Creativity…more than art (3)

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 the previous articles I discussed the definition of creativity and it’s role in education, touching on maintaining children’s natural ability for creative thinking as they get older. Tips were given on how to stimulate gifted children to use and acknowledge creative thinking as a valid thought process and how to increase motivation using creativity, by developing tasks involving creative thinking to stimulate students to want to learn more; and an explanation was given of how promoting ownership of learning will increase motivation.

In this article I will cover

  • 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.

21st century skills

Teachers nowadays need to prepare their students for problems and jobs that do not even exist yet. To make sure students are prepared for the future, we as teachers need to be able to help them with the following … :

-End their fear of failure: Set clear and obtainable goals. Talk about them and celebrate successes. Use assessment and portfolios to make achievements clear and make a plan on how to progress further.

-Out of the box thinking and beyond that: Challenge students to use their fantasy without constraints. Use those ideas to form solutions for what is not yet possible. Make references to the speed of technological developments in the last few years. (internet etc.)

-Create a safe environment which teaches children that all ideas have value.


Example of brainstorming allowing ‘crazy’ ideas

When I (Corrina) was in high school, about 12-13 years old, I was involved in the National Technology Challenge. This was a competition where, in a team, you were given several problems to solve using design technology. There was always a problem to be solved before the actual competition, which involved constructing a device to solve a problem. One year the problem was to construct a device to move beans from a full tray to an empty tray. Points were given for moving as many beans as possible and speed. Our team, together with the teacher, had a brainstorming session. We were allowed and even encouraged to say whatever came in our heads. You might have a crazy idea, that sparks something in someone else, which triggers finding the best solution. I suggested sucking the beans up through a straw and spitting them out……. It’s a bit off the wall (most people suggest using a scoop), but our teacher had recently cracked his dustbuster and had to get his wife a new one……

Our device was a sucking machine, using the dustbuster motor sucking the beans into a funnel made of a bottle, swing it round to the empty tray, turn off the motor and……you can move ALL the beans in the QUICKEST time and win the competition!

Our teacher managed to create a safe environment where, for children of an age where fitting in is of paramount importance, it was possible to voice your opinion and know that however ‘silly’ it would not be ridiculed.

What qualities are needed in a teacher to be able to encourage creative thinking?

The American researcher Clark (1998) looked particularly at gifted children in primary and secondary education. Clark discovered that the following methods of working followed by teachers ensured the development of creativity:

  • stimulating students to work independently
  • using co-operative learning
  • ensuring that knowledge is acquired
  • giving children the space to come with ideas without judging them
  • stimulating flexible thinking
  • allowing ‘sensible’ mistakes
  • promoting self-evaluation
  • taking children’s questions seriously
  • giving the children the opportunity to work with different materials under different conditions
  • teaching the children how to deal with frustration and failure
  • encouraging trying as much as succeeding
  • having a sense of humour makes failure easier to take.

We will give you some examples of these methods.


Giving children the space to come with ideas without judging them.


How to talk to a four-year old about their art work

I (Corrina) remember very little about my time in the ‘infant school’, but one thing that stuck with me was Mr Tyler. He wasn’t my teacher, maybe he was a student teacher, he had a beard and in an environment predominantly populated by female teachers, he was a rarity.

I was drawing a picture, a masterpiece of course. My mother had read me Jemima Puddle-Duck by Beatrix Potter as a bedtime story. Usual tale, none too bright duck, charming fox…..

In the story was a scene where the fox was waiting on a tree stump for Jemima Puddle-Duck, I knew exactly what it should look like (I always assumed that there was a picture in the book because I could see it so vividly, but this is not the case). So I was working industriously on my work of art and Mr Tyler came to have a look. I should mention that the head of the infant school often also came to visit us. Amongst us bottom infants (as the four year olds were called) we had already decided that talking to her was a waste of time because whenever you showed her your work all she ever said was “That’s interesting…”, which we knew meant “I have no idea what that is”.

Mr Tyler came to look at my masterpiece, I proudly showed it to him, assured that I was the next Picasso. He looked at it carefully, I waited for the expected reaction “That’s interesting” (grown-ups, art critics all!) but he looked at me and said “You’ve been working very hard on this, tell me all about it”. I knew that he had no idea what I had drawn, but I got a compliment and the opportunity to express myself. I explained about the story and Mr Tyler looked at the drawing carefully and said “I can see the fox’s tail- there, right?” YES! Finally an adult who got it!


Ensuring knowledge is acquired

The first school I (Manda) worked at was a school where all the teachers were responsible for all the children. We worked as a team. Everybody had their own talents and we all had our own task to fulfil with the children. If History was your speciality, you were the one to teach all the children about historical facts. Because I was a musician, I was the one to teach music. This way the lessons become better, meaningful and fun to the children.
We did the same with the talents of our students; what’s your talent? How are you an asset to the group?
We worked with Multiple Intelligence by Howard Gardner to help students find their own strengths and talents. Cooperative learning helped them to get confident in helping others.


Flexible thinking

The bridge

Again for the department for gifted children this time for the youngest class (6-7-8 year olds). To these children acquiring knowledge comes easily, in general, but when it doesn’t they have no idea how to proceed and the 16 habits of mind provide strategies to overcome problems in your learning. These strategies are similar to the list produced by Clark.

One of the strategies is flexible thinking.

We started by watching the film ‘The Bridge’ from the literacy shed. A rope bridge with two fat animals walking across it, one from each side. The meet in the middle but cannot pass each other. They try all kinds of strategies: threatening, pushing……

Then two small animals come along, one from each side, they want to pass the big animals, who throw them back to the beginning and continue glaring at each other. The two small animals gnaw at the ropes on one side of the bridge and it topples sideways tipping the two large animals into the ravine.

The two small animals can walk on the side of the bridge and meet in the middle……


One bends over and the other leap-frogs over him and they continue on their way.

The two big animals could only think about getting the other one out of the way, they kept trying to find a way to get the other one to move. The two small animals thought of a different way to solve the problem.


Flexible thinking activities can fit in a five minute gap in the timetable, take an inanimate object and think up 10 new uses for it……


 Co-operative learning

The build a bridge challenge

Whilst teaching in the department for gifted children with the oldest class (9-10-11 year olds), I (Corrina) was given the opportunity to teach the technology lessons.

We always started with some scientific theories, involving book-learning and experiments and then the children were given a challenge for which they had to make use of the theories learnt.


During a topic about structures we looked at different materials and shapes used in buildings and what made them strong. The challenge the children were given to complete in groups was the following:


The council needs a new bridge, it is for a road which needs to cross a deep chasm.

The chasm was created by placing two tables a specified distance apart and a toy car needed to be held by the bridge.

The council wanted a strong and safe bridge, of course, but also a beautiful bridge. The students were given an unlimited budget but had to remember that the council would be taking costs into consideration in their choice of bridge. (“ah”, said one child nodding sagely, “budget cuts, it’s happening everywhere these days”)


The students had to ‘buy’ supplies from the shop chosen by the council (and run by the teacher). Bartering was attempted but the shopkeeper was very strict!

Some groups elected a master builder, others had a treasurer.

The challenge involved many different aspects of creative learning- applying previous knowledge to a new situation, team work, making mistakes (trust me they did), frustration and failure, evaluation and having a lot of fun!


Promoting self-evaluation

At the school I (Manda) was talking about before, we didn’t take tests. We solely worked with portfolios with which the students learned to reflect on their own knowledge and skills. Whilst talking to the students about their work, we asked them about their achievements, what they did to achieve it and what to do to take the next step.
They also were asked to write their own report. We as teachers would do the same and use both reports to talk about the students’ progress. What did we agree on and what not? Why did we disagree on certain things?
It was wonderful to hear what students had to say about their own progress.
This seemed to be a very successful way for student to discuss their progress. They felt that they were taken seriously and were owners of their own learning process.

In de gifted department I use assessments to reflect on students work. Here you see an example of how it works.


Creativity and creative thinking are key skills students need for the future.

I hope that during the course of these articles I have been able to spark ideas in you to continue increasing the creativity in your students, because, as Albert Einstein said…


Creativity is contagious.

Pass it on