This week in my graduate studies course called Roots of Inquiry, we watched a film called How to Cook Your Life. It features Zen Buddhist chef/baker at Tassajara Zen Center in California, Edward Espe Brown.
There was a part of the movie when Espe Brown was talking about using his hands. He said, "Cooking brings your hands nourishment because your hands get to be hands instead of playing around with your iPod or computer. They get to do something instead of sitting around all day while you’re entertaining yourself with your iPod and your internet and all of the other things we do. Our hands don’t get to do much any more."
And then he said, "Your hands activate your brain."
If for no other reason, maybe we should create so we can use our hands?
My students are creating museum exhibits about some of the groups who were important in Canada's pre-Confederation history. One group is studying the Mi'kmaq, who lived in wigwams.
One of my student walks in yesterday morning, with the help of her mom, with all these wooden pieces. She and her dad worked on creating the frame the night before and she brought it to school this morning. "It's our wigwam," she said.
Today, the group worked together to put it together. They used bolts and wingnuts to attach the parts together. They used a hatchet wrench to tighten the bolts. They problem-solved when they realized they'd put on piece on upside down - and unattached it, flipped it over, and re-attached it.
They learned with their hands. They created.
How to Cook Your Life is available on Netflix Canada.
We took it out of the box in my grade 7 Innovation & Technology class yesterday, and let the kids explore. They discovered quickly how to make a keypad out of a piece of paper and arrows drawn on with pencil, and also made one out of PlayDoh.
It was pretty awesome watching them play Pac Man with the MaKey MaKey - it quickly turned a solitary arcade game into a fun, collaborative one. They were laughing and giggling as they tried to manage the keypad.
The creative potential for this tool is endless - the video above just hints at it. I can't wait to ask the kids innocently loaded questions like, "So, how could you improve the design of that keypad?" and "What other things could you control with this?"
I taught an option class to my grade sevens last term called Creative Problem Solving. I decided to focus on games and play - a great move, because my students loved this class so much. It was one of those delightful times when they were learning a lot without really even knowing they were learning.
I pilfered my local second hand store for board games and came back with a bunch. They worked in groups, chose one, and had to think of new ways to play. They had to hack the rules, and invent a new game, using the pieces from an existing game.
We watched Caine's Arcade. It was just beautiful how this happened. After it was over, I asked "What did you think?" And the kids shared how awesome it was, and how great Caine's contraptions were, and how fun it looked. And then, innocently, a student asked, "Can we make a cardboard arcade?" Oh glorious day! Such a question! So off we went.
This was the major project of the term, and the one that took the most time. We put an all call out for cardboard, and had a storage room full of it in no time to work with. The students created a wide variety of games, some invented and some borrowed: skee ball, Plinko, coin dozer, basketball, ring toss.
When they finished building their arcade games, and testing them, then we added an element of social innovation to the project. We held our cardboard arcade at lunch one day and invited the school to come and play. Each turn was a quarter, with all proceeds donated to our school's Me to We Club, who is trying to raise $10,000 to build a school in Ghana. And in that process, the students had an authentic audience for their work.
I Never Once Mentioned the Strands
Throughout all three of these activities, the students experienced all seven strands of creative development. They collaborated with each other. They self-instigated their own ideas - they made decisions that were motivating and relevant to them. They investigated ideas and sought inspiration for their ideas from different sources. They generated. Oh did they generate! And they experimented. Prototyping ideas happened a lot. Their planning for their games tended to take this form: try out an idea to see if it will work. I encouraged this; I did not put the pressure on that their games had to be "finished" within a class period, giving them freedom to test ideas and not feel a time crunch if their ideas didn't work. I encouraged them to try new solutions to the problems they had in their game design and creation. Through this process, they analyzed their ideas to find the best one. And they absolutely reached creative sustain. While they were working on their arcade games, they would come to class, drag out their arcade game in progress, and get right to work. They didn't need to ask me what to do, they just did it. This sustained them creatively for weeks.
Although they experienced the seven strands, I didn't stop them to talk about them. I made the decision that they needed to just play, rather than hearing me talk about this. This was an experiement on my part. I wanted to see if they would experience the strands even without knowing what to call them. It worked.
Moral of the Story
Don't stress about how you are going to communicate the creative process to your students. Set them up so they will experience it. If you teach grade 1, are they going to understand what "Creative Sustain" means? Nope. But will they love the feeling when they're immersed in a creative project? Absolutely.
Let our students take charge with a social innovation project! Our Kindergarten students are getting ready to educate the school community on the importance of saving energy by lowering our thermostats by 2 degrees. We will encourage families to wear their craziest sweaters in support of this movement and lower their thermostats.
We'll start with some discussion about climate change, then brainstorm ways that we can spread the word within our school. I'm thinking class visits, posters, video clips and a blurb in the newsletter but am curious to see what other suggestions come up.
WIth so much learning opportunities in a real context, I can't wait to see the results. Please join in the fun with your school and share your comments and suggestions.
What does living creatively and sharing your passions with others have to do with teaching creative development? More than you might think! A creative lifestyle encompasses an interest in any discipline in which one moves longitudinally through the strands of creative development. Take a look at your activities and passions through the lens of the Seven Strands of Creative Development.
To fully embrace all the benefits of creative development, it is important to create alongside your students. We'll admit, it is easier said than done to work on your project while trying to be a coach and facilitator at the same time but well worth the effort to squeeze in a bit of time or at least document your progress in front of your students. This accomplishes three goals:
In order to ask the students to learn through creative development, you need to be aware of the process yourself so that you can recognize the stages that each student is experiencing and where they need to go next.
It makes pursuit of an interest very real and relevant when students see that their teacher is on a level playing field with them.
Students are apt to bond with their teacher as they see themselves as co-creators and part of a tight community that shares a common goal of creative development.
Creative conversations are invigorating. People's eyes light up and smiles bloom when give the opportunity to share their passion. Enthusiasm then starts to spill over into other areas of your life.
Want to encourage a culture of creativity with your colleagues? Read on....
In her spare time, Stephanie writes poetry. She saw it as important to share her new interest with her colleagues and students, offering to share tips with teachers on how to get students engaged in poetry. She also uses her poetry book as an example for students during shared writing and reading experiences. Soon, her colleagues began sharing other creative interests with her such as photography, painting and writing. Intrigued by the spontaneous conversations that were beginning to emerge, Stephanie realized that staff members were now interacting on a very different level.
At her school, there is a bulletin board just inside the main entrance that showcases the staff members. Rather than having photos and a brief bio, the following year the staff was presented as a creative bunch with interconnected interests. For example, Stephanie had a picture of her family and a brief explanation of her journey into the world of poetry. Three other staff members love photography, so they chose different samples of their work. Whether gardening, painting, quilting or cooking, teachers chose to share what fired them with the school community. Creative culture.
We are designers of learning and also in pursuit of creativity in our personal lives. It is this new image of teachers as creators and designers that needs to be recognized and promoted. Staff members will enjoy a heightened sense of solidarity as they have opportunities to engage in these meaningful conversations.
Keep in mind that this is a gentle way to encourage creative conversations with your colleagues. Go slow. Even if these conversations take place between a few like-minded staff members, you are off to a good start.
Further examples of educators living creatively and how it fuels their enthusiasm for teaching:
Erin Quinn started The Blank Canvas Project, where people create a piece of art to leave in a public place to inspire, invigorate, and bring joy to strangers.
Trina Penner tackled learning what an art journal (aka altered book) was all about as part of a project to push her creative boundaries. (Trina is not a visual artist and has never taken art classes before. She considers herself more of a crafter.) She joined an art journal group and learned several techniques. She produced a joyful book of tactile textures and sense-memory stories to house her new learnings. The journey helped her increase her creative confidence and make her a more sympathetic learning designer for her students as they embark on new territory in their classroom journeys.
Trina Penner started the Pink Voices Project in May of 2013 with ten lovely ladies at her high school. Her intent was for these young women to increase their self confidence via creative writing. Her belief is that if you instill confidence in young women, you will automatically affect a positive change for future generations to come. The gals may turn their writing into a performance piece once they have gathered enough tales.