Can We Teach Creativity?

A few weeks ago, I read a post that haunted me. Scott McLeod wrote on his blog-Dangerously! Irrelevant a post entitled "My Son is 8. He's a maker". The point the a author was trying to make was that his son is very creative at home and that schools don't foster and propel this creativity to creative pursuits in the confines of the current educational structure.

Rethinking the Role of Schools
If someone sends their child to an institution, it must be implied that they are sending them there to acquire the skills, knowledge and everything after that that institution provides. There is an enormous amount of adaptability, and what is now changing is question of who should adapt. Traditional thinking may support that students have to meet the expectations of their teachers in order to learn responsibility, but in the last few decades, teachers are now differentiating instruction based readiness, process or product output. It's difficult to comprehend the preparation of differentiated instruction for 20 different students and there is such a vast chasm between truly effective differentiated instruction that supports educational goals and surface level trendiness.

Allowing Students To Be Creative
With new clubs and online collaboration, I think that schools and teachers can give opportunities to be creative. Sir Ken Robinson talks at great length about the importance of creativity and how we as schools need to strive to fan its flame. However, creativity is a difficult thing. Namely:
  1. In a system that tries to quantify outputs into statistical measures, how do we measure creativity?
  2. Can creativity be taught?
  3. Do we gradually become less creative as we adapt to the expectations of current systems?

I struggle with all these questions. After a unit on Physics and Simple Machines, I had some time to encourage students to make a Rube Goldberg Machine which is an enormously complicated device designed to do a very simple task. We watched Adam Sandowsky's TED talk on how he was hired by the band "OK Go" to make a Rube Goldberg machine for a new song of theirs. My experience in seeing Rube Goldberg devices is that teachers say: "Ok kids, you have to use all the simple machines as part of this project", but this doesn't capture the math behind how machines make work easier. Our earlier lab eliminated this need and it gave me and the students some time to "Geek Out" with creativity.

Is Creativity Merely a Remix?
As we designed our machines I had the chance to brainstorm with the class where we get our ideas from. I showed them Kirby Fergeson's "Every thing is a Remix" which supports the notion that the seed of creativity comes from the present as we look at old things in new ways. From this perspective, everything is a remix with a % of something old and a % of something new. I asked my students to reflect on this and postulate what % of their Rube Goldberg was "original" and what was "remixed". See the example below. Sorry for all the hijinks and shaky camera work!

Blending Creativity into Education
I think what I cherish most in the video above is how excited students were about this process. We talked alot about failure (as we often do in science) and the need for persistance. Although all groups were not successful in building their devices in our alloted time, they collectivly helped each other to become more determined, more driven and more invested. Imagine if we can create opportunities like this for students to engineer other devices, start clubs, advocate for global issues, and stand up.

Creativity may be an unseen factor, but I think it's something we hope all our students will see.

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