Creativity in a Nutshell – Martin Smith

Often I read Science Daily as a way of keeping up on many different areas of science.   Lately, one topic that keeps popping up is creativity and how we can promote creativity in our lives. For me, the creative process and teaching have a lot of overlap.  As instructors we try to be creative in the ways that we engage our students.  As students, we are constantly creating new thought patterns in order to learn.  I thought it useful to write about two interesting articles on creativity and how they may apply to teaching.

Thinking Outside The Box:  When you are trying to invent a new idea, try acting it out.  This interesting (and entertaining) research study showed that physically acting out common metaphors for creativity can activate psychological processes that increase our ability to be creative.  In one described experiment, students were asked to fill out a creativity survey while literally sitting inside of a big box or outside of it.  Those students outside the box scored higher than those placed inside.  Another common situation was mentioned where people sometimes think about ideas on, “one hand” and then, “on the other hand”. For these people it would be helpful to physically pass an object of thought from hand to the other.   By physically acting out these metaphors, exercises like this may help students to activate the underlying psychological processes to create meaningful links to lesson material.  While this shows the importance of finding new and creative ways to get students actively engaged in a lesson, the next piece may suggest why we do not pursue the ideas as much as we should.

Recognizing Creativity: I think it’s funny that as human beings we all want to be creative, but, when we see creative ideas we turn our nose up at them.  These researchers believe that this is actually quite a common scenario. Here they try to show that there is an often unperceivable anti-creativity bias that makes us reject new creative ideas for methods that are tried and true.  It was suggested that we are uncomfortable with the uncertainty involved in pursuing wildly creative ideas.  Furthermore, we are often hesitant to accept a new idea even in the face of evidence that it will work. That actually surprised me and therefore I think this is very important to be aware of when we think about ways to improve our teaching.

Juxtaposing these two articles seems to highlight a strange dichotomy.  The first article suggests that we should be finding new creative ways to get students actively engaged in our lessons. But, as stated by the second, anytime we propose something new it is bound to get rejected as some radical idea.  What I hope is that being aware of research like this punctuates the value in creativity and will help us recognize its potential when someone tries something new and creative in the classroom.

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