Brain Research, Creativity

Are You Creative?


I just read a really interesting article on creativity.

The well-known known illusion above can be seen in two ways: as both a duck and a rabbit. Which do you see first? And if you see one, can you also see the other?

Most people see the duck first and can flip between the two representations, but the question is: how easy is it for you to flip between them? Does it require real mental strain, or can you do it at will?

The article suggests that the ability to see both the rabbit and the duck and to flip easily between the two is an indicator that you are more likely to be creative in your thinking. To test this idea, researchers gave participants a limited time period to come up with novel uses for everyday objects: a chair, a brick, a paperclip. Those who could see both animals in the illustration could come up with five novel uses for an object.  Those who couldn’t, could come up with two.

While I am now incredibly curious to try this with my kids, I am also left thinking:

  • would kids have an easier time of thinking with greater flexibility than adults?
  • how do we grow our ability to look at problems from creative perspectives?
  • is this inherent or learned behavior?

As I was thinking about this, I was also thinking about a creative solution to a real world problem that my friend’s fifth grade class encountered. Some may say that picketing and boycotting and protesting are not creative solutions, but when you are in fifth grade and the people you are standing up to are tenth graders from your school, I would say it was not only a creative way to express their point of view, but a very brave one too. Check out their story – it is a fascinating read.

As teachers, we need to be prepared to flip the duck (or rabbit) and challenge ourselves to see things differently: our kids, our curriculum, the assignments we give out, the expectations we have of our kids.

Equally, it is probably a good idea to ask the same of our parents.  School as we knew it shouldn’t be the same as school today. At least, not a school I want to be a teacher at.  Many parents are more than receptive to this, if we share our why with them: why we are making changes, why school is different, why we are pushing something new.  One of my blog posts on this subject was recently reposted on the IBO Sharing PYP Practice blog. To me it was reassuring to hear the feedback from parents: once our reasoning was explained to them, they were more than receptive to the change.

Sometimes it is really hard to change our focus from the rabbit (or the duck) but that doesn’t mean we should stop looking or stop challenging ourselves to look at things from a more creative perspective.If you are ready to take the challenge, here are some cool tips to rid yourself of excuses for you lack of creativity (this is going up in my classroom tomorrow!):




I ask you again: Are you creative?

Creativity, Design

Build. Make. Hack. Grow.


I have posted previously on enabling creativity. One of the resources I mentioned was the DIY Website. It has been going for a while now and really, just keeps getting better.  In short, it is a place to be inspired and inspire others with the things you can build, make, hack, or grow. Which makes it perfect for those of us who have Genius Hour (or a derivative thereof in our classrooms) or are encouraging kids to pursue a passion (and shouldn’t that be all of us?).


One of the features I haven’t noticed before is the what’s trending ladder on the home page.  This shows the topics that are most popular amongst the DIY community.  Clicking on any of these terms will take you to see what others have been doing.

In addition to showcasing what you have made to an online community, you can earn badges for completing projects. The badges have a number of challenges and upon completion of three of the challenges you will get your badge. Here is a selection of badges most recently added:

Skills Badges

And here is a closer look at the ‘Maker’ badge and the challenges you can choose from.  The ‘tools’ section on the right will take you to web pages of information associated with the skill set you are looking at. The challenges (not in picture) come with information to guide you through the challenge.

Maker Skills


You can sign up for weekly emails from DIY.  On Saturday morning, they send out suggestions for three weekend projects and ask if you have any questions to reply to the email and they will get back to you.  I have been subscribing for a while and when we began our Energy unit at the beginning of the year, I was asking about alternative energy skill sets and they do email back! I have always found the DIY people to be really receptive to feedback and I am sure eager to answer questions from kids – again teaching them about seeing out information for themselves.  Here are examples of this week’s weekend projects:

As we begin our Exhibition unit on Monday, this will be another of the resources shared with my kids.  I am interested in seeing where it takes them in learning more about their passions.

Have you used this website with your kids? 

21st Century, Creativity, Innovation, Inspiration

How One Teacher Is Making School Different

Yesterday, I had the pleasure of interviewing Learning Advisor, Susie Greenslade.  Susie works at Discovery1 – a special character, state-funded public school in Christchurch, New Zealand.  I posted about Discovery1 a few weeks back.  Talking with Susie gave me a few more insights into her school, why it works and how she is making school different.

Click below for more information on:

Below is a summary of our conversation.  Susie has inspired me to continue to work away to make school different in my classroom.  We both agreed that valuing our parents and working in partnership with them was the way forward.  Susie is clearly a passionate educator who loves what she does. Her homebase kids and her school community are fortunate to have her.

Speaking with Susie…

Partnerships with parents and having children learn around their passions and interests were the two key factors cited by Susie when I asked what made Discovery1 successful.  This doesn’t happen by accident.  

Parents who wish to enroll their child at Discovery1 attend orientation meetings, take tours, visit two or three times and then sit down with their child’s learning advisor to decide if it is a good fit for the parents, the child, the family and the school. Once they are a part of the school community, Susie makes time to speak with them every day, supporting them in their journey.  It’s not just their child who has started school – they have too.  Parents are partners at Discovery1.  Susie helps her parents feel comfortable in the learning environment and looks for ways to help them utilize their passions in helping children learn.  This might mean leading a workshop in a skill they have expertise in, taking students on a field trip to their place of work or a place with whom they have a connection, providing transport to and from the homebase or something completely different! She does it all without overwhelming the parents and keeping them engaged in their learning. In her words, “It wouldn’t work without the parents!”

Susie meets with her homebase of 26 kids and together they discuss their ideas and passions.  This forms the basis for the learning that will occur.  Unlike most schools, planning at Discovery1 occurs after this discussion with the learners.  Susie hosts a homebase meeting a couple of times over a term (ten weeks) in which she shares the ideas of the children with the parents.  Together, they work on plans for how to best help their children explore these passions.  In addition, children can sign up to participate in or run workshops that happen twice a week on things that are of interest to the children (workshops based on a list of options curated by the children). When I asked Susie about her obligation to the New Zealand Curriculum, she said that it is still there, it just doesn’t drive the learning.  She and her colleagues regularly review the skills required by the curriculum and check off what has been achieved through student inquiry.  More often than not, they are amazed at how much more they achieved than they could ever have ‘planned’ to do! 

Assessment at Discovery1 comes in a number of forms.  There are documents that students use to analyze their own understandings (see below).  There are also Learning Stories.  Susie co-lead research into Learning Stories in 2007 and continues to use this method to record the understandings and learning at Discovery1.  Photos, narrative and analysis of learning through these stories, paints a full picture of child development through their time at school.  Kids, parents and teachers all write them. Sometimes a story will be written for the whole homebase, a small group, or for the individual.  

If Susie could add or subtract anything from Discovery1 to make it more successful, she immediately would suggest smaller homebases (groups of students under her primary care).  When the parents are on board and willing to contribute to the learning of the group, everything else falls into place.  The resources for students to inquire are all there.  Most people are willing to help a  child who has a passion for a particular topic or skill.

Susie is inspired as an educator by the children she works with and their families.  Her goal is to facilitate adventures for her kids. To extend their fervor.  She makes school different by being an advocate for her children and by making their voices heard.  She is a passionate advocate for the special character of the school – keeping true to that is what makes Discovery1 what it is. Her main goal is that she want kids to have a childhood – and a really good one at that! She works hard to build relationships and establish a sense of belonging.  And  PLAY! She loves to have fun!

Discovery1 Self Evaluation Documents (click image for link):

Creativity, Inspiration

Celebrating Creativity Around the World – Make Your Mark and See Where it Takes You!

Do you believe in courage?  In having a go?  In making a mark?

Do you believe in the power of persistence? That one dot can launch a journey?

Then, you believe in “The Dot” by Peter H. Reynolds.

Here is the reason I love this book so much and have used it in my classroom and in my art room: it all comes down to the word process:

While the book is about art, it really is about process —about ideas,
creative thinking, bravery, expression, original ideas, and sharing.

~Peter H. Reynolds

On September 15th, people around the world will be celebrating International Dot Day. Peter has some ideas for you on how you might join in the celebrations. He has also written a Teachers Guide to The Dot.  There is also a Dot DVD and an interactive, big-screen version of The Dot.

This year, there is also a Celebri-Dots blog on which dots from celebrities are shared.  My favorite is Amy Krouse Rosenthal. If you like her dot, check out her gorgeously glittery book, Plant a Kiss and do yourself a massive favor by reading An Encyclopedia of an Ordinary Life – hil-arious! But back to the dots…

As a former art teacher and lover of all things arty, I decided to gather together some ideas for those of you who are now thinking that this ‘Dot Day’ is the thing for you! Don’t you think celebrating creativity around the world is something worth sharing in?  Of course you do = so on to the ideas!

Wassily Kandinsky

Farbstudie Quadrate, c.1913 is one of Kandinsky’s most easily recognizable works – and the first thing that came to mind when I thought of Dots. There are literally thousands of ways you could have children respond to this work of art.  My suggestion: set up a Kandinsky Studio (coincidentally, the name of my art studio when I was teaching in Bangkok) and provide a ton of materials for inspiration and see where your kids go! Challenge yourself and your kids to go beyond reproducing Kandinsky’s work.  Instead, think more about the process than the product. This was a study in color and how different colors looked when placed next to other colors. What can you do with color to make a dot?  What can you do with positioning dots of different sizes? Do they have to be concentric? What if they were not inside squares but left as circles – or arranged in a circle?  Paint Chips (from hardware store paint sections) are great for providing kids with a huge selection of gorgeous paint colors (don’t tell them I sent you but do ask before you clean them out – you never know, they may have a whole bunch of ‘last season’s’ colors they are dying to get rid of!).

George Seurat

A master in pointillism, Seurat painted in dots, so naturally, he was the second person I thought of.  His work has often been recreated in art classes around the world with the use of cotton q-tips.  By placing dots of color next to other dots of color, new colors are “formed” – or at least, your eyes trick your brain into believing this is so.  Instead of paintbrushes, put out some q-tips and see what treasures evolve!

Jasper Johns

Last year, my fourth graders made a beautiful piece of work inspired by Jasper Johns’ Target.  Again, like Kandinsky, there is no need to completely duplicate his work, just be inspired from it!

Andy Goldsworthy

At our Fall trip up to McCall, Idaho, the past two years, our evening program has included a night of Andy Goldsworthy inspired art.  Goldsworthy is famous for creating art from nature and whilst not all of his work is cyclical or ‘dot-esque’ a lot of it is.  How could you make a dot in your environment? How can you make a dot that leaves a ‘temporary’ mark?  How can you make a dot without opening your paintbox, your pencil case, the crayon box…?

Leave the Paper on the Shelf!

Why use paper when there are so many other options for your dot canvases?  Try using…

  • coffee filters (sprayed with water and dabbed with paint, these can look awesome)
  • paper plates of different sizes – a cheap way to get pre-cut circles.
  • old vinyl records or old CD’s – these could be hung to make a dot-mobile
  • tree cookies (I love the idea of this one! – wearable dot-art from nature)
  • clock faces – how cool to give a dot-tastic makeover to all the clocks in your school!
  • stool seats – convince anyone who has stools (art teacher?) to let you makeover the seats!

Other Cool Ideas…

Fair Ground Paint Spinning

Did you ever go to the fair or show grounds and do one of those paintings where they set the paper spinning and you drip paint from squeeze bottles?  I am SURE someone (code for: my husband) could set something like this up with an electric drill or some such thing. (I have no clue really but that sounds like it might work/might make a mess/would definitely be something kids would remember – therefore totally should be done!

String Art

Again, this may require a bit of help but what about having the kids hammer nails into a circle and then do a gorgeous weaving with colored threads?  Hammering – what’s not to love?

Coffee Inspired Art

Invite your local gourmet barrista to school (I am thinking of Junko in Yokohama at Cafe Eliot)  or better yet, go on a field trip and watch them work their magic on the ‘dot’ that is the foamy cup of coffee.  I bet you would have no trouble getting parents to come and chaperone this field trip!

Dot Photo Contest/Tour

Have kids go on a camera tour around the school or open it up in advance for them to look for ‘dots’ or circles in their environment.  Sometimes they will find them even when they are not looking – and what better way to encourage them to be more observant of their surroundings and develop photo taking, editing and sharing skills at the same time?

Idaho State Capitol

Blowing Bubbles

I can’t remember when I first did this but it is super fun!  Get some cups or circular containers.  Fill them with some water, some water-soluble dyes and some dish-washing liquid.  You will have to experiment with quantities as you go along – to begin with, try a fairly high pigment wash that fills your container about one-third of the way up.  Put in a squirt of dish-washing liquid.  Then, get a straw and blow!  You will have to blow and stir to mix the dye with the bubbles.  Keep blowing until the bubbles rise above the rim of the container.  Then, take a piece of paper and lay it on the top of the container and voila! You have a dot!


I have a couple of books on these at school for inspiration when I was teaching art.  The math involved in making one is pretty impressive though.  I love the opportunity to combine math and art so this would be something I would be especially interested in doing.  I have seen amazing projects done by kids using the mandala as their inspiration – very cool!.  Tibetan monks make these out of sand on the ground – another cool way to move art away from traditional paper.  You could also color rice and use this as your medium for design.

I am sure there are loads of other ideas.  The point is, make it a priority to join in the celebration of creativity around the world.

International Dot Day

September 15

Mark Your Calendars…NOW!

Creativity, Inspiration

Be Uncareful – and 7 Other Brilliant Ways to be Creative

I am a huge fan of Peter H. Reynolds’ work.  As an art teacher in Bangkok, I was in love with The Dot and Ish and as a classroom teacher I am still.  There is something about the books, the illustrations, the message – to me, they are ‘the complete package’ when it comes to sharing what are really important, 21st Century skills. Interestingly, not a computer, iPad or electronic device in sight. I am a huge fan of technology and love finding that device or program that propels students forward, but the more I look into it, the more I am convinced that the skills come first, the need for a tool comes second – and that ‘tool’ may be as simple (and powerful) as  paintbrush or a box of pencils.

I love the message of The Dot and Ish…

  • don’t be afraid to start

  • don’t stop if it is not perfect

Simplicity at it’s best.

Today I read a post on the Fable Vision learning website:

Peter H. Reynolds’ 8 Tips for Creative Publishing

You can read the full post here but in summary, Reynolds’ tips are:

  1. Keep a journal
  2. Just do it!
  3. Publishing – Lite
  4. Go back to school
  5. Set goals
  6. Create your ritual
  7. Unleash imagination
  8. Be uncareful

The full text explains these points and offers excellent advice for those who wish to create.  And isn’t that all of us?  Or at the very least, all of the kids we teach? When I look at these tips, I see a lot that I want to incorporate into the daily creative lives of my students:

  1. Establishing learning journals to recording ideas and wonderings
  2. Encouraging an attitude of action and commitment to lifelong learning
  3. Get your work ‘out there’
  4. Get feedback from your audience
  5. Make learning a priority
  6. Set yourself up to succeed
  7. Think of all the possibilities – and then some!
  8. Take risks and be fearless!

I first heard of FableVision back in March – which surprises me somewhat having been such a fan of Reynolds’ books for so long.  Peter is the founder of FableVision and his brother, Paul, is the CEO. I loved the recent collaboration with Fable Vision and the Partnership for 21st Century Learning – if you have not seen Above and Beyond – an Ode to the 4 C’s (collaboration, communication, critical thinking and creativity) I encourage you to watch it.  Further investigation into FableVision led me to their mission statement, the first part of which reads:

We are big believers that a well-educated student is not complete without less “test-able” skills such as creativity, communication, self-expression, problem solving, and cultural understanding.  We also need students with self-determination and a desire to learn. 

How can you not love that?

I loved it so much, and share such a similar philosophy, that I applied to be and was accepted as, a FableVision Ambassador.  Among my ‘duties’:

  • Sharing our products and philosophy on an informal basis at individual schools and with colleagues.
  • Writing stories for publications and blogs.
  • Being our eyes and ears in the school world.
  • Sharing the challenges, changes, and opportunities you are facing in the classroom.
  • Using social networks to promote the mission and products.
  • Reaching out to others because of a strong belief FableVision Learning’s mission.

If you are new to the world of Peter H. Reynolds and FableVison, I would like to welcome you with these words:

Click image to download PDF Poster

I would then suggest you check out these free Educator Resources and see if anything resonates with you.

As I have explored this site and others, I feel even more confident about the type of teacher that I have become over the last 16 years.  I keep going back to the letter I sent out to my incoming students prior to the summer break, “Fifth Grade and Fearless” and I am so grateful for the teachers, parents, students, authors, illustrators, thinkers, movers and shakers, who have helped me get to this point in my career.  The best advice I can give anyone in education is to:

seek innovative ideas

build a tribe that inspires

communicate and collaborate

and above all,

be fearless. 

Click image to view the full letter to my incoming fifth grade class of 2012/13
Creativity, Innovation, Inspiration

What Are You Creating?

I love Hugh MacLeod’s timeliness.  This is a perfect picture for me.  What are you doing to disrupt the status quo and bring about creative change? What are you waiting for?

Some take delight in disrupting … and you know who you are. This one’s for you.

~Hugh MacLeod

If you are looking for inspiration for your ruckus-making, creative trouble, look no further than Phil Beadle’s Dancing About Architecture.  You can take my word for it or read from others much more widely known about the importance and brilliance of this work.

In the words of the author, the book is introduced via the following small paragraph:

Over the body of the this book I propose to look at ways that we might use the arts as forms of pedagogy and, more specifically, how one might use process-led collisions of art forms to produce new learning experiences for students. – Phil Beadle

I really like that phrase ‘process-led collisions’.  I am so much more about the process and think this shift of focus is much-needed and will do wonders for leading us towards more creativity and less ‘factory-raised’, standardized teaching.

Dancing About Architecture is witty, irreverent, timely and absolutely ‘spot-on’ when it talks of the need for rising above ‘average’.  In addition to telling educators WHY they need to change, it details some examples of HOW this could look.  I am not sure it should be viewed as a ‘how to’ book though.  Once it becomes that and we have every teacher regurgitating the same lessons, we are back to ‘average’.

Instead consider…

  • using this book as a spring board for your own ideas or as a way to spark creative thinking amongst your own faculty.
  • trying one idea and seeing how you could adapt it to suit your own kids
  • reading this book and then closing it and writing down what you want to do in your classroom – it might be similar to what you just read but it will have your own twist on it

If you are still not convinced that this book is for you, read the following excerpt from the introduction to the book.  If you are not moved to rip it up, be brilliant, and rise above average after reading it, then there is probably little hope for you…

It suggests you must break the rules.  And you must.  Not just because you are too lazy to follow them (though this sometimes creates an imperative). You must break the rules as a matter of policy – all day, every day, with a degree of rigor and dedication to the cause.  The reason you must break the rules is that not breaking them is professionally negligent.  Following the rules leads to being probably just about as good as everyone else and therefore perpetuates the cause of the average.  Copying a bunch of idiots eventually makes you an idiot: a moronic cut-out from a mediocre comic.  Confounding the expectations that are set for you is entirely the best means possible of maintaining your professional and personal integrity.  

The people you work for (and I mean the children you teach, not the bloke in the flash suit telling you that you’re not good enough at your job) deserve better than working alongside a sheep-like copy of every unqeustioned bad idea they’ve ever encountered.  They desire and deserve you to be brilliant.  You do not get to be brilliant by doing it the same way as everyone else does.  


Rip it up. 

And start again.

Creativity, Design, Inspiration, Internet

Become an Enabler….of Creativity!

I have read a couple of articles recently which advocate for the development of creativity in children.

Tinkerers Unite! How Parents Enable Kids’ Creativity

This WSJ article is in favor of kids making and creating without the use of directions.  Trial and error are favored over “getting it right” and parents who support their child developing their tinkering skills, are doing them a huge favor.  One parent interviewed describes mistakes as “part of the learning process”.  Awesome. Tinkering is encouraged as it develops spatial and mental rotation abilities which are integral to geometry and engineering.  One particularly interesting piece of information:

Jim Danielson, of Arlington Heights, Ill., fell into tinkering after his mother said he couldn’t have a TV set in his bedroom. “If I build my own TV, can I have it in my room?” he asked. “They probably didn’t think I could do it, so they said yes,” he recalls.

He built a projector system for his room during his high school sophomore year, and he and his friends used it to play Nintendo 64 games. His mother didn’t let him take the creation to college, though, concerned it might be dangerous in a small dorm room.

No matter. Mr. Danielson, now 21, dropped out of college last year to accept a Thiel Fellowship—an unusual program started by Peter Thiel, co-founder of PayPal—which pays young innovators $100,000 to stay out of college and spend two years tinkering instead.

Our first unit next year is about Solar Energy.  Based on this information, I want to make sure I have lots of tools and materials that will lend themselves to tinkering with less emphasis on ‘package’ solar energy kits and more on guided discoveries through tinkering. This made me think back to developmental time in New Zealand schools where children are given the option to tinker to their hearts content.  In light of the recent visit of Sal Khan to Boise, I would like to see our school move toward science/math oriented guided tinkering sessions that cross grade levels.  This could also be extended into Family Math and Science nights where teachers, parents, kids all gather together to tinker.  Sound fun to me!

Encouraging passionate learners … even when it’s not your thing

This post was written by Amanda Morgan of Not Just Cute.  The premise of the article is that passion and creativity should be encouraged and supported even when the same passion is not matched by the parent or teacher.  Kids who love worms, toads, dirt….whatever, should be encouraged in the following ways in order to promote self-directed, engaged learning – the opposite of which may be educational apathy:

  • give attention: listen to your child or find someone (aunty, grandpa, friend) who will
  • give supplies: buckets, magnifying glasses, collection containers, art supplies…anything that supports their passion
  • give space: an area for writing, collections, wiggly ‘friends’ or art works

When I think back to our recent Exhibition unit, and I think about how engaged our students were when they were paired with mentors or found community members that shared their passion, I know this to be true.  Seeing first-hand how kids respond when they have someone who really is genuinely interested in what they are passionate about is integral to the learning process.

I then found this website that would support the sharing of the creative process:

DIY – A Website to Share Your Creative Tinkering! 

DIY is an online community for kids. We give kids tools to collect everything they make as they grow up and a place to share it.

We’ve all seen how kids can be like little MacGyvers. They’re able to take anything apart, recycle what you’ve thrown away — or if they’re Caine, build their own cardboard arcade. This is play, but it’s also creativity and it’s a valuable skill.

Our idea is to encourage it by giving kids a place online to show it off, so family, friends and grandparents can see it and easily respond. Recognition makes a kid feel great, and motivates them to keep going. We want them to keep making, and by doing so learn new skills, use technology constructively, begin a lifelong adventure of curiosity, and hopefully spend time offline, too.

– DIY Blog

This looks like a very cool place for kids to share ideas with kids and be inspired by each other. Again, despite the somewhat ‘childish’ looking forum, I would really like to use this as a forum for my little solar tinkerers to share their work, get feedback and be inspired to create more.  What do you think? Take a look at the user interface and the feedback the site has already received: