For her Genius Hour project, one of my 5th grade students questioned what the world would be like without creativity. Since she used Scratch for last year’s project (on Sleepwalking), I told her that she needed to present her information in a different way, but that she could still use Scratch for part of her project. Whereas she used Scratch to give her information about her topic last year, she decided to use Animaker this year. However, she chose to use Scratch for the “interactive” portion of her presentation (I always insist that there be a part that involves the audience), and blew me away with the complexity of her game. She designed “Creativity Land,” which includes five interactive games that help students learn the information she gave in her videos. This. Was. Not. For. A. Grade. She did this purely out of her love for learning and creating. English is her second language – maybe third, because imagination is certainly her first.
If you don’t do Genius Hour with your students, you are missing out on something amazing. And so are your students.
Dave Eggers, award-winning author of books such as A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius, explains in his 2008 TED Talk, “Once Upon a School,” how he conceived the idea of a tutoring and creative writing center that would be part of the community, a place that would offer one-on-one help to the students in the area with writers who would volunteer their time.
The center, with its pirate storefront and ever-increasing list of dedicated tutors, was a success. It grew into more centers around the United States, providing “under-resourced communities access to high-quality, engaging, and free writing, tutoring, and publishing programs.” As quickly as it has grown, however, 826 National has an even more ambitious goal – to provide its inspirational creative-writing resources to teachers everywhere. To that end, the company launched “826 Digital” in November of 2017, a website that offers innovative “sparks” and lessons ready to be used in classrooms to galvanize generations of writers of all ages. Aligned with the Common Core, the unique activities include field-tested resources from Dave Eggers, educators, and volunteers at 826 National sites.
826 Digital is a “pay-as-you-wish” site, which means that teachers can become members for free or whatever they choose to donate. With lesson titles like, “MIRACLE ELIXIR: INVENTING POTIONS TO CURE BALDNESS AND OTHER THINGS THE WORLD NEEDS RIGHT NOW,” students cannot help but be intrigued and motivated to write. Sparks like, “CHEESY POP SONG POETRY,” and “MONSTER SCATTERGORIES” will contribute to a classroom environment of humor and creativity.
Your students may not be able to go to the original 826 Valencia pirate store, or the Brooklyn Superhero Supply Company, but you can make your own classroom into a writer’s room that encourages imagination by accessing the great resources available at 826 Digital.
You have less than 2 days to vote for this year’s Doodle 4 Google contest winners. This year’s theme is , “What inspires me.” This is a great opportunity to show your students the incredible creativity that is exemplified by the chosen finalists from K-12. And, even though the deadline to enter has passed, you can take advantage of the free educator materials to guide your students as they create their own Google doodles. Are you done with standardized testing for the year? Looking for ways to engage your students as the school year comes to a close? This is definitely one way to do it!
My 4th grade students are currently studying mathematical masterpieces. I love showing them examples of the intersection of math and art. When I saw a tweet yesterday morning from @TheKidShouldSeeThis with a link to the video of John Edmark’s spiral geometries, I knew right away that they would want to watch the video. It weirdly connected with the magical drawbridge from yesterday’s video, so I showed that part to them first. We have already talked about Fibonacci and the Golden Spiral, so they immediately found ways to connect both videos to their learning.
Since the students have also been using Scratch coding, I found a Scratch project for making spirals. First we looked “inside” to decipher the code. Then the students explored running the program. After that, I talked about creative constraints, and gave them the challenge of changing one and only one part of the code to see how it made the program run differently. They recorded the results of their new programs and the class tried to guess what variable each student changed based on the videos. Then I gave them time to freely remix however many parts of the program they liked.
This was one of those times that the students could happily have explored all day. It was their first time remixing a program, and they delighted in trying to take it to the extremes by putting ridiculous numbers in to see how large or small or non-existent their spirals became. Some of them created spirals so tiny that they appeared to be flowers blooming as they popped on to the Scratch stage.
And I still haven’t blown their mind with this Vi Hart video yet. With the school year almost over, we may have to take this unit into their 5th grade year. There is so much beauty in math, and we have barely scratched the surface!
Thomas Heatherwick demonstrates amazing feats of design, architecture, and engineering in this TED video that I showed my 2nd graders (studying structures) this week. After the revelation I had a few weeks ago that my students aren’t entirely sure of the importance of creativity, I wanted to be certain that they saw these examples of unique designs that defy all norms. The favorite, which literally has gotten “oohs and ahs” from every audience I’ve shown it to so far, is the bridge. (Go to about 3:33 on the video to see that directly.) Almost as popular with my students are the apartment buildings near the end of the video that demonstrate that not all tall buildings are wider at the bottom than the top!
Since my 2nd graders are studying structures right now, it seems only right that they should design one of their own. With Mother’s Day coming up, I thought I could make their designs seem more relevant if they had a “client” in mind. I keep talking about the importance of empathy in Design Thinking, and they seem to have a difficult time empathizing with fictional characters, so I chose someone they might know a bit more.
We started by brainstorming things that their moms like. One hand immediately went up. “Facebook,” the student declared. LOL, I thought, hoping this wasn’t about to become one of those situations where the students volunteered more information than needed to be shared in a public school setting… My own daughter would probably respond, “Playing Sudoku on her iPad while she watches ‘Call the Midwife.'”
Fortunately, the rest of the responses were pretty standard. “Peace and quiet” seemed pretty popular, as did “sleep” and “me.” Some of the students suggested they also put things that their moms don’t like, such as shoes on the floor, to help them with their later designs.
After the students brainstormed decent lists, I showed them an example of a house floorplan. We talked about what unique rooms we could add to customize a house for their mom. “For example, you might like basketball so an indoor basketball court would be in your dream home. But what would be in your mom’s?”
The floorplans are just rough drafts at the moment, but you can see a couple of examples below. I’m still debating what the final product will look like. Draw the outside of the house and do a green screen video? Make a card with the house facade on the outside and the floorplan on the inside? I think the moms will get a kick out of what their children think they value no matter what the medium of delivery, but I’d be happy to take any of your suggestions in the comments below!
And I absolutely adore the snow shovel art done by Cindy Chinn. You can see more images in this article, and you can visit her Etsy store here. Thanks to Cindy for giving me permission to include this picture/ (If you like her snow shovel art, you should also check out her pencil carvings!)