Listen To This

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Three podcast episodes I heard this past weekend that you might like…

Related to my recent rant concerning creativity as a skill, a segment of Freakonomics asked Where Do Good Ideas Come From? (61:34) The host spoke with a scientist, a graphic designer, a museum curator, James Dyson (of vacuum cleaner fame), and others about their creative process.

This is the third part in their series titled How To Be Creative and part two is also good, asking Why Do Schools Kill It Off?

Another podcast segment was also part three of a series, this one from Planet Money and dealing with the issue of antitrust (23:56). Specifically this segment discusses whether the size and reach of huge companies like Amazon “is a threat to competition, and ultimately to consumers”.

As with every segment of Planet Money, they do an excellent job of making a complex issue both interesting and even entertaining.

Finally is the first episode of a new podcast from the news site Quartz called Should This Exist? (33:36). Each segment looks at the promise of a new technology, along with the possible negative impact on both the user and society.

The first invention certainly fits the criteria: Halo is a headset that is supposed to stimulate the brain and help the wearer learn “as fast as a kid”. As they say, what could possibly go wrong?

My only criticism of the segment is that I don’t think the host challenged the inventor enough, especially on the potential ethical issues. But the premise of the podcast sounds like it will be worth at least a few more listens.

No, They Are Not Skills?

Fruit Splash 3

In a recent column, EdSurge asked a small panel of people who might be considered “creative” the rather interesting question, “Is creativity a skill?”. They went on to also ask whether creativity can be taught or learned.

Almost everyone answered yes in one way or another, but this, from a journalism teacher, came closest to the way I would respond.

Creativity is a mindset. It is a way of looking at life. If you look at life the standard way, then there is no creativity involved. It is copying.

Creativity means thinking outside the box; thinking in ways that requires you believe in yourself enough to take a risk. It is not a skill; it is a mindset.

Anyone remember “21st century skills”? Although the use of that phrase has thankfully died down in the past few years,1 creativity was generally considered one of four skills to be included. What was called the “4-Cs” in the overly-large school district that used to employ me: creativity, collaboration, communication, and critical thinking.2

So, we could expand the question to ask if any or all of those items are really skills? Or are they also mindsets.

If you look at very young children and how they process the world, it’s clear that most already come equipped with those abilities. From the earliest age, kids use a lot of critical thinking and creativity to cope the world. They experiment with just about everything to make sense of everything that is new to them.

However, parents, teachers, and other adults, work very hard to reign in that inclination and provide some structure that fits the societal norms. Certainly much of that really is for their own good, but those restrictions also begin the process of stunting the 4-C skills kids were born with.

That process expands greatly when children get to school, a place where creative experimentation is usually discouraged and channeled into those approved topics contained in the curriculum. Likewise, collaboration and communication, something young children are actually very good at (even if we don’t always understand it), is now restricted to only adult-approved formats.

All of which is why I don’t think any of those 4-Cs are skills. And they can’t be “taught”. At least not in the way we normally use that verb.

Teaching these so-called skills almost always involves imposing on kids our interpretation of what it means to be creative, or the correct way to communicate, or how to think critically, or what “real” collaboration looks like.

So, what happens if instead we used classrooms to help kids explore and develop their own creative abilities, in their own way?

It probably would look much different from the current structure we call “school”.


The picture is one of my attempts at creativity by playing with shutter speed on my camera. I’ll leave it to the viewer to judge the results.

1. Or maybe it’s just that I’ve stopped following people who continue to use silly cliches like that.

2. Sometimes that list was awkwardly expanded to include curiosity, which is even less of a skill than the other four.

Some Rambling Thoughts on Curiosity and Creativity

Inspire Curiosity

Reflecting on last weekend at EduCon, one of the highlights of the event every year is the Friday night panel discussion. The organizers bring together four smart, interesting people and get them talking about their work in the context of the conference theme. 

This year’s theme was curiosity and the discussion produced many great ideas around that simple word that are worth thinking about. But at one point the moderator raised one question that’s been stuck in my head: “What is the difference between curiosity and creativity, or is there a difference?”

In education reform discussions, we seem to talk a lot about creativity but not so much about curiosity. We say we want students to be creative, do we also want them to be curious? Or do we view the two concepts as interchangeable?

No one on the panel had the definitive answer about the difference, and I’m pretty sure I don’t either. But one idea came to mind on the drive back from Philly.

Curiosity leads to information; creativity leads to knowledge (understanding?).

People who are curious about something, are driven to learn more about it. But that learning doesn’t automatically lead to any kind of application of the information. Some level of creativity, and additional work, is required to make that happen.

In fact, can creativity even exist without curiosity? Can someone be called “creative” without being curious as well?

Anyway, enough rambling for now. Maybe I’ll have a more coherent post on the topic after reading back through my notes (aka Twitter feed).

But one last thing: something one of the panelists said made me recall a favorite quotes related to curiosity in science.

“The most exciting phrase to hear in science, the one that heralds new discoveries, is not Eureka! (I found it!) but rather, ‘hmm… that’s funny…'” – attributed to Isaac Asimov (not confirmed)


The picture is from my trip to EduCon 2015 and shows some relevant banners hanging on the Free Library of Philadelphia.

Creativity Doesn’t Happen on Clock Time

Clock and Sky

A Harvard professor who studies creative talent in the workplace says her research shows that “arbitrary deadlines are the enemy of creativity”.

Scholars of time have found similar results in their research. Creative work operates on “event time,” meaning it always requires as much time as needed to organically get the job done. (Think of novel writers or other artists.) Other types of work operate on “clock time,” and are aligned with scheduled events. (A teacher obeys classroom hours and the semester calendar, for instance. An Amazon warehouse manager knows the number of customer orders that can be fulfilled in an hour.)

In education, we are forever talking about the need to help students develop their creativity. How they must learn to be more innovative (often used as a synonym for creativity) and entrepreneurial. Engage in problem solving, inquiry, and design thinking. All the “4 C’s” and “21st century skills” stuff.

We talk about all that but continue to run schools on “clock time”. Learning as a scheduled event. Science happens in this block of time. The project is due Friday (with penalties for submitting it late). The high-stakes test is next week, even if you need more time to understand. 

In many ways, most schools are run more like that Amazon warehouse than a place where creativity can thrive.

Just a thought.

What if: School as Hackathon

The mission of Hacking Arts at MIT is to “ignite entrepreneurship and innovation within the creative arts”. On one Saturday night (and way into the following Sunday), a large group of students came together to work in small groups on something that challenged their imagination. To create something new.

Spend five minutes to watch this film.

 

Now take that idea and expand it beyond one weekend and the creative arts.

This is a wonderful model for what K12 education could and should be. Instead of preparing for tests that don’t matter, what if students spent most of their time in school working on issues that really matter and about which they were passionate?

What if school was like a multi-year hackathon as described by the young woman at the end of the film: “That’s what hackathons are about, solving problems with your resources and the people around you.”?