Creativity is defined as "the capacity for original thought, new connections, adaptive reasoning, and novel solutions." Many believe that nurturing and supporting the development of creative abilities during childhood has far reaching positive effects as we enter adulthood, helping us achieve our academic potential. Studies have shown that by age 10, many children have lost up to 70 percent of the creative ability they are born with and once we reach adulthood, we retain a mere fraction of this original capacity.
At the recent Learning and the Brain Research Conference in Boston, the discussion centered on how we teach creativity to students in school. Howard Gardner, professor of cognition and education at Harvard University, believes creativity is one of five ways of thinking necessary for young people to succeed in the future. Gardner believes possessing a risk-taking temperament is necessary to foster creativity.
Shirley Brice Heath, an English professor emerita Stanford University, and her colleagues conducted a 30-year longitudinal study of 300 working-class black and white families. She found that creative students had positive risk-taking in common. Risk-taking activities included such acts as: questioning the reasoning behind common mathematical/scientific principals, taking non-traditional stances in debatable issues and exploring alternative solutions to challenging problems. This type of risk-taking produced endorphins in students that led them to increased engagement and continued creative effort. These endorphins lead an individual to a state of happiness and well being, thus students want to return to this state by replicating the activity it took to get there, positive risk-taking. Work and play became synonymous in producing this "happiness."
Robert Sternberg, an expert in intelligence testing at Oklahoma State University, has research indicating that schools tend to unintentionally discourage creativity development through their grading policies. Schools encourage taking fewer risks, for example in a writing class that Sternberg observed "when the kids essays took controversial stands, the raters often rated them down."
The University of Amsterdam in Netherlands found that being "challenged" increases "global thinking and creativity." In this study, two sets of students were given mazes. Set A was given a maze with many obstacles, thus making it more difficult to navigate than Set B. When both groups of students were given a remote-associates test which gauges creativity in a student, Set A scored 60 percent higher than Set B.
Shelley Carson, a Harvard psychologist, found obstacles can push students to "incubate" innovative ways to solve problems. Creating a classroom atmosphere which encourages student to be intellectually curious and adventurous, treating mistakes or errors as taking you one step closer to the solution, develops creativity in a student.
The great Greek philosopher and mathematician Plato once stated, "Do not train a child to learn by force or harshness; but direct them to it by what amuses their minds, so that you may be better able to discover with accuracy the peculiar bent of the genius of each." The gift of creativity is present in all of us at birth. As educators, we must foster the development of creativity in each young man and women, aiding them in finding their own personal genius.
Editor's note: Steve Patchin is the director of the Center for Pre-College Outreach at Michigan Technological University.