Writer Antony Jay poses that “The uncreative mind can spot wrong answers, but it takes a very creative mind to spot wrong questions.” With 850 million students having migrated to remote learning last spring, and in anticipating more COVID related school closures this fall, many schools and districts are asking, “How will this disruption play out?” While this ed transformation continues to evolve and our questions and potential plans for restructuring with it, we have an opportunity to seize the present and focus on one thing — creative thinking. Creative thinking is what allows us to think forward; it gives us the foresite to anticipate unexpected disruptions and the flexibility to question our own biases and assumptions. Most importantly, with millions of students who’ve just had their world rocked, academics shifted, assessments postponed, sports eliminated, schedules changed, and social worlds transposed, one question we should be asking is: What inspires creativity for students in agile environments? If we want to develop creative problem solvers and critical thinkers for the sake of our future, we need to guide creative thinking now.
Want to foster creative confidence, problem solving, innovation and free-thinking among our students? Tap into these 4 Big Ideas to Inspire Creativity in Agile Environments:
DO Something Tracker
Students are in desperate need of our most important resource, which is hardest to come by in any school setting — time. Creativity needs time to thrive. Luckily for us, all of our schedules just got turned upside-down and we now have the opportunity to prioritize our time as we see fit. Bill Gates is known for taking “think weeks”, Google employees implement “20% time” and 3M the “15% rule”. We can drive creativity forward by scheduling in time to read, think, tinker with, play, observe, discover and explore ideas. U.school, a self-directed school based in Springfield, Missouri, wanted to give their students more autonomy and came up with the idea of the Do Something (DS) Tracker. While they initiated the idea before stay-at-home orders, students successfully continued the project remotely through school closures. The DS Tracker framework is simple and gives students the freedom to spend 25 hours doing ‘something’ (piano lessons, learning to cook, coding, reading, etc.). Afterwards, students record their evidence of learning on Headrush and reflect what they did during that time. Schools can build their own unique time frames, as restrictions, which can guide students to explore creative ideas within new and interesting perimeters. Learning communities can pose various design challenges, where students create something or solve problems by sketching, framing a new idea, writing poetry, or forming an opinion. Whether building in time for genius hour, or days in the field exploring, students will be uninhibited in their thinking and learning.
During school closures, students and educators have been known to experience “zoom fatigue,” with mandated meetings running their course through school communities. What if we could fight the fatigue and spark engagement by taking the conversation outside of our normal circles? In A Curious Mind: The Secret to a Bigger Life, Oscar–winning producer Brian Grazer explores curiosity through conversation. His method is simple — hold “curiosity conversations” with experts and learn from others to lead a more rewarding life. Edweek has also borrowed this idea and suggests “students email professionals in different fields and request, politely, a curiosity conversation. Whether it’s a family friend, an alum from their high school, or a total stranger they email out of the blue, the ask is for just 10 minutes of their time, via phone or video, to learn more about what they do, what they enjoy about it, and how they ended up in that line of work.” Responses are overwhelmingly positive as students are making curiosity conversations a weekly and/or monthly ritual. The idea here is when we accept everyone as our teacher, we become much more creative in whom we seek out for new knowledge and wisdom. Let’s get out of our ordinary circles and expand our realm of what’s possible.
Question of the Week
“You can’t just give someone a creativity injection,” Sir Ken Robinson states, “You have to create an environment for curiosity and a way to encourage people and get the best out of them.” Perhaps this is exactly what DREAM Technical Academies (DTA) had in mind when cultivating their Question of the Week (QOTW) project. This project satisfies students’ perpetual curiosities and fuels inspiration for remote learners as students are allowed to bring any question forward. Does milk have a flavor? How does ice float on water? Where do computer fonts come from? Why do certain drugs make you go numb? DTA Paraprofessional Vanessa Henjum states, “The power of the learning doesn’t come from finding the answers to the questions, but in the discussion and discourse that takes place during the presentation portion of the project. It is a time that is dedicated to being curious with each other, which,” Vanessa asks, “isn’t that what learning really is?” Schools can develop their own plans to initiate creative thinking, such as to create an “I Wonder” wall or play the “What If” game. QOTW is a simple but powerful tool that creates an environment for curiosity, and therefore mutually creates an environment for creativity to thrive as well.
School closures have been a perfect reminder, more than ever, that everywhere is a classroom, and everything is a learning opportunity. Want to make space for creativity? Change the scene, space, environment in which you interact, and change it often. Learner-centered, project-based schools such as High Marq haven’t skipped a beat despite remote learning, making it a point to prioritize outdoor learning for their students. Educators from High Marq even sent a survey to their learning community asking how much access their students had to outdoor space to ensure equity, then assigned projects respectively. With virtual field lessons ranging from Environmental Impact of the Covid-19 Crisis, Wisconsin’s Endangered Species, 50th Anniversary of Earth Day (lesson linked) and many more, they have been successful in activating creative energy while getting students to think, explore and play outside their normal confines. Schools can develop relevant, real-world projects that are individual or community-wide, all while changing up the scene.
Maya Angelou reminds us, “You can’t use up creativity. The more you use the more you have.” The more we provide the space for creative thinking to happen, the more it will flourish. Thinking creatively about the future allows us to embrace the ever-changing present and accept uncertainty as it comes our way. The question now is, how will you inspire creativity in your environment?