Assembly is an iOS app that is particularly suited for those who like to design with shapes.  This is ideal for me because I never took a drawing class in my life.  In addition, my students have been working with Tinkercad (which is all about combining shapes to create) so I am kind of in that frame of mind.

I decided to try Assembly when I saw a blurb that mentioned it is good for creating logos.  I am even less practiced in graphic design than I am in drawing, but I have been looking for a new “Engage Their Minds” logo, and decided to give it a try.

Assembly is fairly intuitive if you’ve used other design programs. You drag shapes onto the screen, and you can then resize, rotate, move, and change their colors.  Put some shapes forward and others back, reverse the image and/or even group them if you so desire.

The free app includes 180 shapes – but I soon realized I needed more.  After about 5 minutes of using the app I decided to invest in the $11.99-never-have-to-buy-another-pack-of shapes-again option because I hate wondering if I could find the perfect shape if I just purchase one more pack, and then discovering that wasn’t the right pack at all.  I’m probably the company’s ideal customer, a non-artist with Delusions of Dazzling Design skills.

Here is my first attempt at designing a logo.  I created all of the letters in “Engage” and “Minds” using shapes in the Assembly app.  Then I imported the image to Type Drawing so I could stamp the “their” part where I wanted.  My husband, who has some experience with graphic design, actually seemed slightly impressed by my first try.


I have to admit that I had a blast making the logo, even if I don’t end up using it!

Pixite, the maker of the Assembly app, has other creative app options here.  The suite of apps includes a coloring one for those of you who like to administer self-therapy with adult coloring books 😉


Reverse Brainstorming

I feel like teaching children to brainstorm has become more and more difficult as my teaching career progresses.  Even my younger students who, in theory, should be less inhibited, barely manage “brain drizzles” until they’ve had lots of practice.  It is very hard to encourage them to understand that quantity can be better than quality when that is the opposite of what they are told most of the time.  (See this article that cites an example of the importance of quantity in an interesting study.)

I recently ran across the technique of “reverse brainstorming” in this article from Edudemic.  Mind Tools also has an article about using reverse brainstorming here.  I have never tried this with my students before, but it looks like a lot of fun.  I decided to try it myself first.

Problem:  How can I get students to increase the quantity of ideas when they brainstorm?

Reverse Problem: How can I get students to generate the least number of ideas when they brainstorm?

  • tell them their ideas have to be perfect or they can’t come to class anymore
  • refuse to give them a writing utensil
  • tell them that no silly ideas are allowed
  • take away 5 minutes of recess for every idea they write
  • don’t let them talk to anyone
  • count down the time out loud while they are brainstorming
  • distract them with a snake or candy (both are equally distracting)
  • emphasize handwriting and spelling
  • make them sing their ideas to the rest of the class

So now that I have a list of what not to do, how can that help me think of something I can do?

Well, reverse brainstorming was fun, so I’m going to definitely have the students give that a try.  Also, looking at the list I notice that a few of my ideas have to do with writing. Students are allowed to draw but that seems to hamper them more. One thing my students seem to have no trouble with is talking – so maybe I could put them in small groups and let them record their idea.

Do you have any creative ideas for brainstorming?  Feel free to add them in the comments below!

Makerspace Essentials – Design Thinking

I’ve been talking about using 3d printers this week – how to choose one, how to integrate them into the curriculum, and a website that offers project ideas with tutorials.

I didn’t put any of those posts into my Makerspace Essentials list. The reason for this is simple; I don’t think 3d printers are essential for a successful makerspace – yet.  They can be nice to have, but still need to come down in price and up in user-friendliness before I would say every makerspace needs to include one in its inventory.

What is essential, though, is helping the students to learn the steps in the Design Thinking Process.  This life skill is not generally fostered by the traditional school curriculums where there is only one right answer and there is no time for repeated iterations and revisions.  But it is my opinion that every student needs to learn about it.  A makerspace is the perfect place for that to happen.

Design Thinking may look a bit different according to the model you choose, but all of them have commonalities.  Brainstorming (often called ideation) is always included.  Prototyping and testing also appear in all of the models, though those particular words aren’t always used.  Iteration (repeated efforts to fine-tune a project) and revision are also vital.

My colleague and I use the City X curriculum with groups we meet with each day.  Provided by IDEACo, it includes a Design Thinking model that the students learn to identify as they participate in each stage.  With our Maker Club, we use the basic TMI (Think, Make, Improve) model that was recommended in the book, Invent to Learn.  You can find other resources at Design Thinking for Educators.

If your makerspace does not have formal lessons (hopefully you are able to offer pure exploration times), you can still guide students in the use of Design Thinking. Use posters on the wall to point out the steps in the process.  Encourage them to learn from mistakes and to make changes and adjustments.  Show them what brainstorming looks like, and allow for a lot of collaboration.

Being able to create is a skill that was becoming far too rare.  I feel that I am witnessing a revival of it.  However we may have to undo some of the damage already done by our consumption-focused world.  So, don’t forget to give your students one of the biggest “real-world” skills that will impact their lives in a positive way – Design Thinking.

image from Wikimedia Commons
image from: Dean Myers,


I attended an amazing professional development yesterday that was hosted by Trinity University.  In San Antonio, we have a company called VentureLab, which bills itself as “Entrepeneurship Education for Kids.”  Members from the company presented yesterday’s workshop, and led us through the steps of inventing and pitching products that solve problems.

In addition to the fact that the session was very hands-on and not a typical “sit and get” training, I found it to be extremely relevant to what many of us already teach our GT and Maker Club students.  In the past couple of years,  more and more “design thinking” has become embedded into the curriculum, as well as the importance of a growth mindset.  Both of these are key ingredients for teaching about entrepeneurship.

I am hoping to integrate what I learned into our Genius Hour projects this year which means, yes, I’ll be tweaking that part of my curriculum once again.  I’ll be using design thinking to better plan the design thinking part of my lessons.

Okay.  I think I might have just blown a few neurons up with that last thought.

Anyway, I want to thank  VentureLab for helping our group to develop an idea to help teachers that will one day make us so much money we won’t need the idea;)

I can’t show you the idea because you might steal it.  Yep. It’s that good.

This isn’t our idea. It’s from “The Invention of the Telephone” on Wikipedia.
This isn’t our idea either, but I really like it. And it has a Creative Commons license for noncommercial use, generously shared by Sha3teely.

If you’re in the San Antonio and Austin areas, you should definitely check out VentureLab for more information on their camps, field trips, and school visits.  They know how to make learning relevant and fun.

(P.S.  A big shout-out to April, a reader of this blog, who I met at the VentureLab workshop.  So glad to meet you!)

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