Can you become Creative?

A great article out of the New York Times entitled: Can You Become a Creature of New Habits? Has had me thinking today about creating creative cultures in our schools.

David Warlick wrote a post recently that looked at the top 25 economic cities in the U.S. and how a “creative class” played a role in the rankings.

What I found interesting was the Bob Cook, who evaluated the cities factored in the portion of the population (that) were in the creative class. This includes scientists, engineers, artists, and teachers. The belief is, and this is consistent with Richard Florida’s writings, the creative class benefits the economic prosperity of a community as well as culture.

So perhaps one of the challenges of communities today is, “How do we attract creative people?” “How do we convince our creative children to stay?”

Or another question: How do we create creative people?

The authors and researchers quoted in the article has some interesting things to say.

“The first thing needed for innovation is a fascination with wonder,” says Dawna Markova, author of “The Open Mind” and an executive change consultant for Professional Thinking Partners.

Do we encourage our students to wonder? I see it all the time in Kindergarten classrooms, see it a lot in 2nd grade, not so much in 5th grade and by 8th grade? I don’t think I’ve ever hear a middle school or high school teacher say “I wonder…….”

Instead we ask students to make decisions. We as them to decide between this answer and that answer. We ask them to decide between fact and opinion.

“But we are taught instead to ‘decide,’ just as our president calls himself ‘the Decider.’” She adds, however, that “to decide is to kill off all possibilities but one. A good innovational thinker is always exploring the many other possibilities.”

So by asking students to make decisions rather than wonder about possibilities we’re fitting students into the box of what we believe to be right or wrong.

The article goes on to talk about brain research and how habits play a role in our creative nature.

…brain researchers have discovered that when we consciously develop new habits, we create parallel synaptic paths, and even entirely new brain cells, that can jump our trains of thought onto new, innovative tracks.

Now that’s cool. I’m sitting here with my legs up on my desk and I cross my left leg over my right. Why? Habit…it just feels right. For the rest of this post I’ll cross them the other way.

So we need to help students consciously develop new habits to stay creative. Think of the habits you could help students consciously develop in your classroom.

What if once a week students in your class had to write with the opposite hand. Just once a week for 40 weeks….new pathways?

What if as a teacher you consciously took a different route home from work. Making yourself pay attention to the road, to signs, etc.

In fact, the more new things we try — the more we step outside our comfort zone — the more inherently creative we become, both in the workplace and in our personal lives.

I wonder if that is part of the reason why educational technology people (for the most part) are a creative bunch. Most of us (myself included) started out as a classroom teachers and we tried new things with technology. We tried this tool, that website, we got creative to a point where today….heck, I try stuff just for the fun of it.

I have test sites set up where I try to break programs. I hack PHP script without thinking about it, yet four years ago I would have thought PHP to be a drug.

The current emphasis on standardized testing highlights analysis and procedure, meaning that few of us inherently use our innovative and collaborative modes of thought. “This breaks the major rule in the American belief system — that anyone can do anything,” explains M. J. Ryan

You mean to tell me we can’t test the creativity into students? That the current state of testing mandated by the government is counterproductive to creating innovative and collaborative people. The same skills that companies are looking for in new employees? (I’ll stop there)

Where are students allowed to be creative today. Art class is the first that comes to mind. Maybe it’s because my office is down the hall from the art room where music is blaring and kids take risks with every stroke of the brush. They wonder, they innovate, them try something new, learn, and try something new again. What about the performing arts? Students continually reinventing themselves for parts in a play, acting this way or that way that breaks the habits of what they know and who they are.

What about technology? Kids hack up their Myspace pages to create their own themes, they learn, create and produce their own videos for YouTube. They imagine then create their own avatars for online games. They take risks every time they play a computer game, they make decisions, learn the outcome, reevaluate and try again. They continually try new approaches, new methods until they find one that works for them. How many times have you been working on the computer or playing a game and thought to yourself:

I wonder what would happen if……..

How do we instill this wonder into our education system? Why do we not allow students to explore information, to reach their own conclusions by creating their own answers? Why is it so hard for us to become the schools we know we need to become?

I know…more questions then answers. But what did you expect….my legs are crossed the wrong way!