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7 paths to creative classrooms

By Gail Marshall
July 18, 2016
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“I want us all to think about new and creative ways to engage young people in science and engineering, whether it’s science festivals, robotics competitions, fairs that encourage young people to create and build and invent – to be makers of things, not just consumers of things.”

— President Barack Obama, White House Hangout, Maker Movement 2013

Sylvia Libow Martinez has one word to say about the president’s plea for igniting creative fires in students.


“Creation is the heart of creativity and it is only meaningful when grounded in action – it’s not a feeling, a mindset or an outcome,” she writes in her book, Invent to Learn. She sees tremendous power in meaningful projects for both students and their teachers.

“Students learn creativity by being creative,” she says.

But can creativity be taught? Absolutely!

Mark Gura, author of the ISTE book Make, Learn, Succeed: Building a Culture of Creativity in Your School, is certain of it.
“First, we have to be clear about the variety of creativity that we teachers need to foster in our students,” he says. “People often think of the lone genius, a Picasso or a Martha Graham, as the source of inspired creativity that shows up in the world. And hopefully we teachers will not stand in the way of this sort of creativity emerging and enriching our lives.

“But more likely, our classrooms can produce deeply creative souls, like the teams of engineers at NASA and work groups at Apple, individuals who, in a calculated manner, collaboratively employ known processes and procedures to initiate and drive creative projects through their various formative and developmental phases to culminate in products specifically designed to impact the lives of many in important ways.”

So how do we get there from here?

Schedule creative time. Two trends exciting Gura right now are the maker and genius hour movements.

These learning approaches set aside time for students to pursue their own curiosities, learn about things that fascinate them and engage in hands-on projects with sophisticated tools that solve problems.

Study creative people. By studying creative individuals and their work, students can gain important insight into the phenomenon of creativity. They can become familiar and comfortable with it in their own lives.

Incorporate creativity into curriculum. Effective curriculum, activities and teaching support students in personalizing their learning and discovering their passions.  

Introduce proven processes. Teach the approaches and procedures that other creators have used so students will understand how to tackle challenges creatively.

Teach the elements of creativity. Playing the piano may seem magical if you’ve never tried it. But by breaking the skill down to its constituent elements, the skill becomes attainable.
Tee up creative challenges. By engaging students in creative projects and challenges, students become competent and confident at being creative. They discover personal passions and particular affinities and abilities.

Make creativity part of classroom practice. Creativity is contagious. Once you establish creativity as a dimension of your classroom, student creativity grows, too.

Want to learn more about cultivating creativity in your classroom or school? ISTE members can read all about it in the member magazine entrsekt. Not a member? Join today.