Written by Denise Litke, Instructional Coach
Reflections from Learning and the Brain Conference "The Science of Innovation": Teaching Students to Think, Create, Innovate, Imagine and Inspire
In mid – February I attended the Learning and the Brain Conference in San Francisco, CA. I had heard from colleagues that this was an exceptional conference to go to, so I drained my PD funds, packed up my laptop and suitcase, and off I went! The focus for the conference was The Science of Innovation: Teaching Students to Think, Create, Innovate, Imagine and Inspire. The title alone got me thinking and making connections to what is happening in Alberta’s education around the implementation of the competencies. In fact, one of the competencies is Creativity and Innovation.
I was excited to delve into some new learning and had scoured the conference brochure, picking out the speakers and sessions that I wanted to attend. My top three choices were Dr. David M. Eagleman, neuroscientist, Dr. Jo Boaler, author of Mindset Mathematics and the YouCubed Math website and Alberta’s own George Couros (I first met him when he worked at Rimbey Jr./Sr High School and was doing presentations on WebQuests). I was not disappointed by any of these choices, and for the most part, any of the sessions that I attended over the next two and a half days.
Once the conference wrapped up, I started to look over my notes and gather my thoughts about all that I had learned. I searched for common themes that wove their way through each session and presenter, and I was able to identify four key ones:
● Creations are a balance between something that is novel or new (flexible) and something that is seen to have value (stability). David Eagleman stated that “All ideas have ahistory and ideas evolve when we bend, break apart or blend 2 or more of them.” Because the human brain is more thoughtful than reflexive and can think about other possibilities, people can take a model of something that is in the world and turn it into something new. However, innovation does need balance. If an idea is too far out there, or it is not seen as being valuable, nothing will become of it (well, maybe not at that time).
●Cultivating curiosity. The idea that when we are curious we are inquiring and exploring, which in turn increases our “grittiness” and perseverance. Consequently, when we are faced with something novel or unexpected, we believe we can handle it. It’s called:Courage Quotient = willingness to act fear by Todd B. Kashdan.
● Growth Mindsets. Not only our students, but our own. People who are creative embrace challenges, even if they know it may be hard. They are willing to take risks, fail, and have the attitude of “This is great! I will learn from this.”
● Making Mistakes and Facing Challenges. Are we (students and teachers) willing to take risks? Do we have the “grit” to struggle through thelearning process? What is our mindset? Emily Diehl talked about having Mistake Procedures and Challenge Supports in our classrooms. That we need to support and encourage studentsto get into the “Learning Pit” and work through the learning process. The graphic below, is just one example that Diehl shared with us, of how a teacher had her students reflect on their mindset and attitude toward facing a challenge.
● She also suggested when considering our lessons or tasks for students, ask yourself these four questions:
○ What opportunities do learners have to engage in creative work?○ How much focused time do they have to work at solutions?○ What is the feedback loop for creative work?○ How do you celebrate and recognize people who are creatively productive, and what is the message you send about why they succeeded?
As I considered what I had heard at the conference, I realized something. I realized that we don’t teach students creativity. Creativity evolves and develops in our students when we cultivate curiosity, shift fixed mindsets, encourage and support students in facing challenges, and then provide them with “opportunities to engage in creative work”. Being creative is not out of anyone’s reach. It is there in the way we solve everyday problems and face countless situations when functioning in the world around us. As Gini-Newman and Case state in their book Creating Thinking Classrooms “The point is that creativity is not simply a matter of being inspired; it can be nurtured [and there is] creative capacity within every student” (54).
Written by Denise Litke, Instructional Coach