3-5, 6-12, Art, Creative Thinking, Critical Thinking, Math

AI Text to Image Mandalas

I was listening to a podcast this week in which Steven Soderbergh, the famous director, stated, “I am not interesting; I am interested.” This is absolutely how I feel about myself. In fact, I responded, “Curious” to a recent Twitter post asking, “What’s Your Word?” I could spend all day learning new things, and I get really excited when any of those things happens to be something I think might be of interest to you.

On an AI thread in Twitter the other day, someone shared a bunch of images they created with Midjourney, an AI tool. The artwork involved something called, “knolling photography“, which reminded me of natural mandalas. As some of you may know, I used to do a unit on mathematical masterpieces with my 4th graders that included mandalas, and we used many methods to create some. You can see one of my posts about this here. I thought I would jump down this rabbit hole to see if I could create any decent mandalas with some free AI tools at my fingertips (Midjourney is not one of them), and I was pleasantly surprised with the results.

Since Canva is free to all teachers, I started with its “Text to Image” tool, and asked it to make a mandala of quilled flowers. Here is the result:

I also asked for one made with seashells.

Then I asked it to change the style to “watercolor” for another flower mandala. Here was the response:

Even though Canva is free for educators, there are some of you who don’t use it, so I decided to test out another AI chat tool, Bing, in case you wanted a different option. (By the way, if you have the Adobe Creative Suite subscription, you can also try Firefly to do this.)

When my students created mandalas, we worked a lot on symbolism and the meaning of colors, so I started by trying to ask Bing to create a mandala of sports equipment (because that’s invariably what some of my students do). That did not go well. The images were extremely abstract and not recognizable. I finally settled on one where I was able to request a specific type of mandala (spiral dot), the colors red, blue, and green, and a photo of a soccer ball in the middle.

Bing allows you to upload photos, but I didn’t have any success in it making mandalas out of the couple of photos that I tried in the limited time I experimented.

What would students learn from this activity? As I mentioned before, our previous mandala lessons included symbolism and the meaning of colors. We also learned about different types of symmetry and the history of mandalas in many cultures. Creating mandalas themselves helped them to delve more into their own values and creativity. And trying to make them with AI tools will not only bring up philosophical and ethical discussion, but also help them to refine their critical thinking skills to improve their “prompt engineering.”

As Steven Soderbergh also states in that podcast episode when asked about AI, that it’s an iterative tool, but, “It hasn’t experienced anything.” He quotes a Pixar motto, “Be wrong as fast as you can… Just get to the end. If this helps people get to the end of something, fine.” Maybe this is one more option you can give students to get to the vision they have for their mathematical masterpiece — or to create a new vision even better than they imagined.

3-12, Creative Thinking, Critical Thinking, Philosophy, Teaching Tools, Writing

Once Upon a Picture

If you are looking for a site that will pique your students’ imaginations and spark some creativity (especially for writing), you should consider Once Upon a Picture.

Those of you who subscribe to my newsletter know that I usually include a “Tik Tok Teacher Hack” in each issue. I know that there are various opinions about Tik Tok out there, but I honestly find a lot of wonderful resources for teaching on Tik Tok, and this is one of them. @jessicam.reid is a Tik Tokker who often talks about AI creation sites for teachers, but she thought this resource was so great that she did a short video about it.

The images on Once Upon a Picture are curated by a teacher in the UK named Sam as a passion project. They are digital photos, animations, and illustrations that are magical, surrealistic, and undeniably thought-provoking. According to Sam, each artist has given permission for the images to be shared.

Because Sam is a teacher, there are also questions that are listed on the page for each individual picture — questions that can be used to prod your students to dig deeper and imagine the stories behind each image. Here is one example.

There is also a challenge book that you can download for free as well as a Reading Comprehension handbook and some samples of student writing (all under “More” in the main menu.) In addition, Sam has created different collections of images such as “The Thinking Collection” meant to provoke philosophical discussions and “The Inference Collection” of images selected from Sam’s own work in the primary classroom.

If you want to try your hand at creating your own unusual images, Canva has a Text-to-Image AI tool that is kind of fun to try. I’ve had varying results. The image I am including below was downloaded from Adobe’s Beta Firefly program, (which is part of my paid subscription to Adobe). Note that Adobe is trying to be responsible by watermarking its AI created images.

I would have definitely used Once Upon a Picture in my GT classroom or any class in which I taught writing or wanted to encourage deep discussions. I hope you’ll find it useful, too!

Broadcast room
Careers, K-12

New Podcast Dropped!

When Dana Goodier invited me to be on the Out of the Trenches podcast, I almost said, “No, thanks.” This wasn’t a reflection on the podcast, just of my own anxiety. You see, a few years ago I was diagnosed with laryngeal dystonia and my brief celebration after finally getting a name for the strange things my voice has done all my life quickly became a frustrating quest to get the right treatment. There is no cure for this disease, and the most promising treatment is Botox injections in your vocal cords. These aren’t only expensive, but the right dosage varies incredibly and can result in temporary side effects like breathiness and “Minnie-Mouse” voice. Too little can mean that you just paid a lot of money to have a normal voice for 7 days, and too much can mean that you’re sidelined for 3 weeks from talking on the phone or attending raucous parties because no one can hear you.

So, I’ve been getting treatments, and sometimes my voice is great and sometimes I sound like SpongeBob, and sometimes I sound like I just spent the night before screaming at a rock concert. But I went ahead and said, “Yes,” to Dana anyway because I’m kind of done with making every decision based on the predictability of my voice quality.

Our interview was months ago, but the podcast just got posted. Of course, I had to listen to it first so I could decide if I should pretend it didn’t exist (even though odds are good someone would find it anyway) or share the link with you. Like most of you, I expect, I despise the sound of my recorded voice — even when the treatments are working — but I also felt responsible for listening to the episode because I couldn’t remember anything I’d said and I wanted to make sure I didn’t blurt out something stupid that would get me canceled.

Fortunately, my voice is not nearly as annoying as I feared, though it does break in a few parts. And I managed to not say anything super controversial, thanks to Dana being a great host who prepared me well. You can listen to the episode here if you want to judge for yourself.

Even if my particular episode isn’t your jam, Dana has a perfectly wonderful podcast voice, which you may want to listen to in one of her many other Out of the Trenches episodes. The podcast, and Dana’s book, are all about the resilience of educators. You can learn about obstacles they’ve faced and overcome, and advice they would give to others. One thing that I know I learned as a teacher (which I share during the interview) is to be less pig-headed and actually consider what experienced teachers have to say. If it wasn’t for one of those sage mentors, my teaching career would have ended after 8 years instead of 29. So, give yourself the gift of some positive, but practical, advice to drown out all of the hate that seems to be aimed at this profession right now.

By the way, though being on podcasts stresses me out, I love helping students to create them! I offering a new workshop this year for teachers of grades 6-12 called, From Script to Sound:  Engaging Student Learning through Podcasting. Contact me if you’re interested!     

selective focus photography of gray stainless steel condenser microphone
Photo by Magda Ehlers on
image of words "Creative Types"
5-8, 6-12, Creative Thinking

What is Your Creative Type?

Adobe’s Creative Types test is a personality test like no other that I’ve seen. If you enjoy doing a little introspection with tools like Strengthsfinder, Meyers-Briggs, or Enneagram, you will probably like this one even more. The creators took the time to make the assessment visually unusual and appealing so that it manages to keep your attention even as it begins to load the next question.

I tend to view these types of analyses as somewhat akin to horoscopes. I feel like you could give me any set of results and I would probably see myself somewhere in the description, even without responding to any questions. That’s because people are complex and difficult to categorize, as we often evolve or modify our personalities to suit different situations. However it is always intriguing to see the depth of my character succinctly described in a few paragraphs. (It’s also interesting to note that whenever I share these tests with my family, my husband and daughter always end up with the same exact results as each other — never the same as mine.)

Question from Adobe Creative Types Test

I’m sharing this link today because I’m guessing that many of my readers are not quite ready to plan for a new school year, and the Adobe Creative Types Test is a fun but thought-provoking way to spend your time as well as a great discussion-starter with family and friends. The questions are not too intrusive or complex, and at the end of a few minutes, you will discover which one of the eight types your responses most represent: The Artist, The Thinker, The Adventurer, The Maker, The Producer, The Dreamer, The Innovator, or the Visionary. You can also download a PDF that details your type and recommends the best creative type with which you should collaborate.

screenshot from Adobe Creative Types

For a little bit of background about how this test was created, you may want to read this article by Carolyn Gregoire, who is also one of the creators.

I will admit that I was surprised by my result, and I wonder if any of you can guess in the comments which one it is. If you are a regular reader, maybe you know me better than I know myself! I’d love to hear your results and your thoughts about the test.

Motivation, Videos

When Teaching Meets the Unknown: Navigating the Twilight Zone

It’s National Teacher Appreciation Week in the United States this week (May 8-12), and I was browsing through a calendar of special days in May only to discover that May 11 is “Twilight Zone Day.” Coincidence? I think not.

So, I thought I would see if there were any Twilight Zone episodes about teachers. And there were. The first one that came up is called, “Changing of the Guard.” “Great!” I thought. “Let’s find some clips.”

So when I caution you not to recklessly watch old Twilight Zone clips during your procrastinatory moments, you should definitely take that advice to heart. The first clip that I watched from the episode had me in tears. And not the good kind. (Side note — who knew “procastinatory” was actually a word? I was as surprised as you when I typed it and didn’t get a vicious, red underline beneath it.)

“Changing of the Guard” is a about a professor who has been forced to retire, and he definitely does not feel good about it. He muses that he has accomplished nothing in his life and becomes deeply depressed. The worst kind of depressed.

But just as he decides that it’s all too much to bear, standing beside the grave of Horace Mann, the school bell rings again and he finds himself back in the classroom for a reunion with former students.

I don’t want to give too much away. But let’s just say I cried again. The good kind of tears, or mostly good anyway.

If you want to see what happened, here is the clip I recommend. Just do not say I didn’t warn you to have a box of tissues nearby.

Fun fact: Rod Serling began teaching college courses in his 40’s, and continued until his death at the early age of 50.

Oh, and it’s also “Eat What You Want Day,” which seems like a fortunate confluence of events. Celebrate them all. Tell the teachers who made a difference to you (because I promise you that most of us have no idea whether we made an impact or not), eat a great big doughnut, and take this advice from Rod Serling:

Teachers: Don’t forget to sign up for a chance to win a free, self-paced course by midnight, May 12, 2023! More info here!

Teaching Tools

Enter For a Chance to Win!

I know, I know. If you receive my posts in your school e-mail, the embedded video below from @Abbott ElementaryABC is probably blocked. But I couldn’t resist the clip because it’s equally touching and funny. If you’re a teacher, you know the constant tug of war between your awareness that you never went into this profession for the money and the natural human-need to feel valued. Hopefully, you can visit the link for the video or watch it outside of school if you didn’t have a chance to catch this episode of Abbott Elementary.

@abbottelementaryabc It’s #TeacherAppreciationWeek! Join #AbbottElementary ♬ original sound – Abbott Elementary

In the meantime, I want you to know how much you are appreciated. Over the years, I’ve reached out to some of my former teachers to tell them what they meant to me, and I hope that you receive those reminders, too. From the bottom of my heart, I feel immense gratitude to the teachers who shaped me into the person I am today as well as the incredible colleagues I worked with for 29 years.

To show my appreciation, I am giving away free tuition for two of my online courses: Harnessing Hexagons and Genius Hour. There will be one lucky winner for each, and everyone who enters will receive my newsletter that will contain a coupon code for 50% off each course. Entries need to be received by 5/12 at midnight CST. I’ll use a random drawing extension to choose the two winners. You can still enter to try to win the free courses even if you already receive my newsletter. Since these are online and self-paced, they are the perfect way to earn some credits when you don’t feel rushed this summer or, if you prefer to protect those weeks off by not doing school-related tasks there is no deadline.

It’s hard to find ways to give back to a profession that gave me so much over the years, but I try my best to share free downloads and tips with the hope that you will receive my heart-felt message that I respect and value you so much.

Thank you!