Monday, July 24, 2017

Promoting inventiveness in the classroom




This article originally appeared in the Discovery Education blog "Kathy Schrock's Katch of the Month" in June 2017 and is re-posted here with permission.

 

We are all familiar with invention—the process of creating something new and useful. But what about the creativity factors that play a large role in this process? The form of creativity leading to invention is called inventiveness. How can you lead your teachers or colleagues to promote inventiveness in the classroom?

The Belin-Blank Center for Gifted Education and Talent Development at the University of Iowa includes a great overview of inventiveness in their “Invent Iowa Curriculum Guide”. Invent Iowa, started in 1987, was created to help teachers promote the invention process in their classrooms as well as allow students to showcase their inventions at state and local conventions. The Invent Iowa guide states inventiveness includes four components.
  1. Fluency– the ability to brainstorm
  2. Flexibility– the ability to think in new and different ways
  3. Elaboration– the ability to add details or missing parts
  4. Originality– the ability to create things that are new
In this program, the grade 3-8 students are encouraged to use a series of problem-solving steps when during the invention process.
  • They begin by identifying or finding a problem that might be solved or lessened with an invention.
  • They then gather information about related inventions.
  • Before an inventor begins creating, he/she explores the idea in-depth.
  • Finally, the student inventor imagines their invention idea and begins creating it.
As the student inventor explores their idea in depth, he/she needs to answer the common thinking questions to prompt them to think of all the aspects – who, what, where, when, and why. There is an additional question the inventor needs to think about, and that is “how” – “How can I make the invention?” “How can I get investors?” “How can I market the invention?”
The Invent Iowa Curriculum Guide includes a rubric which can help the classroom teacher develop the timelines and task goals with the students. It includes the problem, the solution, the explanation, the uniqueness, the benefits, the inventor’s log, and the invention itself. The higher order thinking skills of evaluating, analyzing, and creating, as well as the importance of reflection, comprise a large part of this process.

The curriculum guide also provides some tips for teachers for instilling a climate for inventiveness in the classroom.
  • Create challenge and motivation
    • Stimulate student questioning
    • Asking questions calling for creative thought
    • Discuss the “unknowns”
  • Encourage students to challenge their assumptions
  • Provide freedom for exploration
    • Establish trust and openness
    • Defer judgment whenever possible
  • Use affirmative judgment
  • Permit liveliness and dynamism
    • Encourage student involvement and ownership
  • Encourage playfulness and humor
  • Allow for examining differing ideas and viewpoints
  • Minimize conflicts
  • Encourage risk-taking, rather than “safe” responses and conformity
  • Provide time for thought and action
However, to spur the creativity and have students adopt the inventiveness mindset, there some interesting ways for the classroom teacher to foster creativity in the classroom. Kristin Hicks, in an Edudemic blog post, provides five ways to bring this about. Her thoughts and ideas deal with student choice, and include:
  1. Allow students choice in the format of their assessments. Even have them mix and match formats, for example, a video with a recorded podcast review.
  2. Try to set aside some time each day for students to follow their passions. Create a “genius hour”.
  3. Use technology to broaden your idea of assignments. For instance, use Google Maps along with a novel, have students interview experts on Skype and follow experts on Twitter or in a Reddit group to gather their information for a research paper, etc.
  4. Make sure your tech toolbox includes some unconventional tech tools. Have students create a TED talk about a chapter in the science book, have them draw an XKCD-like comic strip, or create a Fakebook page for an explorer. (I have tons of categorized online tools on this page for you to investigate!)
  5. Encourage discussion among students, using the Socratic seminar method, so students are not afraid to take a risk, learn how to formulate good questions, and how to respect the opinions of others. (Take a look at a recent Kathy’s Katch blog post I penned, Civil Discourse in the Classroom, to investigate more about helping students learn to value someone else’s point of view.)
I also am a fan of Stacey Goodman’s methods of encouraging divergent thinking in his classroom. His expected results would lead to a climate of inventiveness, too.
  • Problem-based learning: Instead of giving the students the problem to solve, have them create the problem questions based on their own knowledge and passions.
  • Setting norms: Develop activities that encourage students to defer judgement. If students know they will not be immediately judged, they are more likely to offer divergent ideas.
  • Inquiry and observation: Have students spend time observing, hold back on expressing their likes and dislikes, and follow-up with statements or questions such as “I noticed…”, “Why…?”, and “How…?”.
  • Encouraging play and managing failure: Develop activities that encourage students to play and experiment, followed by reflection and iteration until they are satisfied with the result. Help them learn not to be afraid to make mistakes.
  • Use art strategies: Goodman is an art teacher, and he presents some art activities in the article that would easily work across the content areas to promote inventiveness.
Another succinct overview of the components that can help lead to creativity and inventiveness has been developed by Tanner Christensen.



Discovery Education has material to support creative thinking in your classroom.
  • The Spotlight on Strategies (SOS) “Take a walk” activity is based on a Stanford University study which found that creative thinking improves as you walk and for a short time after.
  • The video “Above & Beyond“, created by Fablevision, showcases how a collaborative project can lead to some creative results!
  • The “Teaching to inspire creativity” video segment is a short professional development video for educators.
After looking at both the Hicks and Goodman criteria and the Discovery Education resources, I don’t believe inventiveness is tied just to the invention process. I think it is a natural part of the creative and divergent thinking processes, too. For some fascinating reading, the Creative Something blog, written by Tanner Christensen, explores the science of how creative thinking works to help his audience “use it every day to create, empower, and motivate”. Isn’t that what we want for students?

Allowing students to pursue their passions, in a way meaningful to them, is a process that can be mentored and practiced in the classroom. By giving students both time and practice in questioning, collaborating, researching, designing, iterating, re-designing, and reflecting, we will be empowering and motivating them to apply the process of inventiveness both in and out of the classroom!