Archive for March, 2009

Fostering Creativity in Education

CreativityIn a recent post, “Remixing Culture and 21st Century Skills,” we discussed the difficult balancing act teachers have between helping students learn today’s essential skills and teaching new skills required for future success. Our Creative Director Carl Potts, expands on these ideas to discuss how creative thinking can be fostered in our students.

Creative thinking is vital to student success in all subject areas. To prepare students for future success – in and beyond the classroom – they need to have techniques that foster creative innovation.

As educator, author and creativity expert Ken Robinson points out, we don’t even know what the world will be like in 5 years, yet our schools are now teaching kids who will be expected to work productively for forty or more years from now. The education we give kids today can’t possibly anticipate the information and skills they will need years down the road. However, if they have the tools to be creative and to innovate, they will have a much better chance of succeeding no matter how the world changes.

Here is a link to a great video presentation, “Do Schools Kill Creativity” that Robinson gave at a TED conference. Other Robinson videos can be seen on YouTube. I also recommend his book Out of Our Minds: Learning to be Creative. …and just what exactly is creativity?

Based on the research I’ve done so far, here are some things that can be said about the slippery subject of creativity

  • Creativity is not a talent; it is a way of operating and it can be taught.
  • It is not restricted to the arts and it can be applied to any human endeavor.
  • It is not related to IQ (providing you have a minimum level of IQ).
  • To get into a creative mood, creative people often get into a “playful mood” to explore ideas for enjoyment.
  • One of the best combinations of environment and attitude to foster creative thinking is a quiet space and enough time to get into the proper “playful” and non-judgmental frame of mind. However, these conditions are not practical to use in a classroom environment.
  • Although it’s not appropriate for use in the classroom, in some cases, extreme pressure can create an environment where creativity springs to life. As NBC/Universal Vice President Marc Siry stated, “Creativity often involves connecting previously unrelated concepts, techniques, methods, or ideas, and coming up with an unexpected result. These types of connections happen best in an unstructured environment – which is why it’s tough for a big, mature company, laden with process, to be creative. It’s also why creativity often happens under pressure – when the rules go out the window, previously unthinkable connections can be made.”
  • Creativity is not the exclusive domain of the young. As Siry notes, it is often implied “that creativity is the province of the young – new ideas are more easily born in a mind free of learned behaviors. The inverse of that could be argued – with more total information in a person’s head, there’s more opportunity for new connections.”
  • Creativity and humor are linked. The way seemingly dissimilar ideas come together when brainstorming is similar to the way a punch line works in a joke. The humor in a punch line is often derived by shifting to a different frame of reference when coming to the end of a train of connected thoughts or events in a joke. You laugh at the movement of contact/juxtaposition between two frames of reference.
  • Mistakes are a vital part of the learning process. As a British proverb states: The man who does not make mistakes is unlikely to make anything.

Creativity in the classroom

At Teaching Matters, we often incorporate creative exercises into our programs in the form of brainstorming. Brainstorming can be an individual or group activity.

For group brainstorming to work well in the classroom environment, it’s vital to create a climate where students are not tied to, or judged by, the ideas they throw out off the top of their heads.

Students have to feel free to contribute without fear of being judged negatively by their peers or the teacher. You never know what may turn out to be a constructive contribution. Seemingly ridiculous thoughts may spark a chain reaction that leads to a creative solution or innovation.

So, teachers have to establish a non-judgmental climate. Hopefully, a non-judgmental brainstorming culture will eventually be established in the classroom and the need for teacher reinforcement of that attitude will be minimized.

Ideally, I’d like to put together a group of tools/techniques that enable students in an often boisterous classroom environment to be more creative and innovate across a wide range of subjects and endeavors. I’d also like to be able to measure the effects of adding creativity fostering techniques to various subjects. (That will be no easy feat!)

Any thoughts or ideas you have along these lines will be greatly appreciated.


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For those interested in education innovation made possible by technology you must read Bill Tucker’s new  report  – Beyond the Bubble: Technology and the Future of Student Assessment.  Bill is reframing the debate between  two key education camps. 

Bill’s key idea is that, ultimately, we don’t have to choose between accountability systems and   instruction that addresses a broad array of skills and deep content.    Because whether you are Joel Klein, Michelle Rhee, or Linda Darling Hammond, you have common ground on one thing. .. our assessments can be radically improved.     

Over the last eight years,  education  took major  steps towards holding schools accountable and measuring their progress.   But our actual assessments, for the most part, took a few steps back. We automated the most basic forms of assessment, and states stopped experiments in performance-based assessments designed to measure the higher-order thinking our kids need to succeed in the future.

 Now that the FEDS, the teachers union, and the governors, ALL agree that we need national standards – this conversation about investing seriously in assessment innovation is extremely timely and relevant. My vote for how to use some of this stimulus! 

For more discussion on this issue click here.

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