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11 Years Later, Would Sir Ken Robinson Find Creativity in Our Schools?

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Today's guest post is written by Melissa Weatherwax, a K-12 technology coach in the Averill Park Central School District (Averill Park, NY). 

Memories of my body aching and muscles tightening still haunt me. Sitting properly, I was perched on a chair as hard and cold as the classroom. Rows were neatly arranged front to back and side to side. No one spoke, but waited to be spoken to. Opinions didn't matter, memorizing facts did. For self preservation I'd daydream to get through class and often found myself in trouble for it. I withdrew into a world of designing and dreaming, creating and calculating. No one attempted to harness the power of my thoughts nor understand my passions, creativity or intelligence; they noticed only low grades.

My parents survived the same education model thirty years earlier and my children some thirty years later; an outdated, industrialized model of education and conformity. Our world is vastly different and yet we continue to educate students for one that was current in previous decades. 

Some forty-seven years ago, child psychologist Jean Piaget said "The principal goal of education is to create men who are capable of doing new things, not simply repeating what other generations have done - men who are creative, inventive, and discoverers." We continue to place high value on numbers and conformity while dismissing the value of creativity, critical thinking, and innovation. Those facts and study cards I had to memorize for countless tests?  How quickly I knew multiplication facts? SAT study questions that resulted in proof that I was worthy of a college degree? They were quickly forgotten and had no impact on who I was or what I could achieve. 

Although years too late for me, in a 2006 TedTalk, Sir Ken Robinson said, "Intelligence is dynamic. If you look at the interactions of a human brain, intelligence is wonderfully interactive. The brain isn't divided into compartments. In fact, creativity -- which I define as the process of having original ideas that have value -- more often than not comes about through the interaction of different disciplinary ways of seeing things..."

I believe students need parameters and support to figure out where they're going. 

I don't believe they need rigidity and barriers on what we deem an acceptable project or product; it's a missed opportunity for rich learning, deeper understanding, student empowerment and potentially igniting a passion.  Yes, we have standards, mandates and requirements, but we also have quite a bit of choice in what we ask of our students.

  • We need to cultivate creativity, thinking, challenges, ambiguity, and risk.
  • We need to do more listening and ask more questions so students have opportunity to think critically and find answers.
  • We need to push desks out of rows (or out the door!), rethink our learning spaces, and make them more reflective of the world that students enter when they leave our buildings each day. 

It is our responsibility, not our choice, to empower students with collaborative and creative opportunities, to connect them with the world, to make meaning and think critically and provide them more real world situations. They aren't often encouraged to think independently, to challenge ideas, or to risk an opinion that might be contrary to what is being required.

Where do you start? Somewhere. Anywhere. As I've said before, you have to find your people.  Once you start looking, you'll find people feeling that same desire for change and working with others can be further inspirational. However, be prepared to fly solo if you can't find others as daring for change, the reward is worth it. 

In Creative Schools, Sir Ken affirms, "The real agents of change know that an impassioned individual can transform the process and change the world." I am lucky to continually collaborate with some of those impassioned individuals. There is the teacher who has asked students to create a digital tutorial for a Math review that would be publicly shared with peers.  Another is asking students to choose the most important battle in The Civil War and create a multimedia presentation to prove their claim, leading them to study other battles and prove theirs is most important. A third teacher has asked their students to rewrite MacBeth in modern language and perform and record each act so peers, never having read Shakespeare, would understand the plot. Still another is asking students to read Henrietta Lacks, consider a challenging, essential question, research and prove their decision with a multimedia presentation of their choosing. 

Another teacher has been researching innovative design for their learning space to encourage collaboration and creativity to improve their environment and yet another has asked their students to identify an essential question related to their content topic, research and create a tangible product, and share their work and results on a class website and Twitter feed. What makes these teachers different? They were willing to risk and they dare to dream. Each is transforming learning and changing their students' worlds.    

So can you.

Eleven years ago, Robinson left us considering, "My contention is all kids have incredible talents and we squander them, pretty ruthlessly.  Creativity now is as important, in education, as Literacy and we should treat it with the same status."

Eleven years later. 

Time's up.

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