Skip to content
Share your Impact Story

Creative Nourishment – Feed the Hungry

Our scholars are starving. They are literally being starved daily. And their starvation is a direct cause of the very schools that they attend. Now, if I were talking about food, I guarantee that there would be a march/protest/crowd with torches headed to every school, everywhere. But for some reason this starvation goes without much protest, inside and outside of schools.

Our scholars are starving from MalCreativeNurishing! Plain and simple: our scholars have had creativity and creative thinking taught right out of them. The very design of our education systems, with its narrow focus on testing achievement and ‘academic’ progress, has stripped the opportunity for our scholars to express themselves creatively, to explore ideas innovatively, and to look at problem solving through a lens of failing to succeed. We are an educational society of right and/or wrong…no other options apply.

The solution to this epidemic: give scholars opportunities to think creatively, to be kids, to fail, to play…to not be a number, a score, a grade, or a classification on a piece of paper.

How do we, as educators, do this? Find opportunities to bring creative thinking and experiences into the learning day and environment. Whether it is a 30-day 5-minute challenge or full blown Project Based Learning experiences, our scholars deserve it.

It is not easy work…at first, but the pay off is HUGE. Because creative thinking floods dopamine in our brains and  EXPLODES into wonderous things. This ‘reward hormone’ builds confidence and perseverance…deluge the brain with it and it will pay off all day…all month…all year!

This is ALL about allowing our scholars to find their creative streak and to find their joy in learning. Remember CREATIVITY IS NOT INNATE! It is learned and can be developed. Everyone can be creative; just like building muscle we build creativity by practice and doing every day.

What is creativity? The first thing that comes to most minds is the creative arts: painting, dancing, music…. We need to push past this idea that creativity is only the arts. Creativity is EVERYTHING and EVERYWHERE. Every simple thing you do, every minute of the day, takes a choice of creativity. 

In 2016, the godfather of creativity in learning, Sir Ken Robinson defined it this way: the process of having original ideas that have value. It differs from imagination, which is the ability to bring to mind things that aren’t present to your senses. I think of creativity as putting your imagination to work. … You can be imaginative all day long and never do anything.”

In order to inspire this in our scholars we must do one simple thing: understand our own creativity. We all are very well versed at looking at our scholars and understanding their creative drives, their learning styles, what makes them tic, and what engages them but do we ever really look at ourselves…deeply? In order for us to truly bring creativity to our scholars learning experience, we need to deeply reflect on our ‘teaching style’ which is not unlike learning styles. We all have our distinct ‘style’ of serving up learning in our classroom, whether it virtual or in-person. And just as learning styles guide our instruction, teaching styles also influence how we deliver our learning experience. 

IMPORTANT NOTE OF DISCLAIMER: I am NOT, by any means, making fun of our profession. I fall into MANY of these categories, at different times of my career but also at different times of the day. Each of these styles have wonderful benefits and they have their challenges. Celebrate your teaching style. Embrace it. Find your Voice. Be able to laugh at ourselves. Be reflective.

So here it is:


The Perfect Classroom Teacher: If your classroom is ready for Classroom Beautiful or Classrooms of Instagram…you know who you are.

The Over-Organized Teacher: If you are in love with lamination, color-coordination, labeling, bins, filing cabinets, bulletin boards, and ‘do not touch a thing without asking!” …you know who you are.

The Super Teacher: If your classroom looks like Walt Disney and the best of HGTV had a baby, you have more energy than can be bottled, and loved by every single one of your students…you know who you are.

The Over-Achiever: If you must have your class first at everything! …you know who you are.

Creative Challenge: take a deep breath and allow for the imperfection of creative learning. Start with 5 minutes and let go! Also know that over structure can inhibit creative thinking, so you owe it your scholars. When they have ‘perfection’ modeled for them they begin to feel that perfection is expected of them…preventing the opportunity to grow from failure.

The BOUNCING All Over The Place Teachers

The High-Energy Teacher: if you are a teacher that seems to have more than the energizer bunny. Gone viral in the morning, dancing on the desk by lunch, and filming videos for class tomorrow all before you leave for the day.

The Crazy Teacher: if you have the reputation of being known for expecting the unknown, with a sprinkle of the impossible.

The Cool Teacher: if you KNOW what is cool, on point, on fleck…you teach with Tiktok. You are adored by staff and student, alike.

Creative Challenge: You might be thinking that this is RIGHT up your alley, but you are going to need to push yourself to tone it ALL the way down, just for a few minutes. Your energy is infectious, and it leads to great things but by taking a back seat to your scholars you will let your scholars fine their own high energy, creative minds. You might need to practice this ahead of time, it will be hard at first but worth it!

Kicking it OLD School Teacher

The Know-It-All Teacher: if you have been around the block, done it, seen it all. Not only can you serve it up, you live it. You know ALL the best practices…you might also be the reason staff meeting go longer than they should.

The Get-off-my-lawn Teacher: if you have ever used the phrase “well, back when I started teaching…” or have ever talked about ‘teaching being better back in the day’ before technology (or just about everything) ruin it.

The Drill Sergeant: if your classroom is one step away from a military recruiting office where you might have ‘raised your voice’ once or twice.

The Hell, Fire, and Brimstone Teacher: if the lack of teaching cursive, The Iliad and The Odyssey, the scientific method, and formal debate will be the fall of modern society.

The Tyrannical Teacher: if there is only ONE point of view…yours. If you do not care about what other people think of about education, or for that matter, you.

Creative Challenge: I want you to know that you have permission to let go. Let go of the old ideas, the old routines, and the old habits. Allow yourself to be a scholar again, to let your hair (metaphorically) down. 2-5 minutes a day, that is all and then you can go right back. But I challenge you to do this creative thinking alongside your scholars and see how it feels.

Lead with Fear

The Hard-Ass Teacher: if you demand high standards, setting the bar high, because teaching above everything else is what you do; you have no time to be friends with your students. Respect is earned. Stern does not mean without heart; it just does not show up in your classroom.

The Control Freak Teacher: if every inch or minute of the day is scripted and plan, there are not moments for disruptive questions or varying of the plan. The RIGHT and WRONG of the day.

Creative Challenge: You have a heavy load to carry here. There is a reason you have decided to remove creative thinking out of your day. Maybe, I suggest, that you try this 30-day challenge with just yourself to go through the process and discover your why?

The COVID-19’ers

The Stressed-Out Teacher: We all hit this point in the year, usually November and February. We are human, too! If you are already counting down to summer break.

The Burnt-Out Teacher: if the dark circles under your eyes take spackle to cover, if numbness has replaced joy, if coffee no longer last.

The Forgetful Teacher: if the demands of the day have sucked the memory cells out of your brain. You know where everything is, or should be, but you cannot find anything. If you forget the daily schedule, especially when it has not changed in year.

The Apathetic Teacher: if you were once the Cool Teacher, or Fun Teacher, or Crazy Teacher but the stress of it all have made you give up inside.

Creative Challenge: OK, we are ALL here. For this reason, alone, we all the perfect teachers to do this work. We need to rediscover the Joy and Creativity of teaching, the reason we are all here. Find a group of teachers feeling the same way and start a ‘creative classroom challenge’ for just you! Find and spark your joy again.

Gives TOO Much

The Suck-Up Teacher: if you LIVE for the moment when other see you teaching, especially the principal. If your students look at you like “who are you?” when someone walks into the room because the honestly do not recognize the teacher you have just become in front of them.

The Highly Concerned Teacher: if you care deeply ABOUT EVERYTHING! If your students know they can get you off topic by asking about…well, just about anything but the curriculum.

The Heartfelt Teacher: if you have ever cried during Read Aloud. If you lose sleep at night thinking about ALL of your students. If all your student, past and present, are ‘your babies!’

The Supercoach: if you are a Rockstar teacher and love to share your experience. If you can explain how to do something and come into a classroom the next day to do a demo. If you do the same thing with your student. 

The Activist Teacher: if you are the model of ‘the right choices in life’ and make it your mission to ensure that every one of your students KNOWS what to do and what not to do to show improvement in learning and directions in life.

Creative Challenge:  Very much like the ‘Old Schoolers’ you are stuck in routine. Deep rooted routines. Breaking this is going to be a test to your psyche BUT push through it. For your scholars BUT also for you. You might discover a new you inside.

The Outliers 

The Fashionable Teacher: if you spent more than 20 minutes getting ready in the morning, you are always on point in your appearance, you might look at other teachers and wonder if their electricity was working that morning…if the world is crumbling down around you? You will always look like you have it all together.

The Hot Teacher: if student flock to be in your class but retain nothing while there, but they are always staring in engaged, jaw dropped, gazing. 

The Buddy Teacher: Not only a new teacher but newly out of school…super close to their student’s age! More of a bestie than someone your students will look to for learning.

The Shy Teacher: if you are incredible passionate about teaching, have the skills of a master teacher, know every new, researched strategy for inspiring learning…and no one knows it.

Creative Challenge: You are in the best boat to do this work. You already have your scholar’s attention so harness this power…for creative good. Your scholars will do pretty much anything you ask…they won’t even question the why…and will burst with dopamine and creativity in seconds!


The Talkative Teacher: if people avoid you in the halls, not because they don’t like you but because they know it’s going to be an hour-long conversation, a vortex, but your students have learned to foster this into ‘less time to work.’

The Rebel Teacher: no matter what the principal says needs to be happening in your classroom…it’s never going to happen.

The Late Teacher:  wait, huh? What time is it?!

The Repetitive Teacher: if you take a 5-minute lesson and are able to stretch it out for 30 minutes, reiterating the same ideas in 10 different ways.

The Swimming-in-Papers Teacher: if you have ever hidden a stack of papers under your desk, found a stack at the end of the school year in a cupboard, or just plain have stacks of student work…everywhere.

Creative Challenge: if you fall into this group, it is temporary. I suggest that you dig deep and find your other teaching style above and embrace that other side of you. Except the Swimming in Paper Teacher…if you find the solution please email me…for a friend.

And there is ONE last group that we all think about being or are….
The Test Prepper

The Test Prep Teacher: if your whole goal for the year is that state test score, or your building sores, or just scores. You are praised each school year for achieving the ‘impossible’ and you know the secrets for getting those scores.

Creative Challenge: if you fall into this group you are missing out on a HUGE secret. If you elevate the creative challenges for your students will naturally increase those scores. Creative challenges elevate confidence and develop a problem-solving lens that can’t be taught from a text book or worksheet. AND you and your students can have a blast getting there!

We are our own stumbling blocks to feeding the creativity starvation. Once we discover, embrace, and love our own teaching style, we will explode creativity back into our scholar’s learning. Feed the hungry. Blast the dopamine. Find your joy so you scholars can find theirs. Sing your creative voice so your scholars can join in on the chorus. But most of all: give yourself permission.

Final thought: We’ve looked at a lot of different ‘teaching styles’ and many of these styles may have challenged our idea of what we think teaching looks like. But I’d like to offer up a different type of challenge. I’d like to challenge you to think about a word. It is amazing how much power a single word can have. Take for instance: the word ‘feedback.’ I recently asked for some ‘feedback’ on a presentation I did and the return reply? We don’t give feedback. We only give FEEDFORWARD! The power of changing just one word, one simple way to look at something we all dread. So, I ask you to think about this: let’s honor our title of being a ‘TEACHER’ but let’s rethink the power of a new title. Why? Let’s rethink what we call ourselves. What if we called ourselves GUIDES, or EXPLORERS, or VOYAGERS, or even a PIONEER? Think about it: I am a SCHOLASTIC PIONEER! How are those superpowers now?

Jamie Ewing is a Thrively EdInnovator, Elementary STEM/Science Educator New York City DOE,  2019 Microsoft Innovative Educator, 2020 SpheroHero, Prezi Board of Advisors -Education, 2019 LittleBits BitStar, 2015 Henry Ford Innovative Teacher of the Year, 2014 MOHAI Teacher of the Year, 2013 Academy for Arts and Science National Innovative Teacher of the Year, NSTA Outstanding Science Text Committee 2016-2019, NSTA Nominations Committee

Resources for Creativity
Sir Ken Robinson’s last speech
Test Taking, Creativity and Why Most of Us Are Doing It Wrong
Creativity In The Classroom
4 Ways to Develop Creativity in Students
Learning to Work and Think Like an Artist

Dropout Prevention Begins with Self-Awareness

With a passion for helping the underdog, Dr. Cynthia Knight has fervently persevered in creating a nonprofit organization to provide quality educational experiences for the most-needy of Iowa’s residents–the high school dropout. From classroom experiences ranging from large school districts: Des Moines, Johnston and Ankeny, Christian education at Dowling Catholic High School to smaller schools in Iowa: East Marshall, West Marshall to a seven-year stint at the Iowa Department of Education, Dr. Knight listened, learned, and developed a program, Jordahl Academy. “This program has successfully helped students earn a high school diploma who have been told there is no money, they don’t have time to finish, or there are no more options available for them through traditional school environments,” explained Knight. Jordahl Academy, named in honor of Dr. Knight’s friend and mentor, Don Jordahl, who was instrumental in launching this work, has spent the last 9 years changing lives. “We connect students with highly qualified Iowa licensed teachers who are passionate about providing hope to these young people,” she added. IOWA NET HIGH ACADEMY.jpg “One of the best tools we have for our work is Thrively. We use Thrively twofold: to get to know our students’ interests/career plans so we can create a learning pathway that is personalized and project-based and to let students explore their interests through the online tools Thrively provides.” When students are engaged and can see the personal relevance in what they are learning, they are more likely to invest their time and see the direct impact their new skills have on their daily and future lives. “100% of our graduates are employed or seeking further education through the trades/college. We are proud of these young people,” Knight added. Thrively PBL Project-Based Learning With a servant’s heart, Dr. Knight funds this work through a tea room named after her grandmothers, Ivadel Ruth’s Tea Room, and a consignment shop, Backroom Bargains, and she runs with her husband. She also takes donations from Don Jordahl’s supporters. More than 4,000 Iowa students have dropped out each year for the past three years. Dr. Knight created another option for these young people. She calls it HOPE.

Project-Based Learning

Project-Based Learning

What can you expect from this article?

  1. What is project-based learning?
  2. Characteristics of project-based learning.
  3. Benefits of project-based learning.
  4. How project-based learning is different from doing a project.
  5. The difference between project-based learning and problem-based learning.

About Thrively:

Thrively helps your child find their passion in life. Discover your child’s strengths using project-based learning and social emotional intelligence and ignite their curiosity today.

What is Project-Based Learning?

Project-based learning (PBL) is an instructional approach designed to give students the opportunity to develop knowledge and skills through engaging projects set around challenges and problems.

This approach encourages students to learn by applying knowledge and skills through active exploration of real-world challenges and problems.

PBL presents opportunities for deeper-learning in meaningful contexts and for the development of important 21st-century skills tied to college and career readiness.

PBL contrasts with paper-based, rote memorization, or teacher-led instruction that presents established facts or portrays a smooth path to knowledge by instead posing questions, problems, or scenarios.

Characteristics of Project-Based Learning

Characteristics of meaningful project-based learning activities that lead to deeper student understanding are as follows:

1) Interdisciplinary

Project-based curriculum is designed to engage students using real-world problems.

This is an interdisciplinary approach as real-world challenges are rarely solved using information or skills from a single subject area.

Projects require students to engage in inquiry, solution building, and product construction to help address the issue or challenge presented. As students do the work, they often use content knowledge and skills from multiple academic sources to successfully complete the project.

2) Rigorous

Project-based education requires the application of knowledge and skills, not just recall or recognition.

PBL assesses how students apply a variety of academic content in new contexts.

As students engage in a project, they begin with asking a question. Inquiry leads the student to think critically as they are using their academic knowledge in real-world applications.

The inquiry process leads to the development of solutions to address the identified problem.

They show their knowledge in action through the creation of products designed to communicate solutions to an audience.

3) Student-centered

The role of the teacher shifts from content-deliverer to facilitator/project manager in PBL. Students work independently through the PBL process with the teacher providing support only when needed.

Students are encouraged to make their own decisions about how best to do their work and demonstrate their understanding. The PBL process fosters student independence, sense of ownership of his/her work, and the development of 21st-century/workplace skills.

In essence, the PBL model consists of these seven characteristics:

  • Focuses the student on a big open-ended question, challenge, or problem to research and respond to and/or solve.
  • Brings what students should academically know, understand, and be able to do into the equation.
  • Is inquiry-based. Uses 21st-century skills such as critical thinking, communication, collaboration, and creativity, among others.
  • Builds student choice into the process.
  • Provides opportunities for feedback and revision of the plan and the project.
  • Requires students to present their problems, research process, methods, and results.

Benefits of Project-Based Learning

Traditional learning never ventures beyond the realm of the purely academic approach. PBL connects students to the real world and prepares them to accept and meet challenges in it, mirroring what professionals do every day.

Instead of short-term memorization strategies, project-based learning provides an opportunity for students to engage deeply with the target content, bringing about a focus on long-term retention.

PBL also improves student attitudes toward education thanks to its ability to keep students engaged. The PBL structure lends itself to building intrinsic motivation because it centers student learning around an essential central question or problem and a meaningful outcome.

In a recent collaborative study, the implementation of project-based learning correlated positively with student achievement, particularly in schools serving high-poverty communities. This research emphasizes the importance of projects being standards-aligned and supported with research-proven instructional strategies.

PBL helps students develop teamwork and problem-solving skills along with the ability to communicate effectively with others. The collaborative nature of projects also reinforces the social-emotional learning (SEL) programs being implemented at progressive schools around the world.

These interpersonal aspects of PBL dovetail perfectly with the use of technology in the classroom. Technology-based projects are interdisciplinary, collaborative, inquiry-based, self-directed, motivating, and address the full range of student needs and learning styles. Additionally, digital literacies and digital citizenship objectives become ingrained in tech-based projects.

Below are some of the widely cited benefits of implementing project-based learning in the classroom:

  • Presents opportunities for deeper learning in context and for the development of important skills relating to college and career readiness
  • Boosts student engagement and achievement and helps students develop the 21st-century skills they need to succeed in their future careers. These include critical thinking, communication, collaboration, and creativity, among others
  • Makes room for student choice, allowing students to feel like architects of their own learning journey
  • Improves student attitudes toward education, thanks to its ability to keep students engaged
  • Provides plenty of opportunities for feedback and revision of the plan and the project
  • Encourages students to make meaningful connections across content areas, rather than thinking about each subject area in isolation (multi-disciplinary pedagogical approach)
  • Engages students in real-world learning, giving them a deeper understanding of concepts through relevant and authentic experiences. This prepares students to accept and meet challenges in the real world, mirroring what professionals do every day
  • Engages students deeply with the target content, helping to increase long-term retention.

How Project-Based Learning is Different From Doing a Project?

PBL is becoming widely used in schools and other educational settings with different varieties being practiced. However, there are key characteristics that differentiate “doing a project” from engaging in rigorous project-based learning.

PBL requires critical thinking, problem solving, collaboration, and various forms of communication. To answer a driving question and create high-quality work, students need to do much more than remember information. They need to use higher-order thinking skills and learn to work as a team.

Project Project-Based Learning
A project is a culminating event that happens at the end of the unit after all student learning has already taken place.

The knowledge and skills taught in the unit are not necessarily needed to complete the project and the project itself does not typically reflect all student learning.

Oftentimes, the project has no real-world connection and after being graded, the project is no longer used.

Project-based learning poses an authentic problem, challenge, need, or issue at the start of the unit. Students receive rubrics outlining what tasks or end products they will have to create.

From the very start of the project, students see their need to learn the course content and skills to complete each step or benchmark of the project.

Their end goal is clear from the beginning and their learning is meaningful because they need the content and skills to solve the problem, challenge, need, or issue that has been posed to them.

The PBL unit involves a community partner and ends with a publicly presented product that will be used even after the unit has been completed.

What’s the Difference Between Project-Based Learning and Problem-Based Learning?

Problem-Based Learning

Problem-based learning is student-centered teaching. Students learn about a topic through the solving of problems and generally work in groups to solve a problem where there may not necessarily be any one correct answer.

When students complete a problem-based learning task, they often share the outcomes with their teacher and learning goals and outcomes are set jointly.

Problem-based learning is more likely to be a single subject, and take less time to complete. Additionally, problem-based learning follows specific steps to complete.

Project-Based Learning

Project-based learning, meanwhile, is an instructional approach where students learn by investigating a complex question, problem, or challenge. It promotes active learning, engages students, and allows for higher-order thinking.

Students are tasked with exploring real-world problems and finding answers via the completion of their project. Students also have some control over the project they are working on, particularly in terms of the end product.

Project-based learning is typically multi-disciplinary–meaning it utilizes skills and knowledge from a variety of subjects.

Project-based learning follows general steps.

While this article focuses on project-based learning, both problem-based and project-based learning have a rightful place in today’s classroom and can promote 21st-century learning.