Creative Education
2012. Vol.3, No.4, 479-485
Published Online August 2012 in SciRes (
Copyright © 2012 SciRe s . 479
Second Graders’ Recycled/Craft Item Products Demonstrate Life
Cycle Content Knowledge and Creativity Skills
Angela Naomi Webb, Audrey C. Rule
Department of Curriculum and Instruction, University of Northern Iowa, Cedar Falls, USA
Received June 1st, 2012; r evised July 12th, 2012; accepted July 19th, 2012
Creativity is a necessary skill for students to become problem solvers in the rapidly changing 21st century.
This study’s main activity allowed students to demonstrate their content knowledge in an engaging way
while also exhibiting creative strengths. Twenty-two second grade students (15 female, 7 male) of mixed
ability levels at a Title 1 school produced projects using identical sets of recycled and craft items. They
incorporated vocabulary words and images associated with the life cycles of four organisms: horse, drag-
onfly, sea turtle, and bean plant. Projects were analyzed for creative strengths as well as science concept
integration. Student-made products showed vocabulary from all four life cycles, but familiar organisms
(dragonfly and bean plant) were depicted more frequently. Creative strengths evidenced in student work
included: elaboration, breaking boundaries, storytelling articulateness, originality, and emotional expres-
siveness, among others. The authors recommend teachers incorporate similar creative tasks as assess-
ments of content learning. Additional studies integrating more creative product assessments for a longer
duration to show growth over time are suggested.
Keywords: Life Cycle; Science; Second Grade; Creativity
The high stakes testing climate of the No Child Left Be-
hind legislation for most schools has caused teachers to focu s
on content addressed by standardized assessments through
teacher-led instruction and to narrow the curriculum to teste d
subjects, thereby reducing the arts and more creative activi-
ties (Center on Education Policy, 2009). A Rand study (Ha-
milton, Stecher, Marsh, McComb s, Robyn, Russell, Naftel, &
Bamey, 2007) reported that teachers expressed concern for
high-achieving and creative students who received less atten-
tion because the curriculum was restricted and attention fo-
cused more on low achievers. This study examined how a
highly creative activity can be used as a practice and assess-
ment of student vocabulary and concept learning for a seco nd
grade unit on animal and plant life cycles.
Support for 21st Century Skills
Various educational groups promoting “21st Century” skill
programs highlight creativity and problem solving skills as vital
to preparing for a changing, highly-technological, global work-
place. A group of international researchers (Assessment &
Teaching of 21st Century Skills, 2012) identified essential skills
for success in the future in four areas: ways of thinking—crea-
tively and critically, ways of working with others through
communication and collaboration, tools for working—informa-
tion literacy and communication technology, and citizenship
and responsibility skills for living in the world. Both the Part-
nership for 21st Century Skills (2011) and the Center for 21st
Century Skills (Education Connection, 2012) include creativity,
innovation, and problem-solving skills as thinking skills critical
to success in a quickly evolving, complex society. The creative
problem solving activity described in this article can support
these skills while also serving as a way for students to evidence
the content knowledge they are acquirin g .
The activity on which this article focuses was used as a crea-
tive practice and assessment of content knowledge during a
culminating activity for an animal and plant life cycle unit of
instruction. These second graders had been reading about the
life cycles of the sea turtle (egg—hatchling—adult), bean plant
(seed—sprout—seedling—flowering plant), horse (stallion and
mare—offspring—colt or foal), and dragonfly (egg—larva—
nymph—adult dragonfly) and had been practicing these con-
cepts in creative ways by converting simple figures and squig-
gles into images related to the life cycles and standard ways by
drawing the stages of the organism’s life cycle. See Webb and
Rule for detailed explanation of that activity (2012). As a final
in-class assignment combining all four organisms’ life cycles,
students were each given an identical set of recycled and craft
items, a piece of construction paper of their color choice as a
base on which to make and label the parts of the product, and
asked to use all materials in making a construction that showed
as much as they could about the life cycles. Table 1 shows the
list of items in the identical sets given to students.
Figure 1 shows a representative second grader’s final prod-
uct. This student has shown three of the four life cycles in her
product. A dragonfly was depicted by the black foam cutout.
The pink fuzzy chenille pieces are dragonfly nymphs. The
wooden clothespin is a hovering dragonfly (“hover” was a tar-
geted vocabulary word). The egg carton compartments with
paper punches are the bean plant seeds. The green palm tree
stirrer is a bean plant sprout emerging from the soil. The plastic
cup represents the carapace of a sea turtle as it digs a hole to lay
eggs. The eggs are shown as the white marbles in the project.
Most student products addressed two or three organism life
Table 1.
Set of materials given to each second grade student.
Set of Given Items
Pink fuzzy b umpy chenille stick (pipe-cleaner)
30 cm of inch-wide peach grosgrain ribbon
Green plastic palm tree dri nk stirrer
Clear plastic cup
Wooden clip type clothespin
Wooden tong u e depressor
Black foam block
Three silver stars on a string
3 white flat glass marbl es
Red spatte red cardboa rd f rozen food tr ay
13 × 15 cm red heart netting
13 × 20 cm buff cardstock
18 × 8 cm white envelope with spoonful of multicolored confetti paper
punches inside
2 sections of a gray cardboard egg carton
Apple and star stickers
2 black plastic drink stirrers
Figure 1.
Example entire li fe c ycle product made by s ec on d grade student.
cycle components, in a similar manner to this student’s work.
Creative Transformations
J. P. Guilford, renowned p sychologist, was an early researcher
recognizing that intelligence was a multidimensional construct.
He developed a model of mental functioning called the Structure
of the Intellect (Guilford, 1967; Guilford & Hoepner, 1971).
Although this model is no l onger an accepted model of cognitive
functioning, it brought to light many important aspects of creative
production such as the distinction between convergent (seeking to
zero-in on the one correct answer) and divergent (seeking many,
varied correct answers) production. The model also highlighted
the diverse mental processes in which humans can engage; these
processes remain valid even if Guilford’s conception of how the
brain operates was faulty. The Structure of the Intellect model
was shown figuratively as a cube with three different dimensions:
operations (general intellectual processes), content (broad areas
of information), and products (the result of applying mental op-
erations to content). Products included units, classes, relations,
systems, implications, and transformations. This last type, trans-
formation, can be applied to the student products made in this
“A transformation is any kind of change in information”
(Guilford, 1977: p. 37). Guilford highlighted certain transforma-
tions as particularly important. Fi gural transformations involved
a change in the spatial orientation of a figure or a new image
produced from a figure by the addition of lines, shapes, or shad-
ing. In this study, the creative constructions were a type of figural
transformation because the given objects were cut apart, bent,
rearranged, and glued to make a new construction related to life
cycles. Semantic transformations refer to a substitution of mean-
ing. An object used in an unusual way that is counter to its typical
recognized purpose, such as using a ruler to poke an object out
from beneath a bookcase, rather than mea sure, is an example. As
students examined the given set of objects for thei r creative con-
struction, they needed to repurpose the recy cled items as parts of
their life cycle constructions, rather than their original use as food
trays, drink stirrers, or egg cartons. This re-visioning of purpose
was a semantic transformation.
Transformation, though not always referred to with this term,
is still recognized as an important mental process resulting in
creative products. Michael Michalko (2001), organizer of a team
of NATO intelligence specialists and academics who inventoried
all known creative thinking methods to provide a storehouse of
techniques for solving international problems, called transforma-
tion recognizing “latent potential” (p. 234). He stated, “[E]very
new subject or idea produces a host of creative byproducts, ini-
tially seen as irrelevant, but available for fashioning into novel
new directions” (p. 234). Michalko gave an example of how
people in Nairobi saw the latent potential of old tires, recycling
them into sandals as they recognized the durability of the material
and made a functional shift—a semantic transformation in Guil-
ford’s terminology.
More recently, Davis, Rimm and Siegle (2011: p. 211) define d
transformation as the “ability to adapt something to a new use;
see new meanings, implications, and applications; or creatively
change one object or idea into anot her”. They concluded, “Tran s-
formation is an extremely important creative ability.”
Previous Work
The creative problem solving activity used in this study has
been described in only a few previously published works. Rule,
Zhbanova, Hileman Webb, Evans, Schneider, Parpucu, Logan,
Van Meeteren, A lkouri, and Ru a n (2011) conducted two similar
workshops at a state conference for education of the gifted us-
ing this problem-solving activity. Participants, who were mostly
teachers of the gifted, were each given an identical set of mate-
rials—in one workshop, the set was identical to that used in the
current study. Teachers in that workshop were asked to make
something that related to an interpretation of the theme “cool
space”. The other workshop participants were given a different
set of materials and the theme “under water”. The products
made by participants and an analysis of the creative strengths
shown are provided in this document.
Copyright © 2012 SciRe s .
Another trial of this problem solving activity is described in
an article by Rule, Alkouri, Criswell, Evans, Hileman Webb,
Parpucu, Ruan, Van Meeteren, Uhlenberg, Vasileva, and Zh-
banova (in press). Participants in this study were mostly gradu-
ate students in a creativity course who made products from
identical sets of materials that conformed to various constraints.
After making the products, students were told to revision each
by relating it to a topic in economics as practice in re-visiting
the problem and keeping it open. The journal article explains
how this activity may be used to infuse creativity into social
studies education.
The current study extends this technique to K-12 education
by having second graders apply the method to a unit on life cy-
cles. The following section describes the details of the method
and is followed by the results and conclusions of the study.
This study was conducted with a class of 22 second grade
students learning about four different animal and plant life cy-
cles. The focus was learning science concepts and vocabulary
through reading of nonfiction texts at the students’ reading
levels. The study sought to examine how a creative task in
which students made a life cycle construction of a given set of
recycled and craft materials could be used as a content assess-
Twenty-two students (7 male, 15 female; 19 Caucasian, 3
African-American, 1 Hispanic) of mixed academic performance
comprising an intact second grade classroom at a public school
in rural Iowa participated in the study. This school’s population
was low socio-economic status with fifty-seven percent of chil-
dren at the school receiving free or reduced cost lunches. This
study was approved by the overseeing university’s Human Sub-
jects Committee (HP#11-068), the district’s superintendent, the
school’s principal, and with written consent from parents and
participating students.
The life cycles of four organisms were investigated over a
month with one week devoted to each organism. Key vocabu-
lary words were identified for each animal or plant life cycle.
These were practiced by making creative figural transforma-
tions on paper (sea turtle and bean plant) or by drawing and
labeling the life cycles (dragonfly and horse). Another study
(Webb & Rule, 2012) reported on the vocabulary test advantage
for practicing creatively with figural transformations. In con-
trast, this study examined a culminating activity for the life
cycle unit, making a three-dimensional construction of a given
set of recycled and craft materials.
For a final assessment of student learning of life cycle con-
cepts, each student was given an identical set of recycled and
craft materials as listed in Table 1. These materials showed a
variety of physical properties such as flexibility, stiffness, color,
shape, volume, and texture. This set was identical to a set used
in an earlier experiment with a different content theme (“cool
space”) conducted with adult participants attending a gifted
education conference (Rule et al., 2011). Students were told the
following guidelines for the activity: 1) all of the given items
should be incorporated into the final structure; 2) the theme for
the construction is the four life cycles recently studied (sea
turtle, dragonfly, horse, bean plant); 3) students were asked to
identify key vocabulary in their products; 4) a thirty-minute
time limit was given; 5) students were allowed to cut, color, or
fold items and use tape, glue, crayons, and markers; 6) stu-
dents were allowed to choose a piece or two of colored con-
struction paper as a base for their work. The student products
were photographed and students wrote labels or descriptions of
what they had depicted.
Data Analysis
The number of key vocabulary words studied for each of the
four organisms was tabulated. The products were examined for
creative strengths and techniques.
Results and Discussion
Creative Strengths
Table 2 shows creative strengths exhibited by second grade rs’
products. This list is not exhaustive of all possibilities, but
shows those expressly taught in previous lessons by the teacher
(originality, elaboration, emotional expressiveness, and break-
ing boundaries), along with others spontaneously shown by the
students in their products. Torrance, Ball, and Safter (1992),
besides identifying and scoring fluency, flexibility, originality,
elaboration, and abstractness of titles in the Torrance Test of
Creative Thinking (figural format), identified several other
“creative strengths” that test subjects might exhibit in their
work. These included the other ideas presented in Table 2 such
as storytelling articulateness, movement or action, and emo-
tional expressiveness, among others.
Table 3 shows the identified vocabulary words students
incorporated into their structures. Students used more vocabu-
lary related to bean plants and dragonflies than sea turtles and
horses. Because students had grown a bean plant, were familiar
Table 2.
Creative strengths evidenced in the study.
Creative St rength Explanation
Originality Different idea not previously represented.
Elaboration Adding extra details to the illustration.
Expressiveness Emotional words or facial expressions on the
animal depictions.
Articulateness Sense of a story or sequence of events.
Movement/Action Motion lines or a ction.
Breaking Boundaries Turning upside-down or brea king normal
lines and boundaries.
Abstract Ideas Ecological or political messages inte gr ated in
the project.
Three-Dimensionality Instead of spreading the items into a f l at
object, the obj ect has h eight.
Internal VisualizationShowing what is inside w ith a cutaway or
transparent piece.
Richness of Im agery Artistic appeal: Partic u l arly cute or b eautiful
Copyright © 2012 SciRe s . 481
Table 3.
Vocabulary addressed by the three- dimensional life cycle creations.
Life Cycle Vocabulary
Words Frequency Total for This
Life Cycle
Egg 4
Hatchling 3
Plastron 3
Incubation 2
Sea Turtle 2
Carapace 1
Submerged 0
Sea Turtle
Reptile 0
Seedling 6
Sprout 5
Seed or Seed Coat5
Pollinate 4
Pod 3
Bean Plant 3
Soil 2
Bean Plant
Germinate 0
Insect 7
Dragonfly 7
Predator 4
Hover 4
Nymph 3
Molt 1
Larva 1
Antenna 0
Foal 6
Mammal 5
Horse 2
Harness 2
Mare 1
Stallion 0
Muzzle 0
Offspring 0
with farming of soy beans, and personal experience with dra-
gonflies, they depicted them in their work more frequently.
Students were able to show retention of vocabulary concepts
through a creative product rather than a traditional paper and
pencil test.
Figures 2-5 feature selected parts of student products to
show how students depicted components of the life cycles. All
of the items shown here were expressly labeled by students
with the vocabulary words related to these components being
highlighted. Students also verbally explained their work to the
teacher (first author of this article). For each example, we
Figure 2.
Student’s products related to the bean pl a n t l i f e cycle.
Figure 3.
Student’s work relat e d to th e dragonfly life cycle.
Copyright © 2012 SciRe s .
Figure 4.
Three different students’ foals from the horse life cycle.
Figure 5.
Different students’ constructions of parts of the sea turtle life cycle.
discuss the creative strengths exhibited by the student. Figure 2
shows parts of student products related to the bean plant life
cycle. The sprout was made with a cut portion of the green
plastic palm tree drink stirrer thrust into the gray egg carton cup
that represented the soil, a creative idea because the student
modified the given pieces rather than using them as a whole
(creative strength of breaking boundaries).
The top right image of Figure 2 shows a seedling that has
matured enough to develop a flower. The cut pieces of green
plastic are the leaves and the pink fuzzy bumpy chenille stick
was used to make an appealing flower (creative strength of
richness of imagery). The student showed pollination and seed
development with the multicolored confetti paper punches. The
stars are seeds from the flower that are falling to the ground and
starting to sprout. This product shows a lot of detail (creative
strength of elaboration), tells the story of plant’s reproduction
(creative strength of story-telling articulateness), and shows
motion (creative strength of movement) with the falling seeds.
The bottom left image of Figure 2 shows a flowering bean
plant in a container with soil. The soil shows details of various
components: rocks are represented by the paper punches while
stars symbolize the soil (creative strength of elaboration). The
apple sticker signifies the idea of a garden with edible food
while the red heart netting symbolically protects the garden
with love (creative strength of abstract thinking).
The final image in Figure 2 at the bottom right shows sev-
eral unusual aspects. First, the student made a three-dimen-
sional scene by taping the black night sky backdrop to the green
ground (creative strength of three-dimensionality). No other
students made a three dimensional backdrop, so this was a
unique idea (creative strength of originality). Then the student
contrasted the beauty of a newly-opened white flower with the
trashy paper-punch litter in the flower pot cup and as bits of
heart netting on the ground (creative strength of abstract think-
Figure 3 shows images of student work related to the drag-
onfly life cycle or insects. The upper left image shows a drag-
onfly laying eggs. The dragonfly has red netted wings and is
hovering over the eggs. A white flat marble was used as the
head and contains eyes. The student cut and altered materials to
make the dragonfly and eggs (creative strength of breaking
boundaries), producing many parts to show detail (creative
strength of elaboration) in this scene of a female dragonfly
hovering over her eggs (creative strength of storytelling articu-
lateness). The top right image shows the parts of an insect that
were studied at the time of the dragonfly life cycle. The student
included the three-part body of head, thorax and abdomen, the
antennae, wings, and spotted pattern of a ladybug (creative
strength of elaboration). In contrast, the lower left image of a
dragonfly shows little detail or elaboration, but it shows the
creative strength of emotional expressiveness through the smile.
The last image on the bottom right is a dragonfly nymph that
indicates the student’s content knowledge of the wingless form
of this larva.
Figure 4 shows three different ways students depicted a foal
of the horse life cycle. The upper left image shows a young
horse with a pink chenille tail and red-brown body colored with
crayon (creative strength of elaboration). The right image
shows black stirrer legs, pink chenille ears, and a connected
string of silver stars for a tail on the black foam body (creative
strength of elaboration). The last image on the lower left shows
facial features, including a smile, in addition of legs and tail
(creative strength of emotional expressiveness).
Figure 5 illustrates images from the sea turtle life cycle. The
upper left image is of a sea turtle nest. The paper punches are
eggs, the cut pieces of black foam and red netting are sand, and
the gray pieces of egg carton are the sea turtles concealing the
nest. This image shows several layers inside of the nest (crea-
tive strength of internal visualization). The pink fuzz is fur from
a predator that was seeking to uncover and eat the eggs
(creative strength of storytelling articulateness). The bottom left
Copyright © 2012 SciRe s . 483
image shows a turtle’s carapace with concentric circle designs
(creative strength of elaboration) while the final image shows
the plastron on the underside of a sea turtle (creative strength of
an unusual perspective). The plastron in the drawing also shows
attention to detail, as the suture lines are visible (creative
strength of elaboration).
An open-ended culminating project like the one described in
this article is a good place to examine misconceptions in stu-
dent thinking. Although none were detected in this project,
several research studies indicate that children have misconcep-
tions about animal life cycles that they eventually outgrow with
appropriate instruction. For example, Nguyen and Rosengren
(2004), in surveying parents concerning their children’s bio-
logical knowledge of life cycles, found fewer misconceptions in
5 to 6 year olds than 3 to 4 year olds, indicating that miscon-
ceptions are open to change and are eventually replaced with
accurate facts. For instance, some younger children thought that
babies grew from seeds like plants whereas older students knew
that babies grew inside their mothers’ bodies and had charac-
teristics of their parents. Similarly, Hickling and Gelman (1995)
reported that most children understood bef ore age five that plants
grow from seeds. Another common misconception among first
graders reported by teachers was the belief that insects were not
animals because they are not furry, four-legged creatures (Pine,
Messer & St. John, 2010). An emphasis on scientific classifi-
cation of animals into different classes such as mammals, rep-
tiles, and insects helps students understand that all animals are
not mammals. In this study, the teacher presented three life
cycles from these different classes of animals, drawing student
attention to the fact that dragonflies, as insects, are indeed a
type of animal.
Students were able to evidence their content knowledge and
vocabulary acquisition related to animal life cycles through this
activity. They incorporated 25 different words related to the life
cycles as was shown in Table 3 and showed many different
parts of the life cycles. This level of vocabulary acquisition is
particularly interesting, given the fact that students did not
study or review vocabulary for this assessment—the results in-
dicate student learning solely from the lessons. Additionally , stu-
dents were able to demonstrate and practice creative strengths
and problem-solving abilities through this exercise. They espe-
cially exhibited elaboration, breaking of boundaries, storytel-
ling articulateness, abstract thought, emotional expressiveness,
and unusual perspectives. Although the teacher focused more of
her instruction regarding creativity on adding details and using
materials in different ways, students spontaneously displayed
other strengths. The relaxed productive atmosphere produced in
the classroom by addressing creative thinking skills promoted a
safe environment where risk-taking was encouraged. Therefore,
students naturally evidenced other creative traits (Cremin, Bur-
nard, & Craft, 2006). This situation fits with Lin’s (2009, 2011)
triangular model for creative pedagogy of “creative teaching,”
“teaching for creativity,” and “creative learning” at each of the
three vertices. Teaching creatively involves “using imaginative
approaches to make learning more interesting and effective”
(NACCCE, 1999: p. 89): the teacher provided an exciting ac-
tivity with interesting recycled and craft items for students to
re-envision as life cycle parts. The “teaching for creativity”
aspects highlighted identifying and developing learner capabili-
ties as the teacher gave instruction on elaboration, breaking
boundaries, and generating original ideas. By standing back,
allowing students to take responsibility for their creative work,
by encouraging the students’ curiosity, questioning and deci-
sion-making, the teacher facilitated “creative learning” compo-
nent of Lin’s triangular model.
In future studies, this activity could be repeated several times
so that students could become more aware of all of the creative
strengths and practice these skills. If a teacher used this type of
activity for weekly practice of content, both academic content
and creativity skills might be practiced, allowing students to
make growth in multiple areas. The vocabulary and concepts
students depict in their work also provide a useful assessment
of information being learned.
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