Screenshot from Lifehacker.com
One of the toughest things to define in K-12 education is creativity. What does it mean to be creative? What does it look like? Many folks will define “creative work” not by the content of the work but by the materials or tools used to create it. If there’s a shoebox, poster board, construction paper, or glitter, then it must be creative. Sadly, those materials often mask prescriptive or just-like-the-teacher’s work.
The conversation about creativity is especially difficult when we are trying engage in conversations about quality technology integration practices. So many digital tools are so robust that they do all of the “creative” work on our behalf (we love this as adults — we’re so busy that we love looking good for little effort). But running a photograph through a photo filtering tool merely requires clicking through the possible filters until you find the one you want is not the same experience that it would have been twenty years ago in a lab, envisioning the effect you wanted and then doing the manual labor to make your can’t-see-it-in-advance vision come into light.
Complicating the matter is that there’s a significant difference between creative stuff and creative thinking. Helping students become creative thinkers? Gosh, that’s hard, and I’m not sure I have any clear guidance for how to do that … I still spend a lot of time showing examples and talking through them with folks.
I keep a little stockpile of projects that really do show creative thinking in action. A student and I, this fall, talked about creative thinking as perhaps a sister to synthesis — taking things that don’t naturally go together and mashing them up (meat is familiar; dresses are familiar. But meat + dress = Lady Gaga’s meat dress is creative synthesis, because nobody had ever thought to put those two together. And the process of connecting all those raw meat cuts together — how do you support the weight? attach the pieces together? do it all without getting botulism?) is where the research comes in. Creativity isn’t just a flash — there’s hard work and learning in there, too.
My latest favorite comes from Lifehacker. Those orange five-gallon buckets are pretty ubiquitous to anybody who’s ever done a DIY project. And goodness knows, we know what plungers are. But the idea of making a mini-washing machine out of a bucket with a hole in its lid and a (CLEAN) plunger?
That means that the creator understood how washing machines work. The creator realized that for clothes to get clean, they have to be moved around and agitated. Then he/she thought about how to replicate that in low-cost tools. Bucket + plunger + understanding of how washing machines work = creative thinking and a pretty clever output. And something that could not be invented without some prior knowledge.
Oh, and if you don’t have a plunger, but you do have access to a car, you can skip the plunger.
Past examples for discussion: