Creativity…more than art (1)

Motivating children to develop their natural ability for creative thinking through cross-curricular projects incorporating Deep-level processing and design technology.

(Article written using excerpts taken from the ECIS 2016 Conference presentation given by Corrina Gifford and Manda Ophuis.)

In this article I will discuss the definition of creativity and it’s role in education. I will also touch on maintaining children’s natural ability for creative thinking as they get older.

Future articles will cover:

  • Stimulating gifted children to use and acknowledge creative thinking as a valid thought process.
  • Increasing student motivation using creativity, by developing tasks involving creative thinking to stimulate students to want to learn more.
  • An explanation of how promoting ownership of learning will increase motivation.
  • The skills the teacher requires to be able to nurture creativity in their students and examples of how to incorporate these skills into cross-curricular projects looking at the importance of Deep-level processing and the top-down approach in motivating students.
  • The possibilities of using design technology to stretch students’ minds and challenge them to use all their knowledge and experiences to solve problems.
  • How self-evaluation and allowing students to make ‘sensible’ mistakes helps to increase their self-confidence, enabling them to be more creative in the future.

Education systems vs creativity?

A couple of years ago I (Corrina) needed to top-up my professional development. Fortunately I saw in the local paper that there was a screening of the film ‘Alphabet’ about education showing at the film house.  CPD and all I do is go to the cinema!

When watching the film I was most struck by the opening scene with the quotation by Sir Ken Robinson

“We do have this extraordinary power, I mean the power of imagination”

“I believe that we systematically destroy this capacity in our children, and in ourselves”

This prompted me to watch Ken Robinson’s TED talk ‘Do schools kill creativity?’

Am I one of those teachers who destroys children’s creativity? Am I forced by the restraints of the education system to turn creative individuals into standardised beings?

What is creativity?

Creativity is hard to define, there is no one definition which seems to encompass it. It is not a particular artistic talent but more a way of thinking.

For example, John Kao says:

I define creativity as the entire process by which ideas are generated, developed and transformed into value. It comprises what people commonly mean by innovation and entrepreneurship.

I (Corrina) am very lucky. I teach a class of four year olds. For four year olds, the world is a new and exciting place, it is amazing and there are new things to discover every day. There is so much they don’t understand, so much to learn. And they want to learn it, why? Because they want to be big and when you are big, you know EVERYTHING!

Example of brainstorming:

To a four year old, the world is full of endless possibilities. I was giving a maths lesson about two farmers with adjacent fields. Each farmer had a number of sheep but the sheep kept jumping over the fence! The learning focus of the lesson was counting and understanding more and less. At the end of the session, one child put their hand up and asked why the farmers didn’t just build a higher fence, this would stop all the problems! I dutifully drew the higher fence. One of the other children suggested that the sheep were so naughty that they would find a way to get over the fence. Sensing the maths lesson had drawn to a close and feeling the inspiration and creativity of the children growing, I asked them for suggestions of how the sheep could get into the other field. The brainstorming started: they could pile up stones like a staircase, they could make a ladder from sticks, they could stand on top of each other, they could use a trampoline, they could use a hot air balloon and finally from the child who remained silent and thoughtful to the end, they could dig a tunnel, then they don’t have to go over.

What happens to creative thinking as children get older?

What happens to the capacity for creative thinking? Is it destroyed by the education system? What about the influences from the child’s environment, parents, peers etc. Or is this just a natural part of ‘growing up’? You leave your childish fantasies behind you and enter the ‘real’ world?

Before becoming a teacher, I originally trained as an engineer, graduating with my masters in ‘Engineering Design and Manufacture’, I did an internship at CERN (saw the particle accelerator and several Nobel prize winners) and set off to do my PhD in computational fluid dynamics. During this time I spent a lot of time with other engineers and with many physicists. Have you ever seen the television programme ‘The big bang theory’?

It was just like that. These are highly intelligent and very creative people, however they always seem somewhat childlike.

Maybe that is the secret to remaining creative, never grow up completely!

 Or as Ursula K. LeGuin (American poet and author, born 1923) said:

The creative adult is the child who has survived.