What is Creativity in Education?
There are a lot of definitions of creativity in the education world today. They all basically say the same thing but aren’t very enlightening. Google defines it as “the use of the imagination or original ideas, especially in the production of an artistic work.” No one would argue with this but it doesn’t really help teachers understand how to instill something in our students that we may never have had in us. The Partnership for 21st Century Learning (P21) gives us this far too complex definition:
“Creativity is the interaction among aptitude, process, and environment by which an individual or group produces a perceptible product that is both novel and useful as defined within a social context” (p. 90).
After doing a lot of research, it was my colleague, Sergio Villegas who gave me a simple and useful definition that I love: “Creativity means creating or making a change to something that improves that thing for someone else.” In this sense, creativity could mean modifying the 3D printing process to make prosthetics for amputees and it can also mean a teacher making a modification to a lesson plan to make it better. It doesn’t have to take much to ask our students to hone their creative skills at the smallest levels with the idea that, with practice, they can be creative in many ways.
What Does Creativity Look Like in the Classroom?
One of the biggest changes to education in the past fifteen years is the access to information. Anytime I wanted to know something, I had to ask my teacher or go to the library to look it up in a book or on microfiche. Students have more computing power in their cars and even their phones than the Apollo 11 systems (Computer Weekly, 2009). The big change is teaching them how to take this information by the reins and become masters of it. Inquiry, then, is the key to creativity. When students have access to information at their fingertips, they have no other action than to learn. It is our job to help them understand how to find, evaluate, and apply information. Once they have this basic knowledge, they can transfer it to any situation which warrants it.
Many teachers are embracing the concepts of Genius Hour and 20% Time. Teachers are also finding ways to help students create blogs and design new tools. Kevin Brookhouser asks his students to spend 20% of their time in his class to research and learn about something they are interested in. Chris Craft, an educator from South Carolina worked with his students to create prosthetics for kids all over the world. Kern Kelley’s students in Maine created the Tech Sherpas, a student group that not only helps teachers at their own school when they have technology questions, they also have a world-wide weekly Hangout open to any teachers who are interested in the week’s topics. Teachers can even submit questions to be answered.
Our students don’t have to be the ones who thought these things up to be successful. If they take one of these ideas and adjust it to meet their own needs, that is creativity too.
What Does Creativity Look Like for Educators?
Hope isn’t lost for us educators who deem ourselves as non-creative. It turns out, we can’t help but be creative. Anytime we create a new lesson plan, modify an existing lesson plan, even try someone else’s idea to a T - we are introducing something new into our schema and we are being creative. My colleague, Sergio is fond of saying that the box we are told to think outside of is your box not the world’s box. As long as we are constantly striving to improve ourselves and our classrooms, we are being creative.
How Do We Cultivate Creativity?
There are many things we can begin integrating slowly into our classrooms to begin this journey of moving “out of our box.”
Modify Our Lessons, All the Time: The first thing my master teacher, Julie Kustura, taught me when I began student-teaching in her English class was to spend the time students were taking the test to go over the unit and make notes about what was really good and what, well...sucked. My advice today would be to do this at the end of each major segment of a lesson or, especially, anytime something doesn’t go right. The day I began blogging about my lessons (the good and bad) was the day my lessons started really blossoming.
Genius Hour: Ask students to spend 45 min each week (Fridays are great) to research a topic they are interested in. Ask select students to give an informal speech at the end of the time period about what they learned.
Solve a Problem: One of my favorite tasks for my students to accomplish was research and design a solution to a problem facing the world. I always asked them to do it economically, practically, and ethically otherwise Harry Potter saved the world every time.
Alternative Assessments: Ask students to demonstrate their understanding of a concept in their own way. You can give them five different tools to choose from to accomplish this task. You can also ask them to design a website with the goal of teaching someone else about the concept - the newly redesigned Google Sites makes this easy even for elementary students.
Encourage Discussion: If we are asking our students to do something in class that they can easily do at home, we are misusing our 1:1 time with them. Encourage discussion in class. I’ll admit, it would frighten the daylights out of me when I realized one of my students are 100 times more articulate and knowledgeable about something than I was. It took a long time for me to be able to admit to them at that moment that I wasn’t sure and could they help me understand. The moment I acknowledged my own form of ignorance with my students, the respect level multiplied between us (and these were 12th graders!).
There are many more ideas out there to encourage and foster creativity in the classroom. In her article, 30 Things You Can Do to Promote Creativity, Miriam Crawford gives a lot of really great ideas. Our challenge for this new year is to go out, embrace creativity in your own way, and don’t be afraid to try something new!
"30 Things You Can Do To Promote Creativity." InformED. 21 Oct. 2016. Web. 09 Jan. 2017.
"The Apollo 11 Mission's Computers Were Less Powerful than Today's Mobile Phones." The Apollo 11 Mission's Computers Were Less Powerful than Today's Mobile Phones - Computer Weekly Editors Blog. Web. 09 Jan. 2017.
"Cultivating Creativity in the Classroom." Psychology Today. Web. 09 Jan. 2017.
Larson, Tony. "The 4Cs Research Series - P21." The 4Cs Research Series - P21. Web. 09 Jan. 2017.
"Tech Sherpas." Google Sites. Web. 09 Jan. 2017."Why Creativity in the Classroom Matters More Than Ever." Why Creativity in the Classroom Matters More Than Ever | Edudemic. Web. 09 Jan. 2017.
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Check out Kate's past 4Cs articles in this series!