Pick a number between 01 and 09. Got it? Multiply the number you chose by 9. (You may need a pencil or calculator for this…) You should now have a two digit number. Add these two numbers together. Subtract 5. Take this last number and correlate it to a letter of the alphabet. (1=A, 2=B, etc). Think of a country that begins that letter. Now think about the 2nd letter of the country’s name. Think of an animal that begins with that letter. Got one?
You now have a problem. There are no elephants in Denmark! (Impressive, eh?) So, approximately 94% of you came up with that answer. The rest of you probably had an ostrich in the Dominican Republic, but it’s a crap shoot at that point.
Do you think that attention getter is creative? I do. Audiences like it – if you can get them to participate. The payoff is when they realize you “read their minds” and they try to deconstruct it. But regardless of the math behind the trick, it’s a pretty creative way to get people invested in you as a speaker.
Creativity is a passion of mine. I am a big believer that we do not teach, nor do we encourage creativity in our classrooms. (Tell me you’ve watched Sir Ken Robison’s talk at TED on this subject: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=iG9CE55wbtY) Yet, what talents do we read about in newspapers, magazines, and journals that are said to differentiate successful businesses, inventions, or even countries? Innovation is often touted as what makes one business successful while another one fails. Inspired design is often how inventions are described. The United States likes to talk about our resourcefulness, imagination, and out of the box thinking that helps us stay ahead of other countries with regard to science, defense, and technology. But if creativity is so revered, and if innovation is what will change our future, why don’t we build an infrastructure of creative thought for our students?
I used to believe that educators were creative. I thought you had to be innovative to find ways to inspire and motivate while teaching foundational principles. But after 15 years in and around educators at all levels, I’m not convinced of that anymore. Don’t get me wrong, there are some tremendously imaginative people out there teaching and assessing our students. But, the percentage of creative people in education is probably the same as the percentages in industry, business, and the military. (I’d guess that percentage is around 5%.)
Don’t get me wrong. I think everyone has the propensity for creativity. Or at least a majority. But without those skills and attributes being nurtured by someone along the way, most people just do as their told and that creative inclination dissipates. Think about it – you are in 2nd grade and you’re asked to draw a picture of a farm. You grab your crayons and a big piece of butcher paper and start to work. A purple sun here, a blue barn there, a flying tractor that can transform into various vehicles – all in all a pretty imaginative farm! But then your teacher comes over and asks what you’ve done. They explain that our sun is yellow and that a typical barn is red. “Why?” you ask. No answer is given. It should be red because it should be red apparently. And of course tractors don’t fly. That’s just silly.
The end. Game over. Your attempt at something fun, cool, interesting, and creative was squashed and you soon understand that in order to succeed, you need to do things the conventional way. You need to follow the pack to show that you have learned.
Obviously, this is a super simplified example and I mean no offense to 2nd grade teachers. This could have been any level with any project. And therein lies the problem.
Think about what I call the triangle of teaching and learning. You have two foundation points – the outcome and the assessment. Then you have the tip of the triangle – the learning asset. (I am growing tired of the bastardization of words like “learning object” which now mean so many multiple things to different people, we can’t have an effective conversation anymore.) But let’s talk about each point.
The outcome: this is a constant. It should not change unless it becomes out dated. An outcome of students demonstrating writing skills or reading skills comes to mind. (Of course, the level of specificity is an important conversation – but one for another day.)
The assessment: this may change from term to term, class to class, or group to group, but essentially this stays the same for one instance of teaching. In other words, you should assess all students in the same way to promote fairness. (Ex: Don’t use a test for one student and a paper for another student.)
The learning asset: this is where teaching creatively can come into play! How you get your students to the outcome can (read: should) vary within the same class / term and beyond! The learning asset may be a lecture, a widget, an exercise, a powerpoint presentation, a video, etc. (Creativity should be modeled!)
However, it’s the assessment that we’re talking about here. While you don’t want to change requirements for assessment on a student by student basis, what about trying this. Give your students the option to demonstrate understanding and application in their own way?! If your assessment gives the freedom for students to explore their own creative ideas in terms of submission – and as long as the objectives for the assignment are met – imagine the culture of creativity AND assessment you would be creating!
For example, most instructors ask for a paper on bigger, complex items. Why not ask for a presentation? This may be a paper, but it might also be a video. Students could use Zentation to combine a video with a powerpoint. They might even create a model on Excel or using another software that demonstrates the objectives creatively.
What about asking students from the start what ways they would like to promote themselves in terms of your outcomes and objectives? Creating a democratic classroom in addition to a creative assessment culture is also powerful! Students get to take more and more ownership of their learning and you get more and more ideas for future teaching modules!
Why not start assessing students through gaming devices? Games are powerful teaching and learning tools – and the assessment combines formative and summative effectively. There are a number of games already created online or in books, but you can certainly make your own (demonstrating your own creativity!).
There are ways to promote creativity. There are things we should do to suggest to students that innovation, invention, and inspiration are both valued as well as something we can develop! Think of the ramifications for our businesses, our culture, or our country around this powerful concept. While we believe ourselves to be decent problem solvers, this may lead to a whole new generation of problem finders (which is typically considered much harder…). Assessing creativity can happen. It can make learning more engaging. It can lead to stronger connections between content and application. It can happen. Good luck and good teaching.
Want to know more about creativity? Want to inspire your team to think outside of the box? Contact Jeff at firstname.lastname@example.org for more information!