Games and toys that promote creativity and thinking (Part 2)

Here is part 2 of a series of posts looking at commercially available* toys and games that can promote creativity and thinking in our kids, at home and at school. When I refer to creativity and thinking, I mean that children (and adults) have the opportunity to approach these toys in a variety of ways, not necessarily just the way described on the box. Creativity may involve changing rules, or allow a ‘free playing’ imaginative space for children to explore. Thinking, and expectations around thinking, will vary depending on the child and adult playing, for example it may be thinking about turn taking, sharing, language development, rule making or even just having a fun and relaxing space to talk in.

We love stories in our house. These ‘story cubes’ are a great starter to help children (and adults) create their own stories. Inside this little box are 9 ‘story cubes’ with images that can be used as prompts for your own stories. As a toy it becomes a tool to promote creativity and challenge the story teller to think ‘outside the box’. There are opportunities to work together on a story, or to take turns in creating your own stories, based on the roll of the dice. The inside of the box has hints about different ways to ‘play’ with these cubes. We like to sit around the table and take 3 each, making up a story together. I must say here that WH (Wonderful Husband) lives up to his name during this game, and comes up with terrific tales, scintilating songs and rollicking rhymes, we try to get him to go last because LT (Little Tacker) and I often can’t stop laughing long enough to remember what we were going to say!

These blocks would make a good gift for a primary school aged child. However, if you wanted to make your own version you could draw or cut out pictures of various items and make your own paper cubes to stick them onto. Digital photos could also be used here, and would work as a language prompt for new items or words. This  could be extended for teachers to use in particular topics/themes, with pictures that will prompt students to discuss, explore, extend, and revise their ideas, through the creation of stories.

Do you play story or song based games with your children or family? Do you have a specific tool/toy (eg puppets, books or something else) that helps to structure this play? What are they, and what specific opportunities for creativity and thinking are available? Please share them in the comments below.

Until next time, happy playing!

Fiona T

*All opinions are my own, and are unsolicited. I personally purchase all items reviewed on this blog and have received no payment from any supplier for promoting their goods. I am a student/teacher/academic have no personal business affiliation or business motive on this blog. Opinions expressed are my own, and are not necessarily endorsed by my employer.

Graphic Novels: connecting to students

Back in August I happened across the Graphica exhibition at The University of Mebourne’s Giblin Eunson Library. Here is a link to the material in the exhibition: Graphica Exhibition – Celebrate Reading! Stories, Images & Text @ the Library – LibGuides at University of Melbourne.   One of my keen interests has always been the use of ‘story’ as a part of teaching, especially in science. This exhibition helped me to consider how this genre might be useful when working with teenagers.

This exhibition was great, and I was lucky to have Kat and Rachel as my Guides, showing me the coolest books for Science. Graphic novels are not a genre I am really familiar with. In my reading about literacy I know they can be powerful texts for many students, who seek a different writing style. I was aware that these graphic novels have been produced for a long time (one of my Nephews loves them) and that many of the ‘English’ texts are available in this form. I was amazed at the number of books available that relate to other subjects, including science and wider real world issues.  I borrowed a ‘1 World Manga’ book to read myself and think about how I could integrate these into my own classes.

Three books that stood out for me are:

Charles Darwin’s on the Origin of Species : a Graphic Adaptation – Michael Keller Which wasn’t available to borrow, but will be now.

The Manga Guide to Physics – Hideo Nitta Which wasn’t available to borrow, but will be now.

1 World Manga – Annette Roman and Leandro Ng which I have borrowed and plan to use in a class in the next couple of weeks.

Even though this is a genre I am not entirely familiar with, I feel that is is important to explore how these resources can be used to help my students make connections with the content and life. In reading the 1 World Manga book, it took me a while to find the voice this was written in and connect with the text.  I can imagine this is how many teenage students feel when faced with a text book or similar in class (this is a big ‘blocker’ for many students, so using a format they are comfortable with will help).  After a couple of ‘read throughs’ I was able to make some great links to sustainability issues and how these books may be a vehicle for supporting students to make these connections in more meaningful and powerful ways.  Another idea that intrigues me is to combine the study of a text in an English class and support this with Science classes to have a cross curricular topic, allowing multiple, deep links to be supported. At Secondary school level I know this can, and does, happen in some schools, but it would be great to see this approach in more schools. In saying this, I realise that graphic novels may not be the answer for all students to be engaged in reading, however I think that in trying to incorporate these types of texts and other approaches into our classrooms, students can see that learning and teaching can take many different forms. It may even help some students to discover a new text that can support them in their learning. There is such a wide range of topics available in ‘graphic novel’ form I encourage teachers  to hunt some of these titles down and explore if these may be of benefit to your students, and help them make connections for their learning.

I wonder if you have been involved in cross curricular units of work, perhaps using different topics and materials? I would love to hear your story!

Until next week

Fiona T


The Importance of Imaginative Play

As a teacher I have known that play is an important part of learning. The discovery and modelling opportunities lead to such rich and deep learning I am amazed at the connections Children can make. As a Mum I have developed an even stronger belief in the power of play, and it seems I am not alone.

While reading a blog this week I was reminded of the games my Sisters and I used to make up as children when we played…here is the link to the blog from Nicky Johnston.

So yesterday, when it was cold and rainy, and LT was busy retrieving items we were trying to throw out, I again reflected on the value of this imaginative play. Here is a picture of the ‘game’ he was playing: The box has been around for ages, it was salvaged by LT to make into a slide (hours of fun there, for him and his soft toys). It gets put away for a while,and each time we try to throw it out he insists it can’t go. Yesterday it was combined with his lego and his own ‘heroica’ board game ( he has a full set of heroica at his Nana’s house, but is happy to imagine and build his own at home) and the characters were having adventures that were narrated very well. He included aspects of challenges styled after ‘the biggest loser’, building inventions from ‘Phineas and Ferb’ with some ‘Starwars’ thrown in for good measure. The level of creative play was great, I was happy to watch him and get involved every now and then with questions as to why a particular character was doing something. He would patiently explain 🙂  So it seems the box has been ‘re-incarnated’ and will stay in our house a while longer.

Kids are naturally creative, but we do have to give them opportunities to shape their world and grow. Opportunities to talk, play and create their own  games…we don’t always have to provide the rules. As a Mum (and a teacher) I think letting children take the lead and supporting them while they experience and learn is very important, it helps develop self confidence, creativity and social skills.

Can you recall imaginative play in your childhood? What did you enjoy most about it? Do you have a story about your own children/students/nieces/nephews and their play?

Please feel free to share below as a comment…or maybe you would like to do a guest blog about it? Please contact me via mypaperlessphd facebook page if you would like to guest blog.

Until next week





Here is a blog I wrote on my other blog last week. Yes, it reflects on craft, but it’s ideas and plan for action can be applied to any pursuit.


Fiona T

Planning for action, a guest blog from ‘One Mad Tatter’.

One Mad Tatter

I came across this blog post today and it made me think about a few things. This post could easily go into my other blog, but it resonated more with my ‘craft’ self, so here it is in this blog:

I took a long time to learn to tat. When I was about 17 or 18 years old I found a tatting book and blue plastic clover shuttle at a craft shop while on holidays. I thought I would teach myself! But try as I might, my rings kept locking.  I loved the idea of tatting (something beautiful made from knots)and proceeded to buy more books with instructions and beautiful patterns….I kept trying for a few weeks each year (usually summer when it was too hot to knit) and still couldn’t master the sliding ring.  After quite a while I could do a lovely double stitch, but not…

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Blogs I like: Controversial Teaching Methods :D

The link below is from Learning with ‘e’s blog. It is a tongue in cheek reflection on ‘pencils’ and their possible use in education. It does make me ponder the changes in education over the last 100 years, and I wonder if the shift from the ‘slate’ to ‘paper’ was as controversial as the new technologies available today.

Learning with ‘e’s: A head teacher writes….

For example, was there special funding and professional development to show how the exercise book could be ‘intergrated’ into the class room? Were there teachers who found it difficult to shift from using slate? Was paper deemed to be automatically ‘engaging’ for students and used as a motivator within the classroom (eg If you finish your slate work, I will let you write on some paper…)?  I wonder….



Stories and Narratives in Education

First I would like to thank all my new ‘likers’ from Facebook and those who have found me via google (seems the evernote posts are quite popular). For those who would like to know of new posts from this blog, you can follow me on twitter (fiona_trapani) or ‘like’ my facebook page (!/pages/My-Paperless-PhD/204188786308872 ) for up dates.

Now to this weeks Blog, following on from last week on methodology…

I have always loved stories. Stories from books, TV and people around me have always fascinated me. Perhaps that’s part of what drew me to teaching; the fact that working with and getting to know people would mean sharing my stories with them, and having their stories shared with me. I was definitely excited when I began my Master’s studies and found that my supervisor was also interested in stories. Our research group explored stories from interview data, and then probed deeper into the meanings of the interactions and resulting actions. In our methodology we go beyond simply ‘re-telling’ stories told to us. We use positioning theory, umwelt and a few other analysis tools to present the lived world of our research subjects.

The area of inquiry is termed ‘narrative inquiry’ (   Narrative Inquiry has grown over the last 20 years to be used broadly across disciplines and cultures. One of the foundation papers is that by Clandinin and Connelly titled: ‘Teachers professional knowledge landscapes: Teachers stories; stories of teachers, school stories, stories of schools.’ Despite it being written 15 years ago, it still has much to bring to defining the spaces used by people to disclose their stories, especially in professional situations. Their work is as much a foundation for my past studies as it is for the study I am about to embark upon. What follows is a very brief overview of some main ideas in ‘Narrative Research’.

Clandinin and Connelly describe three main types of Narratives that people tell, with specific reference to schools, though I am sure these are transferable to other work places and professions. First there are the stories presented to parents and the wider community, these are called ‘cover stories’, and may be presented through things like newsletters and advertisements. Second are the stories shared with students and other teachers, these are called ‘secret stories’. Third are the stories of teachers that are driven by policies and rules within the school, known as ‘sacred stories’ these may only be shared with select colleagues. More detail is given in a recent article by Jean Clandinin

An example of the above story types is that the things you tell different people in your life will change, depending on the person you are talking to and the place you are in. The conversations you have with your boss, or a colleague, will be different to those you have with your best friend. Sometimes you will be giving a ‘cover story’: “yes, I love my job and don’t mind working late”, sometimes it will be the ‘secret story’: “He’s asked me to work late again, why can’t he be more orgainsed?”,  or the ‘sacred story’: “He’s always asking me to work late, I can’t wait till I get that other job and get my life back”.  Can you pick who the Narrator is talking to by the type of story? Again, this example is brief and obvious. When working with conversational interview data the analysis is much more involved and detailed.

I was pleased, in a recent blog from educator Jane Nicholls, to see her pondering the use of these stories to continue to explore the professional knowledge landscapes of teachers with reference to ICT: *** ICT U Can!: Professional knowledge landscapes. I read her blog and felt that Narrative Research is an amazing field to be a part of. I have since (in the last few weeks) found may other articles using these story types to shed light on the professional interactions of teachers in many different settings, subjects, countries and cultures. There is even an emerging branch focusing upon written narratives and conversations from journals, email and social media, which I think is also quite exciting.

So, this week, try and reflect on who you are talking to and the version of the story you are telling. Is it a cover story, secret story or a sacred story? How much of your life narrative are you really sharing with others?

Next week’s Blog will feature a couple of recipes…not sure if they will be quick things to cook, or bulk things to cook, but one things for sure, they will be tasty 🙂

Until next week,

References: (in addition to in text links)

Clandinin, DJ & Connelly FM (1996) Teachers professional knowledge landscapes: Teachers stories; stories of teachers, school stories, stories of schools. Education Researcher, 25 (3) pp 24-30

Past Posts

May 2021
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