughter kept saying she really liked the process. I loved how they would just ping ideas off of each other. They were generating so many ideas it was hard for my son to write them all down! I personally like the different colors for each season! Who wouldn’t want a fantastic cup of coffee in the springtime in a bright, pink cup!! Two things that make me very happy!

Have you tried this strategy in your classroom? If so, leave me a message and share how you use it!  If you are interested in more ideas, take a look at a lesson I wrote off of the launching marshmallow idea! Just click here! I also have the strategy and the sample template I used. You can find it here.

Go Science!

Published by Jenny Sue