Saturday, November 29, 2008

Nurturing Creativity Takes Creativity

We need to ask the question "Do students gain any experience with problems that require both intuition and logic?"

In Hare Brain, Tortoise Mind (see last two posts), Claxton says that many scientific breakthroughs could not have occurred through knowledge and reason alone. A hunch, a willingness to "make a lot out of a little" and to speculate in imaginative ways also played a role. When do students get to do this? Again, it takes time.

Moreover, Claxton cites studies showing that the process of solving problems requiring insight and intuition can be hampered by the use of deductive thinking or even by the introduction of verbal hints or the need to talk about the problem-solving process as it is occurring. So too much focusing on the need to answer correctly in class and pass tests may be stifling creativity. "There is a wealth of evidence," Claxton says, "to confirm the common impression that when people feel threatened, pressurised, judged, or stressed, they tend to revert to ways of thinking that are more clear-cut, more tried and tested, and more conventional: in a word, less creative."

Nurturing Creativity Takes Time

Developing students who think innovatively will mean rethinking time. Guy Claxton's book Hare Brain, Tortoise Mind: How Intelligence Increases When You Think Less, discussed in my last post, continues to provide support for that idea.

In the chapter "Having an Idea: The Gentle Art of Mental Gestation," he makes the point that having creative ideas is similar to having a baby. "The progenitor is a host, providing the conditions for growth, but is not the manufacturer." It would seem that a school's role in fostering creativity and developing creative thinkers would be mainly about creating the right conditions—being good incubators for creativity to develop and produce whatever it will.

Schools must begin by providing the environment where ideas, like seeds, have time to germinate. Only in such an environment will students have memorable experiences of creative thinking and problem-solving that will develop greater acceptance of the uncertainty and risk inherent in the creative process.
  • Students need time for curiosity to build. How often does an impending test or deadline take them away from questions that are gateways to higher order thinking—both creative and critical?

  • Students need time for rich experiences that are connected to the body of knowledge rather than a focus on articulating a body of knowledge that is largely independent of direct experience. Why is language—reading words on a page or listening to an explanation—so often the gateway to knowledge and thought?

  • Students need time for trial and error. They need to experience the thrill of a hunch or guess that leads to understanding or even a creative solution. How often do students opt for the safe yet forgettable project?
The challenge is that the need for disciplinary knowledge remains. Finding the right balance, I think, will mean becoming more efficient in building students' base of knowledge and palette of deductive thinking skills so that some less structured, more free form time can be incorporated.

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Slowing Down to Catch Up

In Hare Brain, Tortoise Mind: How Intelligence Increases When You Think Less, psychologist Guy Claxton says the tendency of our accelerated society to push us to think faster and make decisions quickly can stifle creativity because it over-emphasizes reason, logic, or analytical thinking—what he calls d-mind (d is for deliberation). In today's Western culture, he says, "time spent exploring the question is only justified to the extent that it clearly leads toward a solution to the problem. To spend time dwelling on the question to see if it might lead to a deeper question seems inefficient, self-indulgent, or perverse." Claxton says the "intelligent unconscious," which he calls the "undermind" or "tortoise mind," is a "patient, playful, mysterious" way of knowing that is especially valuable when the situation is "shadowy, intricate, or ill-defined."

In other words, innovators in science and industry use disciplinary knowledge and methods but more is at work in the emergence of breakthroughs. Opportunities for incubation—that mysterious process where nothing seems to be happening—are vital in the research and development jobs that will drive our future economy.

Is there time for incubation in the learning that happens at school? What might happen if students were allowed to arrive at the "aha!" moment more naturally? What if they were given opportunities to play spontaneously with ideas, tools, and concepts? What if they began each year with big interdisciplinary problems that could be continually revisited as learning unfolded?

This, of course, would mean the end of "periods" and "units." There would need to be some time built into the day for choice and freedom. Assessment would need to be fluid, formative, and flexible. The accountability systems and those in business who call for both rigor and 21st century skills would need to trust the tortoise mind.

Photo by The Learning Commonwealth at Wikimedia Commons.

Monday, November 24, 2008

Rethinking Time

Photo by bogenfreund at flickr
After my recent reflections on how creativity and innovation in schools should be supported by decisions about use of physical space (both indoor and outdoor), it only seems natural that I should move to a discussion of time. But I've also been prodded by some of my readings on innovation and by my own recent experience of time being splintered by increasing complexity and choice.

I'll start with my personal observations. (Eventually, this comes back to arts learning.)

I have always had an outstanding ability to focus. Getting immersed in a task, finding the flow, and losing all track of time didn't happen every day but were pretty typical. I was never the type to make a detailed plan for the day or week unless time was extremely tight. I just dove into the work and always found a good rhythm. I tended to work long hours for four days a week so I could take a morning away from the work.

But recently, I noticed that I was struggling with concentration and taking longer to finish writing a book section or article. It seemed like it was taking an inordinate amount of time to get started and that I was doing a lot of thinking without much to show for it. So I started becoming more aware of how I was spending my time.

I was amazed at how I was jumping from one thing to another—and usually it had to do with something on the Web. Now I must say that I am not talking about fun and games, watching You Tube videos, etc. I realized that when I started my career as a public affairs writer, I used to extract every bit of good information I could from a few books or reports and usually had to spend time thinking about how it fit together. Now I just keep searching.

So could it be that the ease with which students can do things now using technology, the many "important" pieces of information they can find online, and the myriad "edutainment choices" may need to be balanced with some "slow" thinking? And what better way to slow down than an art project or learning a piece of music or rehearsing a play or dance?

More tomorrow about the brain and slowing down.

Sunday, November 23, 2008

What is Progress?

image by CC Merino at flickr

I like to attend a Socrates Cafe at an area library. It is refreshing and challenging to have a two-hour, face-to-face conversation about ideas with a diverse group of people. The one I have attended, the only one around me, is somewhat dominated by a couple of men who turn to science to answer all questions and cling to the idea that what is worthy of attention is what can be proven through reasoning and scientific method. I have asked them a couple of times:
"What kind of world would we have if everyone were a scientist?"
I've been going through some notebooks from the past year and found something I wrote in April 08 after one meeting in which the group discussed the idea of progress:
A truly progressive society is one that is growing in its capacity to support the good life for all people. True progress for me as an individual is growing in knowledge, understanding, and wisdom as I ask the questions that need to be asked for our time and act as responsibly and lovingly as possible.

What if we viewed progress as a process of passing through stages of increasing complexity and sophistication toward simplicity, peace, plenty (enough for everyone), health, wholeness, and pure being?

Check out the Socrates Cafe idea. (They have materials for teaching kids philosophy too.)

Saturday, November 22, 2008

More About Space

Physical space continues to surface in my thoughts about teaching creativity. Schools need to think about how space can both stimulate and enable creative thinking by:
  • Creating different types of work areas that are designed to fit their functions. Those functions should include cross-pollination of knowledge and ideas, collaborative problem solving, and quiet reflection.

  • Enabling students to personalize their classrooms and creating bridges to students' homes and cultures.

  • Providing spots where teachers can collaborate and experiment.

  • Creating spots with rich sensory content, as well as more neutral, stimulus-free spots.

  • Building flexibility into the physical design so that the space can be reconfigured easily

  • Incorporating the outdoors into learning processes
The visual arts should be a central part of this process. School staff members could examine installation and environmental art to get ideas and also engage students in art projects that make use of the school environment. The school community should regularly choose works of visual art and music to incorporate into the environment and should weave those works into the curriculum. Schools should create areas where ideas and concepts can be exhibited in interesting and creative ways and visual and audio documentation of the journey of learning and creating can be viewed and discussed.

Friday, November 21, 2008

Is This a Way to "Teach" Creativity?

Here is an example from IDEO of a creative and meaningful challenge that I think says something about the thinking skills students will need for the future, as well as how artistic thinking both initiates and enhances scientific and engineering challenges. It is the Incredible IDEO Global Chain Reaction Experience, a functioning Rube Goldberg machine designed to run sequentially across three continents. Here we have a creative idea that can be interpreted as a marketing strategy for the firm, an example of the "experience economy" that is all around us, an example of ingenuity, a testament to the need for "serious Play" in the classroom, and an expression of yearning for a world where people work joyfully and work together to make things happen.
IDEO Global Chain Reaction from IDEO Labs on Vimeo.

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Twitter Experiment

I've been very hesitant to use Twitter. I'm skeptical about its usefulness and value to others. Who wants to know how I spend every minute of the day? What are people missing all around them while they tweet and IM? If I saw a hummingbird, I'd want to tweet my mom (if she used it) but would I miss the hummingbird in the first place because I was tweeting that I just finished sweeping the patio?

I asked myself: Should you use a tool just because all the cool people do it? (See video of Stewart and Colbert below.) I don't know anyone who uses it on a regular basis, so I would be tweeting into the void half the time anyway.

And I wonder what it does to the attention span. Then I started to think about how fragmented my attention span has been lately. I need to become more aware and strategic about how I spend my work time. I let email interrupt me constantly and and go on these interesting but unproductive voyages when I Google—sometimes I have to remind myself where I started. I read many books without recording the gems I find therein.

So I thought I'd make those observations the basis of my experience. Every so often, I'll have a Twitter day in which I keep track of all the shifts in my mental gears for the purpose of studying the effectiveness of my habits. And when I read or travel the Web, I'll use Twitter to capture the gems I find quickly.

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Wagner's Questions #5 & #6: Physical Space and Creativity

  • How do we both support our educators and hold them more accountable for results? What changes are needed in how educators are trained, how they work together in schools, and how they are supervised and evaluated in order to enable them to continuously improve?
  • "What do good schools look like?"
While these two questions posed by Tony Wagner in The Global Achievement Gap suggest multiple avenues of complex thought, I will begin addressing them in a discussion of space—somewhat of a continuation of recent discussion about the importance of visual surroundings for young children.

In the past few months, I have read or scanned several books and articles on fostering creativity and innovation in work groups. Nearly all of them mention the role of physical space.

"Create a space or place to play," say Gundry and Lamantia in Breakthrough Teams for Breakneck Times (2001). One example they provide: "Lucent Technologies has dedicated 1200 square feet of precious conference room space to creativity. The space has purple walls and a floor to ceiling white board for mind mapping and connection making. A full library of books, magazines, video and audio tapes gives people a place to come, relax, and reenergize."

In The Art of Innovation, Tom Kelly of IDEO (a leading industrial design firm) calls the work space a "greenhouse." They have all kinds of bins with various items to look at and play with as they develop concepts. They also constantly rearrange their work space to fit projects and create common areas where employees can collaborate.

In Jamming: The Art and Discipline of Business Creativity (1996), John Kao also discusses space: "Places or spaces that facilitate creativity in their organizations are safe, casual, liberating. Not so small as to be limiting, not so big as to kill intimacy. Creature comfortable, stimulating, free of distractions and intrusions. Not too open, not too closed; sometimes time-bound, sometimes not."

Finally, getting outside of the workplace boundaries is a common theme in the books I've read. In Ideaspotting: How to Find Your Next Great Idea, Sam Harrison says it best: "Nobody spots great ideas in cold offices. So why sit there?"

I think schools should set aside some areas to explore experimental approaches to space. They should be designed for project-based learning, cross-disciplinary collaboration, and creative thinking. There should be some space for solitude, for playing with ideas and tools, and for social interaction. The space should be reconfigurable and personalized by groups that use them. There should be outdoor classrooms, as well as areas in the community that are regularly used for intensive learning experiences.

An excellent report on the National Summit on School Design, published by the American Architectural Foundation and the KnowledgeWorks Foundation, echoes some of the themes I've seen in my reading. The report describes schools that are designed to accommodate different learning styles and that connect to the outdoors in new ways.

There's also a good article on the National Education Association Website for a quicker overview.

Monday, November 17, 2008

More Comments on Wordle

I like that you can create a pdf to of your Wordle to use in a document.

I like that you can choose a color scheme.

Self-Assessment: Examining this month's tag cloud, I think I'm getting on track regarding what I want the main threads of this blog to be. As I look over the last couple of weeks of posts, I think I'm converging on my main idea with a healthy amount of divergence every so often when I see an interesting but peripheral idea.

Wordle: Love It?

Last month, I tried a tag cloud generator as a way to critically examine the content on my blog. For this month's version, I used Wordle, which I learned about on Classroom 2.0. It's the best I've seen so far for visual appeal. I think the simpler ones might be better as tools for analyzing word frequency in a text, but with Wordle, you get something artful!

The problem with Wordle is that I have to create a screenshot to add it to a blog. I like the option other tools provide to cut and paste the actual code. To see the larger version, go to the bottom of this blog or use the link below:

title="Wordle: Untitled"> src=""
style="padding:4px;border:1px solid #ddd">

Friday, November 14, 2008

Questions I Wonder About

It has been 15 years since I wrote my Master's thesis on the implications of the Internet for media convergence and control. If I were back in journalism school today, I would be asking:

Is the written word more or less powerful today? Is the message being lost in the media?

Are people more or less manipulated by media and pop culture today? Has television and the Web made people more or less sensitive to design and aesthetics today?

From information and entertainment consumers to "prosumers." Will this trend last?
What has been lost because of this trend?

Does broader access to information mean more shallow understanding overall? Less critical thinking? Does having information at your fingertips mean more or less thought and inquiry?

Does anytime, anywhere communications detract from relationships with the people who are physically present? What are technologies like instant messaging and Twitter doing to reflection?

What percentage of Web sites really say anything vs. just creating a Web presence or projecting an image? Does this matter?

Is posting to an online forum "being heard" or just the illusion of an audience? How much real dialogue occurs? Why?

Was the letter that took a week to reach its recipient more valued than today's instant emails and messages?

Does the ability to find like-minded people through a global, online community reduce one's concern for reconciling, understanding, and dialoguing with those around us?

Is the culture splintering to the point that it will become atomized?

Of course, most of these questions could be argued either way.

Monday, November 10, 2008

A Basic for Innovative Thinking

I just started iBrain: Surviving the Technological Alteration of the Modern Mind and already found something of value to my discussion about how schools can develop innovative thinking skills, particularly in relation to the use of arts learning experiences.

In discussing brain development in young children, Dr. Gary Small and Gigi Vorgan state that if young children are deprived of proper environmental stimulation and human contact, "neuronal firing and brain cellular connections do not form correctly." They state that children's visual brain regions are susceptible to visual deprivation up to age 8.

In other words, surrounding children with color and form, providing them with regular visual arts experiences, and using visual images in teaching seem to be almost as critical to brain development as providing proper nutrition.

Saturday, November 8, 2008

Asking the Right Questions

"But if the specialist is ignorant of the inner philosophy of the science he cultivates, he is much more radically ignorant of the historical conditions requisite for its continuation; that is to say: how society and the heart of man are to be organized in order that there may continue to be investigators."
– Jose Ortega y Gasset,
The Revolt of the Masses

Last week's Quote of the Week was intriguing to me. Are those who are leading the call thinking for innovative thinkers considering the unintended consequences that always come with innovation? Artists always seem to be tapped in to the zeitgeist surrounding progress. Could the study of aesthetics help students grapple more effectively with some of the societal questions that will need to be asked as breakthroughs occur.

Four Types of Invention

In their book Breakthrough: Stories and Strategies of Radical Innovation, Mark Stefik and Barbara Stefik describe innovation as a "dance of two questions." Those questions are "What is possible?" and "What is needed?" They discuss four main approaches that drive how scientists and inventors arrive at breakthroughs:

1) Theory-Driven: A mental model or theory provides a way of thinking that leads to insight and invention. Tagline: "Eureka!"

2) Data-Driven: An anomaly in data presents a surprising possibility. Tagline: "That's strange."

3) Method-Driven: Instrumentation enables previously unknown observations, discoveries, and inventions. Tagline: "Now I can see it!"

4) Need-Driven: Learning about an unresolved need or problem in the world leads to a search for a way to satisfy or solve it. Tagline: "Necessity is the mother of invention."

"These approaches," say the authors, "are like colors on a palette in that they can be mixed to form variations and combinations."

I was thinking about my earlier posts that explored what industry leaders mean when they talk about creativity and innovation as 21st century skills. I think it would be valuable for science, mathematics, and technology teachers to refer to these four approaches as they design curriculum and instruction geared to the preparation of future STEM majors and workers.

Of course my questions are: Do these four approaches apply to the arts? Is it possible that artistic invention—learning and making sense of the world through the practice of art—would add to the development of the skills and traits that prepare students to master those four approaches in a STEM context? Does the creative process that occurs before an artist begins to create a product (and by "product" I mean anything from a sculpture or musical composition to a dance or dramatic interpretation of a character) and the kinds of decisions an artist makes as a work takes shape consist of very similar ways of perceiving, thinking, and imagining? Does criticism in the arts translate to critical thinking in the STEM disciplines?

I do not claim that spending all day working on art projects or practicing an instrument will prepare you to discover a new star or invent the next generation of computer. Students need knowledge and skill in math and science as well. But I also don't think those skills are sufficient. Here is my first attempt to relate the arts to these four approaches to invention:

Theory-Driven: A quest for "the beautiful" is one thing arts and sciences have in common. Scientists and mathematicians often use the terms "beautiful" and "elegant" when discussing equations and solutions, says philosopher Robert Grudin in his far-ranging exploration of creativity and innovation (The Grace of Great Things). "Art itself can be a form of hypothesis, the detailed elaboration and testing of an idea," he says.

Data-Driven: Might training in the visual arts be a way to develop better powers of observation and a sensitivity to patterns? Could music instruction help students become more attuned to changes in their environment?

Method-Driven: Could the intense discipline required to practice an art form skillfully be related to the focus needed in STEM disciplines?

Need-Driven: Industrial design, a rapidly growing career area, often begins with a need. Often, artists are part of the team, not only because they provide an aesthetic perspective, but also because of their ability to see problems in different ways.

Friday, November 7, 2008

Brain Research: Arts & The Joyful Classroom

Brain-based learning research identifies four essential elements of learning – emotion, movement, context, and environment. What comes to mind first when you read each of those elements? Name five classroom experiences that epitomize the elements at their most positive. Chances are, the arts figure greatly in your ideas.

On a related note:

In an online article from Educational Leadership (Summer 2007, Volume 64 
Engaging the Whole Child), neurologist and classroom teacher Judy Willis says that "when we scrub joy and comfort from the classroom, we distance our students from effective information processing and long-term memory storage." She uses the acronym RAD to summarize three important neuroscience concepts to consider when preparing lessons:
Novelty promotes information transmission through the Reticular activating system.

Stress-free classrooms propel data through the Amygdala's affective filter.

Pleasurable associations linked with learning are more likely to release more Dopamine.
If only for the infusion of play, laughter, and freedom from the need to find one right answer, the arts should be an everyday experience for all students.

Thursday, November 6, 2008

Technology Advances=Less Routine Work

The future of technology is one big reason schools need to foster creative, innovative thinking. And I say this aside from earlier posts about American industries' need to stay competitive by developing new technologies. Yes, technological advances are our best hope for achieving global economic leadership.

But I am following another line of thought. I am thinking about how many jobs are being eliminated or streamlined because technology does it better, faster, and cheaper. For example, when I worked at NASA I once did a half-hour interview with a computer. No, it was not some machine with advanced artificial intelligence. It was a woman aged sixty-something, whose first job in the 1940s was to sit all day at a desk and repetitiously perform arithmetic functions based on data from test facilities. Her job title was "computer," and there was a whole cadre of them. In a way, she was the Rosie the Riveter of knowledge work. She and some managers from the same era told me about punching cards and trekking from building to building to pick up and deliver the cards. In my time at NASA (1987-1996), I saw the labor-intensive part of scientific computing shrink rapidly and many tasks that required a specialist become routine. In fact, there were only a few people who could create presentations in Freelance (a precursor to Powerpoint) and we had a whole department for training secretaries to use management information systems that today they would figure out in a couple of sessions on their own. People who could write code were well-paid and in-demand. Now that skill is not enough. Many skilled jobs in computing have become much less time-intensive because software has been integrated and made easier to use.

Or consider this: Ohio is still one of the top manufacturing centers in the United States, but it has lost nearly 250,000 manufacturing jobs in recent years because of automation.

Then there are all the jobs that have become (or can become) almost completely automated—answering phones and routing calls, checking out groceries, many aspects of banking, booking flights for travelers. These jobs are much less plentiful.

So while high tech jobs in America today are plentiful and pay well, there has been erosion at the bottom of the high-tech pay scale. A new computer software company or engineering firm in a depressed area will not create significant jobs for people without technical training or college degrees.

Frank Levy and Richard Murnane call this a "new division of labor." In their 2004 book of that title, they predict that jobs consisting of following defined rules and performing repetitive activities are not the key to middle class wages.

I would probably venture that children need some experiences with structure and rules. Following directions, consistency, and efficiency will always be needed. But being good at using rules and following directions are not ends in themselves. Increasingly, rule-based tasks will be valuable only as a way to support creative, innovative work.

Wednesday, November 5, 2008

Marking What I Hope Is a New Day

"Occasionally in life there are those moments of unutterable fulfillment which cannot be completely explained by those symbols called words. Their meanings can only be articulated by the inaudible language of the heart."
- Martin Luther King Jr.,
Nobel Peace Prize Acceptance Speech, Dec. 11, 1964.

This quote expresses what many are feeling today after the election of Barack Obama. So often that "inaudible language" begins in the heart but finds expression in works of art. That is why we must work to give all children that precious form of expression.

Tuesday, November 4, 2008

Creativity Begins in Preschool

Lois Feibus, a preschool educator at the Wyoming Seminary College Preparatory School, made an interesting point on her Academy for Early Learning blog:
. . . after almost thirty years of teaching Preschool, the most creative children that I have known, have been those who have not been forced to perform academically, but who were allowed to explore the outdoors, whose creativity was allowed to flourish, and who had ample opportunities to be little kids, at home and at school. Academic success and higher level thinking, for both children, in the end, were where the developmental process took them.
This empirical observation rings true to anyone who has observed children outdoors. I still remember investigating every inch of my yard. I can remember what every flower looked like and smelled like, how its seeds looked, how the soil behaved. We used to go outside with no toys of any kind and never be bored. I also had this little memory of my son Mike at age 4 (Thanks Lois.) We had been planting vegetables and he insisted that he was goingto plant a "meat garden." Of course we told him that was not possible, and he argued that he had seen one. Not long after, we passed a marshy area, where he triumphantly showed me the cattails (a.k.a. hot dogs) growing there. Mike was a very creative kid artistically and mechanically, as well as being what I think is a prime example of Gardner's "Naturalist" intelligence. Today, he is a machinist who is responsible for an entire manufacturing set up and uses his ability to visualize and invent in some very practical ways.

I think nature is very important to the development of innovative thinking and have just remembered "No Child Left Indoors." I googled this phrase just now after remembering an article I read this summer and found that this title is now being used by several states passing legislation, as well as programs and initiatives by schools, communities, and environmental groups across the country. These programs and Richard Louv's 2005 book Last Child in the Woods -- Saving our Children from Nature-Deficit Disorder, as well as Bill McKibben's The End of Nature (1990, 2006), should definitely be part of my discussion on how to develop creative, innovative thinkers.

Thanks, Lois.

Monday, November 3, 2008

Fostering Innovative Thinking: What Does It Mean? Why Do It? How?

I am going to shift gears today. The last few posts about what business might mean when citing creativity and innovation as 21st century skills are certainly not definitive, but they will be my framework for researching more about the business/economic perspective in the innovation conversation.

I plan to begin exploring three additional threads on fostering innovative thinking (which includes creativity):

1) Fostering Innovative Thinking: What Does It Mean? In addition to defining creativity and innovation from the perspective of various business sectors, what other perspectives on creativity and innovation are important and need to be heard as we discuss those two 21st century skills? I will explore what governors and legislators, opinion leaders in education, creative people in the arts and a wide variety of other realms, researchers, and parents and citizens who have not been part of the conversation are saying and doing around the issue of creativity and innovation as 21st century schools.

2) Fostering Innovative Thinking: Why Do We Do It? I will look critically at the claim that schools need to develop creative, innovative thinkers, as well as at the rationales of others. I also will question my own assertion that learning in the arts is an essential component of developing creative, innovative thinking and other 21st century skills.

3) Fostering Innovative Thinking: How Do We Do It? What must be done to meet future needs for creative, innovative thinkers? This discussion will center on classrooms, schools, and education reform. But it also will venture into all of the segments of society listed above. I will explore the ideas of those who write and speak about creativity and the new idea of "innovation literacy." I will synthesize research and suggested strategies from a variety of sources, as well as offer any creative ideas that might occur to me.

Sunday, November 2, 2008

Creativity: The Rest of the Workforce

I've been discussing what I think business leaders mean when they talk about needing creative and innovative workers. Reports from advanced technology companies suggest the theory that a bigger pool of STEM professionals and more STEM literacy = more innovation. My post linking to the Poynter Institute highlights the tension between creative technology experts and content creators. Then there is the recognition that artistic creativity is a community development tool—but that does not seem to be significantly linked to arts education.

Finally, what about people in manufacturing, sales, and services—the automotive worker who finds an innovative way to speed up production, the customer service representative or salesperson who thinks creatively when prospects have questions or customers have problems, the nurse who finds a better way to monitor patients or improve their morale? Do businesses recognize that kind of creativity as valuable? Do they feel that schools should be preparing all students to use creative thinking in just about whatever job they do?

Saturday, November 1, 2008

Creativity: The Information Sector

In my earlier posts, I addressed the question "What does the private sector mean when they identify creativity and innovation as important 21st century skills. To summarize: Big, high tech industries want schools to do a better job of teaching math and science so that more students will complete advanced math and science courses in high school, earn STEM degrees in college, and enter STEM careers. From this larger pool will come more ideas, leading to breakthroughs in highly competitive areas, leading to American domination in key high-tech markets. Business-led efforts in regions and cities that are competing to become economic centers support the arts because that makes them "cool communities"—attractive to young, educated workers in a wide range of creative professions. I mentioned that companies known for hiring "creatives"—American Greetings or IDEO, for example—don't seem to be greatly concerned about shortages of creative thinkers. (IDEO's message seems to be more aimed at educating business leadership about how to foster innovation among their employees.)

A look at the list of organizations that sponsor the Partnership for 21st Century Skills suggests that companies most concerned about "soft skills" (which include creative and innovative thinking) are IT companies (such as Adobe, Microsoft, Cisco), media companies (Corporation for Public Broadcasting, Cable in the Classroom), creators of educational products and services (Pearson, Lego), and education groups and think tanks (National Education Association, American Association of School Librarians). Ford is the only partner that is not considered an IT or education-related company.