Tch Talks 22: Intention & Critical Creativity in the Classroom

Tch Talks with microphone

What is Critical Creativity?

To Dan Ryder and Amy Burval, critical creativity is “students using creative expression to demonstrate deeper thinking and the nuances of understanding content.” It’s a portmanteau of sorts, which has the potential to turn ideas into action and push your students toward deeper learning and meaningful understanding.

Dan and Amy believe that, “When students make connections, transform knowledge, and articulate the reasons behind their creative choices, learning becomes more sticky, meaningful, and authentic.” Articulation of creative reasoning is key, because as students learn the power of explanation, rationale, and intentionality, they shift from passive pupils along for the ride to active drivers of their own learning. And the best part of this shift is that it occurs in the midst of purposeful play.

On this episode of Tch Talks, Dan Ryder, Education Director of the Success and Innovation Center at Mt. Blue High School in Farmington, Maine, joins us to talk about his and Amy’s new book, Intention: Critical Creativity in the Classroom, and how a little rigorous whimsy can help you transform learning in your classroom right now.

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Fidgeting for Physics: Spinner Science in Six Steps

Tch Next Gen Science Squad

This time of year most of us are a little fidgety.

Summer is right around the corner, but as we’re constantly reminding students “the year isn’t over yet” and “don’t give up,” some of us find ourselves needing the same pep talk from our administrators and social media networks. We’re almost there — but in the year of dabbing here and there, flipping hydration, and slime (yes, slime!) enters an item that’s making heads spin.

What is this amazing tool that’s taken our students by storm? The fidget spinner!


Wait. You mean that at the end of the year our students are obsessed, unknowingly, with NGSS phenomena? Students are loving science and some don’t even realize it.


So how can “Spinners” be spun into relevant phenomena for science classrooms and what is the science behind the spin?

 via GIPHY


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Start Now, But Start Small

Making in Schools

This is the last in a six-part series titled Making in Schools.

When I talk with other educators about our work at the Creativity Lab, they say, “Great! What do we do to get started?”

Often they want to do it all — fully integrate making into their class, start an elective or club, set up a school makerspace. I encourage them to pick one small thing they can do — do one making project, start a club, find an area of their classroom to use as a makerspace. Taking on too much at once is overwhelming and soon gets dropped, becoming another one of those things you tried once. But starting small and building from there allows making to take hold and become what you do.

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Three Ways To Connect With The Making Community

Making in Schools

This is the fifth in a six-part series titled Making in Schools.

Starting making in your classroom can be daunting. Where do you get supplies? What does it actually look like when you give a student a hammer, a soldering kit, or a sewing machine? And what can students actually do with making tools?

Below, we outline three types of resources that will come in handy when you start making in your classroom — and all involve connecting with the larger making community. Even though these resources come from the Bay Area, where Lighthouse Community Charter is located, similar resources exist in communities across the country. Our hope is that by sharing our approach to seeking out resources you will feel empowered to seek out similar resources — wherever you are.

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Lodestar: A School Built Around Agency

Making in Schools

This is the fourth in a six-part series titled Making in Schools.

Since the dawn of the industrial revolution, roughly 125 years ago, American schools have looked roughly the same. At its heart, our system has been driven by two organizing principles:

  1. Students should be organized into classes by age and subject.
  2. Content should be delivered in a standardized order and at a standardized pace.

While this system may have been functional in preparing students to work in steel factories or cotton mills, ensuring that each graduate of the system had similar skills/knowledge and were used to working according to a standardized, regimented schedule, it’s not holding up to the demands of today.

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Start Teaching Through an Inquiry Stance

Making in SchoolsThis is the third in a six-part series titled Making in Schools.

“Better learning will not come from finding better ways for the teacher to instruct, but from giving the learner better opportunities to construct.” — Seymour Papert

student centered learning board

If student agency and empowerment is at the core of maker-centered learning, then the role of the teacher is to create an environment that supports students to construct their own meaning. To do this, teachers need to cultivate our own inquiry stance to support student-centered learning.

An inquiry stance is our underlying approach to teaching; it favors questions over directions, student voice over teacher voice, and process over outcome. It’s about thoughtful structure, intentionally choosing where students explore openly, and where there are limits and scaffolds. This doesn’t mean, however, that students have complete autonomy as the teacher sits back and watches.

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Developing Student Agency Through Design

Making in SchoolsThis is the second in a six-part series titled Making in Schools.

The core of what attracts us to maker-centered learning at Lighthouse is that it develops student agency and ownership of learning. The Agency by Design (AbD) framework, which we discussed in our last post, “What Is Making?” guides our work with learners in becoming more aware of the design of the world around us by taking a closer look at objects and systems.

As students become more aware of the design of the world around them, they begin to see themselves as people who can affect that design and are also empowered to actually do the work — to tinker, hack, and improve design. This newfound awareness isn’t limited to objects, but can move into the core curriculum as well, through discussion of the design of governmental systems, cell structure, or a poem.

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What Is Making?

Making in SchoolsThis is the first in a six-part series titled Making in Schools.

If you visit Lighthouse Community Charter classrooms this fall, you’ll see kindergartners using power tools, 2nd graders doing logo programming, 3rd graders building circuit blocks, 6th graders programming microcontrollers to respond to sensor inputs, 8th graders using hot-glue guns, and high school students building chairs, building and programming robots, and using a laser to cut out pieces of wood for prototypes.

circuit blocks

As we look across our school, we’re pretty excited by two things. First, we’re pleased to see making (broadly defined as using your hands, heart, and mind to create or improve things) happening as part of our students’ core classroom experiences. And second, we’re thrilled that our students — poor, urban students of color — have access to making, especially because our educational system so often provides them with experiences filled with seat time and back-to-basics instruction. Read more