books, tech, lessons from a librarian

Tag: picture books

Connecting the Dots: Is there room for creativity in professional development?

connect the dots header image

Dot-to-dot puzzles. My kid loves them. Always has. Now in sixth grade, his favorites still start off 1-2-3, but now they’re cranked up to 11. Extreme puzzles like this one:   extreme dot to dot of a giraffe
This giraffe puzzle (sorry to spoil the surprise… it’s a giraffe) has over 1300 dots to connect, but the concept is still the same as the first puzzles he completed as a toddler. Find the beginning dot, and then follow the pre-determined path until the image becomes more clear and complete. Reach the final dot and you’re done. Move onto the next puzzle.

Dot-to-dot puzzles are the antithesis of the creative process. Worse than coloring books even… it’s not even about staying inside the lines, you’re literally drawing the line. Nothing in life is as simple as connecting the dots. Nothing in education that prepares our students for life as a grown-up is as simple as finding the starting spot, drawing a straight line from one prescribed dot to the next, and continuing until you reach the end.

In reading and researching the final ISTE Coaching Standard in EDTC 6106 at Seattle Pacific University, I was given this guiding question to explore: What does the ideal technology rich professional learning program look like? During my exploration the question & answers I decided on were:

Q: How can we integrate creativity into a technology rich professional learning program?

A: Have teachers follow the LAUNCH design process in their learning. Celebrate innovation. Allow for reflection and open communication. Make the collaborative process necessary for success.

So why focus specifically on creativity? Returning to the original analogy, in my 15+ years in education much of what I’ve seen in professional development programs has been a dot-to-dot puzzle. It’s been a prescribed process, with a predetermined product expected. Straying from the order will result in more than a few raised eyebrows and even redirection. Engagement is driven not by innovation but by strict adherence to connecting dots, one after another. The problem is we’re tasked with helping our students to develop the learning and innovation skills that by consensus have been agreed to be critical to success in the 21st Century: Creativity and Innovation; Critical Thinking and Problem Solving; Communication and Collaboration (http://www.p21.org/about-us/p21-framework). How can we hope to achieve success in developing those skills if our own professional learning doesn’t reflect the same values?

I was recently reading a book and came across this quote by educator Bo Adams (It’s About Learning https://itsaboutlearning.org/bo-adams/):bo adams quote

LAUNCH book coverThe book is LAUNCH: Using design thinking to boost creativity and bring out the maker in every student by John Spencer and A.J. Juliani. Spencer and Juliani have created a design framework that is applicable and incredibly useful for today’s education, for students and teachers alike. The LAUNCH acronym stands for:

Look, Listen, Learn
Ask Tons of Questions
Understand the Process or Problem
Navigate Ideas
Create a Prototype
Highlight and Fix
& launch your work to an audience.

Here’s a video introduction to the LAUNCH design thinking framework:

What I especially love is how the focus is on design and creativity, rather than specific technology “stuff” that may or may not be available to all educators or their students. Allowing for personalization in the learning and design process means that the there is considerable freedom in taking a different approach to find solutions. Juliani and Spencer’s Launch website is filled with great ideas, as are both individual author’s blogs and Twitter feeds.

Related Resources
John Spencer: http://www.spencerauthor.com/
A.J. Juliani: http://ajjuliani.com/
The LAUNCH Cycle: http://thelaunchcycle.com/
The Global Day of Design: http://globaldayofdesign.com/ (coming up soon! — 5/2/2017)

In my opinion “creativity” is the key to success for 21st Century citizens for at least 3 of the 4-Cs in the P21 Framework (http://www.p21.org/about-us/p21-framework). [1] Critical Thinking — higher level skills inherently require creative approaches; [2] Collaboration — going beyond mere collegiality requires creative thinking. Creative thinkers find new ways to collaborate and new partners to collaborate with; and [3] Creativity.

By injecting a requirement of creativity into a technology rich professional learning program, it keeps the focus not on consumption but on creation. It is easy to be distracted by shiny new apps and flashy tech doo-dads, but requiring creativity in the learning means that higher level thinking skills are essential to success. A lot of adults have forgotten what it means to innovate and create for fear of failure. Allowing for failure in the process would be great practice for educators as they begin the process of bringing project-based learning into their classrooms.

The TPACK framework is largely the work of Professors Koehler and Mishra and the Deep-Play Research Group at Michigan State University. This infographic by Mark Anderson (Twitter @ICTEvangelist) provides a great overview on the subject:

TPACK framework(Anderson 2013)

Related Resources:
Punya Mishra, Ph.D.: http://www.punyamishra.com/
Example of Mishra’s work: Mehta, R., & Mishra, P. (2016). Downtime as a Key to Novelty Generation: Understanding the Neuroscience of Creativity with Dr. Rex Jung. TechTrends, 60(6), 528-531. doi:10.1007/s11528-016-0119-3. Retrieved from http://www.punyamishra.com/wp-content/uploads/2016/09/Jung-Interview-Mehta-Mishra-techtrends.pdf
The Deep-Play Research Group at Michigan State University: http://deep-play.com/

So returning to the question, how can we integrate creativity into a technology rich professional learning program? I think the key is understanding that creativity must be a part of the planning, implementation, and product of the educational process, but it shouldn’t be the only focus. TPACK centers on this idea of a balanced approach. When all of the circles (Technology, Content, and Pedagogy) are intersecting, and when creativity is called upon, there you’ll find the sweet spot of learning. The TPACK model reminds me of an early dot-filled infographic from the 1971 Ted Williams book The Science of Hitting. In his mind, arguably the greatest hitter in Major League Baseball history imagined this graphic in each at bat:

Ted Williams batting zone infographic

“My first rule of hitting was to get a good ball to hit. I learned down to percentage points where those good balls were. The box shows my particular preferences, from what I considered my “happy zone” – where I could hit .400 or better – to the low outside corner – where the most I could hope to bat was .230. Only when the situation demands it should a hitter go for the low-percentage pitch.” (Ted Williams)

Williams’s “happy zone” was at the intersection of vision, reach, muscle memory, training, bat angle and speed, and knowing himself as a hitter. His innovation as a baseball player made him a Hall of Famer, and yet his quote acknowledges that there are times to shift your approach “when the situation demands”. One of TPACK’s strength is that it can help educators from losing focus. The targeted learning should be at the intersection of how you teach, what you teach, and what you use. Focus on only one or two of the three and you’ll miss out on the “happy zone”.

The Dot book cover by Peter H. ReynoldsFinally, I couldn’t wrap up this dot-focused post without mentioning one of my all-time favorite picture books. The Dot by Peter H. Reynolds is profoundly simple. Vashti is convinced she is not an artist, that she’s not creative. “I just CAN’T draw!” A simple art project (“draw a dot”) transforms Vashti’s life when she realizes there is room for exploration and her spirit and voice. The fear of failure is replaced with pride and ownership, and the book’s ending finds Vashti empowered to pass on her learning to others. Vashti’s development and success was aided by a teacher who provided the necessary tools, a framework that allowed for exploration, and the chance to share her learning with others. My hope is that someday soon it will be more common to find technology rich professional learning that allows for creative growth and innovation. Are we ready to LAUNCH? 3.2.1…


Anderson, M. (2013, May 28). Technological, pedagogical and content knowledge [Web log post]. Retrieved from https://ictevangelist.com/technological-pedagogical-and-content-knowledge/

Fryer, W. (2009, June 13). Moving at the speed of creativity | Blending professional development to focus on content, technology and pedagogy [Web log post]. Retrieved from http://www.speedofcreativity.org/2009/06/13/blending-professional-development-to-focus-on-content-technology-and-pedagogy/

Juliani, A. J., & Spencer, J. (2016). The Launch Cycle – Bring out the maker in every student. Retrieved from http://thelaunchcycle.com/

Kay, K. (2011, September 29). Becoming a 21st Century school or district: Use the 4Cs to build professional capacity (Step 4 of 7) | Edutopia [Web log post]. Retrieved from https://www.edutopia.org/blog/21st-century-professional-development-key-kay

Mehta, R., & Mishra, P. (2016). Downtime as a Key to Novelty Generation: Understanding the Neuroscience of Creativity with Dr. Rex Jung. TechTrends, 60(6), 528-531. doi:10.1007/s11528-016-0119-3. Retrieved from http://www.punyamishra.com/wp-content/uploads/2016/09/Jung-Interview-Mehta-Mishra-techtrends.pdf

Mishra, P. (n.d.). Punya Mishra’s Web – Living at the junction of education, creativity, design & technology. Retrieved March 5, 2017, from http://www.punyamishra.com/

Mishra, P., & The Deep-Play Research Group. (2012). Rethinking technology & creativity in the 21st Century: Crayons are the future. TechTrends, 56(5), 13-16. doi:10.1007/s11528-012-0594-0. Retrieved from http://www.punyamishra.com/wp-content/uploads/2012/10/Mishra-crayons-techtrends1.pdf

Niess, M., & Gillow-Wiles, H. (2015). Creativity, digitality, and teacher professional development: Unifying theory, research, and practice. In Handbook of research on teacher education in the digital age (pp. 691-721). Retrieved from http://www.punyamishra.com/wp-content/uploads/2015/08/Creativity-Digitality-and-Teacher-Professional-Development-Unifying-Theory-Research-and-Practice.pdf

Pearman, D. (2016, April 9). Are we putting the cart before the horse? | Innovative pedagogy [Web log post]. Retrieved from https://innovativepedagogy.wordpress.com/2016/04/09/are-we-putting-the-cart-before-the-horse/

Spencer, J. (2016, February 15). Curious about design thinking? Here’s a framework you can use in any classroom with any age group [Web log post]. Retrieved from http://www.spencerauthor.com/2016/02/curious-about-design-thinking-heres.html/

P21, Peer Coaching & Picture Books

John Wooden quote

Addressing 21st Century Skills and promoting critical thinking in a fifth grade classroom can be a tall order when faced with a deeply scripted curriculum. While project-based learning (PBL) is often seen as a catch-all approach to develop the 4-Cs (Collaboration, Communication, Critical thinking, and Creativity), the harsh reality is that fully implementing PBL is not always feasible. We as teachers are still tasked with developing those vital critical thinking skills in our students, though, so how can we respond? The same way I respond to many complex problems… with picture books!

ISTE-C Standard 1:   Visionary Leadership
Implement strategies for initiating and sustaining technology innovations and manage the change process in schools and classrooms

ISTE-C Standard 2: Teaching, Learning, and Assessment
Coach teachers in and model incorporation of research-based best practices in instructional design when planning technology-enhanced learning experiences

Guiding Question:

What can I do as a peer coach to help a fifth grade teaching team develop critical thinking skills in their students?

library shelves with picture books

Metaphors and other figurative language are great practice for higher order thinking. As an elementary librarian I’m a bit biased, but I think one of the best ways to teach concepts (simple and complex) is through picture books. It can enable students to make complex connections that may otherwise be missed with text-heavy resources only. This 5 minute video from the Teaching Channel website (https://www.teachingchannel.org/videos/using-touchstone-texts) explores the idea of using a picture book for just that reason, as a touchstone text (Using a short engaging text to anchor a series of lessons on a tough concept). I feel that this video could be an effective resource to kick off a discussion with the fifth grade team.

As I continue my studies on peer coaching and the ISTE Coaching Standards, I have been reminded of the overwhelming nature of my colleagues’ work. With ISTE-C Standard 2 in mind, I met recently with a peer fifth grade teacher to explore ideas for manageable technology integration into their literacy block. An upcoming lesson is focusing on completing a reading response poster.

reading response poster

While it’s been a highly engaging activity for his students in the past, this project seems like an opportunity ripe for technology integration. One thing that has impressed me in our brief conversations has been how focusing on active listening and the use of clarifying questions shifted the tone of our interaction. I’m often seen as the “tech guy” who knows the answers to all things tech. The reality when it comes to technology is I’m a failure. I fail early and I fail often. Then I troubleshoot and find a way to make things work. And that’s what I want to help my peers to discover: to understand that failure is an option and their peers are available to support them through those inevitable moments. One of the biggest benefits of the peer coaching model is this shift from the default “expert” mode. I don’t know what technology tool(s) we’re going to use or explore, but I do know that my colleague is excited about the idea of exploring options that would allow for technology integration into the final product.

21st Century skills such as critical thinking are best developed within the framework of project based learning, something that is difficult with a primarily scripted and prescribed curriculum seemingly at odds with open-ended learning. I want this to be a meaningful and realistic process for my classroom colleagues, and my fear is that they’ll feel overwhelmed and see these activities as unfeasible add-ons rather than worthwhile additions to their instruction. I also want my peers (and students) to remember Coach Wooden’s words: “Failure is not fatal”, rather, it’s failing to adapt that causes the real problems. The more we revisit that idea and the more we keep the idea simple and digestible in bite-sized chunks (Picture Books!), the more success we’ll see in our work. 


3-5 Critical Thinking Rubric (non-CCSS) | Project Based Learning | BIE. (n.d.). Retrieved from https://www.bie.org/object/document/3_5_critical_thinking_rubric_non_ccss

Edutopia. (n.d.). Search results: Critical thinking. Retrieved November 2, 2016, from https://www.edutopia.org/search-results?search=critical%20thinking

Finley, T. (2014, August 19). Critical thinking pathways | Edutopia. Retrieved from https://www.edutopia.org/blog/critical-thinking-pathways-todd-finley

Lange, S. (2014, June 12). Strategies to promote critical thinking in the elementary classroom – P21. Retrieved from http://www.p21.org/news-events/p21blog/1435-strategies-to-promote-critical-thinking-in-the-elementary-classroom

Mastro, V. (2014, May 20). Common core, critical thinking and Aesop’s Fables. Edutopia. Retrieved from https://www.edutopia.org/blog/common-core-critical-thinking-aesop-vincent-mastro

Ripp, P. (2015, October 3). Great Picture Books to Teach Theme. Retrieved from https://pernillesripp.com/2015/10/03/great-picture-books-to-teach-theme/

Schoch, K. (2016). Teach with Picture Books. Retrieved from http://teachwithpicturebooks.blogspot.com/search/label/picture%20books

Teaching Channel. (2016). Using a touchstone book to introduce tough concepts. Retrieved from https://www.teachingchannel.org/videos/using-touchstone-texts

Picture book section by San Jose Library (CC BY-SA 2.0)



[bonus resource] I came across this 30 minute documentary about using picture books to teach complex philosophy concepts to second graders. It was just too good not to include it in this resource list…

Big Ideas for Little Kids: Teaching Philosophy through Picture Books  http://wgby.org/bigideas

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