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Unleashing Creativity: The Idea Incubator

post-it note explosion

Sticky Notes are pretty cool, right?

The indispensable tool in offices and classrooms traces its origins back to the late 1960s. Dr. Spencer Silver, a scientist at 3M, accidentally developed a unique, repositionable adhesive, but the potential applications of this discovery weren't immediately clear. It wasn't until 1974 that his colleague, Art Fry, conceived the idea of using the adhesive to anchor his bookmarks in his hymnal. This sparked the creation of the first sticky notes, then called "Press 'n Peel" bookmarks.

Their true utility as note-taking tools was recognized after a successful market test, leading to the launch of the now-iconic "Post-it Notes" in 1980. This simple yet revolutionary product quickly became a staple in offices, homes, and schools, changing the way people organize information and communicate.

When I was a Middle School Computer Science Teacher, I used to teach a course with a focus on the engineering design process. One of the first lessons would be on ideation or the process of coming up with ideas! The students would walk in and on each table, there would be a mountain of sticky notes, markers, and a prompt. We would then let the Innovation Power Hour commence! They would rapidly go through the design process but start with coming up with as many ideas in 5 minutes as they could using one sticky note for each idea. The ideas would flow and the paper would fly.

I told them to write down EVERY single idea that popped into their mind and that no idea was too crazy at this stage of the game. Once the dust settled, we would comb through the piles and begin to organize themes and trends.

This was such a fun exercise and one that promoted a wider view of critical thinking and sparked their creativity.

Creativity in education isn't just a skill; it's a necessary mindset that empowers students to navigate complexities. Echoing the timeless wisdom of a Chinese proverb, we acknowledge that learning is indeed a treasure with boundless value. In this vein, we delve into the practicality of brainstorming and mind-mapping, strategies with a proven moderate effect size of 0.51 according to John Hattie's research, to cultivate this treasure within our students.


Embracing brainstorming and mind-mapping in the classroom isn't merely a pedagogical choice; it's a transformative force. These strategies unlock creative potential, fuel free-thinking, and foster collaborative discovery. They act as conduits for students to navigate ideas, enabling a free flow of creativity that's critical in today's innovation-driven world.


The implementation of brainstorming and mind-mapping requires a thoughtful approach. Teachers must become adept facilitators, curating an environment ripe for idea generation. This involves selecting appropriate topics, choosing versatile tools, and establishing an atmosphere where students feel safe to express their thoughts. It's about guiding rather than instructing, encouraging students to take intellectual risks and explore the vast landscape of their imagination.


In the spirit of immediate action, let’s explore six concrete scenarios where brainstorming and mind-mapping can be transformative in the classroom:

Idea Storm for Environmental Solutions

idea storm
  • Begin by setting a clear objective for the session, such as identifying ways to reduce the school's carbon footprint.

  • Divide students into small groups to encourage participation.

  • Ask each group to brainstorm and rapidly list as many ideas as possible without judging or filtering them.

  • Once the brainstorming is complete, have each group categorize their ideas into two lists: 'quick wins' that can be implemented immediately, and 'long-term projects' that need more planning and resources.

  • Facilitate a discussion where each group presents their ideas, and encourage a constructive critique from the rest of the class.

Historical Events Mind-Map

historic event
  • Choose a significant historical event to focus on.

  • Give students a brief overview of the event, ensuring they understand the basic facts.

  • Ask students to create mind maps either individually or in groups. They should place the main event in the center and branch out to causes and effects.

  • Encourage students to explore both direct and indirect causes and effects, showing the complexity of historical events.

  • Have students present their mind maps to the class and discuss the various perspectives and connections they've drawn.

Literary Theme Exploration

literary theme
  • Select a novel that the class is reading or has read.

  • Ask students to identify the main themes of the novel. This can be done individually or in groups.

  • Once themes are identified, students should find textual evidence that supports these themes, such as quotes or specific passages.

  • Facilitate a discussion where students share their findings and explore how different themes are developed in the text.

  • Encourage students to relate themes to broader societal issues or personal experiences.

Mathematical Concepts Brainstorm

  • Introduce a mathematical concept, such as geometry or algebra.

  • Ask students to brainstorm real-world applications of this concept. This can be guided by questions or prompts to stimulate thinking.

  • Encourage creativity and think outside the box. Applications can range from everyday uses to more complex scientific or industrial applications.

  • Have students share their ideas and discuss how the mathematical concept is applied in each scenario.

  • This activity can be extended by having students research one of the applications in more detail.

Science Fair Idea Generation

science fair
  • Begin with a brief discussion on what makes a good science fair project, emphasizing originality, scientific method, and clarity.

  • Ask students to brainstorm ideas for science fair projects. They can do this individually or in groups.

  • Encourage a wide range of ideas without immediate judgment or evaluation.

  • Once a list of ideas is generated, have students share their ideas and give feedback to each other.

  • Guide students in selecting one idea to develop further into a full science fair project.

Cross-Curricular Mind-Map

cross curriculular
  • Introduce the concept of interdisciplinary connections, explaining how different subjects can be related.

  • Ask students to choose two or more subjects they are interested in connecting, such as physics and music or math and art.

  • Students create mind maps that identify and explore the connections between these subjects.

  • Encourage them to research and find real-world examples or theoretical links.

  • Conclude with presentations where students explain their mind maps and their discovered connections.

By implementing these strategies, educators can transform the classroom into a dynamic space where creativity thrives. Students learn to value their ideas and those of others, paving the way for a future where they carry the treasure of learning with them, in all walks of life.

I invite you to integrate these scenarios into your teaching practice and share your experiences. How have these strategies enriched the learning experience for you and your students?


This blog post integrates the 'Why', 'How', and 'Right Now' Structure, providing a practical and theoretical framework for brainstorming and mind-mapping in the classroom, along with actionable scenarios that educators can immediately implement.


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