Prompt that says, "Prototype a dog treat launcher using a microcomputer."
3-12, Creative Thinking

Sharpen Stem Activity and Design Generators

I learned about the Sharpen Stem Activity and Design Generators to help with the Design Thinking process during the same #AppleEDULeaderChat where I learned about Susan Maynor’s Imaginariums. The Sharpen Generator tools are web-based, and offer randomized prompts to get you thinking about creating. They are similar to the Protobot tool I wrote about a little over a year ago. Though there are two separate generators — Design and Stem Activities — you could use for Design Thinking, the Stem Activities one is probably has the most potential to be utilized effectively by the readers of this blog.

From Sharpen Stem Activity Generator

As you can see in the image above, you can click on the “New Challenge” button to generate different prompts. You can also lock the parts you like and continue hitting the button for the segment you aren’t quite satisfied with, yet. There are three categories of challenges you can choose from: Inventions, Build and Engineer, and Create and Draw. Once you choose one, you can bookmark it and even set a timer for completing it.

The Design Generator seems better suited for secondary students due to the difficulty-level of some of the terms I generated. Of course, it is actually a tool that can be used by people who design for their professions, so it has some complicated suggestions.

Something else that you might note on the site is that there are STEM Lesson Packs available to download. However, these are not free. They run between $9-$12. I have not previewed them, so can’t offer an opinion about their worth.

I love doing workshops with teachers on Design Thinking, so contact me if you are interested! For some free downloads that encourage creative thinking, check out my S.C.A.M.P.E.R. packs on the Downloads for Teachers page!

Design creates culture.
Culture shapes values.
Values determine the future.

Robert L. Peters, Graphic Designer & Educator
Paradoxing prompts from Imaginarium
Creative Thinking, K-12, Teaching Tools

Imaginariums for Creative Thinking from Susan Maynor

Stop what you are doing and read this post about Imaginariums for creative thinking from Susan Maynor! If you are looking for a free resource that will inspire creativity for your students, Susan Maynor (@shmaynor on Twitter) has THE absolutely perfect solution for you. You can use her Imaginariums as warm-ups, in centers, for fast-finishers, for gifted students, for ANYONE in your class — one set for each month, and all FREE!

I didn’t just stumble, but completely tripped over last week’s #AppleEDULeaderChat (Thursdays at 6-6:30 Pacific Time), and just started bookmarking everything I saw because it was all so great! I’ll share a few more links that I think you’ll like during the next week, but I had to start with this one because I could totally see using it in my classroom immediately. When I asked Susan if I could share her resource (right after I hit the “Follow” button), here was her response, “Absolutely! I created them in Apple Pages so could easily be used with iPad – but also in PDF so could be device agnostic. Each Imaginarium is packed with creative practice including everything from elaboration to original thinking to ideation to prototyping to reflection to more and then some :)” Below is an example of one of the thirty-three pages in her February Imaginarium packet.

from Susan Maynor’s February Imaginarium Pack

Quite honestly, I can’t believe these are free, and would pay for a book of these, though I am thrilled that Susan Maynor offers them for zero cents. You can see more incredible work from Susan on her LinkTree:

So, to recap: download these Imaginariums tout suite, check out the #AppleEduLeaderChat every Thursday night, and stay tuned for more nuggets I picked up from last week’s chat!

I’ll be adding this post to my “Fun Stuff” Wakelet. Check out that one and more collections at

3-12, Creative Thinking, Critical Thinking, Education, Games

Gifts for the Gifted 2016 – Anaxi

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 found Anaxi at Marbles: the Brain Store when I was hunting for a gift for my 13-year-old daughter.  We both love word games, so Anaxi caught my eye with its, “Connecting Words in Surprising Ways” subtitle.

Anaxi is for 2-6 players, ages 8-99.  I could actually see it being played in the classroom, especially with my gifted students, with some minor rule adjustments (particularly the time limit).

In the box you will find a 1-minute-timer, instructions, and round, translucent cards in 3 different colors.  There are also 2 “base” cards to help you place the colored cards in the correct positions for each round of play.

A round consists of choosing a card of each color, placing them on the base card so they form a Venn diagram, and then trying to name as many people, places, or things that you can which connect overlapping cards.  After a minute is up (which I recommend changing to longer time periods if the players are elementary school age), you receive a point for each answer that connects 2 overlapping cards, and 4 points for the ones that connect all 3 cards – but you only receive points for unique answers.  If anyone else has the same answer, it is eliminated.  You can see a more detailed explanation in the video below.

Anaxi slightly reminds me of Apples to Apples as both games require the players to make connections, and there is opportunity for a lot of creativity.  There is also opportunity for a lot of arguing, which you might want to address before you begin a game.

Anaxi would be fun for a family game night – maybe giving adults a one-minute time limit and giving children 5 minutes to level the playing field.

You can find Anaxi at Marbles: the Brain Store
You can find Anaxi at Marbles: the Brain Store

Creative Thinking, Critical Thinking, Education, K-12, Teaching Tools

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:

Creative Thinking, Education, K-12, Student Products, Teaching Tools

Makerspace Essentials – Magnatiles

I’ve seen Magnatiles at toy stores and a few of the children’s museums I’ve visited.  From what I could tell, they seemed like a great manipulative for building.  So, I finally ordered some last year.

A week after I received my set, I happened to be helping out in a Kinder classroom, and realized with a bit of disappointment that Magnatiles seemed to be a standard supply for 5 and 6 year-olds.  I worried that my investment would be met with disdain by my older students.

Sure enough, when I pulled out the set, the first thing a student said was, “We used to play with those in Kindergarten!”

But it wasn’t said critically; instead the third grader sounded nostalgic and wistful for the times when building with Magnatiles was an acceptable part of the curriculum.

Since then, my gifted students and Maker Club students have awed me with some of their Magnatile creations.  Sometimes I set what seem to be impossible parameters, yet the students still find a way to make my jaw drop.

The challenge was to build "something funny" so this group designed an office building shaped like eyeglasses.
The challenge was to build “something funny” so this group designed an office building shaped like eyeglasses.

A 5th grade challenge: Adapt a hayride for another environment. This group made a “hay” sled for the North Pole – with living quarters.

Lesson learned by me – never think that toys that encourage imagination are too “young” for my students!

For more Makerspace Essentials, check out this post!

Apps, Art, Creative Thinking, Education, Games, K-12, Motivation, Problem Solving, Student Products, Teaching Tools, Websites

Or You Could Organize a Flash Mob

“I don’t know why they even make the kids go to school during the last 2 weeks.  The textbooks have been picked up, grades turned in, and all the teachers do is show movies.” Okay, first of all – NOT TRUE! Okay, maybe some of it is sometimes true.  Possibly.

But think about it. Let’s say school ended in March instead of June. Wouldn’t we still have the same problems? As far as I can see, the only solutions are:

A.) Make the end date of school a surprise every year by having a groundhog predict it with his shadow:

“Hooray! He saw his shadow.  That means six more weeks until we can ask him to come out again and repeat this process.”

“Oh darn! He didn’t see his shadow! That means today is your last day of school!”


2.) Schedule all standardized for the last 2 days of school.  Because, let’s face it, that’s the only thing that gives school meaning. Otherwise, it’s just about learning for the sake of learning.

Granted, neither of those solutions would be very popular.  So, I think we have to go with Door #3 and make the last two weeks as meaningful as possible – maybe even more meaningful. What can we do to make ourselves, as teachers, feel less like babysitters?

Give our students some physical activity by teaching them how to pack up a classroom. Give our students some physical activity with GoNoodle or Deskercises.

Stretch their brains by showing them Monsters Inc for the 70th time. Stretch their brains by showing them Word Picture Brainteasers or stumping them with 50 Riddles.

Let them play Heads Up Seven Up. Let them play Creativity Games or one of the bazillion quizzes on Kahoot.

Reminisce by showing them a slide show of pictures from the year. Reminisce by creating a Thinglink of a class picture with links to a video from each student or allowing them to each make their own Pic Collage that represents their year. (Check out the new Pic Collage for Kids app here!)

Assign them to draw whatever they want, which usually results in Minecraft, Pokemon, or My Little Pony posters they all want to gift you with. Assign them to draw something that challenges them to think, like a S.C.A.M.P.E.R. picture or a Sketch Note that summarizes their year.

Have your students start moving your supplies to your new classroom for next year. Have your students design a Rube Goldberg Machine to move your supplies or try out one of the many engineering challenges supplied by the F.L.I. girls in their Challenge Boxes.

Speaking of boxes, you probably need to pack some – so get those young, energetic kids to load them up for you. Speaking of boxes, you can always have the students bring in their own, and design games to play the last day of school (on which they will be sure to bring those games home).  Even better, put all the stuff you don’t need anymore into a pile and challenge them to make something new using only those supplies (with the understanding that their new invention will definitely go home with them on the last day).

I think I’ve suggested enough ideas to last one or two days.  How about we crowdsource activities for the other 7 or 8 days?  Put your favorite end-of-year lessons in the comments below!

image from:
image from: Irvine Unified School District