The joy of creating

Well hello blog and I finally succumbed to the inspiration.

Tonight, an (ex)colleague, an esteemed mentor, Brad Merrick introduced me to Ben Folds (yeah, which rock have I been hiding under?). Anyway, it wasn’t just any music video (Ben Folds has lots!); it was this where Ben composes a song in 10 minutes using crowd-sourced inspiration (A minor !!! upbeat – in a minor key?!?, and ‘These new spaces – The Kennedy Center – are all designed to be flexible)!

There are lots of amazing things from this video which you’ve got to watch, if you haven’t yet. I do want to highlight the following in particular:

  • Ben and the musicians looked like they were enjoying this process – a palpable sense of  playfulness
  • The trust! Ben trusted – and respected the skills of – the musicians and vice versa – “You know what you must do”
  • Each one brought their own specialty/expertise and what a rich texture of sounds they created…harmoniously (and that’s part of the genius, right?)…”Let’s hear it all together and make sure it’s not crazy”
  • Communicating via the conductor. Communicating via the music jargon, e.g. keys, chords, and volume (mezzo forte, forte, …fortissimo…and the five-tissimo was just plain cute!)

What an awesome way to announce his role as the Artistic Advisor.

Anyway, this got me hooked and googled more to discover Ben Folds did something similar 3 years earlier, this time with a youth orchestra. The orchestra is less polished than the professional NSO but very good nonetheless. The video has considerably a lot less views but the highlights above are there as well; audience participation makes it all the more special, I think!

It is so much fun to watch the creative process unfold. I’m sure it would have been fun to be in  the orchestra and actively take part in the creative process.

Just a few more points, this time linking to teaching and learning:

  • Subject-specific knowledge with its own jargon, concepts, and skills is important because together, in harmony,  it makes it possible to create something special. While some put forward a false dichotomy of subject ‘silos’ vs integrated learning, I think it would be better to have both rather than either-or.
  • Trust is important between teachers and students. We co-create learning as we learn together and get good at what we’re supposed to do: teach and learn.
  • Make time to play and find joy in the creative process of learning and application thereof.

Share the joy!


Can you imagine?

Little did I know that my post “Have wings, will fly” would turn out to be prophetic. The wings helped inspire a cross-curricular collaboration between 5 year 9 classes to create a spectacular exhibition inspired by VIVID Sydney.

I used the wings as a prop for a friendly challenge of ‘Can you imagine….us having our own version of Vivid?’ very early in the school year.

Not only did we imagine, we made it happen. By we, I don’t mean just the teachers but especially our students and with support from the school community. This was no mean feat and here are just some of what I’m really proud of:

  • 2 9DT teachers and myself wrote our course programs and assessment tasks to suit
  • Going on an after-school excursion and not losing any kid
  • Collaborating with other teachers and members of the school community – we’ve never done anything of this scale
  • Staging an exhibition, including an opening night where we got Vivid designers talk to students (thanks to Joachim Cohen from Intel for helping make this happen).  Harmanto Nguyen- Toy Shadows and Simone Chua – Affinity were awesome and I got to showcase our students work to them, too
  • Having students that are proud to share their work publicly (here’s our YouTube playlist)
  • ultimately, making real that which we imagined

A bit more background info: 9DT-Textiles designed and created garments as well as accessories with soft/textile circuits. 9DT-Rigid materials designed and created light installations for outdoors. 9IST designed and created digital movies/animation using iconic buildings as their canvases. 9PDM captured light photography.

A bit more detailed info on my IST project for those who may want to build on the idea.  This was a PBL on the Digital Media topic, specifically movie and animation. The challenge was to “create an illusion of movement” using frame-by-frame animation. Working in groups to create a movie 2-4 minutes long, each student has to create 30-45 second segments which should include at least 15 seconds of frame-by-frame animation; the rest could be video.

Each group had a tab in the class OneNote where all deliverables were outlined, whether or not they were part of the assessment for reporting. They had to document target audience and purpose, concept maps, storyboards, etc. I created the Project Schedule for the class and gave mini deadlines (activity and time chunking is a good strategy to help manage projects spanning an entire term as well as help identify students who are at risk of non-submission). This shared space facilitated seeing what others are doing and thus, peer feedback, both written and oral. The quality of the end result is testament to the validity of this practice.

There are the obvious option topic outcomes involved in designing, producing and evaluating. This included a variety of data manipulation techniques including the use of layers, masks, garbage matte, transparency adjustments, special effects, etc. There are also core topic outcomes relating to project management, communication techniques, career options and issues.

At the end of the project, I also did a structured review using peer instruction or think/pair/share with answers written in the class oneNote (shared notes, yes?).  Here are the questions we worked through (I had more as we discussed):

  1. Define:
    1. Animation
    2. Frame rate
    3. Morphing
    4. Warping
  2. Was your animation mostly cel-based or path-based? What’s the difference between the two?
  3. What file types were used for your project? What software programs created them? Can read them?
  4. What factors affect the file size of finished movie?
  5. Contrast embed and link?
  6. Define keyframe
  7. Was the storyboard helpful? If so, in what way? If not, why not?
  8. Which communication technique proved most useful for you – verbal, written, graphical and visual? Provide detailed example.
  9. Rate your contribution to the group on a scale of 1 – 5, 1 being ‘meh’ to 5 ‘rock star’. Justify your rating detailing your criteria and detailed example.
  10. What advice would you give to next year’s 9IST if they were to do this project?

I think the structured post-project review was really helpful to assess learning, clarify misconceptions, fill gaps and revise course content using personal experiences. It’s a great way to end a PBL unit.

At the end of this review, I showed this path-based animation created using Scratch and character/costumes drawn by one of my students (check out Group 4). This not only helped compare/contrast cel-based vs path-based, it also served as a relevant segue into the next topic, Software design and programming 🙂

Long post I know but it barely scratches the surface of what this experience has meant to me.

If you have a similar story or feel inspired to initiate a cross-curricular collaboration, please leave a comment or relevant link.

More of the same

It’s amazing how a year can turn out really.  I like to plan and organise; I’ve learned to be good at these, in fact. Yet, looking back at 2011, I can say that much of the amazing things have not been planned at all.  No real agenda but an attitude of “Let’s see what happens if I….”

Here’s what happened:

My 2011

I abstracted a list of my 2011 highlights and popped the words into Wordle.  I think it’s wonderful that the main themes (patterns) are an alliteration: connect, create, community.  Rather belatedly and with a touch of personal surprise, this makes evident that in 2011, I have followed my bliss.  Fancy that!

I’ve long given up new year’s resolutions.  Change can happen any time especially if I’m open to it.  How can I not want more of the same?

So my 2012 wish is to have more of the same!

Happy New Year everyone.  

If you were a part of my 2011 (and if you’re reading this, you most likely were),

may we continue to connect in 2012.

On Creativity – how?

I’m passionate about creativity so it doesn’t take much prodding to write about it.

@whatedsaid asked “How could these two videos help us improve student-learning? / by@sherrattsam always guaranteed to make me think!”  Both of them encouraged me to write a post so here I am.  I will include the videos here but please do visit the linked post because it offers more things to learn.

My plan here is to express my thoughts on each video briefly and then go into answering Edna’s question.

Time and Focus

In this video, the kids were asked to complete the picture, twice. Once with just 10 seconds, the other with 10 minutes. The time was variable but the focus was constant, i.e. complete the picture.  What if time was constant and focus was variable? For example, keep the 10 seconds rule but say ask first to “complete the picture” and the other time to “draw a picture”.  Both approaches encourage creativity.  Play factors in too and that seemed more encourage for the second opportunity of longer time.  I reckon saying ‘draw a picture’ would give that sense too.  

My 10minutes sketchbook project is very much an experiment in creativity.  I change the variables and see what I come up with. Sometimes I constrain the time, as with the work on the cover.  Often, i change the focus. And often, too, with an element to play.


In this video, Louie Schwartzberg talks about gratitude.  The beauty of nature is all around us.  So is the beauty of man-made things and ultimately of people and our interactions with them.  He encourages us to have a closer look and  be grateful.

Inspiration is everywhere and sometimes we do have to look closer.  Just as important is this standing back and looking at what we have created, perhaps with fresh eyes and thus a deeper appreciation of what he have achieved as individuals and collectively.  Drawing such inspiration is critical to the creative process, an impetus to get the creative juices flowing.

In the classroom

So how can we use the two videos to improve student learning?

  1. Change the creativity variables. Change the constants. Ask the question differently.  It is okay to constrain time, really.  Creating artificial deadlines or time-chunking – is a good strategy for task and time management (read more here)
  2. Make time for play.  This is important, too, when introducing new technology.  Give kids time to ‘shake the sillies out’.
  3. Provide plenty of inspiration.  Point them out if you have to.
  4. Showcase work.  It is good to look at what has been created and share in the joy of having achieved something on one’s own or with others.  With technology, it’s even easier to widen the audience beyond the classroom or school.
  5. Encourage this action-reflection cycle and teach kids about this explicitly.  Creativity involves a combination of being-inspired and actually doing.  Action without reflection and inspiration will eventually burn out.  Reflection and inspiration without action will not lead to anything concrete or improvements.  We need both.

I’m sure more can be drawn from these two videos so please feel free to add your thoughts.

I think that these are good things to consider in Project-Based Learning as well so will add this to my PBL page.

UPDATE (5 Jan 2012)

I think this doodle by Giulia Forsythe captures the sentiment well, with a quote from Jason Zweig: “Creativity is a fragile flower, but perhaps it can be fertilized with systematic doses of serendipity.”