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Creativity in the Classroom

Do your math students feel like they’re being creative when they work at solving complex problems? Do your history students feel like they’re being creative as they delve into the detail about the Marshall Plan? Should they?

3510594942_d6a84ecf83_z.jpgimage by: Asja Boros

Most people agree that creativity is an important part of the human existence. Without it we wouldn’t have paintings, books, sculpture, or gardens. We also wouldn’t have a rover on Mars or the Hubble telescope or penicillin.

Creativity might seem like it belongs firmly in the camp of the arts, but science, math, engineering, and technology are all incredibly creative fields of study. It takes a huge stretch of imagination to think, “Hey, what if we had a teeny tiny computer that we could carry around in our pockets and use to call people and take photographs and make restaurant reservations?” Without that first spark of “What if?” the rest of the invention never happens.

Innovation, which drives the invention of products, process, and improvements that make our lives healthier and more fulfilling, is a very creative thing. It’s the combination of imagination, discovery, and the recognition of a need. Innovators see a need and then figure out a way to satisfy that need.

What does this mean for kids in the classroom? How can we allow for them to explore creativity (which tends to be their natural inclination) within a system that is necessarily structured? How can we encourage creativity in the classroom?

Let them figure more stuff out for themselves. Here at Nomad Press, we recently made a change in the way we structure the activities in our books. Whereas before we’d offer a step-by-step process to follow, complete with a comprehensive list of supplies, we now make many of our projects completely open-ended. We trust kids to take an idea and run with it for an experience of true discovery! The same thing can apply to classroom or home activities. Instead of helping kids with their experiments, let them see what happens.

Celebrate mistakes and failures. Ask any scientist and they’ll tell you that the road to success is paved with many, many failures. They’re inevitable! And they’re good things! You have to go through lots of failure to learn what you need in order to succeed. Failing simply means that you’re trying.

Ask more questions instead of providing answers. By asking questions, you encourage kids to think beyond the problem directly in front of them and look around to find their own way to an answer. An answer is often the end of a thought—a question keeps the thought going.

Embrace the mess. We know there’s a lot to do in a day without also having to clean up a mess, but when people are focused more on keeping things clean and less on the actual process, they end up limited in what they can try. Whether you’re teaching science, math, or social studies in a classroom or at home, take comfort that kids are stretching their creative muscles when they turn the kitchen into a mad scientist’s laboratory or set up a film set in the corner of the classroom.

Allow for interpretive assignments. Encourage your kids to explore different media. Maybe instead of writing an essay, a student could create a podcast episode, make a video, or design an interactive webpage. We have a wealth of technology at our fingertips that many children are comfortable with—let them explore different ways of responding to academic prompts.

Set aside time for a genius hour. Tinkering and makerspaces are all the rage these days, and there’s good reason for it. The makerspace movement is all about letting your curiosity dictate the direction you travel, and by hosting a weekly hour or two for just that, you’re giving kids a wonderful chance to let their imaginations run wild. You’ll probably find that they are far more focused on traditional learning as a result of having that time to follow their brains down whatever path they choose.

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