What Can You Do with a Paperclip?

Posted by Adam Bernick - 02 October, 2018


Wednesday mornings at Randolph School are a bit quieter than other mornings, but no less productive for faculty and staff members. As students embrace “late start Wednesdays,” with the opportunity to squeeze in a dentist appointment or catch up on homework or sleep, faculty and staff members arrive early for department meetings, training, and a variety of professional development opportunities.

This year, faculty and staff members are engaging in a variety of professional development topics that range from “Practical Tips for Implementing Fundations Phonics” to “Cultivating a Culture of Kindness.” With 16 different topics to choose from in the Fall Semester, faculty have a chance to grapple with something they would like to better understand for the benefit of our students.

Idea Path provides shared language for learning

I chose the topic “Creating Projects Centered Around the Idea Path.” The Randolph School Idea Path is a way of organizing the work flow of thinking and doing. It gives students and teachers at Randolph a universal language for breaking down the iterative process of generating a solution or product from a challenge or problem.

The Idea Path combines elements of design thinking, the writing process, the scientific method, project-based learning and many other traditional processes used in academic disciplines and industry, but allows for students in Kindergarten through 12th grade across a variety of academic subjects to “speak the same language.”

Idea PathWhen we “Ask, Imagine, Plan, Create, Improve, or Share,” we find ourselves in a particular place along the Idea Path. But using the Idea Path, or any other sequencing methodology for problem-solving, requires us first to identify a problem or a challenge. This is where our professional development workshop begins!

Facilitated by Middle School Librarian Kelly Kessler, faculty from across all areas at Randolph gathered to explore ways to further embed the Idea Path into our curriculum.

As an independent school, faculty members have autonomy over their curriculum, but we work in teams to ensure that the Randolph experience is cohesive with a great sense of continuity. We also work toward creating connections for students between the humanities and STEM courses. The Idea path is a great tool for doing this.

As our faculty group explored ways of creating projects centered around the Idea Path, we worked together to solve a variety of challenges ourselves. These challenges included a series of prompts for us to tackle in smaller working groups. The first challenge pushed us to consider solutions and Idea Path steps for the following scenario, “You have a handwritten assignment to turn in next block. The assignment is inside your backpack. The zipper on your backpack has just jammed and will not open.” My small group explored everything from putting soap on the zipper to finding Mr. George for help!


Our next challenge included listing as many ways as possible to use a paper clip in about two minutes. My small group came up with 23 ideas. What can you do with a paperclip? The next challenge was called the “30 Circles Test,” which asks you to create as many images as possible from 30 circles in two minutes. I finished with only 9... but many thanks to my six-year-old for completing the exercise after school.

Although many of our tasks were facilitated exercises, we took great care in crafting and sharing with each other some of the larger challenges we face in presenting our curriculum to students. In collaboration, we explored a variety of ways to utilize the Idea Path to manage these challenges, and I’m confident that our students will receive a better experience in their classes from the time we devoted to this collaborative work.

A tool for problem-solving 

Finally, our faculty group tackled the broadest of challenges, which asked us how we might make improvements to 1) Our Community, 2) Our School, and 3) Our Home Life. Working in collaboration, we identified problems and provided solutions for about 30 distinctive items ranging from traffic flow to feeding our pets an appropriate amount of food.


Thanks to the Idea Path, and thanks to our “Early-Start Wednesdays,” my faculty group made great strides in developing projects and solutions that get to the heart of some of our greatest challenges in the classroom.

Learning is often messy, and we are still learning so much about how the brain works, but Randolph’s commitment to a research-based curriculum is keeping us on the right “path” with our students.





Topics: professional development, late-start Wednesday, STEM, Faculty, idea path

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