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news & tips

A collection of helpful articles on teachers and teaching

ISTE NETS*S Part 1: Creativity and Innovation

Are you familiar with ISTE’s NETS*S (National Educational Technology Standards for Students)?  They represent a framework for the skills we want today’s generation of students to have as they emerge from their years of schooling.  There are six standards, so I thought I would write my next six articles on each of these categories of technology-related skills.


Crayola Lincoln LogsThe first on the list is “Creativity and Innovation.”  ISTE lists four skills that fall under this umbrella.

Creativity and Innovation

Students demonstrate creative thinking, construct knowledge, and develop innovative products and processes using technology. Students:           

  1. apply existing knowledge to generate new ideas, products, or processes.
  2. create original works as a means of personal or group expression.
  3. use models and simulations to explore complex systems and issues.
  4. identify trends and forecast possibilities.

(excerpted from http://www.iste.org/Content/NavigationMenu/NETS/ForStudents/2007Standards/NETS_for_Students_2007.htm)

I believe that most schools like to think that they’re “all over” this one.  I like to think my school has this one well covered too.  But the more I ponder, I realize that this can be a real challenge.  So much of what students do in and for school is simple regurgitation.  How much of what we require of students truly pushes them to create new products and original works?

Of course, I start in my own workplace and try to come up with ideas of what we’re having our students do, both in my lab classes and out.  The obvious ones are actually spearheaded by my colleague, Lindon Richards.  If you live near me, you may have read news articles about his involvement with FutureCity or Synopsys.  A team from our school has won recognition and represented our region at the national level for the past four years in the National Engineers’ Week Future City Competition.  Mr. Richards also oversees entries from our school into the Synopsys Silicon Valley Science and Technology Championship.  We’ve had students win awards there too.  We are, of course, very proud of these middle school students who gain accolades for themselves and for our school.  But what we need to pay the closest attention to is their process.  These competitions emphasize creating solutions to problems and answering new questions, using a mixture of technology, craftsmanship, and innovative thinking.  When I recall that these competitions are optional, and that only a handful of students participate, I start to worry again.  Are we doing enough?  How else can students demonstrate proficiency in the areas of creativity and innovation?

I have one project my sixth graders do in which they invent a new thing by changing an existing thing in some way so that it serves a new purpose.  They write about their new imaginary invention, and then they use the Paint program to illustrate their brief report.

I’m not doing enough.  Are any of us?  Are students creating enough that is new?  Are they really creating much at all?  We can have them write poetry, shoot photographs, use digital storytelling to share something that’s important to them.  What I find most challenging is that when I ask students to create something new, they freeze up.  “Wait, WHAT?!?!” they seem to shriek with their body language, “Can’t you just tell me what to think? Is this going to be on the test? Just tell me what to know for the test, please.”

I can’t be alone in this experience.  The students at my school are particularly driven.  They are motivated by grades above all else.  Many will argue for that point of two on a test that kept them from getting 100% (or more!).  While many of them are involved in the arts – musicians abound, and so many of them take art lessons or can draw anime characters like a pro – what I think they’re really doing is learning how to play the work of others and how to mimic the drawing style of the artists they admire.

Via Facebook, I recently reconnected with some former students from my pre-California days in New Jersey.  Here are young men and women in their twenties now, for whom I taught seventh grade, and some of them have started families of their own. (Yes, I feel old, thanks for asking.)  I also learned in the last few weeks that two of them are musicians who are recording their own work.  I eagerly became a fan of both of them online and drank up the original work they had posted.  I am so excited for them, and so very proud to have played a tiny part in their early, formative years.

These kids went to school before testing became so high-stakes.  Maybe that’s why their creativity was not stifled.  Another common factor to both young musicians was family support and encouragement for creativity.  I know too many of my students now who are pushed only to achieve on a grading scale.  So what can we, as educators, do to both meet the state standards (and prepare kids for those inevitable tests) while also opening their eyes and minds to a world in which the possibilities have not yet all been dreamt up yet?  Please share with me (and our larger audience) some of the ideas you have for increasing creativity and innovation in student work.

In other news, yet related to this discussion, is a fantastic Op-Ed piece from the New York Times.

“Crayola Lincoln Logs” image from Flickr user laffy4k, some rights reserved, Creative Commons

Diane Main is a Google Certified teacher who teaches technology integration in San Jose, California. Visit her blog at FreeTeacherTools.com

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