Embracing Student Creativity With a Wonder Shelf


This is a simple solution that can help increase student engagement in the home just as it did for this teacher in the classroom. The creativity that is inherent in the ‘wonder shelf’ can allow children who may otherwise be sitting through Zoom calls all day to engage in their learning beyond the screen or a homework worksheet. I find it quite amazing how much students can flourish and use what they’ve learned in new ways when given the freedom to do so. What other ‘wonder shelf’-esque opportunities are present in the home that might not even be present at school? How might this be employed in subjects beyond just math or art?

Davis, Rafranz. “Embracing Student Creativity With a Wonder Shelf.” Edutopia, 24 Sept 2014. https://www.edutopia.org/blog/embracing-student-creativity-wonder-shelf-rafranz-davis

“As a high school math teacher, it was important for me to create a learning space that welcomed on-demand wonder and exploration. I knew that I planned to have a few essential hands-on math tools, and in the last few years, I also knew that I needed to have other items that were essential for providing kids more creative freedom. With a few containers, manipulatives, and supplies, along with some technology, I created a space that my students would go on to name “the wonder shelves.” What you are about to read was not an overnight process, but one that grew over an eight-year span.”

Components of Wonder Shelves

“Using disposable food containers individualized by purpose or tool, I created a system for organizing tools that kids could explore during lessons, after lessons, and sometimes before or after school.

“As I got to know my students, I began learning about their other interests outside of class. I found that many were dabbling in the creative arts, so I added quite a few things specific to those pursuits during the course of the year. Our shelves grew to hold art pads, sketchbooks, air-dry clay, molding tools, various markers, art pencils, beads, string, Legos, K’nex, and glue.”

“. . .  it was amazing to see students use their downtime to explore their interests, create, and learn. On many occasions, I found them creating items specific to areas that we were studying, like making bracelets or necklaces that involved recursive or geometric sequences, and then challenging their peers to determine the equation. They created structures using Legos and K’nex to build us a geometric city where we explored concepts like taxicab geometry, angle pair relationships, and even measurement.

“. . . we inherited a Lego Mindstorm kit and that opened up an entirely new world to students in the area of robotics. We had no idea how to actually program the robot, but the Mindstorm kit didn’t sit idle on the shelf. We learned together, and in the process, we developed meaningful relationships that enhanced our growth in and out of class.

“When I received classroom technology like laptops and iPads, they were housed on the wonder shelves and not locked away in a cabinet. Doing this created a space where learning extended to whatever students could create and interact with on a device. I was pleasantly shocked to turn on an iPad and see a stop-motion creation using clay to illustrate changes in volume of a cylinder — and this was something that I hadn’t assigned! When you give kids space and access to explore, this is what can happen.

From Wonder Shelf to Makerspace

“Simply put, my students and I had designed in-class learning that adhered to our goals. What kids did when they met those goals or on their own time was fair game, and this space gave room to the idea of learning beyond our standards.

“The wonder shelves also meant that my students, with a majority of them falling into more marginalized populations, were provided experiences that they would not have had in any other learning venue.