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Doug Johnson's Tech Proof

About Creativity


Why Robots Make the Best Students (a riff on Kathy Sierra's Why Robots Are the Best Employees)

  • They don't challenge the teacher's authority or subject expertise.
  • They don't ask questions that might not have a right or wrong answer.
  • They all learn in same way, at the same pace.
  • They stay in their seats with eyes straight ahead.
  • They don't go on vacations with their families during school time or skip school.
  • They don't need to learn to work in cooperative groups. Or need social skills. Or need conflict resolution abilities.
  • They don't need sex education, multicultural education, or physical education. The arts and literature are wasted on them. No field trips, no fire drills, no hot lunch.
  • They never make the principal or teacher look bad (e.g. stupid, incompetent, clueless).
  • They follow the school dress code and never swear.
  • They have no strongly held opinions or passions for which to fight.
  • They always pass the state tests and they all read at grade level.
  • They are always willing to do the homework no matter how meaningless.
  • They don't complain when lectured or given worksheets. Endlessly.
  • They can all use the same textbook and they are all always on the same chapter.
  • They make good robot employees.

Quite a number of 21st Century Skill" lists include creativity" as one of those necessary abilities tomorrows most productive workers will need to possess:

Students demonstrate creative thinking, construct knowledge, and develop innovative products and processes using technology. ISTE NETS 2007

[Students] demonstrate creativity by using multiple resources and formats. AASLs Standards for the 21st Century Learner, 2007

Creativity and Innovation (Partnership for 21st Century Skills)

  • Demonstrating originality and inventiveness in work
  • Developing, implementing and communicating new ideas to others
  • Being open and responsive to new and diverse perspectives
  • Acting on creative ideas to make a tangible and useful contribution to the domain in which the innovation occurs

OK, you get the drift. We in education are supposed to be producing creative graduates. Its something we as educators give a good deal of lip service to, and like to think we encourage in students -- but only to a degree. Too much creativity makes us a little nervous, and the less creative student is also the less challenging student. (See Why Robots Make the Best Students" above.)

I have some concerns about creativity as the term is commonly used in schools, and teaching, and technology.

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Concern 1: Creativity isn't always about art. I tend to appreciate creative problem-solvers as much, or more, as I appreciate those folks who are creative in a more "artistic" fashion. Or maybe I should extend art" to dealing with people and situations in new and effective ways. The creativity I admire most, especially in my staff, is simply figuring out a way of accomplishing a task in a better way. Or dealing effectively with a problem -- mechanical or human. I hope we never narrow what constitutes a "creative" endeavor. Are we restricting creativity to the art room and creative writing class when it should be in every class and unit?

Concern 2: Creativity must be accompanied by craft and discipline. When most of us look at a Jackson Pollock painting, we usually think something like, "Gee whiz, give a) a monkey, b) a little kid, or c) me a can of paint and I can make a painting like that." You'd be wrong. Even abstract artists understand balance and tone, and exhibit just plain great craftsmanship/technical skills. The most original written ideas in the world are inaccessible when locked behind faulty grammar, spelling, syntax or organization. Digital music composition programs like GarageBand will not cure a tin ear. Too many folks, kids especially, think that sufficient creativity will overcome a lack of skill or need for discipline or necessity for practice. Creativity unaccompanied by drive, self-discipline or just hard work and practice isnt worth much. Do we ask students to be both creative and disciplined?

Concern 3: If we ask students to demonstrate creativity or innovation, we need some tools to determine whether they have done so successfully. Like pornography, I don't think I can define creativity, but I think I know it when I see it. But that won't cut it in the assessment world. As much as I admire ISTE for including creativity as one of their student technology skill standards, I am not sure it is fair to hold students to account for mastering it if we can't describe what it looks like, provide models, and be able to somewhat objectively determine whether a kid can "do" creative.

Concern 4: As educators, we really dont know much about creativity. Some of the myths about creativity in the business environment that Teresa Amabile at the Harvard Business School has discovered include:

  • Creativity only comes from creative" people. (Everyone can be creative.)
  • Creativity is motivated by rewards. (People would prefer to engage deeply in their work and see progress.)
  • Competition spurs creativity. (Teams that share and debate ideas are more creative.)
( The 6 Myths of Creativity, Fast Company, Dec. 2007)

There were surprises here for me. I know I have a lot more to learn about enhancing and supporting creativity in education. Are any teacher-training resources being diverted from raising test scores" to thinking outside the box?"

Think about creativity in your classroom. Creatively!

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