Monday, October 15, 2018

What is a Creative Thinker?

AOA students and teachers talk about their interests and what thinking creatively means to them.
*Editorial credit to Marina Vladova, M.A.Ed., AOA Upper School English Teacher 

Amy Yao
What is creative thinking about? 

For me, it is an openness. It is about discovering objects, stories, and traditions that have either been neglected or forgotten and transforming them into things that people feel will love again. Guo Pei is my favorite designer whose skill and imagination blow me away. She is inspired by tree roots and plants. Although I’m more of a minimalist, I enjoy taking long walks and am also inspired by nature as well as by the fairy tales that my grandmother read to me. Journaling is a great way to explore concepts, questions, and doubts. During our junior year at AOA, we created nature journals where we got to explore and practice some of the Transcendentalist ideas that we read about. For my Senior Experience, my art teacher showed me how to create a tactile idea-journal and helped place me with an incredible local designer who showed me how to incorporate traditional patterns and upcycled pieces into new designs. I got to go through an entire process of creating garments for an individual from start to finish. This involved multiple redos! I’m so excited to study fashion design at Parsons this year!

Amy Yao graduated from AOA and is a freshman at Parsons School of Design in New York.

Madelyn Conley
What is creative thinking about?

For me, it’s about developing a wide perspective and many reference points to draw on. The things I treasure—my maternal Japanese great-grandmother’s red dancing shoes and fan and the soft-shoes (ghillies) from my father’s Irish side of the family—reveal how curious and sentimental I am about the past. I see culture as a spectrum of many components where understanding one drives me to want to dig deeper and know more. As I practiced the traditional Japanese fan dance, I began learning about my great-grandfather’s life in Camp Jerome, an internment camp in Arkansas to which thousands of Japanese Americans were relocated and incarcerated during WWII. AOA has students from every continent, and it’s great to exchange ideas. Drawing on multiple perspectives gives you an opportunity to create a wider, more interdependent web of friends and a dynamic identity for yourself. I look forward to studying environmental science at Reed College.

Maddie graduated from AOA and is a freshman at Reed College in Portland, Oregon.

Luke Frisbie
What is creative thinking about?

It’s just expressing yourself through whatever shows it best! I love working on my drawing tablet, and I’m really into stop-motion and animation. I can take any question or incident and animate it. For example, is April Fool’s Day a holiday? I have a YouTube channel and like to collaborate with kids here that I know and kids from around the world. Sometimes I’ll team up with others to use their voices for characters that I’ve created. For AOA’s International Week, my friend told me an Indian story and I animated it. I see design as perspective-taking and am always looking for opportunities to work with other kids. I like stories that play with time. Years don’t really go by that fast, it’s just that when you don’t remember what happened you say they do. If people lived forever, they’d probably remember differently, and each year would be like a day. If this suddenly happened to us, we’d have to adjust. It could be a gift or a curse depending on how you lived. Attitude is everything.

Luke is a current seventh grader at AOA.

Dawn Driggs
What is creative thinking about?

I treasure my record albums—Bowie, Beatles, Marillion. I still listen to them and look at the artwork. So much gets lost with downloads. Seeing the artwork on the album gives me a “rounder” experience. This is what I bring into the classroom. This is my fourth year at AOA, and I love finding creative ways for students to have a “rounder” exploration of other cultures. Passport to World Cultures is a program for our first graders. It is a way to cross borders and to invite families to share stories, songs, history, artwork, food, and friendship. Creative thinking isn’t difficult to develop with younger children, because creativity hasn’t yet been “untaught”. Six-year-olds don’t even know yet what’s in the box; everything is outside the box for them. I try to give them the tools and space to not be afraid to make mistakes and to see how mistakes can blossom into new and useful ideas.

Dawn Driggs has an BSBA in Accounting and Finance and is Montessori certified. This is her nineteenth year in education and her fourth year teaching at AOA.

Glenn Pihlak
What is creative thinking about?

It’s about planning and tinkering, a process that begins purposefully but is never really finished, and this is enormously fun. I’ve collected postcards from over forty countries that I have visited, some in which I’ve lived and taught. Travel is an iterative process determined by the traveler, people he or she meets, and unexpected circumstances. This summer, my wife and I went up to Lake Michigan. The only things I had actually planned was to go to a soccer match and kayaking. Otherwise, we had some nebulous ideas. This left us open to experiences where we’d stop and indulge. We met people who shared our passion for hot beignets and blueberries in half-pint containers. Just like I prefer traveling with an open-mind and ill-defined goals to pre-packaged tours, I don’t settle on fixed outcomes in the classroom. In my ninth grade World Literature classes as well as in the Senior English Seminars that I teach, “What if” is a question that always succeeds to bring greater depth to class discussion and written response. Our readings serve to uncover how writers explore new encounters, environments, successes, and failures.

Glenn Pihlak has a MS in Education Policy. He has taught World Literature, American Literature, and several Senior English Seminars and chairs the English department. This is his sixth year teaching at AOA.

Mike Ford
What is creative thinking about?

It’s about beauty and function. I love gadgetry—to use and display. I have a century-old balance. It still works, and I find it beautiful. It’s unusual these days for things to work for more than a few years. I also have a Geiger counter and like to turn it on. Students are surprised to learn that radiation is all around us. In fact, there was a uranium glaze on Fiestaware from the 1950s. Thinking creatively also means digging deeper, being able to see instruction as a set of constraints that function as a launching point and not an end in itself. The paths vary, and some I would have never envisioned. Science is not linear; there is movement and bouncing between hypotheses and experience. Creative thinking also depends on one's willingness to work in groups, break up jobs, and support one another in exploring hunches to the point where students reevaluate their relationship with the subject matter.

Mike Ford has a Ph.D. in Biochemistry and Molecular Biology and has taught Chemistry, Biotechnology, AP Biology, and Genetics. He chairs the science department and co-directs the Global Scholars Program. This is his fourth year teaching at AOA.

Tuesday, September 11, 2018

Schools MUST Teach Students to Think Creatively

Larry Goodman Ph.D.
Head of School

Let’s be clear - “creative thinking” is not the same thing as “creativity” any more than critical thinking is the same thing as “criticism.” Nor am I advocating that schools need to teach students to be creative any more than I would suggest schools should teach students to be critical. But I AM saying that schools need to teach students to think creatively, just as they teach students to think critically.

“Critical thinking” is convergent - calling for one to think toward what is already known; “creative thinking” is divergent - calling for one to think away from what is known. But while “critical thinking” is a foundational part of virtually every curriculum in the United States, “creative thinking” amounts to little more than a rhetorical flourish on most schools’ websites. This is a big mistake - and one that schools should work hard to change.

Already in the 1950s Professor Ellis Torrance was writing on the concept of creative thinking while at the University of Georgia. Torrance labeled four categories in which the scale and scope of one’s creative thinking could be measured: fluency (how many ideas one can generate), flexibility (how readily one can transform one idea into another), originality (self-explanatory), and elaboration (how extensively one can build-out an idea). All of these thought patterns move away from what is already known.

Also developed in the 1950s was a hierarchical model that educators have used ever since to determine how sophisticated one’s understanding of a concept is. At the bottom of this hierarchy are mental tasks like memorization. A student can memorize the capitals of every State in the Union without knowing too much about any of those cities (or States) - which is why this cognitive skill (memorization) is “low man on the totem pole.” By contrast, evaluation is at the top of the hierarchy; if a student has to evaluate how effective city A is as a capital of State B, then that student necessarily knows a great deal more about the capital and the State. Initially, the hierarchy was comprised entirely of critical thinking (convergent) skills. But by 1992, educational theorists recognized the crucial role of creative thinking (divergent) skills and replaced “Evaluate” at the top of the hierarchy with “Create.”

Here’s why this is so important.

Our schools focus almost exclusively on critical thinking - on thinking toward what is known. Students’ understanding of any content area (as reflected in grades) is judged almost exclusively by their ability to memorize, analyze, think convergently. This creates - and then reinforces - a mindset that ambiguity is bad and that one needs to think only toward what is already known.

Now consider this. We’re told that in 2018, 50% of what a first year college student learns in a technical major is outdated by her junior year! No sooner do we get comfortable with one set of “facts” in any given situation, than we discover that those facts have changed. We now live in a world punctuated by change and ambiguity - precisely the aspects of cognition that our schools teach our students to fear and avoid!

If schools are going to prepare students for success in our rapidly changing world, they have to teach students how to navigate ambiguity - not avoid it. They need to teach students how to think divergently - how to think creatively.

To do this, schools have to value creative thinking - they actually have to teach the distinct skills involved in creative thinking and provide feedback (grades) for students in these areas as they learn to master these skills. I’ve written about this in some detail and you can find that article here.

What we hope to show in future blog posts on this site is how we teach creative thinking - and how we assess
creative thinking - at Andrews Osborne Academy.