December 19, 2014

A Gift to You: My All-time Favs

Filed under: about me,creativity,TeachersFirst,Teaching and Learning — Candace Hackett Shively @ 9:05 am

giftsAs I approach the end of the year and the end of my time as lead “Thinking Teacher,” I am using my gift-giving powers to share my all time favorite TeachersFirst resources as the “Featured Sites” for December 21/28 and January 4 (my last week to select the Features).  I don’t want to ruin all the surprises, but will open a few  presents a little early.  You will have to watch the Featured Sites or TeachersFirst Update for the rest. (New Featured Sites appear every Sunday, except when we leave them online for two weeks during the holidays.)

I had no stated criteria when I selected The List, just holistic, “gut” reactions.  With over 16,000 resources from which to choose, I knew some that were destined for The List  before I even started.  Only after The List was complete did I stop to analyze why I choose certain resources as all time favs. Three reasons:

  1. Some resources inhale me through imagery, color, and a powerfully visual interface. I am a very visual person and love a visual experience of learning, wondering, and creating.
  2. A resource that allows me (and all users) to be creative, not just witness someone else’s creative musings. If it is both, even better: a creative product that entices me to try my own.
  3. Intellectual intrigue. If it makes me ponder something I never thought about — and I can imagine using it to pass along a feeling of intellectual intrigue to my students — it is a candidate for The List.

There are other, less important criteria, but the really good ones have all of the above. Secondary factors include open-endedness,  tools or resources that are not “schooly,” places where the process of writing is a celebration and not a chore, places where history becomes real, tools so versatile they will never wear out, etc.

Bookemon made The List before I started. They may be selling printed books, but you never have to buy one. Anyone can make and share an online, interactive book. They added the EdCenter for teachers early on in their development, and they seem to be economically stable. Teachers need tools worth investing time in products without fear of “losing them.” I have made many books using Bookemon for both personal and professional use, and it is my go-to choice.

Inklewriter is a lesser known tool, but it has such potential for writing and creativity. I forgive them for not being more visual.  Inklewriter is a challenge to any digital writer: planning for branches and the logic of how readers will experience what you write.  I would have loved using this with gifted kiddos. Yes, you could create branched writing using other tools, but the inherent structure of Inklewriter tool helps you build a branching piece of writing and be sure you do not leave any “loose ends.” (Note I do not say it makes a branching “story” because it could make ANY type of branched writing.)

Lino is my go-to sticky note tool. Yes, many people know Padlet (once Wallwisher), but Lino had an app version earlier on, something I needed when I first bought an iPad.  Visual, collecting, color coding… enough said. I have been using it to prep new web content, brainstorm, plan for ISTE presentations, etc. for a long time.

Murally is Lino on steroids. I haven’t used it personally, but I’d like to. Collect and collaborate live with all types of media. What a great way to grab stuff, sort it, and decide what to do with it, all as a group. Now if these tools would just automatically add a field for CREDITS attached to the things we grab from all around the web, we’d be modelling good digital citizenship, too.

Others on The List for Dec 21/28 include more writing/word tools and three amazing map-related resources. I will not tell you about January 4. I can’t spoil all the surprises that will be online soon.

It’s been a great run. I will miss crafting weekly posts for you. Pay it forward.

As you start your New Year with the TeachersFirst Featured Sites, I hope you will resolve to model creativity, consider a visual approach, and inspire intellectual intrigue.  Thinking Teachers… Teaching Thinkers.

December 5, 2014

Awe lighting

Filed under: about me,creativity,musing — Candace Hackett Shively @ 9:04 am

Any adult over age 40 (yup, I admit it) has moments of professional pondering, musing about what  other career they might choose if they were 18 years old in today’s world.  Among many other diversions, I muse about whether I would have applied my creativity to the world of code. I wonder what it would be like to “make” a screen do what I want it to do. I imagine generating images, sounds, and experiences by describing what exists in my imagination through a special language called “code.” I am very good at the language of words, and the idea of another way of speaking and describing is intriguing.

Screen Shot 2014-12-04 at 3.56.26 PMTeachersFirst recently featured Google’s Made with Code, and you can learn a lot about code from simply poking around that site. I especially enjoy the Projects area. Just in time for the holidays, they have a way to use code to “program” a set of virtual Christmas lights. They hooked me, for sure.

December 8-14 is the annual celebration of the Hour of Code.  If you have even ten minutes, you can make a tree dance with lights. Who knows what you could do in an hour? The fact that Google has the power to make it real by “publishing” your tree in lights on one of the state trees on the National Mall is — well, simply breath-taking.  Forget tree lighting at Rockefeller Center. This is tree lighting in our minds! Yes, Google says the project is for girls and for kids, but how will they know our age or gender?

Some things about creative coding writing that lure me:

The role of play and experimentation. Scientists talk about it all the time. Code lets you do it, especially when people like Google make easy access “code toys.”

Accomplishing a mission. Yes, it seems trivial, but making that light actually do what your imagination says it should do is a real rush.

Making it perfect. If you are like me, before you finish one mission, you have already thought of a way to make it better… and better… and perfect! In the process, you learn some more. Isn’t the iterative process of creating/testing/improving what we want all kids to experience, whether they are writing, drawing, code-writing, or presenting ideas about an event in the lab or in history?

Tolerating things that break. Seeing “oops” as a challenge, not a failure, is the resilience we all aspire to.

Serendipity. I never understood what that word meant until I experienced it and someone gave me the name for that experience. I was so happy to have a name for how I felt! Code gives us serendipity if we are willing to play.

A language we can speak without words. In school, I always saw math is a language, a funny way to say things quantitative. Code is a way to speak step-by-step and logically to describe an experience or on-screen event.

The role of awe. The word itself is simple, short … worthy of silence on either side.


When code works. It evokes awe. Little bits of letters and symbols can make THIS?

While it lasts, especially during the week of code, inspire your own awe. Muse visually with Google’s Light Project. If it is gone into Internet heaven before you read this post, you can always try one of the other Made with Code projects. You might even find that being a grownup is still fun. And maybe you will wonder what you would do if you were 18 again.

October 24, 2014

The sound effects of learning

Filed under: creativity,learning — Candace Hackett Shively @ 1:40 pm

I will be the first to admit that I love web tools/apps that invite creative uses no one thought of before. Beginning Sunday, TeachersFirst will be featuring a review of Patatap, a seemingly simple musical gadget to make sounds by tapping your computer keyboard or tablet. You can even embed it in your web site. Many teachers might react to it as they would to party noisemakers or kazoos interrupting a lesson in their classroom: by taking it away and go back to the lesson at hand.

drumBut what a lesson you would miss by closing out Patatap! Ask your students how it “sounds” to spell the term they learned today on Patatap (try typing in onomatopoeia for example). Some words have especially meaningful spell-sounds. Try the word we. It almost sounds like harmony of two souls.

What if we asked kids to listen to all the Patatap vowels or to letter combinations and use those sounds to help remember spelling demons. For example, sepArate has that lower pitched, letter-snare-drummy tap in the middle, not the higher pitched e-snare. Even the SOUND of the word please “patatapped” sounds polite!

What if we asked kids to write sound poems or compose music using letters on Patatap?

What if we watched the colors and shapes that change to remind us of new terms: “Onomatopoeia starts with the popping bubbles of o.”

Ask your gifted or creative students how Patatap could help them compose and play word songs, rhythm combinations, or memory prompts to help them recite states and capitals or elements in the periodic table. The LETTERS of the chemical elements could have sounds, too. Unfortunately, the numbers have no sounds  so compounds like H2O don’t work. Share the “tunes” link at the bottom of the page for examples.

Instead of taking away this mental kazoo, embrace it. Give your students the homework assignment of creating a way to use Patatap to help them study. Let them work with a buddy or small group. Your classroom will sing with the sound effects of learning. This one will work in your BYOD classroom, too!

August 22, 2014

Breaking the Edtech Ice: #2techtruths

Filed under: about me,creativity,edtech coaching,learning — Candace Hackett Shively @ 9:10 am

liarTwo Truths and a Lie. You may have played it as an icebreaker during a professional development session or even a party. It is a terrific “Getting to know you” activity for the first day of school with middle or high schoolers. In thinking about it, I decided to offer My Two TECH Truths and a Lie as a way for ed tech coaches and teachers to break the ice this back to school season. It’s simple. Offer up two TECH truths and a lie about yourself. Share them on a wiki, blog post, or Twitter post — with #2techtruths as a hashtag. Choose your sharing method depending on the learning tool(s) you are trying to introduce. Or allow teachers to choose their OWN tool and figure out how to share it with the rest of the group. For the simplest version, try using  chat tool like Todaysmeet for people to share. Imagine trying this on the first day in a BYOD classroom or workshop for soon-to-be-BYOD teachers!

Have everyone in the session to do the same. Then have everyone browse, read, comment, discuss, or tweet back their guesses as to which is each person’s LIE. You will not only teach social learning, you will build trust among a cohort of learners, including yourself. Isn’t that what learning with technology is supposed to be all about?

Here are my Two Tech Truths and Lie:

A. I once co-wrote a text-based, “adventure” style game called Ice Cream Mountain to play on Apple IIc.

B. I once shared a porn site on the projection screen in a teacher inservice session.

C. I once shared resources for teaching gifted with the US DOE.

Guesses? Tweet @cshively with hashtag #2techtruths or comment here.

July 17, 2014

Do you think better barefoot?

Filed under: about me,creativity,deep thoughts,iste14,musing,teaching — Candace Hackett Shively @ 9:30 am

There is a moment during July when the teaching idea valve reopens. To me it seems to be barefeettriggered by something totally innocent: the feel of cool tile on bare feet, the rush beneath the surface of the water as I push off the pool wall, the sound of a favorite song playing as I sing along in a convertible, the lightning bugs after the fireworks end. At first the valve seems a bit creaky, crying out for WD40 on the brain, but soon enough it lets ideas flow freely again.

As the school year drew to a close, the valve had pretty much seized up. Stuck. I was stuck. Even eight years after leaving the annual school year cycle and moving to a year-round, continuous job, my brain still thinks like a teacher. I talk and “live” among teachers every day, and I need the annual renewal of July. It isn’t so much taking a “vacation.” It is allowing myself to go barefoot in my brain. It is letting myself play with ideas instead of packaging them.

No amount of effort I make can force that moment to come. A fabulous experience like the ISTE conference is so manic it overwhelms. I have learned to “save up” everything I gather at ISTE like pretty shells from the beach. I know I must wait to sort them all out and organize them later… and THEN decide what to DO with them.

I note the feel of cool tile under my bare feet as I write this, and I wonder whether we ever give students a chance to notice what makes their ideas flow. Sadly, many of us don’t figure it out until we are decades beyond school age. I wonder what would happen if each if us spent just one class  period per year talking with our kids about things like the Creative Routines of accomplished writers, artists, and thinkers. What if we asked them to pay attention to what makes their ideas flow… and to ask questions like, “Do I think better barefoot?”



May 9, 2014

Ideas for Gifted: A handful for the handful

Filed under: creativity,gifted,iste14,Teaching and Learning — Candace Hackett Shively @ 8:31 am

Consider this post part of the “think out loud” planning phase of our ISTE presentation. Melissa Henning and I are presenting at ISTE Atlanta next month on Nourishing gifted through technology in any classroom. We have collected scores of our “favorite” resources to share with teachers, but time will limit us to sharing a number roughly proportionate to the number of gifted among the general population (< 2%). Well, maybe we’ll do a little better than that.

One of the things I learned from teaching gifted kiddos is that given choices, they’ll take forever to decide.  They LOVE choice, but they can generate more criteria to weigh their decision than the President of the U.S. in deciding whether to ask Congress for a declaration of war. But maybe this… and what about that… and this could happen, etc. Choice can sometimes mean paralysis for a gifted kid. They do need to learn HOW to select the best tool for the task, but the best we can do is offer them both limited choices and limited time to decide. So one strategy I will suggest in my part of the presentation is to offer a handful to the handful…then let them decide hands-on during the time at hand.hand

Here is an example for teachers of elementary gifted kiddos. Since most web tools (and U.S. law) say kids must be 13 to set up memberships without parent permission, the path of least resistance is either no-membership-required or teacher-controlled accounts. No membership is the quickest. So you want the kiddos to work on a gifted level challenge about plants on their own while you are reteaching the basics to students who are struggling or having most of the class do a reinforcement activity. Here is a sample handful for your handful of munchkin (gr 1-5) gifted ones. Note that with very young ones (K-2) or those with no technology experience, you might want to limit the choices to the topics and just TWO options from the “show what you know” group.

1. Choose a project topic: (You have five minutes to think or search online and decide. You MAY suggest another topic of your own choice.)

  • A year in the life of a specific plant
  • Life without bees (is this going to happen soon?)
  • The weird and the wild (strange plants and how they live)
  • People who work with plants
  • Incredible edibles:  the plants we eat and how they make us grow

2. Choose a way that you will SHOW WHAT YOU KNOW after you research and learn: You must decide before  you come to class tomorrow.

  • A sticky note board with images, links, and your own written information, tips, questions, and more. Your board could be an activity for people to do or an organized online “display.” Use a tool called Lino.
  • One to three online drawings or whiteboards with words included. Use Draw It Live, but be SURE you copy the urls for your boards or mark them in Favorites so we can find them again!
  • A blog post using Loose Leaves (written as if the author were you or someone/something else). Note that this tool is for WORDS only!
  • A talking exhibit with recorded sound downloaded from Online Voice Recorder to go with an actual display of drawings or models you make.
  • An image (up to 3 images) with speech bubbles and more . Use a tool called PhraseIt and images you find with help using Compfight.

3. Make a  Strike To-do list of the steps for your project, mark it in Favorites, and have it approved before you start. You may play with any of the tools listed (or suggest your own alternative), but you must commit to your tool/project choice in the To-do list.

That should give the handful a headful of possibilities AND a plan to dig in. Having a clock or timer around to remind them of real world time couldn’t hurt, either. Unfortunately, gifted or creative people do not deal well with being creative in 40 minute increments!

Wondering how to evaluate what they do ? We will talk about rubrics in our presentation, too. For now, I am still collecting and curating FAVORITE ideas and tools. Stay tuned.

Oh, and about the post title… yes, I know that gifted kids can also BE a handful. But isn’t that the joy of teaching them?

April 18, 2014

Maple Spring: The sapping of a digital life

Filed under: about me,creativity,deep thoughts — Candace Hackett Shively @ 9:04 am

The best thing about working digitally is that I can occasionally slip into playing digitally. This week the TeachersFirst servers went down for much more than a hiccup, forcing me to work on other things. I have long to-do lists, but I chose to spend 15 minutes on Twitter, feeds, and the various bookmarks strewn on my desktop. I was seeking inspiration and an excuse to digress. I turned on the Spigot to feel this confluence into my creative buckethead:

Ingredient 1: This video from Eddie Wright about 29 Ways to Stay Creative. Especially ponderable: #4: Stay Away from the Computer (Ironically, I excitedly bookmarked the entire blog to be sure to come BACK to it on the computer!)

Ingredient 2: This post from George Couros, which made me ponder whether living and working digitally “humanizes” or dehumanizes ME — and what impact it has on the creativity conversation in Ingredient 1.

syrupbucket So often I reach the end of my workday exhausted and devoid of any remaining creative impulse. While that is not so bad for the people I work with or for the TeachersFirst audience, it does take a personal toll. The irony is that the same screen that has filled my eyes and sucked everything from my brain throughout the day also offers the connections and inspirations to restart the drip-drip-drip of creative juices.

I am maple sap in the spring.
At night, I drip
a constant tap-tap-tap into that bucket,
ready by morning to be hauled to the sugar shack and boiled for hours.
I am grade A amber, ready to add flavor. I am never Fancy.
I am the ever-boiling pot that needs new sap.
I am the storage space where this season’s syrup rests, ready to curl the tongue in sweet surprise
months from now.

The web exhausts, collaborates, invigorates, and I am grateful.

April 4, 2014

Poetry in the Black: Adding (meaning) by subtracting

Filed under: creativity,teaching,writing — Candace Hackett Shively @ 11:46 am

Screen Shot 2014-04-04 at 10.22.12 AMIn honor of Poetry Month, I offer another “poetic” post to follow up on the pocket poems.

You have seen them: blackout poems created just the way it sounds, by blacking out large portions of text on a page and leaving carefully selected words behind to form a “poem.” You can see many more and learn more about them in this great resource.

At first glance, blackout poems are a strikingly creative exercise, plucking words offered by serendipity to generate a poem entirely separate and new. Depending on the original passage, blackout poems can discover the power of even the smallest words, becoming a Hemingway of meaning or an e.e. cummings without capitals or punctuation. If you ask kids to try it, they may complain bitterly that the one word they want is not there, “Can I just add it?” By saying “no” you force a whole new level of creativity and awareness about words. There must be some other word there to suggest a thought that works. Poems suggest, allude, entice, but never tell.

At a much richer level, blackout poems can teach many things. Common Core asks us to teach close reading of informational texts, to help your students see how authors lay their evidence amid all the words, the bricks of evidence that support the structure of ideas and opinions. When you consider blackout poems, you are delving directly into those bricks, deciding which to keep and which to remove, while still trying to support a structure of your own ideas to become the message(s) of the new poem. I am not sure whether it is harder to maintain the message of  the original passage in the new poem or to create an entirely new one, but blackout poems could do either. A passage about trees can become a poem about climate change or pollution. A passage about the characteristics of great teachers (see “Passion and Awareness: What Great Teachers Have in Common” by Bill Smoot) can be distilled into a poem that suggests a similar message refracted through the poet’s lens. Here is a sample based on the great teacher article as a “test” of doing close reading via blackout poetry:

the noteworthy passion

a calling to feed their souls

chose me

for it serves humility in knowing

a purpose larger

give the ability to be better

to mind the words


the passion investigates     studies   writes

that math is beautiful

expertise completes it

excellence is never far away

create an atmosphere

detached awareness

a therapist

to listen to


themselves      and in their students

the witness seat

the art to instill

a goal of learning

tempered by


Now imagine sharing any article for reading, in fifth grade or twelfth, and talking just a bit about what it means, what its important ideas are, and how the author tells us what is important. Don’t answer all the questions… just start to ask. Now have kids work together with that text to first highlight JUST enough words to suggest the message. Then they simply reverse out the highlighted words so they are the ONLY ones that show, blacking out the rest. Have them try taking away as many as they can to suggest, allude, entice a message. At the same time, you are teaching poetry. (Science teachers have permission to pass out now.) Granted, it is not the kind of poetry that rhymes or has meter. It is sophisticated blank verse and lacks the conventions of writing we work so hard to instill! But in comparing the new poems with the original passages, and comparing the different poems that groups create, you have the perfect experience with close reading integrated with writing AND curriculum content:

Does the poem match the passage in meaning? How do you know? Can your group “prove” it? Do these two poems have the same meaning or does one slant it differently? How do you know? Is one a better match to the original passage than the other? But which one has a message you prefer? What words make it your favorite? Are there any “loaded”  (i.e. biased, slanted, or powerful) words in that poem?

The best thing about this activity is that it can happen in history class, reading a passage about the causes of the Civil War or the economic influence of China. It can also happen in science, reading about the importance of biodiversity. The original passages can come from the web or a textbook (bo-ring!). If they are on the web, a simple copy/paste gives students the raw material to read, subtract, and add meaning. It also gives students a new way to master required terms. Creating blackout poems is  group oriented, creative, and loaded with very high-level thinking.

Here are just a few other ideas for blackout poems during this, National Poetry Month:

1. Coming to terms: Make blackout poems from articles kids locate using Google, subtracting words to give meaning to new terms they are learning.

2. Loaded words: Make blackout poems to call out bias or opinions in letters to the editor (online or print).

3. Pass the backout: Have one student blackout a passage and pass the words to another who must create a poem from them. (This one allows reordering the words and adding a certain number of your own).  If in a content class, the message should have something to do with concepts they are learning, such as explaining weather phenomena.

4. Pass the Backout II: Pass around several different articles, challenging each student to blackout one sentence or less then pass it on. Each receiving “poet” must continue the blackout process, trying to do it so there is a logical continuation of the poem. (Very creative, but best suited for students who have some experience making blackout poems!)

4. Blackout mixup: Combine two passages into a single blackout poem, alternating words from the two articles to form a poem. This is REALLY challenging!!

5. Pluck the figures: Have students do the blackouts in small groups, treasure hunting for words that will become figures of speech. Of course the poems that include these figures of speech must make sense, too!

6. Earth Day Blackout: Find a web or print article from which you can blackout a poem titled “A requiem for the environment”  or some other Earth Day theme. (You can ADD the title so you don’t need to have those words in the original text!) Note: this is the ultimate “recycling” — of words — for Earth Day!

7. Blackout poem, the multimedia version:  BLACKOUT large portions of videos or news clips from YouTube to create a multimedia blackout poem. Try a tool like DragonTape. This is for the adventurous techie types and your gifted kiddos who always want to do something different! Make sure they give you the text transcript of the resulting  “poem” to show that they actually thought about it and did not just throw together something to be funny.

March 21, 2014

Weeds in the (em)beds? Mulch, spray kill, or pave over?

Filed under: creativity,digital citizenship,teaching — Candace Hackett Shively @ 11:25 am

Our students can create and embed their creative projects from thousands of tools into a blog, wiki, or other social network. They love making Prezis, Glogs, and maps to share what they know. They love finding YouTube videos or making Powtoons or Vokis. If one student in your class knows how to copy/paste embed code, they all will within 15 minutes. Your class wiki becomes a veritable treasury of student projects from all over the web.

We want kids to be able to share visually — using embeds. Simply including a link to their projects does not have the “ta-da” factor they deserve after working hard to synthesize what they have learned. The “ta-da” is a fitting tribute to their ownership and pride in what they have done.

A cloud has crept into my love of embeds, however.  A friendly code-jockey I work with raised a concern as we were talking about enabling embed codes in the social stream we are creating. His concern is simple:

1. Savvy Kid creates project (glog, Voicethread, Voki, screencast, annotated image, etc)

2. Savvy Kid uses embed code to include the project on your class blog or wiki (or in a stream such as Edmodo).

3. Teacher approves said project. Kid gets accolades from classmates, etc.

4. Somewhere in the darker moments of adolescent experimentation and “cleverness,” Savvy Kid returns to the tool that hosts the glog, Voicethead, etc. and  changes the project to include an obscenity. Perhaps s/he simply puts in an additional placemarker with an obscenity or amends the Voki to utter a rude comment. Since the project is embedded on the class wiki, “pulling” from another place on the web, the wiki instantly displays the obscenity or other student “cleverness” smackdab ON your class wiki. Parents can see it, other students can see it, the WORLD can see it (and your principal can see it!).

A nasty weed has popped up in the (em)bed. As with real flower beds, there are several options to deal
with weeds.

  1. We can simply pave over the entire bed, removing the capability to embed anything. Our growing wiki becomes as visually exciting as asphalt, and the kids probably feel as much pride as they would in viewing a pothole patch.
  2. weedsWe can spray weed killer– sort of techie RoundUp–  thus killing targeted weeds while leaving other plants unharmed. Delete Savvy Kid’s embed, but leave the others.
  3. We can use preventative mulch, establishing an environment that is simply not friendly for weeds to grow. If we talk about the negative impact a weed could have and talk about the message an obscenity sends about ownership and pride in our work, the overall class attitude toward such “cleverness” might become so unfavorable as to prevent it from cropping up (sorry, could not resist the pun). I’d like to think so, anyway.  This is simply part of good digital citizenship, and we all need to talk about it — a lot. Any gardener will tell you that you must add and arrange new mulch on a regular basis to maintain healthy (em)beds where learning can grow.

If you have dealt with students abusing embed codes to grow “weeds” in class (em)beds, please comment here about what you did — and plan to do in the future — to solve the problem.

December 5, 2013

Unfolding cardboard school

Filed under: creativity,education,gifted,learning — Candace Hackett Shively @ 9:35 am

I cherish my collection of memorable teaching/learning moments that exemplify how gifted students “see” the world differently. I do not believe that gifted students are alone in their unique views. They are, however, uniquely willing and able to express these thoughts —  or may have them far more often. In any case, I believe we as teachers can learn much from listening to the questions of gifted students who blow away the cliche, “think outside the box.” Their questions, ideas, and thoughtful approaches unfold the boxes, creating something entirely different from the plain brown cardboard called “school.”

One such unfolded view comes in the “visual creativity” Jonathan Wai describes on the Mindshift blog. Wai posits the importance of recognizing and promoting visual thinking (“spatial creativity”) among all learners. I have seen memorable moments of this acuity “unfolding” in front of me, students whizzing through Tangrams and Set so quickly the rest of us missed  the answers before they began another problem!  Visual-spatial skill uses an entirely different part of the brain, one typically underdeveloped in teachers’ verbally adept brains and ignored by tests, Standards, and cardboard school. The Common Core Standards include shapes, slices, rotations, flips, turns, surfaces, and the usual volume and area. CCSS high school geometry standards include endless requirements about relationships and functions that define shapes. There is even one standard that calls for “Apply[ing] geometric methods to solve design problems (e.g., designing an object or structure to satisfy physical constraints or minimize cost; working with typographic grid systems based on ratios). Another calls on students to “Identify the shapes of two-dimensional cross-sections of three-dimensional objects, and identify three-dimensional objects generated by rotations of two-dimensional objects.”  But all of these are within confines (boxes) that are rarely unfolded outside of “math class” or for other purposes and approaches to thinking visually.

Stop to think about the kid you went to school with, the one who was amazing at geometry and stunk in every other math class. S/he “saw” the proofs that you struggled with, even if s/he never quite got them on paper correctly. Remember those kids. I taught them, the gifted kids who scored the maximum 19 on the Block Design subtest of a WISC-R  but could barely write or speak a complex sentence.  Jonathan Wai may be onto something. If promoting talent in visual thinking is good for these extreme cases, perhaps we should be encouraging all students to unfold and repurpose the boxes. I share ten FREE, reviewed resources to get started, since this is not an area most teachers feel adept to address:

Several reviewed, online Tangram games

A collection of virtual, visual manipulatives (requires Java)

Blender 3D animation— a REAL challenge!

TinkerCad design for 3D printers

Foldplay (very cool!)

Box Templates (to make, UNFOLD, and change?)

Origami Club animations of MANY foldables

A new way to look at unfolded boxes (direct link)

Cloud Dreamer (for younger ones)


Another, profoundly memorable teaching/learning moment for me came in a single question from a second grader: “Is the number of grains of sand on the earth — at any one moment– infinity?”  I thought of this question when I ran across this post, an example of a box unfolding to new thinking. Questions like the second grader and blog versions of the grains-of-sand debate defy boxes. They do not go “beyond” a box, they create new folds in our understanding of the world. Like many questions that pop into our students’ heads, these fall outside the scope of cardboard school. But shouldn’t we invite them inside? The BEST source for questions is your students’ own thought questions. If you don’t want them to “interrupt” a lesson by unfolding their thinking out loud, at least offer a virtual graffiti wall using a tool accessible from any device where they can post their questions and “crazy ideas.” How/ how often do you encourage your students to interrupt YOUR thinking with theirs? Here are some sources for questions you and your students can drop into your curriculum, outside the “standard”:


Think (elementary)

101 questions

Super Thinkers

Thought Questions

This is the season of boxes: shipping boxes, gift boxes, ornament boxes, etc. Why not use the inspiration of a few experiences with gifted kids to unfold some of the cardboard in your class’s thinking as a special gift? You never know what you might unwrap.