By Joe Pausback, Littleton 5/6th Grade Teacher
“I have no time to teach creativity.” – Anonymous Teacher
We live in an age that is saturated with information. As teachers and parents we should contemplate the possibility that content standards have become as obsolete as that Apple IIe computer you used in the 5th grade. Instead of knowing facts as the goal of learning, learning to finding information and using it to achieve a desired end becomes the desired outcome. We need investigation and application standards. We need standards that assess childrens’ abilities to think creatively and critically, to generate ideas and problem solve. Those are inherently a creative acts. And they take practice.
Yet, according to many of my fellow teachers, “we don’t have time” to teach creativity.
A year ago, I attended an IB conference on “Approaches to Learning” (formerly known as the Trans-disciplinary Skills). This conference was attended by working teachers from all 4 IB curriculums: PYP, MYP, DP, and IBCC. At some point during the day, the topic of creativity came up. I was horrified to hear many of my fellow IB teachers, albeit in public schools, scoff at the topic of creativity and weakly offer up the apologetic explanation, “I have no time to teach creativity. ” Several of my fellow conference goers then qualified this statement, given the number of content standards they already had to cover, (imagine hands held about 10 inches apart indicating the width of their standards binder). Others nodded in assent.
At this point, I interjected that actually these sort of limitations present the perfect platform to be creative. Furthermore that you really can not teach creativity so much as model it in your own attitudes. Imagine my surprise when a number of the attendees cast openly hostile glares in my direction, moved a little further away from me, and avoided me for the rest of the day. Really?
Post World War II, the primary model of education seems to be about absorbing, lightly processing and regurgitating information. (Never mind that John Dewey advocated a student centered, hands-on approach model of education 114 years ago.) Yet as our students are graduating into an age of innovation, the goal cannot be regurgitation of information. Our students instead need to know how to find, use and evaluate information – critically and creatively!
My thoughts on creativity and art were influenced by an art teacher I worked with many years ago. He talked about how everyone makes time to wash their laundry, go to the grocery store, and cook dinner. He then added that everyone should make creating art a routine part of their life. I have taken this view one step further and think that everyone should make being creative and inventive a daily practice.
The benefits of the daily practice of creativity can not be said. Practicing creativity stimulates the development of new neural pathways in the brain. Being creative can make you laugh and laughter triggers the release of endorphins making you feel good and lowering your blood pressure. Being practiced with creativity could allow you to become insightful and inventive, helping you to both identify problems and solve them. Being creative might just help you to solve a 21st century problem. People who are creative If the left brain is rational and the right brain is creative, practicing using both will help you to better utilize your entire brain making you smarter.
We can only imagine the challenges that our children will face in the 21st century. I suspect that solving these problems will not be hindered by a lack of information. To prepare our children best they will need to see themselves as agents of creative change. In short we do not have time to not teach creativity.
Here are some ways that I have utilized creativity in my classroom (you’ll see that none of them take extra time, they simply demand a different level of creative engagement with ideas):
- For a quick assessment in math class, I have had students write haiku poems to explain a newly learned concept. I have found that a person really can not hide the truth in haiku.
- After reading about Valley Forge, instead of having students write a paragraph to demonstrate their comprehension, I had them create Washington’s Twitter feed for the winter.
- For a physics test, have students use a trebuchet to hit a castle. Students received an “A” for a direct hit, “B” for a near-miss, and a “C” for everything else.
- At the end of a poetry unit, for the “test.” Students were presented with a variety of stimuli that targeted the 5-senses. Based on each stimuli they had to write a short poem using some of the different poetic devices they had learned. Several students later commented that this was the best test ever!
If you want to get your creative juices flowing at home, sometimes all it takes is a step out of the routine. Here are some “creative” activities that take little cognitive demand but will create neural connects that you do not already have. This will make your thought process more fluid and flexible.
- Rehearse some simple phrases, and use them, in Spanish- Pig Latin (ame ustagay escapy acotays)
- Brush your teeth with your non-dominant hand
- Stand on one foot while you tie the shoe on your other foot.
- Take an unusual route to work or school
- Speak in funny accents
- Take on the persona of a historical character
- Tell wacky stories
- Find alternative uses for everyday objects
- Write poetry
Some of my favorite creativity resources come from TED Talks, specifically Sir Kenneth Robinson. These are classics and a wonderful reminder of school’s role in either promoting – or killing – the creative spirit in students.