Example of a unit that encourages creativity & innovation

For PME 832 (The Connected Classroom) I had to envision what learning could look like using what I learned about connected classrooms.  As I pondered, searched through my new curriculum, and thought some more about what a truly connected unit plan would look like, I discovered that if I was truly using what I’m learning (and working towards growth), then that unit plan would not only be connected, but it would also encourage my students to think creatively and innovatively.

Attached is a Grade 8 Science unit overview, complete with rationale and resources to use.  Although thinking creatively means coming up with novel and useful ideas… it also sometimes means that we ‘beg, borrow, and steal’ good ideas from our peers.  So, if you’d like to use it, feel free! (Just let me know how it worked for you: I’d love to tweak it and make it better)

The Connected Classroom Culminating Task



How can I help my struggling students be more creative?

After writing draft one of my philosophy statement, a peer left a comment on the discussion that made me think deeper.  When I think about creativity and innovation, this leads me to think about my ‘average’ students who need a bit of a push, I think of my strong students who need a challenge, I think of the 95%.  However, what about those who have trouble in one or more areas at school? What about the one who struggles with anxiety? The one who has a reading disability? The one who needs extra support for behavior?  Then this topic becomes a bit more complex.

But, is there really ANY average student in our classroom? No. And we wouldn’t want there to be.  Each student is unique, and so we as teacher must try to help each of them.  I think regardless of what we are teaching, we must keep this in mind.

The attached document had some very great basics for teaching the variety of students in our classroom.  As a summary:

Mastery students:

  • when these students do not feel that it is practical, or when they are unable to master it, their motivation will lag.
  • Four general principles for these learners:  1. Clear, clear, clear (they are motivated by clarity, competence, and success.  Set clear expectations, and goals)  2. model, model, model (the more explicitly the teacher teaches the skill, which could be a creativity-related task, the better they will perform) 3. practice, practice, practice (rather than reducing the task, give more time for practicing) 4. organize, organize, organize (use visual organizers, as well as practice of study skills).
  • All of the above four can be closely related to tasks of creativity.  If these students do not feel capable, they will not try, so it is important to model the creative process, give them lots of time to practice, and give them strategies for when they are stuck.

Understanding students are those who can work well in a structured environment (listen to a lesson, do something with it, etc.) but get unmotivated when ideas are poorly organized, when questioning is not allowed, and when the work does not include discussion, debate or critique.  When they withdraw from their learning, the following principles should be in place:

  • increase the intellectual content of the curriculum and the complexity of the thinking tasks.
  • Provide clear reasons for routine work and a system that permits them to measure and assess their own progress.
  • emphasize the role of reflection in deep learning.
  • All of these principles will directly correlate with creative thinking… and these are the students who are most likely to WANT to be given the freedom to be creative and innovative. The goal for these learners will be to challenge them to go deeper, farther.


Self-expressive students are those who desire inspiring or stimulating content, opportunities to explore their own interests, and regular feedback.  Some principles for these students (who also WANT to be creative!)

  • increase imaginative stimulation in the content through focusing on large and engaging ideas, investigating curious and mysterious objects, and imaginative projects.
  • Provide more sustained time for reading, writing, problem solving, and research.
  • Ensure that there are frequent opportunities for coaching and conversation.
  • Explicityly model and practice all routine and organizational skills.


This document also includes helping other styles of students… so if you are interested take a peek at it!

For me the biggest theme I got out of this, is that regardless of end goal (mastering a math topic, encouraging creativity, writing a paragraph), all students will need something a bit different, so staying conscious of these different learning styles, and the instructional strategies to be support each of these, is essential.


styles and strategies for helping struggling learners overcome common learning difficulties




Innovation & Creativity in Science

I am currently planning units for my new Grade 8 class that hopes to arrive in 4 short weeks… and as I sat here thinking about how to make this interesting, it dawned on me that I shouldn’t be making it interesting, but I should encourage my students to be creative wielectricityth it!  I will  be teaching the first unit about cells, and so I looked for ideas on how to encourage innovation within a science unit.

Science is a domain that has been so vastly impacted by innovation: think about different medicines that have been created, electric cars, and computer software.  Each of these holds so much potential of improving the quality of life for so many people.. which is why teaching creativity and innovation in the science classroom is so important.  Science is a discipline of questioning, experimenting, and thinking outside of the box: and students learn best by doing.  So, as they study, it is best if they have DONE so
mething with that knowledge, not just REMEMBERED that knowledge.

I agree with the author, Rebeccah Haines, as she discusses how creativity and innovation is a worthy task, but so also is the learning of the essential core content.  Below are a few of her ideas to balance and achieve both of these:

  1. Competitions

When you want your students to memorize basic, core facts, the easiest way to do it is to have a competition.  Because students love competition, they are more likely to go above and beyond in challenging themselves.  If you want students to produce some of their most innovative work, let them know that they will be recognized for excellent results.  This can spur even the most reluctant student to go above and beyond!

Not only do students like having some end reward, they also appreciate being assessed compared to their peers, and responding to a more authentic challenge.  When they have something meaningful to do, they are more intrinsically motivated to complete the challenge.

I’m now thinking of a way to have a competition about my water systems unit: perhaps creating a proposal to bring to city council for a new watershed..

2. Classroom Projects

When time is more limited, doing smaller classroom projects can also merge student innovation with essential content instruction.  This article lists several challenges and projects that can be of use.  Each of the projects takes real problems faced by experts in the field, how to solve the problem is modeled, and then students are allowed to solve the problem on their own.

Solving Tomorrows Problems..

Earlier I discussed the need for innovation… but within Science this need is also so great.  So many issues lie here that can be solved with science: climate change, shrinking natural resources, etc.  These are problems that our students will have to face and solve.  Not only will our students need to know how to use the technology around them, but they will have to find new ways to use it to meet their needs.


Why Education Innovation Is the Most Important Thing You Could Pursue

Earlier I discussed how education is a job that is done for the betterment of society.  We do it because we care about the future, not only of our students, but also because we know that our students are OUR future.  As teacher we must then be innovators.  To add to the earlier definition, “Getting Smart” identified innovation as the process of making lives better.  This innovation creates a shift that affects many aspects of our lives… think only of railroads, cars, airplanes, radios, computers, and the internet, and how each of these have changed our lives.  We now can say “we have technology”… this is the future.  However, the author of this article raises a good point: “technology cannot aim.  It cannot direct society to focus our attention and energy towards solving some of the world’s most important problems.”  Yes, technology is powerful, but yet it is also powerless.  So, how can we use this technology?  This then needs to come from humans.

The humans in particular that we must think about are our students.  THEY are the ones who must come to understand the world, and create a more responsible future.  They will need to be self-starters who are persistent and have an appetite for measured risk-taking.  They will have to think for themselves and possess specialized or technical knowledge to thrive.  So, if this is the type of human we want, how will we get there?

Education is the key.  But not education focused backwards, but education looking to the future that we don’t know about yet.  There is evidence of innovation in education systems around us: school culture, student assessment, using technology, professional development tools, new content creation, using psychology and brain research to make decisions about teaching, and working together to be more effective.  Contrary to what many are saying, this article claims “there has never been as much intensity of interest in revolutionizing education.  And its about time.”

This just adds to the burden, the uncomfortable feelings, but also the passion that drives ME in my career as an educator.  This push for change, this desire for a new way, this looking for ways to solve unknown problems is must be what drives each of us forward every day.  I can never be content with leaving things as they are, with using old ways of teaching, and of being ‘too comfortable.’

THIS is why we teach, and THIS is why we innovate.

Getting Smart: Why Education innovation is the most important thing you could pursue.  written on April 20, 2015 by Guest Author.  Accessed from:   http://gettingsmart.com/2015/04/why-education-innovation-is-the-most-important-thing-you-could-pursue/

Steve Jobs

When thinking about creativity and innovation, Steve Jobs automatically comes to mind. What can we learn from him about this topic?

Although he is famous for revolutionizing the personal computer and mobile communication… he claims that he wasn’t a creative, but just someone who knew how to take something that already existed, and transform it into something much cooler… Which then connects back to my original definition of innovation, where you use your knowledge of the past to solve the problems of the future.

But how did Steve become innovative?  He claims that it started in 1974 when he went to India, and there noticed that people were less focused on intelligence, and more on instinct.  As he went into the future, he knew that his creativity was most vibrant when it sprang from self-belief, intuition and spontaneity, rather than studied analysis.   Again, as the quote below shares, he did not think himself to be overly creative or innovative:

“Creativity is just connecting things.  When you ask creative people how they did something, they feel a little guilty because they didn’t really do it, they just saw something.  It seemed obvious to them after a while.  That is because they were able to connect experiences they’ve had and synthesize new things.  And the reason they were able to do that was that they’ve had more experiences or they have thought more about their experiences than other people.”


Another key idea that we can learn from Steve Jobs is that creativity is fueled by passion.  There has to be a REASON behind the innovation.




So, some key lessons I personally can take from Steve Jobs:

  • Figure out your purpose and drive in your life.  If you are a teacher, WHY do you teach?  What do you hope for? Let that move you forward in the direction you wish to go.
  • Expose myself to as many different experiences as possible: whether this be travelling, meeting new people, reading diverse books, listening to podcasts about topics I know nothing about… because these experiences can fuel creative thinking.
  • Don’t try think of totally new ideas… but take something I already have, and think of new and better ways to use it, teach it, talk about it.



The Sources of Innovation & Creativity

The more I delve into this topic, the more questions I am left with.  I’ve read strategies, I’ve watched videos, I’ve thought about how to become more innovative myself… but I still don’t feel like i’m even close to understanding it.  However, when doing more research, it is clear that there IS no set and clear answers for this topic.  Karlyn Adams (2005) sought to explain and consolidate the research on this topic.  I have chosen two of her questions, and will briefly summarize her results:

What are the sources of creativity and innovation in individuals?

There is no set answer to this question, but instead just a variety of perspectives.

  • Cognitive Psychology: Creativity arises through the confluence of the following three components: knowledge (all the relevant understanding
    an individual brings to bear on a creative effort), Creative thinking (relates to how people approach problems and depends on personality and thinking/working style), and motivation (a key to creative production, and the most important motivators are intrinsic passion and interest in the work itself)
  •   Some key aspects of creative thinking are: comfort in disagreeing with others and trying solutions that depart from the status quo, combining knowledge from previously disparage fields, ability to persevere through difficult problems and dry spells, and ability to step away from an effort and return later with a fresh perspective.
  • Sternberg promotes a “triarchic theory”: three main aspects of intelligence that are key for creativity: synthetic, analytical, and practical.
“Students need to believe that creativity is determined by motivation and effort to a significant degree.  They need to understand that creative products are seldom produced without intent and effort, that there is considerable evidence to support the belief that most people have potential they never realize and that persistent effort to develop that potential is likely to be successful.  Students need to know too that… truly outstanding creative works in science and art have often taken many years- sometimes the better part of a lifetime- to produce… they need to understand that if one really wants to be creative in a substantive way, one must be prepared to work at it,” (Nickerson, p. 416)

I think the above quote most clearly gives evidence to the fact that creativity is not simply something you are born with (as perhaps we or our students may reason), but rather that it includes motivation, problems solving skills, and expertise.

What do we know about curricula and pedagogical techniques that have proven effective in promoting innovation and creativity through formal and informal education?

  • Raymond Nickerson: Raymond did research about different ways to enhance creativity.  Although he did not find specific strategies, he did find that classroom instruction can have a positive impact on creative abilities.
  • Brainstorming: this was originally suggested in 1957, but is found to be one of the most successful ways to enhance creativity.  This involves spending 15-20 minutes alone thinking of ideas, then working with a group, and then discussing why each idea would or wouldnt work.
  • Rules should be given with good reason, but classrooms that are too controlling may reduce intrinsic motivation.
  • Focus grading and evaluation on “what did you learn” nad not “how did you do” and let children participate in evaluating their own work. Help students understand that they can learn from failure, and not fear it.
  • Allow opportunities for choice, because they will be more motivated to work on projects they have chosen for themselves.
“The standards tool we’ve relied on for so long in parenting and teaching- evaluation, reward, competition, and restriction of choice- can in fact destroy creativity… we must perform a balancing act.  We must use enough constraint to give children a sense of predictability, but not so much that children feel the only reason they’re doing something is because they have to … the trick is to set limits in a way that maintain their intrinsic motivation,” (Amabile)

The strategies (only some of which are written about here) listed in this article again point to the vast switch and change needed in our education system today, if we truly want to innovate to meet the needs of the future.


Adams, K. (2005).  The Sources of Innovation and Creativity. National Center on Education adn the Economy for the New Commission on the Skills of the American Workforce.  Accessed from: http://www.fpspi.org/pdf/innovcreativity.pdf


The Negative Consequences of Overambitious Curricula in Developing Countries

“If the curriculum were radically simplified, if the teacher’s mission were squarely defined as making everyone master every bit of it, and if children were allowed to learn at their own pace, by repeating if necessary, the vast majority of children would get something from the years they spend in school.”  (Banerjee and Duflo, Poor Economics, 2011).

When watching the video in the last blog post, my curiosity was sparked when I heard about an article that I wanted to further research:

The Negative Consequences of Overambitious Curricula in Developing Countries

Is that first quote really possible? Are there really all of these problems by having a curriculum that not only expects teachers to teach the basics, but also so many other skills and concepts?   The authors of this article argue that despite a worldwide increase in education, when we track actual increase in skills, we find shockingly low gains.  Many students around the world spend years of time being instructed (taught) at school, with no progress on the basics.   This article argues that the countries that move slower through their curriculum (and perhaps have ‘less to cover’) are the countries that have much higher cumulative learning.  Could it really be true that learning could go faster if curricula and teachers were to slow down?

Although the article by Pritchett & Beatty was long, a brief scan of the research done in 3 countries was shocking.  They showed that if the curricular pace (the level and material teachers are expected to teach) moves faster than actual student learning, this alone can generate enormous differences in cumulative learning.  This article again brought about that uncomfortable feeling that is so necessary for a teacher.  Over the past year I underwent a performance review (normal procedure in the school where I was), which involved many observations, reflections and meetings with the administration team.  One of the biggest pieces of feedback I received was that I needed to slow down… perhaps not in my actual teaching, but just in how quick I transition and speak in my class.  I am glad to have become aware of this flaw in my teaching, and combined with this articles findings, I now have been given even more reason to slow down and be more conscious of whether my speed as a teacher matches the speed that my students need in order to truly be learning.


Pritchett, L. & Beatty, A. (2012)  The Negative Consequences of Overambitious Curricula in Developing Countries. Harvard Kennedy School Faculty Research Working Paper.