Sunday, September 26, 2010

Ideas Having Sex

Recently, I have been thinking about creativity, more specifically, about how my creative impulses are intimately connected to my happiness. Age and some small measure of wisdom have taught me that I am happiest when I am able to exercise my creativity. Most of my time is spent in the classroom (or thinking about the classroom) and so I wonder about how to maximize the creative impulse in both teaching and learning. One of my questions is why we (teachers) do not see more creativity in our classroom. Are we partly to blame? Do teachers discourage the creative impulse in an attempt to apply standards and uniform testing? What about the students; have they become passive learners who would rather follow the template than design it themselves?

Maybe our students are more creative than we think, than we see or than we give them the opportunity to demonstrate. My suspicion is that they are very creative but that they lack the confidence in their ability to showcase this side of their thinking. After all, creative people are often different and during the teens years, being too different carries a hefty price.  ( brought that message home to the student body this week in a riveting presentation about school bullying and violence.)   To be sure, it takes courage to be creative when that means showing how you are different.

Ken Robinson is widely recognized as an ‘expert’ on creativity and a critic of school systems that discourage it. In his recent book, The Element, he warns teachers and parents against encouraging uniformity because our children’s creative impulse often makes it impossible for them to ‘fit in’. The student who cannot sit still might be a future musician, athlete or dancer instead of another Ritalin would-be user.

Creativity is what teachers should be all about. Creativity is curiosity’s DNA. ISTE (International Society for Technology in Education) lists creativity as one of the primary 21st century skills; but that is not the only reason why teachers need to place this skill front and center. Look around us at the tremendous accomplishments of those we admire and see how the creative impulse (and the confidence to share this) makes the world a better place. Raymond Laflamme, the director of the Institute for Quantum Computing said, “creativity for a theoretical physicist is incredibly important [because]doing science is not a straight line. It’s more important to have a lot of ideas, many of them wrong, than to have no ideas at all.” Mr. Laflamme’s creativity lead him to question Stephen Hawkings’ interpretation of how time works when the universe collapses in on itself and for this insight, Hawkings himself, the world’s most famous physicist, has expressed gratitude to his former student, Quebec city native, Raymond Laflamme.

Steven Johson wonders about what kind of space promotes innovation and creativity, or as he describes it, ‘ideas having sex’. He talks about network patterns in our physical space that reflect the network patterns of the brain. Ideas are not single entities that arise from nothingness but rather ‘a network of ideas’ that is supported by nurturing hunches and promoting connectivity. The ‘EUREKA’ moment that brings the new idea is not how creativity and innovation work, according to Johnson. Instead, we ‘stitch’ together our partial ideas with insights and ideas of other people that we ‘meet’ in our connected networks.

 In the 1850’s this would have been a coffee house and today, it is the cyber space of the World Wide Web where our students can have a voice in the world’s global conversation.

Creativity wears a million different faces and as teachers, we see many of them. We must encourage this impulse to be creative and sometimes that means helping our students find the courage to express what they already intuitively have and know about themselves and the world. It also means providing the support and helping them build the networks within which their own “great ideas can have sex”. The world’s problems need creative minds and we (teachers) need to do our part to fan those flames in our students.

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