August 13, 2010

Teaching and Creativity, part 3: Flexibility is more than toe-touching

Filed under: creativity,education,teaching — Candace Hackett Shively @ 3:30 pm

flexible.jpgCreative flexibility is undoubtedly my favorite of the FFOE skills. Nudging people to take a different angle, approach, or point of view always seems to prompt some discomfort (“cognitive dissonance”?) and some marvelous surprises. The best outcome of the discomfort of forcing flexibility is that it is so closely related to originality. More on that later…

Why do we need flexible thinkers?

Flexible thinkers can communicate better with others because being able to put yourself into someone else’s shoes makes you productively empathetic. Not only  can you “see” as they do, but as a flexible thinker, you can engage the brain and produce new ideas from that same place. Imagine if the Taliban could actually see the world as a westerner/Christian or if Americans could plan for Afghanistan’s future through the lens of native Afghanis. What if we looked at humans’ carbon footprints from the point of view of trees or squirrels? What if, instead of making laws prohibiting texting while driving, we could find incentives so people would want to stop on their own? Imagine students who said aloud, “I can’t solve this equation this way. Maybe I should try working it backwards.” Imagine drug manufacturers who asked, “What else could be causing this reaction?” or “How can I sell this more cheaply?”

Think holograms. Those dancing figures in Disney’s Haunted Mansion are a vision of creative flexibility. They project an image in three dimensions because they can “see” it from multiple angles. What would the world be like if we raised a generation who could project conceptual holograms?

How do we stretch for fluency?

Meanwhile, back in our classrooms, we have tests to take and benchmarks to meet.  So who has time for flexibility stretching?

Magic Moments:
In any lesson, there is a moment when you think they “get it,” at least most of them. That is the flexibility moment:

  • You just finished demonstrating with manipulatives to show the process of simplifying a fraction. The students then did it themselves successfully. Now is the moment to ask, “What do you think the denominator would say to the numerator if they could talk?”
  • You’ve studied the Industrial Revolution, and every group has presented about a major invention of the time period. Now is the moment to ask, “If Bill Gates were alive then, which invention would he have grabbed and promoted?” What about YouTube inventors Steve Chen, Chad Hurley and Jawed Karim?
  • Your English students have managed to decipher a Shakespeare sonnet. Let them ask a question that the recipient of the sonnet might have sent back to Shakespeare.

In science, we study inanimate or nonverbal forces, things, and creatures. Give them the power of speech by permitting and rewarding your students’ flexibility questions. Let them ask, what would the bottom of the food chain say to the top? What would an electron say to a quark? Let the students ask and speak. Maybe have them record their own versions of the conversations using Podomatic or Voicethread.

As  you assess prior knowledge about gravity or life cycles or verbs, ask students to draw a picture of what they know about it. Maybe have gravity draw a self-portrait? Keep the drawings for students to revisit as they learn. If you save them digitally, students can narrate them on Voicethread or visually annotate them on an interactive whiteboard (and SAVE, of course!).

Head, shoulders, knees, and toes:
As you learn new terms, ask students to physically “shape” what they might look like in the air with their hands. Maybe some concepts are so large that they stretch from above the head to your toes. Others may fit in the palm of the hand. Do some concepts have a specific texture? Yes, middle school and up would laugh at you for this one, but elementary might find new ways to “envision” a concept through physical “flexibility.” What a great thing to catch on video!

Could your classroom have flexibility stretches? 
Are there magic moments in your teaching pattern? (Do you ever break your teaching pattern?) What would a student say about the way new concepts are “explained” in your classes? Ask a middle schooler or high schooler to role-play the way you would explain gravity (or any basic concept). You will learn a lot about what you always do and say. Can you role-play the way your students react to new units and lessons? Does  it bother you that both you and they are so predictable? What would happen if you tried one of the possibilities above?

Next up: Originality’s river


  1. […] Think Like a Teacher » Teaching and Creativity, part 3: Flexibility is more than toe-touching – view page – cached Filed under: creativity, education, teaching — Candace Hackett Shively @ 3:30 pm Tweets about this link […]

    Pingback by Twitter Trackbacks for Think Like a Teacher » Teaching and Creativity, part 3: Flexibility is more than toe-touching [] on — August 13, 2010 @ 3:55 pm

  2. Your site helps us to remember that Teaching is a blessing!

    Comment by Dr. Robbie Melton — August 16, 2010 @ 12:28 am

RSS feed for comments on this post.

Sorry, the comment form is closed at this time.