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Nurture Creativity With Real-World Projects

Students have a keen sense of what experiences are relevant to their futures. And what could be more relevant than real world, globe-spanning projects that professionals work on every day?

As I traveled the country in the last few years, I've seen many inspiring projects that engage students on many different levels. Here are a few examples that teachers and afterschool providers can begin to use right away:

  • A 30-second public service announcement (PSA). In our 24/7 global media age, is the message understandable beyond our own borders? The Ad Council is a good source for socially minded, well-framed messages, but non-governmental organizations from around the world also put out clever PSAs.
  • Virtual museums featuring 10 pieces of art based on a theme. Students curate original or existing artwork and write descriptions under each to explain a perspective offered on the selected theme. A project like this helps students understand the legality of copyrights, too. Museums around the world feature online exhibitions; look for cross-border exhibitions for inspiration.
  • An international student newspaper, with student editors, journalists, photographers, and readers from partner schools around the world.
  • A radio program featuring three-minute segments. Students, working in groups, take on the roles of executive producers, journalists, and technical producers to make a short radio program based on a theme. Students can interview peers and experts in other countries using programs like Skype. This American Life, Radio Lab, and various other NPR or PRI programs make excellent models.

What are these projects about? That's up to you and your students. Topics should fit with your curriculum. Infusing technology-rich project work is an excellent way to engage students and meet curricular requirements. A few topical examples: Democracy around the World, Literary Geniuses, A Thirsty Planet, The World According to Numbers. The possibilities are limitless.

A well-documented key to success is the involvement of students in planning, anticipating and solving problems, and executing all aspects of the project. A good way to start is to ask a professional to help coach and critique the project. With their help, students can take a critical look at models. Ask students to write down the qualities that make the model interesting and compelling-as well as shortcomings. Students can then create a plan on how to achieve similar excellence from their own starting point.

When I'm in Asia, educators tell me that they look to American schools to see how creativity and innovation are taught. I think it's not so much a skill to be taught but something to be nurtured, and these types of real-world projects seem to do just that.

I would love to hear from you: What types of projects do your students like the most? Is there a correlation between interest and achievement?

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