How to prepare children to be creative problem-solvers?

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November 30, 2015 by HCDE Communications

How to prepare children to be creative problem-solvers? Outside the box Albert Einstein said that “Imagination is more important than knowledge.”

Most educators profess to value and encourage creativity. But do our current teaching practices really support students who see the world differently?

Experts in a wide range of fields from academia to the military agree that it has never been more important to arm our graduates with the skills to be creative thinkers. The problems our children will be called upon to solve require creative and out-of-the-box problem solving. But can creativity be taught or is it a genetic gift for a lucky few?

According to two recent studies at MIT and UC-Berkley, it is possible for teachers to “prime the minds” of their students for creative thinking.

Researchers found that children who were specifically instructed on one way to use a toy with multiple parts were less likely to try out the other parts to experiment. The other group was allowed to experiment with the toys on their own or in a group.

Based on these limited studies, it would appear that direct instruction alone reduces creativity and curiosity.

Some indicators of creativity are:

• the ability to express common ideas in new and surprising ways;
• the habit of asking constant, unique questions to understand an idea or problem;
• the ability to generate multiple solutions to a problem or multiple uses for an object, etc. (brainstorming); and
• the ability to communicate ideas in new and unusual ways.

Here are some ideas for fostering creativity:

1. Encourage questioning and brainstorming while driving in the car, reading a story or watching TV.

2. Talk about possible outcomes to a story or show and ask how many different ways something can be done.

3. Try to reward creative ideas and products (like purple trees and musical instruments made of toilet paper rolls). Allow for mistakes.

4. Encourage students to collaborate with peers and encourage them to see the viewpoints of others.

5. Find time for exploration and experimentation.  From creative centers in primary grades to project-based learning in high school, today’s students must have time to develop their creativity.

6. Learn to balance direct instruction which tends to value and reward conformity with learning time which encourages divergent thinking.

7. Purchase holiday toys with an eye for items that encourage and build creative thinking.  For younger children, purchase toys like puzzles, building blocks or construction sets like Legos, role-playing toys like dress-up kits, or play kitchens.  Older children benefit from art supplies, craft kits, more sophisticated construction sets like robotics or gear sets and musical instruments.

What are you doing in the classroom to encourage creative thinking processes. We’d like to know and share!

About the Blogger:
Debra Anderson serves as curriculum director for Early Childhood and Special Education at Harris County Department of Education. She has almost 40 years of experience as teacher, coordinator and director of special education programs.

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