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Creativity Reigns

This weekend our students demonstrated the power of passion! They used their imaginations and created an epic cardboard arcade from mostly used and recycled items. The entire project was inspired by Caine’s Arcade (a cardboard arcade made by a 9-year-old boy).

I was so impressed by the time and work our students put into their projects. I was humbled to see so many of our families converge on the school cafeteria to support their children’s innovative spirit. We had nearly 180 students participate and the school was packed with creative projects…and all of this on one of the nicest Saturday afternoons ever!

If you have a few minutes, please check out the video link above. While we were not able to capture every single arcade game in our video, the TouchCast does show just how amazing our students really are. We will be inviting a few students to bring their cardboard arcade games to our PTA Carnival this spring. (Some judging was done based on durability, creativity and the carnival “fun factor.”)

Congratulations to EVERY student that participated. I am really proud of your efforts and the passion you brought to your projects.

**Special thanks to the fabulous Mrs. Carrie Lunetta for bringing this opportunity to our entire school. Mrs. Lunetta is our Gifted & Talented teacher, and she also understands that each and every child has a “genius” and spark…it’s our job to help kids embrace their creativity. 

Skills for Today

When I reflect upon the important work our staff is doing I’m inspired. The commitment we’ve made to creativity is palpable, and we’re seeking new and innovative ways to put students in the center of their learning. I’m seeing our team amplify student voice while providing kids an authentic audience for their work. Some of the “learning work” our team is involved with includes:

  • Genius Hour
  • Passion-Based Learning
  • 3D Printing
  • MakerSpaces
  • Redesigning Learning Spaces
  • Flipped Instruction
  • Social Media as Learning Media
  • Project-Based Learning (Cane’s Arcade, etc.)
  • Augmented Reality
  • Back-Channeling via “TodaysMeet”

Teachers are exploring new ways to help build students capacity to connect responsibly in a digital world.  Best of all…we’ve kept a keen focus on the importance of relationships; our students are responding in amazing ways! Our staff has embraced meaningful technology integration as one of our three school priorities. We know that the work we are doing will help students develop skills for today will ultimately help them excel tomorrow.

11 Questions We Need to Ask

3d 2

  1. What are the chances that our children would choose school over another preferred activity?
  2. What are the chances a student will always love school? (Not just tolerate it…but literally LOVE it.)
  3. What should we do if a child is not captivated by school now?
  4. What if we gave our kids more opportunities to create and engineer in elementary school?
  5. How might we amplify student voice and foster a deep appreciation for authentic learning that transcends age or grade-level?
  6. Better yet…how can we make learning in school MORE authentic now?
  7. What if school was less about worksheets and filling in bubbles and more about creating and inventing?
  8. What might we have to give up to make school more student-centric, and are we truly willing to take that risk?
  9. Can students learn as much through experimentation and failure as they can through traditional means?
  10. How might we create a more personalized student learning experience where critical thinking and “dreaming big” were the norm?
  11. What would the dinnertime conversation feel like if you were able to ask your child, “What did you invent today and what challenges did you persevere through to make it happen?

The best part about education is that not only do WE get to ask the questions…WE get to answer them because WE are part of the solution! You can be part of a pilot project that is part of the work we are doing at Greenwood Elementary. Teachers are doing some amazing things and truly intent on fostering conditions that support an AMAZING learning experience for kids.

Will you help us usher in a new era of learning that builds upon the tradition of excellence in our district? We refuse to accept a disconnect between “real life” and school. We want our students to have limitless options and access to cutting-edge technology in a safe and supportive environment.

Will you please consider supporting our MakerBot 3D Printer for a new Mobile MakerSpace project on

If you donate by June 18, 2014 your contribution will receive matching funds. (Use the promo code INSPIRE to have your donation doubled!) If you know of anyone else that may be interested in supporting this project please pass this blog post along.


Image Credit:

The Positive Power of Social Media


Episode #4 Coming Soon!

Click the Image to view Student Podcast – Episode #4


Our students have been collaborating on cross-state podcast projects this school year.  Kids from Minnesota, New Jersey, and New York have created video podcasts in the TouchCastApp to become more connected learners.  We’re learning how Social Media can be utilized to inspire, connect, and share the amazing things happening in our schools.

Our next podcast will feature an exciting new interactive element…we’re inviting students EVERYWHERE to join us in a celebration of creativity based on a “Squiggle.” A Squiggle may appear like a simple wavy line…but using your imagination a Squiggle can turn into anything!

Squiggle Pic

Squiggle PDF for Connected Classrooms Project

Here’s how your classroom can participate:

Watch our podcast about what a Squiggle is and see some examples from our creative kids. The podcast will air in May, 2014.

  1. Print the Squiggle PDF from the link above and encourage your students to flip, turn, color, and create using the Squiggle. The more creative their designs the better!
  2. Take a picture of each Squiggle masterpiece and Tweet it out using the hashtag #StuConnect
  3. Check back often to see what other creative kids and classrooms are doing…we’ll be selecting one random classroom to receive a classroom pack of new Crayola art supplies. Anyone that submits a Squiggle art drawing to our hashtag this school year is eligible for the art prize pack.
  4. Spread the word…we want our students to see the positive power of “connectivity” while simultaneously celebrating the creative genius in EVERY child!

Help us provide students an authentic audience for their work!  Be sure to use the hashtag #StuConnect when submitting your students’ Squiggle artwork.

Naming Rights

Levis Stadium

When a new ballpark is constructed millions of dollars and a lot of fuss go into who gets to name the stadium. Corporations are seeking long-term brand awareness. They want their names connected to the newest stadiums and most prestigious franchises. Last year, Levi’s agreed to pay the San Francisco 49ers more than $220 million over 11 years for the naming rights to their stadium.

Somewhat ironically, it really isn’t about the name at all…it’s about the experience. As a hometown Minnesota Twins fan I do not drive to Target Field because of that iconic red bulls-eye. For me it’s about the sights, sounds, smells, and experience. It’s about pursuing excellence and creating memories. There’s the tailgating, mascots, team chemistry, and epic victories (or pursuit thereof). All of these things coalesce to make the “brand.”

There are some similarities between our schools and ballparks. The experience our students, staff, and communities have with schools is far more important than the name posted above any given entrance. Yet, that name is important because it is inseparable from the brand.

At our school the brand is all about kids. It’s about the process and excitement of learning, relationships, creativity, passion, and a strong commitment to teaching character.
Our brand is strengthened by the countless hours staff invest in their own learning and professional development. They are some of the most dedicated people I’ve ever had the privilege to serve. People often tell me that, “At Greenwood staff will drop what they are doing to help students and one another.” (Although it’s a little long, I kind of like that thought for a stadium name.)

Our brand is also forged from a strong partnership with parents and the community. The brand and promise come to life when everyone is working together synergistically in pursuit of common goals; high achievement for each and every student, a personalized education, and meaningful relationships.

The relevance of our brand increases when it encompasses the rich tradition of excellence in our district as well as the meaningful integration of emerging tools and technology that will prepare students for their future. Our brand is not only comprised of our students’ past successes, but also our vision for their future. This is where our brand becomes more of a promise…a perpetual and dynamic effort to get better for kids.

We have the humbling responsibility of working with students that possess limitless potential. Their time is now. Our kids are counting on us to put them in a position to thrive today and excel tomorrow. That’s the brand promise.

What’s your school’s brand? What is the experience you aspire to provide your students?  Make it worthy of naming rights!

Brand pic

Image Credits:
School Photograph by Lauren Ingwaldson

When things get Messy

Creative and Messy Learning Pic

Any parent will tell you that the term “messy” is not such a good thing when it’s describing the condition of their children’s bedrooms.  However, as a principal I need to clarify one thing; when learning gets “messy” there is potential for creativity to be unleashed!

I recently observed how magical “messy” can be.  3rd grade students were learning about the phases of the moon, and small groups were participating in multiple conversations occurring simultaneously (gasp!).  They had clear learning targets and plenty of choices to immerse themselves in.  There were songs being composed, iMovies being created, and sculptures of the moon being carved out of Oreo cookies.  Click on the video below to see for yourself…it was marvelous!

Click the video above to see how our students collaborated!

Click the video above to see the action for yourself!

The introduction of the iPads in our school has been a game-changer.  They are tools for learning and offer limitless potential for research, collaboration, and creation.  The Wayzata Public Schools’ MyWay approach is truly transforming the student learning experience and providing increasing levels of personalization.

Don’t just take my word for it!  A parent recently sent me an e-mail sharing how her child was at a birthday party when somebody noticed the moon and said, “Look you guys, the moon is a waxing Gibbous!”  The parent went on to explain that the kids at the birthday party carried on an animated discussion for 5-10 minutes about whether the moon was waxing or waning.  I’m told there were some younger children at the party and the 3rd graders took time to teach them all about the moon’s phases too.  Students really are talking about their learning.  It seems as if technology is fostering some of the engaging conversations about their learning!

A research study focusing on the technology explosion in early childhood classrooms found that young students’ spoken words DOUBLED while working with computers, and were twice as high as other activities like art, games, play dough, etc. (Hertzog & Klein, 2005).  We are seeing high levels of engagement in our school as well!

Messy learning really sticks…and inspires!  When highly-skilled teachers integrate technology and the arts in meaningful ways the creative genius in EVERY child is celebrated.  Kids are communicating like never before and exploring new mediums to connect in safe and supported environments.

The Great Character Carving Challenge! (Powered by AR)

Ivy and Bean Pic

Looking for a way to integrate cooperative learning, research, tech integration and FUN into a super cool “autumnal lesson of awesomeness?!?”  Click the link below to take the challenge!

 Great Character Carving Challenge

Several years ago I combined my passion for art and reading to create some “Literacy-o-Lanterns” that were displayed in our Media Center.  The tradition continued each year until I had amassed quite a few pumpkin pics.  Through collaboration with our school’s magnificent Media Specialist, talented Technology Para-professional and book recommendations from my own children the project evolved into this year’s challenge.

Franny K Stein Pic

The challenge is simple…students are to work cooperatively in teams to complete a chart representing various authors and storybook characters.  The characters range from classics to newer student favorites!  This activity is ideal for a classroom that has access to at least one digital device for research (iPad, BYOD, or desktop computer).  However, technology is not required to participate.  This year we’re taking the fun to a whole new level using Augmented Reality (AR).

You might be wondering, “What’s the deal with this Augmented Reality stuff I keep hearing about?!”  FANTASTIC Question!!  The Great Character Carving Challenge is powered by AR.  This means that if you follow three easy steps your students will be able to access some additional book clues and YOU will be able to see this lesson’s learning targets.  The technology has been meaningfully integrated into this activity to engage students and to support their learning.  Besides that….AR is just plain cool!  For me, the technology represents possibilities, creativity and new learning (all really good things if you’re a principal).

         You’re just 3 Quick Steps away from using AR:

1.) Download the app called Aurasma on a mobile device.

2.) Using your mobile device, go to

3.) Open the Aurasma app and aim viewfinder at the pictures of the pumpkins on the PDF (see link above)!

**If you need ANY support in accessing AR please don’t hesitate to contact me via Twitter @GustafsonBrad.

Six Pumpkins Pic

Some of the “Clues & Book Facts” spaces on the chart have been left intentionally blank…they’re open-ended for a reason.  Use the blank spaces to customize this activity to skills your students are working on (author’s purpose, genre studies, digital citizenship and more).  Challenge students to dig into their research and cite multiple sources as time allows!  I’ll update this post closer to Halloween with some possible answers for the chart that’s on the PDF.  Here’s the link to the challenge once again…HAVE FUN!

Great Character Carving Challenge


How Might We…

I recently read an article about the power of those words, “How might we…”  The article delved into the role language plays in either promoting creativity…or inhibiting it.  This was very interesting to me and there are obvious connections to how word-choice can support student learning.
It also prompted me to reflect upon a few questions:
1. How might we encourage independent and collaborative problem-solvers at Greenwood Elementary?
2. How might we build a culture of mathematical thinking, creativity and innovation?
3. How might we better partner with families to promote these same attributes in our students?
The tricky part about this reflection (and the one-person conversation I was having with myself) was that I felt compelled to find some answers!  As the pressure mounted (this was an intense one-person conversation!) I put together a few coherent thoughts…and intermixed a few coffee-induced ramblings.  Check out the short (2 minute) podcast below to learn more about how we can create a culture of mathematics and help students become “solution seekers!”  You’ll be pleased to know that our teachers are way ahead of the game, and several grade-level teams have even attended some exemplary professional development training in Cognitively Guided Instruction (CGI).  Working together we will equip our students with the strategies and collaborative skills to problem-solve now and in the future!

Originally posted October 1, 2012

Innovation & Creativity

I love creativity.  Passion inspires me.  Innovation is motivating because it is ripe with new learning and opportunities for our students.
I think that’s why I love my job so much.  I work with some of the most creative and passionate students and staff anywhere.  Anywhere.  The support from our school community is the best.  The best!
We work very hard and rely upon a professional creed that puts kids at the center of every decision we make.  Often times we operate from a widely accepted research base of best practices.  Sometimes….sometimes we delve into innovative waters and that’s where things get really cool.
Check out this new virtual tour of our school’s Media Center.  It’s both innovative and really cool!  The project has a literary twist and was filmed from the perspective of The Mouse and the Motorcycle—perfect for a virtual tour of a Media Center!
The video is the result of several weeks…months…. of work on the part of our very talented Technology Para, Mrs. Ingwaldson, and some creative students at Greenwood and other schools.  I want to thank Mrs. I for sharing her time and talents with us and give a special shout out to the students in the video that added an impressive and ever-smiling “wow-factor.”

This VIDEO originally posted September 12, 2012

A Crushing Creativity

Create Blooms

I’m the proud father of three of the most creative young people on the planet.  My elementary-aged daughter can draw a chalk tiger on the driveway like nobody’s business.  Her illustrations literally jump of the pavement.  And you should see the butterflies that my preschooler can create with crayons; amazing and magical creatures.  Love. Them.  My youngest child can imitate an elephant’s roar (do elephant’s roar?!) perfectly…it’s uncanny.  My kids are downright creative…and so are yours!  Kids can do amazing things and have an amazing capacity to take risks and create.

So the question you might be asking yourself is, “At what point do people become less inclined to let their creativity shine?”  Think about it….when is the last time you observed a four-year-old bring you a drawing and profess, “This is really terrible…I can’t draw?”  It doesn’t happen!  Now think about the last time an adult claimed to being a terrible artist or only capable of constructing rudimentary stick figures.  Happens all the time.

So what changes from the time a child is four to the time they reach…well….that anti-creative abyss free from all things abstract?!  What can we do about this stifling mindset and fallacy?  All people are creative, but it takes intentionality and time to foster our unique and hidden talents…talents we once strutted as students!

Schools are in an increasingly good position to foster creativity using technology, the integration of the arts and cooperative learning experiences.  The fundamental challenge is providing each child a content-rich, rigorous and personalized education AND one that also fosters creativity.  Last year I fell in love with the book above, and would encourage everyone with kids to pick up a copy!  Last month I had the chance to hear Sir Ken Robinson speak in person and picked up a new edition of his book, Out of Our Minds: Learning How to Be Creative.  I’m only a few chapters in…and already consider that a must read.

Still wondering how this creativity thing fits into a school principal’s blog?  I’d encourage everyone to check out the new Bloom’s Digital Taxonomy of Educational Objectives; do a quick Google search.  I’m ecstatic to report that “creating” made the highest order thinking skill!  Love that!  A visual representation of the taxonomy is above.  The question every school should be asking is, “How can we instill a CRUSHING creativity in each and every student–a creativity so bold and inspiring that it crushes doubt and perseveres in all environments?!”

Originally posted July 31, 2013

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