Inspiring Creativity

creativityI ran across a video recently that is amazing.  Check it out here: High Diving Giraffesgiraffes

Go ahead, I’ll still be here when you get back.  🙂

I’m planning to use this video to spark some creativity with our final Genius Day.  This will be the third Genius Day we will hold this year.  We’ve kind of settled into a once per trimester schedule for our Genius Days.  We invited 5th graders to our first one, 7th graders to our second, and 4th graders will be viewing the results of this one.

For our second trimester Genius Day, we added some parameters: the students had to invent something to solve a problem.  This led to some interesting presentations!

This time around, we’ll be encouraging the students to demonstrate their creativity.  That’s where the video will come in.  My hope is this will inspire students to think outside their normal boundaries.  The idea of having giraffes in a swimming pool at all is pretty outside the box, then having them do tricks off a diving board, well, there’s just nothing more that needs to be said!

Do you do Genius Day with your students?  How do you inspire them to create something new?

Reward Days at Middle School (Updated)

Our middle school has begun holding a Reward Day each trimester.  Students who have no office referrals and Cs or better in all classes are offered an activity.  Everyone else goes to an academic support room.

I wrote an earlier post about this idea, which included an all school assembly.  This year, though, we changed it up a bit.  We’re holding a carnival!  We ordered some cheap prizes from Oriental Trading.  flying discThere’s a mom who makes balloon animals.  We’ll also have karaoke, a dance, a free throw contest, face painting and a cakewalk.  Our counselor is even planning to set up a fortune telling table! crystal ball

We’re setting it all up in the gym/cafeteria section of the building, so students can move freely from place to place.  The nice thing about this activity is that it’s relatively cheap.  Since our district doesn’t have much money, that’s a bonus!


Ted Talks in Middle School

Have you seen a Ted Talk yet?  If not, you should check them out.  The topics are wide ranging and most are very entertaining.  They have also started to include students, through the Ted Ed Clubs.  You can see some Ted Talks that are useful in the classroom at

ted talks logo

My gifted and talented students have been working on their own Ted Talks this year.  We watched a number of different Ted Talks to see what can be done.  Some were a person, speaking on stage, with an audience and a video screen behind them.  Some were a powerpoint with a voice over.  A few were a powerpoint with music and no voice over.

The students have been brainstorming topics they would like to talk about.  They settled on their ideas after plenty of discussion with their peers.  Then the research began.  They all learned so much.  The topics include: endangered species, major league sports, “Can we really touch something?”, the hurdy-gurdy, and quantum physics.  Yes, those are all real topics chosen by real middle school students!

As we move toward the finish line, each student has to decide how he or she wants to perform the Ted Talk.  Some prefer to give it live – we’ll all sit down together and listen to the students who stand up front to talk.  Some want to be video taped while they speak – we’re using a flip video camera for those.  Still others are doing the powerpoint with a voiceover.  Camtasia is helpful in those instances.

As we work through these various performances, students are working both independently and collaboratively.  One of my students volunteered to be the expert in recording from the computer using Camtasia.  All questions about how to record or edit are directed to him.  A few others have become expert in powerpoint.  When a student needs help adding music, or changing backgrounds, these students have stepped in to help.

It was so gratifying to see the group working in the computer lab today.  I walked in, it was silent except for one student (obviously recording his Ted Talk).  When he finished, another student complimented him on his recording, and someone else offered to help edit it.

Having attended several events where graduating college seniors and interns gave speeches, I find it even more important for our students to learn how to do proper presentations.  The speeches I saw at these events were awkward, unrehearsed and rambling.  My goal with our Ted Talks is to help my students avoid those type of performances.

Fun Run/Walk

Every year, our middle school participates in ACES – All Children Exercising Simultaneously.  We take the kids up to the high school track, walk a few laps, then go back to class.

Fuel Up to Play 60This year, thanks to Fuel Up to Play 60, we stepped it up a bit (get it? “Stepped it up?”)  Anyway, we changed it to a 1 mile run/walk through town, finishing with chocolate milk.

The city agreed to close off the streets for us, the police chief agreed to be our starter, and the United Dairy Farmers of Michigan supplied the chocolate milk.  We also had parents stationed at corners to make sure students didn’t head off into the wild.running

Daily announcements about the event got students excited.  A group of students took charge of the event, writing and giving announcements, making posters and setting up the day of the event.

It was so gratifying to see the students independently doing their jobs.  They brought out the chocolate milk, set it up on a table and even brought walkie talkies in case they needed to communicate with each other!

The morning of our event was rainy, prompting several students to ask, worriedly, if we would still hold it.  I was happy to see their relief when I told them the rain would stop in time.  They were really excited to do it!run

Staff members walked and ran along with the students, which also gave the needed support and encouragement for some of them to keep going.

There’s just something about seeing a river of students, headed down the street together that gets the positive feelings going! Teachers also noticed that students were quieter and more focused the rest of the day.  Interesting, huh?

It’s now going to be an annual event for us – fingers crossed for a sunny day next year!

Challenging Gifted Students

Business Expo

Fair warning: this post will include some bragging.  However, I think my students and I deserve it – you’ll see why if you keep reading.

Ever since I started our middle school’s gifted and talented program (thanks to a gift from an anonymous donor), I have believed my job is to challenge these students.  I’ve since expanded that belief to all of my students, but that’s another post.  My students have heard me say that so much now, that they help me finish the statement.

I think it’s been successful, since I recently took a group of middle school students (5th through 8th grade) to a business expo in Lansing.  We turned out to be the only middle school there – the rest of the groups were all from high schools.  Not intimidated in the least, my students set up their displays and proceeded to wow the judges, the keynote speaker (star center from the National Championship Spartan basketball team) and any other adult who moved into their orbit.  They approached adults, held out a hand to shake, introduced themselves and launched into their “elevator pitch”.  Not one of them hung back, sat behind their table display or behaved like anything less than the entrepreneur they were.  It was amazing!

At the end, awards were given out, along with cash prizes.  I’m proud (and a little embarrassed!) to say that my 5 middle school groups took home slightly more than half the cash and 5 prizes!  This was even though they were against all those high school groups!  They excelled!

What’s the secret?  I truly didn’t “train” them.  It was a process that began last year.  Our computer lab flooded, so I needed something to keep them busy.  I invited Junior Achievement to come in and do some of their lessons with the class.

At the end of the lessons, we held a mini business expo in our library.  We invited local business owners to join us (even gave them pretend money to invest) and the students showed off their work.  The Junior Achievement people attended and were very impressed.

Last winter, when the Lansing expo was being planned, those same Junior Achievement people remembered my students and invited us.  I encouraged all of my students to join us, but not all wanted to.

We proceeded to write business plans, executive summaries and elevator pitches.  They registered for the expo and created displays, samples and speeches.

In doing this, I gave them the freedom to succeed.  I find myself feeling like a mother bird, quite often.  I slowly, but surely, push them out of the nest that is their comfort zone and give them the chance to try their wings.  In doing so, we all discover what they can truly accomplish.  I’ve been absolutely amazed at what these kids can do.  So much more than any of us give them credit for being able to do.

What could your students do, if they were challenged?