Monthly Archives: July 2016

The Bias against Creativity

When I think back to my years of teaching, I can think of several students who stand out in my mind because of their creativity.  While at times there was appreciation for their ideas in the classroom, at other times (eg. during a focused discussion) their ideas were so far out of the norm that they were looked at strangely by their peers.  As a teacher of course I value creativity… but do I really?

When reading “The Bias Against Creativity: Why People Desire but Reject Creative Ideas,” by Mueller, Melwani & Goncalo, I was forced to confront my own bias of the subject.  This seems to be a contradiction: teachers KNOW that creativity is an important educational goal, but yet research shows that teachers dislike students who exhibit curiosity adn creative thinking.  Creativity is something that is novel and useful.  The useful part seems to be fairly easy to judge as a teacher (does it relate to the topic? does it somewhat answer the question?  is it somewhat focused?), but the novelty aspect is more difficult to discern.  Research shows that practical ideas are more valued, and if it is too ‘novel’, or outside-the-box, then it is more uncertain.  This uncertainty is what Ken Robinson spoke of on his video (see last post), which then leads to a diminished rate of creativity in your classroom.  As teachers we are not explicityly judging this, but I think if we are honest there is some judgement in all of us.  The results of this study show that regardless of the degree to which people are open-minded, when they feel motivated to reduce uncertainty, they may experience more negative associations with creativity, which results in lower evaluations of a creative idea.  This uncertainty also makes people less able to recognize creativity, when they perhaps need it most.

Reading this article gave me a bit of an uncomfortable feeling… which then reminded me of another article I read.  Falkenberg writes about teaching as a moral endeavor, for the betterment of others, and so the teachers decisions, actions, and behaviors are central to this.  The teacher must be then aware of their inner thoughts (in this case my inner thought is that I perhaps have a slight bias against creative students), and then this must manifest itself in outward actions (I stay conscious of this, and when a situation comes up that my bias may show I remember my end goal and work to be more open minded). By being more aware of how we react, we can begin pondering alternative better reactions to creative ideas that may have had us respond negatively in the past, so that our new reaction can be more positive and appropriate (remembering that we WANT our students to be creative, even if this sometimes means having the wrong idea).

If our goal of teaching is to encourage creative and critical thinking, then we as teachers need to be creative in our approaches, innovative in the ideas that we teach, and become a learner using these same ideas ourselves (Christou & Bullock).  But then this idea then leads us RIGHT back to the beginning… how can I, as the TEACHER, encourage creativity and innovation?  Or perhaps the better question here is… how can I become more creative and innovative?

Thoughts to ponder as I head into this long weekend.


Christou, T.M., & Bullock, S. M. (2012).  The case for philosophical mindedness. Paideusis, 20(1), 14-23.

Falkenberg, T. (2012).  Teaching as contemplative professional practice. Paideusis, 20(2), 25-35.

Mueller, J., Melwani, S., & Goncalo, J. (2012).  The Bias Against Creativity: Why People Desier but Reject Creative Ideas.  Association for Psychological Science.  23(1), 13-17.

Do Schools Kill Creativity?

Ken Robinson: Do Schools Kill Creativity?


Although you likely have already watched this video, it is worth watching again for the sheer reminder of how badly we need to bring creativity back.  Creativity is immense, especially because we have no idea about what the future holds.  Children all have immense capabilities for creativity, and Ken Robinson theorizes that by putting them through an education we are squandering and squashing all of it.

When children are young they are willing to take risks, even if it means being wrong.  They arent afraid of being wrong, of making mistakes.  It is only by MAKING mistakes that we are able to come up with something original.  However, school makes children afraid of making mistakes, and so we are educating people OUT of their creativity.

The original purpose of education was to meet the needs of the industrial revolution: we need to be able to get a job, and we need to be ready for university.  However, technology and progress have changed all of this. Degrees aren’t worth anything.  Robots are taking over manual tasks.  People are unemployed.  We no longer need school to ‘get a job,’ but we now need creativity to change the future.

Ken Robinson has defined creativity as “original ideas that have value”… similar to my definition of creativity as being something that is novel and useful.  However, if we really want children to be creative we need to rethink the fundamental principals of the way we teach.  We need to hold tight to that gift of creativity, and be careful with it. We need to encourage mistakes, and not squash them when they occur.  We need to get every child ready for their future so THEY can make something of it.

Watching this video gives inspiration for change as a teacher, inspiration to keep working forward to find the best way to educate our students for the future.

Strategies to Encourage Creativity & Innovation

“Imagination is more important than knowledge.  Knowledge is limited. Imagination circles the world.”

-Albert Einstein

When we have no idea what tomorrow will look like for our students, it becomes essential that they be able to innovate.  When we return to the original guiding question of this blog, we now are going to ask: “but HOW can we encourage our students to innovate and be creative?”

Designorate gives 10 tips to achieve creativity & innovation:

  1. Encourage children to find the answer: allow students the freedom to find the answers on their own.  By doing this it helps the students to learn how to observe, imagine, judge and reason.
  2. Children learn, teachers observe: give space to the students to learn on their own so that the teacher can observe the progress.  This leaves space for students to develop their own skills and capabilities to innovate.
  3. Sit in round tables rather than desks: This turns the class into an open conference style of interaction, which encourages them to take responsibility adn share their opinions instead of just following the teacher.
  4. Focus on one project instead of multiple projects: rather than splitting up the day into chunks of time, focusing on one project allows students to put the knowledge together in the form of focused questions.  This is closely connected with Project-Based Learning.
  5. Focus on the Concept:  rather than just giving facts, focusing on the concepts helps the students to find solutions through exploring ideas and evaluating the best answers.
  6. Every idea is a patent: innovation is unique and should be treated as a patent.  Treat each new idea as a success and encourage them to continue.
  7. Use design thinking tools and methods: use a variety of thinking methods that encourage creativity and explore innovative solutions.  This could be a group discussion, a brainstorm, problem-solving activity, etc.
  8. Problem-to-Solution vs Solution-to-Problem models: the first model drives the students to find solutions for existing problems (they identify a problem that occurs and try to solve it).  The second method is to find a solution for a problem that does not exist yet or to make life much easier.
  9. Reflect on previous taught lessons and skills:  give time to think through what was learned, and link to the next lesson so that students can think critically.
  10. Acknowledge innovation in rubrics: have a rubric section that allows you to evaluate creative ideas and innovation separately from the rest of the grading criteria. This could be part of a final grade.

By using some of these techniques a teacher will be able to help students think creatively and find innovative solutions for existing and future problems.

10 Tips to Achieve Creativity and Innovation in Education

History of Curriculum

In my last post I discussed the fact that the curriculum that we are all under dictates that we teach creativity and innovation to our students.  However, in this post I would like to discuss the history of curriculum in Canada, so that I can look ahead with a better understanding of what lies behind.

Curriculum is a set of uniform and consistent operational principles guiding what is to be taught and learned in schools. From our earliest history Canadians have began with copying the values and ideas of other surrounding countries: beginning with European nations, and later on the ideas of America. A central idea that I pulled out after reading the article by Tomkins was how although at times Canadians dealt with the challenges and changes of our society by changing the curriculum, many times they simply copied how other countries dealt with these issues.

By copying other nations to create our curriculum, there was not much innovation (especially in earlier times), especially when I look back to my definition of innovation: that changes are made according to the needs of society. One exception to the norm of a lack of innovation in this history, however, came with Egbert Ryerson (the superintendent of Ontario schools). He was very concerned about the breakdown of family and community, especially with the effects of industrialization, urbanization, and a high immigrant population. He then brought about a total reform, and dealt with these ‘problems’ in the way that he thought was best: a new curriculum focused on eliminating foreign influence, and promoting Christian values. Because of this, we could say that although we may not agree with Ryersons approach, this was both innovative and creative. His idea was novel (no other country had a system in place like this), and useful (especially when we consider the ‘problems’ that he hoped to fix).
The many changes in society over the history of Canada would inevitably led to changes in the way that teaching and learning occurred: however not much was said about this in the article.

After reading this article I was curious about how how innovative Canadian curriculum and policy makers are today, and how many of their ideas are coming from other countries. With a global society, many of the challenges that face a province, or Canada, are so similar to those happening around the world. In BC they hope to begin teaching a new curriculum this September (K-8), one that is based on 6 core competencies. The reason for this switch was to prepare our learners for a changing society. I wonder how much of this curriculum was also based off of ideas that other countries or provinces have also used…

Tomkins, G. (1981). Foreign influences on curriculum and curriculum policy making in Canada: Some impressions in historical and contemporary perspective. Curriculum Inquiry, 11(2), 157–163.

Canadian Curriculum examples of Creativity & Innovation

No matter where you live in Canada, your provincial government will be expecting you to teach your students how to be creative & critical thinkers.

In British Columbia the new curriculum includes six core competencies.  Two of these six directly relate to the guiding question of this blog.  The first is Critical Thinking ( ) which they define as:

Critical thinking involves making judgments based on reasoning: students consider options; analyze these using specific criteria; and draw conclusions and make judgments. Critical thinking competency encompasses a set of abilities that students use to examine their own thinking, and that of others, about information that they receive through observation, experience, and various forms of communication.  This includes topics such as analyzing & critiquing, questioning & investigating, and developing and designing.

The next is Creative Thinking ( which they define as:

The creative thinking competency involves the generation of new ideas and concepts that have value to the individual or others, and the development of these ideas and concepts from thought to reality.  This includes topics such as novelty & value, generating ideas, and developing ideas.

In Ontario when teaching the Arts, both creativity and critical thinking are the basis for this teaching. ( )  This document gives clear direction for both the teacher and the learner in the process.

“The creative process comprises several stages: • challenging and inspiring • imagining and generating • planning and focusing • exploring and experimenting • producing preliminary work • revising and refining • presenting, performing, and sharing • reflecting and evaluating”

“The critical analysis process includes the following aspects: • initial reaction • description • analysis and interpretation • expression of an informed point of view • consideration of cultural context”

In Alberta when teaching Socials Studies, one of the Dimensions of Thinking is Creative thinking:  Creative thinking occurs when students identify unique connections among ideas and suggest insightful approaches to social studies questions and issues. Through creative thinking, students generate an inventory of possibilities; anticipate outcomes; and combine logical, intuitive and divergent thought.  ( )

In Nova Scotia the province is investing one million dollars to support and teach coding in schools.  They are investing this money in response to a changing job market (innovation!), and the recognition that when our students graduate they will need a different set of skills than 20 years ago.  ( )

Although creativity & innovation are challenging topics to teach, and even more challenging to learn, they are a necessity.  There are SO many things to question and change and invent!


Before I speak of how to encourage my students to innovate, I must first innovate myself.  I cannot teach others to be creative, to look for new solutions, if I haven’t done it myself.

Innovation is defined as “the action or process of innovating”, with synonyms including change, alteration, revolution, and transformation. The opposite of innovation is simply accepting and using the old ways of doing things or thinking. Innovation then is using creativity to think of new ideas and solutions to the myriad problems that are facing our world. To innovate we use what we know about the world, define what the problem or change needed is, and think of a variety of solutions. Innovation is a forward-thinking concept that must use looking backwards to inform the decisions that we make: It is only through new ways of thinking and doing things that we can successfully move forwards. It involves asking questions such as “whats next?” “why are we changing?” and “How can we make the changes needed?”
Innovation is so necessary because our old ways of teaching and learning are becoming obsolete (Martin). As a teacher, then, my job is to help my students cope with the many new realities of today and their future: and to help them cope they (and I) will need to learn to innovate. To innovate as a teacher I have to glean through the old information and knowledge that has been passed on from previous generations, decide what is important and how to use it, and attempt to pass this on to my students, while allowing them the freedom and creativity to innovate on their own. To innovate I must constantly be looking to what the needs of the future are, and thinking of ways to solve these. Education will always need to change according to the needs of society, and as educators we must be a part of this change and not be behind and playing catch up.
“If we teach today’s students as we taught yesterdays, we rob them of tomorrow.”

Hennessey, B.A., & Amabile, T.M. (2010). Creativity. Annual Review of Psychology, 61, 569 – 598. doi: 10.1146/annurev.psych.093008.100416
Martin, J.R. (1996). There’s too much to teach: Cultural wealth in an age of scarcity. Educational Researcher, 25(2), 4–16. doi: 10.3102/0013189X025002004
Mueller, J.S., Melwai, S., & Goncalo, J.A. (2012). The bias against creativity: Why people desire but reject creative ideas. Psychological Science, 23(1), 13–17. doi: 10.1177/0956797611421018

Creativity: What is it?

Creativity seems to be the buzz-word in education right now. Read new curriculum documents, and they tell of prescribed learning outcomes that include creative thinking.  When we speak of problems that go on in the world around us, we are quick to say “we need to think of creative solutions to those problems.”   Yes, indeed.

But what is creativity?

The word creativity is synonymous with words such as fluency and flexibility, and being inventive and original. When the word creativity first came up, I thought about a child taking paints, and creating their own picture. I thought about the ability to think of strange, outside-the-box ideas. Mueller, Melwai & Goncalo talk about creativity as something that is both NOVEL and USEFUL. I really like this definition, especially the focus on usefulness. It must be useful to whatever the purpose it: whether this be in a workplace setting, or purely for the enjoyment of creating it. Creativity must also be novel and different, not just taking the first idea that pops into your head, but allowing time for all other possibilities. Some downfalls that come with creativity are the amount of time that it takes, the many failures that come with true novelty, and the periods of uncertainty that can stop people from being creative. According to Hennessey and Amabile, some things that increase creativity are having a positive affect, group work, and intrinsic motivation.
Mueller, Melwai & Goncalo justify that creativity must be both novel and useful because this is the only way that we can hope to address the myriad problems facing our schools, hospitals, cities, economy, nation and world. This creativity must be used in the correct way to truly inspire change and help people recognize solutions. In order for students to be truly creative, they must first be taught the foundational skills necessary to think of a new perspective that they can use to solve a problem.
“Creativity is thinking up new things, innovation is doing new things.”

Hennessey, B.A., & Amabile, T.M. (2010). Creativity. Annual Review of Psychology, 61, 569 – 598. doi: 10.1146/annurev.psych.093008.100416
Mueller, J.S., Melwai, S., & Goncalo, J.A. (2012). The bias against creativity: Why people desire but reject creative ideas. Psychological Science, 23(1), 13–17. doi: 10.1177/0956797611421018