Bringing Ideas to Life

Creativity is an interesting mix of thinking and doing. It’s about having new ideas, conceiving of new ways to do things, imaging a particular physical product — and then working to bring any, or all, of these things to life.

Both the thinking and the doing require a significant amount of

  • curiosity
  • wonder
  • imagination
  • team-work
  • risk taking
  • confidence
  • playfulness
  • resilience
  • perseverance
  • knowledge
  • research and learning
  • struggle
  • pro-typing and iterating
  • the seemingly magical, but often hard won, moments of “aha” and resolution

My girls worked on their Thanksgiving build from the beginning of November until winter break. They had a plethora of ideas. Some were created, some were not. Through out their thinking and work, the girls exhibited all the things listed above.

Some of the most interesting observations for me, occurred as they struggled to negotiate, and embrace and enhance each other’s ideas and thoughts. It’s a tough line to walk — advocating for your own ideas while at the same time being open to the ideas of your friends and fellow workers. It’s especially problematic when other’s ideas are significantly different than yours. Emotions occasionally ran amuck, and sometimes required interventions — with recommendations of alone time, breathing, thinking, listening, and sometimes suggestions of how to speak to one another to understand and resolve differences.  Particularly interesting to me is how similar these young work groups are to the work groups I belong to as an adult. New ideas are not always welcomed, different ideas are sometimes hard to imagine or embrace, old patterns are sometimes very strong, and emotions often make things more complicated.

I loved their conversations and subsequent research as they wondered, and imagined things they would have liked to have as a citizen of England and Holland, a passenger of the Mayflower, or a Native American. — Would the castles of England and Holland have had elevators? What about trap doors? Where did the Native Americans get their food?  Did they have toys? Was there a hospital on the Mayflower? Did people fall in the water? How did they save them?

So much about my students, and their thinking and work fascinated me! I often laughed out loud in awe and enjoyment of the fantabulousness of their ideas, and their beautiful confidence.

This person did it for me this build:

IMG_9226I don’t recall any other student making a person with  three-dimensional components. I exclaimed “Wow. I love that! What a great idea!!” when I noticed her work.

She responded as though surprised by my awe. “I just think it, and I do it, Miss James!” I think I laughed out loud AGAIN when she said that to me. That is some beautiful confidence — in her thoughts, and creative ability.

Other times, my delight and fascination came from stretching their thinking, as well as their belief in their own abilities. One student this year wanted to make a dog. Her first try was lovely, and she was quite happy. I chuckled to myself as I opened my mouth to speak. “Would you mind getting your person? Let’s see if this would be a good pet for her.” She looked at me with a bit of incredulity, and perhaps even the slightest annoyance, but she quickly went and retrieved her person. Her dog’s head was the bigger than her person was tall. She reacted with amazement and a bit of disequilibrium! But, she was used to making dogs this size, didn’t believe she could make it any different, and told me it was fine. I laughed and asked her to stand up. When she did I asked if she would want a dog this big (and showed her how big her drawn dog was compared to her person). She laughed and said no, but when I suggested she re-draw her dog she said she couldn’t. I pushed back a bit and told her “Of course you can! Give it a go.”

She redrew that dog at least 10 times. The first 6 were almost identically sized. We cut the paper smaller, and she only fit the on the paper. Finally at about try 12, she created this:

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Perfection!!! She added a speech bubble filled with barks, and gleefully added her dog to the build.

Both experiences are valuable parts of creativity, thinking, learning, and life. Sometimes you simply believe in yourself and know that you can “just think it and make it!” Other times, when it seems impossible, and you doubt your ability, you have to struggle, and keep trying over and over — sometimes embracing the encouragement and pushing of someone you love, even when it’s uncomfortable  — until it happens.

With luck — and reminders from me — the one with belief in her abilities will be able to access that confidence when she has to work hard in order to succeed, and the one who had to struggle will experience those deliciously magically moments of creative ease.

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WOW!

 

Yup, that about covers it. “WOW!”

Well, perhaps, “WOW!” and “Boy, oh boy, do I need a nap!”

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It’s the beginning of our Thanksgiving Build 2017. All of this block thinking and work happened in less than 20 minutes!

It was amazing to experience and help facilitate it.

Prior to beginning the actual build, we prepped the room and ourselves.

  • We decided on a good spot for the tables.
  • We checked to be sure we could still move about the room as we need to for other activities.
  • We counted tiles on the floor.
  • We did some research — watching videos, reading/looking at books, and discussing our finds and understanding.
  • We chose our groups (citizens of England and Holland, passengers on the Mayflower, Native Americans).

Finally we met for our first day of building. Before working with the blocks, we held a quick planning meeting. I acted as the scribe, and recorded their ideas. Each group excitedly generated an extensive list of things they would need in their area of the build. Often their ideas played off of each other. I worked to keep the group focused and positive, accepting all ideas, confident that we would discover and modify anything that might need to be changed as we did the build.

It was interesting to make the lists together. They were invested in the process and shared their ideas with enthusiasm, but at the same moment, they were straining against the confines of the table, chairs, and list making. Their desire to begin the build was visible, and when I set them free, the room erupted into a spirited burst of conversation and movement.

They talked to one another as they moved to gather blocks and tools. Sometimes one of them would think of something else they needed, and give me a shout — “Bears! Add bears to the list Miss James!” For now the lists are posted on our whiteboard. We’ll revisit them at various points of the build — to see what has been done, what needs to be done, and what needs to be added.

Many things have to remain in balance as the build progresses. Of course, the blocks themselves must remain balanced. Given the inherent instability of certain block formations, and the sometimes whirlwind like movement of kindergartners, this is often more difficult than it sounds. But, many other things are also always in a delicate, sometimes beautiful, sometimes precarious, state of balance.

As the build facilitator I want to encourage and enable student agency, freedom, discovery, and creativity. At the same time I want to infuse their creativity with the all important ingredient of usefulness. I work hard to encourage thinking, comparing, noticing, and rethinking, without discouraging their ideas and budding understanding. Sometimes this means I have to refocus my gaze and perception. I need to look at the build not as a product alone, but as a process. And, I need to consider what my students knew before beginning, what they are expressing with their work, and what is most important.

Keeping the social emotional energy balanced is imperative. The collaboration — both physical and mental — that occurs while creating in groups is huge! Sometimes we aren’t used to this type of work, and disagreements or power struggles ensue. These moments are often fraught with emotion, but once breaths are taken, the disagreements and struggles become awesome opportunities for conversation, learning and growth.

Another area of social emotional balance involves my comments and suggestions. I have to be aware of the times when my interjections are causing too much disequilibrium in my builders. I want them to think, to struggle and to reach new levels of understanding. I don’t want them to doubt themselves or their work.

So, back to their work. We will build until winter break. Things will be added, taken away, and modified. This is just the beginning. And a great beginning it is!

Remind yourself of their age, their task, and their timeframe. And be awed!

England and Holland

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The Mayflower

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Native American homesite

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Hey, Kindergarten!

Our supermarket build is in full swing, and it is spectacular!

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In this build, perhaps even more than in our other builds, communication and collaboration are key!  (So too is breathing, lol, but that is for another blog post!)

As we prepped for the build, my builders, engineers and architects had tons of ideas, but they directed them only to me – the teacher – even though their peers were sitting with us. So many awesome ideas, and so much potential for collaboration and elaboration, were being wasted!

I couldn’t take it anymore! I said “Eee gads. May I say something!”

They looked at me. The looks on their faces said “Eee gads? Did you just say, Eee gads!?” but no one spoke, they just waited.

I continued, “You have so many fantabulous ideas. But, when I call on you, and you look at me, and tell ME, instead of telling EVERYONE, no one else realizes you want THEM to listen, too! But they should! Everyone needs to hear your ideas. That way we can talk about them, or change them, or use them just like you said them!!!”

I paused, just for a moment, to let that sink in. Then I said, “So, can we try something?”

“Yeah.” “Yes.” “Sure.”

“Ok, so, if you have something to say, and you want only me to listen, say Hey Miss James! But, if you want everyone to listen, say Hey, Kindergarten!

They seemed excited by the plan. They asked, “So we say Hey, Kindergarten! if we have an idea of how to do something, or if we something we want to tell everyone?”

“Yup,” I responded. “And when we hear it, we’ll stop what we’re doing, look at you and say Hey (your name)! Then you can tell us your idea. OK?”

“Ok!”

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We had at least 8 announcements of “Hey Kindergarten!” in that 30 minute building period. It was a bit overwhelming (at least for me, lol). I thought I might have to figure out something to say to rein them in. But, as the days went by, they began using it more judiciously all on their own.

Sometimes I forget and just say “Kindergarten” or some other attention getting rhyme we have established, and get no response. Then one of them says “You should try saying ‘Hey, Kindergarten,’ Miss James!”

The first time they said that I laughed out loud and said “You’re right! I should!!!” So, I did, and they responded immediately  – “Hey, Miss James!” It was awesome.

There are so many things I like about “Hey, Kindergarten!”

  • I love that they are teaching each other by sharing their ideas, reflections and wonderings.
  • I love that they are listening to each other.
  • I love that “Hey, Kindergarten!” shares classroom control with them.
  • I love the joy they express when using it.
  • I love hearing them say it, and responding along with their peers.

But, i think what I love most is how it empowers them. Their ideas are being told, heard, respected and valued. And, THEY are calling their friends — and teacher — to listen. We are partners in this learning journey. I’m glad to give them a way to experience and express the partnership.

The things they have shared after saying “Hey, Kindergarten!” have been remarkable. I don’t think it is coincidental. I think they feel the value, power, liberty, and awesomeness of “Hey Kindergarten!” and it opens them.

The Magic of Ideas

I love the book What Do You Do With An Idea by Kobi Yamada and Mae Besom. The illustrations are wonderful and add a profound depth that is accessible to all. If you haven’t read it yet, find a copy and read it! You won’t be disappointed.

Perhaps even better would be to read it with some children. Each time I read it to my class, they notice new things in the illustrations, and make unique connections and wonderings. They encourage me to open my eyes, mind, and heart, a bit wider, stay in the moment, and notice all there is to see.

I read the book aloud – stopping often for their eager noticing, sharing, wondering, conversing and questioning. It took us almost 30 minutes to read the book! We talked a lot about ideas – having ideas, feeding them, sometimes being afraid to share them, sometimes sharing our ideas freely, listening to other ideas, getting inspired by other people’s ideas, and, changing the world with our ideas!

I asked if they thought their ideas could change the world. There was a mixed response. Some thought yes, some no, and some were unsure. I told them I believed their ideas DO change the world. I asked them if they had every helped a friend who was sad, or if they had problem-solved with a friend. Of course, they all had. I continued, saying “Those ideas you shared when your friend was sad, and when you needed answers, helped right? So, they changed the world for that person and for you!”

I grabbed a notebook I carry in my bag, and shared some things I jot down – words, thoughts, ideas, images. Then I pulled out the small notebooks I made my students. The covers were decorated with circles and dots. Some were connected, some only partially formed, some mixing colors, some were off by themselves – just like our ideas. Finally I set my kids free to begin to fill their books with their thoughts, plans, imaginings, and visions.

Here are some of their ideas …

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  • Design and make dog clothes.
  • Make a big computer that converts into a small laptop

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  • Finger knit a headband like Caileigh’s.
  • I make board games.

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  • She will build a tower too. She’ll also build a bike.
  • Make a company. Make a new way to read.

ideas4

  • Make a blanket for Pikachu (finger knit).
  • Be myself. Dream big.

ideas2

  • Nothing can stop you from doing the thing you love.
  • I will always do crafts and drawing, even when I am angry.

Fabulous, right?

They cracked me up at the end of the time (about 30 minutes). I was wandering around telling them we had 5 more minutes, talking with them about their ideas, and taking photos. At some point I sat down, to chat or look at something more closely. The next thing I knew, I was surrounded by a circle of students – probably 2-3 deep at points – all saying “I have an idea, Miss James!” It was an incredible surge of joyful energy.

It was magical and wonderful!

 

The Power of Language

Lately I’ve been struck by the profound power of language.

Last night at a mindfulness session someone pointed out the difference between saying: “I am a worrier!” and “I am experiencing worry.”

Do you hear a difference? Do you feel one? They are very similar statements, but the small variations cause large differences in meaning and impact.

The first statement says something about me, and therefore about the possibility of my actions or thoughts. I AM a worrier. If I am a worrier, I have no choice. I worry. If, instead, I am experiencing worry, I have choices. I can notice the worry. I can observe it. I can choose to turn towards the worry and learn from it. I can choose to do something to alleviate it. Or, I can worry, lol.

The point is, the change in my language opens possibilities for me! It gives me options. It creates space to be, and to do.

I share the worry example because it helped me to understand my experience of another rather subtle change in language.

I’m writing an article on creativity and leadership. My editor suggested I change “How might we?” to “How can we?”

What do you think? Say the questions to yourself a few times. What do you experience when you read the questions? Do you notice a difference? Do you have pull or preference for on or the other?

I definitely experience the questions differently, and I have a clear preference!

I am experiencing — in my life and in my practice — that the power of “How might we?” far exceeds the power of “How can we?” Sounds a bit crazy, right? But, it’s not!

“How can we?” offers two options: we can, or, we can’t. That’s it. Too often, when given the choice of can, or can’t we choose can’t.

I can’t do that! I can’t walk a half marathon! I can’t solve that problem. I can’t write a story. I can’t do a multimedia presentation. I can’t pass this test.  I’m not able. There is no way. (sigh)

If we avoid the “I can’t!” quagmire. We may fall into the “I don’t know” trap because”How can we?” suggests we are looking for the correct way to do whatever we are doing. If the person being questioned is at all unsure, this often leads to the answer: “I don’t know.”

In both instances — “I can’t” and “I don’t know” — the problem remains unsolved understanding stagnates, learning is limited, and, perhaps, most tragically, the one questioned is now more convinced than ever that they really don’t know, and they really can’t .

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In contrast, “How might we?” is more flexible and less prescriptive. “How might we?” invites divergent thinking, allowing us to go wide with our answers. Even the uncertain can offer ideas because the “rightness” of the answer is not demanded.

Often the answers which fail, are more valuable than those that immediately succeed. They allow us — demand it actually — to reflect, examine, explore, talk, learn and try again. In this process many positive things happen. To name just a few:

  • Understanding (of ideas, materials, students, ourselves, others) deepens.
  • New strategies emerge.
  • Trust, confidence and relationships grow.
  • Thinking and ideas are valued.
  • New ideas are formed.

The power of simple changes in language is intriguing. I’m super excited by the possibilities of HMW questions, and am working on using them more often in my life, and in my practice.

Give them a try. If you do, I’d love to hear your reflections.

Memories of Clementines

Driving to a late day meeting, I unzip my lovely new cooler bag, and fish around for this …

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Before I even see it, I imagine peeling it, and think of where I might leave the peelings. In my mind’s eye (or is it nose? lol) I can already smell the beautiful, citrus fragrance. I can’t wait to experience it as it fills my car with lusciousness!

At that moment my mind returned to this fabulous little hand …

clementine-london

This hand belongs to one of my kindergarteners from last year. I loved the exchange we had, so I asked if I could photograph her hand with the peel in it. She looked quizzically at me when I asked, but agreed.

“I love your idea,” I explained, “and I want to write about it on my blog! I never thought of it as a possibility, and I want to share it with others.” She smiled a soft, small smile, and agreed.

Finally, I am sharing.

When she came to me her eyes were bright.

She said “Look, Miss James!”

I looked at her hand, and then back to her face for an explanation.

She responded, “I’m going to use it in our supermarket build!”

(We visit a supermarket, create field guides, and then re-create the market in our classroom with blocks and various other items.)

I reply, “You are? What will you do with it?”

She said, “I’m going to use it to add an orange smell to my paper oranges. You know, like a scratch and sniff!”

I burst out laughing, and with a huge smile say “WOW! That is fantabulous!!! What a great, creative idea! I never thought of that! Thanks for sharing your idea with me!”

Amazing, right? I wondered why she was showing me a clementine peel. It didn’t immediately come to mind that the small piece of peel could be used so creatively.

Often, my students ideas are large, sometimes even bigger than mine. I enjoy their exuberance, and their big ideas. And, I trust that my support, my openness and positivity, and my joy in their awesomeness, encourages them to adopt, trust and live their big ideas!