Category Archives: Critical Thinking

Ada Twist, Scientist

Andrea Beaty and David Roberts have outdone themselves with their latest book, Ada Twist, Scientist.  Beaty (author) and Roberts (illustrator) made their mark in children’s literature with their two previous books, Iggy Peck, Architect, and Rosie Revere, Engineer. Demonstrating the sometimes exasperating, but always creative, personalities of inquisitive and innovative children, these books have become favorites for those who champion maker education and S.T.E.M.  They are also great examples of growth mindset and passion based learning.

Ada Twist, Scientist tells the story of an adorable young girl whose curiosity knows absolutely no bounds.  Her parents fondly support Ada’s intellectual investigations until she decides to throw the family cat into the washing machine in an attempt to find the origin of a terrible smell, at which point Ada is exiled to the “Thinking Chair.”

You will have to read the book yourself to find out how Ada handles her isolation and whether or not she solves her stinky mystery. Suffice it to say that the book has a happy ending and will inspire parents and children to see questions as exciting learning opportunities rather than as time-wasting obstacles.

For a teaching guide and links to other related activities, visit the Ada Twist website.

You can’t resist Ada Twist, Scientist!

image from Ada Twist, Scientist
image from Ada Twist, Scientist

How to Encourage Students to Question

In my latest article for Fusion Yearbooks, I offer some practical ideas for encouraging questioning in the classroom.  If we want future generations of students to be critical thinkers and problem solvers, they must learn the importance of questioning – which is sadly a skill often discouraged by educators.

image from Flickr
image from Flickr

Here are links to some of my other Fusion blog posts:

Cubelets Lesson Plans

My students have always been completely mesmerized by the power of Cubelets, modular robots that adhere magnetically and can be put together in a seemingly endless number of combinations. Obtaining enough Cubelets to feed the curiosity of a large group can get expensive, but we were fortunate enough to get some grant applications approved that allowed us to purchase a decent number. The combined set has definitely been one of the best investments I’ve made for my classroom.

Modular Robotics, the company behind Cubelets, has offered resources to teachers for the past few years.  But they now have an updated portion of their site devoted to lesson plans.  The plans are divided into grade level strands, starting with Pre-K and ending with 12th grade.  Browsing through the plans I found some “meaty” material, including this “Cause and Effect” plan for 4th-6th graders. Be advised that you will need to look carefully at the required Cubelets for the plans you use as some are not included in the less expensive kits.

Cubelets are great for centers and maker spaces.  With these free lesson plans, educators may feel more comfortable with integrating these versatile robots into their curriculum as well.

image from
image from


I would like to give Krissy Venosdale (@krissyvenosdale) credit for the awesome image below, and possibly for coining a new term: “iterationist.”  When I saw the image tweeted by her the other day, I knew right away it would be a new mantra for me.  Considering the experience I described from our robot camp on Monday, Krissy’s quote perfectly states what I need to encourage more from my students (and myself).

“Iteration”  is a word that is used quite a bit when people discuss Design Thinking.  Anyone who has created something of substance will agree that a new work goes through many drafts before the maker feels satisfied.  Those iterations are important to the process; in fact some even argue that they are more important than the final product.

What I learned from my robot camp experience is that I not only need to make students more aware of the importance of iterations, but also how to learn from them.  As I mentioned, some of the teams had no problem trying again when their designs didn’t work. However, they didn’t spend enough time on trying to figure out why they weren’t working, and subsequent iterations tended to be just as inefficient.

In school, we usually don’t give students time for multiple iterations, unless we are preparing them for a standardized writing test or telling them to correct failed assignments. If we could make “iterationism” a habit, rather than a consequence or forced strategy, students would be more comfortable about taking risks and we would see a lot more “bravery.”

by Krissy Venosdale
by Krissy Venosdale


Tell Your Students to Get Lost

I was driving between appointments yesterday, and considered taking a potential shortcut.  After a quick internal debate, I decided to stick to the route I knew even though I would barely arrive on time.  Why didn’t I take the shortcut?

Because I had a guess it would be quicker, but I wasn’t absolutely sure where it would take me.  If it worked, I would get there earlier and be able to use it many times in the future.  But, if I got lost…

So, even though I’ve often thought about using that shortcut, and it would be awesome if it worked because I could forever use it, I haven’t.  I never have time when I think about it that I’m willing to give up if I get lost.

This is what we often do to our students.  We show them the way to do something that we want them to achieve, and we never give them time to discover their own route to the destination.  There is no time for them to stray from the path we prescribe.  If they start wandering, we quickly re-direct them.  Or, we sometimes tell them they obviously can’t read this map so they should just give up and move on to the next destination. It doesn’t matter that they might have found a more efficient way, or even a more scenic route, if given time.

As my students meander their way through their Spy School Missions in our Undercover Robots camp this week, I chuckle at their circuitous routes and congratulate them on discoveries that don’t necessarily relate to the mission.  I wonder what schools would be like if more learning could happen this way, if we told our students frequently, “Get lost.  And be sure to tell me all about it.”

Flickr image from Ian Wilson
Flickr image from Ian Wilson


Group Games and Activities from ThinkFun

I am hosting an “Undercover Robots Camp” in my home starting today, and I was scouring the internet for some fun games to play when we are taking breaks from the robots.  As a big fan of ThinkFun, I was surprised to come across a part of their site I hadn’t explored.  The “Group Games and Activities” page offers free resources for playing life-size versions of some classic puzzles.  For example, you may have seen ThinkFun’s one-player game, “Hoppers.” But substitute humans on a big piece of tarp, and you can now have a multi-player game! (Kind of Harry-Potter-Wizard’s-Chess if you need a visual.) If you are looking for some different ideas for getting children active, definitely check out ThinkFun’s Group Games and Activities page!

Full Disclosure: From time to time I receive games from ThinkFun to review, but I do not receive any compensation.  

photo from Elmira College on Flickr
photo from Elmira College on Flickr


The L.E.A.D. DoSeum

Mrs. Lasher’s incredible 5th grade GT students are currently hosting a “pop-up” museum at their school.  Inspired by San Antonio’s new hands-on children’s museum, the DoSeum, the students designed their very own interactive exhibits, and invited select guests to visit.  Here is the invitation they designed.

The L.E.A.D. (Learn, Explore, And Discover) DoSeum consists of three rooms: The Seeker Space, Puzzle Parlor, and Tech Town.  You can see descriptions of the rooms in the invitation linked above.


Mrs. Lasher chronicled the process of creating the L.E.A.D. DoSeum from its inception.  You can read her blog posts and see pictures of the DoSeum here.

I think that this is such a wonderful idea, giving students the opportunity to take charge and plan with an authentic audience in mind.  It’s also nice to do near the end of the school year, as other teachers on the campus will probably be more than happy to take their students on a tour!  Even if you don’t have 3 rooms to spare, you could consider working with other teachers for the last couple of weeks of school to split your students into teams to each design an interactive museum room in their classroom.

Thanks for sharing this, Mrs. Lasher and 5th grade GT students!