Creative Thinking, K-12, Student Products

Me — The User Manual, 2022 Edition

I’m starting a Wakelet collection of ideas for beginning the school year (stay tuned for that to be shared next week!) and one of my favorites is this activity, “Me — The User Manual, that I did way back in 2017. It was originally inspired by a tweet from Adam Grant, famous author of many books including one that I highly recommend for teachers, Think Again. In the tweet, Grant referred to an article by Abby Falik where she described writing her own “user manual” that she wrote as a leader. You can read more about it in my original post.

Back then, I created my own User Manual, and suggested it as something teachers could do to share with their students and/or colleagues. I also think it would be a unique activity to have your students do when the school year starts as you are trying to get to know each other and develop relationships.

I’ve updated my own User Manual, and I’ve created a link to the template in Canva so you can use it if you wish with your students. Of course, deviating from the template is highly encouraged as employing your own creativity to this product is a large part of its power. As you can see from my graphic, I highly value creativity!

You can adapt this idea to any age and digital creativity tool, even drawing it by hand if you prefer. The purpose is to build community in a safe way while encouraging creativity. Your students will appreciate getting to know you better, and this can be your first signal to them that you truly care about each individual in your classroom.

Click here to access this template in Canva.

3-12, Creative Thinking, Language Arts, Writing

Golden Shovel Poetry

Gwendolyn Brooks published the poem, “We Real Cool,” in 1963. In 2010, Terrance Hayes published a poem called, “The Golden Shovel.” If I was teaching a poetry unit, I would have my students read both poems and see what they notice before suggesting a direct relationship. Students would probably immediately recognize the title of Hayes’ poem appears in the second line of Brooks’. But it would be fun to see how long it takes them to see that Terrance Hayes actually structured his poem around Brooks’ by making each word in her poem the last word in each line of his poem — in order.

With “The Golden Shovel,” Hayes created a new poetic form, and it’s one of those challenges that compels and delights students with its opportunity for creativity through constraint. Take your favorite poem, favorite sentence from a book, or favorite passage from an article, even a newspaper headline and use each word, in order, as the last word for each line in your new poem. Be sure to credit the original author, but don’t limit yourself to their subject. You can see a perfect video explanation from the North Vancouver City Library for their “Teen Tuesday” series of how to write a Golden Shovel poem here. The Poetry Society offers a good lesson plan here.

Here is another example of a Golden Shovel poem, written by Michelle Kogan, and built from the words of the poem, “I Dream a World,” by Langston Hughes. If you want to see some work from actual students, this page shares some Golden Shovel poetry written by 5th and 6th graders based on poems by Gwendolyn Brooks.

Golden Shovel Poetry reminds me of the Found and Parallel Poetry that I used to do with my students, often resulting in pieces that surprised all of us with their insight. I’ll definitely be adding this link to my Poetry Wakelet Collection, and I would love to see any examples that your students write!

Side note: Wouldn’t it be fun to do a Poetry Out Loud presentation or something similar, and award one or two students these cute little golden shovel utensils?

Creative Thinking, K-12, Language Arts, Writing

Fighting Words Poetry Contest from the Pulitzer Center

With National Poetry Month just around the corner in April, this contest from the Pulitzer Center offers relevance and the opportunity for an authentic audience for student poetry. The contest is open to students in K-12 around the world, though it appears that the judging categories are not separated by age group. Entries must be submitted by May 15, 2022, and can be multilingual, (judges will primarily be fluent in English and/or Spanish). The intriguing part of this contest is the constraint that each poem must include at least one line from a story on the Pulitzer site. Suggested stories for grades 3 and up are linked, and you can also access teaching resources that include slide presentations and activities to guide students through the process of writing their poems.

This would be a great opportunity for your students to try the Parallel Poetry technique that I describe here. This was one of the few lessons that I repeated annually (I usually get bored doing something over and over) because it was so incredible to see the uniquely personal poems my students would produce. I often have a difficult time teaching creative writing, but this particular process seemed far less “bumpy” and far more rewarding to all of us than my typical writing lessons.

I’ll be adding this link to my collection of Poetry lessons, which includes links to: a TED Ed List of animated classic poems, poetry writing ideas for Kindergarten, blackout poetry lessons, and more. I also have an Amanda Gorman Wakelet, and an April Holidays one — both of which you can find here along with my other public collections.

white paper with black text
Photo by Suzy Hazelwood on
Creative Thinking, K-12, Videos


For anyone new to 3d design, Tinkercad is the perfect entry level program. It’s free, web-based, and contains lots of tutorials. As a teacher, you can create classes and assign projects that you can oversee through a dashboard. I’ve used it with students from 2nd grade through 12th, so it’s quite a versatile tool.

I had no experience with 3d design when our school got its first 3d printer, so I have great empathy for anyone starting from the beginning. Tinkercad is very user-friendly, but it requires some adjustment if your brain has had as little spatial reasoning practice as mine did when I first began. That’s why I think these Tinkerhunts from HL Modtech (Mike Harmon, @HLTinkercad) are pretty genius. In the first one, he gives kudos to his student, Kingston, who first gave him the idea for these three-dimensional virtual scavenger hunts. Each video (21 as of today’s blog post) introduces the Tinkerhunt for that week, and includes a link to the project in the video description. Students can click on the link (or you can post it as an assignment) and they can then search for the objects within that week’s design. Mike has his students post the locations of the 5 hidden items in the comments, but you can come up with an alternate method that works for you.

This idea is good because it can help students to get familiar with the Tinkercad tools, while also seeing a variety of ways that they can be used. It will give them practice while hopefully inspiring them to create their own designs. Mike also includes some tutorials in the video descriptions, like this one for “Unicorn Dude.”

While Tinkercad can be a means to an end for 3d printing, it doesn’t have to always be used that way, as Mike’s Tinkerhunts demonstrate. It’s excellent for creativity, reinforcing Design Thinking, and practicing spatial reasoning. For more ideas on ways Tinkercad can be used, check out this post that I did last August.

Creative Thinking, K-12, Student Products

Adobe Creative Cloud Express

Things have come a long way since my early days of teaching when our school district first installed a desktop computer and printer (dot-matrix, of course) in each classroom. I remember being so excited to have the power to create newsletters for parents, inspirational banners for my classroom, and customized worksheets for my students. Not having to rely on generic textbooks and teaching materials was a game-changer, and it became even more impactful when my students got access to devices so they could create as well.

Having witnessed this evolution, I can appreciate that it is no small thing that today’s generation of students now has even more digital power with the ability to instantly produce photos, videos, and websites and pretty much anything else they can imagine for audiences around the world. Recently, Adobe has made this even easier with its repackaging of the Spark for Education tool into Adobe Creative Cloud Express for Education. Unlike many ed tech companies who dangle free products for students for awhile and then begin to charge as they add more attractive features, Adobe seems to be committed to keeping its Express suite free for schools. Below, you can see a screenshot of what is now included:

You can get your students familiar with using the tools, which they can access on any internet enabled device, by having them participate in the monthly creative challenges. For February, the challenge is for them to design a poster to express their values. You can access the details and free lesson plan here. January’s highly popular challenge was to remix a template to express your identity. You can find more lesson and project ideas to use with Adobe Creative Cloud Express here.

Plaster your physical and virtual classrooms with student designs that represent their individuality and imagination.

And be thankful we’ve moved past the days of mimeographs and dot-matrix printers — even if you’re not ancient enough to have used them.

Creative Thinking, K-12, Teaching Tools

Canva — Those Three Dots Aren’t Just Decoration

Canva just gets better and better as a useful creation tool that is, don’t forget, free to educators! I did a breakdown last November of some of the incredible ways that you and your students can use Canva, and I want to highlight a couple more features today. If you are anything like me, you may be in a rush when you are using technology, which means that I sometimes miss out on some things. Developers like to use those three little dots to indicate there is more to find, but I tend to ignore them. In Canva’s case, they even put the word “More” under the dots — and I still overlooked them. You would have thought I would have learned by now that I could be missing out on something cool, but nope! Anyway, click on those three dots when you are on your design page, and you will find so much more that you can do. For one, you can actually draw on your Canva designs now. Another thing you can do is generate a QR code within your design so you can pop it right on there. As you can see from my screenshot below, there are a bunch of other options allowing you to integrate some third-party content and even to directly import from Instagram or Google Drive. Speaking for myself, LESSON LEARNED!