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Measuring their creativity

The Baltimore Sun

The scenario: Four preteens are on an island when a volcano erupts. They have five minutes to get to a nearby island using nothing but a boat, a life raft, a rope, an inflatable ring and their ability to think quickly.

The reality: Four fifth-graders are in the Carrolltowne Elementary School gymnasium in Sykesville. Their boat is a scooter board, their life raft a carpet square. The rope is a jump rope and the inflatable ring is a deck tennis ring.

The activity was one of many the fifth-graders participated in that day that went beyond their usual studies. Throughout what had been dubbed Creativity Day, Carrolltowne students enthusiastically approached exercises that promoted creative thinking and problem-solving skills.

Whether they were practicing Chinese calligraphy or exploring Native American cultures, children from kindergarten through fifth grade reveled in the opportunity to color outside of curricular lines.

"It's actually to stretch their imaginations, not that they need any help doing that," said Patti Cannaday, Carrolltowne's gifted and talented program resource teacher. "All the curriculums are so standards based, sometimes we forget that there's a creative side that we need to address."

For some kindergartners, one lesson plan asked them to build a house that could withstand the huffing and puffing that the fairytale Big Bad Wolf used to torment the titular Three Little Pigs. With materials that included paper towel rolls, craft sticks and Play-Doh, they attempted to create structures sturdy enough that a blow dryer wouldn't topple them.

First-graders, too, were hands-on with their creativity. In Judy Griffith's class, students tore up colorful construction paper and used the shreds to make themed mosaics, nearly all of which were beach scenes with blue oceans, beige sand and the occasional palm tree.

Earlier in the day, Griffith's class participated in an improvisational session supervised by guest instructor Susan Thornton. The first-graders were asked to brainstorm items that a yardstick could represent and then acted out short scenes.

Hannah Steier held the yardstick vertically and pantomimed eating the top of it.

"Ice cream!" one of her classmates guessed.

But it was a banana, and in a brief session afterward, someone suggested that Hannah could have pretended to peel her imaginary fruit.

In the second-grade classrooms, students who had learned about Native American cultures in one of four regions were given the problem of how to teach the subject matter to others.

With a teepee of yardsticks erected a few feet away from her, Carson Coleman worked in a small group on a fur shirt. "We stuck a few toothpicks in for porcupine quills," said Carson, 7, of Eldersburg.

"Every child [is getting] an opportunity to share their talents in ways outside of the regular classroom structure," said Karen Ganjon, director of minority achievement and intervention programs for the county school system. "It gives them a chance to collaborate and cooperate toward a shared goal and to demonstrate what they've learned in a way other than pencil and paper activities."

In the gymnasium, Bridget Dukehart's fifth-graders found creative methods of escaping from the volcano to another island.

The solution: Christopher Murray kneels on the scooter board, using the tennis ring as a makeshift paddle to propel himself across the basketball court and then sending both back to his classmates. Rachel Millison stands on the carpet square, twisting and scooting forward and pulling, via the jump rope, Kyle Naylor on the scooter board. Finally, Jackson Oesterreicher joins the other three by using Christopher's technique.

"We're not just having a fun day," said Cannaday, the gifted and talented teacher. "There really is a lesson."

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