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Sowing the Seeds for a More Creative Society

I am thrilled to be publishing a guest post by Andrea Hernandez, cross posted from EdTechWorkshop Blog on Langwitches.


In an earlier post, The Science of Play, I shared my ideas about the importance of playful learning, the type of learning observed in very young children. In my personal experience as a teacher, I have seen that as children mature they often lose some or all of their natural comfort with learning through spontaneous and playful exploration.
Think of a toddler with a big pile of blocks. Does the toddler ask an adult, “What should I do with these blocks?” or does a toddler start with a “product” like a big tower in mind and ask, “How do I stack these blocks to make a tower?” No, the toddler jumps right in and begins to explore, trying whatever he or she wants to try. Does the toddler feel upset and frustrated when the tower of blocks topples over? Doubtful. It is more likely that he or she is delighted by this and may knock it over and rebuild it again and again.
MIT recognizes the importance of the creative exploration of early childhood to the extent that they have created an entity called The Lifelong Kindergarten group.


In the Lifelong Kindergarten group, we’re trying to change that. We believe that it is critically important for all children, from all backgrounds, to grow up knowing how to design, create, and express themselves. We are inspired by the ways children learn in kindergarten: when they create pictures with finger paint, they learn how colors mix together; when they create castles with wooden blocks, they learn about structures and stability. We want to extend this kindergarten style of learning, so that learners of all ages continue to learn through a process of designing, creating, experimenting, and exploring.

As part of their mission to “sow the seeds for a more creative society,” the MIT media lab has developed a free program called Scratch that encourages the kind of open-ended exploration and creative problem solving that is not on the test, but that promotes the trial and error learning that is the heart of math, science and technological innovation. The beauty of Scratch and similar applications is that while the processes they engage are complex, most children are naturally drawn to them and find them fun. Kids ask to “play Scratch.”

In my STEM classes and, to a lesser extent, my weekly lab classes I attempt to provide students with the time and space to engage in this kind of exploration using freely available resources. In my role as the teacher I model possible approaches, support students in their attempts, validate and encourage them as they proceed, and open the door by introducing them to what’s out there. When appropriate, I push students to go a little deeper. Some students are more inclined than others to enjoy the open-ended, for those who require more structure I can help by defining a problem or assignment for them. I can also help them to reflect on their learning styles so that they grow in an understanding of their own abilities. Some students can’t wait to get to the computer and play, others prefer a tutorial (there are many tutorials online for most applications. It can be great practice and reflection to have students who are more advanced create tutorials for others), some students are more comfortable watching first before trying. Any and all approaches to learning are valid as long as students understand the process and challenge themselves.

In addition to Scratch, here are some other recommended resources for open-ended, creative exploration:

Whizzball -from Discovery Education, whizzball is a puzzle creator. Students can design puzzles, submit their puzzles for others to solve and solve puzzles created by others. I have found this to be challenging and fun for grades 1-5.

Fantastic Contraption- physics challenge. Use the materials provided to create a contraption that solves the challenge of getting something from point A to point B. There are multiple challenges and endless solutions. I am using this with a first grade STEM enrichment class, and they LOVE it. I could see it being popular with older students as well, although I haven’t introduced to other grades yet.

Lego Digital Designer – design tool using virtual legos.

PHUN – 2D physics sandbox. This one is more advanced. I recommend viewing at least one tutorial before jumping in to play. I used this with 5th grade, and it was fun (phun) at first, but many of them became frustrated quickly.

Math Tutorial Music Videos

Middle School students are working hard on their Math Wiki. They are using a variety of tools to create tutorials (Garageband, SmartBoard Notebook, PowerPoint, Animoto).

Their latest creation to be embedded into the Wiki were Animoto Music Videos.

They created PowerPoint slides, then exported them as jpg files to be imported into Wiki were Animoto
Students are learning presentation skills and tools as they are designing the slides to create specific tutorials for math definitions and concepts they are learning in class.

“By learning you will teach;by teaching you will understand.”
~ Latin Proverb

To teach is to learn twice.
~Joseph Joubert, Pensées, 1842

Not only are students organizing their own thoughts and teaching each other, but they are also becoming web publishers who are inspiring and teaching math students around the world.

Locations of visitors to this page

As they were working on the slides, we learned many things about presentation design:

  • don’t use too much text on one slide. If you must have more text, duplicate the slide once or twice to be able to give the reader more time.
  • use as many relevant visuals as you can.
  • use arrows to point to explanations and help the viewer focus in on what you are trying to explain
  • make sure you don’t place text/titles too close to the edges of the slides, as they tend to be out of the frame, when Animoto pans across the slide.
  • use contrasting colors
  • use bigger font sizes
  • less on a slide is better

Here are some of their Animoto examples:

Learning: Then & Now

Not too long ago, I stumbled across the presentation Learning 2.0 from Mike Lambert on Slideshare. It inspired me to build upon his version and create the following photo slides showing my vision of how learning has changed. I discovered over the last few years, that by creating visuals, I support my own learning and understanding.

  • Ideas that I am trying to articulate become clearer in my mind
  • I am able to formulate and recall the connections between thoughts better
  • The sequence of my train of thought becomes apparent or can be revised better

It is not about Technology...

Learning Spaces

Individual - Collaborative

Creativity- Drawing

Drawing and Creativity

Audio Video Learning- iTunes University & Podcasts

Confined- Connected to the World

Newspapers & Magazines - Facebook for News

Passing Notes- Texting

Programming set by someone else-Personalized programming

Performance in a classroom- Recorded Podcast episodes published to a worldwide audience.

Student work receives feedback from teacher- Authentic feedback from worldwide audience

Linear - Interactive

Making sense of facts: Linear - Interactive

Computer Based Software- Webbased & Connected

Separated & Isolated Library- Collaborative & Virtual Library

One Layered Globe- Interactive Multiple Layered Globe

Limited Selection- Unlimited Selection

Making Friends with Children Around the World


Passive Consumer of Media- Active Producer

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