Tag Archives: student engagement

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


What’s the Secret to Happy Students?

By Amanda Jonas March 31, 2014 10:30 AM

Imagine the idyllic classrooms of your favorite television shows as a kid. Depending on when you grew up, you might be picturing the pristine science labs from Lizzie McGuire or plant-filled courtyard where Lizzie, Miranda and Gordo ate lunch.  Images of Mr. Feeny lecturing Cory in his big classroom with large green chalkboards and big windows might come to mind. Or, you might think of the bright orange lockers and cluttered music room of Bayside High. Whether your ideal school was Hillridge Junior High, John Adams High School, or Bayside High, one thing that all these schools share in common is that they feel like happy and welcoming places for their students. Sure, none of these schools were actually real. Granted, from time to time, one or more of our favorite characters got bullied or shoved in a locker. But overall, the schools felt warm, the students looked happy, and the teachers seemed cool.

What happens when your school looks nothing like a Hollywood set? DC Scholars Stanton Elementary, led by the fabulous Principal Rena Johnson, doesn’t have a science lab, a courtyard, or beautiful, big windows… In fact, my classroom windows are barely visible, covered by a million hand-drawn chart paper posters with math equations and formulas. Maybe Stanton doesn’t look like those TV show schools, but it still feels happy. What then, if not aesthetics, makes a school happy? Is there a certain formula that good teachers follow to create happiness? To answer this question, I asked students from four very different classrooms in my school about what makes them happy when they are in class. The answers below might surprise you.

Student: Nijae
Age: 6
Grade: 1st
Teacher: Ms. Tillman
Classroom Vibe: “Wild and Loving.”

“I am happy when we get to turn and talk about what Ms. Tillman teaches us. It makes me happy when Ms. Tillman listens to me and I know she’s listening to me because she tracks me and tells me if she agrees with me. And if she doesn’t, she tells me what she thinks.”

Student: Verkia
Age: 7
Grade: 2nd
Teacher: Ms. Hoes
Classroom Vibe: “Organized Chaos.”

“Being with Ms. Hoes makes me happy because she’s nice. She treats me special and she loves me. I know she loves me because she tells me and she hugs me and she gives me support like when she comes to my cheerleading competitions.”

Student: Dialonte
Age: 9
Grade: 3rd
Teacher: Ms. Reilly
Classroom Vibe: “Structured and Supportive.”

“I feel great in Ms. Emma’s room because she doesn’t get mad. Every time I mess up she doesn’t yell at me, she just tells me how to fix it the next time. I feel happy because I feel smart in her room because if I don’t understand something she’ll teach me so I can get great grades.”

Student: RavenJonas, happy students
Age: 10
Grade: 5th
Teacher: Ms. Jonas
Classroom Vibe: “Creatively Learnable.”

“I love being in Ms. Jonas’ class because I love math and she’s here with us. She takes time outside of her job for us and does what she has to do to always support us. Plus she cares even if we are acting up. She’s the best!”


Each student I talked to comes from a very different class. Ms. Emma’s incredible behavior management creates a peaceful and thoughtful room where all scholars are respectful and important members of her learning community. Ms. Hoes slightly cluttered room is a place where students eagerly learn with just as much as excitement as when their desks are shoved to the sides of the room so they can learn a choreographed Beyoncé dance for the latest assembly. Finally, my classroom fluctuates between scenes of me wildly jumping off desks to explain the metric system, to impromptu push up competitions, to deep intellectual conversations on how our graph shows how education increases earning potential.

So, what is the secret to a happy class? Not one of the students mentioned any material objects, extra recess, or candy. Instead, all of the students I talked to could articulate exactly what made them feel happy in school. I feel the secret to this joy is a classroom that feels safe, a classroom where love abides, a classroom where students know they are listened to, valued and respected… The secret to happiness is in all those little things that no perfect Hollywood set could emulate.