Wednesday, February 27, 2013

Nurturing Creativity in the Classroom

Last week I was fortunate to attend the Learning & the Brain Conference in San Francisco.  This year’s conference focused on creativity with an outstanding speaker lineup including Tina Seelig,  Madeline Levine, John Seely Brown, Yang Zhou and many others.  As is with most conferences I attend, I left exhausted yet inspired.   We are working so hard in LASD to improve the learning experiences for students and much of what I heard confirmed we are on the right track.  Our teachers are upgrading units of instruction and redesigning learning to be more active, but we have more work to do especially when it comes to nurturing the creative and entrepreneurial spirit of our students. While speakers may have varied  on their approaches, the overwhelming messages where the same -  humans are inherently creative, but creativity must be nurtured. Below are some strategies that may be used in the classroom to help nurture creativity.  

Active Learning with Design Thinking
In order for students to take an active role in their learning, they must work with and use facts, skills, and concepts to solve complex real world learning.  Design Thinking is a process that can be used with students to solve these types of problems. Authentic learning through design thinking is accomplished in collaborative groups, not for the sake of collaboration but because the tasks assigned are demanding and require the role and expertise of each member within the group. Students must start with a problem or design challenge that is created at the appropriate level of difficulty because students will disengage if the problem is either too hard or too easy.  Students then discuss and explore the problem through inquiry and work to find a solution.  Students prototype and create tangible solutions that address the problem.  This process is guided by an instructor but ultimately students take ownership of their learning by creating a solution that is actionable.   This is a VERY oversimplified explanation of Design Thinking with the intent of only highlighting that Design Thinking is an effective strategy to increase the creative output of our students.  There are incredible organizations and individuals doing great work with Design Thinking in K12 Education.  Here are a few resources of interest - Design Thinking for Educators  | Nueva School  |   Center for Design Thinking Mount Vernon Presbyterian School

Reframing Our Questions
We know the art of asking questions is powerful, but it may just be that the art of reframing questions is even more powerful.  In the classroom, we should challenge ourselves as facilitators of learning to reframe our questions and only pose questions that have multiple answers. Reframing the questions we ask as educators is a start, but we also need to teach students to how to reframe things themselves using empathy and jokes.  Empathy, one of the steps in Design Thinking, is essentially learning how to reframe your perspective by shifting to that of another person.  If we can successfully teach students how to look at problems from another point of view we have taught them the beginning of empathy.  Reframing can also be taught through jokes.  In fact, most jokes are funny because they switch frames in the middle of the joke. A great classroom exercise is to have students create captions for humorous pictures.  Think this is easy?  Try the New Yorker cartoon caption contest, it is one of the more difficult contents to enter.

Don’t Settle For the First Answer
Tina Seeling, Executive Director for the Stanford Technology Ventures Program, teaches several classes on creativity and is known to push the thinking of her students.  It is not uncommon for Tina to give assignments that may at first sound outrageous such as “create 500 flavors of icecream” or “find a small filled trashcan - now you have 2 hours to makes something of value.” Assignments like these are powerful because they force students to push through the first ideas that come to mind.  It is often not until the second or third wave of thoughts were creative ideas begin to surface.  Allowing students time to think and process is critical in the creative process and time feels scarce in most classrooms.   Many times we are in a hurry and are ready to move on to the next lesson, subject or project.  I wonder what would happen if we allowed students to linger longer on problems?  Students might solve less problems, but my guess is that the quality of work will improve dramatically.

Next week, we are fortunate to have an entire day with all of our Kindergarten teachers and will focus on nurturing creativity in the classroom.  We are thankful to our parent community and LAEF for supporting ongoing professional development!

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