Gifts for the Gifted Teacher — Creative Acts for Curious People

I’ve been doing my “Gifts for the Gifted” series for almost 9 years. Though I freely admit that the title is a bit of a misnomer because my recommendations are not just for students who have been identified as gifted, I am about to launch another series that may also be misunderstood. At least no one can accuse me of inconsistency. With that in mind, here is the inaugural post of “Gifts for the Gifted Teacher.” While I got a lot of joy out of the books, games, and toys I’ve bought for my students over the years, there are some things that I just think are great for teachers, themselves (which will indirectly benefit their students, so win/win). And during these times when teachers are, quite frankly, getting the shaft, I would like to make some explicit recommendations for anyone who wants to show their appreciation to an educator with a thoughtful gift.

Definition of Gifted Teacher: An educator who loves to learn and to challenge, engage, and empower her/his/their students with relevant and meaningful curriculum. p. 1 of the Engage Their Minds Dictionary, 2021

My first entry for “Gifts for the Gifted Teacher” (oops, that almost became “Gifs for the Gifted Teacher” which I am now officially copyrighting for my next series…) is a book called, Creative Acts for Curious People by Sarah Stein Greenberg. The foreword is written by David M. Kelley, (not to be confused with David E. Kelley, famous writer/producer of a billion television dramas) the founder of IDEO and a professor at Stanford. David M. Kelley is someone I’ve admired ever since I’ve done my deep dive into design thinking, and Stanford’s d.school is the dream school that I would have totally applied to if it existed thirty something years ago.

The book is thick, which is always a huge plus for me. It is full of activities curated by Sarah Stein Greenberg from great design thinkers at the d.school and beyond, and includes some challenges to try out. Though I see teachers finding it to be an awesome resource, I feel like anyone who has had a problem to solve or may have one to solve in the future could use Creative Acts for Curious People. It’s not just about brainstorming new ideas, but looking at things through different lenses, team building, and working to develop empathy. Altogether, there are 81 Creative Acts in this book, and many could be used with any age group.

I took this book on a trip, and devoured it quickly. My one regret was that I forgot to bring a highlighter, so I’m now re-reading the book and highlighting suggestions that give me ideas. In other words, I am basically coloring every page. I was going to wait until I finished this task to write this review but I got so pumped while I was doing it that I stopped to type this post instead.

I am going to restrain myself from gushing about each and every activity, and just give you a couple of samples. A simple one that you could easily use with students in elementary and up is “Expert Eyes”, where you assign them a place to walk around and make observations on their own by drawing them. Then you have them walk with someone else (for school this could be a buddy from another grade level, parent, teacher, volunteer, etc…) and do the same walk and draw what the companion describes out loud. Depending on the age, do this one or two more times with different people. Then compare the drawings from each time and discuss the new insights you might have gained from looking at the same area through someone else’s eyes. Simple but powerful.

Another example I got really excited about is “The Monsoon Challenge” which would probably be better for older students. The assignment was given in a course called, Design for Extreme Affordability, and the students had to design something to collect as much “rain” as possible. The rain was a sprinkler on a ladder. With less than a week and $20 for each team, the students needed to ideate, build and (hopefully) test prototypes that could be adjusted and ready for the class day of the demonstration. I won’t give away one of the truly genius solutions one group designed, but it’s worth reading the book to find out!

If you know a teacher or leader of problem-solvers who is innovative and loves to guide others through the design process, this book would be the perfect gift for them. I know I will be incorporating a lot of the ideas in my workshops and would have enjoyed using them with my students when I was in the classroom. You can get Creative Acts for Curious People where I purchased it, Nowhere Bookshop, or your favorite independent bookstore. I’ll also be adding this recommendation to my collection of “Books for Maker Ed/Design Thinking.”

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