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Hello, I'm John.

I like to make stuff.

About Me

After eleven years as a middle school teacher, I am beginning my journey as a Professor of Instructional Technology in Oregon. I'm also a keynote speaker, author, podcast host, and educational technology developer.
Email: john@educationrethink.com
Twitter: @spencerideas
Podcast: Classroom Questions
About Me: My Story
John Spencer

Every child is a maker.

I want to see kids embrace creativity. As a teacher, this meant murals, documentaries, STEM camps, and coding projects. As a dad, this has meant elaborate pillow forts and home-made pinball machines. This is also why I co-wrote Wendell the World's Worst Wizard and co-founded Write About.

Latest Articles



10 Reasons I Love Teaching #Thanksgiving #EduThanks

I often post shorter thoughts on my Facebook page. This was one of those times when I posted something and then decided to make it into a blog post. If you enjoy my writing and want to see it more frequently, feel free to like the Facebook page.

I have been teaching for almost 12 years. Eleven of those years were spent teaching middle school and now I'm teaching pre-service teachers. I know that teaching is a hard job and there are times it can be a grind.

And yet . . .

I love it.

So, with that in mind, here are some things I am thankful for:
  1. For watching minds grow and worldviews expand.
  2. For those aha! moments when a student gets it.
  3. For the chance to watch students design and create in ways they had never imagined.
  4. For the opportunity to connect and share ideas with educators from around the world.
  5. For those times when school is a safe place for a child and for the fact that I get to be a part of that. This year, I'm working with future teachers, but I am often aware that they are the ones who will be creating safe places for students.
  6. For the fact that I get to stay up on pop culture . . . because, whether or not I want to, I will hear kids sing the latest songs and quote the latest movies.
  7. For the chance to laugh often. I never knew this job would have so much laughter.
  8. For the fact that I get to do something creative.
  9. For the thank you letters from former students on a day when I am doubting myself.
  10.  For the chance to do something meaningful. Every. Day.

What are some of the things you're thankful for?

Here's a goofy Vine I created on this topic:

Feel free to follow me on Vine.


What Can Stephen Colbert Teach Us About Classroom Culture?

A few months back, I watched the first episode of The Late Show with Colbert at the helm. It was rocky, at best. I wasn't sure which Stephen Colbert we were going to see -- the persona or the person. However, I stuck around for the next few days and watched the show grow into something pretty awesome. I feel like he was able to hit his stride and, in the process, he is now delivering a show that is smart, funny, and sincere.

I realize that there are some people who have a hard time with his political stances. There are some people who find his comedy odd. That's fine. Colbert is not for everyone. However, I feel like there are a few things that teachers can take away from his approach.

1. Be Earnest

There was a part of me that wondered how Colbert would handle the transition from a fictional, satirical pundit to a late-night talkshow host. However, one of my favorite elements of this current show is the lack of cynicism. There is an earnest side of the show that turns out best in moments like his interview with Joe Biden.

I love this quote from Colbert at a commencement address.

Cynicism masquerades as wisdom, but it is the farthest thing from it. Because cynics don't learn anything. Because cynicism is a self-imposed blindness, a rejection of the world because we are afraid it will hurt us or disappoint us. Cynics always say no. But saying "yes" begins things. Saying "yes" is how things grow. 

I feel like this is an element of teaching that is often overlooked and understated. However, the best classroom environments are earnest. They might embrace irony. They are often witty. However, they aren't mean. They aren't cynical. They have a touch of hope even when engaging in unblinking realism. Those are the same traits I see in Colbert's approach to the Late Show.

2. Assume Your Audience Is Intelligent

I'm sure Colbert's intellectualism comes across as pretentious to some people. However, I love the fact that he assumes that his audience is smart. He doesn't talk down to his viewers. He will quote authors or reference historical events in a way that doesn't hide the fact that he is unabashedly learned. It's more than being well-educated, though. Colbert doesn't shy away from deep, analytical thinking. So, whether he's telling a joke or interviewing a guest, there's a depth of thought that is often missing from late-night television.

As teachers, we can learn from this. Children might not always have the same background knowledge to access a particular subject. However, they are capable of deep thought when teachers ask hard questions. Children know when adults are talking down to them and, honestly, it can feel insulting. But when teachers push critical thinking and assume that their students can handle it, something amazing happens. Students start rising to that challenge.

3. Don't Be Afraid to Be Goofy

Stephen Colbert is one one of the goofiest hosts on television, though Jimmy Fallon might have him beat on this one. However, I love the visual gags and the bizarre humor and the quirky elements of the show. It comes out in strange moments, like the high-five coming out from under his desk.

I'm a big fan of being goofy in the classroom. I used to draw ridiculous puns on the board each day. During a lull in a project, we would play wordplay games like "change one letter on . . . " Something like this . . .

We created strange classroom traditions. For example, if someone ever used the term "Can you share that link with me?" we would Cher the link instead, meaning someone would get a short URL link to a Cher video. When the wifi was slow,  we were all required to use jazz hands, thus adding the missing pizazz to make the wifi work.

Was any of this necessary? Not on the surface. But it was actually intentional. See, being goofy has practical implications. When teachers are goofy, students are more likely to take creative risks -- because every goofy act of humor is a creative risk. Moreover, being goofy creates a climate of joy while also pushing a different sort of divergent thinking missing in compliance-driven environments.

4. Embrace the Love of Learning

I love what it looks like when Colbert has an author or a scientist or a Supreme Court justice (or, as lI like to call them, "a member of the Supremes.") You can sense that Colbert loves to learn. Those are critical elements to a classroom culture. When teachers delight in the joy of learning, it can be contagious. The classroom culture is one where learning is something that everyone celebrates. When students see teachers embrace intellectual curiosity, they view learning as intrinsically fun.

5. Make It Joyful

There is something joyful about the Late Show under Colbert's leadership. It's a sharp departure from the sardonic and flat approach of Letterman. There's singing and dancing. There are goofball antics. It is joyful for the sake of being joyful. And yet . . . there's another part of the joy that seeps into the show. Beyond the goofy humor, there's a sort-of celebration of humanity. Even after he has skewered partisan gridlock in Washington or cracked a joke about a current event, there's always this reminder that the world is better than we think.

Joy is a vital part of classroom culture. I love what Dean Shareski has written and spoken on this subject. Go check out his TEDx Talk at some point and you'll see what I mean. I love his notion that joy shouldn't be an avenue for something else. It is inherently valuable. It is an end unto itself.

Final Thoughts

I realize that there are elements of the Late Show that we can't emulate. Colbert's goal is to entertain rather than teach. His audience is admittedly older. He has a massive staff that he collaborates with and a budget that teachers would surpass an entire school. And certainly there are elements of the show you don't want to emulate -- the mockery that can happen, the political aspects, the adult humor. However, I can't help but think that schools would do well to be a little more Colbert-esque.

Always Choose Love

After the attacks in Paris, I had a conversation with my son. He wanted to know why people had done that. He was angry. He was sad. I think it was the first "world event" that he had noticed -- not because he watched it on TV but because it affected so many of his friends, who are refugee children living in our neighborhood.

This is pretty much, what I told him . . .


How do we bring wonder back into the classroom?

A few years ago, I had the chance to teach science in a self-contained classroom (teaching all subjects). I scoured the Internet for examples of great demonstrations that would captivate my students’ attention. It worked at first. I did the typical experiments. You know, add baking soda to vinegar. Pop some Mentos in Diet Coke. Get a hard-boiled egg to fall into a jar. That sort of stuff.

However, the only thing my students learned in the process was that their teacher had scoured the Internet and could replicate the experiments in a classroom. I upped the ante a week later by doing a few experiments first and having students follow directions to do the same. But it was exactly that: following directions.

My students were supposed to be learning how to think like scientists but all they had learned was how to think like me. They hadn’t owned the learning because they hadn’t owned the process. They hadn't owned the questions.

That evening when I drove home, I emptied the dishwasher while my three-year-old son bombarded me with questions. Why does the sky turn orange on only some nights? Why does the moon show up in the day on some days and not others? What would happen if someone ate poop? The last question was admittedly disturbing, but I had to hand it to him – he knew how to ask questions.

Later, I watched him running around the backyard, filled with wonder at everything he was experiencing (note that he's now seven years old and still just as curious). Why did some bugs jump and others fly? What made the whiffle ball move funny? Sometimes it wasn’t even a matter of questions. It was simply chasing after bubbles and squealing when they popped. It struck me that this sense of wonder and wild curiosity was the beginning of real science. This barrage of questions was precisely what I wanted to see with my students.

So, I changed things up. The next day, I invited students to continue the experiment or to move on to their own form of inquiry. The questions are all over the place:
  • Why does water suck when there aren't any clouds inside? (Then, in parenthesis, she writes, "I think the word is evaporate") Where does that water go if not in the clouds?
  • Is it true that you can't drink a whole gallon of milk in an hour?
  • Would you die if you drank Diet Coke and downed a pack of Mentos in the same minute?
  • What makes stuff float? Why do certain heavy things not sink but light things sink?
  • Why does metal always seem cold in a classroom if it’s been in the same room temperature? Is it really getting colder? Or does it just feel that way?
  • What makes paper airplanes fly faster?
  • What makes the ripples in water?
  • Why does stuff burn when it's together but not when it's apart?
  • Why do some chemicals burn green?
  • Why does it smoke afterward when you mix vinegar and baking soda together? Is that really smoke?
  • If you kept a species of lizard in a totally yellow container, would the color change after years in that environment, even if there was nothing to force natural selection? I mean, if you had a room and all the lizards were normal, would they turn yellow in twenty years? Or a hundred years? Or never?

The questions varied in practicality and in understanding of science. There were certainly questions we couldn't pursue (burning chemicals or "making lizards evolve" or eating tons of Mentos and drinking Diet Coke). In some cases, students simply had to find the information online. However, in most cases, these questions were the start of science experiments.

It wasn't pretty. It was loud. It was messy. It was fun. Kind-of. Actually, the students were getting frustrated half the time and then excited the other half. But in the process, they were engaged. They were hitting a place of flow.

It was the start of deliberately embracing a state of wonder in the classroom. On other occasions, I had students look at various species and study them. That slow, deliberate act of observation was a different form of wonder. It was a slower, quieter curiosity, but it was just as powerful.

Later, when I moved from self-contained to teaching computers, I often began our design projects with a sense of wonder. I know that the design thinking process usually starts with empathy. However, I found that sometimes empathy is tricky. Sometimes you don’t know what you’re going to make or who your audience will be until you’ve experienced a sense of wonder and curiosity.

Seven Ways to Bring Wonder Back Into the Classroom

There’s something disarming about starting with a sense of wonder. It doesn’t feel as heavy as thinking about a specific audience or a really important product. But that general sense of wonder is ultimately what leads to bigger things. Note how many artists began, not by thinking about an audience, but by this sense of wonder in the act of making art. Note how many amazing products began, not by focusing on a specific problem, but by embracing a natural state of wonder that, in turn, led to divergent thinking and eventually helped people find innovative ways to solve problems.

So it has me thinking about ways that teachers can both recover and create a sense of wonder in their classrooms. Here are a few ideas:
  1. Make stuff for the sake of making. I'm a fan of having students publish to an authentic audience. However, I also believe that some of the best moments of wonder occur when students are making something small for no other reason than the fact that it's naturally intriguing. It might be a marshmallow challenge or a cardboard arcade or an interactive journal. In the moment, something clicks and kids are consumed with curiosity. 
  2. Slow down. I remember as a child feeling a sense of amazement at the ability to pull iron out of sand. We pulled out magnets and stuck them in all kinds of soil until it worked. The process was slow. We weren't hurried. But this was precisely what led to wonder. Often, moments of wonder happen in these relaxed times. 
  3. Promote play. Wonder is both something we can promote in schools but also something we can allow - and the best way we allow this to happen is by promoting play. I find it sad that students often get blocks of play time only when they are younger. I would love to see schools create recess time for middle schoolers
  4. Incorporate student choice. This isn't just a matter of topics or interests. Students can tap into their natural wonder when they get to choose some of the bigger themes and questions. Which leads to . . . 
  5. Have students create questions. I remember visiting a kindergarten class on a prep period. It was amazing how many questions students asked. That same day, I watched my own students and noticed that even in an inquiry-based project, many of them were reluctant to ask questions. I had to build in more opportunities to ask questions. Creative classrooms are the ones where students are able to question answers as often as they answer questions. 
  6. Follow rabbit trails. When I was a pre-service teacher, my mentor said something so often it became a mantra for me. “We must seize the moment of excited curiosity for the acquisition of wisdom.” He wasn’t sure where it originally came from but the idea was that in that single moment when your curiosity is sparked, you should chase it. If you put it off until later, you miss something in the process.
  7. Embrace wonder in your own life.  It's contagious when a teacher is naturally curious. I used to love it when a teacher would say, "Yeah, I'm trying to figure out __________" or "I've been exploring ___________." This last weekend, my friend George suggested that I give Vine another chance. I had created two videos years ago and let it go because it "wasn't practical." However, I started back up. In trying it out again, I am struck by the sense of wonder that goes with creating small, six-second videos. They won't change the world. They won't transform education. However, there's a sense of wonder that accompanies these small creative acts. 

This might not seem like a big deal. After all, there are urgent things that schools need to teach - how to read, how to think, how to write, how to solve problems. But I can't help but wonder if maybe we need more wonder. 


The Power of Audience

When I was little, art was a refuge . . . . until it wasn't anymore. It's a story that's better told in video than in writing:

Even then, I hid behind the scenes. I sketched things on this blog until the blog became more popular and I felt the need to make it look "professional." Those words still lingered. A serious artist. That wasn't me.

Fast forward a few years. I'm sitting down with my kids, sharing a bedtime story about a wizard who can't do magic but falls in love with robotics. My wife adds some great ideas and the next thing I know, she and I are writing a book together. I'm comfortable writing the story but I cringe when my kids ask me to illustrate it.

"Maybe we can get a real illustrator," I point out. However, in the meantime, I sketch out some characters and have fun with it. After all, the audience is tiny and I'm thinking back to my second rule. Everyone is an artist.

Eventually, though, we decide to publish it with the illustrations. I'm terrified that people will mock it. The words "serious about art" still linger. But nobody mocks it. In fact, a few people email me and say that the illustrations are great. But more importantly, every time I do an Author Skype or Hangout, kids ask about the drawings. Every. Time.

So now it's two years later and I'm standing in front of a group of students who are excited to hear me read the last chapter of Wendell the World's Worst Wizard. I glance back at the student-created robots inspired by the story. I fight back tears, because I am reminded of the fact that art has become, yet again, a refuge for me.

"Why did you write this book?" a student asks in the Q and A afterward.

"I wanted to write a bedtime story," I mention. "I thought I was just writing a story but I realized, at the end, that I had stumbled on the theme by accident -- that the real magic is in creativity and I don't want my kids to lose sight of that."

As I say it, I realize that I had written a book perfectly suited for me. I had been Wendell the Worst Wizard, unable to see my abilities until I was away from the system.

The Power of Audience

That was the first of many of these moments. I was so nervous I was shaking the next day when they played a sketchy video I had created in front of the entire auditorium, but then as people approached me afterward, I felt affirmed. The same thing happened when Adam Bellow mentioned Wendell in his keynote. And the same thing happened when I added a few sketchy videos to the sessions I taught on creativity and assessment.

It has me thinking about the restorative power of an audience. We all have some area of creativity where shame crept in and suddenly we abandoned something we once had loved - not out of boredom or exhaustion but out of shame and fear.

Maybe you stopped singing or dancing or drawing or all of the above. Maybe you bought into the lie that there are "creative types" and everyone else. Whatever it is, chances are there's this side of you that walked away from art, not out of disinterest, but out of shame.

What I've learned, though, is that a small trusted audience can help restore what was lost. My first small audience was a group of seven dedicated muralists. We were a band of mistake-makers, hellbent on destroying the lie of the "serious artists." Later, my own kids pushed me take creative risks, even when it was uncomfortable. Eventually, that small trusted audience grows into a tribe and the tribe gets bigger and, next thing you know, you have a bigger audience.


Ten Creative Alternatives to Standardized Tests

It's easy to bust on standardized tests. They suck. They're boring. They're virtually meaningless. They kill instructional time. But what's the alternative? If we're not using multiple choice tests, what are we using? If we want a more creative classroom, what types of assessments exist that tap into creativity?

The following are ten creative alternatives:
  1. Portfolios: These are a great way to show mastery, growth and future goal-setting. (Check out Five Tips for Student Portfolios for more thoughts) 
  2. Assessment Conferences: I use three types of student conferences. One is aimed at self-reflection, another at giving targeted help and a third at helping students make sense out of where they are according to the standards. 
  3. Standards Grid: This is a simple grid that allows students to make sense out of where they are according to the standards. 
  4. Peer Audio Feedback: Here students give audio feedback on work. They can use the voice recorder app or something like Voice Threads. One thing that's worked well for me has been for students to use the 20 minute peer feedback system and record it so that they can listen to the feedback in the future. 
  5. Social Media Discourse: Similar to the last one, this is the idea of posting one's work to social media (or an LMS) and offering peer feedback. We use discourse stems to help guide the conversation. In some cases, a Google Doc works well as an annotation tool. 
  6. Self-Reflection Forms: The cool thing about Google Forms is that students can leave text-based self-reflections but also fill out self-reflection surveys. It provides a layer of data to something that is inherently subjective. 
  7. Concept Maps: One thing I love about concept maps is that you get a chance to see what a student is thinking and what connections are being made. 
  8. Reflective Blogs: This works well with longer projects. The chronological nature of blogging means students can show their growth as they reflect along the way. 
  9. Student Tutorials: When students produce their own tutorials they show that they have mastered a skill enough to be able to show it to others. 
  10. Products: I'm a fan of design thinking and the idea of students developing an actual product to show what they are learning. We use rubrics and self-reflection questions through the various phases of the design thinking cycle. 
If you'd like me to speak on this topic, feel free to fill out the form at the bottom of this page and I'll get back to you as soon as possible.

The Free Toolkit

Click below to get the free Creative Classroom Toolkit


Layers of Intentionality

A fellow professor of mine mentioned an activity she does in class. It's called "breakfast with a theorist." Each student has to take on the role of an educational theorist. Over the course of a breakfast, they talk about education and suggest various solutions for the future of education.

At first glance, it's a little goofy. However, this activity proves to be surprisingly effective. Students have to know the theorist's backstory in order to navigate the small talk at the beginning. This becomes a foundational reminder that theory doesn't emerge in a social, cultural or political vacuum. Students also have to know the theory inside and out in order to articulate and defend the nuance of a position. Meanwhile, they get a chance to pick apart various theories, making connections between ideas and influences.

There are other benefits to this activity. Students experience a paradigm shift in how they view theory. Instead of mocking it as "just theory," they realize that all pedagogy is rooted in a philosophical foundation. They see it as immanently practical and interesting.

They also eat breakfast.

That last point is often overlooked in the creation of community. Breaking bread together is a powerful way to build community. It's a universal part of the human experience. It reminds us of our most basic needs.

Creating Layers of Intentionality 

Someone walking into Karen's ninety minute class might observe that students are doing nothing more than chatting over some donuts and coffee and whatever else they serve. (Maybe biscuits and gravy?) However, there is so much going on in that you'd miss if you weren't paying attention. They're building community, changing paradigms, making connections, thinking about their practice, and learning educational theory.

It looks slow because it's happening in layers. She's not taking fifteen minutes to lecture on theory and forty minutes to have them analyze case studies and twenty minutes to go over their essays and fifteen minutes to do a team-building activity. It's not simply a matter of combining activities into one bigger activity. If she had simply combined team building into educational theory, the result might have been something like Educational Theory People Bingo. Instead, she thought intentionally about each layer, crafting together a new activity that accomplishes a ton without having a hurried pace.

I've been thinking about this concept of layering intentionality in teaching, life, and creative work. Here are a few examples that come to mind:

  • When writing a novel, I can have a character accomplish an action that tells the reader about the character, the setting, and the plot at the same time. The best subtle details have layers. 
  • When I walk to work each day, I listen to books or podcasts. Or I walk in silence as a sort-of walking meditation. This has layers. It gets me to work, helps me think, and lets me get more activity. 
  • When I taught 8th grade, I would think through layers of language acquisition, intervention, enrichment, critical thinking, standards, creativity, and tech integration. However, with the design thinking, project-based framework, students weren't having mini lessons on technology or a lesson on critical thinking. These lessons happened in layers. On top of that, I was often thinking about building relationships, creating a classroom culture, and challenging my students' thinking. 
  • I layered instruction and assessment. By using my standards-based grid, embracing alternative assessments, and doing daily student conferencing, I was able to do more assessment and less grading. 

There are certainly times when I don't think intentionally about layers and it's often when something is new for me. I don't think I could wrap my brain around the layers of a single lesson in my first year of teaching. I tried. I knew it mattered. But I couldn't make it happen. Now, as a new professor, I'm finding myself layering less often as I try to figure out how to teach adult learners. 

So, what makes work? Why is it that some people tend to layer intentionality while others don't? I have a few theories. First, I think it comes down to connective thinking. When we view activities, ideas, and actions as silos, we miss out on the chance to make connections. Also, I think it comes down to a general sense of mindfulness and intentionality. This takes effort. I'm still learning it. Finally, it comes down to the ability to think divergently. It's the idea of asking, "Why not?" and finding new uses for things. 

It has me wondering what it would look like to rethink our instructional approach to incorporate more connective thinking, intentionality, and divergent thinking. 


Video: An Open Letter to Teachers (From a College Professor)

As a former middle school teacher, I know how hard K-12 teachers work. This is why I created this wrote a thank you note post and then created this video. It's for an upcoming keynote I am doing. I believe that teachers need to hear more encouragement. Too often, the media beats up on teachers, leaving teachers feeling unappreciated and maligned. We know that teachers play a powerful role in students' lives and this video was a small way for me to say "thank you" to all the teachers I've known (both as a colleague and as a student). If you're curious about having me speak or create sketchy videos for your school or organization, check out my speaking page or send me an email through the contact form at the bottom of this page.

Note: If YouTube is blocked at your school, try downloading it (as a pay-what-you-want resource) from Gumroad. Click below:


Ten Things Pixar Can Teach Us About Creativity

I just finished reading Creativity, Inc. I'm hoping to start a monthly book club soon and I have a hunch this might be the first book on the list. Written by Ed Catmull, the president of Pixar Animation and Disney Animation, the book explores the topics of innovation, creativity, and leadership by offering a behind-the-scenes view of the Pixar story.

I am naturally skeptical when people point to corporations as examples that schools should emulate. We are not making a product and we should not be governed by economic norms. However, I have always admired Pixar for the fact that they consistently craft amazing stories. The first fifteen minutes of Up! are some of the best cinema around.

What strikes me, though, is how they have achieved such creative success with two leaders (Ed Catmull and Alvy Smith) who seem to be the opposite of most of the bold, brash CEOs. Catmull is the polar opposite of an Elon Musk or Steve Jobs. He is approachable, affective, humble, and imminently practical.

As I read this book, I was struck by the number of things Pixar can teach us about creativity. Some of these are simple ideas, but they challenge popular conceptions about what creative work looks like:

  1. Creativity isn't a solitary endeavor. We tend to think of lone creative types hashing out ideas by themselves. However, I am struck by the fact that the best creative ideas are often solved by entire teams. What I found fascinating about Pixar is the way they empower so many people to contribute. The structure is surprisingly hierarchical, from the meetings to the decision-making to the fact that nobody gets a special parking spot.  
  2. Critical feedback doesn't have to crush creativity. When trust and transparency are present, critical feedback can fuel creative thinking. If you check out the book, I'd highly recommend you read the section on the Brain Trust meetings. As Catmull puts it, "We believe that ideas - and thus, films - only become great when they are challenged and tested." 
  3. There is power in pivoting. Pixar began as a technology company that slowly pivoted into filmmaking. Their movies often take multiple shapes, with constant pivoting along the way. Typically, they have one foot on an idea, concept, or value, and then keep trying new things until it works. I loved seeing how movies like Monsters, Inc. evolved over the years of planning.
  4. Play matters. Pixar has built celebrations into their company culture. They throw parties and go on retreats. They encourage workers to cover their workspace with personal trinkets. But it runs much deeper. Some of their best breakthroughs have come from making Pixar short films, which are essentially sandbox spaces to test out new approaches and to allow a small team to learn a broader range of skills. 
  5. Trust the process. Although Pixar is incredible flexible, they have structures and processes that allow creativity to happen. One quote that stuck out to me was, "People who take on complicated creative projects become lost at some point in the process." However, there are specific processes that help people through these darker parts in the journey. 
  6. You can't value risk-taking and unless you allow for mistakes. This theme popped up often but in a way that was much more meaningful than the typical "embrace your mistakes" mantras that you see on social media. It's the idea of having a growth mindset and knowing that experimentation means mistakes will occur. This is such a sharp contrast to a story in the book where Steve Jobs fires an Apple employee in front of the entire company. By the way, if you're interested in the topics of mistakes, shame, and courage, I would also recommend Rising Strong by Brene Brown. 
  7. Art and science are complimentary. This was one of the earliest themes. I've seen this with STEM folks who bemoan the A added in STEAM. However, I am struck by the fact that there is artistry in science and so much science in the art of storytelling. A similar thought is that you can create something innovative and timeless at the same time. 
  8. We need mental models to battle fear. Creativity is scary. I have had moments when writing a novel or in our journey with Write About, or even when I decided I would create sketchy videos and post them online, when I felt terrified. I worried about what people would think. I worried about entering the unknown without any assurance that I would create what I wanted to create. What I loved about this book is the fact that the fear never goes away. If anything, it intensifies with success. There's a section in this book where they explore the fear that the directors face and the mental models they use to make sense of everything. 
  9. The goal of creativity isn't creativity. With Pixar, the goal is always storytelling and, I would argue, highly emotional myth-making. Creativity isn't what drives the storytelling. Rather, storytelling drives the creativity. This, by the way, is why I rarely talk about creativity with students. I don't assess it. I don't place it on a rubric. I don't tell students, "Go out and be creative." 
  10. People are more important than ideas. There was a great quote here, "Ideas come from people. Therefore, people are more important than ideas . . . too many of us think of ideas as being singular, as if they float in the ether , fully formed and independent of the people who wrestle with them. Ideas, though, are not singular. They are forged through tens of thousands of decisions, often made by dozens of people." This has a few big implications. First, it means trust and relationships are more important than the products we make. Second, it means we need to be okay to abandon ideas without taking things personally. Finally, it means our success in generating ideas does not define who we are as people.  

Final Thoughts:

I don't believe that we should pattern schools after Pixar. Nor do I believe that every team, organization, or business could run on their model. However, the book is a great way to spark thoughts on the creative process in a way that is not prescriptive or systematic. If you love a great story that will also challenge your thinking, go buy it. Seriously. It's an awesome book. 

Want a more creative classroom?

Check out some of these resources.

Free Course: Getting Started with Design Thinking

The design thinking cycle is a powerful way to get people thinking creatively. This free course helps teachers develop a plan for using design thinking in their content areas.

Classroom Questions Podcast

AJ Juliani and I started a podcast that focusses on thinking creatively about our classroom practices. Our goal is to keep it fun, practical and accessible.

Video Series: Getting Started with Design Thinking

The design thinking cycle is a framework used in business, in the arts, and in social and civic spaces. Learn the basics of design thinking in this self-paced video series. Check it out on my site or on the YouTube playlist.

Wendell the World's Worst Wizard

Students from around the world have been inspired by this story about a non-magical wizard who becomes the unlikely hero through the power of creativity and robotics. We also have free teacher resources to inspire a maker mindset in all students.

The Creative Classroom Toolkit

This free resource includes practical strategies for classroom instruction and assessment. It includes out-of-the box strategies, activities and lessons you can implement from day one.


Are you a teacher, leader, or parent interested in creativity and learning? Join us every Wednesday night at 7:00 Pacific for #createchat, a discussion about how to develop creative spaces in schools.

Professor. Maker. Speaker.
My goal is simple. I want to make something every day. Some days I make things. Other days I make a difference. On a good day, I get to do both. Interested in having me speak or consult on technology, design thinking and creativity? Visit my speaking page and fill out the contact form at the bottom. I'll get back to you within 24 hours.

Let's Connect

Send me your questions, ideas, or speaking inquiries.