By Courtney Dickinson
How do we help students develop capacities of creativity and divergent thinking in ways that are woven throughout the whole school day and synch up with acquisition of essential skills and knowledge?
This is a question a group of 30+ educators from Brazil asked us yesterday in their tour and observations at Acera. Brazilian educators seek to dramatically reform education in their country, and Acera is the one school that ministers of education and teachers have visited while in the United States. Hosting visits like these are part of our AceraEI public school outreach efforts.
The September visit was part of an ongoing collaboration between The Brazilian Creative Learning Network (BCLN) and MIT Media Lab. This is the sixth year that educators from outside the U.S. have come to Acera to observe and be inspired about new practices they can adopt.
What principles and practices did we share with them? How can creativity come alive in kids at school, rather than just waiting for enrichment after school?
- Re-envision the role of the teacher away from being the “knowledge giver” and into a facilitator of discovery who focuses on asking and enabling kids to ask good questions. Foster an authentic climate of inquiry to unlock curiosity and engagement.
- Turn the learning approach inside out. Instead of reading a book about the topic, answering some questions about what was covered, and taking a test, Acera teachers create classroom experiences in which kids are active in their learning. They make projects and engage in simulations and dialogues which bring ideas to life. This leads to deeper understanding and better long term retention.
- Design learning around essential questions (both planned by a teacher and also solicited from the students!) that relate to a shared theme which matters to kids. The best questions do not have a “right” answer … examples from Acera include things like “What does it mean to be human?” “What is the meaning of life?” or “What makes a community?”
- Instead of focusing on a test as “proof” of learning, enable culminating events as a chance for kids to share and showcase what they have come to understand. At Acera, this takes the form of student showcases at the end of units, at Museum Walks to share Creativity Station projects, and at IMPPosium events (see video below) to share Passion Projects.
- Offer design projects that are open ended (build a maze, design a game, write a song) rather than assignments with a “correct” way to be completed. This requires convergent thinking, leaving room for trial and error and providing inventive extensions which can keep growing as kids’ curiosity and teachers’ coaching sustains their acquisition of essential skills and key knowledge.
- Leverage a “constructivist” approach. Once students are engaged in an experiment or project, teachers provide coaching as skills and information is needed. This can happen one-on-one, in small groups, or as a whole class.
The learning that comes out of experiences designed to grow creativity come from kids who have been able to express their curiosity. This learning develops students’ divergent thinking and problem solving skills. This puts them on a road of self confidence to believe that they can figure things out and make a positive difference.