We have all heard plenty about the importance of creative thinking for society and future job markets. Economic forecasts suggest that 65% of today’s school-age children will be working in vocations that do not even exist yet and will likely change careers every 3-7 years.
The need for flexibility of mind and creativity is clear, but what are we really talking about here? A Google search for divergent thinking produces 2,760,000 results, and creative education gives us 33,600,000, so let’s try to be specific about what we are calling creative. These are qualities we hope to nurture in ourselves and our students at Earthbound:
Affectivity – Be moved! Listen to your heart and trust your own taste.
Curiosity – Generate good questions. Be willing to get ‘off task’ and explore interesting ideas and compelling questions.
Flexibility– Be willing and able to change course in response to changing conditions.
Embrace Complexity– Ignoring nuance is often efficient, but it is also boring.
Rebellion– Be a heretic, a nonconformist! Be uninhibited to zig where others zag. This does not just mean questioning the rules, but also finding a useful niche. It means finding complement and contrast rather than competing with more of the same.
Elaboration– Build upon previous statement or suggestions. This means active listening, not just waiting for our turn to speak! Foster the important skill of building upon conversation, and avoid boring reiteration. Recognize when we digress.
Visualization– Nonverbal thought.
Here are some class activities I like to do with Earthbound and Green School students to inspire divergent, creative thinking and limber up the brain:
1. The Paperclip: This comes from Ken Robinson’s TED talk.
Set up: What are all of the things you can do with a paperclip? Give students 4 minutes to list as many ways they can think of to use a paper clip. After the time is up, have students share their ideas and highlight the most absurd.
Discussion Prompt: Invite the group to examine their assumptions about the game/exercise. What if the paper clip weren’t metal? What if the paper clip were 20 feet tall? Question the rules/parameters of the exercise, and try again after considering these ways to ‘break the rules.’
Variations: Obviously you could also use another object such as a cotton ball, straw, popsicle stick, feather, baseball, water, etc. Have students suggest a starting point.
2. Preposterous Proposal: This one, is inspired by The 1959 IPAR survey of Architects, as highlighted in the book, The Creative Architect, and the podcast, 99% Invisible. Set up: If humans could have a third arm – where should it be? Have students silently write this down their proposal and then open it up to discussion. Discussion Prompt:To keep the creativity flowing, I find it is important to encourage the introduction of new ideas and elaboration with prompts such as: “Great idea! Who can build upon that idea?” and, ” Does anyone have something new to add?” Variations: Other prompts I have used for this activity include: If people had a third eye, where should it be? How could the human body be improved? It is very creatively freeing to open up these topics without the hinderance of feasibility!
3. President of the World: This activity works well if the class is also studying politics, social issues and the environment.
Set up: Yes, there are are a lot of global problems…What would you do about it if you had ultimate authority and power? What if you were the president of the world? List 10 things you would do.
Part two: Now it’s time for convergent thinking and craftsmanship! Divide the class into 2 groups and ask them to cull the list to three actionable laws/policies. After about 20 minutes, student groups present and debate their proposals.
Discussion Prompt: Now get meta! Discuss the process. How much did you compromise? What is the balance between idealism and what you consider ‘realistic?
4. Exquisite Corpse. This is the surrealist classic; equally great for classes and napkin art at restaurants!
Set up: Fold a piece of paper into 3 sections, each participant draws in one section and passes the paper to someone else, who draws in the next section without looking at what was drawn previously. Start by saying the first person draws the head, second the body, third- the legs.
Discussion Prompt: These are always fun and entertaining to share. Call special attention to instances when someone did not follow the head- body- legs directions.
5. Liar’s Club. This is a riff on the classic 70’s game show. Set up: Print images of obscure, obsolete and/or provocative objects. Write the real use and origin of each object on a slip of paper. Project the image and ask three students to explain the true use/origin of the object. One gets the real answer, the other two try to make up something to convince the class that their invented story is the truth. The class then votes on which story they believe.
6. Bull session. This is a discussion format in which you can say anything! In a bull session, participants and free to try out ideas, even ones they don’t agree with.
You can follow them to logical conclusions and prepose the preposterous. You are not accountable for ideas you introduce, they are just ideas. To risk creativity, we need to find a chink in the armor of our inhibitions, self-image and beliefs about what is right and wrong. See the essay by Harry G. Frankfurt for more.
What are your thoughts on educating for creativity and flexible thinking?
Written by Johnny Schroeder