Encourage Student Creativity with Seven Cognitive Tools Michigan State University, CEP 818 Josh Rosenberg

On a typical school day students will work to master different disciplines. Often their learning 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 that they may subjugate its lessons to their use as a creative individual. Students can then apply what they’ve learned to the situations in their lives. The text Sparks of Creativity by Robert and Michelle Root-Bernstein describes the cognitive skills that characterize innovators, creators and geniuses. Creativity includes the thinking skills: perceiving, patterning, abstracting, embodied thinking, modeling, playing, and synthesizing
One way educators can encourage creativity in students is by allowing students to learn about the curriculum on their terms. In The Child and the Curriculum John Dewey describes the dynamic between our curricula as educators and children’s interests. An example of this in my science 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 these questions is not my job, but the creative currency I receive from students in return is worth the time. Bringing a curriculum nearer to the things that interest children is a challenge and allowing and encouraging students to be creative is a shortcut across that bridge. Another way to encourage creativity in students is to give students something to look forward to in class; these can be small or large rewards or activities that students enjoy, and the currency earned with these things 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 my student’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 creativity does the same.
Many times teachers try to harvest the fruits of the creative process without planting and then watering its seeds. Higher-level thinking and problem solving are the types of 21st century skills 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 better prepared to apply their creative energy to solving complex problems and perhaps finding and solving problems hidden within and even beyond our curricula. Another fruit teachers might find in their creative students is their ability to solve complex problems simply. It is easy enough to teach students to recite facts on cue but it is much more difficult for students to see the nuances that connect the order of a punnett square and the apparant randomness of the independent assortment 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 integrating instruction 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 9th grade Earth Science course, but they may additionally be appropriate for younger and older students. Perceiving
I created a zooming Prezi to help students understand the levels of organization in Science. The organization of this Prezi can help students perceive the layers that are smaller and larger than those surrounding it. A molecule is larger than a subatomic particle; you must zoom out to see this in the Prezi. And a community is smaller than an ecosystem; the same must be done 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 our senses in order to understand its true nature.
The purpose of perceiving something in a different way is to facilitate the understanding of an object in a more complete manner. The levels of organization in Science are hard to perceive. But, it’s not hard to comprehend the relative nature of how science is organized. The magnitude 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 the relative nature of how science is organized, and can relate differences which are comprehensible to us to those differences that are much larger. Teachers can facilitate student’s perceiving through the technology tool Prezi, because Prezi demonstrates how we perceive an object can determine how well we understand it. Patterning
Earth takes slightly less than 24 hours (that’s why we have a leap-year- we need to compensate for that bit of time we’re short) to rotate about its axis. In order to represent this pattern, 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 the unique pattern of our planet. - it may occur to many students that the unit of measurement for the pattern is based on our own planet.
Robert and Michele Root-Bernstein suggest in Sparks of Creativity that “an effective way to teach chemistry students the periodic table would be to challenge them to devise their own schema for representing the periodicities instead of simply memorizing a structure invented by someone else.” But, before they can do that, patterning “requires real understanding of the basic elements of phenomena and processes.” So students who understand the concepts of synodic day and planetary rotation may take it unto themselves to create a new scale and pattern based on other planets or celestial bodies. Teachers can facilitate student’s patterning by first teaching the content, then instructing students to create their own representation for the length of a synodic day.

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, the power 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. Those similarities may or may not be the essential features of the objects. The broadest, most general analogy is very abstract: to that end, Pablo Picasso wrote that “whatever is most abstract may perhaps be the summit of reality.”
Sparks of Genius says abstractions are “so simple that they seem unremarkable”. So, I wanted to make the Milky Way galaxy as simple as possible for students. We can view the Milky Way 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 from afar and as part of the Milky Way, we are traveling through space in the arm of our galaxy. To return to Werner Heisenberg, he wrote that an abstraction is “the possibility of considering an object under one viewpoint while disregarding all other properties of the object” - to that end I first analyzed three images of the Milky Way galaxy as abstractions, then created three of my own. Teachers can facilitate student’s abstracting through working with students to draw representations 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 a natural understanding, a feeling of how I would behave if a certain alloy, a sense of hardness and softness and conductivity and fusibility and brittleness.” This embodiment of a subject or object is a valuable thinking tool. To demonstrate embodied thinking for students, I created an activity about the speed of light. Light travels from the Moon to Earth in 3.1 seconds, and from the Sun to the Earth requires 8.3 seconds. This is how long it takes at the speed of light to travel those distances – how about a speeding bullet, car, or human?
Light travels about 186,000 miles per second – that is 671,000,000 miles per hour. Since an automobile does not typically drive faster than 80 miles per hour, one can really only imagine how fast light is. But what if students could feel with their own bodies not the speed of light itself, 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 speed of 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 very close to ninety million times slower than our running humans. The difference in the speed of our runners and the object that moves three inches in a year is almost precisely the same as the difference in speed between the speed of light and our runners. Teachers can facilitate student’s embodied thinking through embodying the difference between the speed of light and a common activity.

The astrophysicist Margaret Geller discovered that many astronomers used twodimensional photographs to determine how galaxies were spaced throughout the universe. According to Sparks of Creativity, “The problem was that many scientists were misled by the flat, 2-D photographs of the universe through telescopes, and like Flatlanders, failed to reconstruct the 3-D reality correctly.”
Models can be “smaller than life, life-sized, or bigger; physical or mathematical; realistic or not”. According to Sparks of Creativity, “Perhaps the most important thing that modeling does it to provide the modeler with complete control of a situation.” Thus a model can leave out or add in things which improve the model. On the other hand, Linus Pauling said, “The greatest value of models is their contribution to the process of originating new ideas.” So it is not a weakness that a model is not an exact replica of reality: a model is used to facilitate an understanding of its underlying reality, and not the model itself.
The Star Walk app creates a model by augmenting reality by superimposing the names of constellations and other planetary bodies through the iPhone screen. This is essentially the same as my two-dimensional model in function: it provides a representation of the stars in the sky. It allow the user to zoom in and out, and labels constellations and planetary bodies. It transformed my experience of viewing the night sky. As the purpose of a model is to facilitate the reality of the underlying object or subject, the Star Walk app is much better than a two-dimensional representation. Teachers can facilitate student’s modeling through augmented reality technologies. Playing
Playing yields benefits we cannot measure: according to the text, “When rule-bound work does not yield the insights or results we want to achieve . . . play provides a fun and risk-free means of seeing from a fresh perspective.” So play doesn’t have to be productive and should often be left alone for its own pleasure. But if a person wants to use play as a thinking tool and for his or her creative process or as an innovator, play must seriously be constrained by the bounds of experience and knowledge. Only if students have confidence in their experience and knowledge can play be joyful and productive.
At the Smithsonian in Washington DC, my parents bought my brother and I freeze-dried ice cream from the National Air and Space Museum. I recall the joy we felt when we opened the package and tasted the strangely-crunchy pieces of desert. We spent a lot of time at the museum then, but the “astronaut ice cream” is what I remember today. For my example of playing with my content area I decided to take a second look at freeze-dried ice cream and to examine how it connects to my content area as a learning tool.
Space food is obviously a novelty; we have no need other than to play to freeze-dry ice cream for consumption here on Earth. It pales in comparison to real ice cream. Students (and everyone else) become interested in science as it affects their lives; Apollo 13 made people recognize the personal struggle that the Astronauts Lovell, Swigert and Haise underwent. Students enjoyed freeze-dried ice cream “for the pure enjoyment” of tasting it. But learners will benefit from discovering and soon applying creativity. Teachers can facilitate student’s playing

by providing a risk-free means of seeing a subject or object of the curriculum from a fresh perspective, such as with freeze-dried ice cream and the space exploration component of the curriculum. Synthesizing
Each of the thinking tools I described is as natural to use as a knife to those accustomed to their form and function. Individuals who have mastered the thinking tool synthesizing are able to access prior knowledge and bring that knowledge together at a multiple sensory level. In order to create this synthesis, I followed a few steps: I first wrote an introduction about why creativity is important. Then I described some of the techniques I used in the development of my Creative I paper, but in the context of using those techniques with students. Finally, I copied my six How Do I Love Thee posts from my workspace to this document and edited heavily. Teachers can facilitate student’s synthesizing by teaching intuitive and imaginative skills, and implementing a multidisciplinary approach. Moreover teachers can demonstrate their own synthesis (such as my own in the case of this white paper) and can design unit or course-long projects with a synthetic component as a conclusion.
Creative students are more autonomous and comfortable solving problems. By working with one of the thinking skills, an educator working on bring about creativity in students will see specific benefits. But, working with the seven thinking tools exposes students to more pieces of their own creative puzzle. Who knew that science can include so many creative thinking tools? And who knows what our students equipped with these characteristics of creative geniuses can do?

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