Dimensional Thinking, Modeling & Playing: Thinking Tools 9-11

by ChristinaPilkington on April 4, 2012 · 0 comments

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This is part four in a five part series about 13 Thinking Tools of the World’s Most Creative People. I’m summarizing parts of the book Sparks of Genius as well as sharing some tips and resources that you can use to explore these tools more on your own.  

Here’s the link to part 1 – Sparks of Genius: The First Two Thinking Tools

Here’s the link to part 2 – The Next Three Thinking Tools: Analogizing, Abstracting and Recognizing Patterns.

Here’s the link to part 3- Forming Patterns, Body Thinking, Empathizing

Today, I’ll summarize the next three thinking tools:  Dimensional Thinking, Modeling & Playing.

I hope you enjoy learning about these tools and practice using them with your family to strengthen your own creativity.


Thinking Tool #9 Dimensional Thinking

 Summary:  Dimensional thinking involves four things:

Moving from 2-D to 3-D or vice versa, like when we create a sculpture out of a picture we’ve seen.

Mapping- transforming information provided in one set of dimensions to another set, like when we create a globe from an atlas.

Scaling- altering the proportions of an object or process within one set of dimensions, like when we use blocks to create the Wall of China.

Conceptualizing dimensions beyond space and time as we know them, like what Einstein did with the speed of light.

When we get used to 2 dimensional ways of looking at things, such as reading books or watching movies, we see things from one viewpoint. It’s when we really experience things hands-on and using many senses, when we can walk around things, and physically handle things that we see them from more than one viewpoint and our understanding deepens in ways that would otherwise not be possible.

My favorite quote from the book : “A reliance on still or moving 2-D visual images in preference to 3-D objects can stunt our ability to think from multiple points of view, both literally and figuratively,…..blinding  us to the ways in which single-perspective arts and media bias our understanding.”

Tips:  There were so many wonderful tips from the book.  I’ll share two of them with you.

-          Make geometric shapes with clay or beeswax, pipe cleaners, wood or stone, and list the many ways those shapes connect with objects you find in the real world.

-          Create your own pop-up book.   Design an object on a flat piece of cardboard that could be cut and bent into a 3-D object.  It may be intimidating to try to do this with your own original creations. If you need some practice with folding and creating works based on other people’s art first, here are a few resources you might want to check out: Pop-Up: Everything You Need to Create Your Own Pop-Up Book, and Elements of Pop-Up: A Pop Up Book For Aspiring Paper Engineers


-          Sun Print Kit

-          M.C. Escher Kaleidocycles:  An Illustrated Book and 17 Fun-to-Assemble Three Dimensional Models

-          Powers of Ten: A Flipbook

             Thinking Tool #7 Modeling

 Summary:  Why is modeling so important?

-          It teaches many imaginative skills

-          It causes you to really observe things closely, developing an attention to detail

-          It allows you to play with and experience a variety of mediums, textures, and kinesthetic experiences

-          It allows you to test out theories and ideas without fear of failure

-          It lets you be in control of a situation

-          It shows you problems and flaws  in your ideas, and it also shows what things work well

-          Allows us to make concrete ideas and concepts that are difficult to understand

It’s often through creating and playing with model making that many great inventions take place. Inventors model those things that have come before them, and then make alterations and variations of that until they’ve developed something new.

I liked how the book discussed the limitations of relying exclusively on computer models for understanding. There is no substitute for working hands-on, literally, with models.  They even suggest that many of the engineering failures of the past few decades have been because scientists and others have not had enough real-life, hands-on work with physical materials.

The greatest inventors were people who while they were still children practiced the skills of imagination, abstracting, analogizing, and dimensional skills by modeling. This helped them greatly in their adult creative endeavors.

My favorite quote from the book:   “The important thing in a model is not the materials from which it is made, but the ideas or functions it embodies and the effort made by the modeler to understand every detail of the recreation.”


-          Surround your children with materials that they can use in their play as models. Blocks, dolls, craft and building materials, dress-up clothes – anything they can use to recreate what they see in real life.

-          If your children like to read and learn about wars, set up toy soldiers and tanks and try to recreate parts of the war all over your house.

-          If your children have a favorite scene from a book, recreate it on a smaller scale like a diorama, and then on a larger scale outside with life-sized objects.


-           White Wings Excellent 15 Paper Airplanes

-          Janice VanCleave’s Super Science Models

-          Mudworks: Creative Clay,Dough, and Modeling Experiences


Thinking Tool #8 Playing

                                                (if you read the book for this chapter alone, it will be worth it)

Summary:   What does play do that makes it so important?

-          It breaks the rules of serious activity and establishes its own

-          It wanders according to the whims of curiosity and interest

-          It allows you to practice and enhance many different skills

-          It allows you to use all the other thinking tools: analogizing, modeling, play-acting, empathizing, abstracting and imaging.

-          It generates novel behaviors, observations and ideas

-          Challenge our conceptions of nature and reality

-          Reveal general principles applicable to a wide range of creative and natural phenomena

-          It keep “serious” work interesting, amusing and fresh

The book describes many creative people and how their love of games, toys and playing had a direct effect on their work. Everyone from medical researcher Alexander Fleming, scientist Richard Feynman, inventor Jerome Lemelson, artist Alexander Calder, Edward Lear, Lewis Carrol and M.C.Escher.

Play is the lifeblood of creativity and invention. Why, oh why, aren’t we giving our children tons of time to do this? Why are we restricting and overly directing the one thing that will make a difference in their positive contributions to our world?

My favorite two quotes from the book:  “What we do for fun rewards us many times over in unexpected ways when we apply it to some real-world problem or use it as an analogy for some mysterious phenomenon.  The only difficulty with playing- and it’s a big one- is being able to remain enough of a child to do it.

And: “Play returns us to the presymbolic drives of gut feelings, emotions, intuition, and fun from which creative insights stem, thereby making us inventors.”


-Play with making up your own nonsense words like Lewis Carrol.

- Read the book Play With Your Food and then play with your own food.

- Think of the topic or subject that seems the most boring to you, and see if there’s some way you could play with it.


-          The Oxford Book of Children’s Verse in America

-          Mud Pies and Other Recipes

-          The Wonderful O by JamesThurber


Photo Credit: urawa

In what ways do you use Dimensional Thinking, Modeling and Playing in your family? Do you have any resources you can share?


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