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Creativity Crisis

May 21, 2016

“I’m not really that creative.”

You’ve heard that before.  Kids that have said it.  Teachers have said it.  Administrators have said it.  Even worse, people BELIEVE it.  But creativity isn’t something you have or don’t have… it’s something to be cultivated, grown, encouraged, released.

imaginationWhen I think about school and reimagine it, it’s a place where everyone involved embraces the creative spirit.  No, not everyone loves to make big messes and create stuff every second of the day, but EVERYONE loves for their voice to be heard, for their ideas to be embraced, for the chance to solve, think differently, and DO something driven from their own ideas.

Cardboard, coding, iPads, laptops, duct tape, paper circuits, robotics, conductive thread, and sewing machines… ALL tools.  But these tools will mean nothing without the most powerful tool of all to be unleashed… human creativity.

Schools cannot continue to only celebrate basketball wins or football goals.  Schools must shout creative success from the rooftops, too.

Creativity doesn’t have to cost a dime.  It’s not something your school can “afford” to add in.  It’s honestly something we can no long “afford” to leave out.

It doesn’t matter if your school has a HUGE makerspace, a 3d printer, a curriculum of fine arts that may have been pushed aside… YOU can bring creativity into every day starting now.  Get a pile of cardboard together for your classroom.  Instead of writing book reports one more time, build something to solve a characters problem. Instead of reading about how electricity works, design a cardboard house and then use LED lights and copper tape to wire it up!   Small things can open big doors for kids.

Perhaps the biggest irony in American education is that in “No Child Left Behind,” we pushed to get all kids to succeed through testing practices… and in the process we left behind kids who want to build, design, make, create.  Kids who are starving for opportunity.  And in the process, we left behind our ability to stay competitive as a nation of problem solvers, designers, and innovators.   We celebrated scores over solving, and we ruined something about learning in the process.

Now we are desperate to get creativity back. It won’t be from an iPad, from coding, or even from building a maker space.  Those are great tools to get started with.  But the real fire will come when we fan the flames of creativity and unleash it in our schools. Like, right now.  And that has to come from us and from our kids.  Anything less underestimates the power of human creativity.

And that?  It would be our biggest mistake in reimagining education.



May 20, 2016

Sharing.  It’s what learning is built on.  When we share, we learn.  When people share with us, we learn. When we share openly, we model for our students what collaborative learning is all about.   The energy level in a classroom when kids are sharing?  It’s the kind of thing you can’t describe, but to experience it reminds you what teaching is really about.

Sharing also pushes us to reflect. Maybe another educator remixes our work and gives us a new spin on an old idea.  Perhaps a student takes the idea in a new direction.  Maybe your resource is used with a different grade level in a new challenge that changes the perspective you have on it.  Maybe just the act of sharing with others forces us to reflect harder, deeper, and more meaningfully on the learning experiences we create.

6b388b65-8aac-46cf-b4d9-66db026ae177When we open our doors to sharing, we open our minds to becoming better teachers.  And then? We open our hearts to the reason we are in the classroom in the first place.  We’re all part of one big team that has signed on to improve the lives of students and improve the world.

Interested in sharing more?  I’ve been a private beta tester for Amazon Education’s new platform and I’m excited to share… because now is YOUR chance to join the beta testing wait list!  Right here….


You Might Be a Maker If…

May 12, 2016

You might be a maker if…

…you’ve ever found yourself more enamored with the shipping packaging than what you actually ordered.

…you have taken apart your child’s toys to check out how the lights were wired.

…you get more excited than a bird with a french fry when you find a refrigerator box.

…you browse hardware stores.

…you linger in the duct tape aisle and love looking for new patterns.

…you’ve passed on buying something because you smugly said, “I could make this myself.”

…you have 346 projects in production, just this moment and by the time you hit publish on this post, it will be 347.’ve ever driven home in an awkward position because of the [insert material here] you found had to be hauled.

…a table full of raw materials makes you feel like a piglet at a veggie buffet.

…you don’t care so much about how things are defined, you just want to create stuff.

…you connect with kids who like to make, on a whole different level and you know how much they need it.

…when you grocery shop, you also buy masking tape,
…when you meet other makers, you feel like a kindred spirit.

…you hoard things most people see as trash.

…this post made you smile, and feel normal… or oddly enough, comfortable that you are not normal.  And that makes you smile, too.


Design Thinking in the Primary & Elementary Grades

May 8, 2016

If you’re thinking about starting a Makerspace in your school, one thing you might want to consider is how to make sure kids are digging deep in their learning.  Questions to ask include:

  • How can we tie the maker mindset into existing curriculum?
  • How might we ensure that our students are going deep with their creativity, problem solving, and reflection?
  • What learning experiences and opportunities do our students need?

These questions are way more important than, “What stuff do I buy?”

One way of encouraging deep learning is by incorporating the design thinking process.  Developed by Stanford’s dSchool, the process moves learners through phases of empathy, define, ideate, prototype, and test.  How often in school do we give our kids the chance to create, test, and then revamp their idea?  Not enough probably.  School historically has been a two step process, start and finish. Get the grade.  So much learning.  To me, basic school has been like a plain hamburger patty with no toppings and a plain bun.  Design thinking is like a ginormous bacon double cheeseburger with lettuce, tomato, mayo, and onion.  The real deal.  Meaty learning to fill up kids hunger for hard fun.

So what might this look like for the primary grades?  Design thinking can work for ANY age group.  Even 4 year olds.  You just have to think about what’s important to them, what they love, and what will make their learning come alive.

Possible topics:

Design a pizza for your favorite book character.   We provided our students a blueprint to design on and discussed what imaginary toppings their favorite character would love.  After planning, or ideation, students will build their prototype pizzas with cardboard and other recycled materials and then record a video reflection.

Design a trap for a leprechaun.  During St. Patrick’s Day, students built traps, tying in the empathy piece of making sure they didn’t harm the leprechaun.  Their imaginations were on fire as they came up with amazing ideas.

Those are just two topics that we’ve tried.  It was fun to see the youngest kids getting engaged deeply in discussions with each other and develop ideas into tangible products.  Possible future projects that have been rambling in my brain are:


Develop a movie trailer for a Mystery Number.  Make the movie trailer fun for PreK students to watch. Be sure that you don’t reveal the number, but only give clues.  Share your trailer with a PreK buddy and see if they can guess the number.  After they watch, are there any improvements you would make?

Design an exhibit at the zoo for your favorite animal.  Interview a zoologist via Skype about what the animal needs to survive. Be sure the exhibit contains what the animal needs to survive.   Design the exhibit with a cardboard model.  Return to Skype with your partner and present your project to the Zoologist.

Create a dream bedroom for a classmate.  Interview him or her to find out favorite hobbies, interests, and colors. Draw a floor plan of the bedroom and present the bedroom to your classmate, explaining why you chose the things you did. 

Develop a board game based on a part of history that interests you.  Allow others to play the game and provide feedback to you.  Make improvements on the game and produce another prototype,

Develop a set of rocket fins with the 3d printer.  After launch, determine altitudes and examine the fins of classmates.  Draw conclusions about fin design and create another prototype of your fins. 


Just a few ideas…. but the possibilities are endless!





Straight From the Heart

May 7, 2016

2o slide. 5 minutes.  Ignite talk.  Nothing panics me more, well maybe the idea of holding a live snake, that scares me, too.  If you asked me to write what matters or make a poster? I can do that.  But speaking decisively in a timely manner, it’s not a strength of mine.  I process, think, reflect, think some more.  I know this about myself.  So I knew just how hard it was going to be to give this talk.  I’d have to practice.  Gathering the slides was easy, images mean everything to me.  Then I had to decide, what is THE most important thing to me in education?  That part was easy.




Kid’s experience in school.

So I wrote it….

imaginationIf you had asked me a year ago what THE GREATEST DEVICE was I would have agonized over choosing – my iPhone, my Canon Rebel camera, my iPad Stylus? I’m a gadget girl for sure.  Technology? I love it.  But the greatest device? It’s more.

This face. Look at the wonder.  Tiny five year olds lighting up an LED bulb.  Their imagination made that happen.  They figured it out.

This is a story about how I grew to realize it’s not about the technology, funny right, saying that AT a technology conference.  But this is about imagination.  The kind that puts this pile of cardboard to work.

The kind that turns boxes into creatures.  I believe if we give our kids the roots, they will build the wings themselves. They hold that kind of power in their minds and they are waiting in your classroom for the chance to use it. 

A simple piece of paper and a problem, How do we trap a leprechaun?  First graders lit up.  Drawing, doodling, chattering together.  Imagination powered on. 

Wonder restored.  These three spent so much time working to make their giant cardboard robot’s arm move… string? Wire? Robotic parts? They figured it out.   Imagination Powered On

When imagination is powered on, a new kind of quiet erupts. Silent, deep thinking.  Small talk.  Collaboration built on questions. Questions that can’t be Googled fill the room. And I don’t always have the answers, and that is refreshingly okay. 

So much stuff for creating and making. Stuff that is just that… stuff. But with imagination?  It becomes something. Something more powerful than an iPad or an iPhone.  It becomes a part of a kid’s dream. 

They bring things to life.  The red bellied kerfuffle came to life because of hard work.. or as Gary Stager would say, “Hard Fun.”   That’s right – the greatest device involves FUN and HARD WORK. 

And that work, it brings a level of happiness I’d challenge you to find with a device.  Sure, making the next level in Candy Crush is awesome, but these faces, lit up with their creation?  Exhilarating to watch, even more exhilarating to experience.

I’m not saying it’s neat and tidy.  There is no undo button for the imagination.  It can be messy, and you know what, learning IS messy. 

Because in the midst of that beautiful mess that unfolds is a level of engagement that I can barely put into words.  Active learning, standing up, moving around the table, DOING, not just passively consuming.  Imagination powered up.

And when they get it right? JOY erupts. The kind that fills the room with energy. The kind school needs more of. 

Empower kids to make their mark on the world.  Use Sharpies and don’t be afraid to make mistakes in front of them, or to celebrate their mistakes.  We are all learners.  

Because when they have the power to make their mark, something inside them says, “Your ideas matter here.” In this space. In this school. 

Their ideas matter so much, that they get to bring them to life. Making it happen through design, play, and building dreams. It can be intense, but learning often is. 

Building, sewing, coding, creating… dreaming and doing. 

Making the impossible become possible. Exploring how to create new ideas… together.  Imagination powered on.

Dreaming big.  “Can we make a light up taco?” Why not.  Circuits. Measurement. Teamwork. Design. Science. Math. Engineering.   Because the world is better with a light up taco in it. 

Kids will take you beyond the tech to places only their imaginations can dream of, if you just give them the chance. Make a robot. Make a red-bellied kerfuffle. Make a light up taco. Make waves.  

And that? It was five minutes of sheer terror, but straight from my heart.