Art, Creative Thinking, Education, Fun Friday, K-12

Put Excel to Another Use
“Cherry Blossoms at Jogo Castle” by Tatsuo Horiuchi

You know what Excel is, right?  That wonderful Microsoft product for creating spreadsheets has been around quite awhile.  It’s quite useful for calculating totals and making graphs – and for making beautiful artwork.

For today’s Fun Friday post, I want to share with you the masterpieces of Tatsuo Horiuchi, a 73-year-old man who uses a software program designed to crunch numbers for a completely different purpose – drawing.  Horiuchi uses the autoshape feature in Excel to fashion these amazing pictures, and even won an art contest in 2006 for his designs.  You can read more about Horiuchi here.

What I like about Horiuchi’s work is that it is a prime example of one of the S.C.A.M.P.E.R. tools that we teach our gifted students – “Put to Another Use.”  I’ll warrant that not many of us have opened an Excel spreadsheet and thought, “This would be a wonderful media for creating art.”

Now if I can just figure out how to make Microsoft Paint balance my checking account…


Education, K-12, Universal Design for Learning

What Do You Think – How Individualized Should We Make Education?


Recently I’ve run across quite a few articles that seem to give opposing viewpoints about the direction schools should be going in order to improve.  I would like to hear your thoughts on some of these topics.

Big Think recently posted an article called, “IEPS Shouldn’t Be Just About Special Ed.”  The article, by Chris Dawson, advocates the use of technology to differentiate instruction for all students.  The claim is, and to a certain extent it’s true, that only Special Education students have legal documents that specify the type of instruction they should receive.  However, all students should have this right, instead of being lumped into large groups who receive standardized lessons which are often directed towards “the middle.”

As a teacher of gifted students, I hear this observation quite a bit from parents and students.  While I certainly understand the difficulties with the current structure of most schools to make these types of accommodations, technology can definitely get us closer to customizing instruction.  We just need to be careful of the danger of automatizing learning too much. That is why I am a huge advocate of “Genius Hour” and projects like our district’s pilot summer program.  I also support Universal Design for Learning as a means for achieving this goal of creating a learning environment that supports and benefits all types of learners.

Interestingly, I found a comment on Dawson’s article that showed a different perspective.  “The problem with this notion is that life out of schools doesn’t accomodate to us. We accomodate to it. We also risk limiting kids to the things they are already good at. That they already like. Perhaps the Dawson family would enjoy a different brand of pizza on Friday night, or perhaps something altogether different than pizza.”

So, I wonder.  What do you think?  Does designing instruction so that it will raise the bar for every student based on his or her needs and abilities do them a disservice in the “real world?”  All thoughtful comments are appreciated!

Apps, Creative Thinking, Critical Thinking, Education, Games, K-12, Parenting, Teaching Tools, Websites

Mensa for Kids Pinterest Boards

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I have previously posted about Mensa for Kids’ game site and lesson plans resources. Recently, I discovered their Pinterest Boards, which offer a ton of resources for teachers, parents, and students that range from apps to ideas for teaching technology.  There are book recommendations from kids, inspirational videos, and even classroom design ideas.  Here is a link to a fun “Brain Breaks” idea from Liz at “The Happy Teacher”, which I found on Mensa’s Teaching Resources board.  Or, if you are a parent, you might want to check out these Rainbow Sock Bubble Snakes from Tammy at “Housing the Forest” that was pinned to the Kids and Activities board.  Whether you are looking for teaching or parenting inspiration, the Mensa Education and Research Foundation has a great Pinterest selection for you!


Art, Creative Thinking, Critical Thinking, Education, K-12, Motivation, Philosophy, Social Studies, Teaching Tools, Websites

Zen Pencils

artist:  Gavin Aung Than

The genius behind Zen Pencils is Gavin Aung Than.  Zen Pencils is a “a cartoon blog which adapts inspirational quotes into comic stories.”  I admire Than’s talent immensely, and I was so thrilled when I discovered his site.  Like many people, I collect inspiring quotes, and when Than’s graphics accompany them, they are true art.

You can get your own set of three free, high quality posters from Zen Pencils by signing up for updates here.  They feature quotes from Ralph Waldo Emerson, and I think they are perfect for the classroom.  If you go to Than’s blog, he even gives you tips for framing his posters.  More prints are available, of course, from the Zen Pencils store.  One of my favorite quotes from Albert Einstein is featured above, and can be found in the store.

I also like the Downloads page.  My plan for next year is to download the wallpapers to the desktop computers in my classroom – maybe even the iPads – so when they are not being used there will still be some inspiring graphics on their screens!

Art, Creative Thinking, Education, Fun Friday, K-12, Motivation, Student Products, Teaching Tools, Videos

Next Year Will Be Even Better – Doodling

For many of us, at least in the United States, another school year is over.  Even as we eagerly embark on our rejuvenation journeys for the summer, you might be thinking, as I am, of new ideas for the next school year.  This week, I would like to share some of the improvements I hope to make in my classroom for the 2013-2014 school year.  Since today is “Fun Friday”, here is an element of fun I want to emphasize more next year – doodling!

I need to encourage more doodling in my class – maybe even model it more for my students.  I’m not talking about the distracted kind of eyes-staring-out-the-window-while-you-scribble type of doodling.  I’m talking about doodling with purpose and panache.  The Vi Hart kind of doodling:

Sunni Brown can give tell you all of the myths about doodling in a fun, doodly way:

For more examples of doodling, you can see “10 Brilliant Examples of Sketch Notes: Notetaking for the 21st Century.”

Below, you can see one of the 10 pieces, based on Seth Grodin’s talk, “Stop Stealing Dreams.” (I had to look up “one-buttock playing”, which I assure you is completely appropriate in context!)


Education, K-12, Problem Solving, Teaching Tools, Web 2.0

Next Year Will Be Even Better – Skype in the Classroom


For many of us, at least in the United States, another school year is over.  Even as we eagerly embark on our rejuvenation journeys for the summer, you might be thinking, as I am, of new ideas for the next school year.  This week, I would like to share some of the improvements I hope to make in my classroom for the 2013-2014 school year.  Today’s post is about using Skype in the classroom.

I say that I am going to do it every year, and I never do.  I tried it once a few years ago, and it was a bit of a disaster – completely disorganized, kids who were bored watching other kids doing it, kids who were doing it with nothing to say.

But then I ran across this Mystery Skype article that I posted about in April, and I saw how it could be something manageable – and a highly engaging learning experience for my students.

I love that the site deals with the logistics, like assigned roles for the students, and possible questions.  I really could have used both of those things during our first experience!

I definitely plan to try this with my first graders next year.  Our theme is “Folktales” and we read stories from around the world.  At that age, even gifted first graders are still trying to figure out the differences between cities, countries, and continents – and they are absolutely fascinated with looking up locations on the globe and on Google Earth.

I also found Skype in the Classroom, which gives even more resources.

I’m trying to think of other ways to use Skype besides the typical ones (interviewing an author or  learning about an international classroom).  One way that I am considering is to bring it in to our Systems Thinking unit by having the students from different countries respond to a global issue and the way they see it effecting them.  Along the same lines, they could discuss their reactions to an event in history.  It might be fun to take some common idioms from different cultures and have the students complete or interpret them.  I’d also like to get some people to speak to my students about their passions, and Skype could open this up to more than local leaders.

Here are some more Skype resources in case you are interested.  However, I would love to hear any ideas you may have that are NOT on this list!