5 Minutes to the Creative Classroom

So often the cry arises about the need for creativity in the classroom. We need kids to grow up being creative. We’re in the “creative economy” where so many of the jobs today require workers generating new solutions, new designs, and solving problems.

Although this is true, there is a more poignant reason to push creativity into the classroom: it improves learning. The intelligent application of creative expression improves curiosity and understanding. Creative classrooms are more effective.

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Want kids to be uninterested in a subject – start the lecture. “Is this going to be on the test?” is one observation that kids are tuning out. Glancing around the classroom to see where the eyes are focused is another.

Every teacher I’ve talked to complains that the kids coming into her or his classroom in the new school year are unprepared. Yet each will proudly announce that the kids leaving at the end of the school year are prepared for the next level. How can this be? How can kids pass the tests and matriculate onwards yet not know the material?

Drilling the facts into passive minds can work for tomorrow’s exam, but it doesn’t contribute to understanding or long-term retention. And it certainly stifles any curiosity.

What works is having kids discover what they need to know and apply it in a meaningful, creative way.

Drop the “today we’re going to talk about” and replace it with “today you’re going to create…” In 15 seconds you’ve changed the classroom from one of passive resistance to one of active engagement. Kids want to express themselves by building things, creating things, making things. Design a task where teams of kids can use their ideas to make something that requires them to learn the content.

I teach science. I introduce each new topic with a question: “Can you build a….?” This generates instant engagement and interest. I provide the absolute minimum of guidance preferring them to learn by making good decisions and making mistakes. The less I talk, the sooner they start and the more they learn.

Once they are engaged my job is asking good questions that get kids to think. I don’t give them the answers, I give them the way to figure out what the answers are. Later we can talk about their projects and what they learned, and clear up any confusion on concepts.

What’s important is that they own the project. Success or failure is theirs to control. This freedom to fail or succeed drives them to succeed. They work harder, learn more, and enjoy the process. This is how work teams in the 21st century work. The boss provides problems and resources and lets teams tackle the problems as they want.

We train teachers around the world to teach by posing challenges. Nearly everywhere we go (more than 30 countries so far) teachers tell us that their students won’t do well in our creative approach. Their students, they tell us, need instruction. They need help getting started. They need background information.

No, they don’t. Kids are kids everywhere and they all want to be active, creative, and doing cool stuff. Everywhere we’ve gone we’ve changed the classroom culture in under five minutes. Kids work in teams, sharing ideas, and solving problems. The pace of the classroom jumps from 5 miles per hour lethargy to the Indianapolis 500. Learning occurs at the speed of ideas and understanding is achieved before the hot glue solidifies.

The best measure of success, I think, is what kids do after the class. You know what they do after a stereotypical class – anything but learn about the class topic. After a creative classroom experience some kids continue improving their project, some surf the web to answer specific questions they’ve raised, and they talk to each other about what they’ve just done.

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Does every kids master every important topic? No. But judging from what teachers tell me at the start of each school year, very few master the topics using the tired methods of the past. Using creative approaches we make great strides.

We're making progress one creative idea at a time.

Learn more about Engineering Creativity here.