Over the weekend, I finished George Couros’s Innovator’s Mindset. I highly recommend reading it to understand why we should foster a culture of innovation in our schools and where to start. A culture of innovation makes everyone a creator in our schools, unleashing the creativity that is in all of us. The Innovator’s Mindset frames the steps to create that culture of innovation in a school and it gives some powerful examples of creation in the classroom. That’s where the new book by John Spencer and A.J. Juliani picks up. The book LAUNCH is focused on the importance of a clear framework for the creative process. I’ll dig into that process in later posts as I get deeper into the book. But, let’s start with the why of creation in the classroom.
Bloom’s Revised Taxonomy of Learning Domains
Looking at Bloom’s Revised Taxonomy of learning domains, the highest order is creating. This process involves the planning and producing of original work. Rather than designing learning activities that at most ask students to apply new knowledge to a new situation, we really should be pushing our students to create using new knowledge and skills.
Spencer and Juliani argue that there is a Creative Chasm in our schools. There is a gap between those students who are asked to function at the highest level of learning and those that are only engaging with knowledge at the lower levels of remembering and understanding. At these lower levels, content is being delivered and received in a passive manner by learners. If educators know that creating is the highest order of learning, why aren’t we asking their students to engage in this form of learning?
The authors raise several traditional reasons that educators give for not moving to a creation model. Some of these resonated with me and are a barrier for me. These reasons include:
- Isn’t “creativity” just for the “arts”?
- I don’t have the materials that all these makerspaces have to build things.
- There isn’t the time for me to devote in my curriculum to this process. I have to get through my content.
- My students are expected to be able to perform at high levels on standardized tests, I can’t ignore that by doing all these design projects.
- I don’t know how to do this. I’m going to fail.
The authors do a great job of challenging these notions. They reveal that these barriers may just be perceived barriers and shouldn’t be a reason not to engage in creation in the classroom.
Creativity is a part of every content area. It’s not just for “artists”. Creativity involves the ability to synthesize, use data to design solutions, refine existing ideas to improve, and explore ideas and information. These sound like skills that are essential to just about any content area. So, creativity is essential to my science classroom.
Yes, expensive materials are great to have. I’m lucky to be getting some LittleBits kits this fall for my classroom. But, the authors are quick to point out that the only essential material is the creative minds of your learners and the best technology is usually a roll of duct tape. When I think about when my students are the most creative, it is not because we have fancy pieces of technology. It’s when I give them permission to use whatever they want. It’s when I open my drawers and say “Yes, you can use that.”
So why spend all this money on technology If it isn’t necessary? This is the going to help me address the biggest hurdle in my ability to bring creation into my classroom, time.
Juliani and Spencer argue that using design thinking to reframe educators to cover the course content while allowing students to reach these higher levels of learning. What does this mean for an AP Physics course with lots of learning objective that are not negotiable? It means that I have to be creative with how I design learning activities. This means fewer products with each covering more content. The LittleBits kits will allow me to bring more concepts and skills into a single project.
Don’t take this the wrong way. This still doesn’t mean that fancy technology is a must. It does help me with efficiency. But, it should not be a barrier to creation in the classroom. To be honest, there is no way teachers won’t have to make some changes to breadth of content when they try to attack it more in depth. This is the traditional argument of breadth vs. depth. Spencer, Juliani, and Couros all advocate for doing more with less. Delivering more instruction is not going to help create the critical thinkers and creative minds that our society wants. So, I am all for finding ways to streamline content to maximize the creation process and maximize skill development.
So what about standardized tests? The authors argue that the creation process requires students to work through those other levels of learning that many standardized test require. Students who are creators have a deeper understanding of the content than students who simply understand content. In my experience, some tests are asking students to do more analysis of information and higher levels of thinking. So, exposing them to higher orders of learning in the classroom is key to success on these test.
In the age of teacher evaluations and Educator Effectiveness here in Wisconsin, there is a lot of fear of failure on the teacher’s part. When I have been able explain the “why” of the process, my failures have always been viewed by administration as a positive. This may just be my experience, but I believe good administrators understand the power of failing forward. The process of creation is the creation of iterations that are either failures or small improvements. The ability to learn from failure, the analysis and evaluation are higher order learning. Failure is an essential part of the creation process. Without it, we would miss valuable learning opportunities. If your administration doesn’t understand this, they will not be successful in their initiatives.
So, no more excuses. Right?
Now what? While we need to show creativity with our thinking, Juliani and Spencer are quick to point out that “creativity is a process that requires structure.” The LAUNCH cycle provides a framework for the creation, or design thinking, process. The design thinking process is one used in the “real world” with proven results. It is applicable to any creation process. Understanding how to apply the framework is key. You’ll see the cycle below.
Look, listen, and learn
Ask lots of questions
Understand the problem or process
Highlight what’s working and failing
The next chapters in the book do a deep dive into each part of the process including the 7th step: Launching. I look forward to reading and reflecting on those chapters over the next couple of weeks.