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Creativity Whitepaper

Creativity Whitepaper

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Published by Josh Rosenberg

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Published by: Josh Rosenberg on Dec 17, 2011
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Encourage Student Creativity with Seven Cognitive ToolsMichigan State University, CEP 818Josh Rosenberg
On a typical school day students will work to master different disciplines. Often theirlearning do not cultivate of their creativity. This omission cheats students - creativity is essential.In order for a learner to exhibit creativity they must master the content of a discipline, so thatthey may subjugate its lessons to their use as a creative individual. Students can then apply whatthey’ve learned to the situations in their lives. The text Sparks of Creativity by Robert andMichelle Root-Bernstein describes the cognitive skills that characterize innovators, creators andgeniuses. Creativity includes the thinking skills: perceiving, patterning, abstracting, embodiedthinking, modeling, playing, and synthesizing
One way educators can encourage creativity in students is by allowing students to learnabout the curriculum on their terms. In The Child and the Curriculum John Dewey describes thedynamic between our curricula as educators and children’s interests. An example of this in myscience class is when students ask questions or make a statement about a television program,something they heard from a friend or sibling, or read about in a magazine. Answering thesequestions is not my job, but the creative currency I receive from students in return is worth thetime. Bringing a curriculum nearer to the things that interest children is a challenge and allowingand encouraging students to be creative is a shortcut across that bridge. Another way toencourage creativity in students is to give students something to look forward to in class; thesecan be small or large rewards or activities that students enjoy, and the currency earned with thesethings students look forward to goes a long way.
Once students discover their creativity I will encourage and protect the development of their creativity through habits of strength in my classroom. Shaping the time and space of mystudent’s experience may help them become accustomed to being creative - even in Science.Regularly planning and scheduling the types of activities that help students discover creativitydoes the same.
Many times teachers try to harvest the fruits of the creative process without planting andthen watering its seeds. Higher-level thinking and problem solving are the types of 21st centuryskills that students and teachers are taught to use. But, these skills don’t come easily to anyone.Students who are accustomed to discovering and taking care of their creativity are much betterprepared to apply their creative energy to solving complex problems and perhaps finding andsolving problems hidden within and even beyond our curricula. Another fruit teachers might findin their creative students is their ability to solve complex problems simply. It is easy enough toteach students to recite facts on cue but it is much more difficult for students to see the nuancesthat connect the order of a punnett square and the apparant randomness of the independentassortment of chromosomes when a man or woman makes a sex cell.
There are seven cognitive tools that are characteristic of innovators and geniuses. But,they are also available to students. Teachers can encourage creativity in students by integratinginstruction with the perceiving, patterning, abstracting, embodied thinking, modeling, playing,and synthesizing tools. In the following paragraphs, I describe specific examples that a teacher of Astronomy could use to integrate those tools. I designed these techniques for students in my 9thgrade Earth Science course, but they may additionally be appropriate for younger and olderstudents.
I created a zooming Prezi to help students understand the levels of organization inScience. The organization of this Prezi can help students perceive the layers that are smaller andlarger than those surrounding it. A molecule is larger than a subatomic particle; you must zoomout to see this in the Prezi. And a community is smaller than an ecosystem; the same must bedone to perceive this level of organization. Perceiving is about looking, listening, smelling,tasting, and touching; how well a student does those things is a reflection of being mindful of oneself and surroundings. Oftentimes we must perceive things through more than one of oursenses in order to understand its true nature.
The purpose of perceiving something in a different way is to facilitate the understandingof an object in a more complete manner. The levels of organization in Science are hard toperceive. But, it’s not hard to comprehend the relative nature of how science is organized. Themagnitude of the difference between a biosphere an a galaxy is so incomprehensible to our mind,because our mind is on such a different level of organization. What we may comprehend is therelative nature of how science is organized, and can relate differences which are comprehensibleto us to those differences that are much larger. Teachers can facilitate student’s perceivingthrough the technology tool Prezi, because Prezi demonstrates how we perceive an object candetermine how well we understand it.
Earth takes slightly less than 24 hours (that’s why we have a leap-year- we need tocompensate for that bit of time we’re short) to rotate about its axis. In order to represent thispattern, I collected data about the rotations of Earth and the other planets in our slar system.Students must understand is that each planet has its own pattern in spite of our accustom with theunique pattern of our planet. - it may occur to many students that the unit of measurement for thepattern is based on our own planet.
Robert and Michele Root-Bernstein suggest in Sparks of Creativity that “an effective wayto teach chemistry students the periodic table would be to challenge them to devise their ownschema for representing the periodicities instead of simply memorizing a structure invented bysomeone else.” But, before they can do that, patterning “requires real understanding of the basicelements of phenomena and processes.” So students who understand the concepts of synodic dayand planetary rotation may take it unto themselves to create a new scale and pattern based onother planets or celestial bodies. Teachers can facilitate student’s patterning by first teaching thecontent, then instructing students to create their own representation for the length of a synodicday.
The painter, scientist, and poet described in Sparks of Genius each reduced complex“visual, physical, or emotional ideas to bare, stripped images, revealing, through simplicity, thepower of purity.” Astronomy is ripe for abstraction and analogy because of its relative surfeit of certainty. An abstraction is different from an analogy in that it captures the essential features of an underlying object. An analogy captures the similarities between two objects. Thosesimilarities may or may not be the essential features of the objects. The broadest, most generalanalogy is very abstract: to that end, Pablo Picasso wrote that “whatever is most abstract mayperhaps be the summit of reality.”
Sparks of Genius says abstractions are “so simple that they seem unremarkable”. So, Iwanted to make the Milky Way galaxy as simple as possible for students. We can view the MilkyWay in two ways: from our perspective, or from the imagined perspective of an outside observer.From our home the Milky Way is a beautiful milky perspective of stars on the horizon. But fromafar and as part of the Milky Way, we are traveling through space in the arm of our galaxy. Toreturn to Werner Heisenberg, he wrote that an abstraction is “the possibility of considering anobject under one viewpoint while disregarding all other properties of the object” - to that end Ifirst analyzed three images of the Milky Way galaxy as abstractions, then created three of myown. Teachers can facilitate student’s abstracting through working with students to drawrepresentations of astronomical bodies such as the Milky Way Galaxy.
Embodied Thinking
The scientist Stanley Smith wrote as he worked with metals how he “came to have anatural understanding, a feeling of how I would behave if a certain alloy, a sense of hardness andsoftness and conductivity and fusibility and brittleness.” This embodiment of a subject or objectis a valuable thinking tool. To demonstrate embodied thinking for students, I created an activityabout the speed of light. Light travels from the Moon to Earth in 3.1 seconds, and from the Sunto the Earth requires 8.3 seconds. This is how long it takes at the speed of light to travel thosedistances – how about a speeding bullet, car, or human?
Light travels about 186,000 miles per second – that is 671,000,000 miles per hour. Sincean automobile does not typically drive faster than 80 miles per hour, one can really only imaginehow fast light is. But what if students could feel with their own bodies not the speed of lightitself, but the difference between the speed of light and a common activity? So the purpose of this kinesthetic activity is for students to feel the magnitude of the difference between the speedof light and our running bodies.
Have students run lengthwise down a football field - this symbolizes the speed of light,An object that travels three inches in a year is traveling 0.00000005 miles per hour – or veryclose to ninety million times slower than our running humans. The difference in the speed of ourrunners and the object that moves three inches in a year is almost precisely the same as thedifference in speed between the speed of light and our runners. Teachers can facilitate student’sembodied thinking through embodying the difference between the speed of light and a commonactivity.

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