Written by Mr. Isenmann, Middle Team Teacher
As a teacher, I’m constantly looking for new ideas. I get bored doing the same projects, the same writing prompts, the same review games year after year. I’ve found the most success in idea generation by not actively seeking ideas; I do the opposite.
I try to always keep my mind curious and open, no matter what I’m exposing it to. Instead of Googling writing prompts, I make sure to note whenever I see something that makes me ask myself a question. For example, I saw a story on the news about a woman in Wisconsin who is using a 3D printer to produce fake sea turtle eggs that can hold tracking devices. Apparently, sea turtle populations have been hurt by poachers who steal their eggs to sell on the black market. As I was watching this story, I thought to myself, “I wonder what else people are using 3D printers for?” Something clicked, and I knew I had a new writing prompt.
Podcasts have been another treasure trove for writing prompts and other ideas. Depending on what podcasts you select, you never know what new ideas you’ll be exposed to. I first heard about seasteading on a science fiction-based podcast and biomimicry on a design-centered one. After learning about both topics from the podcasts, I looked further into the topics and created writing prompts. (If you haven’t heard of either term, they’re worth the time to research). I also got inspired to create a project based off of a TED Talk podcast segment about the poor design of city flags. The segment discussed five basic design principles you can use to determine whether or not a flag is well-designed. I showed the full TED Talk to my students then had them evaluate Kansas City, Missouri’s flag along with Kansas’s. (Spoiler: they both fail the design principles) After that, each student created three flags: a redesign of Kansas’s flag, a flag for Horizon Academy, and a flag for their family. The students concocted some amazing flags, learned a lot about symbolism, and practiced design principles they could transfer to any future visual presentation. Looking back, it’s kind of amazing that this large project stemmed from a five minute segment on a random podcast.
Besides podcasts and other media, I also try to find ideas by paying attention to little details throughout each day. A few years ago, I was at U.S. Toy looking for pieces to a Halloween costume. I could have gone straight to the costume section, then gone straight home. Instead, I decided to peruse the store to see if anything of use popped out to me. I discovered a travel version of the game, Sequence. I’d never played it before, but it had playing cards on the front, which made me curious about how it worked. After reading the directions, I got the inspiration to adapt the rules for an Orton-Gillingham version of the game, which I still use to this day.
Another O-G game I still use is called Q-Slap. The initial concept for the game came from an incredibly creative student named Quincy (hence the Q in Q-Slap). I had given his class the task of creating an interesting activity to help teach the parts of speech to our elementary students. I saw the simplistic brilliance in his idea and ran with it, creating several different versions of the game.
As I said previously, you always need to keep your eyes and ears open because you never know what you’ll discover during the minutiae of everyday life. As a teacher, I know it’s easy to go into autopilot mode when a student starts talking about some movie, tv show, or video game they love, but you shouldn’t. If you engage with the student and actively listen, you never know when you’ll get a gem of an idea.
Few things thrill me more than the inspiration and possibility of a new idea. As I’ve said, I don’t generally go seeking new ideas. I expose myself to several forms of media and always try to keep an open mind. George Eliot said, “The strongest principle of growth lies in the human choice.” I choose to never settle as a teacher. I’m going to keep on growing.