Thursday, August 19, 2010

What is Creativity?

Well, I'm still waiting for Outer Space to define creativity for me. I think I'll ask my students.

I haven't written about teaching in a while. Mostly because I've been off all summer. It was a much needed break as last year was probably the hardest I've ever worked in my life. My first year of teaching went really well though, much to my surprise. I managed to get through the whole year without much drama. And my students are incredible. I get the same students this year, as is the nature of special education. Teaching gifted kids comes with it's own difficulties. A lot of people don't understand the special needs gifted kids have and studies have shown they are the students schools most often fail. We just don't know what to do with them.

My boss recently sent me this article from Newsweek. Basically the subtitle says it all: "For the first time, research shows that American creativity is declining. What went wrong—and how we can fix it." Last year in my pedagogy classes, we talked about creativity and discussed the role of the teacher. Can you teach creativity? Or is it inherent? Perhaps both? Can it be encouraged? Facilitated? Or is it an essential human quality that the current educational system discourages? These are all fascinating questions and I'm sure many people out there are writing their Phd thesis on the subject.

Psychology professor Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi has done some in-depth studies on the matter. I read parts of his book Creativity: Flow and the Psychology of Discovery and Invention last year. I was especially interest his description of the experience called "flow", which he defines as:

"being completely involved in an activity for its own sake. The ego falls away. Time flies. Every action, movement, and thought follows inevitably from the previous one, like playing jazz. Your whole being is involved, and you're using your skills to the utmost." (link to Wired interview)

When I look at this chart I think about how much time my students must spend in the "boredom" category. I'm not sure I understand the "relaxation" one. That just seems like a breeding ground for anxiety when something does finally challenge you. But when things are too easy I get bored too. Although I do love to clean and organize and feel relaxed and accomplished afterward.

So back to my classroom. I've decided to create a theme this year. I'm working with this idea of creativity, the crisis in our schools. The Newsweek article suggests that project based learning and the development of problem solving skills is a great way to encourage creative thinking. Well, it just so happens that I can create my own curriculum and pretty much do whatever I want with my students. So that's what we're doing. We're going to learn about creativity. We're going to define it. Over and over. We're going to study what famous artists and scientists have said about creativity. We're going to research creative scientists and mathematicians. We're going to think about the problems in our lives and what skills we have to come up with creative solutions. Multiple solutions. We're going to answer these questions:

What is creativity? 
Is everyone creative?
How do you show your creativity?
How can your creativity help the world?

I'll keep you posted as the year progresses. I can't wait to hear some of the definitions the students come up with.

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