Restoring Creativity to the Classroom

Posted on July 25, 2010
by FeliciaOctocog

Being creative doesn’t mean just being good in the arts. Being creative also means being a problem solver, critical thinker, or inventor. A creative person has the ability to produce something original and useful. It has always been that many of the great new ideas have emanated from the U.S. Yes, our inventions are often shipped overseas to be programmed, packaged, assembled or supported but the idea generation, the inventiveness has always been an American strength.  A recent IBM survey of CEO’s identified creativity as the No. 1 leadership competency of the future.

Unfortunately, in today’s educational environment which now spends way too much time on standardized testing, there is little classroom time to exercise the critical thinking and problem-solving skills necessary to be creative.  And, if these skills will be most valued in the high-paying, US-based jobs of tomorrow, then this country, and our children, may be in trouble.  More than ever, the skills needed for the 21st Century will require both right and left- brained thinking. We will need to be able to research and analyze (divergent thinking) and synthesize (convergent thinking).  We need not only to break the problem down into smaller pieces (analyze) but then envision a solution (synthesize).

In a recent Newsweek article entitled “Creativity in America”, the article’s authors explain the Torrance Index, “the gold standard in creativity assessment”.  This is 90-minute test consisting of a series of discrete tasks which is given worldwide in 50 different languages. Researchers studying the scores have seen a steady and significant decrease in these scores in the US since 1990 with the most profound decrease found in grades K-6.  The authors go on to point out that China and the EU are addressing this issue while the US continues on the path of drill and kill curriculum.

At Salem CyberSpace, we provide enrichment activities that promote these critical thinking skills. After homework is done, students are encouraged to participate in many different creative activities. These include digital design, video (writing and shooting a movie), photography, science projects, and inventing.  It is an area that our staff continues to improve upon with new ideas each year.

This summer our middle school students are participating in a Summer of Innovation.  This is a program funded by NASA and run by MIT and the Massachusetts Afterschool Partnership. For five weeks, students create programs to race robots.  Other projects including designing dream furniture, building satellites and space stations, building and launching bottle rockets, designing bridges and other science/technology projects engage the students for 15 hours per week. During the 5-week session, students get to go to MIT three times, meet astronauts, MIT engineers and of course, the three robots that race against other organizations using the code developed by our middle school kids.

Most educators agree that more time is needed to engage students in creative, out-of-the box thinking but given the curriculum frameworks and testing, teachers find little time to do so during the school day. Until the standards are changed (perhaps the new national standards will address this), after-school programs need to step up their efforts to provide environments where kids can be creative, think critically and solve problems.