Inspiring Creativity in the Classroom

einstein-creativityThink of a great inventor!  Got one in mind?  Ok… Now consider that person in today’s structured learning environment. Having trouble? Me too!  This makes me question: How do we as educators foster ingenuity and creativity in the classroom?  Where is there room for imaginative play and learning in schools?

“Researchers say imaginative play allows children to make their own rules and practice self control,” says Alix Spiegel of NPR.   In the article “Old Fashioned Play Builds Serious Skills, Spiegel explains the research of Howard Chudacoff of Brown University, “…during the second half of the 20th century, Chudacoff argues, play changed radically. Instead of spending their time in autonomous shifting make-believe, children were supplied with ever more specific toys for play and predetermined scripts. Essentially, instead of playing pirate with a tree branch they played Star Wars with a toy light saber. Chudacoff calls this the commercialization and co-optation of child’s play — a trend which begins to shrink the size of children’s imaginative space.” While it is not the job of teachers to change how children play, it is the job of educators to make up for this deficit in experience and foster innovative imaginative thinking.

We can analogize Chudacoffs research in play to today’s education climate. Teachers and students today are inundated with assessments and standards. In a data driven education environment, how do we also make room for innovative and imaginative thinking? When do the students get to learn beyond the standards or play without toys, so to speak? Daniel H. Pink argues in his book Drive that to motivate people in today’s society—to keep students engaged—we should foster autonomy, mastery and purpose. Teachers today are looking to tech industry examples for methods of inspiring and motivating ingenuity in the classroom.

Great industry leaders like 3M and Google allow their employees free time to work on experimental projects. 3M allowed employees to spend 15% of their time on a creative “pet project,” and the result – post its and masking tape! Similarly, today, Google allows employees to spend 20% of their time on innovative and independent projects.  The results already include Gmail, AdSense and Google News.


Educators are extending this idea into their classroom.  There are countless blogs offering methodologies for implementing this concept into your classroom.  In the 20-Time projects classroom implementations, students work as mentors, develop apps and video games, create fine art and literature, and use the time for community service.  Imagine what your students could create with time to work autonomously and with a self defined purpose!

Another new movement in education is the Genius Hour.  “Genius hour is a movement that allows students to explore their own passions and encourages creativity in the classroom.  It provides students a choice in what they learn during a set period of time during school.”  What an ingenious idea!  “Classroom time where students are asked what they want to learn and the teacher gets out of the way!” author Angela Maieres wrote in 2011.  Students are given autonomous personalized learning time, whether it is 20% time or a genius hour, and educators comment that the atmosphere is amazing and their learners are always engaged.

Are you ready to readjust your unit plans and add some time for ingenuity?  A great place to start is The Passion Driven Classroom: A Framework for Teaching and Learning by Angela Maiers and Amy Sandvold.  Maiers and Sandyoid’s book offers creative ways  “to spark and sustain your students’ energy, excitement, and love of learning.”  Another passionate explanation of the 20% project can be found at Kevin Brookhouser’s TEDx Monterey talk on The 20% Project.

Happy listening and reading! Enjoy the rest of your summer; I am off to spend an hour walking through the woods and coming up with my next big idea!


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