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Wednesday, November 20, 2013

Learning Experience Design Model: Bridge the Gap between Tradition and Innovation

Designing lessons focused on creative development requires a shift from traditional lesson and unit plans.  

Sometimes we want to change but just don’t know where to start; it is often easier to fall back on what we already know.  As I develop my own program centered around creativity and higher level thinking, I often wonder how to best to share what I have learned in a way that people can jump in and explore.   What would be the most essential tool to use when learning to design creative explorations and Genius Hour?  A colleague of mine asked me to help her design a Grade one unit about animals.  As I started to wonder about possibilities, my mind kept veering towards Dr. Robert Kelly’s Learning Experience Design Model. This planning tool aides the teacher in planning units and explorations of any length, while scaffolding for individual student creative development.  It works in tandem with the Seven Strands of Creative Development and helps each student progress towards the production of original work towards the end of the unit.  

Read on for an overview of the Learning Experience Design Model:

This is a planning template that allows the teacher to differentiate for each student right from the beginning of an exploration.  Teachers can easily relate to the familiar framework,  similar in structure to traditional lesson/unit plan design.
Set a pre-inventive structure.  In other words, determine the direction in which you want to guide your students but don’t set an exact outcome at the end.  Creative development is dependent upon the process and time spent cycling through research/investigation and experimentational development.  Final outcomes and representation of learning will become more defined as students build on their knowledge and experience.  What are the questions that you will ask the students to find out what they already know and what they might like to learn and discover?  What activities will you plan to help students with early idea generation?

Type 1 experiences are based on technical acquisition and discipline competency.  

Generate a list of skills and concepts that need to be taught from as many areas of the curriculum as possible or necessary.    Do you need to teach a particular technical skill  or concept that students might need during type 2 or 3 activities?  An art technique?  A writing strategy or genre?  Type 1 activities can be intermixed throughout the learning experience, whenever a mini lesson is required to teach a skill or concept.

Type 2 experiences are co-owned between student and teacher.

This is an opportunity for the student to apply new skills and knowledge.   Set the parameters for the students in a way that encourages choice.   Perhaps start with lessons and conversations about your unit of study.  Progress to other areas such as how to add details to a drawing, or how to create a clay sculpture.   Feedback should be frequent, either on student blogs, in conversation or written in journals focusing on the skills and concepts being developed.  Positive feedback and constructive comments should be embedded into the lesson plans to help the students progress.  Give students opportunities to reflect on their work and the chance to redo and revise to demonstrate their progress and above all, their success.  The experimentational phase of creative development allows students to play and create multiple prototypes.  Here is the perfect opportunity to teach students how to analyze their work and that there is learning in failure.  Students learn an essential life skill when they have to problem solve  and analyze their work.

Type 3 experiences are student-owned with a personal emotional connection.

Students set an inventive structure or blueprint based on the learning exploration that has taken place up to that point, incorporating their choice of representation and materials used.  In lower grades,  it helps to have a bulletin board for students to post their idea generation, questions, plans, and photos of their progress. Remember that all work is relevant to previous student work and that not all students are ready for Type 3 experiences.  This is where personalization and scaffolding comes in.  For those who demonstrate readiness to explore and represent the topic independently, let them go. If students are still learning concepts, or need help creating a plan, offer more teacher support.  The students who are achieving creative sustain will cycle through the idea generation, research and experimentation to finally converge.   A regular feedback loop enables students to reflect on their own and others’ work.    It is the learning process here that is important and the ability to collaborate throughout the exploration.

Assessment should be formative, dialogic feedback based on authentic learning experiences.  

The resources section of has some tools for you.  Balance your assessment of creative development with skill acquisition.  

Constraints and Considerations:

Traditional unit or semester plans are usually teacher-driven with set time frames, providing little opportunity for students to apply their thinking skills within an authentic context.  For students to move on to Type 3 experiences, spend as much time as possible between Type 1 and Type 2 activities to allow for plenty of idea generation, research and experimentation.  Use the space in your classroom to provide lots of stimuli for the students. Stimuli can take the form of books, internet, pictures.  When students walk into a classroom that intentionally displays work in progress and  any extra visuals, their curiosity comes out to play.  This way they can explore many different options and avoid early closure of ideas. Early closure is like writers block:  it sometimes occurs from a lack of stimulus and engagement.  

Now download a copy of the Learning Experience Design Model and try it out!


Kelly, R. W. (2012). Educating For Creativity: A Global Conversation. Calgary, Alberta, Canada: Brush Education.

Monday, September 30, 2013

Curricular Obligations in the Creative Classroom

or How Do You Uncover 400 Years of History in 10 Months?

By Erin Quinn

One of the biggest struggles for a creative teacher is balancing the demands of packed curriculums with the desire to provide time and space for student creativity. I teach grade 7 Language Arts and Social Studies. Language Arts is no problem - it lends itself quite well to creative pursuits. But the grade 7 Social Studies curriculum is a beast of a curriculum. It focuses on pre- and post-Confederation Canadian history, basically spanning the years from 1600 to the mid 20th century. Pretty big for eleven-year-olds to swallow.

This past summer, I sorted the curriculum into Googleable and Non-Googleable outcomes, and discovered that the majority of the content objectives involved lower level thinking skills. Specific outcomes like, “What factors led to Louis Riel’s emergence as the leader of the Métis?” or “What was the role and intent of Chief Pontiac in controlling British forts?” could be handled in a classroom in a way that does not promote creative and critical thinking skills. Look it up in a textbook. Google it. Answer it on a multiple choice test. But it doesn’t have to be this way.

In jumping into this curriculum, my team teachers and I wanted to start with a project that would allow students to spend a bit of time on the context of the curriculum. Really, the crux of the curriculum, as with most history, is “Who are we and how did we get here?” Put in another way, “What changes have occurred in Canada over the past four centuries, and why? And how do these changes impact us?” So we wanted to focus on present-day Canada for a bit to take a look at where we are now.

The Game of Canada

We started with the idea of doing some centres focused on different aspects of Canada today, and concepts that would underlie students’ understanding of being able to understand what has changed from 1600 to present. This went through a few iterations, but then I stumbled upon Q Learning from the Institute of Play. I knew about gamification of learning before, but hadn’t tried it, and the design packs from Q Learning really helped me wrap my brain around it. In a nutshell, gamification is applying concepts from game mechanics to non-game situations. To be clear, it is not using games in learning - that’s a totally different thing altogether.

I had spent the first couple of weeks of school learning about who these kids were, and knew many of them considered themselves gamers. So, I gamified the project. Each centre was turned into a quest. Students would be working in Guilds, and would create an identity for their guild by making a coat of arms and a motto. They would work cooperatively to learn together.
Some of the coats of arms with the badges they earned.

Teaching Like a Pirate

And here’s something silly but something profound. In order to permit your students from taking risks in learning, you need to do it too. This was one of my main takeaways from the short, but infinitely inspiring book by Dave Burgess called Teach Like a Pirate. So guess what I did? Called myself the QuestMaster and donned a cape. Whenever we are working on the quests, I am wearing my cape. Let me tell you, I have gotten plenty of strange looks in the hallway. And a million people have asked, “Ms. Quinn, why are you wearing a cape?” to which I reply, “Why not?!” But who cares? I’m doing this to give my students permission to do it too. I’m laying the building blocks that will allow for creative risk taking as our year progresses.

Me as the QuestMaster.

Gamification of Assessment

It just so happens that this project aligned quite well with my school’s current shift towards outcome-based assessment. Some of the actual quests do not really require creative skills. Looking at the three types of creative learning designs, some of the quests would qualify as Type 1 activities: skill and knowledge acquisition, such as the map quest and reading a news article about a significant Canadian story. Some are Type 2 activities, like redesigning the Canadian flag to reflect its modern identity, and writing/filming/drawing the story of an explorer coming to Canada. Both these types of tasks are necessary. I think the beauty of these quests, though, lie in their assessment. I pulled curricular outcomes from the curricular document and translated them into kid friendly “I can statements.” For example, “I can examine different ideas and points of view expressed in a media message,” or “I can choose symbols that represent Canada and support my choices with research.”

The Genius of Angry Birds

When the guild thinks they are ready and have achieved the outcomes for the quest, they call me over and we have a look. We discuss the learning and notice where evidence of the outcome is. Through discussion, we come up with a number of stars out the possible three. This gamification concept may be familiar to you if you’ve ever played Angry Birds:

In Angry Birds, it is possible to pass a level if you get one star out of three. But you can also go back and replay the level to earn more stars. Likewise, with the quests, students can choose whether they’d like to continue working on a quest to improve it, or move on to the next one. What’s been really surprising for me to see is how many guilds opt to go back and try again. I’d say probably 80% of guilds who get less than three stars go back to improve it.

Mastery of Learning

This scenario probably sounds familiar to you: In the past when I was younger and greener, I would assign students a writing assignment, take it in, mark it, give it back, and give them the opportunity to improve it to hand in for a better mark. Maybe one or two kids would take me up on this offer. This is a good step on the right path towards encouraging mastery of learning, but the way these quests are assessed has been so much better. In reflection, I think there’s a few differences between the way the quests are assessed and the hypothetical redo of a writing assignment. First, the gamification aspect gives kids an entry point that is familiar and fun to them. Second, and I can’t stress this enough: conversation is the most powerful form of assessment. Through conversation, I have a clear idea who knows what they’re talking about and who doesn’t. I scribble as they talk and write down evidence of learning. For some guilds, we quickly run into our dead end. The assessment conversation sometimes ends up being quite short the first time because it is obvious that the students aren’t ready to be assessed yet. They go back and try again. Third, specific, clear feedback was given during these chats. I told (and wrote) the guilds exactly what they needed to still learn to earn more stars, and the feedback was immediate. They didn’t have to go home, read what I wrote, improve their essay or story on their own time, and take the time to hand it back in.

And the end result of this 80% re-attempt at learning? Mastery. Better learning. Persistence, grit. High levels of achievement across the whole class. Who wouldn’t want that?!

This type of assessment would lend itself extremely well to type 2 and 3 tasks as well. In fact, the last quest of the game is called Boss Level. The instructions are quite simple, “Create something to show your understanding of the Big Question: “What does it mean to be Canadian?” Students will use their learning from the quests to help them formulate an answer to this question and create something, anything, that shows their ideas about this question. We’re veering into Type 3 territory here, since students will need to apply the creative process in order to create something new and answer a significant, open ended question.

Creativity Breeds Creativity

So now we come back to the topic of this article: how does a teacher in a heavy-content area allow for creativity in the classroom? Maybe I’m oversimplifying here, but it really just involves being creative yourself. Looking at your curriculum with a creative eye will allow for a project like this one, one where kids have fun learning content as well as important creative and higher level thinking skills.


Please feel free to download the assignment and assessment sheets.

The Game of Canada.pdf
The Game of Canada - Assessment

Wednesday, September 18, 2013

Habits of Mind Meet Creative Development

By Sandra McNeil
Photo from here.
For several years our school has centered student learning, engagement and assessment around the Habits of Mind. These 16 habits which include “persisting”, “taking responsible risks”, “creating, imagining, innovating” “ remaining open to continuous learning” and “managing impulsivity” to name a few, function as a cornerstone of our program. They have become a point of reference to speak about students as whole learners and people instead of just assessing and reporting on their basic facts or ability to write a paragraph. This year I began to discover the role these habits play in creative development and creative practice.

In the first week of school homeroom teachers were charged with a beginning of the year task to create a class bulletin board presentation outlining one specific habit.  16 classrooms, 16 Habits of Mind, it worked out perfectly. Except, we only had 4 school days to pull it off and we were just getting to know our students. Not to mention the fact that the final product was essential and would be displayed for our whole school community. Talk about pressure to “create” on the spot. This is a task that could have taken an hour to do, which might include, a brief discussion, some quick ideas and slap it up on the board. However, I realized this could be an opportunity to set the tone of the class, to introduce students to the creative process and to come to understand the students as learners and collaborators. The Habit of Mind my class was designated was “Managing Impulsivity”.

To be totally honest, I was a bit disappointed. There are so many habits that seemed much more exciting to me, “responding with wonderment and awe” or “imagining, innovating and creating” or “finding humor”. After some initial thoughts my class actually entered a lively discussion about impulse shopping and thinking before you post online. Day one was complete and I started to become excited about the prospect of where our work might go.

My intention in the days that followed were to ensure every student felt heard, that each students ideas were valued and that every member of the class had a role in the creation of our board. I didn’t formally introduce my students to the 7 strands of creative development, I did however use them as a guide.  I have to admit there were times when I had to ask myself, am I investing too much time into this “bulletin board”? I felt myself constantly evaluating the value of such an experience.

I didn’t fully realize it until our final product was displayed and the students gazed upon it with pride, but my class used the process of creating this bulletin board as an opportunity to practice managing their own impulsivity, which also opened the door to experiencing the creative process and creative development. It is so easy to go with our first ideas or dismiss the ideas of others when creating something original. The process of creating this board was quite the opposite. Students generated ideas, shared them with each other and generated some more ideas. They collaborated, re-evaluated, asked for opinions and created prototypes. Every decision was carefully thought out and considered prior to being executed. The final product resulted in a fully collaborated creative display of our class’s ideas about the habit “Managing Impulsivity” but it also served as a space to truly live the habit in action.

Creativity... It's in the Design

Why is Creative Confidence Important?
By Trina Penner
Photo credit
I teach grade 9-12 in the Fine Arts (Drama, Technical Theatre, Dance). I’ve always felt comfortable within this world professionally and personally. I need you to know that this is both a comfort and a stress. When folks know that I am an “artsy”, they automatically assume that I am able to create on the spot. This is not how creativity works. In fact, creativity takes preparation. It takes energy, thought, stimulus (ideas), inspiration, trials (prototypes), and time. Sometimes this is a cycle that repeats itself over and over until it feels just right to share. When I work with my students, this is something that I am sensitive to based on my own creative experiences.

When I am creative and I share it, it is because I have percolated on the subject for quite some time. I have invested of myself into the creation. It is not some willy-nilly thought bubble that just pops out for the world to see. Creativity requires courage sometimes. It is best shared amongst those that you can trust. When you are supported and share your creation in a community of trust, with people that allow you to fail and feel alright about it, then that is the ultimate freedom for a creative person. I have to wonder how many students feel this support in their classes?

What I want educators to know is that when you design learning for students that requires creativity, you need to be mindful. Creative learning tasks are best designed with the accompaniment of a trustful and supportive creativity lab (classroom). It takes time to establish a sense of this community in a classroom but it is worth it. If you can do this, students will feel creatively confident no matter what outcomes happen during the learning task. The affective domain of the individual student is nurtured and cultivated in this type of setting. A deep sense of belonging and ownership become intrinsic to the learning.

Because of what I teach, I am able to teach creativity daily. It requires my students to be thinkers, innovators, experimenters, collaborators, and problem solvers.  Most of all, it is hard work but the learning that happens when they are in this type of creative flow is exceptional. They build skills that will assist them for a lifetime. They make me proud to be present during their creative discoveries. How will you make this happen for your students?

Need ideas on how to build community in your classroom? Please contact Trina Penner for some stimulus.

Drama 20: Implementing the Learning Design Model in High School

By Trina Penner       

A note about Collective Theatre:
Mrs. Penner describes Collective Theatre as a salad.  You add a variety of ingredients to contribute to the deliciousness of the salad.  Each ingredient added represents a scene in Collective Theatre. The salad is the end result which is the production. Ingredients are strung together by the theme or topic. We are all trying to make the most delicious salad possible by growing, developing, and contributing a variety of ingredients in the most collaborative way. Students are first hand contributors and creators of the salad. (P.S. Some ingredients are cultivated better than others which has a direct effect on the quality of the salad in the end.)

I made a very conscious choice to approach the Collective Theatre project in my Grade 11 Drama class (Alberta, Canada Curriculum) differently this time around.  My goal was to increase the creative confidence of my students so much that they ended up immersed in Type 3 learning, controlling the creativity without even noticing it was all them. I was intent on trying out the learning design model for real with students and see what the results would be. This is our experience….

TYPE 1: The Hook or Launch

I started by sending them on their way from class one day to think about what is really important to them right now at this age or something that is pressing on their minds when they go to sleep at night. The purpose for thinking about these things was to come up with a potential topic for our Collective Theatre Project. I knew the importance of ownership within the human spirit. If the topic comes from them, then the meaning is intrinsic when it comes to the creating part of the project.
When the students returned to class the next day, I asked that they write down all the ideas generated from the two items I had them ponder the night before.  The purpose for the writing of the ideas is to generate currency that they can use in the next activity, or ‘bank’ ideas for use later.

TYPE 2: Fuel & Guided Strategies

Speed Dating

Once students had currency to share, we assumed the speed dating (aka idea sharing) formation (see picture). These Grade 11’s spent a large amount of the class cycling through the speed dating: sharing, listening, adding, asking, etc.  It was loud and energetic and great!  They were fully engaged in the exercise. At the end of the speed dating, I asked that some share what they learned from speaking with others.  This was a beautiful way for peers to establish a sense of safety and belonging in a classroom environment. When a student hears someone else share their idea it’s like a compliment that they were heard and acknowledged. Only good came out of this exercise.

Ideas Converge and Diverge

After we had papers full of ideas for potential topics to explore for our project, we started to connect the similarities on the whiteboard. It was messy and loud!  It was interesting to note how many topics / issues / ideas were connected.  As we drew more lines from idea to idea, I assisted with the big picture view and provided words and terms that would allow suggestions to connect and coagulate more easily.  Little by little we got closer to the one topic that would become our base for creativity.  Below is an example of one mind map in its early form that we drew on the board to connect ideas. In the end, we chose IDENTITY as our topic to explore for the Collective Theatre project.
Scripting (from Idea to Form)
After we chose a topic / theme, students started the process of turning their ideas into scenes.  This process involved a lot of prototyping.  The only way we know if something will read well on stage is to actually try it out on our feet; work the scene.  Hours were spent polishing and refining details within each scene.  Technical aspects were added and specific actors were assigned roles.  Lines were typed and formatted into script form. The smallest of ideas converged into form, a scene. This process took weeks and I needed to always monitor the energy of the group. I reminded them constantly of what was working and what needed polishing. Step by step, complimenting their creative process and asking specific questions about areas that needed refining.  Eventually, the group started to be able to see what was working on their own.  They were in flow and it was great to sit back and allow them to ride on their own at these times. Trust, safety, belonging, and a real sense of mutual support grew more and more each day.

Type 3: To Perform or Not To Perform?

The students were scheduled to perform their Identity Collective in class.  My goal was get these students to such a level of creative confidence, that one in-class performance just would not satisfy their creative spirits. We had an opportunity to enter the original collective work into a local Drama Festival for High School students. The decision was unanimous.  Everyone wanted more. The students performed their original work and it was adjudicated by a hired professional. The feedback they received boosted their creative confidence even more.  This group was fearless together in this moment.  The hard work of creative collaboration showed and made them want to stick together and support each other in that precious moment with the adjudicator. I was a proud teacher sitting at the back and watching many of their eyes tear up as some of their classmates experienced their own proud moments. I was no longer driving the learning….they were doing it on their own.
My Drama 20 class was awarded with the only BEST ENSEMBLE 2013 award at the festival. This was icing on the cake (dressing on the salad)! As their teacher, I told them that the award might as well have read BEST COLLABORATORS.  I also explained that being a great creativity collaborator is a huge skill and one that not many people can do well. My experience using this learning design model and the activities from my Creativity In Educational Practice courses with Robert Kelly at the University of Calgary were effective.

Best Ensemble award 2013 Zone 4 West

Please contact Trina Penner should you wish to have her actual learning design blueprint for the Drama 20 Collective described above.
Monday, September 16, 2013

Planning a Year Long Project

By Stephanie Bartlett

Looking Closely:  Our Year Long Project 

During the summer, I read Role Reversal by Mark Barnes.  I loved the idea of a year long project that covers many curriculum outcomes and is based on student interests.  The idea that you can have something to just pull out when a subsitute comes and the students know exactly what to do and love doing it?  I was hooked!

Our overarching question in Kindergarten this year is Looking Closely/ Je regarde de près.  We will spend time looking closely at nature and other interests.  There is so much in the Kindergarten curriculum to cover about the sense of self, and what makes up the world of a five year old.  What better way to showcase and celebrate our students than to find ways to look closely at ourselves and our friends all year long?

Our Newsletter to parents explains the project.  We sat down as a team to decide how we would do this new kind of Star of The Week.  Students will bring five pictures representing themselves, their culture and their interests.  We will back them on coloured paper and laminate them so that they can be manipulated in different ways all year.

First activities: 

  • We need to design and create a class tree.  I bought twigs at IKEA that we will trim, bend and manipulate to create an accessible spot to hang our pictures.  Since we have our tree outside that we are sketching, and learning about, underneath and around, it is perfect to bring the tree theme inside. 
  • Laminated pictures will be left on a table for a few days to explore, sort and discuss.
  • Students will each be given the chance to share some or all of their pictures.  Last year, we did this:  Students shared their artifacts and their classmates asked questions.  I then guided each student through the process of writing on a sentence strip:  J’aime ____. or I like ____.  for my English Kindergarten partner.  He or she then cut up the sentence strip (great way to see awareness of letters, words and spaces, plus cutting skills) and glued it on a bigger piece of construction paper.  The student then added a simple drawing on a smaller white paper with a black sharpie and we had a great wall display of student work.  In January, we did it again with vacation memories and the sentence starter was J’ai fait _________.  or I _______ (insert action.)  With a bulletin board full of sentences, we engaged regularly in shared reading and students read to themselves or to each other.  The impact was significant:  struggling students remembered the conversations and became familiar with the sentence structure; more advanced students were able to use those as a springboard to create another book or sentence of their own.  This year, we will take that idea and keep it going for the rest of the year.

The literacy component of the curriculum fits in beautifully to this project.  When it is time to target a new skill or outcome, we will do it in the context of this project in tandem with whatever other inquiry we are exploring at the time.  We will spend more time during the first half of the school year to build our community and celebrate how we are all unique.  Once we have the framework of the project well established, who knows where we will go with it?  I am thinking that it will be an excellent way to tie in the Winter Olympics and how the athletes are unique as well…

Genius Hour in Kindergarten

Genius Hour In French Immersion Kindergarten

By Stephanie Bartlett

It is easy to read about Genius Hour and assume it is geared for middle school.  Having taught my Kindergarten students through the lens of creative development for the majority of the year, I wanted to give Genius Hour a try.  At the beginning of last June, I decided to devote most of our time to experimenting with this concept.  By this time of the year, my students were familiar with the process of generating ideas, experimenting and creating prototypes, and analyzing their own and their peers’ work, so I felt that as a class, they were ready to apply their knowledge and develop their own projects.

To make the initiative relevant and applicable, Genius Hour needs to be assessed.  I wanted students to be involved in the feedback loop, so I posted their assessment sheets on the wall to track what stages they were working in and what they needed to work on.  Using the visuals and seven strands of creative development on the assessment tool, I guided discussions using consistent vocabulary.  The nature of the feedback was very positive.  I only documented direct comments and student-generated goals, never anything negative or personal.  Click here for a copy of my assessment sheet.  The assessment tool in the photo was my own prototype that I trialled before I published it.

Generate Ideas:

Students were used to brainstorming discussions and wonder walls to collectively question and generate multiple ideas.  We started our journey by wondering what we were passionate or curious about.  Suggestions included building structures, protecting animals, writing books, gardening and much more.  At any age level, there are students who need more support and scaffolding than others.  Some students were very strong in the generative phase of creative development and this helped those who couldn’t quite articulate their interests by giving them a springboard.

Create A Plan:

I had students sketch out a small drawing of their plan.  This was put on our class bulletin board to document their learning.  Each time a student developed new ideas or sketched  more information, it was added to the board.

Research/ Investigate:

Students then headed to the computer, ipad or books if they needed to discover more about their interest.  Many students helped each other and brought information from home.


The experimentational phase is where we played by putting thought to form.  Students were taught to try, try again.  By creating multiple prototypes, students learn to analyze their thinking.  This is part of the metacognitive piece that we are striving towards as educators.  One student was very interested in caterpillars.  She drew a monarch caterpillar and then used plasticine to create a model.    In a conference with her, I showed her a picture of a monarch caterpillar in a book.  She then changed the colour and the markings of her prototype.  In a class discussion, someone suggested that she create another pattern showing the pattern of the markings and not just the colour.  By the time she created three prototypes, this student was able to clearly describe the characteristics of the monarch caterpillar and went on in her investigations to create a model of the life cycle.


Class tours and discussions played an important role here.  I spent time observing and then took the class on a quick tour of the classroom to showcase the work of a few selected students each period.  I would point out what I noticed, using the vocabulary of the seven strands of creative development.  Students would then collaborate and analyze by offering positive reinforcements and suggestions.  The next day at the beginning of the period, I would highlight those points again to refocus the students and sometimes use the tracking of the bulletin board to suggest a goal for individual students that day.


Many students reached the point of creative sustain by experiencing Genius Hour in Kindergarten.  I observed that some showed strength in different areas of the seven strands, for example, one student was highly generative and always had ideas on the go.  I would then encourage her to prototype and expand her understanding.  As described in the Learning Experience Design Model, some students never reach these Type 3 activities and require more scaffolding on the part of the teacher.  This is differentiation and personalization at its best.

Where does play fit in?

It is important to note that I knowingly taught Genius Hour for more than 20 % of the week in June because I wanted to play and try it out so that I had a plan of attack for following school year.  Because of this fluid schedule, I tracked students’ plans on the bulletin board and the assessment sheets.  Every time that students added a new prototype or drew a new plan, I would add it to their section of the bulletin board.  Our daily schedule continued on the same, so students worked on their Genius Hour projects during our hour of play. In this way, learning was completely self-instigated.  Many used the vocabulary and concepts that we were learning for spring to develop their learning, others went in different directions.  Rather than visiting other centres upon arrival in the morning, many would head straight for their projects or to look at the projects of other students.  The atmosphere was a focused, calm buzz that  never failed to move me as the students joyfully got to work and play in the sunlit classroom, with no reminders from me.

What is the role of the teacher?

My role was to guide and observe my students as they moved through the different stages of creative development.  I would often sit and listen to conversations. This allowed me to plan my class discussions and mini lessons.  Literacy and Math lessons were  embedded into this process .  I would use student project ideas for shared writing and reading each day.  When I noticed an opportunity for a lesson on patterns, 3D shapes or numbers, I would use it as a real life math lesson.  For example, the building centre offered lots of discussion points about 3D shapes and the garden explorations were the basis of many word problems.  Students were so engaged in their projects that there were no discipline problems.  Those who had a difficult time during large group activities benefitted greatly from having the chance to express their knowledge in this format.

And now…

As I head into year two of teaching creativity, I am convinced that I will do Genius Hour again.  The third week of school is about to begin and I am busy doing community building activities and setting routines so that we can delve into the world of creativity.  Trying to implement something too abstract will not fly early in the year, as we all know.

My plan is to investigate whatever theme we are working on from Monday to Thursday, gradually building the process of creative development into our discussions.  (I will enlarge a copy of the assessment tool for our reference.)  Sometime this fall, Fridays will become the day that we will explore Genius Hour.  In the beginning, we will work on our year long project involving building a sense of self and what makes each student unique.  Stay tuned for a future blog post highlighting this project.  An email will go home to parents within the week asking them to share what fires them up, what their passions are.  I can then call upon parents as experts, and find other specialists to guide us as students begin to identify their own passions and interests.  As with anything that requires skill building, I will go slow, do group explorations, and divide the group to work and learn with different volunteers.  As the year progresses, many students will begin to develop creative sustain and generate their own ideas and projects.  There are many teachers experimenting with Genius Hour and evidence of their discussion can be found on twitter in the #geniushour professional learning network.

As with any long term creative development project, my work with Genius Hour will continue to evolve. How do you teach Genius Hour in  your Kindergarten classroom?

Saturday, September 14, 2013

Games in Things

By Erin Quinn
As mentioned in our Recipe section, creating a safe culture in your classroom is important for future creative work. I teach an option class for grade 7s called Creative Problem Solving. It’s a course that’s locally developed by my school board, and focuses on the creative process as a method of solving real life problems. I’m very excited for the opportunities this course is going to afford my students, but before we could get into really meaty issues, we needed to spend some time developing that collaborative, safe culture.

I started with a great activity I’ve used before from an organization called the Institute of Play, the GameKit. The Institute of Play is a fantastic organization that aims to bring play and games into schools. Being a strong believer that learning should feel like play, I am right on board with their mandate. It doesn’t hurt that they create top quality resources for teachers and school personnel.
I used the first activity in the GameKit called Find Play in Things. On a table, I laid out several supplies: a bunch of red plastic cups, some elastic bands, paper clips, yarn, two-sided math tokens, and twelve sided dice. I asked the students to get into groups of about three or four students. Then I asked them to come up and select three items - they could take as much or as little of the three items as they wanted. Now came the fun part: Invent a game using all three items.

An important thing to note is that these are the only instructions I gave them. I didn’t say, “you must have at least three rules in your game, you HAVE to write them down, and NO MAKING A MESS! AND NO MAKING NOISE! AND NO HAVING FUN!!!!” Okay, I’m being a little facetious right now, but some teachers’ instinct would be to put limitations on the games. Resist this urge and just let the kids go with it.

My students happily set about this task. What happened at that point was something pretty remarkable, and one of the hallmarks of design thinking: the students biased toward action. Instead of spending time discussing what they might do, the students took their materials and started prototyping right away. They lined up cups in rows. They drew game boards on the whiteboard desks. They rigged up slingshots using paper clips and elastic bands. And when the sling shots didn’t work, they tried another approach.

My students spent a good part of an hour prototyping their games, adjusting as things didn’t work, and trying again. Without knowing it, the students experienced the divergent-convergent pulse: when something didn’t work as planned, students had to go back to the drawing table, come up with other possibilities (diverging), and then deciding on another route to try (converging).
Next class, we are going to try playing each others’ games to see how they work and if they’re fun. Feedback from users may cause them to have to go back again to try something new. If a game is too hard, or too easy, their players will tell them this, and the game designers will need to try another approach.

What’s great about this activity is that it is such a simple activity that gives students a taste of the creative process, and many of the seven strands of creativity.
Sunday, September 08, 2013

Creativity in a French Immersion Kindergarten Classroom

By Stephanie Bartlett


“What is your plan?”
“Before we build that fort, maybe we should draw a plan.”
“Today I am going to build another prototype of my butterfly house.”
-Conversations from Mme Stephanie’s Kindergarten classroom.

Creativity is a word that we hear so often these days and yet so many of us are intimidated or just don’t know where to start.  Some are interested, but don’t consider themselves creative, therefore they leave it for others to try.  Naively ignorant of the world of creativity, I fell into that camp until everything changed in July 2012 when I began my Masters at The University of Calgary in Creativity in Educational Practice.  Our professor, Robert Kelly, thoughtfully guided us through a personal and professional transformation that catapulted me into the world of teacher as designer.  Together with my partners, we spent all of last year developing our own creativity and figuring out how to make room for something new in our teaching practice.  

We experimented with units of different lengths, and letting the students wonderings guide our explorations. We also played with implementing Genius Hour, something that we will definitely incorporate into our practice this year as well.  And, as we all know, there is no point in teaching anything if you can’t access it, so we created and trialled assessment tools, both teacher and student friendly.  After so much trial and error, we realized that we weren't just adding new concepts on top of traditional ones; we were completely restructuring our classrooms and the way we taught.  Judging by student performance and their high levels of engagement, we were hooked.

So what?

Creativity aligns beautifully with the philosophies of Reggio-inspired learning and inquiry.  My classroom became living proof that when students were taught the process of creative development, when space was treated as a collaborative tool, and when feedback was given often by teacher and students, the evidence of metacognition and student engagement is far-reaching.  Seeing the intrinsic motivation of my students as they headed straight for our classroom garden or their plans and models of the new classroom water table renewed my passion for teaching.

Now What?

I now know that I am creative, that there is a developmental process to creativity and that creativity does indeed enhance both my teaching and the way students learn. Together with my partners, I will continue implement creativity in the classroom.  We have joined the collaborative project on twitter, #LookingClosely.  Exploring nature through the lense of creativity will be an exciting venture.  We are developing a yearlong project that will highlight the uniqueness of each student and incorporate many learning outcomes along the way.  Lastly, we will continue on with Genius Hour on Friday mornings.  We have a busy year ahead and have learned to trust the process of creativity and outcome unknown.

Introducing Genius Hour in Grade 7

By Erin Quinn

Genius Hour is an idea that’s catching like wildfire lately in the field of education. Genius Hour goes by many names - 20% time, Innovation Week, Fed Ex Days, Passion Projects - but all these monikers essentially mean the same thing: passion-based, self-directed learning. Students choose what they want to learn about, investigate, and create something to show for their learning.

My teaching partner Kate Steinfeld and I decided to embark on the journey of Genius Hour together this year. We introduced the concept to our grade 7 students on Friday. Plenty of other educators have gone before us, so we relied on them to show us the way, and borrowed parts of the way other educators have introduced Genius Hour.

We started with this brilliant video, which was thoughtfully shared by Drew Minock here.

Then we showed a modified version of this Prezi, made by Crystal Wilson.

We were inspired by EspoLearn’s brilliant questions from her kickoff slideshow.

We borrowed EspoLearn’s words when she said that Genius Hour projects are about:
  • You being in charge of your own learning
  • Finding your genius
  • Asking questions and working to answer an Ungoogleable question
  • Finding a problem and working to solve it
  • A little about the product and a lot about the process
  • Learning it’s okay to fail

After the Prezi, we posed these questions to our students:
  • If you could learn anything in school, what would it be?
  • If you could solve any problem in the world, what problem would you solve? What breaks your heart?
  • If you could make anything in the world, what would you make?
  • What would you do if you weren't afraid?
  • What will you create to make the world more awesome?

Finally, we watched this short TED Talk of Jack Andraka, a 15 year old who invented a promising, cheap, and shockingly effective test for pancreatic cancer in his spare time.

We asked our students to ponder these questions over the course of the week, and come back next Friday with as many answers to the questions as they could. I could already see the students were intrigued by these questions. One girl said, “Ms. Quinn. If I’ve already filled up my page, what do I do?” I answered, “Go on to the next page!”

The best, most hopeful comment I overheard was,
“I can’t WAIT until next Friday!”

Genius Hour will allow the students to fully experience all seven strands of creative development in context. With their answers to the five questions, the students began to experience the phase of Self-Instigation. What's great about Genius Hour is it's one of the only experiences in a classroom where students will be able to truly self-instigage without curricular content interfering. Students get to pick a topic about whatever they want.

Next Friday, we are planning to have the students share their ideas with their classmates. We hope that by sharing, students will continue to add to their own list of ideas. Only after they’ve spent a good chunk of time on self-instigation can they move on to narrowing down their ideas to something good.

I will continue to write about our journey through Genius Hour as we go!

For more educators’ great ideas about Genius Hour, please check our Joy Kirr’s comprehensive Livebinder on the topic.
Saturday, August 31, 2013

Creativity: Delving Into The Unknown and Coming Out On Top

By Stephanie Bartlett
The beginning of my creative journey last year was full of surprises.
I didn’t expect to jump off a cliff into the unknown territory of redesigning education and throwing out traditional methods. I didn’t expect to form a close group of creativity pals who text daily to constantly push each other to keep forging ahead with our work. I didn’t expect to be so passionate about creativity that I would need to share with others outside of my school. So the biggest surprise? By jumping off the cliff with the safety parachute of creative process, not only have I transformed my teaching practice, but my personal life as well. That makes the floating feeling of not knowing where you are going well worth it!

Start Easy, Then Ramp It Up

I tried many different activities and concepts, keeping Robert Kelly’s Seven Strands of Creative Development at the core of my explorations. I taught units of different lengths, trialled whole and small group projects and ended the year playing with Genius Hour.

I took to asking myself “WHY?” before attempting any activity.  Was it relevant to the curriculum or just pretty and fun?  Did it actively engage the higher order thinking skills of my students?  Some days, I longed to yank out a worksheet (Ack!) but my depart from traditional teaching methods gained momentum and kept pushing me to press on.

My biggest worry by the end of the year?  I didn’t want to lose the exhilarating feeling that comes from designing change and impacting others.  I didn’t want my enthusiasm from my transformative first year in Creativity in Educational Practice at the University of Calgary to slowly recede into that never-to-be-revisited pool of ideas from great PD workshops of days gone by.  So, in keeping with the creative process and in the words of the Stanford dschool, I now live with “a bias towards action.”

Tips for keeping creativity at the forefront of my practice as I begin a new school year:

1.  The Seven Strands of Creative Development (Self Instigative, Generative, Research/Investigative, Experimentational, Analytical, Collaborative, and Creative Sustain)
This is not a linear process.  Students are guided and activities are scaffolded as they learn metacognitive skills and how to “problem set.”  This is personalization at its best.  I keep visuals of the Seven Strands up to keep us on track during small and large group discussions.  For samples of these visuals, clvisit the resource section.

2.  Space As A Collaborative Tool
Using the dschool’s makespace as a guide, taking the time to visit other classrooms, and learning from my PLN on twitter, I redesign my classroom often, always moving towards a space that is conducive to collaboration for a particular unit of study or time of year. Some tips:
  • Keep plenty of shelf and wall space designated for the display of finished work, as well as work in progress that students can return to.  
  • Prototyping of ideas becomes natural when materials are organized in clear bins or baskets so that students can independently decide what might work best.
  • Fill the classroom with stimuli (photos, articles, drawings) produced by students and teacher that serve to fuel explorations and idea generation.

Now you’re flying:

The notion of creative development and space as a collaborative tool are woven together with carefully designed projects and lessons (you can use the Learning Experience Design Model found in the resource section as a planning tool). I made sure to start out very slow, and nurtured the use of vocabulary, questioning and prototyping throughout the year in daily discussions.  I found it effective to begin each day with a quick talk about what student plans were for the day.  We toured the classroom at the end of the project time.  It was here that students learned from each other, and learned to question and and give suggestions.  
Both teacher and students find this process highly engaging.  You can tell by the smiles, the conversation and the way that they head straight for their projects as soon as they enter the room. The noise level is calmer...a focused buzz as students explore and create.

How do I assess creativity?  

Creativity is effectively assessed through ongoing feedback, goal setting and student reflections.  Depending on the age and ability of the student, this can be written, discussed and digitally recorded.  Please visit the resource section for the assessment tools that we have created.  

I am hooked...

I’ll be honest: last year was not always easy.  Outcome unknown means you ride the waves: there are highs and lows. I highly recommend working together with your team partners, colleagues, professional learning networks on twitter or the conversations on our website to talk about your work. Trust the process of creative development and you are guaranteed to be more passionate about your teaching and your students will surprise you with their enthusiasm!