There’s been a ton of conversation in our office lately about what the future of education looks like in Kansas. With economic issues, core curriculum standards and NCLB concerns on their plate, it seems as if schools are moving backwards towards a 1950s instructional model rather than one focusing on the 21st century.

It’s a concern that I know teachers and administrators have but they seem powerless or unwilling to swim against the current. And that’s what we’ve been talking about. Where do we spend our time and resources? What do we focus on?

ESSDACK has always worked to help school districts find ways to deliver high-quality instruction that prepares kids for a future we can’t predict. But that task becomes more difficult when district leaders feel that they need to focus on short-term concerns rather than long-term.

We are committed to finding ways to do both – meet NCLB requirements while delivering engaging and high-level instruction. Part of that commitment will be developing strategies which support instruction that builds creativity and innovation in students.

A recent Newsweek article, The Creativity Crisis, provides some ammo we can use with educational leaders and classroom teachers. Authors Po Bronson and Ashley Merryman discuss current research on creativity and how it fits into the educational landscape.

The scary thing?

Since 1990,

creativity scores have consistently inched downward. “It’s very clear, and the decrease is very significant,” Kim says. It is the scores of younger children in America—from kindergarten through sixth grade—for whom the decline is “most serious.”

Most serious because

A recent IBM poll of 1,500 CEOs identified creativity as the No. 1 “leadership competency” of the future.

And Bronson and Merryman suggest that creativity goes deeper than just “sustaining our nation’s economic growth.” It seems as if there are problems everywhere we look – oil spills in the Gulf of Mexico, food shortages around the world, global warming, child slavery, immigration, health care, lack of clean water and war just about everywhere. All problems without easy answers, all requiring creative solutions.

In his 2006 TED talk, Ken Robinson defined creativity as

the process of having original ideas that have value, more often than not, (coming) about through the interaction of different disciplinary ways of seeing things.

and the article does a great job of describing how this process is measured. It’s not easy because as Bronson and Merryman write

There is never one right answer. To be creative requires divergent thinking (generating many unique ideas) and then convergent thinking (combining those ideas into the best result).

The problem is not just measuring creativity but finding ways to teach it. The good news is that creativity can be taught.

Using problem-based learning is one of the best ways to incorporate creative thinking skills into heavy content areas like history, science and math. Part of that is training teachers to provide good questions rather than simply providing the answers.

And personally I think an even bigger part of improving how we teach creativity is convincing teachers that they themselves must model creativity and a “curiousness” for their students. We often don’t ask good questions of ourselves – we don’t read recent books, don’t browse good blogs, don’t travel, don’t develop personal learning networks. We don’t model learning in our own learning environments.

But the authors list seven simple strategies we can use with kids (and ourselves) to encourage creativity:

  • Don’t tell someone to be “creative”
    Instead ask them to “do something that only you would come up with – that no one you know would think of.”
  • Reduce screen time
    Watching television for an hour reduces creative activities by 11 percent.
  • Get moving
    Exercise boosts blood flow and creative thinking.
  • Follow a passion
    Allow yourself and your students to pursue interests “wholeheartedly.”
  • Take a break
    While working on multiple projects, feel free to set one of them aside for a time and come back to it.
  • Explore other cultures
    Cross-cultural experiences seem to increase creativity. This could be actual travel or even simply studying another culture.
  • Don’t brainstorm
    Contrary to popular belief, brainstorming in a whole group environment actually stifles creativity. Think / Pair / Share type activities generate better results.

In a follow-up to his 2006 talk, Sir Ken Robinson makes the case for a radical shift from standardized schools to personalized learning — creating conditions where kids’ natural talents can flourish. It provides more suggestions and inspiration for embedding creativity into our instruction.

Part One


Part Two


SocialTwist Tell-a-Friend