Posted by Angie Kalthoff, Amanda Strawhacker, and Aim Unahalekhaka on Jul 22, 2021
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Positive Technological Development (PTD) Framework
Hybrid Learning to support children's positive technological development
This blog post is part of a six-part series of posts about supporting children’s Positive Technological Development through hybrid/distanced learning.

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Using Tech to Support Creativity

Excited to try out a storybook-inspired design activity? Check out these tips on selecting a book for your inspiration source:
  • During May, we celebrated Asian American & Pacific Islander Heritage Month (AAPI)! As you are looking to share books with your learners, you could continue to lift up and celebrate the AAPI community this month and throughout the year. You could start looking for book ideas at Capstone Publishers’ AAPI Heritage Month page, or check out their #OwnVoices page spotlighting inclusive books from other diverse Capstone authors.
  • The Novel Engineering team suggests a range of picture and chapter books for K-8 readers on their Classroom Books website
  • The Coding as a Language (CAL ) Curriculum recommends two different books for each grade level and has built lessons around each of these titles. Here you can find a Buncee with the books provided as YouTube videos. 
  • You can also check out some of our personal favorite books specifically about engineering, design, and the creative process:
    • Roberto the Insect Architect by Nina Laden:
    • If I Built a Car and If I Built a House by Chris van Dusen
    • The Questioneers series (Rosie Revere, Engineer, Ada Twist, Scientist, and Iggy Peck, Architect) by Andrea Beaty
    • Beautiful Oops! by Barney Saltzberg
What happens when students embrace design thinking? 
They become hackers and rebels. 
They become explorers. 
They become wildly and unabashedly different. 
They are more engaged in the learning. 
They learn to take creative risks. 
They are ready for the creative economy. 
They make deep connections between ideas. 
They think divergently. 
They become problem solvers. 
They grow more empathetic. 
They become systems thinkers.
Figure 3: What happens when students embrace Design Thinking?
One of the most powerful ways to engage in design is as a helping activity. Even children who don’t see themselves as creative individuals can become motivated to find a creative way to help a friend or a pet with a problem. This kind of empathy-based design builds creative skills of design and innovation, as well as patience, observation, and listening skills in order to understand what might be needed to solve the problem. 
For example, an area of study for most primary learners is life cycles. Although science activities are usually taught to support observation and documentation practices, life scientists often use a design mindset to carry out experiments or support healthy habitats for plants and animals. Let’s think about how to introduce the design process using a book that you might already have in your primary classroom. In this book “Caterpillar to Butterfly” learners are taken through each stage of the life cycle in a book that is supported by song. If you would rather purchase the book you can find it here.
Standford Design Thinking Process. Empathize, Define, ideate, prototype, test.
Figure 4. Stanford Design Thinking Process. Source:
How can we use design thinking to learn about the life cycle of a butterfly? Here are some suggestions for each step of the design thinking process as outlined by the professional Stanford (see Figure 4):
  • Empathize: watch a caterpillar make a chrysalis and go through the process of becoming a butterfly in real life, or using pictures, reference texts, or videos. Talk about what it must be like for the insect to go through each stage.
  • Define: think about the challenges that caterpillars and butterflies might face 
    • Poor location
    • Weather
    • Predators
  • Ideate: think about all the things that could help butterflies survive their dangerous challenges. What design solutions do we use everyday for problems like too much rain? Build off of each other’s ideas with a “Yes, and…” sentence starter. Then review the list and prioritize and think about what materials you have at your disposal.
  • Prototype: Create a solution that might make it a better experience for the caterpillar to turn into a butterfly. Remember to always keep the design mission your learners have chosen clearly written or drawn somewhere for children to remember (e.g., design a house that keeps a chrysalis safe from predators)
  • Test: If you have access to testing your product, try it out! If not, try a role play scenario with friends or puppets (this can be a great way to introduce design feedback in a playful way). 
If you would like to learn more about Design Thinking you can visit Angie’s Wakelet.

Guest Contribution: Aim Unahalekhaka, ScratchJr Project Rubrics

I am a doctoral student at the Eliot-Pearson Child Study and Human Development program at Tufts University, and a graduate research assistant at the DevTech Research Group (co-creator of the ScratchJr app). My research focus has been on children’s expressive and creative coding with ScratchJr. From my experience in grading almost a thousand ScratchJr projects, it is unbelievable how highly diverse ScratchJr projects can be. This diversity is due to a wide variety of ScratchJr functions that children can use to create their coding projects. Particularly, the two main features of ScratchJr, the coding blocks and the painting tools, allow children to create unique and meaningful projects. Children love to use the painting tools to design their projects in several ways: drawing, painting, creating and cloning shapes, and taking photos. Undeniably, creative design is essential in these coding projects, as shown through a positive relationship between children’s coding and design mastery in ScratchJr projects.
ScratchJr Project Rubric
Without a grading rubric, determining whether a project demonstrates a child’s coding mastery or creativity can be highly subjective and differ across viewers. The ScratchJr Project Rubric was developed, in response to requests from ScratchJr educators around the world, to evaluate children’s purposeful creation with ScratchJr. The rubric has two main domains: Coding Concepts and Project Design. Although this rubric does not directly measure creativity, the Project Design domain was inspired by prior literature on creativity. In particular, the rubric looks for originality, elaboration, and purposefulness, which are the three important elements for creative products (O’Quin & Besemer, 1989).
Children can make their projects original with voice recording, background/character customization, and an animated look. Furthermore, the projects can be elaborated by the number of characters, settings, and speech bubbles. Lastly, the purposefulness component was essential, especially in young children’s projects, as the projects can have wildly abstract ideas but have no connection to the overall theme. For example, projects that contain too many characters on one page or have voice recordings that play on top of each other demonstrate elaboration but not necessarily a clear purpose.
If you are interested in evaluating children’s mastery level in creating ScratchJr projects, check out the educator version of the rubric. Although this rubric was developed with educators in mind, parents and caregivers may wish to explore this rubric with children outside of a school context. This rubric provided a step-by-step instruction on how to use it on the first page. You can also look for upcoming research on the ScratchJr Project Rubric at the DevTech Research Group’s publications page.
How are you encouraging creativity in your classroom this year?
We want to hear your creative ideas about how you are promoting active creation in your classroom. Share your thoughts with us on social, and follow along for updates about this series and other resources on education:
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Share on Twitter:  @TuftsECT


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Milto, E., Portsmore, M., McCormick, M., Watkins, J., & Hynes, M. (2020). Novel Engineering, K-8: An Integrated Approach to Engineering and Literacy. NSTA Press Book.
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Strawhacker, A. & Bers, M. U. (2018). Makerspaces for Early Childhood Education (Principles of Space Redesign). In Gravel, B. E., Bers, M. U., Rogers, C., & Danahy, E. (Eds.), Making Engineering Playful in Schools (pp. 18-29). The LEGO Foundation.
Strawhacker, A., Lee, M., & Bers, M. U. (2018). Teaching tools, teachers’ rules: exploring the impact of teaching styles on young children’s programming knowledge in ScratchJr. International Journal of Technology and Design Education, 28(2), 347-376.

About the Authors

Angie Kalthoff HeadshotAngie Kalthoff is the Product Manager for Curriculum and Instruction at Capstone. Over her career she has been an English Language (EL) teacher, Technology Integrationist, Program Manager, and University Instructor. She has an M. Ed in Teaching and Learning.  Connect with Angie on Twitter: @mrskalthoff and visit her website:
Dr. Amanda Strawhacker headshotDr. Amanda Strawhacker is the Associate Director of the Early Childhood Technology (ECT) Graduate Certificate Program at Tufts University’s Eliot-Pearson Department of Child Study and Human Development. She holds a Master’s and Ph.D. in Child Study and Human Development, which she earned while designing and researching EdTech like ScratchJr and the KIBO Robot at the DevTech Research Group, and was a speaker with TEDxYouth@BeaconStreet. Connect with Amanda on Twitter: @ALStrawhacker and visit her website: