What is creativity and how do you teach it?

“Creativity is intelligence having fun” – Albert Einstein

In recent years, the U.S. education system has focused largely on increasing standardized test scores.

States have even gotten together to develop common core educational standards, establishing grade level tiers of knowledge that each student is expected to learn and retain through K-12 years.

China’s education system has been on this path, now possessing a culture of national high-stakes testing.

China’s achievement: their students produce high scores on all international tests, such as the Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA).

The Chinese now recognize a cost to this culture. Their student’s struggle in areas such as ability to question and creating innovative solutions. Additional research on PISA scores from other countries have found that students scoring the highest academic scores tended to achieve only modest scores on assessment measuring entrepreneurship. What’s missing link? Creativity.

The big question, how do you teach creativity? The answer: creatively must be taught using many different means. Skills that help develop a student’s ability to be creative include: observation, visual thinking, and the ability to recognize and form patterns.

Creativity includes thought processes which must be developed which include: practicing, persevering, and trial-and-error problem solving.

Exposing and engaging students in the Arts is a research proven way to help develop these skills. World famous physicist Albert Einstein, who played both the violin and piano, attributed the development of many of his theories to ‘musical thinking.’

Ned Seemen, a contributing founder to the science of nanotechnology (making functioning objects out of ‘invisible to the human eye’ molecules) credited his creative approach to his study of artwork patterns by M.C. Escher. Research has found that high school student’s that included Art with their enhanced roster of science and math courses scored 100 pts higher than average on SAT tests, compared to those just taking additional science and math courses who scored 69 pts higher than average.

Growth of creativity is encouraged by fostering of a student’s curiosity. Questions from students are a display of this curiosity.

We cultivate this by allowing students to verbally discuss their thoughts on the solutions they have developed and what information they used in forming their theory. Teachers must create an atmosphere of acceptance and encouragement for this to work.

In our educational culture we are busy assigning ‘correct’ or ‘incorrect’ to each answer so we can get the days material, which includes fellow students ridiculing each other for being stupid when incorrect or ‘geeky’ when being correct.

These situations lead to shutting off that creative development process.

Daniel Pink’s book A Whole New Mind: Why Right-Brainers Will Rule the Future describes how we have passed through the Agricultural Age, Industrial Age, and Informational Age. We are now entering the Conceptual Age, belonging to the creators and innovators.

Wages of this creative class grew 4.4% during the recent recession, compared to a 4.6% decline for blue collar workers (Florida, 2011). This trend is likely to continue.

Our children’s intellectual, personal, and economic success will hinge on the degree in which creativity can be nourished and encouraged to flourish in each of them. We are the gardeners with the tools and the task. “Learn from yesterday, live for today, hope for tomorrow. The important thing is to not stop questioning.” – Albert Einstein.

Steve Patchin is the director of the Center for Pre-College Outreach at Michigan Technological University