Creativity and MSUrbanSTEM – New Publication

In recent years, I have had the privilege to work with an amazing collection of educators as a part of the MSU-Wipro STEM & Leadership Teaching Fellowship. One of the new learning opportunities I have had from this experience has been the process of sharing our work with the broader academic community. I have been fortunate to work on several publications with the MSUrbanSTEM team (you can find more here), including a recent publication focused on creativity in urban contexts. Citation, link to the article and, abstract are below.

Horton A., Henriksen D., Mishra P., Seals C., Shack K., Marcotte C. (2019), Creativity-and-MSUrbanSTEM-2018 In: Mullen C. (eds) Creativity Under Duress in Education? Creativity Theory and Action in Education, vol 3. Springer DOI:

Abstract: We examine the urban context of learning for the fellows in a partnership between Michigan State University (MSU) and Wipro Limited, a leading global information technology, consulting and business services company, which resulted in the Wipro Urban STEM Fellowship Program at Michigan State University (MSUrbanSTEM) program. This grant-funded fellowship provided full tuition scholarships and stipends for 124 highly motivated teachers in Chicago Public Schools (CPS) who demonstrated a passion for teaching STEM. The fellows were divided up into three cohorts. Each cohort participated in an innovative yearlong integrated learning experience to build STEM teachers’ capacity to lead and inspire transformative, innovative practices in urban K-12 schools. In this chapter, the fellows’ instructors explore how to support these teacher participants in their efforts to foster creativity in an era of intensified authority, control, and resistance. By engaging in creative pedagogies explicitly connected to disciplinary knowledge, the program aims to disrupt traditional ideologies around teaching. The mission of the MSUrbanSTEM program is to empower K-12 math and science teachers in CPS to create transformative, innovative, and multimodal instructional experiences through project-based and experiential learning experiences. Each educator participant was encouraged to engage in inquiry around how the ideas of wonder, improvisation, invention, and reflection connected with his or her subject-matter expertise. As reported by way of this case example of teacher creativity, these strategies supported the activities the teachers engaged in throughout the year. The fellowship itself provided a foundation for fellows to develop projects for reshaping aspects of their teaching practice.

Igniting Students to Share


Through the countless avenues of inspiration, this year our staff took on the challenge of offering an “Explore Hour”, which is essentially a daily Genius Hour for our students. (If you are unfamiliar with Genius Hour, I strongly urge you to check out Joy Kirr, as she was one of the first educators with whom I spoke to about Genius Hour, and does an amazing job curating resources for anyone interested in the idea.)  Those of you familiar with Genius Hour will know that one of the essential elements of it is students sharing their learning, whether this be through publishing on blogs, gallery walks of their artifacts or through public speaking style presentations. The latter of which being an area most of our students had the least amount of experience and the most amount of anxiety. Most students felt very anxious about making mistakes in front of peers, and having too much or not enough material. This is where Ignite comes into play.

The basic idea of an Ignite Presentation is that all presenters are limited in both slide count, and time.

  • 20 Slidestumblr_inline_n567m8pnnd1rkv4z0
  • 15 Seconds per slide
  • 5 minutes total

This creates a small window in which the speaker must convey their idea to the audience. What I felt this could provide for our students was an opportunity to present, but with two of their biggest anxieties limited. By limiting the content, and the time, it almost guarantees that the presenter will be rushed, and will feel as if they don’t have enough time to share all of their work. This relaxed all students, as no one felt they “didn’t do enough” or were outdone by the student who did a presentation 10 times their length.

We decided to try these out the week before Spring Break, when we felt students energy needed to be matched with a task that required equal energy. Since this was their first experience with such a radical presentation, Jeff and I (we co-teach Explore Hour) each delivered an example Ignite Presentation at the start of class. For the first attempt, we decided to reduce the slide count to ten, and the time per slide to five seconds. We then let students choose their topics by pulling them out of a bowl of ideas we had made prior. These topics were intended to be so simple the student could easily research or explain them. The true challenge would be, how do you explain or argue this topic given your slide and time restrictions?

The response form students was amazing. As an alternative school, a large portion of our students have often joined us because of some negative experience, either personally or academically. However, this assignment saw participation and completion leap roughly 40-50% over previous presentation assignments. Students not only felt comfortable sharing with their peers, but were extremely supportive, often applauding a student who seemed nervous as they took the stage, or offering words of encouragement to those who stumbled through their presentation.

While just a taste, the Ignite Presentations were beyond my wildest expectations. Students presented publicly to a room of over thirty teenagers and at least three adults (our principal took time to stop in for the presentations!) and all did so with tremendous confidence, while continuing to build their public speaking and communication skills.

I am not sure where we will go next with Ignite, but I am sure that it will be used again. Perhaps a fresh take on the traditional core class presentations?

Click Here to see a few examples of student presentations.

Topic: Argument – Best TV Show

Topic: How To – Make Mac & Cheese