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Developing Creativity

A week of creativity has enveloped me. This has been not so much about me creating some sort of unique product per se, but about thinking through and presenting about creativity as an essential 21st century skill. As I referred to in my last blog, a couple of other colleagues and I facilitate a series of PD workshops at my school called 7 Steps toward 21st Century Education. Step 5 of the 7 Steps focuses on creativity. In prepping for this we were a little stumped in how to approach it. We had seen Ken Robinson’s great video Do School’s Kill Creativity a few times each; we read Daniel Pink’s A Whole New Mind and Howard Gardner’s Five Minds for the Future, both of which heavily reference creativity as an essential part of the mind; we read other blogs and resources here and there. What we had difficulty with was how to approach and organize our 90 minutes for such a big important topic.

We thought about doing some activities that would produce some “creative” processes with the group, but we weren’t too thrilled about those ideas. We then came across another set of videos by Ken Robinson called “Creatively Speaking” Part 1 and Part 2 from a presentation he did at an Apple Leadership summit in 2008. After viewing these videos, we thought- why not let the guru himself speak to the group. So that became the beginning of our 90 minutes. We decided to precede the videos with an “into” thinking/brainstorm question- Think of a time you found your students being especially creative. What were the conditions that allowed that to happen? The conditions created for learning are so important to allow for creative processes. We thought it would be important for the group to think about their previous experiences before hearing what Sir Ken had to say.

In “Creatively Speaking,” Robinson refers to effectively designed curriculum, assessment, and pedagogy as the essential entities needed to promote more creative learning environments and conditions. With that idea, the rest of our session was framed. We elicited the assistance of our curriculum director (CD) to facilitate parts of these elements. Our school will be implementing a “Learning 21” framework that will incorporate Creativity and Innovation as one of the essential component to our learning environments. Our CD has a lot of knowledge about implementing a creativity environment and is in the process to putting together the vision and documentation for this at our school, so we thought it would be important for him to delineate where our school is heading with this component of learning.

My colleague also came across an excellent document online called Assessing Creativity: A Guide for Educators from the The National Research Center on the Gifted and Talented. This is a super long read (121 pages; don’t let the end of the executive summary think you are finished!), but has some great research and ideas regarding assessment of creativity. Assessment tends to be the most challenging part of facilitating an environment of creativity. This a great go-to document to help understand that process. We also referenced Apple Classroom of Tomorrow – Today (ACOT2) Culture of Innovation and Creativity site and the Route 21 site on Creativity and Innovation to help us flesh out the rest of our ideas.

Our 7 Steps PD usually has a technology integration slant to it, but technology wasn’t really referenced in this session. Why? The software and the Web 2.0 tools we’ve referenced throughout the previous Steps make it obvious how they can promote creativity. The group understood this without question. What’s important in this case of creativity is not so much the tool, but the environment in which creativity, as both an intellectual and artistic process, can thrive. Technology would just a means in the creative process.

The session went very well, and some very good discussions occured. I look forward to continuing the discussions on this issue. If you have thoughts, ideas, and/or experiences in facilitating more creative learning environments, I would love to hear your responses.

7 Steps Forward, Hopefully None Back

Providing professional development (PD) is one of the critical actions needed in order to transform our schools toward engaging, relevant, and authentic 21st century learning environments. Faculty and staff at all levels of schools need to provide, encourage, and attend PD opportunities of different types whenever they arise and fit their schedule. At the same time, learning how to use technology to create a dynamic personal learning network (PLN) is a very important process so that we can professionally develop ourselves. In order to facilitate these processes, professional development will need to come from all angles- top downAngles of PD, bottom up, grade level to grade level, subject teacher to subject teacher, and even student to faculty. Moreover, explicit support and dedication to the transformation process from administrators and school boards will be essential. In order to start the transformation at the International School of Beijing from a bottom up angle, I, along with two other Apple Distinguished Educators (Jeff Plaman and Rob Cormack) teamed up to create a multisession PD oppportunity called 7 Steps toward 21st Century Education.

The idea for the PD initially came about through a couple of conversations with our high school principal about facilitating a “23 Things” type of PD to introduce colleagues to the powerful world of Web 2.0. From there we continued the discussion among ourselves, eventually moving to collaborative planning meetings with the curriculum and PD directors at the school. In that process, we decided that the focus of 21st Century learning-related PD shouldn’t just focus on technology, but rather on the shifted focus in what needs to be learned this century and the reasons why we need to transform the way we educate our students today. Technology is an important means to the larger ends, but there are also other ways in which transformed learning environments can occur and achieve the goals without technology.  However, since the integration of technology does tend to be a weak point for many teachers at our school, we did decide to emphasize ways to integrate technology in the process of achieving the larger goals as part of the PD. In creating the Steps for this PD we largely referenced the new ISTE standards and the Route 21 framework. We also fused our own ideas based off of conversations between each other, like-minded educators in our own PLN’s, books like A Whole New Mind by Daniel Pink, and educational organizations like Edutopia .

The next question was how to deliver this PD. We thought about just doing it all online, but we realized this might limit the number of participants. We also came to the conclusion that having face-to-face (F2F) time is still important in PD today. So, we decided to create a hybrid learning environment for the course.  Along with face-to-face meetings that correspond with the Steps (plus an introductory F2F session), we created a Ning to be our online platform for asynchronous learning and interaction.

In order for our colleagues to get a sense of what a dynamic online personal learning network feels like, Jeff, Rob, and I encouraged people in our own PLNs to join the Ning before the F2F sessions began. The response was great! Bringing in outsiders into a single school’s PD offering was a departure from the usual in-house PD process. Technology, when used effectively in the classroom, can help blow out the walls of time and space in the learning process. With that idea in mind, we thought by allowing remote educators and experts to join our online PD environment, thus blowing out the walls of the school, it would make a much more dynamic learning experience for our colleagues.

Lastly, we are planning on bringing in some students during one of the Steps to facilitate a discussion or activity. Students can be a great source of insight and ideas in this shifting process. We can’t forget that they aren’t only the recipients of what we do as educators- they should be a partner in the process. And, we need to realize that it’s ok to give up control at times and let the students educate us.

Step 1- Different Education for a Different World
Step 2- The World is at Your Fingertips (Communication)
Step 3- There Is No “I” in We, World, & Success (Collaboration)
Step 4- Work and Learn Smarter, Not Harder (Information Fluency)
Step 5- Technology and a Whole Brain Approach (Creativity & Innovation)
Step 6- Cultivating Habits of the Mind (Critical Thinking & Problem Solving)
Step 7- Bringing It All Together

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