Cultivating Creativity


Promoting creativity in your classroom is easier said than done. Teachers often feel they should be teaching more creatively, yet fear the unknown, envision chaos, and are often unsupported by administration to go off the beaten path.  More often teachers decide they don't have time because of standardized tests and curriculum requirements.  And when it comes to integrating media arts, there is an added aversion to this unchartered territory- teachers are worried about their knowledge and aptitude in dealing with the technology and are unsure of how to execute a meaningful, subject-related or relevant project that will integrate (and not be supplemental). However, talk to any teacher who has taken a dive into media arts projects and a certain glow will appear when they recall the project, the students' experiences, the films or digital posters they facilitated, and the recognition they got from parents and principals alike. 


  • Start small and scaffold with activities that will get you thinking about shot styles, composition, and filmmaking. Click here to visit the Filmmaking page for ideas and activities.
  • Consume media in our Media Gallery by clicking here. Get inspired and understand the breadth of possibilities for the project at hand.
  • Design and articulate clear expectations using rubrics and guided by curriculum standards. Click here to see sample rubrics for filmmaking. Delineate and ensure students stick to project parameters. This gives students a structured framework to work within. If students know their starting point and boundaries they can work more independently and creatively.  (Think of learning piano. The starting point is C and you will usually learn the C scale, the first boundary. Another boundary is the keyboard itself. This 'starting point and boundaries' structure produces maestros in time!)
  • Use the essential question guiding your unit or lesson as the media project prompt. Use the following tips to design compelling essential questions that will easily turn into exciting media projects to deepen learning, keep your students motivated, access unconventional learning materials, replace hierarchy with collaborative learning spaces, encourage discussion and ultimately encourage creativity.


Nobody Tells this to Beginners



Think of this list as the philosophy of media making and media arts. Your goal is to 'create with purpose' and achieve all of these in every media-making project. 

  • Relevant (to the makers and the audience)
  • Intentional (designed to have a clear impact on an intended audience)
  • Personal (expressing a clear POV or specific perspective)
  • Collaborative (youth and educators working side by side)
  • Original (evident in style and content)
  • Inquiry-Based (derived and led by youth questions)
  • High Quality (effective use of tools and techniques)


If we work towards attaining creative confidence, we move beyond media making and towards lifelong success and happiness. By moving through the media art making process we strive to attain these five key skills:

  • Self-Expression- ability to express a point of view
  • Ideation- ability to ideate and innovate
  • Collaboration- ability to engage others
  • Flexibility- ability to adapt
  • Persistence- ability to stick with a challenge through completion

More than just for media making, these skills can be applied beyond the program to help youth thrive and succeed. 


A carefully planned youth media making experience has at least five steps in the process. Educators and young artists should anticipate revision and audience engagement from the onset. 

Production Phases


You can connect the filmmaking process to the writing process to calm the nerves. Often delving into the media arts involves trepidation of the unknown. Here we see that much of what we are about to embark on we are already familiar with. it's the same process using a few new tools. 

Creative Process Steps






This old classification of educational learning objectives still applies. We want to create media projects at a "create" level. 


Bloom's Pyramid




An example of teaching FRICTION from a "remember" level to a "create" level. 

  • Create... about how basketball would be played differently if there were no friction. 
  • Evaluate... about how friction affects the action of play during a basketball game.
  • Analyze...that identifies examples of frictional forces in a basketball game. 
  • Apply... that identifies whether a particular force during a basketball game is frictional.
  • Understand... that compares and contrasts frictional and applied forces. 
  • Remember... that defines frictional forces in science.




When designing Essential Questions consider questions that are high-interest topics to students, NOT teachers; take on real-world roles; solve a problem in your community, and are geared to an authentic and clearly defined end product. In a nutshell, design essential questions that are: 

  1. Interesting to students, not teachers: Personalizing the question is a good way to go and gets you to the same place. For example, rather than asking students to do a short film on "The Effects of Greek Culture on Western Civilization" ask students to do a short film on "How Greek Are You?"
  2. Don't give students prompts that they can google the answer for. The essential question needs to be open-ended and should not have a value judgment implied. For example, asking students to produce an audio slideshow on "Health and Healthy foods" to "Does it matter what we eat?" will elicit more story and originality.
  3. Broad Concept: The question cannot be answered simply. It should be complex and provide rich ground for student exploration and paths for student interest and choice. For example, "What are the sources of water in our community?" can be broadened to "How does water affect our lives?" Or if you are studying the condition or state of a local waterway, the prompt could be simply, "Would you jump in?" requiring the students to look more deeply into pollution, etc. 



Instead of having students make a film about the desert ecosystem, rather use the essential question Can a dog live in the desert? It is important to create very open-ended questions that can be personal, that have no "right" answer, and crosscuts many disciplines. When do we grow up?




Instead of "what is an epic poem?", rather, "How do I create an epic poem about an important episode in my daily life?"




Leave the hypothetical and take on the challenge. "How do we, as architects and engineers, design an outdoor classroom for our school? How do we as horticulturalists create a rooftop garden that will most improve our school experience?





To ensure your media project is integrated into your content instruction or area of focus, here are six creative ways to think about designing your essential questions.


  • Decision

    Decide between two or more options where there is no clear right option. 
    If you could live on another planet, which one would you choose and what would that look like? Should wolves be reintroduced in plains states like Kansas and Nebraska? A community is planning a co-op garden for a neighborhood. They have decided on three layouts for the garden. Which of these layouts would be best for the community? In what war would it have been better to have fought in, the Spanish-American War or the Civil War?

  • What if?

    Consider an alternate reality- what if a key point, event, decision, or law of nature, etc. was different?
    If you were a microbiologist, how would you experience a walk around our school building? Would your life improve if there were no mosquitos? If you had legs like a grasshopper how high could you jump? Or the strength of an ant, how much could you lift?

  • Predict

    Predict an unknown reality- working within a set of parameters, students predict an unknown (similar to "what if?" scenarios)
    If an asteroid knocked the moon out of Earth's orbit, how would like on Earth be different? How can we design a school of the future? If the American Pika were to go extinct, how would its disappearance and the conditions that caused this affect your life?

  • Problem-Solving

    Design a solution to a problem, especially one for which there is no adequate solution already. 
    Why don't I fall off my skateboard? Why is the London Bridge falling down? Why are there so many valleys, mountains, and hills around here? How does our childhood reflect who we are as teenagers? Should Truman have dropped the bomb? Design a plan to increase student vocabulary and reading fluency in a situation where there is an iPad for every student.

  • Analogy / Metaphor

    Create an effective, informative analogy, metaphor, etc. for a concept, process, or skill. 
    Develop an analogy to illustrate the different types of clouds. Develop an analogy for understanding the difference between squares, rhombuses, parallelograms, and rectangles. Develop an analogy for understanding the important similarities and differences between Wuthering Heights and Pride and Prejudice.

  • Piecing Together / Induction

    Learners are given a limited number of raw clues and are asked to develop a theory. 
    Can DNA be trusted in criminal trials? Explain the relationship between corn plant growth and light. Below is a display of pictures of things that Arturo saw while he walked from his home to a cafe. Develop a narrative in Spanish that makes sense of what sorts of places and people he met along the way. 



Questions that are Googleable


"Which trees grow in our community?"

"How can we create a field guide to trees in our community?"



Questions that Fail to Engage Students in What is Relevant to Them 


"What did ancient Greeks contribute to the development of Western Civilization?"

"How Greek are we?"

"How is math used when calculating basketball statistics?"

"How can we as managers of an NBA team select the best players to win a championship?"



Questions that are Too General


Or, Questions that Sound Too Much Like a Teacher Trying to Obviously Align with Standards

"How does an ecosystem stay balanced?"

"Should I be a mosquito saver?"




A good library of resources on how to design good essential questions on the Buck Institute for Education Project-Based Learning site


Ultimately, you want student creations, including digital media projects, to mimic the real-world uses of your content. This doesn't happen overnight!