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February's Corner 2011

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The Mathematician, the Inventor, the Artist, and the Athlete: Creative Minds, Creative Ideas

Matt sits at his desk and studies the quadratic formula, and soon his mind begins to formulate new and exciting ways to re-organize the numbers scribbled before him. Grace has a box of old telephone and TV parts, and along with a few household tools, begins to work on a new invention she’s been thinking about. Samantha stares at the blank canvas, holding the palette of oil paint, as she sits in the field overlooking the mountains. Jon dribbles up and down the field, trying to perfect the curved shot on goal.

I have been teaching for twelve years. I have observed creative thought and problem solving in each of my students. For some, ideas are inherent. Others need examples and modeling before they begin to offer thoughts and discussion. A last group, trained to learn from chapter to chapter in a textbook, sits quietly, often declining to participate.

Early on, I found it difficult to differentiate instruction for this diverse group of gifted students. I was under the assumption that all of them in my class would be able to keep up with a high level of questioning and problem solving. I was wrong, and it wasn’t until I learned about the many techniques related to creative thinking that I found the strategies needed to inspire the entire class.
Through my readings, I recognized that I needed to instruct students to think fluently (produce a number of ideas) and flexibly (extend ideas into a variety of categories) with a touch of originality (unique ideas) and elaboration (focus on detail and specific characteristics). In order to instill these traits in my students I needed to utilize proven strategies that included SCAMPER, Creative Problem Solving, and Morphological Matrix. I found out how to incorporate Convergent and Divergent Thinking, Creative Dramatics, Brainstorming, and de Bono’s Six Thinking Hats into lessons that I had already developed. I discovered my own creativity in using these techniques; the delivery of my instruction became dynamic.

Students who come to recognize their own sense of creativeness often exude independence, high energy, open-mindedness, a great sense of humor, and are attracted to complex problems. Others may seek “alone” time in order to be more perceptive. While these may sound like positive traits, to the unseasoned educator in a rigid classroom, they can be quickly perceived as negative attributes. Creative students may be forgetful, careless, overly emotional, and disorganized. They often question rules and authority and may be seen as reserved.  It is important when nurturing creative thought in your classroom that consideration be made for the students on the fringes of understanding.

Creativity, experienced in the classroom, often can be transferred to any situation, whether it is the playing field, art studio, basement “lab," or bedroom desk. The freedom to think creatively should be at the forefront of the classroom, for the students, in all their diversity, want to express their thoughts and ideas, no matter how wild or unusual they may seem.

I encourage you to access the free download of the article Creative Problem Solving Embedded into Curriculum, from the pages of the Fall 2010 issue of Teaching for High Potential. Some may want to get more involved by joining NAGC's Creativity Network whose mission is to “initiate, develop, and implement practices and materials that will promote the creative potential of all persons.”

Below are a few websites relating to creativity and the associated strategies that have helped me along the way. I hope they can help you incorporate creative thinking strategies in your classroom.