Sunday, March 3, 2013

Finding a Way

It is my personal mission to find ways for students to be creative. I have realized that my past notions of creativity are not adequate. In the past, I tried very hard to set up a culture of creativity in my classroom. To some extent I was successful, but I can do so much more. I am expanding my understanding of creativity. Beside a culture of creativity, you need to be unafraid to let students actually construct creatively. That calls for a ton of unease, even for a teacher like me who shies away from structure and traditional norms. More than telling students that they can be creative, it is necessary to give the tools needed for creativity. Maker's spaces, coding, and complete freedom are building blocks for creative learning. 

I thought I could achieve creativity in the classroom through Project Based Learning (PBL). It is true that PBL allows for radical levels of creativity compared to standard pedagogy, but more can be done. How flexible are your projects? Can students really own the end product? Is the end goal a means of teaching curriculum or allowing for creativity? Can both be reconciled? Do projects really engage or do students see the scenarios as artificial contraptions used to teach outdated curriculum? A lot to think about.

Recently, I had a PBL for seventh grade science where students created a marketing campaign for a geological time period. It wasn't the best design and some of the students were not engaged. Some thought it was an inventive way to "do" school, but realized it was little more than a redressing of typical content. I reserved the school laptops as a way of engaging students, but this was not enough. I basically used new technology for old teaching methods.

There was a particular student doing little to no work. Whenever my back was turned, I heard the strums of a guitar. He spent most of his time messing around with and tinkering with Google Guitar. He was totally engaged in that pursuit and he was also darn good. I enjoyed how he was learning this, but decided he couldn't do it in class. He was going against group and teacher orders, and playing around. Screw the fact I was squashing real creative learning.

The familiar pattern of "deviance" continued and I knew something had to change. Instead of getting upset, I asked him what he would like to do with this project. I acknowledged my failings and told him I wanted to work with him so that he was doing work in any way he desired. I was planning to push him toward Scratch. After a few minutes, he asked if he could write a song. Brilliant! I suggested that he make a jingle for his group. That way he could spend most of his time engaged on the guitar and also creatively construct something brand new and unique. I hoped his jingle would include information about his geological time period, but decided to leave that more as friendly suggestion I would remind him of. He spent the next two days experimenting, playing, and learning. Ultimately, he created a song that he is going to unveil tomorrow. I also saw him glance at the book at few times, so I am hoping both of us will walk away with a feeling of success.

We just need to find a way for our students to be truly creative. It may be uncomfortable, but we have to find that way.

Below is an example of another person "fooling around" with Google guitar.


  1. Hi Timothy, thanks for your unflinching reflection on your teaching practice. You might get some help and insight from the Teaching for Artistic Behavior group that is very active and brilliant.
    This is not an lcl group. TAB has a yahoo group that I belong to and find extremely helpful in developing as a choice practitioner. These are mainly art teachers but there are also participants in other subject areas. There is some very fine thinking and sharing that goes on between people who have been creating structures for students and teachers to exercise choice in their classrooms. It's my working community that I can go to for encouragement and practical support. Thanks for taking on this work.

    1. Thank you for the suggestion! I just applied for membership and am excited to learn about new ways I can bring TRUE creativity into the classroom.