John Spencer


John Spencer is a former middle school teacher and current college professor on a quest to transform schools into bastions of creativity and wonder. He is the co-author of Launch: Using Design Thinking to Boost Creativity and Bring Out the Maker in Every Student and the founder of two ed-tech start-ups. In 2009, he spoke at the White House, sharing a vision for how to empower students to be future-ready through creativity and design thinking.

Keynotes and Workshops: John Spencer

The Creative Classroom: Boosting Creativity and Sparking Innovation Through Design Thinking

Despite the myth of “digital natives,” most of my students have very little experience using technology as anything more than a consumer device. It doesn’t have to be this way. By using a design thinking framework, teachers can foster creative thinking in every content area. I walk participants through the LAUNCH Cycle, offering practical tips and specific examples.

This is the Future of Education

For all the talk of gadgets and apps, the future of education won’t center around a new content delivery system. The future is in your classroom. It’s with your students. Your school is packed with creative potential. In this keynote, we tackle what the future of education will look like as we shift toward creativity and innovation.

Empowering Students with Voice and Choice

Student choice is about more than just a menu option. It’s about student ownership. This includes ownership of the processes, the assessment, the strategies, and the metacognition. But how do we make this happen? How do we fit this into our standards and our curriculum map? In this workshop, we explore how to develop a thriving Genius Hour Project using design thinking as the framework.


The Seven Types of Creative Teachers

Creativity is often viewed through an artistic lens. The creative teacher is the one who is doing things wildly different. However, creativity can manifest itself in different ways on campus. In this workshop, we explore the five creative mindsets used in the classroom. The goal is for teachers to identify and analyze their creative identity while also empowering students to embrace creativity in the process.  

The Eight Stages in the Teacher Technology Journey

Using the metaphor of a journey, this session takes educators through the phases that many teachers go through from “tech tourism” to “tech assimilation” to “tech integration” and eventually “tech citizenship” (including media criticism). The idea here is to develop reflective questions we could ask teachers in each phase so that they could progress toward a deeper understanding of the nature of technology. Participants will reflect on their own journey through technology integration while also developing reflective coaching questions they can use with their colleagues.  

We Want Kids to Be Creative But How Do We Assess That?

With the explosion of the maker movement, schools are beginning to embrace creativity. However, what does this mean for assessment? Should we assess the creative process? Should we assess the finished product? Does assessing creativity actually make kids more risk-averse? In this session, we explore what it means to assess both the creative process and the creative product without leading to risk aversion.  

What Can Pixar Teach Us About Creativity?

Pixar continues to produce some of the most epic stories in all of cinema (well, except for Cars 2, which we’ll pretend never happened). But they don’t start out that way. In fact, they start out as pretty awful concepts that develop through iterations into genius works of art. In this session, we explore some of the processes that Pixar uses to inspire and sustain creativity and discuss what it would mean to attempt these in a K-12 classroom.

In the Zone: Maximizing Student Engagement with Flow Theory

Ever been “in the zone” while working on a project? You lose track of time. You focus on what’s in front of you. There is a strange mix of calmness and excitement. Those moments are tied into something called Flow Theory. How do we create lessons, experiences, projects and spaces that maximize flow for students? This session is an interactive discussion with an end product of something tangible that would increase flow in learning (a space, a lesson, or a unit).

Everything I Need to Know About Teaching I Learned at Hogwarts

That’s right, Hogwarts. What can we learn from looking at the instruction and the classroom climate of the professors at Hogwarts? In this session, we analyze examples from the Harry Potter series to think about hands-on, student-centered learning.

The Power of Maker Challenges

Limitations and challenges can be frustrating. However, they can also be the creative constraint that leads to problem-solving and divergent thinking. Over the years, I’ve learned that students love challenges that they find engaging, intriguing and meaningful. Some of these are practical and real-world. Others are fantastical and require a bold imagination. In this session, we explore what it looks like to create maker challenges to spark student creativity.

Epic Engagement: Lesson Planning Through the Lens of Story

Story-telling is a deeply human way of making sense out of our experiences. Using the lens of story, we explore how teachers can set up “epic” classrooms. The best lessons are the ones with a high level of suspense and profound character development. As teachers, we can allow students to struggle through both internal and external conflict as they make sense out of themes rather than just ideas.


Each workshop is:

  •      tailored specifically to the needs of your context
  •      highly engaging and hands-on
  •      a blend of small group collaboration and individual introspection and reflection

LAUNCH into Design Thinking

Together, we explore the key ideas of design thinking through the LAUNCH Cycle framework. We begin with a hands-on maker project followed by reflection and discussion. Finally, we develop our own design thinking units, exploring ideas in standards alignment and assessment.

Genius by Design

Genius Hour (or 20% Time) has become a popular initiative within some of the most innovative companies in the world. But how do we actually pull this off in the classroom? What does it look like for standards alignment and assessment? What types of structures do we need to create to facilitate meaningful student inquiry? How do we organize it? What changes do we need to make in procedures and classroom management? In this workshop, we explore the nitty gritty details of Genius Hour through design thinking.

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