July 30, 2010

Teaching and Creativity, Part 1: Talk about it

Filed under: creativity,education,iste2010,learning — Candace Hackett Shively @ 10:20 am

At ISTE I presented on  Dimensions of Creativity, using Guilford’s classic (and OLD) model of divergent thinking as a launch point. A few days later, Newsweek ran an excellent article, The Creativity Crisis, on declining creativity scores among adults and chldren in the U.S. since 1990. The research used for the Newsweek article is also from a classic source on creativity: Torrance’s test that began in the 1950s. Classic? Yes. Old? Definitely. Still powerfully meaningful? Absolutely. But how do we move beyond talk and study about creativity to foster it, use it, value it, protect it, and allow it to thrive among both children and adults? As Newsweek’s companion article points out and every teacher knows, you can’t just say, “Now be creative. You have 42 minutes.”

The companion Newsweek article suggests breaking away from multitasking and screentime, getting moving, exploring other cultures, or following a passion to promote creativity (not formal “creativity training”). This may be generally true and especially true for adults, but there is much more we can do in schools and homes with children and teens to think about thinking, especially to give words to creative process — even with young ones — so we have ways to share, question, and protect our most creative impulses as something that is valued and valuable. Creativity should not be treated as the bathroom of the intellect, the thing polite/serious students and teachers do not talk about in the world of learning. We SHOULD talk about this most important bodily function of the brain. We should make it part of learning at every age and in every subject, not just in Art class.

So, at the risk of being criticized for presenting a formulaic “creativity exercise” approach, I write this series to dig more deeply into FFOE, Guilford’s model and how it fits into any classroom. Future posts will focus specifically on Fluency, Flexibility, Originality, and Elaboration, the components of FFOE.

What if…creativegraffiti.jpg

  • a second grade teacher asked what it feels like when you draw…or sing your own song
  • a sixth grade teacher thought out loud about why that student’s joke made him laugh
  • a science teacher talked about all the lessons she considered using to show how sound waves work and the apparatus she built that did not work–how she even considered having the entire class watch a video of a crowd doing the wave– and doing it in class. What if she DID the wave?
  • the same science teacher asked aloud, “I had no trouble being fluent with ways to envision what sound does. How about you?”
  • a eighth grader could explain his frustration with school rules, “The principal doesn’t have the flexibility to put himself in our shoes and see how it feels to be rushed at our lockers. We need to consider other ways to solve the hallway congestion.”
  • a group of high schoolers working on a civics project:” we may not be completely original in our way of explaining the Constitution, but  some of the ways we elaborate with examples, visuals, and sounds will help kids get it better.”
  • in a current events discussion: “BP pulled in all those engineers for their suggestions. You would think that someone would have an original idea, but many of them only have ONE idea to offer instead of being fluent enough to keep on thinking and possibly finding a new way.”
  • in English class: “I really had trouble finishing the poem. Trying to think of an image to express how cold that sky looks is hard for me. I need to let it incubate and keep a writer’s notebook to maybe get more fluent.
  • in history class, a student says: “I know this is off the wall, but what do you think would have happened if they’d had YouTube in the American Colonies?” and someone responds, “love that original thought!”
  • the science lab had a graffiti wall for questions: “Which is more important, oxygen or light?” The handwriting is not the teacher’s.
  • every student had a place to ask the questions in his/her head

While this weak attempt to envision talk about creativity and creative process is “lame,” as the middle schoolers would say, that is exactly the point. We need to move beyond the place where creativity is viewed as “lame” in our homes and schools. Let’s at least talk about it.

Next time: Finding Fluency

July 2, 2010

New voices

Filed under: about me,creativity,education,iste2010 — Candace Hackett Shively @ 10:40 am

iste2010.jpgMy creativity presentation at ISTE 2010 was surprising in unexpected ways. After months of anticipation and 30 hours of speechlessness –trying to regain a laryngitis-starved voice — I DID it, croaking into the most powerful mike the techies could find.

The gist of the presentation: using Guilford’s oldie-but-goodie model of creativity as four components (FFOE): Fluency, Flexibility, Originality, Elaboration, as a lens to analyze the tasks we assign and the projects students complete.  What I enjoyed most were the conversations I had after the session was over.

One teacher talked of his concern that the hindrances to creativity in schools are followed by societal pressures in general as kids move up through high school. As kids assimilate into young adulthood, they have even greater barriers to risk-taking in their thinking. He feared that they might even use creative opportunities to reinforce some of those barriers. A valid concern. Together he and I ventured the possibility of challenging  HS kids with this very question: what prevents you from sharing your off-the-wall ideas aloud? What can we do to take down those barriers?

The middle school teacher who cleverly tossed in a divergent response during the presentation stopped me in the hallway to say he planned to use the FFOE terms in rubrics and was excited to have a creativity vocabulary to use. We talked a bit about middle school as a great place to talk about creative self awareness while kids are becoming so aware of their bodies, individuality, and relationships with others.

A HS English teacher wondered aloud how to individualize creativity elements in rubrics for 150+ kids in a standards-based classroom. We hypothesized trying 4-5 rubric elements for everyone with an additional 2-3 agreed upon with individual students for  each marking period. The elements do not even have to have “points” associated with them necessarily. He could discuss them as importnat for real life instead of  grades. (Too bad that grades don’t relate to real life, though!)

During the waning hours of the conference, another middle school person stopped to talk with me at the SFL booth. We brainstormed a bit on what the rubric elements for FFOE might look like. As we talked, ideas began to pop up between us:

  • What if you had kids form project groups by FFOE strength? One each string at fuency, flexibility, originality, elaboration? Would you find even numbers of each in a class? Probably not, but it would be an interesting experiment.
  • Have kids  contribute copies of brainstorms they did in their own best creative place/circumstance and hang them a bulletin board to celebrate individual creative process. The actual brainstorm materials or decorations should signal  their best creative circumstance: a brainstorm on a scrap of towel or shampoo bottle for shower-thinkers, notes atop music or a CD wrapper for those who find music a creative lubricant, etc. Maybe a brainstorm written on a leaves from your “thinking tree”? We really liked that idea and agreed to stay in touch as she tries including FFOE in her teaching.

Many teachers, many thoughtful reactions. I cannot even relate all the discussions here. All from one hour together while my audience’s creative energy seemed to will my voice back from a painful, empty croak to fully voiced vibration. There was an audible gasp when one word suddenly came out with VOICE behind it, then another … and another. That VOICE is what every classroom community should help every learner feel: the experience of a newfound voice that emerges amid a surprising, vibrating rush.

June 26, 2010

Edubloggers: are wikis dying?

Filed under: edtech,education,iste2010 — Candace Hackett Shively @ 12:02 pm

Should every web tool try to be all things to all people in order to help the teachers (and school admin) who do not have the time to explore and understand which tool is best suited for which task? In an ideal world, each student, teacher, parent, and administrator (who determines which tools are blocked!),  would select from an endless line of tools so each of us could choose a la Amazon: “those who liked this wiki tool also liked this graphic organizer.” But the reality of eduland is that schools (and reticent teachers just starting to “get on board with technology”) cease upon the first tool introduced/endorsed/unblocked and use that one tool to solve far more than its share of tasks. A wiki ends up being asked to act as a blog, a graphic organizer, a microblogging tool, an individual student portfolio, a group project platform, a parent communication tool, a classroom policy page, an embedding host for endless web-based projects, and a calendar (add your uses here). Somewhere in there, the students ask whether they can use another tool, and they are told, “just use the wiki.” Since the wiki CAN hold unlimited embeds, it can easily be that one-tool-fits-all, but should the tool developers feel obligated to be everything to everyone?

Meanwhile not every web-based tool is going to survive. The rich diversity of tools (look at the number of online comic  makers or presentation/slideshow tools out there!) will eventually diminish as economics run their course. So maybe having some tools try to be all things to all people is a good idea, just so we don’t have to hep people migrate their content to a new place when their favorite tool(s) die.

My personal opinion is that in the next 2-3 years we will see many tools disappear and only the strong survive. The strong may not be the best tools, but rather the ones that are accessible for the one-stop-shoppers who want to learn only one place. Back in the 90s, AOL was all the rage for people who really didn’t “get” the Internet. After 6-7 years, AOL was no longer needed. The one stop tools will help teacher through the transition as education figures out how to get MOST teachers and kids connected and fluent with technologies. Then users will once again vote with their feet and move to the boutique tools.

Walmarts once popped up and thrilled consumers with their easy prices and approximation of meeting consumer “needs,” then the cycle moved on as selected consumers move to the boutiques and specialty options. Right now education is still in the Walmart phase.Teachers and school don’t understand that it all works together. We still have to help all of them, not just the ones who shop with us.

June 22, 2010

ISTE 2010: Creative and Ready?

Filed under: about me,creativity,iste2010 — Candace Hackett Shively @ 9:00 am

One week from today I will be presenting at ISTE on Dimensions of Creativity. Wish me luck! See more about the presentation  on the web page support for it here, as soon as I finish it. I hope the people who come have read Jen W’s post on how to attend ISTE.creativity2.jpg

Between now and then, I will be busy with a board meeting , travel, and one of my favorite events, EduBloggerCon. I had to at least mention it here, since this is the blog I share with folks there. Too bad I am so busy getting ready I can’t  write more about it! Maybe while I am there…

December 10, 2009

Risk Taking Rush

Filed under: about me,creativity,education,iste2010,learning,teaching — Candace Hackett Shively @ 3:16 pm

If there were one thing I would like to model to the teachers I work with and students I teach, it is risk taking. Yes, I know that many teens need no encouragement to take foolish risks. (I raised two kids and taught hundreds, maybe thousands.) Those risks, the physical kind, are not the ones I am advocating. To be real thinkers, we need to be willing to share ideas out loud which might otherwise stagnate in silence inside our skulls — or insolently kick up a lasting intellectual headache.

A day or two ago, I was fortunate enough to hear that one of my presentation proposals was accepted for ISTE 2010 (the conference formerly known as NECC). It should not surprise me that, of my three proposals, this was the one that was the greatest risk: an idea I had never really shared out loud but had held for some time. I don’t know if I have ever even heard or read anyone on the topic. It is just an idea that had been kicking the dirt inside my head for quite a while.

The rush of validation I feel that others thought this idea was “worthy” is a rare occurrence. I can point to times in my life when I have felt the same way, always because I took the risk to step off a creative cliff. I want all teachers to feel that rush, to model it, and to help their students find it.

This may sound as though I am advocating for wholesale disruptive behavior or challenge to authority. Actually, I am simply saying that we, as teachers, need to say those things that we wonder inside. We need to say them to kindergarteners and to high school seniors. Such opportunities should not be reserved for professorial types or op-ed writers. We need to be honest when we question, muse, or mentally hum:

Sometimes I wonder why we teach this…cliff.jpg

Was this really the cause of the civil war? The way out of the Depression? The Founding Fathers’ greatest hope?

What would Martin Luther King, Jr. say if he saw me teaching about him this way?

Why is this story the one they chose to put in this anthology?

Why is this work considered a masterpiece? It’s hideous.

I know we cannot confuse students by barraging them with risk-taking ideas when they have no solid ground, but dropping a few into the conversation once in a while is the most honest way we can help them find lifelong curiosity and innovative thinking of their own. Maybe you could raise a flag with a question mark and cliff icon as a signal when you ask them, but you must ask these things aloud.

You never know. You might be asked to speak at a conference among your peers and those you admire. Oh, the presentation topic that was accepted, you ask? “Dimensions of Creativity: A Model to Analyze Student Projects.” Guess I am kind of hooked on this creativity thing.