“What does teaching creativity look like?”

by andrewharbor

I recently read an article in the online magazine GOOD entitled “What does teaching creativity look like?” which I found particularly relevant to this course. The article draws heavily from a blog post from Psychology Today by Michael Michalko that lists 12 things that people aren’t taught in school about creativity (but should be). The first thing he mentions is that everyone is inherently a creative and spontaneous thinker. If this inherent creativity is acknowledged and nurtured, it will grow and develop. If a person is taught early on in school that they are creative, they will begin to self-identify as creative and develop their creativity through practice.

I think that perhaps this divide between creativity and non-creativity also exists within each individual. In the American educational system, or at least in the variant I was educated in, we are taught from an early age that certain fields are creative (art, music, literature), while others are not (math, science, engineering). The idea is that we learn to think creatively when studying art and literature, and we learn to think analytically when studying math and science, and in the end we become well-rounded thinkers. But I think that what happens instead is that we learn to think creatively about “creative disciplines” and we learn to think analytically about “analytical disciplines”, and we don’t learn how to mix the two.

The result of this is that we struggle to think about math and science creatively, even if we have no problem expressing our creativity through art and music. Conversely, we struggle to apply the systematic and methodical techniques we use in math and science to our artistic endeavors. One solution to this problem is encouraging cross-disciplinary education and thinking from an early age. If we stop dividing our education into neat little bundles by subject but instead learned things like the chemistry behind mixing different kinds of paints and the mathematics of notes and chords, perhaps we would grow up to be creative and analytical in everything we do.

In her article “Environments for Creativity – A Lab for Making Things” Ellen discusses the “Leonardo model” for conducting cross-disciplinary research or projects. The idea behind the Leonardo model is that instead of forming teams of experts in different subjects, who will largely confine themselves to their particular domains, it is better for individuals to cross these disciplinary boundaries to develop expertise in all the fields necessary to accomplish their goals. I think this kind of cross-disciplinary thinking would be much easier if we didn’t have such different models for thinking about different fields. If we could discuss design and computer programming in a common language that combined creative and analytical approaches, it would not only be easier to move from expertise in one domain to expertise in the other, but it would also be easier for experts in each to collaborate on a broader, richer level.



2 Comments to ““What does teaching creativity look like?””

  1. First, you cannot rip the American education system for the creativity problem. Second, and most importantly…your definition of creativity is too limited. Mathematics could be creative, there’s not many trails left to blaze though. If you are not from this country you may have never heard the phrase “Left to my own devises….” Everyone is creative, it just does not mean it has a positive outcome like a pretty building. I’ll just site one example. Inmates in correctional facilities are not allowed to bring fruit back to their cells because they learned how to get the fruit to ferment in the toilet to make wine. That’s creative, and if you look at many behaviors of inmates, they are very creative. They have no choice because of their limited means. Like I said creativity is still alive, you’re just not looking at it on a global scale and only limit yourself to “the arts”.

  2. I definitely agree that mathematics can be a creative domain. One aspect of this creativity lies in the application of mathematical techniques in novel and meaningful ways. I took an introductory statistics course recently, and the style of instruction focused on learning and applying formulas. For example, we would learn the formula for calculating standard deviation, then practice calculating the standard deviation of various data sets. A study by Schwartz and Martin, however, showed that student invention activities (students attempt to develop formulas on their own) lead to stronger procedural skills, better insights into when to apply formulas, and increased ability to transfer knowledge to novel types of data analysis. This indicates that encouraging creativity in mathematics instruction leads to more creative application of mathematical knowledge. Unfortunately, this type of teaching is uncommon in American schools because, as the authors of the previously mentioned study found, teachers are reluctant to spend class time on activities that don’t involve directly teaching material that will appear on standardized tests. You can hardly fault the teachers for this attitude, given that their jobs may depend on their students’ performance on standardized tests, but that doesn’t change the fact that such teaching methods lead to poorer educational results in the long term.

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