I've been refining project-based learning units the last couple years. If you're familiar with PBL, there's an added emphasis on teaching 21st century skills. This is an important distinction because 21st century skills are actually TAUGHT in a PBL. That means there are mini lessons, discussions, activities, and/or reflections that exist in your project for the sole purpose of teaching a 21st century skill. This is a shocker for many of us because we simply weren't taught that way. We may have gleaned some of these skills through learning experiences, interactions with friends, or from our parents, but I'd be hard pressed to think of a lesson where I was directly taught what it means to be a great teammate or to be creative.
Up to this point, I'd learned how to teach my students the skills of collaboration and critical thinking, but I hadn't ever taught creativity. I was really stumped. Aside from a few brainstorming strategies and a basic understanding of combining different concepts to make new ones, I didn't really have much to run with. A colleague of mine, Ms. Krause (@kaciek1288) recommended a book by Kieth Sawyer called Zig Zag. It turned out to be just the thing I needed. The book is LOADED with new perspectives and activities to build and exercise creativity.
Here are a few takeaways that I've begun to implement. I hope they give you some new insight on creativity and some tools you can use in your own classroom.
Creativity Zig Zags
Kieth Sawyer lays out eight steps to creativity, but they're not meant to be interpreted in a linear progression. The creative often jumps from one step to another and back again when they run into a new problem. For example, I recently had a creative challenge that required that I superimpose text on our school's buildings (see this year's development video). I've seen this before and always wanted to do it (look). To make it happen, I had to watch a couple tutorials (learn) and then start playing (play). Well, it didn't work the way I expected to so I had to go back to learning. I should also mention that I was fusing ideas left and right as I learned them. Teaching creativity seems to be about learning all the steps and then helping students zig zag. If at first you don't succeed, zig zag until you do. (more fusing, ha! ;)
Creative People WORK at it
Original ideas often come when we're filling our brains with new things. I experienced a lot of this during my masters program. If you've done any graduate work, you know what I mean! The graduate program I was in through Concordia Wisconsin allowed many of my projects to be focused on what I was doing right then in the classroom. I could finish a project and turn around and use it the next week! This brought an incredible amount of relevancy to my work, and I was constantly asking new questions that would come from the books I was reading, making new lesson plans that implemented new instructional strategies or tech tools, playing in the classroom by trying these lesson plans out, choosing which ones worked and which ones didn't, fusing new technology with traditional approaches to education, etc... All of these things required a good deal of work. I had to read the books, write the plans, play with new tech, take risk in the classroom, etc... When teaching students how to be creative, one of the most important things we can teach them is that it takes work. I think it's also important to share how much joy one can get from doing all these things. Sure it's work, but it's not flipping burgers. It's work that comes with a great payoff and solves a problem.
There are Oodles of Activities to Exercise Creativity
Remember Who's Line is it Anyway? Funny show. The actors on that show obviously exercised their creative juices all the time. They flipped ideas upside down (superheroes you wouldn't want to be rescued by) and combined things that usually aren't combined (pick up lines you would hear in a nursing home). The show is a perfect example of how improv. actors exercise their ability to make interesting connections. The more we train our brain to make connections, the better they become at doing it. Kieth Sawyer has a TON (100 to be exact) of activities for generating ideas, fusing ideas, choosing ideas, making ideas, and more. I took a bunch of them and turned them into one page activities for the classroom. Whenever I want to emphasize creativity in a project, I can pull and activity from the library. Here are a couple just to give you and idea of what's in the book. Note: these ideas are not my own. I might have changed the words slightly on some, but for the most part, I just mooched the activities right from Kieth Sawyer.
I just finished up a project with my video production students. Our creative challenge was to create MLA video tutorials that would help students format their papers. All the videos we found on YouTube beforehand were ok, but they were made by teachers and they were long. Often times, they presented all the formatting steps in one video rather than breaking it down. We brainstormed, we leaned, we played, we revised, we learned, we fused, and we made these tutorials. Creative highlights: the bumper at the beginning, highlighting common mistakes that students make, the concise nature of each video, student humor, well- placed graphics to highlight what they're talking about, and the branding at the end. Enjoy!
If you're also working on learning how to teach creativity in the classroom, I'd love to hear your thoughts and experiences. It's really when we see how others are teaching creativity and also seeing the student products that come out of their hard work.