My eighth grade students are designing eco-friendly homes. Using their netbooks, they’ve done research, created a blog, contacted certain contractors and worked on the sketches. Mathematically, they find the volume and surface area to help figure out the cost to cool and heat it (many groups built their homes underground). Nothing innovative, I realize. However, it is a project that hits every subject and every modality.
Through this process, I have watched a few paradoxes regarding creativity:
- Students are most creative when they aren’t trying to be creative. My students had a very distinct, meaningful goal: create an eco-friendly home. I didn’t say, “Hey kiddos, I want you to be creative. It’s on the rubric.”
- Creativity requires them to abstractly “live in the mind” while also being keenly observant of the physical reality around them. So, I watched a group mix foam and paint to make the fake water and old pieces of styrofoam to become their plants. Meanwhile, another group creates trees by bending old paper.
- Creativity requires students to be both rigid and flexible. The students learn to plan ahead, developing floor plans, doing research, asking questions in a very fixed format. Then, they learn to seize opportunities, change course and embrace spontaneity.
- Students have to be analytical to be creative. Problem-solving involves this strange dance of composing and destroying (Rites of Spring, anyone?) that ultimately leads to a synthesis.
- Limitations help lead to creativity. By telling my students that there are things they can’t do, it forces them to find solutions for what they can do (limiting cubic feet, carbon emissions, cubic feet, requiring recycled materials on the “real house” and the model they create)
Creativity is becoming a buzzword in education circles. From Daniel Pink fans to those who wax eloquently about the New Economy to unschoolers and home schoolers and reformers that recognize how the lack of creativity has dehumanized children. Yet, in doing a simple project with students, I am seeing how creativity is often forged through mystery, held in tension through paradox and unleashed at the most unexpected times.