Thursday, June 5, 2014

Students + Creativity = Learning

Today I gave my last final exam for the year and am cleaning up after 180 days of problem based learning. Yesterday, during the last senior finals at my high school, I asked some of them how important creativity is in the classroom. To be fair, this is my Scientific Research and Design (SRD) class which is a problem based course allowing for a range from just meeting requirements to being amazing. If you have seen previous posts, you have seen some of the great things these students do in class. This class has worked with physics is comics, art, engineering, flight and just plain physics (because projectiles are fun). Throughout the entire course they have been encouraged to be creative. Now I find what they really think.

I was impressed and encouraged by our conversation. I wish I had recorded the conversation, but I will have to use the notes that I furiously wrote after being amazed.  Here are the main ideas. I tried to record them as accurately as possible:

                Students learn more and learn better when they can put their own spin on the work.

                In classes that encourage creativity you have more interactions with the teacher and students.

                It is the most important thing.

                Creativity gives students an outlet to express themselves in any subject.

                Kids should be encouraged to try new things and make mistakes.

My first impression was that these students really do understand what learning is about and how blessed I am to have them in my class. My next thought is how sad it is for teachers to have missed experiencing amazing learning by inadvertently squashing these students by simply not allowing for creativity in the learning products. I was absolutely thrilled to hear that mistakes should be encouraged.  While many students enjoy the freedom to create, some student struggle with the freedom and are uncomfortable with making mistakes, but once they understand they are in a safe environment, they love it. 

When asked about the use of technology to improve or assist creativity, the answers were instructive. Students are mostly comfortable with technology and trying new things, but the teacher needs to be careful and not overload the student. Just because they are kids,and assumed to be digital natives, does not mean they can do anything with computers without proper instruction and time to practice. Please do not expect the students to teach you how to use technology unless they have suggested the tool. New technology can be as frustrating for the students as it is for the teachers if not introduced properly. However, they do like trying new things, and like teachers, if it is easy to use and it does what they want, they like it and will use it again.

So now, I go back for one more day and finish getting my room summer ready, throw out master works that were not taken home, and decide what to save as an example for next year. Each one of the projects reminds me of the student's struggle followed by the joyful sense of accomplishment. And with each one, I am reminded of how much learning was done by the student because they were given the freedom to create their own path to the solution. In the courses that are more content heavy than SRD, it is important to get those moments of creativity whenever possible. The students will recognize the gift and rise to the occasion. I will warn you, once you are in a classroom where creativity flourishes, you will not want to leave. 

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