Category Archives: Creative Thinking

Raspberry Pi

“That’s it?! But that’s so little!” one of my students said, incredulously, when I showed him the Raspberry Pi.  I nodded.  Another student explained, “That’s what a computer looks like.  A lot of people think this [he pointed to the television monitor] is the computer, but it’s just a screen.” The other students, who mostly lived in a world of tablets and laptops, stared solemnly at the small device.

I had just returned from Picademy in Austin.  Whenever I am absent for any kind of staff development, my students demand justification for abandoning them.  They knew, before I left, that Raspberry Pi was a computer, not a dessert.  But just like me before the 2-day intense training, that was about all most of them knew.  It was time for me now to show them that my absence had been worth it.

“You said there was Minecraft,” one student prompted.  I pulled up the Python program we coded at Picademy and asked the students to guess what would happen when I initiated it in Minecraft.  They weren’t quite sure.  Then I showed them how my Minecraft character could walk, leaving a path of gold behind me.

“Cool!” was the general consensus.  I was proud because, before Picademy, I had never played Minecraft or coded with Python.  In fact, I was still awed by the fact that I had hooked up the tiny computer to an old television monitor from home, and that it actually worked.

I had applied to Picademy in Austin with great apprehension.  Raspberry Pi seemed to appear on many of the educational sites I regularly visited and I felt like I needed to to have one in my classroom.  But I didn’t want to have the school invest money on something that couldn’t be used.  When I saw that Picademy was being offered an hour and a half from where I lived, it seemed like I couldn’t pass up the opportunity.  But I was worried it would be way over my head.  The problem is that I am constantly telling my students to take risks, so I would have felt like a hypocrite if I didn’t even try.

Fortunately, the organizers of Picademy have a lot of experience differentiating for a room full of educators with multiple skill levels.  On the first day, they led us through several hand-on sessions, guiding us to “Hack Minecraft,” light up L.E.D.’s, compose music, and make ridiculous selfies.  We were given lots of free “stuff” (including a Raspberry Pi, keyboard, and mouse), introduced to new vocabulary (Sense Hat?), and tons of support from a group of experienced educators.

Raspberry Pi (the green thing) connected to a speaker, keyboard, and mouse.

On the second day, we were tasked with creating our own Raspberry Pi projects with partners.  We were given 4 hours and extra supplies.  My partner and I decided to program our Pi with Python to allow students to take pictures of their work with the touch of a button, also sending out a random tweet with the picture and a phrase such as, “Look what we did in class today!”  There was a lot of trial and error and frustration.  (Spelling and punctuation are extremely vital in Python, as we learned.) However, we finally got it to work, and got to experience the exuberance our students feel whenever they work through tough problems.

If what I just described to you sounds ridiculously impossible for your skill level, remember that I was (and still am) an amateur.  The key to programming Raspberry Pi is taking other programs offered freely on the internet and adjusting them to do what you want.  Once you get used to the syntax of Python, it isn’t that difficult to “steal” and remix. Also, you are not limited to using Python. Scratch, for example, now works with Raspberry Pi.

If you can attend a Picademy, I highly recommend you apply.  The 2-day workshop is free, and you do receive free breakfast and lunches, a free Raspberry Pi, and other accessories. However, there may not be a Picademy coming to your area anytime soon, so you may want to check out the new online courses.  All training information can be found here.

An incredible number of resources are available on the Raspberry Pi website.  I suggest that you go to this page if you are brand new to using Raspberry Pi.  The site is extremely user-friendly.  However, I think the training is what has made my experience so enjoyable.

Integrative Thinking

I first read about “Integrative Thinking” in this article by Katrina Schwartz on Mindshift.  The article outlines three thinking/problem-solving tools that are taught through the I-Think Initiative at University of Toronto’s Rotman School of Management: Ladder of Inference, Pro/Pro, and Causal Models.  Integrative Thinking involves using these tools and others to consider solutions for problems by thinking about other perspectives as well as metacognition.

What fascinates me about the examples in Schwartz’ article is that these methods are being taught to students as young as first grade, and the students are applying them in productive ways that could be useful to many adults.  By becoming aware of how our own experiences can funnel our inferences and assumptions, and deliberately trying to reach outside of these, we are able to think more creatively.  It seems like a monumental task, especially for students who are still learning how to read, but it can be done.

You can view an interesting Ted Ed video on the “Ladder of Inference,” embedded within Schwartz’s article, that gives a great example of how we often use the ladder to our detriment.  Teachers who have been trained by through the I-Think Initiative give other examples of how the thinking tools have made dramatic differences in their classrooms.

As we continue to prepare our students for the future, I think that it’s imperative that we teach them metacognition and offer them critical thinking methods that will help them to be problem-solvers who can adapt to the fast-paced world in which they will eventually become the decision-makers.

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image from:

Gifts for the Gifted 2016 – Bloxels

A few years ago, I thought I would help out the parents of my gifted and talented students by writing about some games, toys, or books that I thought might make good purchases during the holiday season.  I called the series of posts, “Gifts for the Gifted,” and I have continued to do it annually on every Friday in November and December.  These gifts are suggestions for any child – not just those who qualify for a GT program. Sometimes I receive a free product for review, but I am not paid for these posts, and I never recommend a product that I wouldn’t buy for my own child.  For past “Gifts for the Gifted” posts, you can visit this page.


I wrote a review about Bloxels back in February after I received my Kickstarter version and let some second graders test it out.  Here is what I wrote:

“Bloxels will look familiar to those of you who have used the free Pixel Press “Floors” app on your iPads.  For that app, you can design video games using paper and the library of symbols provided, scan your design, and play it on the iPad.  The Bloxels kit (made by the same company who brought us Floors) makes this physical modeling even easier by providing a tray and colored cubes to insert to design your games.  With the free Bloxels app, you can take a picture of your finished product and play your game.

Two second grade girls who come to our Makerspace each Friday got to be the first to try out my Bloxels kit.  They absolutely loved dropping the colored blocks in and spent all of their time making their design, so they didn’t have time to actually play their game! The following Friday, they got to test out their masterpiece, and realized very quickly that they had made the game far too difficult to play.    They turned to the included booklet of suggested designs, and picked the first one.  That one, though, was way too easy, according to them.  So they “remixed” it to their complete satisfaction.  As the bell rang for school to start, they both cried out in disappointment, and informed me that they couldn’t wait to make new designs.

To get some more information for this post, I went to the Bloxels website, and was completely surprised to find a lot of support for using Bloxels in schools.  They’ve already created some curriculum integration ideas, and it seems promising that there will be more to come as the site has a link for potential contributors.  There are lesson plans based on the Design Thinking process, as well as recommended activities and a downloadable guide book.  I also love the 13-Bit Builders section that features a diverse group of young game designers.

What I love about this kit is the potential it has for students in any grade level and with a variety of interests to immediately engage. Although my upper grade levels enjoy the “Floors” game, some of them got frustrated when their drawings weren’t recognized by the app because of imprecision, but that doesn’t seem to happen with Bloxels.

The Bloxels app is free, and available on most mobile devices.  You can actually design your games in the app (without the kit), but I think the kit really enhances the experience.  One set is about $50, and there are classroom packs available as well.  Purchase orders are accepted, and you can find more information here.”

image from Bloxels home page
image from Bloxels home page


The Teachers’ December Survival Kit (Redux)

During the last few years, I’ve collected quite a few resources to help teachers “survive” the few weeks before Winter Break.  Rather than recycle them in separate posts this year, I decided to put the links to the posts all in one place.  (The “Telegenic” post shares related videos.)

One activity that has made it into my lesson plans for a few years in a row is, “Outside my Snow Globe.” Another seasonal favorite on this blog is to S.C.A.M.P.E.R. the Holidays.

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How Play Leads to Great Inventions

Dr. Pauline Dow (@PaulineDow), an Associate Superintendent in our district, shared this recent TED Talk by Steven Johnson, “How Play Leads to Great Inventions,” in a tweet this week.  Steven Johnson, you may remember, is an author I’ve mentioned on this blog because I was fascinated by his book, How We Got to Now.  Johnson is adept at tracing innovations back through time to discover the (often surprising) building blocks that made them possible.

In this October, 2016, TED Talk, Johnson claims that necessity is not always the mother of invention – and that play may be just as, if not more, important when it comes to generating new ideas.  I’m pretty certain that Sir Ken Robinson would approve this message.

I will be adding this video to my Pinterest Board of Inspirational Videos for Teachers.  Click here to see more.



Joe Tedesco, the man behind SA Makerspaces for Education, posted about CoSpaces a couple of weeks ago.  CoSpaces is available on the web, and as a free iOS or Android app.  My students and are still investigating its features, so I may be incorrect about what we’ve discovered so far.

CoSpaces Example

Using CoSpaces on a computer (desktop or laptop), you can register for a free account and then create projects.  To experiment, I created one account that my students could also use (if you do this, make sure each student knows how to start a new project or collaborate with someone else on one).  There are tools on the web browser version to “build” 3-dimensional scenes, somewhat Minecraft-ish. For those of us who are spatially challenged, it’s good practice for using other 3-d modeling programs like Tinkercad.  You can also add your own images as well as audio files.

The scenes can be viewed on mobile devices as 3d by walking around with or moving the device to explore the scenery.  If you have a VR headset, you can also experience the scenes this way.  The video on this page is the best way to understand how it works.  At this time, you can only create CoSpaces projects using a web browser and experience they are best experienced through mobile devices.

An intriguing detail about CoSpaces is that it already has a link for educators in its menu – and describes the many ways it can be used in school (such as storytelling or exhibiting research projects).  According to the site, there are plans to offer classroom type accounts to teachers.

CoSpaces shows a great deal of potential for use by students to create – which is one of the main purposes for technology in my point of view.  I have a feeling there are going to be some exciting advances made by this company as it evolves, so you should definitely check it out.

The Great Art Smuggle

So, here’s the thing.  Unscrupulous people are always trying to figure out how to get things out of art museums.  But what if you are a scrupulous person?  And what if you are the producer of the Kid President videos? And what if you get invited to speak at THE Guggenheim museum?

Well, then, you smuggle art in, of course.

At least that’s Brad Montague’s plan.  And he needs your help.  He would like children from all over the world to send him art work. The pieces should be

Great Art Smuggle

It is due by December 7th, and you can get more details from Brad’s video.  

I’m kind of curious to see how he pulls this off…