In his popular TED talk, Ken Robinson made the powerful point that most of the students doing work in your classrooms today will be entering a job force that none of you can visualize. That talk is from almost ten years ago, so we already know he was right and can only assume he’ll continue to be so in the years to come.
Learning a specific skill set doesn’t have the value in today’s world that it once did. Learning how to be more creative (and thus adaptable) – now that’s what prepares students for life beyond the classroom.
Schools and businesses throughout the world are latching onto this idea. Academia has started to embrace providing courses in creativity. Many of the biggest and most successful businesses in the world now practice the 20% rule – the commitment to allowing employees to devote 20% of their work time to thinking creatively and exploring new ideas.
But this trend toward valuing creativity goes beyond the big tech companies that have long treated “innovation” as a buzzword. A 2010 survey of over 1,500 executives found that creativity is valued as the most important business skill in the modern world[K1] . “Creative” is one of the most commonly used terms on LinkedIn year after year.
Creativity is no longer seen as just being for artists and musicians (not that that view was ever accurate). It’s a crucial skill for everybody to master.
Introducing more creativity into your classroom and assignments doesn’t have to make your job harder. It can actually make it a lot more interesting. Having to go home to a stack of dull papers to grade was never anyone’s favorite part of teaching. Giving assignments that require more creativity will likely result in more engaging work for your students, and a more entertaining grading process for you.
You can provide them the subject to cover, but give them some freedom in how they complete it. Some students will get more out of creating a video or drawing a comic strip than writing a paper.
Even better, have them mix and match formats. Weda Bory wrote on our site about the impressive (and creative) work she received from students by combining iPhone photos with creative writing in her assignments. Your students could analyze a relevant film by creating a podcast about it. They could collect famous images that represent important themes and make a short video that discusses their common relevance.
When you start allowing more formats in the way students create and learn, they’ll have more opportunities to engage with the work they do and will become more invested in it.
Take a cue from the 20% rule practiced by businesses. Work a “genius hour” into the school day. The amount of time is really up to you, but deciding to devote time to encouraging your students to explore new ideas and be creative can pay off.
You can provide them with some tools to enable their creativity – crayons, clay, notebooks, iPads, or even just access to the library or internet (within reason). They can choose to create, or they can choose to do some digging into a subject of interest to them.
Encourage collaboration in these times, but don’t force it. Allowing students the chance to follow their own interests and passions is the whole point and they should be given some leeway in what that looks like.
Tech literacy is almost as important to succeeding in the world today as creativity. And conveniently the two go hand in hand. Just using Google tools alone, we’ve already covered five creative assignments teachers can give.
You can teach students about geography alongside history, literature, or any number of other subjects by having them map out a road trip in Google Maps.
You can teach students how to make new contacts, conduct interviews, and turn what they learn from their interviews into a well-researched paper by making use of Google Hangouts or Skype.
Students can take more ownership over their work by keeping a blog or making their own educational videos on their smartphones. And they can work more collaboratively with the help of social media.
While all of these ideas teach students skills that will benefit them in finding jobs later in life, that’s far from all they accomplish. They make them better learners, better thinkers, and give them more incentive to care about the work they do.
Have you ever seen a student excited when you assigned a chapter in a textbook? How about if you assigned TED Talks instead? Or educational (and entertaining) podcasts like Radiolab and StarTalk? Or comics like The Oatmeal or xkcd, both of which sometimes touch on educational topics?
Many of the people creating a lot of the entertaining pop culture out there have embraced the geekiness that pop culture used to shun. As a result, teachers have a ton of options for bringing more interesting and cool explorations of educational subjects into their classrooms.
Debates get kids involved and actively engaged with the topics they’re discussing. The Socratic seminar method provides a lot of different benefits:
The ability to communicate your ideas clearly and respectfully is something that will benefit students in all areas of their life – and something a lot of people grow up never learning how to do well.
Obviously, finding ways to get your students to be more creative requires some creativity on your part too. We’ve got a lot of resources that can provide you with some starter ideas, but we know educators and students can come up with many more. If you’ve had some success with activities in your classroom that inspire creativity, please share.