When the Smithsonian Invites …

You say “GET OUT OF TOWN!!” Then, you accept!

I have been meaning to blog about this for quite some time, but as I began to investigate the Smithsonian’s Lemelson Center for the Study of Invention and Innovation  I kept finding new things that made me go “WOW!” and kept me from blogging.

If you’ve never given their website a look, you really should. They’ve got some awesome thinking and resources.

Look at some of the things they believe, and attempt to live:

“In Spark!Lab, we believe everyone is inventive, and hope that our visitors continue to create and innovate long after they’ve outgrown us.”

I LOVE this. Even though I’ve read it several times, it still makes me shake my head. That’s exactly what I think and hope about my Kindergartners. They’re all creative, inventive, and fantabulous! My hope and intent is that they experience, learn, embrace, and live those truths, with me, and long after they’ve left me!

Another post said “Lemelson team members pride ourselves on ‘living the mission’ as creative problem solvers.” They tell the story of  trying to rescue a lost  phone, and document the process at the same time.

I laughed out loud as I read this story. This is my life as a Kindergarten teacher. Always trying to work with my girls to figure out ways to make things possible — all the while doing my best to snap photos.

And, as I think about it, this is my Kindergartners life too! They are living the mission as creative problem solvers as well! The other day I discovered two girls — bottoms up in the air, faces on the ground, arms reaching under a block cabinet — all the while talking furiously with one another. What was going on, you ask?

Someone had washed a yogurt container, and when they placed it in the ‘use for making’ basket, the container fell behind the cabinet.  The girls could squeeze their arms under the cabinet, but they couldn’t reach the bottle. The flurry of conversation was about the blocks and other items they were trying out as tools to retrieve the container.

To add to their challenge, our classroom has art projects taped to the floor and the edge of the closest art project is about 18 inches from the edge of the block cabinet.

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The block cabinet is on wheels, and a visiting teacher volunteered to move it. The girls rejected this simple solution because they didn’t want to risk harming the art project. It was fantabulous to watch their intentness, inventiveness, and collaboration as they worked to retrieve the container.

Then there is the Lemelson Center strategic plan .

(This is just a small portion of their plan. I’ve put their thoughts in bullets form to make them easier to discuss here.)

  • Value creativity and embrace the potential rewards of risk-taking.
  • Inform and delight audiences and convey the enthusiasm and joy that are integral to the invention process
  • Encourage visitors to participate and see themselves as inventive
  • Push the limits of exhibition design to advance visitors’ curiosity and active learning
  • Our work has the potential to inspire millions of Americans and billions of people worldwide to view themselves as having inventive capacity and to build the skills and confidence needed to overcome barriers to innovation.

At the risk of repeating myself, I love these ideas, and they are a large part of my strategic plan as well. Perhaps it seems odd that a Kindergarten teacher would have some of the same strategic plans, hopes, visions, dreams, and goals, as the center of a major organization. But, if you think about it, it makes perfect sense, and seems to me, should be true of every educator.

Educators do remarkable work, with remarkable people — colleagues, admins, parents, and students. These constituents have limitless potential for imagining, thinking, creating, making, and impacting the world for good. Our work — informed and driven by our plans, hopes, visions and dreams — holds the possibility for profound and far-reaching impact. What we do influences those we  interact with each day. This in turn influences every individual and problem they encounter, now, and in the future.

I’d love to tweak their ideas — making them more mine — and create a canvas of some sort for my learning space.

  • Value creativity.
  • Welcome cognitive and creative risk-taking.
  • Be open to possibility.
  • Teach for delight.
  • Nothing without enthusiasm and joy.
  • Embrace and encourage curiosity.
  • Enable active learning.
  • Live the profoundness inherent in teaching and learning.
  • Believe in the incredible power and potential of my learners.

If I do actually make a canvas, I’ll be sure to share. Until then be inspired, and embrace the profound awesomeness that is you, your work, and those around you!

 

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Classroom Setup 2017-18

Merriam-Webster’s sixth definition of setup is “the manner in which the elements or components of a machine, apparatus, or system are arranged, designed, or assembled.”

I love to remind myself of this definition while I’m going about my classroom setup. I am designing a system in which I, and my students, colleagues, and parents, will work, create, play, and learn. If I’m any example, creating a classroom system requires a lot of thought, reflection, iteration, sweat, and muscle!

As I worked, thought, and sweated, I reminded myself of the truth about myself and my students. We are “rich in potential, strong, powerful, competent(Loris Malaguzzi quoted in The Hundred Languages of Children, 2nd addition, p. 275). I also thought back to my MA research where I considered the environment that might best support creativity and academic excellence.

I read so many thought provoking things as I researched for my MA. I synthesized them in an article in Creative Education.  If I were writing my dissertation, or the article now, I think I might title it Managing the Classroom for Creative and Cognitive Excellence. I want my classroom setup to support creative excellence, and cognitive excellence. To do that, it has to include and support the 6 elements of Teresa Amabile’s KEYS I adapted for classroom management in Managing the Classroom for Creativity:

  • Freedom which enables and and encourages ownership, motivation, and engagement of all the learners.
  • Positive challenge which helps everyone know the tasks/skills they engage in are important and valuable.
  • Supervisory Encouragement which values work and thought, and encourages inquiry and exploration.
  • Work group support which encourages the generation and exchange of new ideas.
  • Easy access to sufficient resources.
  • Organizational Support of our shared vision and an infrastructure that enables and empowers everyone in my learning space.

I’ve finished my initial classroom set up, and am super happy with the result. There is more work to be done, but I’m ready for my learners to join me in the space.

In addition to including the 6 elements listed above, I worked on including more visibility this year. I was mindful of balancing beauty and utility. I wanted our work, vision, thought, prototypes, iterations and our creative and cognitive “mess” to be visible. It adds a richness to the space — telling our story while increasing curiosity, inquiry, wonder, learning, understanding, creativity and excellence!

 

Here are a few photos with my reflections.

Last year our maker projects where stored in a classroom cabinet. This year, some awesome maintenance people ripped out the cabinet, and I replaced it with this open shelving unit. The wall behind and beside it is covered with a large art piece my students made last year. (How awesome is that?!!!) The use of that artwork, the trays for student work, and the words on the front of the shelving unit let everyone know these things are valued and supported.

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A second smaller shelving unit — on the coolest, gigantic wheels — keeps our tools neat and easily accessible. There’s opportunity for remarkable exploration and learning through the use of these tools.

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The maker trolley has always been a part of the makerspace, but this year I am repurposing the back to hold more materials, and storing our large item bins in the open. I am hopeful this will increase use and understanding.

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The two classroom easels provide opportunities for creative art experiences outside the regular art curriculum. The second is actually a double easel – fabulous for conversation and inspiration! I love leaving the dried paint on the easels. It adds an element of beauty and history to the space, and allows for freedom as one paints.

I’m thinking about the resources I have that might enable me to store paper beneath the easels — enabling the artists to be autonomous in their work. I have some ideas I’m going to try this week.

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I love the connection between my learners’ art experience and mine (the watercolors are my work). I also like the suggestion of a connection between painting, shapes, blocks and building.

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Print is plentiful and purposeful in my learning space. I want my students to read the room and learn. I want them to become more skilled at letter recognition and use, and to be inspired — to see, read, absorb, and live, what is important.

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I love all the little print treasures in my space, so it’s nearly impossible to choose a favorite. However, I am enjoying this one quite a bit!  I wonder what it will evoke or awaken in those who see it. For me it stirs up joy, possibility, positivity, and continuing even when obstacles arise.

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And this, partially hidden gem, out of the way of traffic, is a message from me, to me. “Be a superhero every day. The kids and the world deserve it!”

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All the best to all my fellow educators. Arm yourself with another Malaguzzi truth “Nothing without joy!” and have a fantabulous year!

 

NOTE:

Whenever I write, I think of all the remarkable people I’ve read, talked with, and researched . I think about adding tons of links to each post. Instead, I offer my deep gratitude to all those who informed my research and learning,  and remind my readers there is a great bibliography at the end of my Creative Education article.

 

 

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Are You a Possibilitarian?

 

My friend Jojo gifted me with, among other things, a lovely pair of socks. The artist, Kelly Rae Roberts, whose work is on the socks has a tag line that reads artist – author – possibilitarian.

When I read that, I thought, “POSSIBILITARIAN?!?!?! Is there actually a word — possibilitarian — and I don’t know about it?!?! Oh my gosh!”

I laughed out loud, and grabbed my laptop to do a bit of searching.

Yup, possibilitarian is a word. It hasn’t yet made it to dictionary.com, but it can be found on UrbanDictionary.com, and google returned about 77,400 results to my search.

As far as I can tell, the word originated with Norman Vincent Peale.

“Become a possibilitarian. No matter how dark things seem to be or actually are, raise your sights and see possibilities – always see them, for they’re always there.” 

Raising our sights, seeing possibility — being a possibilitarian — has the potential to increase our ideas, exploration, discoveries, inventions, innovation, collaboration, creativity, life, and joy.

Really, how fantabulous is that? Super duper wicked amazing fantabulous?  Yes, I think so, too.

Now, how super duper wicked amazing fantabulous would it be to help our students become possibilitarians?! Even better, right?! Right!

Let’s get on it!

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As an added note: I wanted a photo to add to the post. I remembered this cool little piece of art my mom bought me for my classroom. PERFECT! After I took the photo I turned it over and guess what I saw. The artist is Kelly Rae Roberts. Rock on with your possibility loving self, Kelly! 

Dr. Seuss Creative Fun

Wacky Wednesday, by Dr. Seuss, inspired our creative fun today.  — Shoes on the wall, on the ceiling and under the bed. Worms chasing birds. Hoses, while split, still watering the lawn. — My students giggled, and eagerly shared each wacky thing they noticed.

They didn’t want to stop, but I told them “We must! I want you to have plenty of time to have your own wacky Wednesday fun!”

They were not immediately convinced. But, I assured them we would keep the book in our library, and they could read it as much as they wanted. Finally, they relented and moved to the chairs I had prepared.

I reminded them of our time together in yoga, when I invite them to take off their shoes and socks. “Now,” I said, “I’m not going to invite you to take off your shoes and socks. I’m going to tell you to take them off. We cannot do our wacky Wednesday creative fun unless you take them off.” Giggles and talking increased as they hurried to their cubbies and back again — with feet bared!

Paper was taped to the floor in front of each chair. Plastic egg cartons filled with paint, rested on paper towels. I encouraged them to guess what we might be doing.

“We’re going to paint with our feet!” … “Yes,” I said, “but how?”

“We’ll stick our feet in the paint!” … “Good guess, but no. We’re actually going to use a paint brush.”

“We’ll paint our feet and put them on the paper!” …”OH! Great idea, but no.”

“We’ll paint our toe nails!” … “That would be fun, but not today.”

They continued guessing, each building on the next. They were doing a lovely job thinking divergently. They showed some fluency, flexibility, and elaboration – each idea building upon the ones that came before, informed by my responses.

Finally, nearly jumping out of her chair, R. said “I know! We’re going to hold the paintbrush in our toes!!!!!” …. “YES!”

Laughter and conversation erupted in the room – making it nearly impossible for me to speak and be heard. I encouraged their enthusiasm, but asked them to do try to stay quiet until we began. They contained themselves, as best as they could, and after some brief instruction and encouragement, they began.

Some jumped in with both feet — pun-intended, lol — and used their toes to grip their pencil, and write their name.

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When M. finished writing she said, “That was hard. And it doesn’t look very good. It’s messy.” … “No way!” I replied. “That’s fantastic! You did that with your toes! How awesome is that?”

Was it as good as she could do with her fingers? No. But did that matter? Was that the right criterion to use to evaluate it? No! Her process and product  were remarkable. She gripped the pencil with her toes. Figured out how to create each letter in her name, and wrote them in a rather straight line! Perhaps most importantly, she showed great initiative, courage, and grit, and I wanted to acknowledge that for her.

Everyone joined in the fun — even me. My students were enthusiastic and joy-filled painters — quite willing to try, and try again.

feet painting

I was surprised by my reaction to the experience. It was hard! Hard to hold the paintbrush. Hard to figure out how to dip it in the paint. Hard to guide it on the paper. Just hard!

I did it, but I didn’t enter into the experience like they did. I think their were multiple reasons why. Each is worthy of my thought, consideration and remembering as I continue to work with my students, and for my own growth as a creative and an educator.

Here are some of the things I noticed:

  1. My support of my students — in word and presence — is powerful.
  2. Time to practice and play with the tools and process before beginning is important.
  3. Embracing positive thoughts about ourselves as artists and learners is essential.
  4. Adopting the joy, freedom and openness of a beginner’s mind is helpful.

My students often return the favor and support me with their word and presence. Today I didn’t have the opportunity to allow them to support me. I also didn’t have the time to practice and experiment before beginning. But perhaps most interesting to me, unlike my students, I didn’t immediately embrace positive thoughts about myself or my process, and I didn’t adopt the the joy, freedom and openness of the beginner’s mind.

I can learn so much from my students. They are truly fantabulous!

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!

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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.