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Rigorous Whimsy: Understanding through Creativity with Amy Burvall and Dan Ryder


Intention Oreo Regression Line

Monday, March 5: 1:30p-3:30p

Amy Burvall @amyburvall

Dan Ryder @wickeddecent

As I entered the conference room in which Rigorous Whimsy took place, I was already challenged to engage a different part of my brain to answer a simple question: What is your philosophy of teaching/learning?

How might we usually be asked to do this you ask? Writing it down. Generating a verbal response. Traditional verbal response.

No. Instead, participants were provided with a table full of supplies. From markers and sticky notes to play doh, pipe cleaners, and legos.IMG_20180305_131425 IMG_20180305_131432 IMG_20180305_133328

Our task was to embody our philosophy using the materials on our table. For me, the teacher acts as the window for the student to access the universe in their classroom.

After this activator, Amy and Dan outlined a couple of objectives for our session.

  1. Our classrooms should include more creativity in a practical way.
  2. Teachers and students will benefit from being more agile thinkers.

Before I continue, I will make sure to attach a link to the session’s slide deck to this post for anyone to access. I will also purchase their book for anyone to borrow from me if anything here sounds interesting.

Educators want more creativity in the classroom. It is more fun for us, more fun and engaging in our students, and results in more authentic products. With this in mind we want to think about how we can provide effective constraints to creativity.

What? Constraints to creativity? When we want to give our students creative options for assessment we want to introduce intention. How can you create some concrete parameters for your students? Push students to demonstrate their understanding in a medium or material they are passionate about. Dig into their backstory. Why are they using what they are using?

For example, two students of Dan’s at Mt Blue were studying the layers of the Earth’s crust. Each asked for common materials to complete the project (foam balls and poster board). Instead of handing over the materials, Dan pushed the students to think about their passions. One students ended up working with scrap wood from the workshop and used different types of wood to represent the various layers based on the properties of the different types of work. The project went from a “get it done” mentality to a work of art that presented real understanding to an authentic audience. The other student used an overhead picture of lacrosse gear laid out on his bedroom floor and used analogy to connect each piece of equipment to a layer of the Earth.

This type of assessment is part of what Dan calls No Dumpster Projects. This means that students put their heart and soul into a project. The end result of an assessment ceases to be that piece of learning that ends up getting trashed at the end of the school year.

“Learn the rules like a pro so you can break them like an artist.”

Amy’s approach to having students grapple with academic concepts is to remix. As a result she has a variety of ways students can use existing items to cut up and reorganize to make meaning of what they learn in class. This includes the use of portmanteux, stop motion, and distilling concepts into simple products like hashtags, pictures, playlists, emojis, and movie posters.

Two concrete strategies that you can take away from this blog for use in the classroom right away are the #intentionoreo and human magnetic poetry.

#intentionoreo is a summarizer, reviewer, activator that utilizes an oreo as the centerpiece of the activity. Each student receives an oreo to create some sort of scene or image to represent something they have learned or an important issue they are studying. They can use the oreo in any way they choose, but they only get one unless they collaborate with another student. Below are some examples of what other session participants created with their oreo:


Fill your mind with brilliant ideas!


Phases of the moon.


Promoting equity and inclusion.


Promote civic engagement.

Human Magnetic Poetry

Remember those nifty magnets your hip, lyrical friends have on their fridge? (You might be that hip friend!) Magnetic poetry, try it with people. Divide your group into smaller sections and assign each group a part of speech: noun, adjective, verb, adverb, etc. You can have folks write down their word of choice from this category or you can assign content vocabulary words. Then have people wander around cocktail party style to make sentences or poems and have them raise their hands when they are ready to share. You can either take a photo or have students share out in a circle with the class.


In closing, there were so many ideas that were exposed to. Below is a link to Amy’s slideshare, my Google Doc Notes, and a link to purchase Amy and Dan’s book. I will purchase the book as well, so if you would like to borrow, feel free to drop by room 208 at BMS.

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