Creativity vs Experimentation

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I’ve been following the conversation that Doug Johnson of the Blue Skunk blog started a couple days ago and have been trying to formulate some response in my head other then “Well, just because it should be that way!”

Doug takes on the age old question of creativity vs experimentation. Or in the educational world: Is education an art or a science? Do you have an BA or a BS, a MA or a MS?

Here’s an interesting combo. I have a BA in elementary education and an MS in curriculum and instruction. (That explains a lot!)

To make matters even more confusing I went to dictionary.com and typed in pedagogy.

ped·a·go·gy   Audio pronunciation of "pedagogy"  P   Pronunciation Key  (pd-gj, -gj)

  1. The art or profession of teaching.
  2. Preparatory training or instruction.

() Wikipedia wasn’t any help with the folloing definition:

Pedagogy is the art or science of teaching.

So I went to Wikipedia’s friend Encyclopedia Britannica and got the following:

Pedagogy is the study of teaching methods, including the aims of education and the ways in which such goals may be achieved. The field relies heavily on educational psychology, or theories about the way in which learning takes place.

That’s all they gave me, for more information I need to pay. 🙂

So pedagogy is based on educational psychology and psychology is a science.

So where does that leave us?

If education is an art, then teachers should be allowed to freely
experiment and be creative with their methods. If the teacher is the painter and the student is the
canvas, the painter is creative with colors, styles, even media until
they find the perfect combination that creates a masterpiece.

If education is a science, then the teacher is a scientist carefully
keeping track of research, developing hypotheses and noting outcomes.
To a scientist its about outcomes. Did the experiment produce the
results wanted? If not you start over until you get the desired
results. Only when you can reproduce the experiment over and over
getting the same results is an experiment considered complete.

In what direction is education going? With the current testing enviornment I would say we are looking at the science of teaching not the art.

My belief:

Education needs to be both an art and a science. Just like teaching reading using both phonics and whole language is best, so is a combination of pedagogy.

I know those ‘art’ moments, when you create that perfect lesson plan, play with the appoarch, the materails, look at trying something new and fresh to keep the students interested. I remember working for days on a lesson only to have it go terribly wrong, and days when it turned out way better then I could have imagined. This is the art of teaching, sometimes you create a masterpiece and sometimes you don’t. But what you learn in the failed lessons, helps you to create a masterpiece the next time.

I also understand the science part of education. As I taught 4th grade my first three years. The year in which students take the Washington Assessment on Student Learning in Washington State. I was very aware of the outcome, of keeping the records and achiving growth on the percentage of students who passed the test each year.

The science part of education is the accountability. Its the part that tells our stakeholders (parents and tax payers) that we’re doing our job. But getting the results and growth we want comes from being creative. We’re already made the switch from an industrial age “1 teaching format for all” to a 21st century approach of differentiated Instruction. One in which we believe:

  • No
    two children are alike. 
  • No
    two children learn in the identical way. 
  • An
    enriched environment for one student is not necessarily enriched for
  • In
    the classroom we should teach children to think for themselves. 



This also leads to diferentiated instruction of how we teach technology skills to teachers:

  • No two teachers are alike. Some will experiement with technology others will create.
  • No two teachers learn in identical ways. This is why we can not lock down computers to only those programs a district feels a teacher should use. That’s li
    ke telling a student they can only learn by reading, not by watching, or listening, or touching an object.
  • An enriched environment for one teacher is not necessarily enriched for another. In other words Microsoft Word might work for one teacher where Writely might work for another.
  • In a school we should teach teachers to think for themselves. After all that’s what we hire them for. To think about what is the best approach and best tools to meet the needs of the students in that particular class. Technology and the Internet are more tools for the tool box of teaching. If we start limiting the tools teachers can and can not access are we really allowing them to teach.

I’ve gone way deeper into the pedagogy of education then I wanted to, but maybe that’s where we need to start. If technology is going to affect education the way we know it must and can, maybe this is where we need to start the conversation.

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I started blogging in 2005 and found it such a powerful way to reflect and share my thinking about technology, this generation, and how we prepare students for their future not our past.


  1. Hi Jeff,

    Your posts always get me going in one way or another. On one hand I agree with you, and I’m glad your voice is on the net, on the other hand, your postings always get me thinking about exceptions and contradictions. I guess that’s a good thing. For instance, I couldn’t agree with you more that you have to 1) hire the best teachers you can and then 2) let them be the unique learner / teachers they are.

    On the other hand, I want to put that very open minded principle to the test. You hire the best teachers you can, of course. But, now tenured… the teachers begin to show more “uniqueness”.

    Would it be okay for that unique teacher to say… shuffle her children into a cluster for homogeneous grouping? Is it okay for him to be subject oriented rather than kid centered?How about frontal teaching (oops.. that’s coming back since the smartboard said it’s okay to teach to the front now) What if I think practice and drill is more important than accessing a child’s learning style? What if I don’t want to prepare kids for the state test and prefer to teach what I think is important and let the chips fall where they may? What if I believe that content based learning is the precursor to having anything to say and therefore content is king? Or the reverse: what if I think teaching children to think means that content is irrelevant and something they can pick up later if they want? What if I think that kids need adult friends more than they need teachers and I focus on being accessible and emotionally “there” for them? The theoretical battles of education rage onward and I doubt that most educator/administrators have the intellectual flexibility or the political teflon to handle the really wild edge of difference.

    As always it’s a pleasure to read your posts.


  2. Pingback: Educational Technology and Life » Blog Archive » IT versus Teaching

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