Category Archives: Student Products

Gifts for the Gifted – Magna-tiles

Around this time of year I post a gift recommendation each Friday as part of a “Gifts for the Gifted” series.  The title is a bit misleading, as it might imply that the gifts are only for children who have been endowed with the label, and that is certainly not true. Just as with any gift, you should select a product that suits the interests of the receiver.  These lists of potential gifts that I provide are ones that I feel will be engaging for children who enjoy problem solving and/or creativity.

I recently did a post about how Magna-tiles are a great addition to a makerspace.  This magnetic building tool is incredibly versatile and fascinates students of all age levels in my elementary school.  I’ve given Magnatiles to young children to play with as I conference with their parents and the older Maker Club students for building challenges.

Just yesterday, some of my 5th graders were trying to add some “flair” to one of their missions in the Wonder League Robotics Competition, and decided Magna-tiles would be the perfect prop to include in the video.

Photo Nov 19, 10 20 48 AM Photo Nov 19, 1 46 45 PM

The first architectural marvel turned out to be a spectacular failure. (I’ll try to share the video later today.)  The second one has potential but needs a bit more programming.

What I’ve learned, though, is that Magna-tiles really encourage children of various ages to use their imaginations – especially when they are collaborating with others.  They can also be combined with other projects.  Try using them with LittleBits (lighting up the clear colored set from within might be a nice challenge) or Legos, for example.  If you do decide to gift them to a young person, remember that it’s important to show interest and give them suggestions.  You can find some Random Building Challenges here.

For more in the Gifts for the Gifted series, check out this page or my Pinterest Board.


Thanksgiving Special

Last year, Colossal did a story on artist Hannah Rothstein’s “Thanksgiving Special” series.  Rothstein imagined the Thanksgiving plates of 10 famous artists.  It would be fun to show students one or two examples, and then have them choose an artist to represent in their own Thanksgiving plate art.  This activity would not only amp up creativity, but also be a lesson in art history and in seeing things from another perspective.  You could also use it to teach about parody.

My favorite piece is the Mondrian.  But, you should definitely check out the others on Colossal or Hannah Rothstein’s website.

Thanksgiving Special Mondrian by Hannah Rothstein
Thanksgiving Special Mondrian by Hannah Rothstein

Quiver Education – Planet Earth

The Quiver 3D coloring app was formerly known as ColAR.  It’s available on both Google Play and the iTunes app store as a free app. However, there are some in-app purchases on the free app.  Another option is to purchase the Education version of the app, which includes all of the content.

I published a post about this augmented reality app at the end of last school year, lamenting the fact that I had discovered the free Planet Earth page too late for my 1st graders to experience it.  This year, I knew I wanted to include this page as they learned about the continents, so I made sure to add it to my lesson plans before I forgot.

Yesterday, the students were introduced to the continents with a cute SmartBoard lesson involving a traveling guinea pig.  We also used my handy floor map (best $22 ever spent!) and the huge wall map I made (longest hours of my life) to see the continents in many different ways.

Then I asked the students to label and color Quiver’s Planet Earth page.  With a little instruction on how to use the app, I set them free to explore.

As I predicted, they were completely amazed to see their own writing and drawing come to life in 3D.  The other features (seeing the world at night or during the day, etc…) also fascinated them.

The one challenge of the app is getting the iPad the exact height above the paper to correctly “read” the page.  This meant the page could not be on the table, but needed to be on a chair or the floor for my vertically challenged 1st graders.  They adjusted to this quickly, but it also became a new activity when one of the students (accidentally?) waved her foot over the page.

“Look!  It’s showing my foot!!!!!!”  This, of course, led to a mass migration over to the iPad that suddenly had a shoe-shaped continent.

“What else can we try?”

“Let’s try a pencil!”  I found this suggestion intriguing as it actually appeared that the pencil was pointing at a particular continent. This seemed like it might have educational uses.  Granted, 3D-ness would not be necessary for that image, but it does make it more fun.

The pencil suddenly became less exciting when I found a Lego zombie that had been left behind in my classroom. This, of course, inspired more enthusiastic experimentation.  Because. You know. ZOMBIES. That makes geography so much more fun.

As usual, this lesson did not go the way I expected.  But, if it makes it easier to remember that South America and Africa are two rather large continents separated by an ocean zombie, then I’m not too worried as to whether or not learning took place.

Plus, they rocked the assessment at the end of the lesson.

Want more ideas for augmented reality in the classroom?  Check out this page of resources.

Quiver App - Planet Earth


Random Building Challenges

We have all sorts of building materials in B.O.S.S. HQ (Building of Super Stuff HeadQuarters) – from Legos to Magnatiles.  During the first quarter of our after-school Maker Club adventures this year, the students rotated through different building materials each week.  To make things interesting, they were given building challenges.  I wanted to make the challenges a little bit of surprise, so I grabbed ideas from all over the internet and put them in to one spreadsheet that was a template from  You can make a copy of the Google Sheet template here. After you make your own copy, you can plug in whatever random ideas you have on the first worksheet.  Then, go to File-Publish to Web, and paste the link you are given on to the 2nd worksheet in the space provided. will give you a link for the your new random chooser.

If you don’t want to build your own random chooser, you can just use mine.  This tool from is supposed to help you choose student names randomly, but it works for anything you type into the spreadsheet cells.  I just happened to want building ideas.  On my Flippity page, all the students need to do is choose the random icon, and they are given an idea for building.

Builder Challenges
Building Challenges on

I’ve found that it helps to have a bit of a focus for activities like this, as students sometimes find the challenge makes them even more creative, and they enjoy seeing how other students solve the same problem.

For more Makerspace articles, check out my Makerspace Essentials page!


Let’s Talk Turkey

I’ve gathered a few more ideas this year to add to my Cornucopia of Creative and Critical Thinking Activities for Thanksgiving, which I published a couple of years ago.

  • First, I want to go back to a suggestion in my Cornucopia post, which was, “What are you Thankful For? Ask it Better.” I’ve been using different prompts from this article with each grade level.  For example, my 5th graders brainstormed what they are thankful for that they cannot see.  My 2nd graders brainstormed what teachers might be thankful for, as you can see below.  I really like this twist on giving thanks.

Thankful Teachers

What are teachers thankful for? You might not see it in the picture above, but one of the students wrote, “Other teachers.”  And that is very true.  Thank goodness for all of the awesome educators who are kind enough to share their resources on the web for those of us who aren’t quite as creative!


I attended an amazing professional development yesterday that was hosted by Trinity University.  In San Antonio, we have a company called VentureLab, which bills itself as “Entrepeneurship Education for Kids.”  Members from the company presented yesterday’s workshop, and led us through the steps of inventing and pitching products that solve problems.

In addition to the fact that the session was very hands-on and not a typical “sit and get” training, I found it to be extremely relevant to what many of us already teach our GT and Maker Club students.  In the past couple of years,  more and more “design thinking” has become embedded into the curriculum, as well as the importance of a growth mindset.  Both of these are key ingredients for teaching about entrepeneurship.

I am hoping to integrate what I learned into our Genius Hour projects this year which means, yes, I’ll be tweaking that part of my curriculum once again.  I’ll be using design thinking to better plan the design thinking part of my lessons.

Okay.  I think I might have just blown a few neurons up with that last thought.

Anyway, I want to thank  VentureLab for helping our group to develop an idea to help teachers that will one day make us so much money we won’t need the idea;)

I can’t show you the idea because you might steal it.  Yep. It’s that good.

This isn't our idea. It's from "The Invention of the Telephone" on Wikipedia.
This isn’t our idea. It’s from “The Invention of the Telephone” on Wikipedia.
This isn't our idea either, but I really like it. And it has a Creative Commons license for noncommercial use, generously shared by Sha3teely
This isn’t our idea either, but I really like it. And it has a Creative Commons license for noncommercial use, generously shared by Sha3teely.

If you’re in the San Antonio and Austin areas, you should definitely check out VentureLab for more information on their camps, field trips, and school visits.  They know how to make learning relevant and fun.

(P.S.  A big shout-out to April, a reader of this blog, who I met at the VentureLab workshop.  So glad to meet you!)

Mighty Dolls

Do you happen to have some dolls who are in drastic need of a make under? Sonia Singh, the artist behind Tree Change Dolls, found a way to give new life to dolls who might be ready for a less flashy lifestyle.  She has made several YouTube videos describing the process of removing the manufacturers’ face paint from used dolls and giving them a fresh, clean look more suitable for healthy lifestyles than for dancing in clubs.

Inspired by Singh’s creations,  Wendy Tsao decided to take the idea to another level by modeling the recycled dolls after heroic women like Jane Goodall and Malala Yousafzai.  Tsao’s “Mighty Dolls” creations will be auctioned off on eBay, but it seems like this could be a great idea to “remix” in a makerspace or at home.  With the help of Singh’s videos and guidance from an adult, a child could choose any inspirational figure to fashion as a reminder of the attributes he or she most admires.

With so many consumers begging for toys that promote creativity without demeaning women, it might be time for us to stop relying on the manufacturers, boycott the toy aisle, and start making our own dreams come true.

image from: timlauer on
image from: timlauer on