The Attic (a name which commemorates our first physical location) is, first and foremost, a site for the research students of the School of Museum Studies at the University of Leicester: a virtual community which aims to include all students, be they campus-based and full-time, or distance-learning and overseas. But we welcome contributions from students of museum studies - and allied subject areas - from outside the School and from around the world. Here you will find a lot of serious stuff, like exhibition and research seminar reviews, conference alerts and calls for papers, but there's also some 'fluff'; the things that inspire, distract and keep us going. After all, while we may be dead serious academic types, we're human too.

Friday, July 13, 2012

Developing Creativity in Students While Scaling Educational Policy

Would every one of our wonderful readers give a warm welcome to a new guest blogger Roslyn Tam. The following blog post regards a new form of education theory that puts creativity at the forefront of learning importance. This is an important concept that I have been dealing with for my own thesis research, as I believe museums are, by their nature, a place that inspires creativity rather than formal school learning and can be institutions that are integrally supportive of this new form of learning in education.

Creativity is one of those human traits which is easy to spot and hard to define. Even more, it can be extremely challenging to encourage and teach in the modern, drill, kill and test school system. But, while many educational policy makers continue to support the idea of teaching to the test, a great deal of research is coming forward which demonstrates that creativity may be the most valuable trait of the educated mind. Many [who are] creating new standards for education are brainstorming ways to enhance education that fosters creativity. Teachers and researchers are beginning to focus on bringing creativity back into the classroom and scaling it upward into the education system as a whole.

“Creativity in the Classroom”, an article in Education News, suggests that most of our education system focuses on problem solving. This presupposes that the problem is known and can be fixed with a known solution. They use a broken car as an example, where the student is given the task to find the solution and fix the known problem. While this is a useful tool, it is not truly creative.

In addition, it takes a creative thinker to even envision the idea of a car in the first place, and bring it into production and fruition. A truly creative thinker may not simply fix the car, they may replace it with a better alternative. In other words, creativity is where the solutions to long-term problems lie, not in simply applying rote-learned accepted patches to known problems.

Some teaching systems already in place seem to do a good job of fostering creativity, such as the Montessori system, which “emphasizes self-directed learning, adaptiveness and discovery. It also boasts an impressive array of information-economy innovators among its alumni: Larry Page and Sergey Brin, co-founders of Google, were trained in the Montessori method, as were Jeff Bezos, the founder of Amazon.com, Jimmy Wales, the founder of Wikipedia, and Will Wright, who invented the best-selling video game of all time, The Sims.”

Another method which has gained attention in recent years is the Visual Training System (VTS) developed in the 1980s. With this learning method, students visualize the subject matter. It has been shown to not only foster creativity, but also to increase reading and math scores from 6% to 20%. When Harvard Medical School introduced it to their students, they became 38% more proficient at diagnosing unknown medical conditions.

Clearly creativity is more than a box of crayons and an art class. It is an entire way of thinking about problem solving and learning in general. Those teachers who can be seen to foster creativity in the classroom often encourage self-directed learning and discovery. When assigning research assignments, they may offer students a variety of ways of presenting their new-found information, from writing a report to producing a play or even a piece of artwork. The critical factors for creativity are self-guidance, choice and decision making in the project.

While administrators, teachers, parents and students can recognize the dynamism and energy in a creative classroom, they often throw up their hands at the idea that these techniques can be implemented systemwide. When it comes to scaling up across the education system at large, it is often suggested that some teachers just have that special creative flare and others don’t.

But the success of systems like Montessori and VTS show that creativity can be scaled upward. Methods that foster creativity can be taught to ordinary teachers and implemented far and wide. What is necessary is that the education system recognize and encourage the value of creativity in classrooms. Then they can do the hard research to find those methods that support creative thinking, and make them available to teachers nationwide.

In keeping with theme of education on this blog is a post by Roslyn Tam discussing how schools can foster creativity and enhance the learning experience. Tam is currently a writer for Educational Leadership site (found through Google) a site that provides comprehensive information on educational leadership and careers in this arena.

Roslyn Tam, Guest Blogger - roslyn.tam617@gmail.com

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