Courageous Creativity

math canvas 1

Sometimes we have to show a little courage in order to encourage it in our students!

Our math coordinator felt, I think, a little left out of my Kindergarten classroom. It is a lovely space, rich in the opportunity to do math, but not so rich in the “in your face, obvious, look this is math” kind of way! I love math, yes, for real, I really do. So I thought “Let’s go all out!”

I pulled out two canvases. They were beautiful! Big, thick, pristine, white canvases. I was excited to make some sort of creative, statement piece. Something that was fabulous artistically and aesthetically, and actually said something about math.

You may recall, I’m sometimes a bit of a chicken when it comes to the big, blank, white page! And, let me remind you, this was not a only big, blank and white, it was a canvas, and not a cheap one at that. But I had no time for timidity! I had two days to create two canvases. Eeek!

I flipped through a couple mixed media art books, and came upon many ideas I thought I could use – putting paint on the canvas with an old credit or gift card, creating layers with stencils and cut paper – and perhaps most importantly, not being afraid of the process.

A deadline is not always helpful when you are being creative, but this time, it was incredibly helpful. I didn’t have time to entertain my fear of the blank page, or the possibility of destroying the canvas. I had to trust the process, the colors and me, and just do it! So I did.

It was super fun and super freeing. Hopefully it will inspire parents and students to wonder, investigate, think, share, strategize, question, problem solve, reason, make mistakes, try again and learn … even if they are feeling a bit trepidatious!

math canvas 2


The Crayon Initiative

Have you ever heard of The Crayon Initiative?  Me neither! Until today.

The Crayon Initiative recycles “unwanted crayons into unlimited possibilities for children.”

How cool is that?

I’m sure there are lots of people/organizations who are doing creative repurposing with crayons, but for now, I’m liking and blogging about this one! :) (No disrespect to any of the others.)


I like the process they talk about as they tell their story …

  • twirling a crayon – deep in thought
  • wondering out loud
  • asking questions
  • discovering a problem
  • being confident in their ability to discover a new way to address the problem
  • accepting the challenge to make a positive change
  • thinking
  • ideating (having ideas! Awesome word, isn’t it? Around since the 1800’s I believe)
  • bringing one of those ideas to life to “recirculate the endless supply of free materials and bring the Arts to children everywhere.

There’s a lot to love about this! The process, the creativity, the crayons (I happen to love crayons, lol.) the openness to possibility, the thought, the action, and the benefit to children and the environment.

Rock on Crayon Initiative!

Let’s follow their lead. Let’s wonder, question, think, ideate, believe, and make positive innovations!


T4D – Teach for Delight!

While reading Tom and David Kelley’s book – Creative Confidence – I came upon Design for Delight. D4D (Design for Delight) is the brainchild of Intuit’s Kaaren Hansen. D4D involves “evoking positive emotion by going beyond customer expectations in delivering ease and benefit so people buy more and tell others about the experience.” (p. 176)

As I read, I immediately thought – OH!!! T4D! How fabulous would that be?


T4D … Teach for DELIGHT!

It’s an interesting twist isn’t it? Not teach for meaning. Not teach for skills. Not teach for understanding. Not teach for learning.Teach for delight!!! Cool, creative and fabulous, right?!?!!!

Now, before our educator heads explode, let me reiterate – for something to be truly creative it must be useful and appropriate. Meaning, understanding and skills are essential parts of teaching and learning. Therefore, they remain an integral part of my vision of T4D. So, let’s revisit. T4D is cool, creative and fabulous, right?!!!

Think about it. What if our focus, as educators, was delight? What if our goal and intention was for all constituents to experience delight in the learning/teaching journey.  Wouldn’t that be amazing?

Delighted students would engage, think and learn more deeply. They would discover the pleasure and satisfaction of learning, questioning, experimenting and even struggling. Hopefully they would seek to know and understand far beyond our classrooms. Delighted parents, might partner, more fully, in their children’s learning. And we, delighted educators, could, breathe, smile, and engage in the process of learning and teaching with increased fervor and purpose.


Yes, I know, I’m yelling, lol. I’m yelling because T4D  is a concept I’d like everyone to hear and embrace!

T4D. Increase the joy, and deep learning. Teach for Delight!


Creative Confidence: Unleashing The Creative Potential Within Us All by Tom Kelley and David Kelley, 2013, Crown Business Publishing

Reflections on Making Room for Creativity in Math

math blog

Tons of things happened when I made room for creativity in math. My students and I:

  • thought
  • shared our thinking
  • struggled with moments of confusion, not knowing, and even small failures
  • laughed at ourselves, and laughed with each other
  • challenged one another’s thinking, explanations, illustrations, words, and math
  • encouraged one another to keep at it and not give up
  • were creative – in our ideas for the math story, in our illustrations, and in our explanations
  • transferred our math knowledge to our real life, and our real life to our math work and thought
  • persuaded others regarding our thoughts and conclusions
  • worked to understand each other’s point of view
  • did a lot of math
  • drew some great illustrations
  • enjoyed seeing our ideas in print

But, what surprised me the most was the depth of understanding this exercise afforded me!

My girls all have a basic understanding of addition and subtraction, and they all employ various strategies to solve simple number sentences. Some have a greater comfort than others manipulating numbers, and actively seek the opportunity to share their adding/subtracting prowess. While I was excited to experience the thought and creativity of all my girls, I was particularly interested in what these girls would do with the challenge. I imagined their math skills would allow them to revel in the thinking, and come up with great, inventive ideas. I never imagined what happened for a few of them.

They could not complete the task!They came up with many number sentences and easily solved them. But, they struggled to find a way to connect their number sentences to real life. They seemed perplexed as to why anyone would do that, and honestly, seemed to feel a bit betrayed by me for asking them to do so! We worked through it together, and they were able to, joyfully, produce work that made sense to them and their friends.

It was fascinating! This wide open exercise that combined life, art, math, writing, thinking and communicating, allowed my girls to show – in a new and insightful way – what they did, and did not, understand. It was an amazing assessment opportunity – of their learning, and my teaching!


Making Room for Creativity in Math

By the second half of the year, my girls understood addition is putting things together to get more. They understood subtraction is removing things to get less. They were able to use various strategies to solve problems I created. They enjoyed showing their mathematical prowess as they computed the numbers I gave them.

But, I wanted more for them. And, in a funny way I wanted more for me. They were always amazing and amusing me with their thinking and creativity in other pursuits – actually, we amazed and amused each other! I wanted to experience that with them in math as well. I wasn’t sure how to provoke this creativity, independence and amazement in math. But, believed it could (and should) happen.

After letting it “ferment” in my brain for a few days, I had an idea. What if I asked them to create  a real life addition problem? What about a real life subtraction problem? Oh my! What if I challenged them to create a real life math problem that involved subtraction AND addition? Now that would be something!

I asked them to think of an addition story. Not just two and two is four, but two of what and four of what. And perhaps most importantly why? Once they had their story, I asked them to record it in three ways: illustration, word and number. It was fascinating, and fun, to listen to them, talk with them, and watch them work.

IMG_2334 math add subtract

Next I had them create a “math mystery.” Their pictures were visible, but their word and number stories were hidden (under the flap). When they were ready, they partnered with a friend, shared their pictures and tried to guess each other’s word and number stories.

constructing math2

This helped them notice nuances that they missed, or didn’t need, when all the information was before them. For instance, is this 2 people joining 2 other people floating in a balloon (2+2 =4)? Or is it 2 people getting off the rock to go home, leaving 2 people on the rock (4-2 =2)?

Two very different scenarios, and depending on your interpretation, either could be true. When differences arose I encouraged the girls to talk with one another. “Ask each other questions. Tell each other what you think and why you think it. Explain your work. Add detail if you think it’s important. Help each other!” What an important and impressive process. Sometimes they agreed to disagree, secure in their explanations. Sometimes they amended their drawings, or noticed something they previously missed and amended their guess.

I think they amazed and amused each other. Certainly they amazed and amused me! Hopefully they began to see that math is useful, fun and all around them.

So, what did you guess the word and number stories were for the above picture?

This real life math problem is:

constructing math1(There were 4 people in the pool. 2 got out. How many are left? 4-2=2)

Of course! :)



Possibility, Power, Perception … and Transformation

Yes, lol, such a long blog post title, but I couldn’t choose just one word. Clearly I couldn’t even choose two! Perhaps you will think of a better title. Good! If you do, share it with me.

I was on Facebook today, and noticed a photo and article a friend shared.


(photo from Facebook post of

I was pulled in by the idea and the awesome photo. Heading to the website link I discovered this video: (from

Let’s Put Every Girl’s Future Into Her Own Hands

Give it a look. It is compelling and joy-filled!

Watching the video, I was struck by something I noticed and loved about Reggio Emilia and El Sistema – two educational systems/approaches I researched for my MA – a deep belief in the transformational power of what is being done.

The soccer coaches are not teaching the girls to play soccer simply to play soccer, or even to become good at soccer. Yes, of course  playing soccer is important, becoming good at it is important, but it is so much more!

Education and creativity are like that, too! Yes, of course education is important for education’s sake, and creativity is important for creativity’s sake. BUT if we leave it there –if we stop at education, or creativity, or sports, without perceiving, and believing deeply, in the profound possibility that is found in them — we miss the opportunity to share, and be touched by, their transformational power.

I’m published!!!

WOO HOO!!! My first academic paper is published in the Journal of Creative Education (June 2015). It’s based upon my MA Creative Thinking research.

Here’s all the info:

James, M. (2015) Managing the Classroom for Creativity. Creative Education, 6, 1032-1043. doi: 10.4236/ce.2015.610102.

AMAZING to see my name – Molly James – as the author in a research journal. I hope it is the first of many.

Please feel free to join me in a happy dance and a lovely cup of tea!


Then, pop over to Creative Education Journal and take a look at my paper. CE is an open access journal, so you will be able to download and read my paper without the need to subscribe. (YAY!) Here’s the link:

Managing the Classroom for Creativity

It’s a great read – if I do say so myself! My hope is it will help many educators create classroom environments that encourage deep thinking, academic excellence, and creativity.

Mini-C creativity and Me!

Oh my GOSH! I cannot believe how long it has been since I last posted. Teaching, writing, wigging out about my health, and training for a half marathon, have kept me really busy. But, the good news is, I am BACK! YAY!!! (Hope you are as happy about that as I am.)

A while back, I talked about mini-c creativity. Mini-c creativity is beginning creativity that is self-judged versus judged by others. If it’s novel, useful and meaningful to the person experiencing it, then it is valuable and creative.

I had a mini-c creativity moment today. It was fantabulous, if I do say so myself! When I realized it was mini-c creativity, I laughed out loud, and experienced a new-found appreciation for the insight of Kaufman and Beghetto!

My kindergarteners and I worked with clay today. I’ll post photos and talk about the process another time. For now, I just want to talk about the prep.

I had a list of things to do.

  1. Cut cardboard for the girls to use as a working board.
  2. Find the sponges and various other simple tools.
  3. Bring home some clay to make the slip. (Slip is the watered down clay that acts like glue, and is super fun for kindergarteners to use!)
  4. Buy some plastic to use as mats and make clean up easier.
  5. Buy a plastic container to use when making and storing the slip.
  6. Make the slip.

Unfortunately that list was in my head, not on a piece of paper.

When I got home at 8PM ready to make the slip, I realized I had failed to buy the container to use when making the slip. Eee GADS!!! I didn’t want to go back out, but I didn’t have a suitable container at home, but, did I mention, I didn’t want to go back out?!?!!? Ugh, what was I going to do?

I decided to take a deep breath, have a cup of tea, and sleep on it — hopeful that a solution would present itself in the morning

5:30AM rolled around, and sustained by another cup of tea, and some organic sprouted oatmeal, I began the search of my cabinets. “OH!!! A zip lock bag. That might be PERFECT! Easy mixing and no mess!!!” I dumped my clay in the bag, added some water, zipped it securely, and, just to be on the safe side, popped it all into another ziplock bag.

When I got to my classroom I began the smushing process. It was AWESOME!!! What had previously been a rather messy, mildly laborious job, was easy and completely mess free!!!! I highly recommend this method if you don’t have to make a ton of slip.


I was impressed with my own ingenuity, and was feeling quite creative. Then, I thought, “Hmmm, I’m bet ‘clay-experts’ have probably thought of this already. Or perhaps they just don’t wait until the last minute to prep. They might not be very impressed with my idea”

Then I remembered mini-c creativity. My understanding, my learning, my having a new idea, my CREATIVITY in the way I made the slip is fantastic and useful – for me – and therefore, regardless of the judgment of others it is super creative and valuable.

It was really important for me to experience this, because it gave me some insight into what my students may feel. When they have a new idea that is useful, novel and meaningful to them, I need to let them have that moment, and celebrate it with them. If I downplay their discovery, work or idea, I take some really valuable things from them. I, quite likely, rob them of:

  • joy
  • an experience of triumph or victory
  • a sense of competency
  • a willingness to try new ideas
  • a willingness to share these new ideas with others

Mini-c creativity is powerful. So is our response to it.



Beyond Big and Little: The Four C Model of Creativity – Kaufman and Beghetto, 2009,+Beghetto+-+2009+-+Beyond+big+and+little+The+four+c+model+of+creativity.pdf




Possibility Thinking Happens!

yogurt lady bugsI was delighted to receive this email from a parent of one of my kindergarteners:

Last night, M was finishing up 2 small containers of applesauce. She washed them out, put them on the counter, and said, “Save these. I’m turning them into ladybugs after school tomorrow.”

How awesome?!?!!!

What will this become? Clearly, the possibilities are endless.

Thomas Edison and Kindergarteners

They are more alike than you might think at first glance!

According to the Edison Innovation Foundation, Thomas Edison once said:

“I find out what the world needs. Then I go ahead and try to invent it.”

Given the chance, any kindergartener would say that! Ok, perhaps they wouldn’t say “what the world needs” but they surely would say “what I need” or “what my friends need” or “what my dog needs.” They are natural problem-finders, and problem-solvers!

Like Edison, they are constantly observing, investigating, wondering, and asking questions. This, coupled with their imagination, and a rather intense desire to have things that do not yet exist, often leads them to a plethora of problem-finding. This car I just made is too long. We need a zip-line on the playground. Why don’t we have a container that holds all that stuff?

They often also share Edison’s intense confidence, boundless energy, imagination, and love of tinkering. Given the opportunity, time, resources, and a little encouragement, they create many prototypes as they engage in focused and determined problem-solving.

One of my kindergarteners recently discovered a problem she deemed worthy of her thought, time and energy. “How can you open a card without touching it?” Hmmmm …

card collage

“Add some handles!”

We might be inclined to relegate this to the “ah, isn’t that cute” category. While it is cute, it is so much more! It is sophisticated problem-finding and problem-solving. This student took her present knowledge – about cards, sticks, handles, tape, hands – and thought about it in a new way. She used that knowledge to envision something as yet non-existent – a card you can open without touching it. She then took the materials available to her, and used them in novel ways to solve her problem. She created a card with handles. And, it can even be place in an envelope.

Finding problems, thinking divergently as well as convergently, tinkering, testing, and finally, problem-solving are important skills and habits. My fingers are crossed that my students will continue in this way, and one day say, with Thomas Edison “We found out what the world needed, and we went ahead and invented it!”


Edison Innovation Foundation