Starting From Scratch

A Return to the Beginning

What ever happened to a blank, white piece of paper?  Why is it that every app or tech tool claiming to inspire creativity simply has the user fill in a template?

I’ve recently switched jobs, and in the process (thanks in part to @sadieclorinda), have become enamored of a couple of concepts, one of which is teaching students the design process with the end user in mind. Instead of simply assigning a PowerPoint project where the students choose a template and cram each slide with as many facts as possible, have them think first of the end user.  What will their experience be like? What types of presentations do they like to view, and why?

One of the first steps is to toss the word ‘project’ and replace it with ‘product’.

The next step is to have them go through the design process, and start with blank slides (or docs, or whatever), thinking about what mood they want to portray, the feelings they want to convey to the audience.  Then, they can match color scheme with fonts and layout to create a product that is pleasing to the end user.

As an example, here is how I would make a slide that would present my winter haiku

Step 1: Write Haiku

blizzards swirling ’round / erasing summer palettes / blinding I now see

The message I want to convey is confusion, cold, with limited color.

Step 2: Find my Palette

There are color palettes already chosen in just about every creative tool, but what’s the fun in that? My new favorite tech tools are the palette generators.  I use Adobe Capture for my phone, and coloors.co for my desktop.  Nature seems to do a bang up job of combining colors, so if you take a picture of something in Nature, the color combination should be a winner.  Today, I took a picture of the morning sky with its great cool colors, and put it in Adobe Capture:

WinterSky_Palette

Then, I thought about font.  I like the idea of pairing two contrasting fonts, one to show the swirling snow (a script font) and another to show the weight of blindness and the feeling of loss of control and color (a bold headline font).

Font_Pairings

Then, on a Google Slide, I can easily arrange all my elements (a GSlide is much easier for this than a GDoc!).  Normally, I would use Canva.com, but I’m using what a student would likely have as part of their Google Classroom toolbox.

Blizzards

In making this slide, I actually lightened the lights, and darkened the dark since I couldn’t alter the transparency of the photograph.

Looking at the finished product, I wouldn’t give myself a good grade for finding a photograph that illustrated the poem (or in this case, writing a poem that fit the photo!).  BUT, I started from scratch, and used the design process to visualize what I wanted the end user to view.

***LATER***

OK. So, I gave it back to myself and redid it – just as I would expect a student to do.

Blizzards (2)

 

Another perk to starting from scratch is that everything here is my own work, so I don’t have to worry about copyright!

 

 

 

 

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International Dot Day

{Sent this out to my staff today.  Every Friday, I send out a Tech Tips/Tricks email to all faculty/staff/admin/Board.}

This is Exciting!

OK, so it’s not truly Tech related, but it could have a lot of tech components…
International Dot Day is September 15.  #DotDay is a celebration of creativity and individuality that was created by a classroom teacher, Terry Shay, when he read the book “The Dot” to his class on September 15, 2009.  Since then, the anniversary of that reading has become a huge annual event, with (as of today!) more than 1 million participants from 61 countries signed up to participate this year.  There’s even a Dot Song (and a Dot Song Video with lyrics) available this year.
I think it would be great to have everyone in D90 make their mark and sign it (you’ll have to read the book to understand) on September 15.  Take lots of pictures or videos, and then we (I or another volunteer) can make a movie of our district’s celebration to share out to parent, families, and fellow classrooms worldwide (and when you get your classroom blogs, you can put it on there).  I challenge each of you to make your own Dot, sign it, photograph it, and send me the picture.  I will then collate them in a publishable format.  We could even show the video of all the adults’ dots to the kiddos as an anticipatory activity (or we could post pictures of them and guess whose dots they are…).  Here’s mine, made with some leftover jewelry pieces:
 2014 Dot
Since collaboration is a big piece of this event, I would suggest connecting with another class in another building in the district prior to the event.  If you’re feeling brave, connect with another classroom in IL, the US, or even the world.  Then, read the story and make your dots in the morning, and then connect with your partner classroom and share your dots in the afternoon (of course, if you’re in different time zones you’ll have to plan accordingly!).  To find far-flung classes, jump onto Twitter and ask for a class using the #DotDay hashtag.  If you need me to be an intermediary, let me know.
Speaking of #DotDay, the author, Peter Reynolds, and Terry Shay, the creator of DotDay, are often on there:
OriginalTweet
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photo 1.PNG
So, check out the website www.thedotclub.org and see what’s up.  Be sure to watch the videos of what other classes have done.  Another good resource is this blog post by Terri Eichholz.  She has links to Celebrity Dots, Pinterest Boards, and an Educator’s Handbook.  Check out FableVision’s blog that has a list of 20+ educator blogs that celebrate DotDay.  For those of you with iPads, yes, we have the ColAR app mentioned in some of these blog posts (we used it at Math/Science/Tech night at EK last year), and you can use that to make 3D dots.
If you need help, let me or Durrelene, our literacy coach, know.  We have so many ideas for this day that it’s a bit ridiculous.  Stay tuned for this semester’s No Worksheet Week and the annual Hour of Code coming soon!
Enjoy your long weekend and be safe,
~Matt

Great Example of Kindergarten Math

 

 

 

 

In Kindergarten math today during #noworksheetweek, the kids had to solve a problem.  It seems that the farmyard cat made the animals mad.  They chased him, and, in the process, ruined all their pens!

FarmyardMath1

 

Students estimated how much building material would be needed to make new pens.

FarmyardMath2

 

The kids then charted their estimations, and then checked them by building new pens.

FarmyardMath3

 

Then they reviewed, charted, and discussed their findings, and fixed the farmyard!

FarmyardMath4

…and the teacher was told that her students never want to see their math workbook ever again!

***

Brilliant!

 

Autopsy of a Worksheet

This post was originally titled, “Anatomy of a Worksheet,” but such a title  implies something worth learning about and carrying forward.  I think it’s more apropos to learn about was, why it died, and how we can prevent it from happening again.

The first question people ask is, “What is a worksheet? I’ve been handing them out for years!”

WS_example

Fill-in-the-blank worksheet: No understanding required.

My definition of a worksheet has three parts:

1.  Worksheets are mass-printed, either by the teacher at the copier, or by a publisher in a workbook.

2.  Worksheets are given to every student in the classroom.

3.  Worksheets contain questions with black & white, right or wrong answers.  For example, they may be fill-in-the-blank, true/false, multiple choice, or math computational problems.

Why is a worksheet not the best instructional model?

1.  Worksheets do not promote depth of learning.  In his keynote at #METC14 in February, @Kevinhoneycutt told the story about how he was tired of being the ‘dumb kid in the back of the class,’ so he asked to be moved to the front where all the action between the teachers and the students took place, and what did he learn?  All the right answers to the questions were in bold, right in the text!  He didn’t even have to understand what the words meant to start answering questions correctly.

2.  Worksheets do not promote creativity.  When students know there is only one right answer, they work to respond with what they think is expected.  Check out this video by Sir Ken Robinson from the #ASCD14 in Los Angeles this winter:

3.  Common Core does not support Worksheets.  Common Core is about teaching kids the HOW and WHY of things –  explaining, creating, analyzing, evaluating, and understanding.  A worksheet shows a teacher their students understand two things:  the WHAT of things, and that they are adept at filling in blanks.

I hope you will join our #noworksheetweek challenge the week of April 7 – 11, 2014.  Join our No Worksheet Google+ Community, and check out these other educators who are in on the Challenge:  Rae Fearing (CA), Dan Gibson (IN), and Kristie Burk (PA).

What do you do instead of worksheets to promote student creativity in your class?  What lesson are you the most proud of?

Creating Monster Aliens

20130305-203936.jpgWhat happens when you work in an open-space building where your computer lab is surrounded by 4th and 5th graders taking their annual NCLB-mandated standardized test?  You get booted, of course!  I took the opportunity to wheel my cart into the 2nd graders’ classrooms and try out some collaborative work.  For the last 25 (or so) minutes of class, I split them up into 2 or 3 groups (depending on class size and layout), I told them their job was to make a robot/alien/creature using a particular whiteboard app (“Whiteboard” by Green Gar Studios – the one with the smiley face).

20130305-204016.jpg

That’s it.  They had never used this app before, but since I don’t ever explain how to use apps, I didn’t worry about that (adults seem to be the only ones that need me to explain apps to them).  It was interesting to sit back and watch them work.  Some groups started out with organization, others did not.  In the end, they all laid out their iPad into the desired shape, assigned roles, and then drew on them, sometimes several people drawing on the same iPad at once.  They thought it was extra cool when I turned out the lights and went around photographing the final products.

20130305-204028.jpg

Over lunch, I took the pictures off my iPad and forwarded them to their parents, teachers, and administration so that they could be a part of the kids’ coolness.  And now you are part of it too!

What other ideas do you have to creatively collaborate with kids and iPads?

Time to Think

Greg Miller (@gregmiller68) posed some interesting questions on his Posterous recently.  The video and resulting comments are worth reading.  What is the relationship between hunches, ideas, innovation, and the time and space is takes for them to come into fruition?  One of the main premises of the video was that oftentimes, two people have hunches, or at least ideas floating in the back of their minds.  When these two hunches are allowed to meet each other, the result is the formation of a whole idea.

I found the post particularly interesting, since my mother and I just had a conversation about a month ago about ‘thinking time’, and how people are so busy nowadays that they don’t take time to just think. Didn’t Christopher Robin have a thinking tree and Blues Clues a thinking chair? One of the commenters reminded us that the most valuable commodity to teachers is time: time to plan, time to research, time to explore new technology, time to collaborate with colleagues, and time to think.

I like to think, but I feel guilty if people come into my computer lab where my desk is and see my staring off into space, like somehow I’m not BUSY, I’m not PRODUCING anything. Therefore, I tend to do my thinking at home while doing something monotonous, like mowing the grass, shaving, running, or falling asleep at night.

I feel it would be worthwhile to provide a time and place for educators to think and to collaborate.   I would say (at least in my district) a digital venue is out, because unless it’s Facebook or maybe Pintrest, most educators are uninitiated, and claim that it’s just “one more thing” you’re making them do. As a solution that could be implemented tomorrow, perhaps there is an old whiteboard or chalkboard laying around that could be put in the room where teachers gather most, say, for lunch. Butcher/bulletin board paper could even be put up across the walls, and tantalizing questions could be posed, mind maps started, a non-digital twitter feed could be written, etc.

We are looking for ways to have the students be able to collaborate and free-draw their ideas.  Why not do the same for their teachers?

In what ways do you enable your teachers’ hunches to collide?

 

Something’s Missing from STEM

Let’s start from the very beginning.  I find myself to be one of the few people I know who has deep interests involving both brain hemispheres.  My major in undergrad was biology, I spent time tinkering with tissue culture as a graduate student at the University of Florida, and I have that knack for remembering scientific names for plants.  Every since I was about 8 years old, and reading through the Arboretum Journals, botany has always held a fascination for me (does anyone else collect Viburnum species?).  When the right side of my brain takes over, I have a jewelry business on the side, and have juried into a couple national art shows with my pastel paintings.

Perhaps it’s my liberal arts background, but I find STEM in and of itself to be limiting.  It completely forgets that in order to use what’s learned in Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math, one must think creatively.  How do you interpret data?  By thinking out of the box in a creative way.  How do you test your hypothesis?  By thinking of a creative way to test that one variable.  I read today  that  bioengineering is going to be one of the fastest growing careers between 2010 and 2020 because of the “Perfect Storm of STEM education and the demand for better medical devices.” (in the print version, p. 40) Somehow, I don’t think there will be a whole lot of new devices designed without some creative ideas on what needs to be made (what problems need to be solved), and then how to tackle and hopefully solve those problems in a new way.

A couple of weeks ago, someone on Twitter posted that we should change STEM to STEAM with the addition of Art.  As an artist, I’m all about including artistic expression whenever and wherever possible.  However, I don’t think Art is enough to make STEM even more robust.  To me, art is expression of feeling; creativity is certainly involved, but the impetus behind art is beauty (or its antithesis, for some).  Beauty is all about feelings.  Art communicates to viewer/users through their feelings.

Creativity, on the other hand, implies divergent thinking.  Something/someone can be creative without being artistic.  Last summer, I was creative when I changed my raised patio to a sunken one in front of a retaining wall.  I applied artistic sense by taking the time to put in curves built with complementary-colored stones and enhanced by natural plantings.  The change in design was creative.  The visual appeal was artistic.

artistic embellishment of a creative solution

Adding a Creativity component to STEM would emphasize the necessity for students to not only learn and understand science, technology, engineering, math and their interconnectedness, but kids would learn to apply that knowledge in new ways.  Americans are known for their innovations and creative spirit. Standardized testing has eroded our kids’ creativity by labeling  anything that’s not reading- or STEM-related as secondary.  No one says it out loud, of course, but the message is loud and clear:  artistic pursuits are for hobbies once you’re grown up and out of school.  Emphasizing the use of STEM knowledge to create new ideas through identifying new relationships, or to create new products through divergent innovation – THAT is what STEM should be about.  Schools should be allowing and encouraging creativity in their students.  Time as well as financial and personnel resources should be made available to all students in an effort to maximize creative potential in kids.

Rather than focusing energy and resources on STEM per se, I believe schools should emphasize divergent thinking and problem solving.  If teachers use STEM, then I hope they use it in conjunction with Problem-Based Learning or something similar that requires a product or a solution derived from the students’ innate creativity.  THAT is using both sides of your brain.

Thoughts?