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Kathy Benson: Creativity in the Technology Integrated Classroom

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January 09, 2012 05:19 pm

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The following article is provided by Kathy Benson, a member of the Digital Learning Day Educator Working Group. Contact Kathy Benson at kbenson@bcps.org or visit her blog.

This fall I gave a presentation at a local conference with a teacher from my school (Alex Clough).  The topic of the conference was Creativity with Gifted and Talented Students.  We thought that connecting this theme with technology integration would be a good fit.  We had been involved in implementing some pertinent student projects and thought we could explore this idea in further depth before we gave the presentation.  This blog post is about the lessons we learned along the way and how you can benefit from our experiences in your teaching. Our experiences were with 3rd-5th grade students but the lessons we learned can be extrapolated for any age student.. Interestingly enough, our approaches worked for all students (not just the gifted ones).

As luck would have it, the keynote speaker of the conference was Brian Housand, Ph.D East Carolina University and we previewed some of his other presentations online. His perspective reinforced what we instinctively felt.  We felt this quote of his was particularly poignant “If your students can Google the answer to your questions, then perhaps you are asking the wrong questions.”

In today’s schools, standardized testing and accountability have resulted in less emphasis on creativity.  On Torrance’s tests of creativity, Kindergarteners perform better than their older school mates with the trend getting worse the longer students are in school.  This is particularly distressing given that in an increasingly global world, more jobs are being outsourced from the US to other countries where they can be done more cheaply.  The jobs which are projected to remain in the US will require greater 21st Century skills (especially creativity).

At V incent Farm Elementary School, where Alex and I both work, our mission is:

Vincent Farm Elementary School will cultivate active, innovative, and strategic thinkers.  We will foster an environment that enables students to be creative, productive problem-solvers and successful individuals. We will achieve these ideals through a partnership with families and the community, where a free exchange of ideas is encouraged.  We will provide a safe environment with respectful and responsible members where diversity is valued.  We will meet high academic and social expectations through effective teaching and the use of technology that will inspire and engage students.

In other words, we are expressly focused on developing creative and critical thinking in conjunction with mastering rigorous content across all disciplines.

In order to enhance the creativity of our students, we explored what the word creativity meant.  For our purposes, we decided to use J.P. Guilford’s four dimensions of divergent thinking (Fluency, Flexibility, Originality, and Elaboration).  Fluency entails generating numerous ideas to work with.  Flexibility entails the ability to go in different directions or view an issue from different perspectives. Originality entails being about create things that are unique or never before made.  Elaboration entails adding on or modifying existing things to make them better and bringing the result to fruition. When creating activities for students, these four dimensions (FFOE) work individually or in combination.  Often multiple dimensions naturally fit together in synergy.

We found many techniques that could be taught to promote the four dimensions of creativity. Although this list is overwhelming, there is no need to teach them all.  We scanned the list and focused on a limited number of them one at a time. Many of techniques overlap as shown in the following mind map.

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We realized that we were really already using some of these techniques within our existing lessons.  We started drawing attention to them and naming them with corresponding vocabulary.  It was significant to note that teaching creativity didn’t need to be another additional curricular demand, but rather a way to better implement the content we were already teaching anyway.

We also found a wealth of existing technology tools which fit well with instruction to promote creativity.   See an index of Web 2.0 tools and the Grow Creatively article from ISTE.  We found that we just needed to pair an appropriate creativity technique with an appropriate tool.  For example, fluency can be taught through brainstorming using a virtual graphic organizer application such as Wall Wisher or  Kidspiration (see student examples below).

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We created a table of some of our instructional activities (i.e., matches between a curricular purpose, creativity technique, measure of depth & complexity, and technology tool.)  You will find these matches in the attached Microsoft Excel spreadsheet file.

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In collaboration with our school’s art teacher, Stewart Emmerich, we discovered an important planning guideline. For the instruction to be effective, we also needed to provide sufficient freedom within an appropriate level of structure. This may initially seem counter intuitive (i.e., you might think structuring the projects would limit creativity).  In reality, the best results happen with some clearly articulated parameters with enough wiggle room to allow for a broad variety of products.  For example, when our students created a rap video, students benefited from breaking the project into steps and having freedom to be creative within each step.

Repeatedly, our students astounded us with their creativity.  They enjoyed using technology and being creative with it.  We also really enjoyed teaching these activities.  We initially focused on gifted and talented students, but we quickly learned that with some modification our approaches worked well with all students.  If you’d like to view our slideshow from our presentation, click here .

Our journey is not yet done.  We continue to explore how to promote creativity with technology tools.  My best advice would be to start small and just build a little bit at a time.  Your students and you will like it.  To quote Nike commercials – “Just do it!”.

I look forward to your comments and lessons learned.  Feel free to post your thoughts or describe some of your technology integration activities which promote creativity . The results of this survey are available here.

The Digital Learning Day Educator’s Working Group provides leadership on the Digital Learning Day toolkits and outreach development for teachers and administrators across the country. Read other blog posts from the Digital Learning Day Educator Working Group. Learn more about Digital Learning Day at http://www.digitallearningday.org.

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