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Saturday, August 31, 2013

Creativity: Delving Into The Unknown and Coming Out On Top

By Stephanie Bartlett
The beginning of my creative journey last year was full of surprises.
I didn’t expect to jump off a cliff into the unknown territory of redesigning education and throwing out traditional methods. I didn’t expect to form a close group of creativity pals who text daily to constantly push each other to keep forging ahead with our work. I didn’t expect to be so passionate about creativity that I would need to share with others outside of my school. So the biggest surprise? By jumping off the cliff with the safety parachute of creative process, not only have I transformed my teaching practice, but my personal life as well. That makes the floating feeling of not knowing where you are going well worth it!

Start Easy, Then Ramp It Up

I tried many different activities and concepts, keeping Robert Kelly’s Seven Strands of Creative Development at the core of my explorations. I taught units of different lengths, trialled whole and small group projects and ended the year playing with Genius Hour.

I took to asking myself “WHY?” before attempting any activity.  Was it relevant to the curriculum or just pretty and fun?  Did it actively engage the higher order thinking skills of my students?  Some days, I longed to yank out a worksheet (Ack!) but my depart from traditional teaching methods gained momentum and kept pushing me to press on.

My biggest worry by the end of the year?  I didn’t want to lose the exhilarating feeling that comes from designing change and impacting others.  I didn’t want my enthusiasm from my transformative first year in Creativity in Educational Practice at the University of Calgary to slowly recede into that never-to-be-revisited pool of ideas from great PD workshops of days gone by.  So, in keeping with the creative process and in the words of the Stanford dschool, I now live with “a bias towards action.”

Tips for keeping creativity at the forefront of my practice as I begin a new school year:

1.  The Seven Strands of Creative Development (Self Instigative, Generative, Research/Investigative, Experimentational, Analytical, Collaborative, and Creative Sustain)
This is not a linear process.  Students are guided and activities are scaffolded as they learn metacognitive skills and how to “problem set.”  This is personalization at its best.  I keep visuals of the Seven Strands up to keep us on track during small and large group discussions.  For samples of these visuals, clvisit the resource section.

2.  Space As A Collaborative Tool
Using the dschool’s makespace as a guide, taking the time to visit other classrooms, and learning from my PLN on twitter, I redesign my classroom often, always moving towards a space that is conducive to collaboration for a particular unit of study or time of year. Some tips:
  • Keep plenty of shelf and wall space designated for the display of finished work, as well as work in progress that students can return to.  
  • Prototyping of ideas becomes natural when materials are organized in clear bins or baskets so that students can independently decide what might work best.
  • Fill the classroom with stimuli (photos, articles, drawings) produced by students and teacher that serve to fuel explorations and idea generation.

Now you’re flying:

The notion of creative development and space as a collaborative tool are woven together with carefully designed projects and lessons (you can use the Learning Experience Design Model found in the resource section as a planning tool). I made sure to start out very slow, and nurtured the use of vocabulary, questioning and prototyping throughout the year in daily discussions.  I found it effective to begin each day with a quick talk about what student plans were for the day.  We toured the classroom at the end of the project time.  It was here that students learned from each other, and learned to question and and give suggestions.  
Both teacher and students find this process highly engaging.  You can tell by the smiles, the conversation and the way that they head straight for their projects as soon as they enter the room. The noise level is calmer...a focused buzz as students explore and create.

How do I assess creativity?  

Creativity is effectively assessed through ongoing feedback, goal setting and student reflections.  Depending on the age and ability of the student, this can be written, discussed and digitally recorded.  Please visit the resource section for the assessment tools that we have created.  

I am hooked...

I’ll be honest: last year was not always easy.  Outcome unknown means you ride the waves: there are highs and lows. I highly recommend working together with your team partners, colleagues, professional learning networks on twitter or the conversations on our website to talk about your work. Trust the process of creative development and you are guaranteed to be more passionate about your teaching and your students will surprise you with their enthusiasm!