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.
If you have a child who enjoys drawing, Extraordinaires may be just the gift for him or her. This unique kit encourages Design Thinking by providing Character cards (Extraordinaires), Project Cards, Think Cards, and Idea Pad, and a case. (Included supplies vary, depending on the set.) Children can choose an Extraordinaire and a Project to design for that character. Empathy is encouraged by suggesting the designer should first study the Extraordinaires card closely to learn anything that might be helpful in creating a personalized design for the character. Think Cards can be used to help the designer consider improvements or tweak that can be made to the design. Inventing a “backstory” for the character is also recommended.
We have used the Buildings Set and the Design Studio in my 2nd and 4th grade classes. The students really enjoy choosing from the unusual cartoon-like Extraordinaires, and quickly become close to the fictional characters they’ve selected. These sets definitely spark the imagination – especially for children who love to invent, draw, and/or write.
My 2nd graders have been learning about physical and structural adaptations in nature. To exercise their creativity, I asked them to brainstorm wild animals that would make unusual class pets. Then they were asked to draw our classroom with adaptations for the pet. The twist was that they could not actually draw the animal in the classroom. The rest of us tried to guess the “pets” by using clues in their pictures and the descriptions that they wrote. I was proud of their varied ideas and some of the incredible details they added to the drawings. I’ve included some examples below. (I love how the first student decided the most unusual animal he could think of would be an alien from outer space!) . Usually, my students have a difficult time with the “Adapt” part of S.C.A.M.P.E.R., but this activity proved to be really fun and they couldn’t wait to share their work. I’m definitely putting this in the file, “Do Again Next Year!”
One of my favorite podcasts is “TED Radio Hour” on NPR, on which each episode examines TED talks that address a particular theme. Last week, the theme was, “The Power of Design,” and I found many parts applicable to education. The show includes Tony Fadell, who speaks about the thought processes that went into the first iPod, and Janine Benyus, who speaks about what designers can learn from nature (very applicable to my 2nd grade unit on structures), and three other TED speakers. Alice Rawsthorn speaks about the rebellious natures of the best designers – such as Blackbeard. Yes, the pirate. You can thank Blackbeard for the skull and crossbones.
I have been thinking about innovation and creativity quite a bit, and how I can help my students to try to be more original and less derivative. Listening to this podcast reminded me of this recent interview with Quentin Tarantino when he was asked for his advice. “My advice for when you want to find a story you want to tell is: What is a movie you want to see?” Tarantino said. “What is it that you want to contribute? There’s a whole lot of movies you could see without you. What’s the movie that we have never seen because you haven’t made it. Make that movie. Make the movie that’s the reason you’re going to be doing it.”
What’s the ______________ that we have never seen because you haven’t made it? The story, the invention, the picture, the school, the educational system… Fill in the blank with what you want to design.
It’s almost September 15th-ish, which means that Dot Day is quickly approaching! For those of you who have not encountered Dot Day before, it is an international event inspired by the Peter Reynolds book, The Dot. It’s all about celebrating creativity and “making your mark”! In last year’s post about Dot Day, I shared a few “new to me” Dot Day ideas for the celebration. This year, Breakout Edu has announced a brand new breakout adventure for elementary and middle school students based on The Dot. Students must solve the clues to set creativity and inspiration free. I recommend doing the breakout activity and then giving your students the opportunity to unleash their own inner artists as a follow-up!
In the opening keynote of ISTE 2017, Jad Abumrad, creator and co-host of RadioLab, spoke about the creative process. He reminded us that all creators regularly oscillate between excitement and self-doubt. As Abumrad described some of his experiences developing stories for the RadioLab podcast, I couldn’t help but be reminded of the many Genius Hour projects I’ve done my best to facilitate over the years. Beginning with brainstorming questions, selecting one that resonates, researching the question, and running into obstacles, RadioLab is the embodiment of my students’ attempts to complete their quests for answers. And, just as my students sometimes run into perceived dead ends, so do the hosts of RadioLab. But by paying close attention, they may find paths that lead to something even better. As Abumrad says, “If you commit to the questions, you probably will not get to where you want to go, but you could get somewhere else. And it could be beautiful.” (This is why I think it’s important to tell students to “Get Lost” and advocate for Trailblazing.)
Our job as educators is to not only help our students “navigate uncertainty,” but to teach them to seek it out. Abumrad calls this, “The German Forest,” (based on an extremely difficult story he pursued regarding Wagner’s “Ring Cycle”). Going into the forest is always intimidating, yet exhilarating when you are able to make it to the other side. The more often you subject yourself to this, the better equipped you will be. Though the trials may never get easier, you will be able to reassure yourself that you have encountered this before – and succeeded.
During his presentation, Abumrad showed a favorite video of mine that features Ira Glass speaking about storytelling. Glass’ German Forest is “The Gap,” and it can only be bridged by constantly creating and endlessly honing your craft.
These are the lessons that we must impart to our children:
Seek out what interests you, and be willing to take it where it leads you – even if that is not what you envisioned
Take calculated risks
It is normal to be uncertain, and to question your abilities
Allow self-doubt to guide you to improvement rather than to stop you from trying
As a parent or a teacher you may find yourself in situations when you need to “kill time.” One tool that I like to use is, “Chat Pack for Kids.” You can find versions of this from different companies, but I really like this one because it is reasonably priced, the cards are small, and the topics really seem to appeal to people of all ages. My students who are in robot camp with me this summer enjoy taking out the plastic case that I keep the cards in and asking each other some of the questions, but it’s also a good activity as we wait for parent pick-up. We all have fun thinking about some of the different scenarios posed, such as what animal we would choose to miniaturize to have as a pet or the one thing that we could change about school. I try to model creative thinking by offering off-the-wall answers, and we all learn a bit about each other at the same time. Whether you’re on a long road trip, or just waiting with your class for pictures to be taken, the “Chat Pack for Kids” is a fun way to keep occupied.