Fun Creative Problem Solving Exercises

Below are some hands-on exercises & challenges that enhance out-of-the-box creative thinking. The activities are designed to be inquiry-based, and to allow for self-exploration of problems and solutions. Students should be encouraged to find multiple, imaginative, intuitive and common sense solutions and not "one right answer" to the problem.  

Peppermint Racers - a group of 2-3 students construct a race car out of popsicle sticks, straws, coffee stirrers, tape, and 4 peppermint Lifesavers. Students formulate a plan to construct their car so that the Lifesavers would be wheels that moved around an axis. The car can have 2, 3, or 4 wheels depending on their designs. Groups really have to put their heads together to get their racers to work. You can also discuss math/physics during this exercise and put on a race at the end to see which one goes the farthest and which one is the fastest. 

Egg Tower Challenge - a group of 2-3 students are given 30 straws and tape to construct a tower strong enough to hold an egg for 15 seconds. The egg is boiled, but raw can also be fun. The students are allowed to cut and tape the straws, but no more materials are allowed to be used. At the end of the challenge, measure the towers and time Mr. Egg to see if the fellow survives his tower challenge. Students can draw plans and write a brief synopsis of their outcome. 

Spaghetti Tower Challenge - a group of 2-3 students are given a box of uncooked spaghetti, tape, and a small bag of marshmallows. Groups have to plan a design to meet the challenge of building the tallest tower made from spaghetti. They get 10 minutes to plan and 30 minutes to complete their designs. 

Building Height Measurement Challenge - students are given a 12” ruler, 8”x 8” mirror, paper, and a pencil. Their task is to explore ways to measure an unreachable height in a building. This team-based activity takes about 15 minutes, and helps students find solutions for ordinary problems in not-so-ordinary ways. Groups include 2-3 students.

Equilateral Triangle Challenge - use 6 popsicle sticks to make 4 equilateral triangles. 

9 Dot Problem - the well known “nine dots” problem is used to explore unexpected “out-of-the-box” solutions to a problem. In this problem students are asked to first connect the three rows of three dots in each row with five connected straight lines, then with four, then with three, and finally with one. Folding the paper (adding a dimension) provides multiple solutions to the last part of the problem.

No Right Answer Exercise - Students are shown the following 5 numbers: 2,
3, 5, 10, 24 and asked to use all the five numbers and any mathematical operations that they
choose to make up the number 120. The problem has many solutions, for example: (10-
5)*24/(3-2)=120, or (10-5)(3-2)*24=120.

Invention Guess - Students are shown an invention, and asked to “figure out” what it is.

Coat Hanger Exercise - students are shown a coat hanger and asked to individually list different possible uses. They are given the freedom to use any material, size or shape of a hanger; they may imagine cutting it, shrinking it, using many of them, etc. Amazingly, in a short period of time each student writes many ideas. The students take turns to mention their ideas. (The coat hanger may be substituted with any other basic familiar object such as a paperclip or a pillow.)

Next Generation Human Being - students are asked to draw a next generation human being as they perceive it. This drawing exercise usually results in drawings of strange-looking computerized robot-like people with huge air-filter-like nose. 

Lego Mindstorm Robots Challenge - design and build an autonomous robot that will get out of a maze. First robot to complete the task is the winner. The starting locations of the robots in the maze
are kept confidential until the beginning of the race. 

Cross that River - this is an out-of-classroom team activity. The class is divided into groups with the same number of students (about 10) in each group. Each group is given two 4 feet 2”x 4” wooden shelves, two ropes and a chair. The competition starts five minutes after the instructions are given, allowing them to think and set a strategy for accomplishing the task. The task: each group with the provided material has to cross a 30’ ft wide imaginary river. The material may touch the river but the participants may not. If, while crossing the river a student touches the river he/she must walk back to the starting position. The first group to
accomplish the task is the winner.

Birthday Line - the instructor asks a simple question: “If you know the month of your birthday, raise your hand.” This seemingly strange question is followed by a task: “Without talking, and with no questions asked, in 30 seconds, line up according to the month of your birthday.” After lining up, the participants are allowed to talk and mention loudly, one by one, the month of their birthday.