A Spoonful of Spice

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Filtering by Category: creativity

Activity: Make a Musical Instrument

Project: Make an instrument using the makey makey that can play scales; explain how the technology works; then, pair up and create a harmony. Visually explain how you designed the instruments to generate a harmony. Describe what worked for you and what you would like to improve?

Inspiration: Invention literacy is about learning the vocabulary and grammar of making things. Likely correlating with a fear of math and science, there is also a fear of understanding how things work. By learning the structure, function, and behavior or materials, people can begin combining materials to make meaning and communicate in the physical world. Silver asks, “What type of literacy gets someone to see the world as re-formable?” Literacies of all kinds build up a fluency that allow comprehension, interpretation, evaluation, and creation. Literacy empowers people to participate in unfamiliar activities, to accept and adapt to change, and to imagine. These are the moments of freedom that literacies enable. 

Materials: Makey Makey, alligator clips, conductive materials, scratch

Grade Level: MS, HS (adapt for 4the grade)

*This project is a great way to build musical literacy, practice coding, basic circuits, mathematics of rhythm, and the science of waves. 


  • MS-PS4-1: Use mathematical representations to describe a simple model for waves that includes how the amplitude of a wave is related to the energy in a wave. 
  • MS-PS4-2: Develop and use a model to describe that waves are reflected, absorbed or transmitted through various materials. 
  • MS-PS4-3: Integrate qualitative scientific and technical information to support the claim that digitized signals are a more reliable way to encode and transmit information than analog signals.

Core ideas:  PS.A Wave properties; PS4.C Information Technologies and Instrumentation

Crosscutting Concepts: Patterns, Structure and Function, Influence of Science, Engineering, and Technology of Society and the Natural World. 

Common Core

  • SL.8.5 Integrate multimedia and visual displays into presentations to clarify information, etc. 
  • 6.RP.A.1 Understand the concept of ratios




Activity: What Do Bears Eat?

Inspiration: Papert's positive reflection on playing with gears as a child, his developing understanding of gears, and use of this mental model as a sense-making tool in other contexts. Rotating gears against one another to see the effect, then mentally visualizing gear rotation and forming causal chains, understanding nonlinear systems, and using the model to contextualize abstract principles.  

Scratch Programming: Scratch is a fun construction tool that affords opportunities to create and play, as well as construct intellectual models. Secondly, it is hands on (gestural) that can bring abstract and sensory information together. 

Activity: Create a digital story or game, based on your experience, which communicates human influence on the environment.   

Learning goals

  • Demonstrate understanding of key elements in the structure of a story
  • Understand how personal actions/choices affect ecosystems
  • Contextualize the principle of evolutionary adaptation 

Imagine, Create, Play, Share, Reflect (Repeat)


In All I Really Need to Know (About Creative Thinking) I Learned (By Studying How Children Learn) in Kindergarten, Mitchel Resnick, part of the MIT Media Lab, suggests a cyclical process that can be helpful in stimulating creativity. He chooses language that purposely evokes memories of childhood fun and play. Like play, it is a process that is inherently enjoyable and that can keep going and evolving with each step: (1) Imagining expands your idea of the possible, (2) Creating a model of your idea gives it a physical, sharable form, (3) Playing with it helps you push the boundaries of your model and how you can interact with it, (4) Sharing your model with others allows you to observe other playing with it, playing with it with them, and getting feedback or new ideas, and (5) Reflecting is a way to celebrate your creation, to consider your experience interacting with it, to consider the feedback from others. Finally, to repeat, you can imagine how it could be better or just allow it to inspire you to imagine something else.

One important takeaway for art and education is that there is always a next step in the cycle. There is never a dead end; you are never stuck or done. With this in mind, there is no reason to fear exploring even the impossible and personally investing in it. You can enter into this process at any stage: you don't always have to start with imagination. Finally, there is purpose and progress to play. 

A second takeaway is that the type of materials available to an artist affects creativity. Resnick praises materials such as blocks, crayons, dolls that do not over-constrain or over-determine their actions. Digital tools can broaden the possibilities even further by giving artists the tools to model and manipulate behavior, as well as form, to serve their purpose. Like other materials, artists of different ages and skill levels will want to interact with digital materials in different ways. As more products are created to inspire and open up possibilities for digital creations, it will be important for teachers to choose materials that are accessible for the age or skill level of their students but that also do not over-determine their interactions with it.