Is technology becoming an impediment to your lessons?

My role as Head of PD at New Era has given me the opportunity to visit many schools around Australia and work with many of the key stakeholders in schools including students, teachers, leadership/administrators to parents. I have also had the opportunity to work across all the sectors.

While each school is unique, having there own particular needs and cultural beliefs that drive their community, there are still some common similarities that can be found in all of them. Interestingly enough this is becoming more and more so considering the rapid globalisation of our world leading to obvious gentrification.

My observations of almost all schools have identified some key issues when it comes to technology and the problems it creates as well as the changes it demands within classrooms.

The first and most obvious issue is the reluctance of many educators to take it up in almost any form. In fact this is so prevalent that there are still significant amount of teachers who not only struggle but also refuse to participate in conversation via email.

When facing this issue I show them a photo I recently took of my son. I have included it here with his permission.

KalaniThis was a photo taken in our lounge room and when properly deconstructed actually says a lot about the generation of students we are teaching and why so many of them might be disengaging from the type of learning that they are required to participate in during school hours and as part of homework assignments.

If we look at the photo the first thing we notice is that he is on multiple devices – at the same time, but more than that he is on a variety of different devices with different operating systems. And he is using them with a sense of personal control – he is not using the TV to watch TV but rather it is merely a screen connecting to where he wants to connect. He is not particularly concerned about the type of device but is comfortable in switching, or even using them at the same time. In my opinion teaching the device is a wasted teaching session.

Secondly it needs to be noticed what he is actually doing with each device. The most interesting thing for me is that each device is connected to the Internet and each device is “pushing out”. He is looking to make connections with other humans. So often I hear teachers rebut the rapid encroachment of technology with the argument that it is taking away the human element. This would appear to be contradictory to the reality that in fact it is increasing the human element, it is just how we are connecting that is changing.

My son is pushing out to “the network” with each device. One is via a Google Doc, one is via a game, his IPhone constantly connects to large networks through the browser or applications such as Kick, he has a pair of headphones on talking to multiple users, he might be connecting to networks via YouTube to learn more about things he is interested in. Not only does he have these devices pushing out to passively connect he is actually looking to become part of the conversation, share his own learning, find diversity of opinion. He creates his own Youtube channels around subject areas he is interested in, he writes blogs around things he is interested in, he uploads films and animations he has made to networks of kids also making films and animations in similar genres. Each of those connections is looking to connect with people to communicate, collaborate, ask questions, investigate and learn. He is in a constant state of learning in the new environments, which is made available to him via the Internet.

If this isn’t represented in the schooling environments that our students attend then you can naturally see a confusion arising in the students leading to frustration, leading to a disconnection.

If our students are merely required to read slabs of text on subjects such as Genghis Khan with no personal application and connection to the students actual life and then asked to answer the questions on their reading from the back of the book , how does that at all reflect the learning styles and environments that they are accustomed to working in in their “real” lives?

How we connect, who we can connect to and how that can transform learning is a very interesting issue that needs to be closely iinvestigated by all of us as educators. When I talk about technology I am mainly talking about the internet because I think the internet is the most powerful metaphor we have to demonstrate that learning is social and is collectively done. It is not done in isolation and it is much more than one-way information transferal.

Education has always been evolutionary, as we as humans are evolutionary constantly in a state of change. It is just that right now the evolutionary change is happening at such a fast pace that it is creating a natural sense of fear. Fear often leads to resentment and anger and a lashing out at the change agents. There is great fear in educators about technology.

How can we reduce this and assist in this rapidly changing face of education to provide a more relevant environment for our students but also help current teachers to transform and still maintain a sence of identity and personal confidence.

My answer is always place the technology change back in the place of learning and teaching – stop talking about the technology, stop PDing teachers up in endless software, stop “Skilling” them up and start allowing them to return to what the love – learning and teaching. It is a big statement but its deliberately big and deliberately provocative because the conversation needs to change. This also doesn’t mean that at some stage you wont need to “skill up” in a tool but isn’t that the lowest form of teaching – the part you should spend 5 minutes of your lesson on and then allow for deep inquiry. Do we really believe this?

So lets look at a few simple pedagogical issues, which I believe are relevant to all learning and see where technology is changing the way we can approach them.

Content – information transferral of content in my mind is not how learning occurs on any significant level. It is also the very start of our journey into the benefits of technology but it is at least it is a place to start. How did we deal with content in a time when we did not have the Internet? We found the content in books, or potentially in whatever information the teacher had, or maybe we would ask the other students in the class, potentially we would bring in an subject area expert once a term or we would go for an excursion. The Internet has opened this up in unfathomable ways. If all content resides online what are the advantages and potential pitfalls to deal with. Well, the content is more likely to be up to date, relevant, a greater and more diverse range of ideas and opinions are able to be accessed providing for a truer picture around subject areas. This allows for greater questioning and debate amongst the students themselves about the “trueness” of fact based reductive education. It allows for real time accessibility into content, thus not slowing the learning process – every time a child has a question and is forced to wait because they are solely relying on one teacher the learning is potentially slowing. The experts the child can now access are greater in number. Once again they are not waiting until the expert shows up at school but rather they can find the relevant experts relevant to wherever they are up to in their learning journey. This is hinting at more autonomy for the students themselves, they are self-directing their own learning.

Feedback/Reflection/Visible Learning – Feedback has always been a key concept that assists in the learning process. Timely and relevant feedback is very important. Teachers practicing without technology reflect as best they can but the reflection potentially has limitations.

Lets look at an example – the written essay. If a child presents work in essay form it is likely to be read by the teacher when he or she has time, marked and graded (providing reflection for the child). This takes time in a busy teachers life. Lets suppose the student receives the essay back in two weeks. Is this an example of timely feedback enabling the greatest possible learning? Perhaps not, Generally speaking the student is highly likely to have lost interest and the impact of the feedback will be lessoned.

Further more this feedback is limited to the reflection of only one person – the teacher. Now that teacher might be extremely knowledgeable but they are still not going to be more knowledgeable than the group – or network.

What if we opened up the feedback cycle and allowed for reflection/feedback by the network?

How?

This refers to visible learning provided by technology. Through tools such as WIKIS, Blogs, Nings, Google Apps etc. the students full learning cycle can be made visible to all, it becomes transparent. By doing this many people can now become involved with the students learning and actively participate in it by providing feedback (think back to how my son was attempting to learn through his YouTube channel.) Now the feedback can become instantaneous – upload something and spread the word and I’m sure you will get lots of comments. It can become more powerful because of the diversity of the feedback – the network is now providing it. Remember the power of the network is always greater than the individual. Beyond that it allows for the student to comment back – they are no longer merely passively receiving feedback, they can instantly reply with a question or even reply with a better explanation of what they might have been attempting in the first place. To often I have seen poor feedback provided by a singular teacher merely because of the pressure to provide it with the proper time allowed to fully understand the child motivation.

Now once again the child is given some autonomy and is empowered to become more actively involved in the process of looking for appropriate feedback. This can can further the learning – the journey isn’t over once the essay has been handed in. In fact that child can take the feedback, learn, recreate and re upload in order to continue the learning process.

Visible or transparent learning provided by the internet also allows for students to feedback into each others work – thus allowing them to find identity as a teacher themselves. This is a role that all humans actually participate in. It is only through our reductive labelling of teacher and student that we have deprived students of their natural state to participate in this experience of teaching. Now they will naturally take this back and participate because the tools (the internet) has allowed them a way back. It is empowering for a student to feedback into another students work and should totally be encouraged –it is the natural process of learning and teaching collectively as humans. This is were all the conversation around the changing titles and roles of teachers sits – from experts at the front to facilitators to what I like to call co-learners. The Internet is driving this realignment of roles because as I have said previously it is a great metaphor for “social learning” – how we have always learnt best as humans. It is breaking down the hierarchical structures we have imposed on reality through the labelling of the participants as teachers and students. This top down hierarchy reflects nothing of the true process of learning.

There are many more interesting pedagogical issues to think about when talking about technology that I am convinced will make it far more interesting to educators than merely teaching them another “tool” or another piece of software.

By doing so it enables them to return to the conversation, it removes the fear, it removes the power from the IT guy and it will help us continue to evolve our practice and systems to be one that totally engages students in how they learn, totally empowers them to take ownership of their learning journey and totally frees them to love learning.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Digital literacy, gaming and contemporary narrative writing

What constitutes digital literacies is an interesting topic in contemporary learning environments. When I was teaching in a school I spent much energy trying to convince the “literacy team” that they needed to alter their definition and subsequent approach of literacy to incorporate digital literacies, in this way I was hoping to introduce a more inclusive use of ICT by a method of subterfuge.

At that stage digital literacies was a term that was merely talking about film and early stages of web literacies.

Doug Belshaw an educator who works for Mozilla when trying to answer the question of what constitutes digital literacies recently wrote ;

“My short answer to such a question would be that it is a ‘convenient hypocrisy’. By this I mean that it is a term used ambiguously (both consciously and unconsciously) by people with multitude of different backgrounds and intentions. However, given that it is a term that has entered common parlance, I would hope that this thesis clarifies at least three things. First of all, I have argued that speaking of a plurality of ‘digital literacies’ makes more sense than endless attempts to define ‘one literacy to rule them all’. Secondly, I have suggested the essential elements that should make up any contextualised and emergent definition of digital literacies. Finally, I have attempted to argue that the process of coming up with a definition of what constitutes ‘digital literacies’ is at least as important as the outcome of that process.” http://dmlcentral.net/blog/doug-belshaw/ontology-web-why-i-learned-stop-worrying-and-love-learning-standards

I agree with many of the points Doug raises. The term is now almost undefinable and therefore of so much more importance from an educationalist perspective – particularly to my old literacy team.

If we just talk about films: Peter Greenaway the highly respected British film director recently said that he believed the traditional movie was a dead art form. peter1

It is one based on the narrative structure of the 19th century novel – and this template gets repeated over and over and over again. There has been little to no progression in the format since its beginnings. In this it strongly parallels opera as a story telling devise and a medium of entertainment – it is now viewed as a quant entertainment with sentimental values but of no real importance in regards to its artistic and cultural value.

One of the reasons for this is its inability to adapt rapidly in much the same way as the rest of technology-based art forms have.

For example film is extremely narrative based, generally linear and highly dictatorial in approach – by that I mean it is one way. Everything is imposed upon the audience, from on high. The audience is being told the story, they are told what to think, what to feel, when to cry when to laugh etc. Everything in the movie making process is aimed it this. The music written supports the emotion the director is looking for and further attempts to manipulate the audience into feeling that emotion. The same applies with the lighting, editing, camera angels and so on.

There is no room in for the audience to actively participate in any way rather than just sit and passively go along with what they are being told to do. Now this can be very enjoyable for many people but I would argue that most people have progressed from this form of entertainment/learning and are now looking at the ability to have a say themselves, or be involved in the process.

This is the space that digital games become very, very interesting – especially from a learning perspective.

There are many games that fall into the same category as the traditional movie. The narrative is entirely predetermined and the gamer must merely do as there told, but there are also many games that have moved well away from this.  assasins creed

Games such as L.A Noir or Assassin’s Creed do follow a narrative. The difference is instead of passively watching it unfold; the gamer can become part of it. They adopt a character within the narrative and play out the role, often times being forced to make choices that will influence how the original story plays out – much like a choose your own adventure book but a lot more immersive. Another game that does this and is great for younger kids is Little Big Planet. These narratives or stories are generally very complex and nested within other existing narratives and .can take months to unfold. However there is still a fair amount of control within these games – the settings, places, etc. are all predetermined as they are all set within a particular storyline.

little big planetWhen interviewing a 14 year old boy on why he liked games he said “because I get to choose what I want to do, unlike school where we are constantly told do this or that in games that I play I don’t just have to go a kill everyone to move to the next level, I can decide which way to go, how to deal with it. It’s a lot more fun having a bit of control.” This is also referred to as free roaming within a game. Batman Arkham City is one game that plays in this way – you can do the missions or “simply go in wonder around and play your own thing, play your own story.”

This notion of perceived control is also an interesting one from a teaching perspective. Recently when interviewing a fantastic teacher, Roland Gesthuizen he stated that “ you need to give choice to students but not too much choice…If you give to much choice people inevitably make no choice or the worst one “

To me games using this model are the natural evolution from movies – they have narrative, they have cut scenes using traditional visual techniques but moving on they allow for reediting of the narrative in a controlled fashion.

Beyond that and also of great interest to education is the game that is fully immersive and has almost no predetermined narrative structure. This includes games like Minecraft and Gary’s Mod and to a certain extent Disney’s Infinity..

These games are providing a framework for the player to enter and then leaving it up to the individual’s creativity to do whatever they want.

When recently watching a collection of students playing Gary’s Mod they were collectively interacting and communicating with each other, they were building there own characters, they were inventing there own games within the game and moreso they were inventing their own narrative within the games they were playing – that is narrative within narrative. Look at all the potential literacies learning that could be leveraged off this space.

This is an example of the game makers understanding this generation and providing them with autonomy, the ability to be self-directed and beyond that providing them the ability to be highly web connected. These three concepts are what our education system needs to understand and embrace.

To quote Australian educator –  Richard Olsen  -  How are our education systems to respond to students as autonomous,  self-directed web connected learners?

All School Blogging

The following article was originally posted on DEECDs website. And talks about some of the work I was involved with when I was working at North Fitzroy Primary School

Blogs –Creating Worlds of Learning (Global2)

An ICTEV study group of 20 teachers arrived at the school gates to find out how blogging and games-based learning enriches learning for both students and teachers of Fitzroy North Primary School. The school in old in years (built in 1875) but young and contemporary in its use of ICT to empower learning and pedagogy. The approach and ideology has at its centre social learning theory.

Leading the group tour was Connie Watson (Principal), Kynan Robinson (Leading Teacher ICT/Creativity) and Kristen Swenson (3-6 ICT Coordinator).

Thanks to strong and innovative leadership, and the commitment of the ICT coordinators, in recent years blogging has become part of the learning and pedagogical fabric of daily life at North Fitzroy Primary. Kynan and Kristen have been active in the Global 2 blogging space for over 4 years. Kynan told the group that, “Global 2 allows kids to connect to the wider world. You can allow them to have an authentic voice and authentic audience.”

“We take seriously Hattie’s notion that feedback is one of the most potent factors in a child’s learning – blogging, where feedback is available from multiple sources is really important. They are not just posting their work for viewing by others, but posting genuine stages of their work and asking for feedback from others in an interactive process, which is much more powerful than simply learning in isolation and then posting your best work at the end of it”, Connie Watson (Principal)

With Hattie’s Visible Learning research in mind, Connie Watson decided that every teacher, every child from Years 3 -6 and every class should have a blog. All teachers were supported to develop their skills and confidence to create content, post, publish, upload images and movies, and moderate blogs. They now share and compare their blogs and their ideas with their students, parents, industry, and peers internal and external to the school.

Blogs are used to extend and assess all areas of literacy, Italian LOTE, and interdisciplinary streams of learning and skills and personal development. Kynan believes that blogging is a great, ‘platform to skill up and build confidence across the entire school staff to use web 2.0 tools to create and publish content not just be a user of content. If they didn’t blog they would miss out with connecting with the wider world. The main benefit is the ability to connect and find connections all over the world.”

The whole school community is involved at home and at school with their blogs. Homework, parent engagement, Italian recipes, news, quizzes, competitions, provocations, reviews, and reflection – it is all done with blogging accessed from home, school, during the week or at the weekends. “All of our Grade 5/6 students have their own individual passion blogs. We made the shift last year from the show and tell blogs to more of an interactive blog. Since then the quality of the students’ writing has improved dramatically. Their passion for blogging is so much greater and they just love doing it. Every time they have a spare moment in class they want to blog and it has just given them their own voice which is fantastic”, said Kristen.

Students create passion blogs and discover networks to discuss new ideas and perspectives from like-minded students. We heard from students who have created blogs on superheros, star wars, comic books, the World of Minecraft, the Hunger Games, Harry Potter and other favourite books. The students are learning to target their blog and writing style for specific audiences to elicit discussion on an international scale. According to Kynan, “the kids love the Global2 cluster maps so they can see their potential audience from across the world’. “It’s exciting collaborative learning and it is authentic for the kids because they are working on things that they are passionate about, and on questions that are relevant to them, often that they have driven themselves”, explained Connie Watson.

Also central to the contemporary learning and teaching practice is cybersafety awareness and copyright. Cybersafety is built into lessons and classroom practice at every Year level all year long. Fitzroy North PS is an ICT savvy school. Each classroom that the 20 strong study group entered, they barely caught the eye of the students who were completely engaged and immersed in what they were doing. The technology was seamless, the content was all important and it was student owned content. As Kristen says, it is not about the devices it is how they enhance the learning and fit within the learning curriculum. According to Kynan, “the point of ICT is to drive your pedagogy, to assist your curriculum”.

Blogging at North Fitzroy Primary School from Kynan Robinson on Vimeo.

Minecraft Project

At NFPS we are a school very focussed on gaming in education (using digital games to teach).
Some of the games we have used include  Civilisation and Sim City to teach term long units on government etc. We have done entire term projects on game making (looking at programming skills plus narrative development etc) in the grade 3/4 area. We used programs such as Scratch, Atmospfir, Sploder and Game Salad to do this.
We also use a lot of games on mobile devises in the Jnr levels to enhance the numeracy and literacy program.
This year we received a schools specialisation grant  to investigate the use of gaming to teach and part of this has linked us into working with Deakin Uni and their researchers, investigating some of the things we are trying to achieve.
This term, in an attempt to teach a science based unit looking at biospheres we are using the game Minecraft across all the grade 5/6 classes (140 students).
The premise is the world is coming to an end and all 140 of us  have to move to a new planet. Decisions need to be made before leaving Earth and Arcs are getting designed in google sketch up and prototypes being built using a 3D printer.
Everything we need to establish our new planet is going to be taken with us so decided upon pre leaving. Then we all fly to our new planet.
The new planet, called Auroura 56 Z will be simulated in Minecraft.

I have built a minecraft server for the school where all the work will be completed.
It is a very interesting project to observe. The way we set these things up are the it is mostly student driven with the teachers working as facilitators to the learning.
The kids have organised themselves into 5 districts (technology and industry , agriculture, discovery and education, recreation, city and culture) and have started to build.

One thing of note observed so far in this project is  the levels of bureaucracy the kids are bringing into the game – demanding the establishment of councils and committees. A lot of it has been driven by their existing knowledge of the game.
I regularly meet with a group of 10 kids  who advise me on game play and how to adapt it to enable the efficient and smooth development of our planet. The project has raised a lot of questions regarding global warming – what causes it, how can we avoid it on our new planet – do we really need to mine everything etc. Furthermore  the game based project has raised very interesting discussion about policing – people can obviously destroy other people’s work in the Minecraft environment – how do we control this amongst 140 players (these decisions are all controlled by the students)

All of the students work is being recorded in a wiki. This allows them to collaborate and plan across classrooms as well as reflect on their learning and cross pollinate ideas. An example of a designed arc is below.

Creativity in Ed 7 The Chair Project

At the recent MOTM conference I was involved in a very interesting discussion with a friend of mine and a couple of other teachers on how to make her class project more creative. She was teaching design and had her students all making chairs

The more I contemplated this project the more I started to think of the Agile methodology to project development, specifically it’s  non linear approach and wondered if it could have any benefits to this particular project.

I started by contemplating the notion that if you value a solution over an objective you are compromising potential and creativity. If you already have a solution or answer eg you will make a  a chair you have removed the creative process and they will come with a  preconceived idea of what a chair is.

They could potentially just say, look I have $20 in my hand I will just buy one.The problem here is that we haven’t stated the objective – why do we want a chair in the first place - what is the purpose of having a chair etc

Instead maybe the project could have been worded as “we want to make this communal space more comfortable, go for it kids”. This would allow for a much wider area of potential for creativity. It hands over power to the students, it broadens it, it opens up collaboration, it avoids the sheep effect – everyone copying the best chair, and you will potentially still get a couple of chairs out it.

The key is to always go for the higher-level objective, the bigger picture , have I presented a project opportunity to the students that has the widest possible opportunities or have I already given them an answer - a chair.

If you look at software development projects liner approaches could be likened to hard coding changeable elements – when you hard code elements into your software project that are potentially changeable down the track ( eg Hard coding  url’s, into the code over time these might change).  This adds a lot of risk to the project, you are not making your project scalable, and your limiting the bigger picture. If you have a project which is really hard coded and you need to make changes it will take a lot of time $ and it will limit your opportunities to make changes in the future. The chair might be an example of hard coding. An example of a linear project might be  “I love superheros. I have 5 superhero figurines which I am going to place in an order of importance on a poster I will stick on the wall.”

1. Batman

2. Superman

3. Spiderman

4. Aqua man

5. The Hulk

At your next birthday you get given an Iron Man and you decide you would actually like to put him in number two on your wall list but that list has been locked down in texta. Your only option is to rip the project down and start again.

Another approach would be “I’m going to create make something in my house or on my wall that represents my love for superhero figurines.” Do I need to create a list that locks me down or is the point of the project to represent your love for superheros. You might go back to the list but it might come in some crazy way

Sometimes when you ask a question it may not be immediately evident to you that you are proposing a linear project that already has an answer. People tend to get stuck on solution under the delusion that is the objective of the project

You should put out the idea and start zooming out, broaden your question broaden your question broaden your question until you potentially might get to a place where you cant even see the question anymore, it dissolves. Instead you have a very high level guiding objective (is that the right word). That potentially could create a very messy project but thats OK. The zooming out can be very hard to do because we are often blinded by the first answer that raises its head at the first layer of zooming.

Another example

My objective is to get a twitter site – No thats not the objective its the solution. My objective is perhaps I am wanting to build a network, is this even an objective or should you ask why do I want to build a network? To impart knowledge, to learn, or maybe  I want to get more people to visit my blog etc etc etc. Well twitter might be one way but potentially if creativity sneaks in, there might be many better unthought of ways.

If you already know the answer you have limited creativity and potential for a very interesting project/learning.

Creativity In Education Part 6

This year I have been handed the task of instilling a more creative approach to learning and teaching at one of the schools I work at. This is a task I am excited about. It is a particular passion of mine evident in many of my previous blog posts.

The thinking behind this comes from my own personal belief that creativity The ability to generate new ideas is innate in everyone and needs to be one of the higher goals of education. The investigation also stems from the rapid changes that we see in the western world, changes in the job market which is crying out for innovative/creative thinkers, as well as changes driven by the digital revolution which has provided opportunities for people to create, collaborate and communicate like never before. Our education system has a responsibility to not only keep up with these changes but perhaps even lead some of them.

To achieve the task 2 think tanks have been established, one inside the school and one drawing from experts and networks beyond the schools immediate boundaries. These think tanks will provide ideas, investigate research, experiment with implementing ideas into the classroom, provide feedback and teach and support others.

My initial thinking was to set up an environment where people can share. Instead of the formal monthly meeting we would build a platform (perhaps a NING) where those involved from within the school could be contributing whenever they liked.

Within this platform we would,

1. Look at what the creative thought process actually is, investigate the research into it. this might include looking at notions of cognitive dissonance, divergent thinking, he ability to find connections where others cant see them, risk taking and freedom and dualism.

2. Investigate the environments that stimulate creative thought. This could be both the physical environments, mental environments and online environments. Much writing has already been done about the ideas of networked knowledge and web 2.0 being a modern day equivalent of the coffee shop experience of the Paris intellectuals that lead to so much new thinking in s many areas, including philosophy, literature the arts.

3. Investigate existing  models that stimulate the creative thought process in an educational setting, these could include Project Based Learning, some of the online courses developed by PLP,  Steven Downs models of learning centred around Network Learning, Rich Tasks, The Agile Methodology, The CKC model developed by Ideas Lab, and The Inquiry model. From initial discussion there is already some debate whether the enquiry model is at all related to creativity or whether its basis being rooted in a western scientific model of investigation and reason actually limits its ability to encourage creative thought.

4. Find ways to encourage these learning environments to flow into the teaching of all curriculums including the core curriculums of numeracy and literacy. Is this done through the questioning process? Do the teachers need to ask bigger questions, what if we trusted the students to just ask their own questions? How much time in education needs to be devoted to skills based learning? Etc. Etc.

I would love to hear anything anyone else has to say on the matter. If you think there are things we should investigate please fell free to suggest, all ideas are welcome. If you would like to be involved in the community we hope to develop feel free to email me and I will notify you once we have built our NING. Or initially feel free to comment with any ideas readings, criticisms etc on this blog. Thanks needs to be given to Richard Olsen form Ideas Lab, Lou Bowe and Mark Dickson and Sheryl Nussbaum Beach for some of their initial work as well as the Creativity Team I worked with in 2011 during the PLP ConnectU project.

Here is a simple but worth while youtube video that gives a nice starting place

Creativity in education Part 5 – The Creative Personality

I recently read an article presented in Psychology Today written by Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi talking about common characteristics found in the creative personality – or to be a little more specific “how creative people live”.
Many of these characteristics initially appear to be dualistic in nature and excited me when contemplating them within a classroom setting.
I think some of them are important to be aware of if we are to be encouraging the idea of creative thought within our students. As educators it is important to consider the wider impact of decisions we make and if it is to foster creativity, which I believe we should be then we should also be aware of exactly what it is we are talking about and how that is likely to impact upon our classrooms.
A summary statement of the article is that creative people are incredibly complex. This in itself can create stress for some classroom teachers. I have witnessed myself attributes of a creative student causing great stress and misunderstanding within a teacher leading to perceptions of threat within the said teacher. This then had the follow on effect of punishment for the creative student. If some understanding of the complexities of the creative process were demonstrated by this particular teacher I am sure the outcomes could have been far different and much more positive for all involved.
Here are a couple of great examples
1. Creative people have a great deal of physical energy, but they’re also often quiet and at rest. They work long hours, with great concentration, while projecting an aura of freshness and enthusiasm. The physical energy is something that can disrupt a quiet classroom environment if not properly focussed.

My art collective "andeverythinginbetween's" 2011 show - Fugitive Piano

2. Creative people tend to be smart yet naive at the same time. They can be both divergent and convergent thinkers. The divergence is needed for the new ideas, the convergence is needed to realise that one iea is good and the other is bad.

3. Creative people combine playfulness and dicipline, or responsibility and irresponsibility. There is no question that a playfully light attitude is typical of creative individuals. But this playfulness doesn’t go very far without its antithesis, a quality of doggedness, endurance, perseverance. They can fluctuate and often need to do so.

4. Creative people alternate between imagination and fantasy, and a rooted sense of reality. The whole point of art and science is to go beyond what we now consider real and create a new reality. At the same time, this “escape” is not into a never-never land. What makes a novel idea creative is that once we see it, sooner or later we recognise that, strange as it is, it is true.

5. Creative people tend to be both extroverted and introverted. Most people fall into either one or the other categories, creative individuals, on the other hand, seem to exhibit both traits simultaneously. I imagine that this makes them harder to pigeonhole within the classroom environment and can make their behaviour seem erratic.

6. Creative people are humble and proud at the same time.

My art collective "andeverythinginbetween's" 2011 show - Affinity

7. Creative people are both rebellious and conservative. It is impossible to be creative without having first internalized an area of culture. So it’s difficult to see how a person can be creative without being both traditional and conservative and at the same time rebellious and iconoclastic.
I think this trait is a huge one for educators to understand. The creative person will swing between the two and is therefore hard to pigeonhole when it comes to writing up your personal teacher plan to accommodate every learning style. An iconoclast is often viewed in the negative but they are usually that way because they have a better idea and therefore would see the tearing down of a structure as a positive thing to be encouraged.

This dualistic nature is something that should be understood and encouraged in our education systems. Initially dualism always appears to be chaos but with a little investigation and patience the apparent stress of the chaotic can be channeled into the fantastic. And why should we encourage creativity in our education system?

To quote from the same article “Of all human activities, creativity comes closest to providing the fulfillment we all hope to get in our lives. When we’re creative, we feel we are living more fully than during the rest of life.”

Creativity in Education Part 2

What are we talking about when we say we are trying to encourage a complete creative approach to education. Why is the desire in all man to create so powerful and therefore so important for our education system to support.

Creativity is a new thought, but as we all know there is no truly new thought. Every new creation or thought has such strong links to all preceding thought, new thought can be thought of a merely development of existing thought.

Copyright becomes more and more of an issue in education as it has been for the arts since the ridiculous notion of intellectual property came into common thought. There are many many good papers written presenting counter arguments to our current selfish and ignorant copyright laws so I wont go to far into that except to say the laws show complete ignorance of the process of the creative idea, how it is always linked into a historical context and how all creative acts require a lineage of previous. (If you are truly interested in finding develping some understanding about copyright than this would be a great place to start http://www.plunderphonics.com/xhtml/xplunder.html) Sampling or sample based music is a good example of the truly creative act that requires previously existing work to reference. Without the previose work which can be taken and rearranged there would be no sample based music or art. And sampling is no new idea, Rembrant referenced his preceding masters, Beethoven quotes previous composers work in many of his compositions in fact everyone who has ever created anything in some way samples. Quotation in your work , as well as being a form of flattery is also a means of acknowledging the ideas that preceded yours. Without them your creative work might not exists. Ones take on the preceding idea is where things become interesting. Or to put it another way, what you do with that already existing idea is what is truly original personal and creative.

Our schooling systems need to encourage this “personal take” idea. Where does this happen in our current timetables?

As a composer I know there are many times in my life I have no ideas and there are other times when the ideas are pouring out of me at a rate that is almost to fast for me to get them all written. These are the times when it feels everything has fallen into place and life is in some sort of Zone. I am experienced enough in my own life to recognise these periods. When they are occuring I work very hard to produce as much as possible. I do this because I know how hard it is to get to these Zones. I also recognize that when I am not in these Zones I do everything in my power to try and get back there. This includes, investigation, experimenting, trying new ideas, failing, listening, looking at everything with my eyes open, reading, searching and basically hunting for the next idea.

My musical ideas these days rarely come from listening to other music, instead the concepts come might come from the reading I have done. For example I have recently read a lot of Cormack McCarthy novels. Rather than the stories contained in the novel it is the atmosphere he manages to create with words, the deep philspohical concepts behind his words that triggered my mind and ignited musical ideas that I have been struggling with for perhaps the last 15 years. It also triggered a more thorough investigation into a couple of composers who I had flirted with in the past, Morton Feldman and Olivier Messiahn. It was the novels that allowed my head to finally make sence of a musical and conceptual problem I hadn’t been able to resolve for years. This then lead to me studying other artists working in a similar area which ultimatly culminated in a body of work being composed. This work has recently been recorded and will be released. The actual period of high creativity lasted 2 weeks but the work period I did to get there took about a year and a half. The process for the creative act actually involved a long period of creative thinking.

It takes time.

School needs to be encouraging this and providing the time. Our school timetables are ridiculously over crowded. Our almost religious belief in numeracy and literacy as being subjects of the highest importance is a lazy lie that we choose to believe because it makes our jobs easier. It takes great courage for an educational institution to back away from the current importance given to these subjects because you now enter into a fight with society, parents, data managers bureaucrats looking for something to present to the politicians above them etc but it needs to happen. I love technology because it provides almost endless platforms for children to create in, or to express themselves. That is why at the school I work at we have invested hugely in technology – because it can be personalised. A child can do whatever he can think of with it. An education system that encourages and fosters creativity is a system that is working on a far deeper level than the one that places numeracy and literacy at the top and virtually ignores everything else.

We have a workforce crying out for innovation – how is our education system working to provide for that. At what point are we teaching the thinking process that leads to the creative act?

In a study by Eysenck (1995) and Martindale (1999) they proposed that creativity is characterized by cognitive disinhibition. Cognitive disinhibition is hypothesized to underlie many of the cognitive processes that have been associated with creative cognition, such as defocused attention and wide associative horizon. Whereas Eysenck (1995) argued that lower cognitive inhibition is a relatively permanent characteristic of the thinking style of creative people, Martindale (1 999) has argued that creative people can focus or defocus attention depending on task demands. At what point in our numeracy and literacy focused curriculum do we allow for DEFOCUSED ATTENTION. or is it all just about learning the skills required to get to the next level?

For a more academic read of what I have been writing about please read Andrew Williamson’s essay.He talks about similar ideas with strong references to academic research in the area. Particulate of interest is where Andrew writes about the thinking process required including Cognitive acceleration and cognitive dissonance. Link To Andrews Essay