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.

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.

close up of human hand
Creative Thinking, K-12, Student Products, Websites

An A-Z of Creativity

I know I probably throw around the phrase “treasure trove” quite a bit, but I can’t resist using it for this extraordinary gift that Donna Golightly (@DonnaGolightly1) has painstakingly assembled and shared for all to use. Her Book Creator resource, An A-Z of Creativity is full of free website tools (and one non-web based tool, Toontastic) that can really make creating fun for both teachers and students. I feel like I am pretty knowledgeable about what’s out there, but I definitely found quite a few links that were new to me, and I imagine you will, too. Thanks to Donna for curating these and making them available for everyone! I’ll be adding this to my “Fun Stuff” Wakelet. When I have time. After I experiment with some of the sites…

texture addiction ball game
Art, Augmented Reality, Books, Creative Thinking, Student Products

The Rich Potential of International Dot Day

UPDATE 9/2/2022: See my September Wakelet for updated Dot Day Resources!

As some of you may know, I updated my Dot Day resources in August. Depending on your cup half empty/half full point of view, you could see that post as a little late (since I was updating a post from 2014) or a little early (since Dot Day is every year on September 15-ish). I will be adding this e-book link to that post. The Rich Potential of International Dot Day is a free e-book available from Apple Books. Created for this year through a collaboration by Apple Distinguished Educators, the book begins with a quote from The Dot author Peter H. Reynolds, “When the going gets tough, the creative get going! Cheering on educators and parents — everyone who will help kids make the most of this school year!” There are 5 sections of activities in the book: Drawing, Sound & Music, Photo, Film, and AR (Augmented Reality). The creative suggestions are designed to be used with iPads, though there are ways many of them can be adapted using different devices. For example, there is a “Your thoughts in dot” time lapse activity suggested by ADE Miriam Walsh using the Pages app that could also be done with Google Slides and Screen-Cast-o-Matic, and “The Ripple of Your Actions” from ADE Simon Pile merely requires milk and food coloring. Altogether, there are over 30 innovative suggestions in the book for ways to celebrate International Dot Day this year. Whether you are at home or at school, take advantage of one of these opportunities to make your mark on the world.

woman covered with polka dot lights
Photo by Aleksandar Pasaric on
3-6, Books, Independent Study, Student Products

Journey to City X: Adventures in Engineering for Kids

About 6 years ago, as people who are excited about learning new things can be wont to do, my colleague and I emphatically agreed to piloting a 3d printer on our elementary school campus without actually knowing a single thing about 3d printing. There was a huge learning curve just trying to figure out how to get the darn thing to print out one of its pre-programmed examples. Once we accomplished the extraordinary feat of coaxing our printer to spit out a plastic bolt that we could use for pretty much nothing, we realized that we needed to figure out what meaningful objects we could fabricate – and how to design them. Our research was frustrating. Other than mass producing keychains and other items with school logos, no one seemed to have any idea about what elementary students might be able to do with a 3d printer. (By the way, if you are thinking of purchasing a 3d printer for your classroom, or doing a Donors Choose request, here is an article I wrote on some considerations you should make before you commit.)

That’s when we stumbled across City X. And Design Thinking. And Tinkercad.

And that’s when we learned that we didn’t need a 3d printer.

Don’t get me wrong. They are nice to have, and students love holding their own designs in their hands. But the most valuable part of the learning is the Design Thinking process.

The free toolkit from City X helped us to walk our students through the design process. The premise of the program is that humans have started a new settlement called City X on another planet, and the citizens need help with different challenges they are encountering in this novel environment. You can read more about how my colleague and I used the program here.

The toolkit includes a lot of resources, and was a true blessing for the two of us, as we discovered a way to really engage children while helping them to learn about empathy, problem-solving, and multiple other lifelong skills.

Now there is a City X book (thanks for letting me know about it, Amy C!), written by one of the co-creators of the original project, Brett Schilke. Journey to City X: Adventures in Engineering for Kids begins with the same idea as the original project, that the mayor of City X is asking for your help with various problems. In this book, however, there is more detail on how to embark on the design adventures as members of “The Irresistible Futures Agency.” It includes 35 challenges in the areas of transportation, environment, communication, food, health, safety, and energy. Each challenge walks students through solving problems for the fictional planet as they make connections to our own, real-world. There are still choices when it comes to who their “clients” will be and what their final solutions entail, but there are additional activities and recommended explorations in each chapter that are perfect for students new to the idea of Design Thinking.

Don’t be discouraged if you don’t have a 3d printer. Students can prototype and test with any number of easily accessible materials such as cardboard and clay. Also keep in mind that the broad categories of each challenge make them relatively easy to integrate with science or social studies curriculum.

Once students experience the City X project, they will be ready to do “real-world” designs using the same framework.

For more of my posts on Design Thinking, click here. Also, this is one of the professional development sessions I offer, and it includes a ton of free resources.

“Foolsball”: a new game you can play in City X
happy multiethnic children discussing structure of primitive organism
Independent Study, K-12, Student Products

Genius Hour Teacher Planner

I am gearing up to do some professional development sessions on Genius Hour this summer, and realized that it might be helpful to have a one-pager for teachers to refer to as they begin planning to do Genius Hour with their students. Genius Hour can come in many forms, depending on your situation, so I thought it might be helpful to have a way to look at the “Big Picture” before designing the details. Most of the planning sheets that I see when I do searches are for the students, but I’d love for you to let me know if you have seen any that are for teachers. I am in the process of updating my Genius Hour resources, including the digital ones, and will let you know when the new and improved page is posted. In the meantime, if you are thinking of doing Genius Hour next school year, feel free to download this planner. Let me know if you see anything that needs to be tweaked! Also, if you are interested in me doing a professional development for your school or district on Genius Hour, Design Thinking, Coding, or Maker Education, please e-mail me at!

Access the PDF for this page here