Wednesday, September 17, 2014

Promoting Innovation, Creativity, and Design in our Schools (Pt 2 of 2)

Part One can be found here, where I went through the two main types of innovation we're working on.

Employers and college registrars are speaking loud and clear when they say they need more creative people, more problem solvers, more critical thinkers, and more innovative ideas. Even beyond all that, we know as educators that these are critical skills and we've always worked to build them in our students.  We don't need mounds of surveys and data to tell us these are important skills, but it is important to note that there is a real uptick in the call for these skills as the world economy becomes more information and innovation driven.

Promoting innovation, creativity, and design in schools is not easy.  Many things work against this effort, most of which are frankly out of our control- increased testing and the pressure it creates, stacked curriculum and pacing guides, bell schedules, limited materials, and the very structure/space we have to work with, to name a few.  This effort is NOT easy, but it IS important.  It's what's right for students.

There's good news and bad news about promoting innovation and creativity in our classrooms.  My daughter always tells me to start with the bad news first, so she can leave in a better mood after hearing the good news we'll start with the bad news!

The bad news is that we, as teachers, do many things throughout our day that squash our student's creativity.  Most of these things happen and we don't even realize it.  They mostly stem from the way we were ourselves taught growing up.  Many of them also originate in classes or PD we've been given in the past about how to manage a classroom, how to present lessons, and how to interact with kids.  So that's the bad news.

Now for the good news!  Unlike the barriers listed above that are out of our control- these actions and strategies are totally within our grasp to change. All we have to do is be mindful of them when we're asking students to do creative work and step back!

The teachers I've been able to work with on this have done a fantastic job of identifying a lot of these actions and behaviors and reflecting on how to change them to allow more creativity and innovative thought to flow in our schools.  Here's the list and our reactions and reflections on each.

Things to be mindful of when doing creative / innovative / design work with students:

Instead of…
Think about…
Providing a model of what you want to build
Letting kids start from scratch
Assigning a task (“Build a paper airplane”)
Generating a goal (“Make something that can fly across the room”)
Making kids work alone
Having kids work in partners or small groups
Limiting Materials
Providing a large range and asking kids what else they could use
Teaching kids how to improve their design
Having kids who have had success share their ideas with the class
Starting with research
“Ending” with research, then letting that research generate more questions and ideas for improvement
Stepping in to help/guide as kids build
Stepping back and letting them figure it out together
Providing rewards
Providing feedback
“Fixing” things for kids
Letting kids troubleshoot

In short, when doing creative work with kids:

  • Less us, more them
  • Be less helpful
  • Be open to surprises and new directions that kids want to take you

Good luck and have fun!!!

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