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Brain, Education, and Inquiry - Fall, 2010: Session 11A

Paul Grobstein's picture

Brain, Education, and Inquiry

Bryn Mawr College, Fall 2010

Session 11A

Facilitated simonec, kwarlizzzie, eledford

The importance of creativity in the classroom


  • Torrance Test of Creative Thinking ( work on during presentation) 
  • What did you want to be when you were growing up? what do you want to be/ what are you working towards now? what changed?
  • Do you consider yourself "well - educated"? 
  How many years did you take dance? ( show of hands)
  Can you swim?
  Can you read music?
  Did you take painting and drawing? ( How many years?)
  Did you take drama classes? 
  • Show/ explain
4:07 - 6:30, 8:30 - 10:40, 14:55 - 17:0
start - end of fireman story
  • Response / discussion




Your continuing thoughts about this and its relation to the classroom in the forum below ....





LinKai_Jiang's picture

Disciplined Creativity

True creativity requires discipline. It is a misconception to think of creativity as doing whatever one fancies in whatever manner one desires and for however long on desires. Indeed a central ingredient in creativity is the space to make mistakes and experiment. But the experiments that are worthy of praise come with certain intellectual rigor (intelligence broadly defined, think of the multiple intelligence theory). If one picks up a brush and doodle a few lines on the paper, that might very well fall within the realm of creativity. But if those lines are not developed further then I will not see the effort as truly creative, despite the presence of spontaneity and free expression that we frequently associate with creativity. Let's say one comes back every so often to add to the doodle, making thoughts(again broadly defined) shown. Eventually, what started as an impressive doodle might turn into a rich expression of one's thoughts. 

I seem to imply that one needs to be good at something in order to be creative. Otherwise how else are we to judgment whether something is a genuine expression of one's creativity? It is often true that sustained creativity produce good result but it need not be "good" in the eyes of everybody. I relegate much of the decision to the subjective judgment of the creator: are you living up the standard you set for yourself? This seems flaky and an unstable ground even for subjective judgment. But practically, most people know and can feel quite sensitively whether they have made the adequate effort to create something truly satisfactory. In fact, creative people are often more critical to themselves than other people would be.      








Angela DiGioia's picture

Is there a role for Genetics?

Sorry that this is just getting up here.  Somehow my original post was lost...

This Thanksgiving break, I was given the opportunity to reflect on what my experience was in encouraging creativity in the class room (and out) while I was growing up.  I thought that I engaged in a good amount of art-related activities, cooking, sewing, etc that would indicate the my creativity was fostered yet, I never felt that I was particularly good at any of them, with the exception of cooking.  I looked at my sisters' education for similarities and differences and found that we were all the same type of mediocre at exhibiting our artistic abilities. with the exception of cooking.  Over the break, I looked at many of my young cousins (most of whom are under the age of 10) to see how their creative abilities exhibited themselves while we were interacting in the kitchen, playing card games, and even just sitting around and talking.  What was striking to me was that, although each of them were more or less brought up in the same familial environment and went to the same schools, some of their artistic talents were markedly different.  For example, three of the particularly young cousins wanted ice cream on Thanksgiving evening (because they obviously had not had enough sugar already!) and I decided to indulge them with chocolate syrup and an assortment of colored sprinkles.  One of them just dumped both onto his ice cream while the other two methodically layered specific colors on top of each other to make a certain design or picture.  Although their creative displays were quickly devoured, it struck me that genetics ought to play some sort of role in predisposition or inherent creative ability of children.  How, I am not exactly sure, but it does make sense to me that if your parents are innately creative and have spent time honing these skills over time, that their child would inherit their interest in the arts and creativity (at the very least) as well as a predisposition to being skilled at them.  This child would benefit in an educational environment which fostered this creativity and, more so, would benefit from growing up in a household where creative activities are continuously available.  Just like me and cooking or an athlete playing their sport, practice makes perfect.  Although there is perhaps a genetic predisposition for being more a creative thinker, without practicing and honing this skill, it would deteriorate and go unexercised in practice.

skindeep's picture

incorporating the arts into science

reading what everyone says and thinking about what creativity is and ways in which it can be implemented makes me wonder..

for thanksgiving, i visited a friend of mine who studies in boston. he goes to a business school in boston and studies finance, economics and the stock market - all things which he is very passionate about and loves. thing is, as good as he is with things related to business, he lacks or has stubbed any ounce of creativity he once had. he has never been a good artist, isn't fond of the arts or literature or anything related to it - he says he doesn't understand it, that it doesn't make any sense to him, but, if asked to choreograph a dance, or organize an event, he jumps right into it, that he can do very well.

and that makes me question things - can't creativity be incorporated into all areas of study? can't a science class be creative? in high school, my friends business teacher made them design things, do projects, engage people in their products and find new ways to market things - and he loved all of this. it made him become more passionate about what he wanted to study. and the manner in which she structured the class made it possible for dry economic theories to become interesting, for matter that students didn't care about to become the base of what they did, and so they were able to effectively learn and remember the tools they needed to give exams and tests.

can't this be done in a science class? or a literature class? after all, a science inclined student knows how to analyze data, they know how to observe reactions and measure things - these skills can be used to look at novels, they can be used to analyze a picture. creativity doesn't have to be drawing something or acting or dancing, it can be learning how to do things in a different way, it can be looking at things from your perspective and doing so in a manner that sheds light on the subject matter from a new angle.

this is not to say that the arts shouldn't exist, by all means, they hold a very important part in the education system, or, they should. but that doesn't mean that they have to be their own individual sect, bringing the arts into subject matter outside their realm teach people effective people skills, or, they can.

ellenv's picture

 I think part of the reason

 I think part of the reason why schools might not include/emphasize the creative subjects is that the benefits of these subjects are not immediately obvious and are a lot harder to assess. While it is possible to create tests in math and science and create labs which allow students to show off their knowledge in those subjects, it is a lot harder to do the same for classes that focus more on creativity. It isnt that these classes arent important, in fact im pretty sure I benefitted a lot more from the classes that emphasized creativity than a lot of my classes that focused on traditional subjects. Because the school system follows a rigid timeline and there is an ultimate knowledge goal (measured in terms of state assessments etc.) that has to be reached at the end of this time period, there isnt as much room as there should be for creative classes that might not adhere to this structure. Sure, PE classes might be required up to a point and during those PE classes we had assessment of our physical abilities, but most people I know saw PE as a time to goof off and I think that is a good thing. If schools tried to turn PE into structured school environments, I think they would be eliminating the only really consistent creative outlet that exists in most schools. That being said, I do think there is a lot of room for creativity in "traditional" subjects. Critical thinking is a creative process as it forces students to look at a problem and texts from multiple points of view and see when and where these points of view are important/related to the problem at hand. Perhaps before we begin creating additional creativity requirements in schools, we need to figure out how to bring creativity into the classes that are already being taught. art in math class? dance/physical education in history? 

simonec's picture

Thank you everyone for

Thank you everyone for responding – sorry I could not participate sooner – just got back to school and my computer!


I agree with what is being said about the gaps in Robinson’s argument when it come to the practice of the theory. I also appreciate the concern that if we were all encouraged to be artists, where would potentially be no one to do the jobs that require long study and practice (eg doctor/ nurses).  I think that epeck’s question of whose responsibility is it to creatively educate children is at the heart of the debate: I interpret Robinson’s argument as approaching this problem by in turn asking what is it about maths or sciences that is more appropriate to be taught in school? Finnwig argues that school does encourage bodily-education – and while I do maintain my vivid memories of middle school gym, even my gym teachers approached it as a place fro some the excel and other s to just kinda get though – it was the class that was ok to skip if you were sick. It is there – but no one ever told me that learning to play soccer would help me learn social skills, and even special understanding that would help me in high school geometry.


I am a bit of a hippie – but I honestly do not believe that everyone has some inner-artist that they secretly want to become. I don’t think that encouraging the arts would necessarily produce a significantly higher number of professional artists, rather more creatively-minded people in every field. The same way that a basis in physics in important in dancing, dance experience can inform medicine (and so on).


eledford's picture

From A to B?

Thank you for your comments, both in class and on the forum so far! Discussion has been rich and interesting.


Professor, the RSA Animate was such a neat addition to the videos we have experienced in discussion, many thanks. I want to mention a few important things that I drew from it concerning ADHD for further thought. First, it is crucial to understand that out of our culture has sprung this modern epidemic of ADHD. The idea that Robinson presents in the video is that children are being over-medicated in the most intellectually stimulating time ever on planet earth, especially as one moves toward the east in the US (known for vigorous schooling) and as standardized testing increases. In a sense, kids are penalized for being "distracted" or perhaps another way of looking at it is for disrupting conformity/structure (recall our discussions on what is structure and do we need it?). Learning should be aesthetic, in that, all of the senses are awakened and operating at their full peak (when we are fully alive!); medicating kids turns this off, creating an unaesthetic experience, putting the senses to sleep. Does this really make sense? This is obviously a HUGE problem and one that cannot be ameliorated by the school system - I guess this is what you were saying when you projected that we cannot really change education without changing culture. Our culture is stuck in this mindset that all too often disallows aesthetic experience as well as divergent thinking, another point in the video. Divergent thinking is described as being able to see lots of possible answers to a question, a crucial aspect to creativity. Spending all of this time in school being told that "there is one answer, it's in the back, but don't look - and if you do, don't copy for that is cheating" deteriorates our minds. Finally, Ken Robinson points out that our batch-system of education is focused on the age factor. But what makes age so important? I've never even thought of that before! The only excuse I can come up with is maturity level. For example, my nephew is in first grade, and sometimes he deliberately does not do his work, even though he has the ability to do so; he finds his work boring because it's too easy... being assigned addition when he can multiply and divide and what not- he has tested into higher levels, yet many (his school and some in my family) do not want him to skip grade/s because they are worried about his maturity level (yes, he's talking ALL THE TIME and constantly jumps from one thing to the next in conversation)- thinking about this, I am wondering if maturity level is being mistaken for creativity or even awakened senses (aesthetic learning)? In Frost-terms, he takes the road less traveled in every sense... and often he is asked to calm down and obey.

As much as I am fascinated by Robinson - you're right - he doesn't provide solutions on how to get from A to B. But maybe by eliminating batch education based on age is an interesting place to start. Another curious possibility to explore would be to merge classes together (why do we have so many separate subjects?). One great example of this is a class I am taking, merging English and Ecology, called Native Land, American Literature.  There is a beauty in cross-listed classes, especially when they are in fields one would normally assume to be not related.

kgould, I definitely think our material plays into your kaleidoscope presentation, in that we can learn different ways individually - activating the senses - one thing we should explore is that senses are activated differently for everyone. It would be interesting to look at how we suppress/express certain ones and if it is based on personal prerogatives or education?






Paul Grobstein's picture

ideal education in theory? in practice?

Will have the little dancing girl and the implications of that story on my mind for a long time to come.  The the same time, Jed pointed out, and I think I agree, that Robinson suggests and important critique and direction but is a little short on "deliverables".  If we take seriously a mandate to find/encourage that which is uniquely valuable in each of us (and I find that a very appealing idea) what in practice do we do differently in order to achieve that end?

epeck's picture


I've also been thinking on how schools could actually make concrete changes that would result in encouraging creativity.  I think the easiest/potentially most effective thing to do would be to encourage change in how teachers think about and respond to "mistakes."  If teachers looked at mistakes as ways to really examine how students are thinking, and get the students to explore their own mental processes rather than simply looking at the end result, students might not feel as afraid to be creative based on a fear of being labeled as "wrong."  This could promote creativity in all subjects through a simple change in pedagogy.

Another goal for schools (in my opinion) should be exposure.  The more exposure a child has to creative outlets at a young age, the more I think they'll consider taking a more creative path and hopefully the happier they will be.  Rather than stressing the creative programming at a later age, I think children need to have a wide range of creative experiences in elementary and middle school.  Although we've been discussing how education has "taught us out of creativity," I see our generation, and younger ones, as being extremely creative.  Although of course I'm looking at a limited sample, most of the people I know have creative hobbies/talents outside of whatever their career goals may be.  And even more so recently, most of these creative pursuits have outlets made possible by the internet.  It's so easy to learn more about art and music now because of youtube, art fan sites (don't know what these are actually called), and other online communities.  Writers can post in blogs and have their writing looked at by countless others if they find the right place to post their work. 

I'm not sure how this will sound - but I think education shouldn't serve as a means to indulge a student's likes and dislikes, and therefore I think that mandatory creative education (like art or music, or even maybe gym) isn't necessary beyond a certain age, although the option should certainly be available.  Education should serve to mold a student into a responsible and active member of society.  Although it's nice to idealize a society of artists, the society we live in is very different and like Professor Grobstein says, it's important to think about the "deliverables" of education.  I think education can definitely deliver exposure to many types of creativity, and can encourage thinking in alternative ways. 

What part of fostering creativity is up to the educational system, and what part is up to a family/culture?  I think families are very important in encouraging creative hobbies, while school systems shouldn't necessarily be held responsible for that level of creative development (depending on the student/hobby).  Also, how should a profession be chosen?  We talked about the different things that go into choosing a profession in the society we live in - would these be different in an "ideal society"?    Would society work if everyone chose to go into a profession solely because they liked doing whatever the profession involved, and how would students even gain exposure to things that need huge amounts of background knowledge and training before the actual practicing of a profession comes in?

jessicarizzo's picture

I don't like it..

"I think education shouldn't serve as a means to indulge a student's like and dislikes"

This attitude towards the arts is precisely the problem we've been trying to articulate.  Why are the arts relegated again and again to the status of a luxury, an easily cuttable budget item?  Why is this whole, huge, diverse wing of human experience/way of knowing called "the arts" something an otherwise educated person is allowed to dismiss if they happen to "dislike" it without feeling at all ashamed of his or her ignorance?  Do the arts really play no role in helping students to become responsible and active members of society?  How is something that requires years of painstakingly acquired technical knowledge inherently likely to make one an active citizen rather than a proponent of and participant in a technocracy? 

Not that the world of arts education is or has always been some magical never-never-land.   Since we've taken up Dance, in this conversation, as a symbol for the apogee of either frivolity or personal fulfilment, I'll point out that classical ballet is an excellent example of a discipline that's been accused of being hidebound in part because it overemphasizes the technical aspect of the training process, at the expense of the whole (thinking, creative) artist.

So this isn't really about "the arts" versus "the society we live in."  As others have pointed out, creativity can't/shouldn't be thought of exclusively the province of people who call themselves artists.  This is about finding better educational models that can be applied to the sciences, humanities, and arts, models that promote difference, rather than labeling it error. 

I also want to, again, remind us that this never-never-land of creativity/art-making has a place for rigor in it.  And not just of the 100 more pliés variety, but the good kind.  A rigor that's synonymous with sustained, focused inquiry.  That kind of rigor is impossible to maintain if the arts are patronizingly assigned the designation of a "hobby" that mommy should be responsible for nurturing in the kids before they grow up and have to take on real responsibilities.  And our attitude towards the arts, the words we use talk about the arts matter.  Because it totally impacts the way funding flows.  And if it's impossible to support yourself working as an artist in this country (which it is), then artists can't just be artists.  They have to be, primarily, waiters or housepainters or personal trainers who get to spend a few hours a day on their art.  It's difficult to achieve any level of rigor this way.  And if a rigorous artistic practice isn't possible, the quality of the work suffers.  If the people making funding decisions only see this low quality work, they have no reason to believe that the arts are vital.  So they fund inadequately.  And the cycle continues.   Ditto with the "possibilities" of the internet, where you can self-publish to your heart's content... and never make a dime.

epeck's picture

to clarify

I didn't mean that the arts are indulgences/luxuries that should be cut out of budgets - however I do think that at a certain point, an education in the arts becomes a more private than public responsibility (just as any higher level education is today).  This doesn't mean that arts should only be considered hobbies (sorry I made it sound like that), but that does seem to be what they often become - again I think this is because many people lack the talent that would enable them to make a career out of their artistic expression.  I understand the point about how if artists are not allowed to simply be artists (because art is sometimes delegated to simply a hobby and a frivolous use of time) and must also have a more acceptable job in order to make a living, that the quality of their art will go down and funding will decrease.  However, struggle and compromise seems inherent in many occupations - why is it so problematic that it's the same way for the arts?  It seems to me that there is a high standard of quality needed to be a professional artist, and many people are not able to reach it, or to produce something different enough that fuels a marketable desire for it.
Why is it that so many people who pursue careers that are not traditionally thought of as creative also enjoy more traditionally creative pursuits (yes, on the side - although as Prof. Grobstein pointed out, often these hobbies take up a very significant amount of time), while it seems rare to me to hear of someone pursuing a traditionally creative field while also enjoying a traditionally non-creative activity on the side?  I've never met an artist (in the broadest sense of the word) who also enjoys spending some time on math or science or politics on the side.  Maybe this shows that the creativity is not always educated out of us - but that creativity is educated out of certain "non-creative" subjects.  As many others have said in the forum, we should be focusing on making our teaching of all subjects more creative and appealing to all types of students.
My basic point: I don't mean to put the arts at a lower level than any other field although I see how I did that by labeling them as "hobbies". I agree that the the problem that can and should be addressed lies more with creativity as a whole rather than specifically with the arts.  I feel that realistically, it's more beneficial to support students in learning specific skills that will be more likely to support them in the future.  If a student has the drive and talent to be an artist, professional athlete, or something else along those lines, I think our society should support them, but realistically it seems much harder to be successful at a pursuit where it will be required that they stand out even among the huge pool of talent they'll be competing against.  The real objective should be to help students put creativity into whatever field they can be happy and successful in. 

FinnWing's picture


  The little dancing girl had some advantages, including a concerned mother willing and able to take her daughter to see a specialist, and the ability to enroll in a school for dancers.  This story suggests that Mr. Robinson leaves it up to us to fill in the gap of applying what he preaches.  

  For me, in general (not necessarily only for this class), I would like more chill discussion in class (and out of class) which would of course take some time from the timepie, I'd like to move more in class (I rarely stand during class discussions), to learn as a group for more time out of class (e.g. field trips), and for education to focus more on being holistic. 

  Still, implementation seems to be a challenge.  Theory is great though, and also very motivating.  Is it enough to motivate people so that baby steps can be taken, e.g. encouraging students to be sure to stretch and/or exercise before class?  Maybe.  A mass overhaul though; could it work?  I think not.

FinnWing's picture

Are we disembodied??

   Please allow me to indulge the idea that I would like to be manual laborer (or pro athlete) without taking the assertion too seriously.  I would like to be one of the above physical workers because I get really tired and bored of sitting in class/the library all day long and reading and writing.  What I really mean is that I want balance between thinking and acting (physically).  In fact, I think that our education system does a relatively good job of encouraging moving the body, as well exercising the mind, although as we progress in education this balance seems to diminish.  As an elementary, high school, and college student I spent hours every single day playing sports where I learned to move my body.  Now I am lucky to spend hours a week doing so, what a pity. 

  As Ken Robinson said, some (many) people in our society end up being disembodied, as if our bodies are vehicles for moving the mind mind from meeting to meeting (or classroom to library).  It seems that our culture has also become disembodied.  When we speak of modern survival it seems that buildings and structures take precedence over the structure (temple?) that we are, our body.  The single most important element of survival is our body, it is who we are and if we do not take care of it then it becomes dysfunctional.  So here's to embodying the body and encouraging a balance between exercising the mind and the body both in school and everywhere...   

kgould's picture

It really disconcerts me that

It really disconcerts me that education kind of pushes us away from body knowledge and into the realm of "disembodied intelligence." I'm not trying to prioritize body over mind and, as someone who does not dance or perform, I can't say that I have a lot of knowledge in that area but it seems a shame to completely disregard the "thing that carries our heads."

The idea of disembodied intelligence reminds me a lot of the discussions that I had in a class on sociology and medicine last year. The idea of a body as a machine, as something that is fallible: if it breaks, you go to a mechanic (a doctor), and you replace the joint or change the oil. It can get sick. It can fail.

But consciousness always seemed to prevail, even when the organ system (the nervous system) that seems to provide consciousness failed or "broke." Pure knowledge, pure intelligence, pure thought. It is valued above kinesthetic ability, like dance and drama or art and music or sports.

But kinesthetic ability is very important and there's no reason that you can't combine body knowledge and "disembodied knowledge," aside from the fact that you would have to stop placing certain values between them. Like I said in class, a dancer might make a better chemist or surgeon than a mathematician who sits all day (which isn't to say that that is what all mathematicians do, but for the sake of argument)... But that is only if the dancer also has the knowledge and the know-how of chemistry or surgery.

Ken Robinson talked about needing to "move to think." I don't think we live (or should live) in such a world where one can only be a dancer OR a mathematician. Needing to move to think does not cancel out someone's desire to do something more "disembodied." Wouldn't it be more effective to be both? Especially, as we referenced in class, when there's some kind of cultural or socioeconomic shift and we need other professions than doctor, lawyer, engineer?


Paul Grobstein's picture

More on Sir Ken Robinson on education

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