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Posts Tagged ‘creativity

I have caught up with my backlog of image quotes. This is the last one I prepared way in advance.

I started with Haiku Deck and moved to Google Slides as the latter afforded more precise text placements.

My Google Slide-based quotes are in this online album. The ones in Haiku Deck are here.

I have shared the image quotes under CC license because the images were originally under a CC license.

I am not sure if I will make more even though I still have a collection of unused quotes.

I am not sure if I can stop myself either.

Poll ten people on what “innovation” means and you will likely get ten different answers. You might also see some patterns emerge.

Here are two common responses to what innovation is: 1) doing things differently, and 2) doing the same things differently.

I agree with the first notion, but I think that the second is flawed. If you are doing the same things, how can you call it different?

In a few seminars, I have showcased examples of how people have used the show-and-tell method over time: Cavemen drawing on cave walls, lecturers on blackboards, instructors with overhead projectors, teachers with PowerPoint and “interactive” white boards.

Is doing the same thing differently all that innovative? How can it be when the medium has changed and the method has not?

Consider another example.

My son’s school has a “no homework on Mondays” policy. There are caveats in this practice, but I shall not waste words on them.

By force of habit, I asked my son on a Monday if he had homework. Before I could take my question back, my son replied that he had. A teacher gave the class homework on Monday and told students that it was due on Wednesday.

Technically a child could wait till Tuesday to do the homework. But even a child knows that Tuesday will bring even more homework that they will have to add to an already full plate.

Doing the same thing (dishing out homework) differently (giving it a different due date) is not innovative. It is a creative response to staying ahead in the curricular race, but it is a selfish one. It does not benefit the child, it does not change practice, and it works against the movement to try something new.

Part of the Twitterverse seems to have fallen in love with the fixed vs growth mindset debate. @gcouros suggests we adopt an innovator’s mindset. I agree. But only if innovation is about doing things differently, not doing the same things differently.

I am a fan of Yong Zhao because he is not afraid to speak plainly. This is one of my favourite quotes from him because it is both funny and true.

Haiku Deck was experiencing problems when I wanted to create this image quote, so I went back to the ever reliable Google Slides. I simply layered text over a greyscaled version of the original photo below.

When the papers and MOE announced that students and teachers would receive free LEGO sets for SG50, those who cared cheered.

Others saw an opportunity to make money off the sets knowing that there were AFOLs (adult fans of LEGO) and other LEGO fans who would pay a tidy sum for the sets. Perhaps these fans do not realize that they can buy the sets after National Day or they cannot wait till August. The sale of the sets prompted the Minister for Education to urge recipients to treasure the sets.

My wife, who is a teacher, received her set before my son did. But that did not stop him from opening the set and building the Cavenagh Bridge. He also used his own spare parts to complete the Changi Airport control tower because each set does not contain enough parts to build all three.

Being the avid reader that he is, my son examined the booklet that accompanied the set. He was critical of this page.

His complaint was this: According to this page and his age, he should only build a Level 1 structure even though he is capable of a Level 3 structure and improvising.

My son is well aware that these are only guidelines and that practically all LEGO sets have age recommendations. But he has a point. Does having these guidelines create creative barriers? Does having instructions to build a certain way with set objectives stifle imagination?

Most educators who use LEGO know that it helps to start with structure and build towards freestyling. But kids already know how to build from their imaginations. It is adults that make rules and create barriers, and not all of them make sense.

The adults who were inspired to make the LEGO sets an SG50 present had a wonderful idea about soft selling the building of Singapore. It must have cost a sizeable chunk of taxpayer money, but I doubt many will question if it was money well spent.

But here is a free and more important lesson. We should be learning from kids how not to limit imaginations with levels or objectives. If they are to build their future, we should not restrict them to our past.

Video source

This might be the first time I have heard creativity defined as the “conspiracy of craziness”. 

How do we get this creative conspiracy? By having “ridiculous optimism”.

Tune in to this TEDx talk by Kermit to fill in the blanks. 

I had mixed feelings when I watched these two videos of kids expressing their talents.

Video source

Video source

I was in awe of their abilities and I could also see the time and effort they put in by way of practice.

I also wondered how many kids get the opportunity to let their talents shine. And not just the kids with outstanding or marketable talent.

They first need to be aware of their talents or be spotted with them. Then they need to be nurtured at considerable cost of time, effort, and money.

In an inequitable world, a few kids get those opportunities. Most do not and there is little one can do except try to change the world bit by bit.

But in a schooling world even kids with opportunities might have their talents squashed (along with their curiosity and creativity) all in the name of completing curricula and doing well in tests.

Dancers and musicians may not solve the world’s biggest problems. But neither are content that is irrelevant and testing that is meaningless.

The problem solvers are the ones we allow to be curious and creative by expressing their talents. Should we not be doing more to identify and nurture talent?

There are two parts of my reflection today.

First, I use word clouds to illustrate what participants thought at the end of an interactive talk I gave yesterday on educational innovation. Then I answer two questions that participants asked in a Google Form.

I asked participants to complete an exit ticket. Among the tasks were two questions:

  1. What is your main takeaway from the talk?
  2. What might you do differently to innovate?

I collected the responses in a Google Form and Spreadsheet, and then used Tagxedo to generate a word cloud.

Here is one for the first question.


It is no surprise that “creativity” and “innovation” featured prominently since these were the foci of the talk. But I am glad that some of the key points like unleashing pupils, unboxing them, failing forward, and (not waiting to be fully) prepared stuck with participants.

The actionable items were varied.

tagxedo-actionReading their individual statements in full and in context, the largest words are actually less meaningful because they were necessary fillers about the main topic. The mid-sized concepts like needing to unlearn and relearn, outwitting obstacles, exciting (students), and (leveraging on) emotions are key to teachers unboxing themselves.

I would also like to address two questions teachers asked in the exit form.

The first question was: Since space and time is needed, how do teachers innovate as they need to finish a given syllabus?

The second was: In the context of our education scene where so much time and emphasis is placed on results, where and how do we find time to innovate n let our minds go free?

The questions, while phrased differently, have exactly the same roots. They deal with the issue of time and view the problem of balancing classroom innovation and completing a syllabus or getting good results as a zero-sum game.

The thinking is that something old must give way for something new to move in. I imagine that teachers feel like they are balancing a full glass of acid above their heads and want to know how much is going to be removed before more acid is poured in. Pouring in without taking out is going to burn them.

After consulting a few educators at #edsg chat last night, I have concluded that you can play a different zero-sum game or break out of that paradigm altogether.

In lay speak, pour in something that neutralizes the acid or stop playing the acid-balancing game.

1. Zero-sum game 1: Modular curriculum design
In this approach, teachers do not teach every topic over the whole year. They only focus on specific topics that they prepare all materials for: Teaching, learning, practice, assessment, etc. Teachers might work in teams if they have larger cohorts.

The result is that the curriculum race still gets run while teachers get creative with the topic(s) they are assigned and do less (or even no) work for non-assigned topics. Teachers get more time to think of innovative approaches and get to observe and critique their colleagues when they are not teaching.

2. Zero-sum game 2: Integrated or overlapping curriculum design
The main idea of this approach is to identify redundancies or commonalities in subject silos and attempt to teach them at the same time. Volume is both a Math and Science concept, so why teach it twice? There is reading comprehension in complex Math problems and report writing in Science, so why not combine it with Language? The stories and examples in Language can be Math or Science in nature.

An ideal outcome of such an approach is a more holistic and interdisciplinary curriculum. Even if that is not the goal of curricular redesign, more porous silos create better communication and understanding between teachers of different content areas. If such conversations go beyond “What do you teach?” to “How to you teach it?” teachers might discover new ways of doing old things.

3. Play a new game
Compared to changing high-stakes testing, curricular redesign is easy. Exams and tests are not likely to be de-emphasized in our system any time soon even though there is less focus on just getting good grades.

Teachers have to ask themselves which of these they value the most: A) the test of schools, B) the test of life, or C) both.

Most teachers are already in mode A. Progressive teachers and change agents prefer to look beyond the temporary road hump that is the exam and prefer to prepare kids for more important things in life.

A few teachers want both good results and well-adjusted kids. This is a tall order, but not outside their reach. The main strategy is not to hot-house and prepare students for exams hoping that this will teach resilience.

Quite the opposite. Kids should be given opportunities to think creatively and critically first, possibly with the help of curricula that is modular, overlapping, or integrated. It is their capacity to think first instead of regurgitating content that will help them operate outside subject silos and to transfer knowledge and skills from one domain to another.

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