Friday, October 10, 2014

Innovation: Error and Insight

New ideas in the school room bring both error and insight.

As I've shared many times, I tend to jump in if the learning is connected to good research and result.

Hence, the Global Cardboard Challenge continues to create disruptive innovation, error, and insight. Who would think creativity and a cardboard box could be so powerful?

Inviting children to turn a cardboard box, recyclables, science gadgets, and craft supplies into something from their imagination creates a number of reactions. There are those children who dive right in, creating and collaborating with unstoppable enthusiasm, trial and error, and result. There are also those who don't know where to start, and find the task overwhelming. And there's everyone in between.

What do these varied reactions say? Like many, I don't think creativity is a natural talent, and I do think it's something you can learn. Yet, as with any endeavor, there are some that naturally embrace creative tasks, and others who shy away from free thinking and explore. This happens more as children grow older if they don't have the chance to develop creative thinking skills and exploration at an early age.

I know that creativity and problem solving are important for our students today, and while jumping into the cardboard challenge has brought some discomfort, it has made me realize that I need to continue to build in opportunities for creative exploration, three-dimension learning, and problem solving on a regular basis, but I have to provide greater supports for those who find this kind of task and the collaboration required a challenge.

Clearly some children are awesome at collaboration. They know how to negotiate, work together, and get along. There are also others for whom collaboration is very challenging. Clearly, they haven't had the chance to work in teams often to solve problems and negotiate.  Some prefer working in a team where everyone works on their own project yet they all share ideas, and others squirrel away in a corner to work by themselves. Adults meet a task like this with similar variability.

Yet, similar to the challenge to create, all children can learn to collaborate, and collaboration is vital to today's world with regard to problem solving, innovation, and peaceful communities.  As a class, we need to discuss and practice these skills explicitly so students have the skills and dispositions they need for optimal collaboration.

Problem Solving
The cardboard challenge posed a problem to solve, a problem that could not be solved by a set of directions, but instead a problem that took creative thinking, collaboration, perseverance, learning from error, communication, and revision. This is a challenge that doesn't have a "quick fix," but instead requires planning, trial-and-error, and stick-to-it-ness. It's a great foreshadowing of the kind of work students will do in the real world as they solve problems and create in their line of work--the kind of learning many experts in education are saying that our students need.

I want to build in more problem solving that requires thought and collaboration as the year moves forward so that children become more resilient, open, and proficient at the attitudes, actions, and perseverance it takes to solve problems with care.

I will make time for students to reflect upon their learning. What worked and what didn't? How would you change things if we did this again? How could teachers have helped you more?

One challenge a year won't develop students' creativity, collaboration, and problem solving. We need to continue down this road, and use the insights culled from both error and success during this open, creative, cardboard challenge.

What will we do next? After a period of more traditional problem solving work and learning, we'll likely embrace a new challenge--probably one that involves simple machines, sound, or another standard on the teaching/learning menu so that we can reach the balance of standards-based learning and develop Michael Fullen’s 6 C’s:
  • character
  • citizenship
  • communication
  • critical thinking and problem solving
  • collaboration and teamwork
  • creativity and imagination
Finally, while standardized tests take center stage in many learning communities, we have to find ways to value the deep learning that comes from projects like the Global Cardboard Challenge. I was reminded of that yesterday as I watched a talented student, one that struggles sometimes with standardized tests, create an awesome, engaging game with multiple recyclables, toys, cardboard, and craft items. Her ingenuity was tops! I noticed the gleam in her eyes, and sense of pride this activity brought, and I recognized how vital her bright enthusiasm and out-of-the-box thinking are for our world today and in the future. 

How can we make creativity, collaboration, and problem solving as important and visible as reading, writing, and math computation? What benefits does an early start in learning these skills well bring to our children and our world?  These are important questions for education communities to consider.