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Posts Tagged ‘innovation’

Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi, who proposes that creativity is a cognitive state of flow, where the challenges of a task are balanced with the skill level of the individual.

Any human characteristic must be complex, given the many differences between people including their opinions, experiences, and mental abilities. Creativity is one such concept; an idea that everyone understands but that no one can agree on. We know that it exists and is widely distributed, but we cannt agree on what it actually is. I have been crawling down this rabbit hole for my entire professional life and especially this last year as I have begun a doctoral program in Innovation and Education Reform at the University of Northern Colorado. In my last post, I tried to lay out all the concepts related to creativity and innovation in order to systematically explore them over the four years of my doctorate (and beyond). The first concept that needs tackling is to develop a working definition of creativity, then move on to a definition of innovation.

Personal Destinies by David L. Norton. Not the easiest book to read, it discusses a philosophy of eudaimonism, or the development of the individual’s full potential, something that resonates with me as an educator.

For my first semester EDF 670 course, I was required to complete a detailed doctorate-level literature review. I delved deeply into the research on creativity, going all the way back to a Creativity course I took in college back in 1982. The leading definition then was that creativity was a process for solving problems using a rational sequence of steps (more akin to the current definition of the engineering design process). In a political philosophy course during my masters degree program, I was required to read Personal Destinies: A Philosophy of Ethical Individualism by David L. Norton (1976, Princeton University Press). He used a Greek conception of creativity as an inner trait or drive (called the daimon) that must be expressed for an individual to become themself, the second great Socratic imperative. Everyone has individual talents or gifts that can be developed; these talents are commensurable, in that our society consists of many different people whose talents compliment each other. Further research has identified other definitions for creativity, such as a great deal of research I did on creativity as flow, a mental state where skills balance challenge as proposed by Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi.

While preparing for this blog post two weeks ago, I researched websites that attempted to define creativity, thinking that I might find some alternative explanations beyond what was in the literature. I came across a website from Dr. Donna Hardy at Cal State Northridge who taught a course in the Psychology of Creativity (Psych 344/444) from 1997 through 2010 and asked her students to provide their own definitions of creativity, which were posted on the site at: (http://www.csun.edu/~vcpsy00h/creativity/survey.htm).

I have downloaded these definitions and analyzed them to develop an expanded list of possible approaches to creativity, including those I had already identified from my literature review. This resulted in a list of nine possible definitions. With these in hand, I went back through the student survey and tallied which categories their definitions fit into. In some cases the choice was obvious, but in others the definitions fit into more than one category, so I gave them multiple tallies. It was an admittedly subjective process, and the definitions are not mutually exclusive and possibly not comprehensive. There could still be other definitions that I have not considered. There were some students who refused to define creativity or said it was undefinable, used a tautology to define it (such as “creativity is the act of being creative”), or said that it was different for every person. I created a category 0 for these non-definitions. Altogether 548 students wrote their own definitions, of which I recored 748 tallies.

The nine definitions I came up with are as follows:

Categories of creativity definitions:

0. Undefinable, or refused to define, or said that it has a different definition for each person

  1. An innate personality trait, skill, talent, drive, need, passion, daimon, muse, or genius. There exists a commensurability of talents where each person has a different set of gifts. It is a human characteristic that cannot be taught, but it can be enhanced, encouraged, or diminished.
  2. constellation of cognitive or mental skills that can be taught, practiced, and improved.
  3. A mode of thought or frame of mind that is autotelic (self-rewarding) including imagination, exploration, conceptualization, appreciation of beauty, spirituality, visualization, and flow (when there is a balance of skills and challenge).
  4. A process or series of steps that can be rationally and sequentially followed and which is informed by experience and intellect. The problem-solving process.
  5. A moment of insight, clarity, or inspiration – the “Ah hah!” moment. This usually follows a period of incubation.
  6. Ideation or fluency with generating many new and unique ideas through synthesis and the creation of greater complexity. Brainstorming; conceiving that which does not yet exist or making something from nothing.
  7. Thinking outside the box, open-mindedness, breaking boundaries, originality, divergent or unconventional thinking, mental challenge, and conceptual blockbusting. Seeing things in a new way.
  8. Persistence and resourcefulness in bringing a final useful, socially valuable, or aesthetically pleasing tangible product from conception to fruition; innovation.
  9. Self-expression, artistic expression, individuality; one’s personality or feelings and emotions made manifest which resonates with the emotions of others. An outlet for the soul; self-discovery, empowerment, fun, and play.

These definitions are a work in progress, and I will continue to tweak them until I am satisfied they are good enough to start doing some serious research with. I would like to do a survey through both of my blog sites and of teachers I know. There is still a lot of overlap between some of the categories. I think putting them all together, I am approaching a fairly comprehensive definition of such a complex human characteristic, but I haven’t quite arrived yet.

After tallying the categories, the results are shown in the table below:

Screen capture from a spreadsheet used to tally definitions of creativity.

The most commonly held definition of creativity by the college students in the Psych 344/444 class was that creativity is self-expression or artistry, an outlet for feelings, emotions, and personality. It is individuality, self-discovery, empowerment, fun, and play. 28.07% of the students wrote some variation on this definition. It may be too broad of a category and in need of subdividing; it is too tempting to use it as a “grab bag” for all definitions that don’t fit elsewhere. The next most common definition was that creativity is open-mindedness, thinking outside the box, unconventionality, and divergent thinking with 19.52%. The third most common definition was that creativity is the act of ideation or the development of new and unique ideas through brainstorming, synthesis, and greater complexity (complexification?) with 15.37%.

A pie chart of the percentages of each category of definitions of creativity used by students in the Psych 344 class at Cal State Northridge from 1997 to 2010.

Other definitions were not as common, with some showing only a low percentage of usage, the lowest being Definition 5, where creativity is the moment of insight, inspiration, or sudden clarity at 2.14%. Although this is the least common category, I included it because there are a number of well-documented cases in the literature of moments of insight following long incubation, such as the famous example of the discovery of the structure of benzene by August Kekule.

There was no demographic information provided other than the students’ names. Cal State Northridge is in an ethnically diverse part of northern San Fernando Valley, and the students’ names suggest that their classes are also ethnically diverse, as do the photographs provided of student projects. I do not know if the Northridge students have provided significantly different definitions than students at other universities would. I tallied the various semester classes in two groups; the first 12 semesters from 1997 through 2003 and the final 11 semesters from 2004 through 2010. For most of the categories the results are not significantly different, but there is a slight increase in defining creativity as self-expression and a decrease in defining it as an act of imagination. I have not tried to calculate standard deviations or do any sophisticated Chi-squared or other tests. The subjective nature of my categories is not scientific enough to warrant that kind of analysis. I simply wanted to develop definitions that could be used for further studies that will be more statistically valid. I am thinking ahead to my dissertation, which will center around the need for and practices of teaching creativity in science classrooms.

I will try to unpack the details of each definition and give some backup literature in my next post. Eventually, the core of what I am writing and speculating on here will find its way into Chapter 2 of my dissertation. I still have a long way to go, but this is a necessary first step. I hope you don’t mind my taking you along with me.

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aai-video-frameIn my last post, I said goodbye to Walden School of Liberal Arts after teaching there for six eventful years. My original plan was to spend a year in Washington, D.C. as an Einstein Fellow, but despite making it to the final round, I was not chosen. My Plan B was to go back to school for a PhD, but even though I was accepted to the STEM Education program at the University of Kentucky, I deferred for at least a year so that I could earn up more money for the move. I interviewed at four schools and received two offers, and accepted the offer at American Academy of Innovation.

aai-charter-school-rendering-s

Illustration of American Academy of Innovation

It is a brand new charter school with a mission for project-based learning, stem education, and international partnerships. They started building it in January and the contractors were still putting in finishing touches as we met for the first time as a faculty on August 15, 2016. Our Director is Scott Jones, who has a great deal of experience directing and working in charter school environments. The teachers have been hired from all around, some from Texas, the East and West Coasts, and several from Utah, Idaho, and Alaska. It appears to be a highly creative group of teachers.

aai-innovation-orange

Innovation Orange: American Academy of Innovation on my first day there.

We took a tour of the building and saw what it will look like in the next two weeks – except for my science room. It hasn’t been finished, partly because of last minute changes to the water and gas lines, partly so that they can get my input. I have since designed the lab, with four student stations, a fume hood and teacher demo desk, and lots of cupboards for storage. As I am writing this (November 14, 2016), the contractors are building in the lab stations – hooray! – and I am teaching out of the library.

faculty-touring-school

Faculty of American Academy of Innovation touring the school; August 2016.

For our first two weeks we met as faculty to prepare and plan. We revised the school’s vision and mission statements. Here are the new ones:

The Vision of American Academy of Innovation is to empower the individual mind to improve the world.

Our mission statement:innovation-defl-a

The American Academy of Innovation combines academic fundamentals; career, technology, and 21st Century skills with international and community partnerships through project-based learning to ignite an innovative mindset within the individual and society.

I most like that our overall goals are to ignite an innovative mindset and to empower the individual to improve the world. I have attended many educator conference sessions on Problem-Based Learning (PBL), so I volunteered to share what I’ve learned with the rest of the faculty and to go through the eight characteristics of PBL, working through a potential large-scale problem as an example. I chose an expedition to Mars (which I’ve used as an example all summer at meetings for potential parents and students). Other teachers volunteered to share their expertise, so we trained each other. Scott also brought in some experts from other charter schools to talk about how we will implement special education and organizational culture. We took time to plan out what our first few days would be like as we started training our new students toward project/problem-based learning.

aai-lobby-august-2016

Lobby of American Academy of Innovation; August 2016. We still had much work to do putting together tables, chairs, desks, and filing cabinets.

In addition to holding daily meetings, we helped to put together chairs, desks, filing cabinets, and other furniture. Parents and students came in to help, and by the time the first two weeks were over, the school was shaping up and ready for occupancy.

first-day-of-school

AAI students meeting in our gym for introductions on the first day of school; August 31, 2016.

On August 29, we held our first day with students at the school. These first two days were to be an orientation to get the students excited about being here and help them get to know us and each other. Some had come from neighborhood schools and knew each other before, but some had come from charter schools or homeschooling. We met in our new gymnasium, and discovered immediately that the acoustics in there are terrible. It is basically a hollow concrete shell, so sound bounces all over the place and the small portable PA system wasn’t up to the job. After introducing the staff, we divided the students into groups and had them rotate through four sessions each day for the first two days.

marble-roll-1

Marble rolling group activity. Students use the pool noodles as channels to roll marbles from a starting line into a bucket. It takes teamwork and problem-solving skills.

My groups were about problem solving. Our first day I did the activity of using swimming noodles cut in half to roll marbles from a starting point into a bucket. As the noodles were short, they had to develop teamwork to move the marble along without dropping it. It was interesting to see leadership beginning to emerge from some of the students. Most of the small groups were eventually successful. It was a lot of fun.

marble-roll-2

Rolling marbles into a bucket as a group problem-solving activity.

Our second day, I ran an activity to make a simple paper helicopter based on Da Vinci’s helix machine. Students were asked to use inquiry to vary the shape of the basic helicopter and try different things. After experimenting and testing in a classroom, I had them drop the helicopters off our balcony in the main lobby and tried to photograph and videotape the results.

helicopter-drop

Testing our paper helicopters. What you get depends on what you’re testing.

Other groups toured the school, took polls for what our new mascot and school colors would be, and many other things. Overall I think we managed to convey a sense of excitement, innovation, and inquiry to the students.

making-marbled-paper

Making marbled paper. Oil paints are diluted with mineral spirits, then dropped into a metal pan with an inch of water in them. The oil/spirits mixture floats on top and can be lifted off by lying a piece of sketch paper on top.

On Wednesday, August 31 we held our first regular classes. We have four periods per day on an A-B schedule; each class is 90 minutes long. I’m used to 70 minutes, so I have to pace myself. Our school day starts at 8:30 and ends at 3:30 with 50-minute lunches, so it is a longer day than I’m used to. My schedule for A days is to teach 3D Modeling during first period to about 25 students (good numbers – I’ve been talking this up all summer). We didn’t have computers to work with at first, so I had to do preparatory things such as going through Drawing on the Right Side of the Brain activities and teaching orthographic and perspective drawing skills. Second period I have STEAM it Up, with only eight students (students didn’t quite understand what this class would be about, but that’s OK – a smaller group will be more mobile and experimental). My third period class is chemistry, again a challenge to begin with since I had an empty room and no sinks or lab stations. I started with six demonstrations using household chemicals and had them make observations. I had 12 students but this has grown to 16. My 4th period class is 8th Grade Science to about 20 students. I decided since the new SEEd standards are being implemented fully next year, we might as well implement them now at AAI. We created marbled paper on the first day.

astro-levels-activity

Astronomy activity to determine the correct order of levels of magnitude in the universe. It starts with multiverse at the top and ends at quarks at the bottom.

On B days (Tuesdays, Thursdays, and alternating Fridays) I have the following schedule: First period (B1) is astronomy to 7-8 grades. I began with my scale of the universe activity to arrange strips of paper in the right order from largest to smallest scale. This helps me see what they already know visually while providing a setting for the class. Second period is Innovation Design, basically my MYP Design class again for 7-8 grade students. We began with the bridge building activity that I modified from Wendi Lawrence’s spaghetti tower design challenge. Even with 90-minute classes, the student groups didn’t get as far as I would have liked, with only one truly successful group. I can see we have some work here, partly because the students don’t know each other and aren’t used to working together. My B3 class is 8th grade science again, and then I had a prep period B4.

the-big-sit-down

The big sit down: all our students lined up, then sat down using the student behind as a chair. I kind of worked . . .

Part way into September, one of our teachers, who is from China, found out he had a conflict with his Visa (he had not renewed it), and so was unable to work for the rest of the semester. We found substitute math teachers for his math classes, but no one to fill in for his two computer science classes. I volunteered to give up my prep on B4 to teach the computer science class. It has been a challenge teaching straight through every day without a prep period, especially trying to stay up on grades. Because of our lack of computers, we had to have the students pair up. He started with Scratch, so I was able to transition the students over to my own way of doing things without totally replacing his structure. I also want to implement using AppLab after Scratch, then move on to Python.

building-bridges

Bridge building design challenge for my Innovation Design class. They must span 12 inches and make a bridge strong enough for a Matchbox car to be pushed across. They are given 30 pieces of spaghetti, 10 small gumdrops, and one sheet of paper.

When you add to this that I now have a 45-minute one way commute it can be exhausting. Much of my after school time has been spent in weekly faculty meetings or designing my science lab or putting together the order for initial equipment, lab supplies, and chemicals. We purchased 27 Dell laptop computers, so I’ve also needed to spend time getting software installed including Daz3D Bryce, Stellarium, Gimp, Sculptris, Blender, and others as well as getting the 3D printer up and running. I come home and crash each evening. But slowly, day-by-day, we are making progress and the students are beginning to develop 21st Century skills for collaboration, communication, and creativity. It was a rocky start, but we are almost ready to implement the Big Project.

pouring-sidewalk

Our school was still under construction during the teacher planning weeks in August, but by the time students started we were ready. Except for my science lab, which was completed in November.

We identified four possible Big Projects as a faculty and had the students vote on which one they preferred. My descriptions were as neutral as possible because I didn’t want to be accused of influencing the vote. Except, of course, I may have sweetened the well by using an example of a Mars expedition during our summer meetings. The vote was to do a Mars expedition or Mars exploration theme for our project. I will report on this more in my http://Spacedoutclassroom.com blog.

science-room-august-2016

My science lab at the beginning of the school year. A white board and projector, but that’s about all. It looks much nicer now!

I’ve never worked so hard, and my health is probably suffering as a result. I’m not as young as I once was, and some days I truly feel it, but it has been an incredible ride so far. Over Winter Break I will be reporting on all that we have done in my classes on my two blog sites, so stay tuned.

right-side-of-brain

My 3D students on the first day of school. By this time we had chairs, but no tables or desks. So we handed out clipboards to each student. Here they are doing an drawing lesson where they turn a photograph upside down and draw what they see instead of drawing a face. They do a better job this way.

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