Thursday, September 1, 2016

Where Has all the Creativty Gone?

Today was the first day of my Small Business Startup class for the year.  This class is a semester-long elective offered by our Innovation department.  While the students are a mix of sophomores, juniors, and seniors, the majority are seniors (10/15).  To set the tone for the class, I began with a creativity challenge:  30 Circles, which I borrowed from Tom and David Kelley's Creative Confidence: Unleashing the Creative Potential Within Us All.  I gave each student a sheet with 30 blank circles and these instructions:  "You have 3 minutes to fill in as many of the 30 circles as you can.  Go."  

What I expected to see the students do was create things with the circles:  baseballs, emoji, snowmen, clocks, spirals, etc.  That's what the adults in the Curriculum Committee did several years ago when we were challenged by two students.  A few (maybe 3) students did this.  The rest literally FILLED IN the circles--they shaded them, scribbled in them, and colored them so the circles were no longer empty.

My goal had been to give as little instruction as possible to see what the students would do with the circles.  But after I saw what so many of them did, I wished I had given a different instruction.  I wish I had said, "Do something with/in these circles."  Then maybe they would have tapped into their creativity more readily and gone beyond the literal filling in of the circles.

On the other hand, the prompt I used did reveal the sad reality that our oldest students (and some of our brightest) have forgotten how to be creative.  They have lost their courage to create, and instead they wait for specific instructions and a list of requirements.

This was further reinforced by the next activity we did.  I gave each student a STACK of sticky notes (I mean at least 10 per person) and a Sharpie and asked them to complete this sentence:  Entrepreneurship is...  I encouraged them to write multiple responses and then post them on the board.  Most students wrote ONE response and posted it.  I looked around the room, gathered myself, and provided a bit more direction.  "Ok, now push yourself to add another--think creatively--try a metaphor, a name, a color..."  Dutifully, each student filled out one more Post-it and added it to the board.  A few (remember that handful from earlier?) added more than one additional note.  Why, given a stack of sticky notes and positive encouragement from me, were they content to add only two ideas to the board?  First day of school sluggishness?  Nerves?  Maybe.  But more likely a lack of creative thinking.

So, while my class is entitled "Small Business Startup," it could really be called "Creativity Startup." I'll be on a quest to help my students rediscover their creative potential.  And I'm glad to do it, although I wish I didn't have to.  I know our students are passionate creators as children--from junior kindergartners up through middle schoolers, their creativity is on display each day at school. Where does it go by the time the are seniors?

I know I'm not alone in this work--what are you doing to reignite your students' creativity this year?  And what can we all do to prevent the systematic undermining of creativity in schools?