Helping our students become better scholars isn’t just about helping with homework or passing a class. It’s also about helping them learn how to understand the world and how to be better problem solvers. A great scholar is someone who understands different techniques and when to use them. Those who succeed are ones who have learned how to be creative to solve problems. However, creativity is not often emphasized in our learning environments. How can we integrate more creativity into our lives?
1) Engage in the arts. Whether it’s music, art/drawing, or theatre, being creative usually starts here. The arts engage different parts of the brain, and so they open up a different way of looking at things. Unfortunately, many public schools do not have the funding, and private lessons are often expensive. Have no fear. The internet has many resources. Meanwhile, even drawing on the sidewalk is a start.
An interesting anecdote: in my experience, the students who were more artistically inclined have been the ones who understood geometry better.
2) Playing is learning!Be it organized sports or just plain old playing in the sand, playing teaches creativity. Running carefree in the backyard or park is great too. The freedom in playing gives students the opportunity to let their minds wander, which often leads to more creative, “outside the box” thoughts. Adults should try it too!
3) Use metaphors. Metaphors link different items using a creatively-perceived similarity. They show our brains the connections between different things. One of my colleagues, an English and Creative Writing teacher in central Los Angeles, challenged his students to a metaphor-writing contest. While it was no surprise that the students came up with brilliant pieces, the pleasant surprise was the students’ enthusiasm to show their creative sides. It goes to show that even in gritty central L.A., creativity abounds and wants to be heard.
4) Experiment. Children are natural, instinctual experimenters. What do you think playing is? They test their boundaries and abilities every day as they grow. Creativity is the secret to excelling in scientific fields. Encourage their curiosity and creativity by showing them how their questions about the world (“why is the sky blue?”) are science experiments waiting to happen. The Gravity Design Challenge(contest winner announced on Oct 1, 2013) at Curiosity Machine is one such creative-thought-experiment. After all, a scientist is just someone with a creative question to solve.
5) Understand pictures, charts, graphs, tables, maps, etc. These graphics engage the artistic/creative parts of the brain, so learning how to understand them is a great way to integrate creativity. In addition, interpreting data teaches how to assess the chaos of information every day. Textbooks often use charts and pictures to explain their topics. Being able to understand a graphic gives the student an additional way of learning (and remembering!) the material.
Cultivating a good scholar is an ongoing, daily mission. As a tutor, I only have 1-2 hours each week to work on this, so most of the work needs to be done in the home. However, providing the right environment for learning can be a difficult task in a large or loud household. Sometimes, there’s never a “right moment” to start something. Do it anyway, and do it together. The family that learns together, grows together. Being creative can change how you see and approach everything.