Category Archives: Creative Thinking

My Brain on Open-Ended Projects

Thanks to some inspiration on Twitter from Jessica Hirsch (@jhirschcusd), I thought it would be a neat idea to have my 4th grade gifted students try to create Makey Makey Operation games with shapes.  (They are on a Geometry unit in their regular classrooms, so this seemed like a good time to try it.)  As my classroom once again became a Disaster Zone Lab of Innovative Thinkers, I realized that I pretty much go through the same thought process every time we embark on these adventures. I tried to make a visual of it, which you can see below.  I ran out of space at the end, so don’t assume that these things always end on a high note…


We will hopefully complete the project next week, and I will blog more specifics about it.  If you aren’t familiar with Makey Makey, you can see my post from earlier this year about the Onomatopeia Poetry the students created with Scratch and Makey Makey.  And yes, my brain went through the same steps for that one, too!



Disruptus is one of my new favorite games.  It’s great for Brain Breaks and to jump start brainstorming sessions.  I’ve used it with my younger and older students, and it has been a hit with all of them so far. Like Anaxi, which I reviewed here, it is produced by Funnybone Toys.  You can find it at specialty toy stores and periodically on Amazon.

The game consists of heavy-duty cards that each have a picture on them, a cube, and a timer.  You can read the instructions on the Funnybone website.  There are different versions of gameplay.  So far, my students have enjoyed just watching me roll the cube under the document camera and selecting random cards.  Then I set the timer (I think it’s about 2 minutes), and they scramble to draw or write ideas on scratch paper.  Then we share the ideas.  If you want to make it competitive, you can play it similar to Apples to Apples, where one person is the judge and selects what he or she thinks was the most creative idea.

Here are the options on the faces of the cube that you might roll:


My first graders were playing the “Create 2” and we pulled out a picture of a toilet and a picture of a steering wheel.  You can imagine the ideas they generated for combining those!

You know those early finishers who don’t have enough time, really, to start something else – but still have enough time to distract the students still working?  Put this under the document camera to think about when done, and tell them you will discuss everyone’s answers as an exit ticket, in the line for the bathroom, or any other transition time during the day.

There are lots of grins and laughs when we do this.  Most importantly, the students are exercising their divergent thinking skills which, too often, don’t get enough use during the school day.

For more activities similar to this, check out this post on Mockups, how to use Flippity for Makerspace Challenges, and these 5 Resources for Design Thinking Challenges.


Build to Learn

Sometimes random themes show up in the various social networks that I follow.  Today, I came across two completely different posts that appealed to my appreciation for creative ways for students to show their learning.

First, I saw this tweet:

I like the idea of making poetry 3-dimensional, and I could see lots of ways to go with this idea.

Then, I saw a tweet from Russel Tarr about “Tubular Timeline Towers,” an idea one of his students designed for an open-ended homework assignment.  What a great way to represent something chronologically!

The wheels are turning in my brain as I try to think of variations on this theme!

Rube Cereal Machines

Thanks to Carrie Sledge on Twitter (@GreenGTAIM), I learned that General Mills has joined with to encourage creativity by inviting people to design Rube Goldberg machines that will pour cereal.  The General Mills contest is only open to people who are 18 years and up, but that doesn’t mean you can’t take advantage of the tutorials they created for using 6 of their cereal boxes to make simple machines.  The Rube Goldberg site hosts its own contest for participants who are 8 and up, but you should definitely check the rule book, as there are detailed instructions and a registration fee.  Whether you are competing in an official contest or not, creating a Rube Goldberg machine can be a great way to incorporate many curriculum-related skills, as well as the 4 C’s (critical thinking, communication, collaboration, and creativity).

Larry Ferlazzo has a page dedicated to Rube Goldberg resources that you should definitely take a look at if you decide to embark on this adventure!

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Screenshot from Rube Goldberg Contest Task Announcement 2018

Using Flippity for Makerspace Challenges

Although it’s great to allow students to use their imaginations, they will generally feel overwhelmed if you give them infinite choices.  For example, if you say, “Build something out of Legos,” many students will either spend most of their time figuring out what to build or attempt to build something they have already done in the past.  So, a couple of years ago I thought I would randomize some Makerspace Building Challenges for my students by using a tool called Flippity.  Instead of building “something,” they might be urged to build an amusement park ride or a shelter for a natural disaster, for example. You can find my post on using the tool here.

In this recent post from Laura Fleming, you can find even better Makerspace Challenges using Flippity.  Her first version randomly selects building techniques and materials to spark the imagination.  Her second version uses S.C.A.M.P.E.R., which is a great innovation tool that I describe a bit more in detail in this blog post.  Laura gives full instructions for how to use her Flippity challenges and how to modify them for your own use in her post.

I have a post on 5 Resources for Design Thinking Challenges here.  For my list of Makerspace Essentials, including Laura’s book, Worlds of Making, click here.  (Laura also has a new book, called The Kickstart Guide to Making Great Makerspaces.)

image from Pixabay

The Bear and the Hare are Quite a Pair

One of my suggestions listed in “Telegenic Ways to Survive the Weeks Before Winter Break” is a lovely short video called, “The Bear and the Hare.”  It is actually a John Lewis advertisement, but these annual holiday commercials have become traditional favorites due to their outstanding artwork and storytelling.  I have a link in my original post to an activity that Joelle Trayers did with her students, asking them to use empathy to imagine what the bear might give the hare in return for its thoughtful gift.  I thought I would try it with my 2nd graders this year, and here are some of their responses:


(a GPS collar)


Wrestling with Writing

It is not uncommon for GT students to dislike writing.  I was intrigued recently when I saw the article, “Why Do So Many Gifted and Talented Children Hate to Write?”  Although the article does not give any scientific evidence, it does suggest that it can sometimes be difficult for gifted students to gather thoughts that make perfect sense to them and go through the excruciatingly slow process of organizing and communicating those thoughts on paper (or screen).  I like to compare it to asking an adult to write down the instructions for tying a shoelace or walking.  Sometimes we just know things, and we don’t find it pleasant to try to tease out the details.

The above article suggests a writing exercise that turns the task into more of a challenge.  I haven’t tried it with my students, but I have learned that giving them unusual rules or restrictions often seems to motivate them more than unlimited freedom (which usually just paralyzes them).  This article from Alice Keeler also recommends adding constraints to writing, and she provides a spreadsheet template to help this process.

Unexpected topics can also stimulate ideas.  You can find some fun video writing prompts here.  “Writing Sparks” from Night Zookeeper offers random topics. (Click on “Create Spark.”) Different perspectives can also galvanize student writing.  And one of my favorite online tools that has never failed to intrigue my students with its incredible illustrations has been Storybird.

Writing can be a challenge for anyone.  Students with high I.Q.’s are not immune to academic difficulties.  What may be perceived as laziness can often be just a matter of fear of failure.  With a bit of creativity and lot of support, students who “hate” to write may discover a strength they didn’t know they possessed.

image from USDA on Flickr