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

Collider perform Solo In Red. Music based on the writing of American Author Cormac McCarthy

On December 12 I will be presenting a new work with my band Collider, a band I co-lead with Adam Simmons.  Adam is also presenting a new work on the night. The evening is an exciting one for us. As well as giving us the opportunity to present new material we have both decided to conceptually link our compositions to literature.

I have composed my work with the brilliant Cormac McCarthy in mind, whose writing creates an atmosphere of sparseness, detachment and tension and is always touched with wry humour. He presents to us both the absolute beauty and ugly truth of existence.  These are some of the themes I have kept in mind when writing the work. I also find an intense spirituality in McCarthy’s work that seems to links into a deep religious structure overlaying much of America’s history. This is a structure that I myself have some personal understanding of, being raised as the child of missionary parents.

Adam’s work is focussing on Dr Seuss. Adam has embedded Seuss’s prosody in the compositions for this concert.

The details are

Monday December 12

Doors open at 7 for a 7.30 start

Fortyfivedownstairs

45 Flinders Lane Melbourne City

presales available : 96629966

www.fortyfivedownstairs.com

On another musical matter I will be performing as part of CW Stoneking’s Primitive Horn Orchestra on Friday the 2nd at the Corner Hotel and Saturday the 3rd at Homebake Festival, Sydney.

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 4

I just completed and interview with The Edtechcrew. A fantastic podcast the talks all things education technology and more. Here we got talking about creativity and education and some thoughts around it.

If your interested here is the link for the podcast

Edtechcrew Interview with Kynan Robinson – In a state of cognitive flux

 

 

 

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

Announcing my Latest Musical Project: Collider.

Some thoughts behind my music

A relatively New Band of mine, Collider, will be performing this weekend at the closing party for the Melbourne JaZZ Fringe Festival closing party Big Arse Sunday SUnday the 8th May at 303

Collider is a band that consists of trombone, tenor saxophone, drums and a string section of violin, viola and double bass. It creates a very unique and interesting sound.

Band Members are

Myself – Trombone

Adam Simmons – Sax

Andrea Keeble – Violin

Jason Dunn – Viola

Ronny Ferella – Drums

Anita Hustas – Double Bass

The other interesting aspect of the band is that everyone in it is a very strong composer in their own right which has allowed us to pursue a different approach to how the band chooses to perform. Rather than getting a bunch of tunes up we have decided to approach each future performance as an opportunity for one member of the ensemble to compose for the band. In the past both Adam and myself have composed music for various concerts and Andrea and Anita have composed work for performances at The Womans JaZZ Festival. On June 22 we will be presenting new work by Ronnie and Anita as part of th La Mamma Music series.

I have also had my head down writing for the group. My new work is a really stripped back approach to composition. I am attempting to focus in on the purity of sound and therefore trying to pair back anything I have written that is unnecessary. The idea of a purity of sound also has certain religious connotations to me, something I have avoided for a long period of my life but feel ready to tackle now. The obvious reference points for this new music I am struggling with would be Messiaen and the stark music of Morton Feldman.

For a review of the bands recent gig here is a link from AusJaZZ.net

The Success Of Student Blogging

The success of our “all school” student blogging program. A unique program, unlike anything else currently in schools anywhere in the world

As a senior leader and head of ICT at NFPS, I helped initiate an all school blogging program this year. In the space of six months, we have managed to have every staff member start their own blog, every classroom has its own blog, most departments have a blog and every student in the 3 to 6 levels have their own blog. While the process has been large regarding organisation and PD, it has proved to be extremely successful in several areas.

We have been looking for a way to integrate ICT across the school curriculum. It becomes an integral part of each curriculum strand rather than a separate unit. This is how it is in the world and how it should be within a school structure as well. Blogging has been one of the platforms that has helped us achieve this aim.

Secondly, we were trying to move the school to focus more on Web 2.0.

While the world has rapidly understood and accepted this change, bureaucracies are always slower on the uptake merely because of how they are set up. Issues such as control and fear are constantly hindering the effective teaching of up-to-date practice regarding ICT. While our school was doing OK regarding the creative use of computers (making movies, animations, podcasts, etc.), these things were merely taking up server space and students and teachers were never sharing their learning and teaching. Blogging has become the platform that has allowed us to instantly overcome this issue (along with helping us solve our space issues). Teachers and students are now constantly posting their work, whether that be in text form or using more of the digital literacies such as film, music etc. All of a sudden our podcasts became real podcasts that people from all over the world could hear rather than merely simulations.

This has had a flow-on effect into other areas of interest to me. I am a big believer in not teaching applications. Applications should only be learned at a point of need. When there is a demand, the learning becomes more effective and real. Staff and students are now demanding more use of digital video cameras because there is a real use for them rather than the trite reason of doing some subjects in teaching IMovie. All of a sudden, cameras that have been still for years are now constantly booked out and we need to buy more.

This sharing of learning and knowledge is also something that excites me. As teachers, we can move our profession on to a far deeper level if we combine our knowledge and it is through blogging that our teachers are able to simply and effectively do that. Successful lessons are filmed and instantly uploaded. This has also had the effect of introducing new communities to many of our staff and students. Social networking is how the internet has moved in regards to communication, yet it is still frowned upon by our educational institutions. The blogs have been a great introduction to many of our staff into the world of social networking and how it can be used beneficially.

The blogs have also been really beneficial in helping to link the various curriculums through the school. In my other role as a music specialist, I have always been keen to find ways to link specialist programs into the who life of the school (rather than merely be seen as an APT provider for classroom teachers). Now the students are happily blogging about what they might do in my classroom or their art programs and specialist teachers can video or record classes or work upload those files to whatever file sharing program you use, and then email the classroom teachers the relevant URLs which can be passed onto the kids. 

This has dramatically increased the specialist program and highlighted the student work. Parents can see, classroom teachers can see and plan accordingly. Of course, this also applies to our support teachers and their programs.

There are numerous other benefits such as pushing towards student-centered learning, authentic learning, greater display and pride in work, helping those with ICT phobia get onboard, etc. 

Helping Grade 5/6 Students to compose using dissonance and consonance

Over the space of a term (ten weeks) Andrew Williamson and I work on a number of composition ideas with our grade 5 and 6 kid.

The ideas are both conceptual and practical

The first idea we look at is the notions of dissonance and consonance in a musical perspective.

As a listening exercise I play the kids two obvious examples such as Penderecki’s Threnody to the victims of Hiroshima to emphasis dissonance and Erik Saties Gymonpedie Number 1 to to look at consonance. These pieces can both be found on youtube  Penderecki . The Penderecki piece always starts great conversation with the kids on the role of music, why the sounds have to be so harsh, what is dissonance (clashing) when and where it is necessary, when it is to much, how does music effect our emotions, why do some sounds make us feel certain ways and others make us feel differently.

Following this I move the lesson into a class composition piece. It’s important to model this to the kids, how you want them to compose as the idea is for them to break into small groups and replicate the processes in the coming weeks.

On the electronic whiteboard I would bring up a picture of a haunted house that has the obvious connotations and leads well to a combination of dissonant and consonant sounds.

This picture has been taken from the Music Express Series

A discussion would take place about the intention of the picture. It is to scare the viewer or leave a dark feeling. How has this been achieved? Through the use of dark colors, through the various elements in the picture, where they are placed, at the front or at the back. These are all concepts that can be transported to a musical setting. Do the elements clash or flow freely.

Placing a number of instruments in front of the kids they would choose instruments that they think might match the various elements they would see in the picture. They would then be given a  short time to come up with a quick pattern that they could teach to a small group who would all be assigned to that instrument. Once five or six different parts had been composed and groups of 4 had been formed around those parts I would place those into some sort of visual arrangement on the whiteboard.

This is where the piece gets fun because the kids can now try and change the various arrangements to see if they were effectively achieving their original stated aims, to musically replicate the picture, to have some definite dissonant sounds involved. To get a sense of darkness in the music etc. When inventing the melody you will notice in the video the kids had a simple melody and each new part comes in mimicking the same melodic shape but moving it away by a semitone creating a fairly obvious and easy to hear dissonance.You will also notice there is a mixture of melody, rhythm as well as some textural elements to the piece. We also spoke of how tempo changes a piece, originally the bass  was quite fast but we found it was much more effective to slow the whole thing down. This class should take no longer than 2 lessons. Following this the children would have a class to compose their own piece in groups of no more than 5. Because we have worked on these ideas for an number of years with the kids they feel completely comfortable in their role as composers.

Finally we filmed the whoe class performance and here is an example.
http://fnps.fliggo.com/embed/gVxr6kO9

The Thinking Behind My Latest David Lynch Inspired Musical Project “The Escalators”

The Australian band, The Escalators is my latest musical project. We launch our debut album “Wrapped in Plastic” and head out on a national tour this week.

The album can be purchased here https://theescalators.bandcamp.com/

The Escalators instrumental lineup is unique, including jazz musicians on drums, bass, piano, trombone, trumpet, and extensive samples, electronics, and turntablism. The Escalators involved extensive set, lighting, and video design more than just a musical project. The music and set design stemmed from my academic research, notably my Masters completed in 2008.  

The key area of research that shaped the band’s music was my study into “sample-based music and its relationship to human memory.” Sampling and sample-based music involve the strategy of triggering memory using existing musical recordings and has been the dominant technique of contemporary music since hip hop emerged as a force in the 1980s. Before the 80s, artists such as Miles Davis, Stouckhousen and Gavin Briars, amongst many others, had played with it. Briar’s most famously in his long from minimalistic neo-classical composition Jesus Blood Never Failed Me Yet, which looped one longish sample of an anonymous London tramp singing part of the old hymn. 

For fans of David Lynch, the second area of interest that shaped The Escalators music and live show is found in the album title, Wrapped In Plastic, referencing the famous three words used in Lynch’s TV series Twin Peaks. The film and TV work of David Lynch, including techniques Lynch uses himself and the resultant atmosphere found in a Lynch movie, have shaped much of this work. Rather than lifting tunes or compositions recognizable from Lynch’s work, I have placed this work in the Lynch Creative Universe. When listening to the album or city in a concert hall watching the band perform, one might feel a familiar but potentially unnamable feeling. It’s the same feeling you feel when watching Twin Peaks or Blue Velvet.

The Samples and Turntablist.

The Escalators’ distinctive identity is a consequence of crossing once-sacred style boundaries. In using samples, a composer can create hybrids that were previously unthinkable. This can produce new, unique and personalized musical identities.

Why the Name The Escalator’s

There are two reasons for the name. Firstly, for me, the name elicits the feeling of a constant returning to the same place; likewise, in my opinion, sample-based music also seems to have this effect. It creates memory confusion and a sense of return. The second and less obvious reason was Escalators starts with the letter E. 

All my jazz/improvisation groups have had names starting with the letter E (En Rusk, Escargone, The Electricians, so now the Escalators). Going agaisnt what would be common when trying to build a musical career I prefer ambiguity and uncertainty over simplicity and predictability. By continually using the letter E their is uncertainty created for those who have followed my career, as well as a slight confusion when talking about one band compared to another. 

The state of minimal uncertainty or subtle confusion is something that has always interested me.

Why The Mix of Jazz and Turntables?

At the early stages of development, the shared improvising, compositional language that the players possess has allowed me to rapidly explore concepts. It has helped me decide what to keep and what to discard. It frees me up from constantly producing physical written work that might or might not be kept, thus saving me time in decision making and allowing for a more flexible, responsive approach to the final pieces. 

The distinguished clarinetist Anthony Pay states, “I am the sort of player who is more disposed to start off from the accuracy point of view rather than starting off from the musical point of view. You can with some modern music start off and say : ‘I’m not going to pay any attention to the notational aspects of it, but initially I am going to decide what the music is about, the gestures – and language – the sort of thing if you are improvising, you have to deal with.’ Now, I tend when I’m approaching a modern score, to start off by trying to get, as accurately as I can, what he’s actually put down on paper.” (Bailey 1992, 67-68) That premise is precisely what I want to avoid.

The ensemble consists of Pat Thiel playing trumpet, Mark Hannaford playing piano, Joe Talia playing drums, Mick Meagher playing electric bass, Lawrence Folvig on electric guitar, DJ Element playing turntables/sampler, and myself on trombone.

Kids as Composers: Some Examples

In my role as Head of Musicr, I am a big believer in teaching and empowering children to be composers. All children can naturally compose music, just as they do draw a picture. All that needs to happen is they need to be given some very simple starting blocks, and off they go. These starting blocks never need to be traditional western notation.

Here is an example of a piece written by a group of five-year-olds. They were given 45 minutes to write and perform this piece. They have been composing in my classes for about four years now, so they are very used to that task expectation. You can hear they have written a four-part piece of music, including an A and a B section. It totally rocks

Play Song