Tag Archives: creativity

Our School As A Box

Our School As A Box ThumbThis year staff at ICHK Secondary started the school year with a great PD session lead by one of our new team members, Phil Morgan. A deep thinker around creativity and education, Phil brought us up to speed on some ideas around creative thinking, and then challenged us to decorate a box that could be used to sell our school. Divided into groups, every member of staff became obsessively engaged in the task, with the allocated hour’s working time disappearing in no time.

The 6 resulting items were a wonder to behold, and incorporated a huge range of bizarre styles, ideas, tricks and features, including one with a mobile phone installed inside, so you could capture your image and become part of the product.

In the end, we were asked to vote for our favourite, a process that everyone was so invested in that we elected to skip our coffee break. Much to my surprise, my lovely group (including Veronica, Jimmy, Erin and Hannah), ended up winning, with the design below.


The box is now in a display case in school, accompanied by the text below:

ICHK. Our box is, like our school, brightly presented, precisely formed with attention to detail, and the result of a collaborative team effort. It’s bright colours, bold lettering and green adornment reflect an intentionally small school with unique aims, nestled in Hong Kong’s verdant North.
As a small, personal school, we look to educate students as individuals: one at a time. Our box seeks to represent this individual learning journey as a ladder, which a student is climbing, supported from below by each and every member of the teaching team. The student, stating “I can’t do it…yet” is aware that learning is tough, but that with perseverance, effort, support and a growth mindset, he too can “make it”.
The “it” to which the student aims is the goal of Learning Together, Thoughtfully, to which our Head of School cheerfully exhorts us from his cutout in the side of the box. He is within the box, at its heart, but also looking outwards as he charts the way forward. Yet, and this is key, he is also on the front of the box, guiding the thriving student as part of the team.
On the side and back of the box we see a list of Ingredients and a Nutrition Guide. These show a school formed of Thriving Students, Best Possible Teachers, an Environment For Living and Learning and much more. They suggest a serving size of 1 (child at a time), with a total number of servings of 278 (students in the school). The sum total of the box offers nutrition in the form of appropriate quantities of Attitudes, Skills and Knowledge, and a 100% RDI of Direction-Alignment-Commitment.
Ultimately, box and school are both so much more than the sum of their parts.

In closing up the session, Phil introduced us to a number of interesting books around creativity, including the one from which the box activity is drawn: Game Storming. Overall this was one of the best PD and team building sessions I have ever attended.

Epic Wallpers

In Year 7, my students undertake a short unit of work called Epic Wallpaper, in which they attempt to make a glossy wallpaper using Acorn and some graphic design techniques. This is the first year I have run this unit, and it went very well, with the students really enjoying the creativity of image editing. The 9 best designs are shown below. All are under Creative Commons licenses, so feel to download and use them as your wallpaper.

Download all 9 wallpapers (ZIP)

All images are 1680 x 1050px and so should work on most commons screen sizes. Well done to Alex, Alvin, Emi, Jamie, Lily, Nicolle, Ruby, Sammi and Serena for their fantastic design work.

Half Old Portrait

HalfOldThis morning I was approached by a teacher (Megan from HLY) whose students have been asked to draw split portraits of themselves, half their current age, and half when they are older. Megan asked if we could use some software to age the students, and I showed her AgingBooth (available for Android and iOS). I’ve used this app, and its cousin FatBooth, in the past with students, and they absolutely love the experience. From a personal development point of view, it also faces them to think about the future and what it might be like.

After a little playing around, we came up with the image below, which uses half of a regular image (thanks Jayne) and half of the same image run through AgingBooth:


The aim would be to have students produce such an image of themselves, print it, and then use it as the basis of their self portrait. This could be achieved as follows:

Required Technology

  • Mobile device (phone/tablet) running iOS or Android.
  • AgingBooth (free on Android, USD $0.99 on iOS)
  • Desktop device (Mac/Windows laptop)
  • Desktop image editing software (Acorn for a Mac, GIMP for Windows)
  • Ability to transfer images from mobile to desktop device (email, USB)

Learning Outcomes

  • Students produce a computer generated split portrait of themselves, half current and half old.
  • Students use a combination of different devices and software to produce a particular result.
  • Students understand the need to log out of or remove and account from a shared device.

Lesson Outline

  • Introduce students to the idea that we can capture an image, and then use a computer to manipulate the image. This might take the form of subtle changes (cropping, colour enhancement), or wholesale “photoshopping”.
  • Show students the example work and ask them if they can guess how it was done.
  • Reveal that the image was capture on an iPad, and then transferred to a MacBook for editing.
  • Pair students up with one iPad per pair, and ask them to:
    • Access AgingBooth on their iPad
    • Take photos of each other in AgingBooth, and follow the instructions for placing markers:


    • Once the old image has been produced, students can shake the phone to switch between their real and old selves.
    • Students should email both their old and real images to themselves, using the Share button (shown below). If the device is shared, students need to log out of or remove their email accounts after they are finished: this can be explained as a security precaution to prevent others using their account.


    • Students can now use their desktop devices to download the email attachments, and save them to their desktops.
    • The attachments can be opened with the image editor. The old image should be cropped to half its size, then copied into the real image and aligned into position.
    • Finally, students can save and print their images.

Ultra-Cheap Flying Camera

A few of my Year 9s had been away, missing the first lesson of a two-part assignment in which students had to film a creative shot of some kind. Trying to think of how to get these students engaged and up to speed, I came up with the idea of trying to set up a flying camera, which, launched from the first floor, would fly down a cable, filming the action on the playground below.

The students quickly got into the idea, and I called in another teacher (thanks Ben!) to help keep the kids safe whilst I worked with the other groups. There was some creative thinking, problem solving, a few test runs and some iteration in the design. In the end, we launched from the 3rd floor, and got the following shot. The kids stayed into break (thanks Harry, George, Alex & Damien), and we ended up with a crowd of curious students trying to work out what we were doing. Best of all, the final shot was produced using only materials we found around school. So, here it is, our Ultra-Cheap Flying Camera shot:

ICHK Zombiefest

TrolleyMy Year 9 ICT & Media students are currently learning some of the foundational skills that will help them make movies towards the end of term. Having looked at narrative structure, we have now moved on to creative shooting techniques. Originally, each class (I teach all three groups in a row on a Thursday) was going to create a simple low rolling shot using a delivery trolley instead of a professional dolly. The aim was for students to use ingenuity to overcome a lack of expensive, professional equipment. The first class decided to do a hallway scene showing typical break time behaviour. At some point a student suggested we do it zombie style, and all of a sudden we had a trailer on our hands. I then asked the following two classes to come up with their own version of the trailer for the same film (now called ICHK Zombiefest in honour of our school). Students took on different roles in the shooting, and the aim was for every student to contribute. Decisions were collaborative, and guided by the director (sometimes me, sometimes a student). The video below is the end result of the three lessons’ work.

This was one of those magical days in teaching, where it was a lot fun, but totally draining. Well done to all of the students, especially to those who really jumped on board, got excited and had a lot of fun. Thanks also to Ms. Long for leaving her paperwork to play the role of “Zombie Teacher”.

Google Forms Choose Your Own Adventure

Do you remember those Choose Your Own Adventure books from the 80s and 90s? I used to love reading them at school, and recently I have been wondering if students could write their own using a Google Drive Form. This is a proof-of-concept for this idea…sorry if my creative writing is not amazingly griping.

Note: you might find this works better as a stand-alone form, rather than viewing it within this site.

QR Code Madness

QRQR codes are square barcodes, which are quick to read and can contain more information than older linear barcodes. More importantly, QR codes can contains links which take scanners directly to a location on the Internet, and can be scanned by almost any phone or laptop. These codes can, with a little imagination, be used in some really innovative ways within schools. For example, students can record audio book reviews, which are then QR coded, and stuck onto books in the library, allowing potential borrowers to get a quick overview. Or, they could be used to tell stories around school, such as how each school trophy was won.

Today I unleashed Happyism, a little QR project I have been organising with my pastoral group. The aim of the project was to be the opposite of terrorism, namely an act of trying to make people happy, inspired and positive in a public place. When students came out of class for lunch, they discovered 150 unique QR codes stuck around the canteen and stairway area. Each of these codes, when scanned with a phone or computer, took the student to a website which aimed to make them laugh, think or act. Some staff also wore codes, linking to sites relating to their subject area, personality or nationality.

At first students were a little unsure, but with a lot of prompting, a few started investigating. Within 20 minutes there were groups of students gathering around phones, animatedly enjoying a variety of videos, pictures, quotes and stories. A particular highlight was Ms. Goldthorpe, whose QR code, resting on her bump, led students to an ultrasound of her unborn child (thanks to my wife for this genius idea).

The process of gathering the sites (shared amongst students and myself) was time consuming, as was vetting them, creating codes, printing, cutting and sticking. However, the effort was more than worth it, with a real buzz around campus during the day. Even better, a number of staff asked how they could build this into their curriculum areas, showing a great willingness to try new things. If you are interested in trying this out at your school, some of the following may be useful:

  • QR Code Madess – the full listing of almost 150 unique QR codes, appropriate for use in secondary school.
  • Web QR – scan straight from the web (seems to work best with Chrome, at least on Mac).
  • QR Droid – for Android devices.
  • QR Reader for iOS devices.

Your Work: Dead or Alive?

The following tweet landed on my feed this morning, and it really got me thinking. I so often try to tackle printing as an environmental issue, that I forget the fact that it is, in many ways, simply an inferior way to work.

This led me to compose the following email to my colleagues, as an opening salvo in a new offensive against the poor practice of printing:

Colleagues, you all know that I am opposed to printing. But there is more to it than just environmentalism.

If you want to think of your work as “living” (eg actively used, collaborative, flexible, responsive, meaningful) then why consign it to static paper? Why not share your work online, build an audience and set your work free. Put it in a blog, or an online document, invite commentary, make everyone an owner.

This is the future of knowledge for our students. Lead by example. Paper is a dead end. Isn’t it time to upgrade?

Fortunately Chris Betcher put his thoughts down in a shared, digital environment, and so we are all able to make use of them. Imagine if he just printing them out, and filed them away.

On Creativity

Albert Einstein_HeadI’ve got creativity on the brain at the moment, and the more I think about it, the more interesting it is, the more nuances I find. This morning I had 15 minutes with some Year 8 students I know well. I told them that I had been thinking about this topic a lot, but wanted some different perspectives and ideas. I wrote the word on the board, and asked them to tell me any thoughts they had on the topic. A slow start led to most students getting involved, and the emergence of some themes:

  • Originality – there was some consensus amongst students that something was creative if it had not been done before, or if the creator was not aware that it had been done. I agree with this to an extent, but an act of creation, such as painting a landscape, can be creative to for an artist, even though it might have been by thousands of others before her.
  • Risk – some students thought that creativity comes from taking risks. I really like this idea, and it ties in well to the IB Learner Profile. I think it is probably impossible to be creative without some element of risk taking.
  • Difficulty – some suggested that something has to be difficult to be creative. To counter this we discussed the fact that a creative act can be easy (such as taking a photo), but the thought or inspiration behind it (composition) might be difficult. I mentioned this photo to students as something technically relatively easy, but difficult in other regards. There is a school of thought that believes that modern creativity is somehow less valuable, because technology makes it too easy and accessible, which to me is counter-intuitive (for more on this, watch the excellent documentary Press Pause Play).
  • Process – I tried to share with the students the idea that we often think of creativity in terms of the outcome, but that in a lot of ways it is the process that defines it. For example, Einstein’s famous E=mc2 does not seem creative, but once you are familiar with the nature of scientific progress and revolution, and the struggle against the status quo, you can appreciate it as a deeply creative act.
  • Struggle – I really believe that true creativity must involve some kind of internal struggle, as we attempt to force ourselves from who we are now, to what we need to become in order to do and think in new and different ways.  I related to students my own experiences learning web design, and the fact that every major advancement I made was preceded by a period of self-doubt, self-loathing and a desire to pack it all in. This was simply my brain rebelling against the chaos of the unknown: this phase hopefully then leads to insight and change, followed by a period of flow and productivity. In the past, whilst teaching students to programme (an inherently creative act) I have used the following diagram to illustrate this point, and support struggling students:

  • Passion – Ken Robinson describes passion as being one of the most important parts of creativity, and it makes a lot of sense. After all, if you are not passionate, you are unlikely to put yourself through the struggle of the creative process.

By the end of the discussion I felt we had covered a lot of ground and shared some good ideas. I was really impressed with the students’ willingness to think, share and consider other perspectives. Yet I get the feeling that in some ways creativity remains an illusive, mysterious enigma which will occupy many an hour of my mind’s time.



Twine fits into a seemingly new product category that I am sure will take off as competition arises and costs drop: small, configurable Internet-enabled sensors. Housed in a small and robust casing and powered by internal batteries, Twine can sense the world around it and take action based on certain user programmed conditions. For example, you might use the moisture sensor to alert you via SMS if your ficus is too dry or your basement is too damp. Although not available until May, the promo materials show an intuitive web-based interface for configuring the device, meaning that it ought to be useable by students of almost any age, and teahcers of almost any ability. If you are interested in facilitating really open ended student projects this may be a worthwhile investment, offering a great way to promote laterall thinking, creativity and problems solving. One question I have is whether Twine logs the data it captures, as this would really enhance its cross-curricular value.

If you are interested in building a similar device from a kit, check out Botanicalls.