Threatening Creativity

1/17/2007 05:35:00 pm

Over the recent holiday season I watched many of the archived recordings of past TED conferences. Last July I mentioned Sir Ken Robinson's presentation on the value of creativity in education. I've listened to that presentation several times now. I get more out of it every time I hear it.

Last Tuesday I shared it with all the teachers in my department at our monthly professional development meeting. We've been developing projects at the grade 10 and grade 11 levels for our Consumer Math courses similar to the projects students have to do in the grade 12 provincial standards test. The provincial assessment uses a rubric for grading that is very dense and difficult for students to understand. The teacher who tested the grade 11 project we developed shared back with us that she felt the rubric needed a little work to be a more effective guide for the students work. This lead to me sharing how I approach rubric design and how I've tried to incorporate creativity into the rubrics I use to assess students project work.

This presentation from TED by Sir Ken Robinson was a major influence on my thinking. Sir Ken says a lot of very provocative things for educators. Maybe that's why the discussion following the video was so ... strained(?) ...

Some of these comments aren't new to me. They've been discussed in depth in the edublogosphere in the past couple of years. Some of the teachers in my department may have been hearing these ideas for the first time ... I can see how that might be intimidating.

Here are some of Sir Ken's best lines. He delivers them better than they read. He'll make you laugh and he'll make you think ... the best way to learn something is with a little laughter. ;-)

Click on the picture to watch. (20 minutes, 3 seconds)

All kids have tremendous talents and we squander them ... pretty ruthlessly.
This comment reminded me of the song Flowers are Red by Harry Chapin.

Creativity is now as important in education as literacy and we should treat it with the same status.
I'm sympathetic to this sentiment yet ... how do you teach creativity? I suspect Sir Ken would reply that you don't have to teach it (see below). OK then, but how do you assess it?

[Young] kids will take a chance. If they don't know they'll have a go. They're not afraid to be wrong.
I think this is true. Little kids love to learn new things. Especially if they have big words attached to them. They like to look smart. What happens to them as they get older? Why is it that "looking smart" in a high school classroom isn't "cool?" -- then again, it is becoming cool to be a nerd. I recently saw this written on a young lady's t-shirt: Talk Nerdy To Me.

If you're not prepared to be wrong then you will never come up with anything original.
Reminds me of Isaac Asimov. He was asked, more than once, "how do you come up with so many crazy ideas?" This is in an old book of his called Fact and Fancy (1962) in an article called Those Crazy Ideas. He suggests 5 criteria for what he calls scientific creativity:

  • » The creative person must possess as many "bits" of information as possible, falling into as wide a variety of types as possible; i.e. he must be broadly educated.
  • » The creative person must be able to combine "bits" with facility and recognize the combinations he has formed; i.e. he must be intelligent.
  • » The creative person must be able to see, with as little delay as possible, the consequences of the new combinations of "bits" which he has formed; i.e. he must be intuitive.
  • » The creative person must possess courage (and to the general public may, in consequence, seem a crackpot).
  • » A creative person must be lucky.

We stigmatize mistakes. We're now running national education systems where mistakes are the worst thing you can make.
I think there's some truth to this. The thing is, making mistakes is an important part of learning.

No one has a clue what the world will look like in five years and yet we're educating [kids] for it.

We are educating people out of their creative capacities.

We don't grow into creativity we grow out of it, or rather, we get educated out of it.
See above.

As children grow up we start to educate them from the waist up. And then we focus on their heads; and slightly to one side.
Hmmm ... we've come a long way from ancient Greece where the curriculum consisted of mathematics, philosophy and gymnastics. This also bangs up against the ideas in Dan Pink's recent book A Whole New Mind.

The whole purpose of public education, throughout the world, is to produce university professors.
How many successful people do you know with a PhD? Later, Sir Ken says that intelligence is diverse. Isaac said creative people should be broadly educated. Personally, I want my kids to get a good eduction in phys. ed., music, drama and the traditional academic subjects. Knowing something about music and philosophy has made me a better math teacher.

[Our education system] came into being to meet the needs of industrialism.
David Warlick has commented many times that we have never done a better job than we do today of educating kids for the industrial revolution. [Picture: classroom with desks arranged in rows and columns.]

Intelligence is made up of three things, it's diverse ... dynamic ... and distinct.

Creativity: The process of having original ideas that have value; comes about by the interaction of different disciplinary ways of seeing things.

<When talking about dancers and the prevalence of ADHD today> [Some people] have to move to think.
There are four fundamental learning styles, VARK: Visual, Auditory, Read/Write and Kinesthetic. By far, that last one is the hardest for me to work into the teaching of mathematics. The comment about ADHD struck a chord with me. Is it so prevalent and severe today that it merits the presecription of ritalin in so many kids? Or is it really about the need of some adults to have kids be quiet; seen but not heard? Can you imagine Robin Williams being as successful today as he is if someone had prescribed ritalin for him when he was a child? It's interesting to me that many of the rambunctious (undesirable?) behaviours seen in some kids, when manifested in adults, are considered positive traits.

Our education system has mined our minds in the way that we have strip mined the earth for a particular commodity, and for the future, it won't service.

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  1. I was lucky enough to hear this talk live and it had a permanent effect on my outlook. One point: who says we have to assess creativity? Creativity is rather the thing that will make us better at all the rest because it releases us from our shackles of boredom in the classroom and allows us to excel in our passions.

    Boredom is also related to the exponential growth in ADHD diagnoses. Marc Prensky spotted the T-shirt in New York:

    "I'm not ADHD. I'm just bored"

    I think that in some cases this is true - if I'm bored I start to fidget. Sometimes the 'symptoms' of a child diagnosed with ADHD can 'subside' when they are engaged in a task which involves their creative edge.

    Seems the role of the teacher here might be tricky for some to see until they also have their creativity unleashed from the shackles of their professional boredom.

  2. Anonymous18/1/07 08:43

    I use to teach the creativity courses to preservice teachers at Valdosta State University. Without exception, teachers would come in thinking they had no creativity and leave convinced they could structure their classrooms in such a way that their student's creative potential could be engaged.

    Creativity is tied to passion. Passion is tied to being engaged with what you are learning/studying and engaged learners are willing to learn deeply with excellent recall.

    It is interesting Darren, that we are both back thinking about creativity. Check out my podcast with Rob Sweitzer of the band Mae (Capitol Records)
    Creativity Podcast Series-#1

    Rob's interview is the first in a series I plan to do with highly creative people outside of education. Through these interviews I hope to discover ways for teachers to do as Ewan suggests, " help them have their creativity unleashed from the shackles of their professional boredom."

  3. Anonymous18/1/07 08:55

    I knew someone would pick up on the thread of assessing creativity? ;-)

    When I wrote that I was thinking of the maxim: "We value what we assess." When I give students an assignment and I say to them: "Be creative." What does that mean? How are they supposed to be creative? Does it mean put in a lot of pictures and colours? ... I don't think so. Does it mean make a poster or present the project on 3 paneled presentation board? ... again, I don't think so.

    I know creative work when I see it. But for a kid who is not sure what creative work looks like, or rather, how to inject creativity into their work, how do I help them do that? And if I insist on students submitting creative work shouldn't that somehow be reflected in the grade they receive? How do I evaluate that?

    Not sure if this is a coherent elucidation of what I was thinking ... mostly because my thinking about this is still a little muddy in my own head.

  4. Anonymous18/1/07 09:54

    Funny...I relistened to this talk on my way to work today. I thought, "Gee, I wish I had a text transcript of this so I could pull some of the quotes."


  5. Thank you for sharing this, Darren. Creativity is something that happens when students are allowed to disagree with the teacher and take their own perspective. I often find that the students change me when I back up and allow them to truly pursue a topic and be creative. Wow!

  6. Anonymous20/1/07 10:27

    In my mind, creativity involves two elements: An action/idea and a context. For an event to be creative the individual experiencing the event (the action in a particular context) must be having the experience fot the first time. At least one of the two elements must be new. A new action/idea is creative. An old action/idea in a new context is also creative.

    An event may be considered creative for one observer and not for another depending on the past experiences of the observers. But the discriminating factor for creativity is whether the actor had prior experience.

    For example: If a child draws a clock melting off of a table. That action may or may not be creative depending on that child's experiences. If the child has been exposed to the art of Dali then the melting watch would probably not be creative. The child is merely duplicating not creating. If however the child's inspiration came from watching butter melt and the child applied the melting in a new context that would be creative.

    Creativity can be "practiced" in any academic setting merely by asking students to take a concept and apply it in some personal way.