Tag Archives: creativity

Three Tricks for Sparking Students’ Creativity

By Amanda Rogers June 4th, 2014 2:15 PM

For many educators, project based learning can showcase a students’ knowledge of a subject better than any standardized test. However, let’s be honest, we all sometimes struggle to come up with a creative idea or the best way to start said projects. Here’s what I do in my classroom to stir up creative paths and guide students to a finished project.

  1. Start a classroom idea bin. During independent work, some of my students need more direction when it comes to beginning a project. An idea bin is a container, in this case a large empty plastic pretzel container, filled with strips of paper. On each piece of paper there is a prompt for beginning a project. For example, a piece of paper might say, “Crash! What just happened in the street?” The student who picked this prompt would use this creativity starter to jumpstart their own project, thinking of open-ended ideas that relate to the example. While I use this concept for visual art, it can easily be modified for classes in other subject areas. For example, a piece of paper in another class might say, “How can you use only a sheet of paper, scissors and tape, to create the parts of a flower?”
  2. Challenge students daily using creative thinking warm ups. When your students arrive in your classroom, they are coming from many different academic and life situations. Some students may have just nailed a test that they studied for last period, while others may have had a difficult situation at home that morning. Whatever the case, it can sometimes be difficult to light the fire of student engagement and learning. “Daily challenges” are one way to tackle those situations, get my students motivated, and strengthen their creative thinking skills. An example of a daily challenge warm up might be, “Using at least three geometric shapes, draw a symmetrical design.” These warm ups can also be used to review previous lessons and provide the teacher with valuable assessments of student understanding.
  3. Show Your Work! Writer Austin Kleon wrote the book Show Your Work, which challenges people to show off the things that they have accomplished. When people share their ideas and accomplishments, it can jumpstart a creative path for someone else. To do this in your school, set up an area in your classroom that showcases the work of your students. Encourage your students to use it as inspiration for their ideas, which can also be another valuable lesson in borrowing ideas versus copying ideas.

I hope that these three suggestions have sparked some creative ideas for your own classroom.

Follow me on Twitter @necityart


Formulas to Make Math More Engaging

By Earl Jones May 20th, 2014 10:00 AM

Raise your hand if you have ever had a student say math is boring. Keep it raised if you want students to be captivated by math and engrossed in activities.

Any mathematics teacher will tell you that many students struggle with staying engaged and interested in class. Math can sometimes become a chore, boring, or monotonous for kids. It takes a lot of effort and planning on the part of teachers to make math class and exciting time. Check out four ideas that have worked for me.  

  1. Make it applicable to everyday life. I know all teachers have heard this before. We are very aware that as adults we use math everyday, but it has to be made very transparent to students how math is all around us. When a student complains that time is going slowly and they’re waiting for recess, have him or her subtract and tell the class how many minutes there are until recess. If a kid mentions that they went to the movies with his family this weekend, ask the total price of the tickets. Try mentioning that you were using a recipe and had to convert from cups to pints. At first for me, it seemed a bit disingenuous to be this candid and explicit about mathematics, but soon after, I witnessed students becoming more aware of mathematics in their environment. They heard me speak about it many times a day and it opened their eyes.
  2. Turn boring activities into games and competitions. At one point or another, all math teachers have given a worksheet or some independent activity that is on the dry side. Try finding a way to make activities fun. Use dice, spinners, number cards, and other simple “game” materials when students are doing basic operations. Sometimes the simple act of infusing a game-like element into an activity gets students excited to participate. Better yet, make activities into a friendly competition. Young students love to outdo one another. Competitions I have tried include: challenging teams to give the most precise answer, allowing students to race against each other and the clock when practicing basic facts, and creating challenging problems for classmates. More competition equals more engagement.
  3. Let students lend a hand in the teaching. Students are obviously more invested when they or their peers have personally contributed to a task. Try allowing students to make anchor charts and posters. Have a small group of students explain a concept to the rest of the class. I have even let students make up class songs that we used to find perimeter and area of geometric shapes. You would be surprised at the creativity and collaborative skills I have seen when kind feel as though they are a part of the instruction that is occurring.
  4. Make very small, but obvious errors. I know this goes against everything you may be thinking and doing. The catch is that students must feel competent enough to correct a teacher. This must be done with skills and concepts that students have had significant exposure to already in school. I have said things such as “The fraction three-fourths means I need to divide each whole into three equal parts.” Not surprisingly, I heard 25 different voices saying, “No. Four equal parts.” Young students love to correct their teachers, and this improves their listening skills. Most importantly, it builds their confidence. When a young child knows that he has the ability to find errors in someone else’s work, it lets him know that he is very capable in his own right. This leads to increased effort and participation.

I encourage teachers to try at least one my suggestions before the end of the school year (maybe even try all four!). Let me know what works, or if you have any other suggestions for keeping students engaged and interested in math. Tweet me @Mathophile_DC.

Art Education: The Life Vest Some Students Need

By Amanda Rogers March 26th, 2014 10:00 AM

Good teachers know how to modify their teaching and classroom environment to meet the needs of their students. Great teachers understand that all students learn differently and design their lessons based on student interests and strengths. But, to be realistic, we all know that not every student can be vocal about what they need.

That’s where visual arts comes in.  For those students who lack confidence in academic classes or struggle with certain tasks, arts instruction can act as a life vest. In my seven years of teaching, I have had artistically talented students, but I’ve also had students who see art class as an escape from their regular classes.  These students have asked questions that not only push their thinking, but also my own. These disconnected students are able to feel successful in a new and exciting way in my class and show their academic progress through creating art.

Picture the cave drawings of Lascaux France; what were those early humans trying to record? I like to think that the drawings were a way in which humans realized they could not always put their thoughts into words, but could rely on their hands to share what they wanted to say. Visual arts education also exposes students to the “how’s” and “why’s” of the world. It encourages students to explore paintings and sculptures and, if guided properly, end up with more questions about the piece than when they first looked at it. These questions are important because they push students’ understanding of the world they live in. Learning to unleash these questions on every day tasks creates humans who are inventors, innovative thinkers, and leaders. Think about the evolution of photography and digital media in the past ten years. The industry has exploded due to someone asking “why” and “how” and “what can I do to make this better?”

The constant flow of these questions is essentially the basis of art education. When students are creating or looking at art, they are often internally asking, “how can I make this differently?” or “am I challenging myself to my fullest potential?” Disconnected learners or unchallenged exceptional students often find this mode of thinking refreshing and compelling. Unlike math or language arts, much of the art world does not have a correct answer. Teaching students this mode of thinking empowers them and builds their confidence, ultimately giving them a new way to approach their learning.

Arts education doesn’t need to be confined to the art room, and I encourage general education classroom teachers to incorporate visual arts into their lessons. It can be the outlet and frame of mind that some of our students need. When a child feels that it is okay to ask questions and they can show their learning by creating art, the entire world can be unlocked for them. Offer your students the option to sketch an answer to a question.  Let them observe a painting from the time period you’re currently teaching. Whatever arts integration tools you decide to use in your classroom, I guarantee that you will have more involved students and richer conversations with them about what they are learning.

Follow Amanda on Twitter: @NEcityart