Facilitating Creative Thinking Through Experiential Learning


Guest post by Dr. Iman Rasti, middle school English and humanities teacher at Rippowam Cisqua School in Bedford, New York. Dr. Rasti is one of the teachers in the school's first Innovation Cohort, led by Sparkitivity's Kathryn Haydon in partnership with RCS Innovation Director Miles Cameron, to create a grass roots move toward deeper learning throughout the school. Teachers were trained in the Torrance Incubation Model to help them easily integrate high-level creative thinking into their content areas and deepen student engagement. 

One freezing January afternoon, standing around the campfire and drowned in the crackling fire sounds, my seventh-grade students took turns to answer this question: “What are you grateful for?”  This brief mindfulness activity closed a half-day history project carried out on the wet, cold fields on our middle school campus.

In our seventh-grade American history class we study the American Revolution: causes and effects, major battles, historical facts and statistics. Aiming to answer the central questions regarding the American Revolutionary War, we usually read and analyze primary source documents, discuss the key concepts, debate controversial issues, write research papers, and frequently work in groups to further explore the topic at hand. Although these activities, along with the use of media and some hands-on mini-projects, make the lessons really engaging, there are still some deeper questions to be answered: How can you bring the topic of the Revolutionary War to life for your students? How can you help them draw meaningful connections between that war and contemporary ones? How can you help them realize that wars should not just be looked at through numbers, and that knowing about and empathizing with the individuals fighting in them and what they go through everyday is arguably even more important?


Pondering these and many similar questions on one hand, and attempting to facilitate and foster creative thinking skills (See Appendix) in my students through mindfulness and experiential learning on the other hand, I designed a project in Torrance Incubation Model (TIM ) format the last time I taught the American Revolutionary War. A highly effective approach to teaching any lesson to children of varying age groups, TIM has three interactive, yet sequential stages: heightening anticipation, deepening understanding, and extending learning. Torrance and Sisk (1997) summarized the goals of the Incubation Model of Teaching as follows:

"Before creative thinking can occur, something has to be done to heighten anticipation and expectation and to prepare learners to see clear connections between what they are expected to learn and their future life (the next minute or hour, the next day, the next year, or 25 years from now). After this arousal, it is necessary to help students dig into the problem, acquire more information, encounter the unexpected, and continue deepening expectations. Finally, there must be practice in doing something with the new information, immediately or later" (Torrance and Sisk, 1997, p. 91, cited in Hébert et al. 2002, p. 25).

The project was to reconstruct a typical non-combat, camp day of a Continental Army soldier during the American Revolutionary War, with emphasis placed on setting up a tent, making fire, cooking food, playing games, and reading letters received from the loved ones. To arouse my students’ curiosity, get their attention, and create the desire to know (Heightening Anticipation), I decided to reveal what the project was going to be in a piecemeal fashion.

The class was already studying a whole unit on this topic and they were told that there was going to be an experiential project at the end, but I intentionally created a context where they had to keep guessing and imagining what kind of project it would be. For example, when I received the package I had ordered with the tripod campfire stand as well as ironcast crock pots and other utensils for the cooking phase of the project, I simply unpacked the box and laid everything on my desk for a few days without telling anyone what they were going to be used for. I did the same when I received the canvas tarp, cords, and poles for pitching the tent.

After about a week, I finally introduced the project and had my students break into small groups to do some preliminary research about the main components of the lesson. Once they acquired some basic information, we set out to complete the project outside on our athletic fields which were partly covered by snow. This was the phase where students had to dig into the problem and encounter the unexpected (Deepening Understanding). For instance, the howling wind had made it difficult to pitch the tent and the wet wood had made it hard to start a fire. Highly motivated to solve these problems, students intuitively started seeking original solutions by experimenting with new ideas, testing solutions, elaborating, and communicating their discoveries with each other (Haydon et al. 2016).


Once the scrumptious food was cooked over the fire and served inside the tent, the students played authentic American Revolutionary War games, discussed war-related topics, and some even lay down, simply savouring their experience by being present in the moment. Next, the students, pretending to be soldiers, gathered around the campfire and recited the real letters written by some American soldiers’ families during the Revolutionary War. It was an emotional time for the students as they were deep into characters, empathizing with those individuals and what they had to go through psychologically; not just because they were fighting in a deadly war, but because of being away from their loved ones, with the unsettling feeling of the uncertainty of ever seeing them again. “I’m grateful for peace,” one student uttered emotionally. “I’m grateful for the American soldiers, past and present, who risk their lives for our safety and security,” said another one proudly. Engaged in this creative mindfulness activity, the students tried to keep the learning process active (Extending Learning), each sharing what they were grateful for.

Summarizing the main tenants of a creative learning paradigm, Kathryn Haydon (2015) argues when creativity is integrated with academic content teaching and learning, learning becomes more meaningful to students, which in turn leads to enhanced intrinsic motivation, resulting in new ideas, skills, or personal growth. My students had become so involved and committed that they lost a sense of time that day. They asked if they could stay right by the fire a few minutes longer, reflecting on their experience, doing nothing but being immersed in the warmth of the fire, each other, and the subject they were studying, vicariously experiencing a typical day in the life of an American soldier during the Revolutionary War, or any other war for that matter. And I simply let them.


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Haydon, K. P. (2015) What if we view our education system as an ecosystem? In Culpepper, M. K., & Burnett, C. (Eds.), Big questions in creativity 2015. Buffalo, NY: ICSC Press.

Haydon, K. P., Goff, K., & Harvey, J. (2016) Academic creativity in your classroom. Torrance Journal for Applied Creativity, Vol 1, 27-31.

Hébert et al. (2002). E. Paul Torrance: His Life, Accomplishments, and Legacy. The National Research Center on the Gifted and Talented.

Torrance, E. P.  & Safter, H. T. (1999) Making the creative leap beyond. Buffalo, NY: Creative Education Foundation.

Sisk, D. ( 2009) Making Great Kids Greater: Easing the Burden of Being Gifted. Thousand Oaks, CA: Corwin Press.  



Futurist Kevin Kelly Reveals the Superskill of the Future

Photo by Lacie Slezak on Unsplash

Photo by Lacie Slezak on Unsplash

We all want to thrive in life—to be healthy, happy contributing members of our communities. 

Yet, we live in a time of exponential change. We hardly know what skills we’re going to need next week, let alone in five, ten, or twenty years!

So we have to zoom out. When we understand the overall patterns of change we can more clearly pinpoint what we, or our kids, will need to thrive. Wired Magazine founder and futurist, Kevin Kelly, detailed these patterns of change in his recent book, The Inevitable.

One of the clearest points he made is that in this new world, we are always in a state of “becoming.” We live in the age of the present participle—words ending in -ing that mean the action is in process. Everything is in a flowing, changing state. This flux turns us into continuous learners. 

Kelly points out that we are all “newbies” all the time. How true that is. How many times just in the past week have your apps updated, resulting in a new feature or interface?  

After reading The Inevitable twice and recommending it to everyone I know, I set up a call to talk with Kevin Kelly about his thoughts on learning. He shared with me what he thinks is the superskill of the present and the future: learning how to learn or optimizing our own learning

Do you know how you learn best?
How about when it’s something hard and frustrating? 

To start learning about your own learning, observe yourself in the learning process. You can do this as a scientist, recording your insights in a notebook, or you can do it casually to get a general sense. Look first for meaning and purpose

When you are in the midst of the learning experience, notice what makes it meaningful to you. When the meaning is in place, is the learning process more enjoyable? Do you have more drive to stick with it? 

Then, notice what makes you feel frustrated. Did you lose your sense of purpose about the task? Did the meaningful element disappear? If so, in what ways might you reclaim that connection?

I wrote a piece here about my experience trying to learn how to belly dance. It was hard for me, having rarely taken a dance class. But once the instructor started using metaphor to explain the movements (“make a little rainbow with your hips”), I clicked with it. I felt like I could make progress (another key point). 

I love words, I love metaphor, I love poetic language. I also love making connections across disciplines. It was exciting to think of word pictures in relation to dance moves. When the instructor used metaphor, I was able to connect something I love and understand (words) to help me do something that was awkward and irritating (tiny, isolated body movements). 

By using metaphor, the instructor made learning meaningful to me. Yet, I didn’t re-enroll after the series because there was something missing for me: purpose in taking the class. No one was making me take it, and I was busy. However, if there had been a greater purpose behind it I likely would have persisted.

We have to find our source of meaning and define our purpose as the first step to optimizing our learning. These deep motivators support our drive to continue when the going gets tough, as it always does when we are growing in a skill or craft. Whether we have to memorize volumes of information for an exam or we are trying to move from novice to amateur in tennis, it won’t happen without a lot of hard work driven by internal motivation.

One way to begin to find meaning and purpose is to connect with creative strengths. We all have our own constellation of creative strengths. For example, if humor is one of your top creative strengths, jokes or relationships or activities that involve humor are probably meaningful to you. When you know your creative strengths, you have a basis from which to begin connecting to meaning. I’ve created a Creative Strengths Spotter workbook to help you find your own, or your kids’, creative strengths. You can get the Sparkitivity Creative Strengths Spotter for free here

We often try to just buck up and get our work done. This can work in the short term for some tasks, but it doesn’t sustain our long-term effectiveness. We expect the same of our kids: “Do your homework so you can get good grades so you can get into a good college so you can get a good job.” While this statement might be meaningful to adults, it says nothing about an individual child’s motivations. Kids who are just going through the motions to stay on the predetermined pathway are not being driven by meaning and purpose. We have to help them not only find their motivations, but make deep and lasting connections to what they are learning by tapping into their creative thinking. When they learn to do this, they are well on their way to developing their own future superskill. We can do it for ourselves and lead by example.

In what ways do you learn best? 

Read more here about how to harness student creative thinking in science to optimize learning.

Want the quick-start guide to the science of creativity to help support your best work? Get Creativity for Everybody here. 

Copyright 2017 Sparkitivity, LLC. All Rights Reserved.

How Belly Dancing Can Help Slow Learners


I am not a dancer.  I don’t seek out dance classes because it is hard for me to learn dance moves and harder to commit them to memory.  Compounding this, my sense of following a rhythm has been laughed at on a number of occasions, so moving in a routine to music is a double whammy.  When the Electric Slide or Cotton Eyed Joe come on at parties, I want to be in the midst of the fun but when my line’s in front of the rotation I try to drift to the back as we turn.  If I were being evaluated, one might conclude that I have a dance deficit, that I am low-functioning in my dance abilities.  If dance were a core subject in school, I would certainly be placed in remedial dance classes; if mainstreamed, I would be at the bottom of the class.  It might be whispered that, unable to master the national dance standards, my future will be limited.  This would seep into my self-concept, and I would probably dread school, get frustrated, stop trying, pass notes, or act out.  Unless I had an amazing teacher . . .

Let me pause the story for a moment, and invite you to consider your students who seem to have trouble learning a particular subject, and as you continue to read, please place them in my position as the learner in the narrative. 

Despite my historic pattern of dance avoidance, I recently agreed to accompany a friend to a belly dancing class.  After initially turning down the offer, I finally conceded when she said I could wear regular workout clothing and joked that since neither of us has dance experience or talent we would probably be in the back of the class laughing together because we would be such a sorry spectacle.  My attitude toward the class upon arrival was reserved openness, slight annoyance that I was doing this, and an underlying conviction that I’d trip through this for one hour and laugh with my friend and that would be the end of it. 

When the confident but gentle teacher entered the room, a slow evolution began to take place in my thinking.  The instructor, Emily, came in with a warm smile, dimmed the fluorescents, turned on soft lighting, and rhythmic, Middle Eastern music. She offered us a selection of pretty, jingling belts that looked fun, so I tied one around my waist and submitted to instruction.  I felt awkward as we learned the simplest moves even though she demonstrated slowly and threw a couple of compliments my way that sounded genuine.  “She sees that I don’t have much skill in this and that’s why she’s complimenting me right now,” I thought on both occasions.  It was clear to me that this was not going to be easy, and then I began to think about the popular belief that it takes 10,000 hours of practice to get good at anything.  My thoughts went like this, “It’s fun to wear this jingly belt, I enjoy being here in this calm, dimly lit room with my friend, the teacher is nice, but, yes, I’m still no good at dancing and in that case it is certainly not something I want to dedicate time to practice if I’m never going to be that good anyway.” 

As the first few minutes of the class went on, I was reunited with that irritating feeling of trying to learn something that seems hopeless and pointless.  Bumbling around with some sinuous arm movements, I heard Emily say, “It’s kind of like the backstroke.”  My mind snapped to attention.  “The backstroke! I can do the backstroke,” I thought.  Immediately my arms cooperated, mimicking the swimming technique that I knew well.

A few minutes later, Emily compared another movement to surfing.  Once again my focus emerged from the active thoughts in my head.  “Surfing!  I know how to surf.” And it was no longer arduous.  It wasn’t easy, but it was in reach.  I wondered if she noticed that each time she used a sports analogy I suddenly was able to complete the movement.  A few minutes later I heard, “It’s like a rainbow.  Just make a little rainbow with your hips.”  So I made a rainbow. 

Now I was having fun.  Emily was speaking my language, and I suddenly felt good about learning dance moves.  Never before had I been able to visualize and implement  a series of complex gyrations directed from afar, but she was giving me something to hook into my own experience and bridge the gap.  I thought, “Perhaps there is hope for me yet, at least to achieve a basic level of skill in articulating my body in an abstract routine.” 

During a break, I joyously mused to Emily and the class, “Every time you compare a move to something else, like another sports skill, I then understand what to do.”  She smiled, “So metaphor works for you.”  Yes!  Emily had tapped into my penchant for metaphor.  I revel in good metaphor like someone else might appreciate a striking work of art.  Metaphor is also practical: it builds a bridge between the abstract and the concrete while speaking to each person in a different way.  As the class proceeded, we made crescent rolls, scallops, grapevines, and many other image-movements.  Now Emily was actively seeking analogies when she introduced a new motion.

It was still hard work and I had to concentrate deeply to focus, but now I was engaged and felt that it was possible that I could learn, at least a little.  Also, I was developing a trust in Emily.  She had created a welcoming, accepting atmosphere from the start - including a calming physical space - and repeatedly encouraged us to make mistakes.  She carefully observed the individual levels of the students, and differentiated instruction accordingly.  She certainly responded to my need for imagery to illustrate body movements. 

Well-known Harvard Business School professor Theresa Amabile has done extensive research on intrinsic motivation as related to creativity, productivity, and satisfaction in the workplace, lately focusing on the concept of inner work life.  I paraphrase her definition of inner work life as the intersection of emotions, perceptions, and motivations that people experience in the context of a work environment.  Amabile and colleagues conducted an extensive study that required workers to detail their emotions and reactions each day over a period of time in order to understand the effect that the state of inner work life has on productivity, creativity, and job satisfaction.  The team gleaned much interesting information, confirming that praise, collaboration, and a fun, relaxing environment all assist in helping people develop and maintain positive inner work lives.  The study also revealed that the most important management factor is “to give people the sense that they can make progress in their work.”

Now we arrive somewhat circuitously to the question at hand: How on earth can belly dancing help slow learners in your classroom?  First, let’s apply Amabile’s theory to teaching.  I entered Emily’s belly dancing class as a diffident learner who believed I had a pre-existing deficit in the content being taught.  My “inner student life” (my reinterpretation of Amabile’s term) consisted of a mix of emotions (apathy, skepticism, self-doubt, happy to be out with a friend), perceptions (view of dance as difficult, view of myself as a poor dancer, view of myself as an athlete not a dancer), and motivations (no particular interest in the content, reticence to workout classes). Overall, my view was somewhat curious but apathetic toward the class content itself.  I was not convinced at the outset that the experience would be a good one.

However, instructor Emily was an outstanding teacher.  Beginning from the moment she set foot in the classroom, she met all of the basic qualifications that Amabile found lead to positive inner work life:

-created a welcoming, nurturing atmosphere;
-expressed positivity and joy;
-pointed out strengths;
-encouraged mistakes;
-worked with students in collaboration.

Those factors all steadily improved my connection to the class and the content.  But the most important point lines up with Amabile’s research: by laying the positive groundwork she made me feel comfortable; but when she began to use metaphor Emily gave me the hope that I could actually make progress in this learning.  That was the breakthrough moment, and it was sustained when she realized my individual need for metaphor and actively taught to this need.  Her effort solidified my trust in her as a teacher, and told my inner student life that I was safe trying this activity with her.  This mentality allowed engaged me to try harder and even have fun while doing it.

As teachers, we’re always going to have learners that arrive in our classrooms lacking confidence and skill in one area or another.  By establishing a positive, accepting climate and comfortable physical environment, we take the first steps toward engaging learners and dispelling the blocks that slow progress.  By teaching with a variety of methodologies, as Emily did, we increase the chances that more students will connect with us, and, ultimately, the content.  This might mean infusing the arts, picture books, problem solving, experiments, and opportunities for exploration.  It certainly means diverging from the standard texts and photocopies of information to bring in other resources, multi-media, and interdisciplinary content.  The more we vary our teaching strategies to students’ individual needs, the more apt we are to connect with them, which will result in expectation of potential growth, followed by engagement, real learning, and ultimate learning success.

Students have no real choice whether or not they go back to school tomorrow.  I can return to the belly dancing class next week or not, it’s completely up to me.  Because Emily was an effective teacher, she made the experience engaging and worthwhile for me and I have chosen to go again. You don’t have to engage your students.  They’ll be there tomorrow anyway.  But wouldn’t it be amazing if belly dancing sparked your inspiration to hook them in even more deeply? 

Amabile, T. & Kramer, S.  (May 1, 2007).  Inner work life: Understanding the subtext of business performance.  Harvard Business Review, volume 120,7. 

This article first appeared on The Creativity Post. Copyright 2017 Sparkitivity. All Rights Reserved.

What’s in a Pitch? 


Guest post by Emily Hyland, fourth-grade teacher at Rippowam Cisqua School in Bedford, New York. Mrs. Hyland is one of the teachers in the school's first Innovation Cohort, led by Sparkitivity's Kathryn Haydon and RCS's Innovation Director Miles Cameron, to create a grass roots move toward deeper learning throughout the school. Teachers were trained in the Torrance Incubation Model to help them easily integrate high-level creative thinking into their content areas and deepen student engagement. 

“Alright, alright, let’s settle down. I’d like to get started. Actually, today, I want to tell you about a new contest we’re going to be holding here in the 4th grade.” A melody of outbursts follow. We willingly forget for a moment about our class rule of one voice speaking at a time. 

“A contest!”  

“What kind of contest?”

“How do you win!?” 

“What’s the prize?” 

“Who will vote for the winner?” 

“Will it be fair if we can vote?”

“Well, it seems the author of the novel we are reading forgot to give names for the chapters. I’ll be holding a contest to name each one. Is anyone interested in submitting?” A few hands go up. 

“Alright, well you don’t all have to submit today for chapter one but the winner will get their chapter title published in our classroom.” A few more hands go up. 

“Great, we have some friends interested. I’ll hand around a submission form. We will all get to vote on the winning submission. As judges you will be asked to consider accuracy and cleverness in your decision.” Two more hands in the air. I place a Post-it on the interested contestants’ desks. 

This conversation is an excerpt from the beginning of a language arts lesson on Natalie Babbitt’s timeless book Tuck Everlasting. Before starting in on chapter two, I wanted to assess who could succinctly capture the main event from chapter one that describes the home of the main character, Winnie Foster, described by Babbitt as a “touch me not cottage.”

Rather than start with a lesson about summarizing or identifying a main idea, I held a contest. It required no physical preparation on my part (other than a stack of Post-it notes); however, the submissions, and conversations that happened as the students were considering their submissions, were very telling about what each child remembered from the previous day’s reading. 

Last school year, I was lucky to be a part of the founding Innovation Cohort at my school, Rippowam Cisqua in Bedford, NY. Among other things, the cohort worked alongside Sparkitivity's Kathryn Haydon studying the Torrance Incubation Model (TIM), a simple yet effective framework for lesson planning consisting of three straightforward stages: heightening anticipation, deepening understanding, and extending the learning. From this work sprung wonderful conversations and a deepening of my conviction that we must always put ourselves in our students’ shoes as we lesson plan. Long story short: if it would bore you as an adult, it will definitely bore them as nine-year-olds. 

But, as I took what I had learned from the cohort back to my classroom, I began to think about what an intimidating task lay before me. After all, as a fourth-grade teacher I am responsible for everything from reviewing parts of speech in grammar to reinforcing the times tables in math. How on earth could I make it ALL interesting and fun?  

I cut myself some slack and decided to just focus on the idea of “What’s in a pitch?” or as the TIM model would put it, heightening anticipation. I would focus in particular, each day, on the first minute of each lesson, those few seconds when a child, just like an adult, decides “I’m interested” or “I’m out.” 

By awakening children’s creativity immediately, and as often as possible, suddenly you can hook even reluctant students. And if you’re lucky, the child who maybe doesn’t yet love to read does enjoy a good healthy competition and suddenly they’re happily summarizing a chapter in a book. Not to mention that this approach to learning--and lucky for me--teaching, becomes a little more fun. Who wouldn’t sign on the dotted line for that? 


Babbit, Natalie. (1985). Tuck Everlasting. New York : Farrar, Straus, Giroux.

Torrance, E. P.,  & Safter, H. T. (1999). Making the creative leap beyond. Buffalo, NY: Creative Education Foundation.

Teaching History, Building Empathy With the Torrance Incubation Model

John Brown's Fort (The Old Fire House), Harper's Ferry, WV by Noel Benadom via Flickr

John Brown's Fort (The Old Fire House), Harper's Ferry, WV by Noel Benadom via Flickr

Guest post by Dr. Iman Rasti, middle school English and humanities teacher at Rippowam Cisqua School in Bedford, New York. Dr. Rasti is one of the teachers in the school's first Innovation Cohort, led by Sparkitivity's Kathryn Haydon, to create a grass roots move toward deeper learning throughout the school. Teachers were trained in the Torrance Incubation Model to help them easily integrate high-level creative thinking into their content areas and deepen student engagement. 

“I have, may it please the court, a few words to say. In the first place, I deny everything but what I have all along admitted -- the design on my part to free the slaves. I intended certainly to have made a clean thing of that matter … That was all I intended. I never did intend murder, or treason, or the destruction of property, or to excite or incite slaves to rebellion, or to make insurrection.”

These were the opening remarks made by John Brown, a radical American abolitionist, to the court at his trial on November 2, 1859 in Charlestown, Virginia. Believing in the violent overthrow of the slavery system, John Brown and 21 of his followers attacked and occupied the federal arsenal in Harper’s Ferry, Virginia, on October 16, 1859, aiming to capture supplies and use them to arm a slave rebellion. John Brown was captured during the raid, put on trial, and later hanged on December 2, 1859.

When teaching my eighth-grade humanities students the events that led to the Civil War, I always include the trial of John Brown, using his original speech to the court as the main primary source document to analyze. I also have my students read textbook excerpts and show them some relevant video clips to make my lesson more ‘interesting.’ 

After a few sessions of studying John Brown and analyzing his speech, I realized I was not totally satisfied with the depth of my students’ learning. So I tried to design one last lesson on this topic, only this time approaching it in the Torrance Incubation Model (TIM) format.

An effective way to teach and learn creatively, TIM breaks a lesson into three stages:

  1. Heightening anticipation

  2. Deepening understanding

  3. Extending the learning

The intent of TIM is to help us get our students to a higher, deeper level of learning by integrating a creative thinking skill into each stage of the lesson. Torrance’s Creativity Skill Set includes 16 specific creative thinking skills from which to choose.  I focused on the “visualize” skill to make my lesson more appealing to the students’ eyes and minds. In so doing, the core objectives and curriculum content of my eighth grade humanities was not compromised, but it was enhanced.

Heightening Anticipation

Aiming to get the students’ attention, I set up my classroom environment differently, transforming it into a typical 19th-century American courthouse with designated seats for the judge, victim and his lawyer, defendants and prosecutor, witnesses, and jury.  

Changing the usual classroom setting by rearranging the furniture ‘heightened’ my students’ anticipation as they walked in the classroom wondering why it was set up so differently. They were able to visualize an actual trial setting. With their curiosity aroused, I simply introduced the task: “Today, we’re going to re-enact John Brown’s trial.”

Deepening Understanding

Truth being told, I did not want my students to simply participate in a mock trial of John Brown, repeating exactly what he and others had uttered during his trial. What kind of deeper understanding would that create? What I wanted my students to do, however, was to ‘dig deep’, go beyond the surface, and understand the human emotions. In other words, I wanted them to vicariously participate in the trial of a fellow human being, charged with treason and murder, to discover and learn something new about themselves and their own feelings. I wanted them to "visualize" the experience through language. 

Drawing on their already existing knowledge of John Brown and his trial, the students began performing, synthesizing the information, improvising, thinking creatively, and finally reaching a verdict-- one which was different from the actual historical verdict. To them, John Brown was guilty of killing innocent people, but not guilty of exciting the slaves to rebellion or making insurrection. Right or wrong, I respected their verdict.  

Extending the Learning

The trial stimulation was intense, gripping, and highly engaging, with every single student having a role to play. Once it was over, I helped my students discover ways to extend the lesson to the real world. I asked them to simply imagine having to actually play any of the roles they played in the mock trial in real life, in a real trial, at a real court. I had them mentally explore this possibility for a while, to visualize it in their minds.

Torrance’s creativity skill to use innovative thinking to imagine the future helped the students to imagine and explore things that do not yet exist. Next, I had them share their thoughts explaining how this experience allowed them to realize how tough it is to be in the shoes of any of the people involved in that or any similar case. My students seemed to get one step closer to identifying who they were as individuals. Subsequently, they refined their ability to empathize.

TIM also enabled my students to learn the content more deeply through cultivating their own creative thinking skills. But perhaps TIM’s most powerful contribution to my lesson was the opportunity it provided for my students to get to know themselves and each other more profoundly.

As I began rearranging the furniture to its original format, I pondered how incredible it would be if all my lessons be presented this way.


Brown, J. (1859) “John Brown's Speech to the Court at his Trial” National Center. November 2, 1859


Haydon, K. P. & Harvey, J. (2015) Creativity for Everybody. New York, NY: Sparkitivity, LLC.

Torrance, E. P.  & Safter, H. T. (1999) Making the creative leap beyond. Buffalo, NY: Creative Education Foundation

Worwood, M. (2011) “Torrance Incubation Model of Creative Teaching and Learning (TIM)” Teach Digital



Why Robots Will Only Partially Take Over Teachers’ Jobs and Why They’ll Actually Love It

Why Robots Will Only Partially Take Over Teachers’ Jobs and Why They’ll Actually Love It

In our interview, Wired Magazine founder Kevin Kelly imagined a scene that will make teachers smile: 

A Student's Alternative Chapter for The Indian in the Cupboard

Film poster image from The Indian in the Cupboard 1995 film directed by Frank Oz

Film poster image from The Indian in the Cupboard 1995 film directed by Frank Oz

This is a guest post by Sparkitivity's sixth-grade student mentee, Catherine B. Catherine excels in language arts and needed Sparkitivity to create an advanced reading and writing mentorship to supplement what her school could provide so that she could continue to grow as a learner. The following is the second part of her final writing assignment, Catherine's "alternative book chapter" for The Indian in the Cupboard by Lynne Reid Banks. The prompt asks her to use imaginative thinking, one of the highest-level thinking skills, to drive her writing. 

The Assignment:

Main character Omri's friend Patrick acted more like a typical kid might act in relation to the magic of plastic figures coming alive. Imagine if it had been Patrick who discovered the magic of the cupboard. Write a pretend chapter on how the story might have unfolded from the moment an immature Patrick pulled a live Indian out of his cupboard. How might the events have taken place? The boys us avoided trouble in the real book with Omri's wise thinking, but how might it have been different if Patrick had been in charge?

Catherine's Alternative Chapter to The Indian in the Cupboard

"Why am I even friends with him?" Patrick thought, locking the pitiful plastic Indian in a beat-up old cupboard as he prepared to go to bed.

His best friend Omri had gotten him nothing but a plastic Indian for his birthday, and he felt the need to lock it up where it couldn’t be seen. Seeing it reminded him of his disappointment. Getting into his nightclothes, Patrick thought about his favourite present. Now, that skateboard was another thing. It was by far the best birthday present he had had in years. He could imagine himself, the wind in his face as he rode to school. All the other boys would be so jealous, and--


A loud sound awoke him from his daydreams. What in the world? Patrick looked around, but nothing had fallen from a shelf or his dresser, and that thunk wasn’t the sound of someone knocking on the door.

“Hello?” he asked timidly. He didn’t expect an answer, and he didn’t get one.


Again! What was it? It sounded like it came from the shelves next to his bed. Cautiously, Patrick got out of the chair he had been sitting in and stepped over to the shelves. Just as he had thought, the only thing there was the old cupboard and a few plastic figures that he especially didn’t want to step on (they were carrying sharp plastic weapons).


The cupboard rocked. Patrick’s heart jumped. What was in there? When he had put the Indian in the cupboard, it had been empty! Carefully, slowly, and quietly, Patrick unlocked and opened the cupboard.

In the cupboard stood a perfect, tiny--no, minute!--Indian. He had jet black hair, leggings on his tiny legs, and a single, straight feather at the back of his head. Patrick couldn’t believe his eyes.

A thousand thoughts flashed through Patrick’s mind. What would he do about this? Was the Indian real? Who could he tell? He didn’t want to talk to his father, of whom he was deeply afraid, and his brother was probably holed up doing homework, the stupid brainiac. He had decided two things. The Indian was a fake. It was probably put there by his brother as a trick. The detail was astounding, though. The second decision he made was that he needed to tell his mother. She was least likely to yell at him for disturbing her.

Then the Indian moved. Patrick took one look at him, realized the truth, and he fainted.

Patrick didn’t wake up until morning. His mother heard no sound in his room and thought that he had already gone to sleep, so she didn’t come in to say goodnight.

Patrick had a disturbing dream. “MOTHER!!! OTHER!!! MOTHER, COME HERE NO!!!” he screamed, wanting his mother to see the microscopic detail of the Indian.

This started a chain reaction. First, the Indian fell over backwards, covering his ears with his hands. But it was too late. Patrick’s yelling had literally ruptured the man’s eardrums.

Then, Patrick’s mother came rushing into the room.
“Patrick?” She had no idea what was wrong, but her son was yelling.
Finally, Patrick, looking from his mother to the Indian, realized what he had done. He saw the Indian’s ears bleeding and his mother in the doorway, one step away from getting extremely angry.

Patrick’s mother saw the Indian and fainted.

This left Patrick no options. His Indian was losing blood and his mother was deathly pale. He decided to show his brother. Patrick’s brother took one look at the Indian, grabbed him out of Patrick’s hand, and dropped him on the floor for no reason. The Indian lay there, unmoving. Patrick woke up with a jolt. He was sweating and he saw that his sheets had been twisted together as he thrashed.

Suddenly, Patrick remembered his dream. He ran to the cupboard and saw that the Indian wasn’t there. Looking around carefully, Patrick saw something red sticking out from behind the cupboard. Reaching back, he pulled the Indian out of the small space.

“You!” he said loudly. Then he remembered his dream and dropped his voice to a whisper. “You must never do that again! You’ll fall and die, or hide and get lost! Then nobody will ever be able to see you! They won’t believe me!"

Then, without further ado, Patrick found an old matchbox, poked a few holes in it with a sewing needle his mother had left in his room, slid the middle out, dropped the Indian inside, and closed the thing, making sure the Indian would be able to breathe but not escape. The man struggled violently inside the matchbox but didn’t manage to free himself. Seeing the struggle, Patrick realized that he wouldn’t really be able to take the Indian to school to show Omri until he had shown his parents. After all, he wanted them to believe him, and school could be a dangerous place. Still, Omri was his best friend and he had a right to see the Indian. Patrick compromised by putting the Indian back in the cupboard and getting ready to go to school.

His skateboard distracted him. After debating whether to ride it to school or not, Patrick decided not to. He was already late, and the bike was much faster than the skateboard. At school, Omri asked him if he liked his present.

“Oh, yes. That Indian was better than any other gift.”
“You know why?” Patrick asked, cutting Omri off. “It’s because he’s alive. I put him in a cupboard and locked the door, and now he’s a real living person!” And with that finale, Patrick got on his bike and pedaled home. Now Omri knew about the Indian, and if he didn’t believe Patrick, well, then he was probably very sensible.

After school, Patrick ran up to his room without so much as a hello to his mother. He flung open the cupboard door and saw the Indian. He was stiff, staying still in one pose. He was squatting down as if he was about to sit down, but he was frozen in place. Gingerly, Patrick prodded him. He fell over.

Patrick sat down on his bed and thought for a minute. He had put the plastic Indian in the cupboard, and he had turned into a live Indian. He had put the live Indian into the cupboard, and he had turned into plastic. Therefore, he should put the Indian back in the cupboard and he would turn live! Patrick was definitely not the sharpest knife in the block, but when he put his mind to it, he could think logically.

Acting on his thoughts, Patrick pulled out the live Indian about two minutes later. Aha! Think of all the fun he could have! Patrick wondered if he could bring any toy to life. He stooped to the floor and lifted up one of the fairly large tins that he kept his figures in. Taking a handful out, he stuck them in the cupboard, being careful to remove the live Indian beforehand. Closing the door and then opening it again, he saw terrified, horrified, detailed faces of people seeing him as a giant. There were soldiers, horses, and a lone princess that his friend’s sister must have put in when the family came over for dinner. Quickly, Patrick closed the cupboard. He opened it again and took all the people out. They were unimportant. What mattered was that it worked. Patrick put the Indian back in but didn’t close the door. He would have to show his parents this! First he would show the Indian to his mother. She would help explain it to his father.

“Patrick? Honey, are you feeling alright? I think we should take you to a doctor. Come along, now, get your coat.”

“Mother! I’m not ill! I just need you to see him. Then you’ll believe me. Ill indeed!”

“Patrick,” his mother began, carefully choosing her words. “An imagination is a wonderful thing, but yours is--well--completely out of control! There is no way you’re telling the truth when you say that there’s an Indian the size a playing card standing on the shelf in that decrepit cupboard. And honestly, when will you throw that thing in the scrap wood pile?! I just can’t stand this any longer. You better not be playing some trick on me. If you’re lying about this, you’re grounded!” And with that she began to climb the stairs, Patrick trailing in her wake.

The Indian had been snoozing. He got some sleep while he could, and there was no way he would be tired when it came time to go to war. These giants would not harm him! He would spear them with his knife!

A lot of things happened in the next 24 hours. Here are some highlights:

  1. Patrick’s mother had to have a drink or two or three to recover from seeing that her son was not lying about the Indian.

  2. Patrick’s father told him the he would grow up to be an aspiring scientist even though what Patrick had discovered had been nothing but luck and Patrick really had rotten grades.

  3. A team of scientists came to the house and carefully removed the Indian. They took him to a lab and ran some tests on him, determining that he was in face an actual human, just one of a small size.

  4. Patrick’s father received an astounding offer on the house from the government. This was only after the scientists realized that removing the cupboard from the house killed its magic. After all, everyone had big plans for what to do with the cupboard. Could unicorns come to life if somebody put plastic ones in the cupboard? Could dinosaurs? Dodo birds? Dearly missed extinct animals? PEOPLE??? It had lots of potential. Albert Einstein could repeat his last words to somebody who spoke German (his last words were mumbled to an English nurse who had no idea what they meant). All sorts of people could be brought back from the dead if people made a good enough plastic representation of them: William Shakespeare, and, uh, I guess just him! But Shakespeare is cool! He could write more tragedies that were just comedic.

  5. Patrick’s father signed over the house, collected his money, bought a new house, and started packing.

  6. Patrick’s brother was oblivious to all of this, being over at a friend’s house doing homework.

Patrick went to school the next day and bragged that now his father was rich and his mother could have lots of nice things and they would have a new big house. He also told everyone about the Indian in the cupboard. Everyone was impressed, of course.

THE END (because this is where the book would end. It would be quite a boring book). 

How Parents and Teachers Can Be More Fulfilled

The other day I was talking with a friend, a mom who has for years come up with incredibly novel solutions to meet the educational needs of her son and daughter. She was thinking that she hadn’t been creative for a long time because her kids, now teenagers, have never been into “glitter and felt.” I pointed out the creative problem solving that goes into her every day as a mom and teacher. “Thank you,” she said with a genuine smile. “I hadn’t realized I was being creative like that in my daily life.”

Author and speaker Todd Henry has a term for people who employ creative problem solving or creative production in their jobs: “create-on-demand professionals” or “creative pros.” Often we don’t realize that parents and teachers fall squarely into this category. Paul Torrance wrote, “Being a truly good teacher is indeed the most creative occupation in the world.” It’s the same with parents. 

Todd Henry’s most recent book, Louder Than Words: Harness the Power of Your Authentic Voice, is used by consultants, writers, designers, and entrepreneurs. It can serve moms, dads, and teachers, too. With deep-thinking questions that help us better understand our identity, vision, and how to realize our vision, it’s a perfect summer reading assignment to help us move forward as individuals, rather than as an amalgamation of our kids or students. 

Too often as parents our own needs get squeezed out by what we do for our kids, and as teachers we feel crushed underneath pressures and requirements. But when we know who we are and what unique contributions we want to make, we can figure out how to claim the time and motivation to accomplish them. 

When I spoke with Todd recently, he shared with me that his concept of “dailies” has deeply resonated with Louder Than Words readers. After readers define who they are and what they want, they absolutely need a framework to support them to get where they want to go. Dailies are practices that buttress these long-term goals and keep people “on track mentally, physically, emotionally, and spiritually.” 

As a writer and father of three, Todd himself has specific writing, reading, exercise, family, and meditative/prayerful dailies that he does each day. He also has separate business dailies to support forward progress in his work. 

I have to admit that when I first read about the dailies it was hard for me to envision how I could actually be consistent about them in my own busy life. I was used to fitting things in—or not—amidst the busy-ness of work and family, usually late in the night. But as I realized that my prior approach was ineffective in supporting my goal to write every day, I made a concerted effort to follow Todd’s advice. 

As a teacher and parent myself, I know how crazy life is. But I also know how draining it feels to not have time to work on my goals and to keep myself in prime mental shape. Too many parents and teachers neglect themselves for too long and then face burnout. If we can just get consistent about nourishing our own souls and goals daily to keep our thinking fresh, it will benefit our families and students as well. Everybody know that if mom isn’t happy, nobody’s happy!

If it makes you feel better, Todd Henry, one of the most well-known contemporary business authors and speakers, grew up in a small town where he had a lot of freedom to play, invent games, and make videos with those giant VHS recorders that we used to have.

He told me, “I’m so thankful because we had to invent our own world.” From studying the lives of eminent creators, I know that so many of them had this freedom in childhood to explore. So if you have to give up planning a lesson or driving to an activity in order to fit in one of your personal dailies, your kids will probably be all the better for it anyway. 

Todd also gave insight into the deep motivating factors that drive him to keep such a rigorous schedule in order to help creative pros worldwide. He said, “What drives me is the understanding that there is a tremendous number of people out there trying to do creative work and each feels alone. I want them to know that they are not alone, that there is a path that can lead to meaning in their work, and that they are building something that matters and that they can be proud of.” Don’t you think it’s about time that parents and teachers get access to these ideas, too?

Check out Todd’s books, Die Empty and Louder Than Words this summer so you have time to read his new book in early 2018 when it comes out. I also recommend Todd’s Accidental Creative podcast. 


Henry, T. (2015). Louder than words. New York, NY: Portfolio/Penguin.

Torrance, E. P. (2004). Predicting the creativity of elementary school children (1958-80) —and the teacher who made a difference. In D.J. Treffinger and S. Reis (Eds.), Creativity and Giftedness (35-50). Thousand Oaks, CA: Corwin Press.

The Golden Shadow of Creativity

Guest post by Sparkitivity student Tyler Lynch, age 12

Creativity is a flow of energy circulating through one's blood, shedding crystals into your brain which spark ideas and innovation. It could be making props and costumes, or an invention waiting to be made and put to the test. Creativity applies to anything a creative person does, even if what they are doing is so gloomy and dark. Creativity forms the way one speaks, writes, acts and works. Creative ideas go on to change the world as we know it. It brings the color and ideas to a person's life.

The dull, unfinished newspaper sculpture sat in front of me when a rocket shot out of my head like a Looney Tunes animation. The color, designs, attributes--all of it--came to my brain. From there I started, every little piece bringing my sculpture more alive and closer to excellence. The feeling of accomplishment because of the spark of creativity felt serene, for everything came together. The final product was done with every little detail conspicuous. It was promoted to the art show where it stood for pictures. Look where creativity brought my sculpture, into the whimsical character it is now.

If creativity were removed from me it would drain the color around me and make the air dark and misty with thick smoke from a fire. It would be hard to perfect my work, putting all my ideas in a desolate desert. Creativity has helped me create inventions I have in my mind. It has given me the hammer to smash the deep stone walls of dull writing, making stories that take the reader inside them. I would absolutely reject no creativity because we would not progress and move forward. The realm of humanity thrives on ideas that come from creativeness. Creativity helps shape the world.


Three Keys to Unlock Your Thinking

Have you ever thought about thinking? Can you describe what it means to think? Most people find it hard to explain what they are doing when they are thinking, and even the dictionary isn’t as insightful as usual when you look up words like think, thought, and thinking. 

One person who does think about thinking is author and innovation consultant Tim Hurson. 

Tim observed in our recent conversation that so often in life we believe we are thinking when we are actually reacting, mindlessly following, or disengaging. These are unproductive states of mind that tend to lead us into dead-ends, as opposed to productive thought that steers us onto open roads of possibility.

In his book, Think Better: An Innovator’s Guide to Productive Thinking, Tim wrote, “At its heart productive thinking is about freedom.” Freedom truly is the key to innovating products, or our own lives. 

In Think Better, Hurson details his ThinkX model for effective, productive thinking, based on the Osborn-Parnes creative problem solving model coupled with his own experience working with businesses worldwide. The book has been so popular in the ten years it’s been on the market that McGraw Hill is releasing an updated edition in trade paperback this fall under its “Business Classics” series. 

Tim knows that our brains are like muscles that have to be exercised in certain ways to improve productive thought. Improved thinking leads to more ideas which leads to better ideas which leads to freedom. Here are three of Tim’s latest insights to “think better, more productively, and more creatively.”

  1. Practice disconfirmation.
    In psychology, confirmation bias is the term that means that we selectively remember information that reinforces our predetermined beliefs, often in a self-perpetuating cycle. Tim proposes that we practice disconfirmation to help free us from limiting thought patterns. He says, “Wouldn’t it be great if everyone in the world spent a few minutes a day asking, ‘I wonder where I’m wrong?’” Ask yourself this question right now and see if you can come up with a brainstorm of at least 7 possible ideas about your own assumptions that might be incorrect. 
  2. Look through the lens of simplicity.
    Complexity and simplicity underlie every problem; the energy resides in the tension between them. Tim likes to tell the story of the classic chess puzzle, the knight’s tour problem. The challenge is to get your knight to land on each square of the chess board only once. In 1823, H.C Warnsdorff came up with a simple heuristic to solve the challenge: Always select the move that has the fewest possible next moves. This was a simple approach to a problem that is too complex algorithmically to be solved by even today’s computers. So, when you’re working on your next challenge, try out the lens of simplicity. Ask yourself, “What might be all of the simplest solutions to this problem?” 
  3. Use discernment while suspending judgment. 
    “Don’t judge me!” your teenager might shout with a foot stomp. Judging, in its contemporary usage, can feel reactive. We think of “snap judgments” that are unjust rather than careful analyses. Though they can be used as synonyms, discernment connotes a deeper perception that goes below the surface. Tim believes that we can still be discerning in the process of suspending judgment. The next time you are faced with a decision, practice discernment. Look deeply and, before deciding on a course of action, create a list of positives and negatives about each choice.

Thinking better requires action. It’s when our minds lull into a reactive stupor that we get stuck and unproductive. These three of Tim’s recent thinking exercises can help us train our brains for productive thinking and free us to truly progress. 

For more tips and the research behind the work, check out Think Better. Due to popular demand, Tim is developing an online course, Do It Better, to complement the book. The course will be available this fall.

When You Say You're Not Creative . . .

When you say you’re not creative, you inadvertently perpetuate a myth. The myth that a person can be exempt from having creativity doesn’t even make sense. Go ask your mom what you were like when you were a little kid.  

Did you ever find an alternate use for your bowl of yogurt—a hat, perhaps? 

Did you build something out of Lego or blocks without following directions? 

Did you figure out how to evade your parents when you wanted to get away with something?

Have you tried a new topping on your oatmeal?  

Have you made up a pun? 

Figured out how to fix your computer? 

Designed a code? 

Come up with an idea different from someone else’s?  

These are all hints at the creativity which you do indeed have, and in order to prove this I share with you what I like to call the Creativity Trifecta:

  1. Everybody is creative.
  2. Creativity can be practiced and developed.
  3. People manifest creativity in different degrees.

Let’s take the trifecta point by point.

Everybody is Creative

The first empirical study that definitively showed that everybody is creative was begun by George Land in 1968. He gave 1,600 four- and five-year-old children a creativity test that he had developed to find innovators for engineering and design positions at NASA. He tested the same children again when they were 10 and again at age 15. Land and his team then compared these scores with a large sample of adults who also took the assessment. Take a look at the percentage of test-takers in each sample that scored in the "genius level" for creative imagination.

age 5      98% 
age 10    30%
age 15     12%
adults*     2%
*avg. age 31

This insightful study shows that while you may not be exercising your creative genius at the moment, you certainly have the raw materials. The good news is that it can be regained.

Creativity Can Be Taught and Practiced

Scott, Leritz, and Mumford (2004) found that creativity training programs, if well-designed, lead to higher creativity. Earlier, Parnes (1987) used decades of research to prove that creativity can be improved when it is deliberately cultivated.  

Conversely, creativity is likely to flounder when it is not nurtured. It can seem to disappear, as in the 98% of 280,000 adults who took Land’s creativity assessment. Ken Robinson’s “Do Schools Kill Creativity?” is the most watched TED talk of all time and goes into detail about the creativity free-fall in education.  Diminishing creativity is also experienced in the workplace and families when the culture does not support divergent thinkers and their new ideas.  

People Manifest Creativity in Different Degrees

It just might be that the main reason you think you’re not creative is because you compare yourself to others who are famous for their creativity (Steve Jobs, Pablo Picasso, and Lady Gaga) or to people in your own life who are known for their creativity. 

When you’re in a comparison mindset, you inadvertently diminish your own creative ability. You envision Picasso and your highly divergent friends on a pedestal that you cannot possibly ascend. All you can see is yourself standing in the shadows on the lowest rung of your tiny ladder. Creativity looks so far off, so unattainable. 

Illustration by Jane Harvey

Illustration by
Jane Harvey

In this mindset, all the negatives creep in. The biggest culprit is fear, especially fear of judgment.  It reinforces the false belief that you are not creative and when you are operating under fear you are using a very small part of your brain’s capacity.  

Society has perpetuated the myth that creativity has to be comparative, and if comparative, mutually exclusive: “If Picasso is creative then I am not.”  This reasoning is incorrect. 

In 1995, researcher Mark Runco started working to clear this up by discussing “personal creativity.”  Beghetto and Kaufman talk about the 4C’s of creativity and Ruth Richards has named “everyday creativity.” These theorists all show that all humans, no matter how eminent, use creativity in daily life. An idea or product does not have to be eminent to be creative.

Solution: Practice

One path to progress is to stop comparing yourself to a ridiculous ideal and instead zoom in on you. See what you can do. At its core, all creativity is thinking differently. How can you practice thinking differently?  

My book with designer Jane Harvey, Creativity for Everybody (just came out in Spanish!), is a quick-start guide to the basics. If you rotate the book 90 degrees to the right you can read sideways prompts that help you exercise your creative thinking. For example:

“Try thinking like someone else: an alien, a rock, a stray cat, a high school math teacher” (p. 13). The point of this question is to help you look at things another way, to gain a new perspective. Just like any skill, if you practice, you will improve.  

If you’ve been in school for several years, creative thinking might feel uncomfortable at first, especially if you’re a high achiever. You have been trained to find the right answer.  Divergent answers are not always acceptable. If you find out exactly what the teacher wants and deliver on it, you will likely get an A.  

Good for you to figure out and master the system, but there is unfortunately a huge flaw in the way it was set up: life doesn’t work this way. At this moment the world is changing faster than it ever has before. When electricity was introduced in 1873, it took 46 years to be adopted by 25% of the population. When the internet was introduced in 1991, it only took 7 years. This acceleration of adoption forces us to change constantly. In order to change we have to adapt, and this requires creative thinking.

A recent study revealed that 94% of hiring managers say creativity is important to consider when hiring a candidate for a job; CEOs place creativity as the top leadership skill. You need your creativity if you want to thrive in life. But every time you bash it by saying you don’t have it, you lose an opportunity to exercise it.

Solution: Take a Risk

The one-right-answer mentality trains us not to take risks. In order to take risks, you have to be willing to make a mistake. Once in a while a teacher will come along who encourages you to think your own thoughts and here you might freeze. 

To open your mouth in a classroom and voice a creative idea you have to take a risk. You’re not used to doing that, because there is usually one right answer. If you are asked to come up with a new answer, an untested answer, you might be judged by your peers or even by your teacher. Maybe your new answer is not the one she wanted either! 

But in the working world you must differentiate yourself and you must be able to solve problems creatively. So wherever you are—in school, at work—try taking taking little risks. Peter Sims calls these little bets, and advises that we take small risks and fail fast. 

In other words, don’t let the first risk you ever take be taking out a second mortgage on your house to try a new business idea. Start instead by doing something that gives you slight discomfort, like driving a new route to the grocery store or sharing an unconventional insight in your next meeting. As you practice taking small risks you will become more comfortable sharing the fresh perspectives that you have gained by practicing your creative thinking. 

Now that you are aware of the universal nature of creativity and you have a resource to practice creative thinking, fear is the only thing standing in the way of training it back. (Fear can also come in the form of saying, “I’m not creative” to protect yourself from risk. You now know that this is false, so if you keep using this line it is heretofore a cop-out. Everybody is creative.)  

It’s better to build your creative thinking now than after you get fired from your job for not being able to find solutions to the problems that arise. The best way to do this is to start taking little steps to exercise your true creative genius immediately.  


Haydon, K. P., & Harvey, J.  (2015). Creativity for everybody. New York: Sparkitivity.

Haydon, K. P., & Harvey, J.  (2016). Creatividad para todos. New York: Sparkitivity.

Kaufman, J. C., & Beghetto, R.A. (2009). Beyond big and little: The Four C Model of Creativity. Review of General Psychology, 13(1), 1-12. 

Land, G., & Jarman, B. (1993).  Breaking point and beyond.  San Francisco, CA: HarperBusiness.

Parnes, S. (1987).The creative studies project. In Isaksen, S. (Ed.), Frontiers of creativity research: Beyond the basics (pp. 156-188). Buffalo, NY: Bearly Limited. 

Richards, R. (2010). Everyday creativity. In Kaufman, J. C., & Sternberg, R. J. (Eds.), The Cambridge handbook of creativity (pp. 189-215). New York, NY: Cambridge University Press.

Richards, R., Kinney, D.K., Benet, M., & Merzel, A.P. (1988). Assessing everyday creativity: Characteristics of the Lifetime Creativity Scales and validation with three large samples. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 54(3), 476-485. 

Runco, M. A. (1996). Personal creativity: Definition and developmental issues. New Directions for Child and Adolescent Development, 72, 3-30.

Sims, P. (2013). Little Bets: How breakthrough ideas emerge from small discoveries. New York: Simon & Schuster.

Scott, G. M., Leritz, L. E., & Mumford, M. D. (2004).The effectiveness of creativity training:A meta-analysis. Creativity Research Journal, 16, 361-388.


Copyright 2016 Sparkitivity, LLC.  All Rights Reserved.


"Science is Boring"


One of my students, a highly creative second grader, declared, “Science is horrible.  It is so boring.  I love robotics.”

To which I responded, “Robotics is science.”

To which I received a vehement denial, as if I had pierced an arrow in the heart of the robot itself, “Robotics is not science.  Science is science and it is completely and utterly boring.”

This came from a child who is a keen observer of nature; one who is fascinated with chemistry and creates his own experiments; a maker who studies the design and construction of every machine that crosses his path; and a devotee of the Wild Kratts (an animal science show), The Magic School Bus (a cartoon that teaches science concepts), and How It’s Made (a program that goes into factories to observe the process of construction of a myriad of products).

I was truly sad.  After only two full months of formal school science, this young scientist now thought he despised the topic because there was no engagement nor joy in it.

Ironically, the very day of this conversation I had been to the New York Hall of Science (NYSCI) where I was immersed in an innovative, laboratory-based organization that is at the forefront of learner-centered science.  School children in the NYSCI Design Lab that day were designing inflatable characters and forms with what looked like clear plastic garbage bags and fans.  I received a tour of the Maker Space, complete with 3D printers, every manner of tool, and a fascinating discussion about the future of consumer product delivery.  

Considering this, I began questioning my student about how this “boring science” was being taught.

“What are you doing in science?”  I asked him.

Following was a grumbling noise. “The life cycle.”  Hmmmm. This had come up earlier in a less pronounced manner over a month ago.  They had been studying life cycles back then as well.  

“What activities do you do to learn about life cycles?” I asked.

The reply: “We look at life cycles in our textbook and then we draw them.”  

“Does your classroom have butterflies so you can watch them go through their stages?”  No. 

“Do you have tadpoles in the classroom so you can see how they change?” No.  

OK, so I began to see what was happening.  

“Do you do experiments?”  No, but I LOVE experiments!

“Do you watch movies?”  Sometimes The Magic School Bus.  (Oh good at least there’s that!)  

I realized that the kid was right.  He was encountering boring science, science that is the problem with science, science that doesn’t engage students in the exploring, experimenting, experiencing process.  Science that is the bane of science.  Science that says, “We are preparing you for a test.”

Opening Science to Exploration

Tony Wagner (2012) addressed the issue of boring science in his book Creating Innovators.  He profiled a student, Kirk Phelps, who was the product manager for Apple’s first iPhone.  As a high school student, Kirk had a passion for science.  However, he felt stifled by the rigid science curriculum at his elite boarding school so he applied to, and was accepted at, Stanford a year early without a high school diploma.  

At Stanford, one of Kirk’s defining moments was taking the Smart Product Design graduate course taught by Ed Carryer.  Carryer’s approach engaged students in hands-on and open-ended team projects with real-world applications. The projects built on information they learned in their readings and lectures.

Carryer told Wagner that he empowers students by presenting them with different types of problems, not just problems to solve on a test for which there is a known answer.  In other words, his entire approach engages students’ creative thinking as they originate, explore, ask questions, hypothesize, and experiment. 

Carryer also adds one more dimension to each project: whimsy. Thinking about the science activities my student loved, I can see there is whimsy and intrinsic curiosity in them all: The Magic School Bus is a whimsical cartoon that taps into viewers’ imaginations; the Kratt brothers use their imaginations and a mix of reality and fantasy to explore animal adaptations; by observing the way things work and making up experiments, my student is making observations and asking his own, meaningful questions.

So, what if we applied Ed Carryer’s approach to teaching science classes at all ages, from preschool on up?  What if we presented science as an exploration of open-ended questions rather than a set of facts that need to be learned?  What if we let kids make up their own problems to explore?  How might this approach increase science engagement in class or at home?

What’s the Problem?

Einstein spoke much about the importance of forming problems (i.e., being curious enough to ask questions).  Jacob Getzels, a former psychology professor at the University of Chicago, conducted foundational research on this topic in the 1960s, 70s, and 80s.  Getzels (1982) identified three main types of problem situations:

  1.    presented problem situations
    (the problem exists, is given to the student, and has a known answer/way to solve it)
  2.    discovered problem situations
    (the problem exists but is discovered by a student rather than given to him; there may or may not be a known solution or way of solving)
  3.    created problem situations
    (the problem does not exist until someone creates it or asks the question)

Usually students are asked to solve presented problems, those with known outcomes and specific ways they are to be solved.  Some students are content with solving this type of problem.  

However for the highly creative and curious, like my student and Kirk Phelps, this approach to learning is often the least engaging and most boring. For someone who thrives on discovery, a diet of presented problems can lead quickly to disengagement that might manifest as behavior issues, work refusal, laziness, lack of attention, or missed homework assignments.  

Wrote Getzels, “Put in terms of our taxonomy, the production of discovered or created problems is often a more significant accomplishment than the production of solutions to presented problems.”

Carryer’s courses, and the success of his students in going on for PhDs, demonstrate the effectiveness of using discovered and created problems in the classroom.  Discovered and created problems involve creative thinking—originality, exploration, experimentation, observation, and asking questions—which leads to deeper learning, engagement, and satisfaction.  

Taking the “Boring” Out of Science Immediately: Home and School

How can we either introduce our kids to exciting science from the start, or change their perceptions by giving them opportunities to explore science with high-level creative thinking? 

The first step, as it often is, is to encourage curiosity.  

With your kids or students, stage a question brainstorm about a topic (Berger, 2014). Start by asking, “What might be all of my questions about insects?” Or trees, or the ocean, or the stars, or machines, or gravity, or whatever other topic strikes an interest.  Once you have a list of questions, pick your favorites and begin exploring together with books, online resources, field trips, and conversations with experts.  You can do this as a teacher or a parent to engage students in their own explorations of topics that are part of the required curriculum.

The second step is to seek out and expose kids to excellent and even whimsical science resources.  For the younger set, The Magic School Bus and Wild Kratts are great shows. The Magic School Bus is a book series as well.  As they get older, check out How It’s Made and NPR’s Skunk Bear.  Podcasts such a Tumble and Brain’s On are excellent for all ages, actively encouraging kids’ curiosity by answering their submitted questions on the shows.  NYSCI has created iPad apps called Noticing Tools to make science and math meaningful, challenging, and fun.  They also offer extensive teacher training and resources. 

Innovative museums like NYSCI are great places to take your kids. Sparkitivity has been crowd-sourcing a “best creative hotspots” list of organizations to visit or take classes that combine content with creativity.  NYSCI is on this list, as are a number of other science-related organizations, including The Center for Gifted in Chicago which offers some of the best courses we’ve ever seen that are challenging in content and originality alike.  

Finally, don’t forget that many activities in daily life include science: cooking, exploring nature, melting ice cubes, mixing baking soda and vinegar.  Science is all around, and as we can get kids to realize that this is indeed science, we will help them realize science is so much more than copying life cycle diagrams from their text books.

What are your favorite resources that combine science teaching and creative thinking (exploring, experimenting, hypothesizing, originating, making up problems)?

Kathryn Haydon is a learning specialist, writer, and speaker.  Her second book, Creativity for Everybody, is a Steal Like an Artist approach to the science of creativity. 

Copyright 2016 Sparkitivity, LLC.  All rights reserved.


Berger, W.  (2014).  A more beautiful question.  New York: Bloomsbury.

Getzels, J. W.  (1982).  The problem of the problem.  In R. Hogarth (Ed.), New directions for methodology of social and behavioral science: Question framing and response consistency (pp.  37- 49).  San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.

Wagner, T.  (2012).  Creating innovators: The making of young people who will change the world.  New York, NY: Scribner.    

What the Cubs' Epic World Series Win Can Teach Us About Parenting

Celebration and Leadership

After 108 long years, the whole world was paying attention as the Cubs won a nail-biting World Series championship in the 10th inning of Game 7 on November 2, 2016.  Die-hard devotees of all teams said that Wednesday’s game was the most exciting baseball game they had ever watched.  Even St. Louis Cardinals fans, arguably the Cubs’ biggest rivals, were (at times) willing to concede a little happiness for the Cubs.  With the centrifugal force firmly planted in Chicago, the Cubs’ win ignited a firestorm of celebration nationwide, with “Go Cubs Go” on endless loop in Facebook feeds and on the news.

It was as if everybody was willing to cast aside their own loyalties for a moment to recognize a historic underdog and hardworking team when they saw one.  Here are just a few examples of the post-win celebrations: 

  • The Chicago Bulls played a tribute to the Cubs on their big screen and the entire arena broke out into “Go Cubs Go.”
  • The Empire State Building in New York lit up in Cubs colors. 
  • The Chicago Blackhawks invited Cubs players onto the ice before a game in Blackhawks jerseys to present the trophy.  They also decorated the ice with Cubs logos.
  • The Chicago cast of Hamilton broke out into a musical rendition of “Go Cubs Go” during their curtain call.
  • Public school in the city of Chicago was cancelled.
  • Millions of people peacefully descended on downtown Chicago to cheer the Cubs in their victory parade.
  • Budweiser created an inspiring ad editing famed sportscaster Harry Caray’s voice into videography from the actual Game 7.
  • The Chicago Symphony Orchestra performed “Take Me Out to the Ballgame” in Cubs paraphernalia (well this was a week or two before the win, but still. . . )
  • Several Cubs players and super-fan Bill Murray were invited onto Saturday Night Live.  Murray led a barbershop quartet rendition of, you guessed it, “Go Cubs Go."
  • The team was invited to Disney World in its post-World Series custom.

As a friend and super-fan wrote on his page, “Best 48 hours on Facebook ever.”  Being a Chicago native, my feed was flooded with inspiring, sentimental videos, articles, and photos. The spirit of joy and support was alive.  There may have been criticism, but it was drowned out by Cubs love.  You can be sure that this hyper-celebration fueled the motivation of teams everywhere to work hard through yet another game and long season for the promise of such celebration in their honor.

Transformational Leadership for Parents

It was clear that strong leadership at many levels of the team’s organization paved the way for the Cubs’ win.  Cubs’ management undoubtedly has studied the principles of good leadership, as many business managers do in order to be more effective at their jobs.  Did you ever consider that parents and educators can do the same? 

Parents and educators who adopt the principles of transformational leadership can raise strong individuals who know how to use their strengths to make unique contributions to the world. Transformational leaders empower others to grow individually and to apply their strengths for the greater good.

Based on best practices from over 1,000 business and not-for-profit managers, Kouzes and Posner developed a well-known model of transformational leadership with five underlying principles that guide effective leaders.  Here's the five-point paraphrase:

  1.   Model the Way
         Understand and express your own authentic voice and values.
  2.   Inspire a Shared Vision
         Communicate a vision that motivates others in a positive direction.
  3.   Challenge the Process
          Have courage to experiment, take risks, and innovate.
  4.   Enable Others to Act
          Listen to, understand, and respect others.  Allow and support their choices.
  5.   Encourage the Heart
         Appreciate others, recognize them for their good work, and CELEBRATE   

This model of leadership is straightforward: live your values authentically; use visionary thinking to motivate others to find purpose; be willing to step outside the status quo; listen to other people’s thoughts and motivations while allowing them to make individual choices; and appreciate people for what they do.  It is point number five in the Kouzes and Posner model that begs our immediate attention: celebrate success.  

As adults, we have become incredibly serious.  We are tense, anxious, and high-strung. We are fearful about our children’s future, put ourselves and our children under enormous pressure to perform, and treat our kids like mini adults. Even when children have pronounced strengths, we tend to zoom in on what they don’t do well and go all-in to fix their perceived weaknesses.  

We have become critics, not only of ourselves and our fellow men and women, but of our children as well.  As author Todd Henry and Michael Port discussed on an Accidental Creative podcast, critics don’t change the world.  “I’ve never read a great biography of a critic.  I’ve never even seen one in the biography section,” mused Henry.

How can we get out of playing the role of top critic for ourselves and our children?

We need to bring back our joy!  We need to celebrate!  As is clearly illustrated in the leadership model above, celebration propels us to start over again and work hard again just as the Cubs will do almost immediately as they get back to training.  Celebration is the fuel that encourages us to go on.  

We talk a lot about developing grit in our kids.  Personally, I prefer the more empowering word: perseverance. But either way, the promise of celebration can fuel us, the celebration itself can refill our tanks, and both help the cycle of growth continue, even through tough times.  

How Will You Celebrate?

As good transformational leaders, we must model our ideas.  

So, first things firstHow can we bring the spirit of celebration into our own adult lives first?  In what ways might we cast aside our own loyalties or insecurities to celebrate the successes of others?  

We can look to the Cubs' celebrations above as examples.  The Bulls and Blackhawks didn’t have to celebrate at their own games.  For the Bulls especially, the big Cubs' win might have drawn attention to the fact that they haven’t won a championship yet this century.  But they didn’t let insecurity stop them, and went ahead and celebrated anyway.  The actors and actresses in Hamilton, the musicians in the CSO didn’t have to take time out of their days to sing and play the Cubs song. 

But they did.  They crossed traditional or stereotypical boundaries to celebrate another’s win.  Practically all of Chicago’s skyline was lit up in red and blue but New York City’s Empire State, with two baseball teams of its own, certainly didn’t have to give a nod to the Cubs.  But it was fun to do, it was joyful to do, and it made people feel good to be part of the celebration. 

Next step: How might we celebrate our children’s big or small wins, for the sake of joy, perseverance, and making hard or good work feel worth it?  

I’m not talking here about rewards, like giving kids candy for bringing home A’s. I’m talking about being a parent-leader and authentically celebrating according to your own values.  It doesn’t have to be school-related, but it can be.  Perhaps your child just took a personal risk, like standing up against a bully at soccer practice, or conquered a lifelong fear of heights with a recent rock wall climb.  Maybe an older sibling helped a younger sibling in a special show of affection.  Perhaps your child helped you rake leaves for a few hours last weekend.  Your celebration can be a simple verbal acknowledgement, or cooking a favorite meal, or bringing home a treat.  It doesn’t have to be Cubs style over-the-top, but just fun and authentic.  It could even be the simple act of celebrating your child for who he or she is at the core. 

To Indians Fans, or People Who Are Tired of Cubs Celebrations by Now

This article might feel unfair to Cleveland Indians fans.  After all, they didn’t win the game.  Is it highlighting their loss to celebrate the Cubs' victory?  Not in my mind, and that is the crux of sportsmanship.

When we embody the spirit of celebration, this attitude pulses outward and creates a ripple effect that all but ensures that when it’s the other guy’s turn to win, he will be celebrated as well.  If you hold back because you think celebrating someone’s good work might make another feel badly, that’s not the spirit of transformational leadership. 

At the same time, if there are Indian fans out there who are not celebrating the Cubs victory, that is their prerogative.  If they don’t feel genuinely happy about acknowledging it, they shouldn’t do so.  They can keep celebrating the amazing feeling of the Cavs' NBA victory and have even more fun! Celebration has to be authentic, so don’t apply this principle of celebration when you really don’t feel it.  

I challenge adults who are reading this article to deliberately work to bring the spirit of celebration to your own lives.  Then, figure out ways to celebrate your kids authentically according to your values.  Ponder the questions above, and think about that celebratory piece of the leadership puzzle that can help you be a transformational parent-leader.

Copyright 2016 Sparkitivity, LLC.  

Creative Thinking: Key to Your Child's Happiness and Success

You know what an audio recording is, right?  Well, a graphic recording is a similar concept rendered visually.  Many companies and conferences have found that hiring a graphic recorder to visually record a talk or meeting adds a new dimension.  It's fun to watch the drawing unfold in real time and the end product provides a visually appealing recap of the main points. 

My talented co-author of Creativity for Everybody, graphic recorder Jane Harvey, snuck into one of my recent webinars and made this awesome and informative graphic recording of the talk.  It's easiest to understand the nuances of a graphic recording if you were present while it was being created.  But if you weren't, it is certain to spark a new idea or two.  I'm delighted to share Jane's graphic recording below!

How Brainstorming Can Make Your Family's Summer Vacation (and Life) Rock!

As a parent, have you ever felt overwhelmed by the sheer number of experts?  I mean, how could you not?  Storefronts and the internet are teeming with people that purport to be experts on every topic, especially parenting.  Everywhere you turn there’s someone telling you what you have to do to raise a successful kid, a healthy kid, a mindful kid, warning you that if you do it wrong, your child will be in juvie by the time she’s 12.

It’s so easy to become a parenting expert these days.  All you need is a computer, internet connection, and kids of your own.  You can write about your experiences, share your personal stories, and declare what works best.  Often you do that with deep conviction and a burning passion that suggests that your way is the way.  While often entertaining readers, these insights can provide support for one of the hardest jobs there is. 

A major difference now from the past is that there are more voices. The likes of Dr. Spock no longer hold the sole rights to advice, and there’s more diversity of opinion as to best practices.  This can be overwhelming on one hand, but it’s helpful to be exposed to many approaches that work for many different people.

I read Mason Currey’s book, Daily Rituals, which has 150 vignettes describing the daily routines of eminent creators. After enjoying the stories, my main take-away was that each creator had to figure out what worked for his or her nuanced circumstances.  

There is no one “right way” to be a famous contributor of original ideas.  There are some things that many creators do, like take a daily walk, but there’s no formula.  This holds true for parents as well.  

It all comes down to the individual family, their specific situation, and the individual child. 

Another brand of so-called experts are like myself: people who have worked with more than hundreds of kids of all different ages and types, and perhaps have advanced degrees in their fields.  We see patterns, and have strategies that help us understand certain thinking profiles.  

But we, too, can fall into the trap of relying on our expertise and research that can fail to consider the unique needs of the individual—unless, of course, we have an understanding of creativity and creativity tools at our disposal.

Now, you might think, “Here she goes.  An expert telling us to beware of experts, and then launching into advice.”  You have a point, but please read on because my end goal is to make you the expert. 

Each parent and each child has his or her own interests, abilities, motivations, and requirements.  When we use tools and strategies that genuinely take these into account, we can support the individual and move toward more effective and harmonious collaboration.  The science of creativity allows us to do just that, and it’s enjoyable as well.  

Though I am claiming to be an expert here, the strategy that I recommend is not a formula. It is a way to take individual nuances and desires into account.  It’s the opposite of prescriptive, and has proven to free people rather than constrain them.  It makes experts out of everyone.

As David Eyman, Creativity Professor at Miami University of Ohio, wrote, using creativity tools results in other benefits including team building, consensus building, engagement, and developing intrinsic motivation.

For example, you are probably familiar with brainstorming, which is a well-known creativity tool.  You may even be familiar with the four original brainstorming session guidelines as outlined by Alex Osborn in 1953 (yes! 1953):  

  1. withhold criticism of ideas; 
  2. wacky and wild ideas are welcome; 
  3. come up with as many ideas as possible; 
  4. build on other ideas. 

But did you know brainstorming can help you have a better summer vacation and bring more harmony to your family?  

Say you have a problem with one of your kids grumbling through family vacation after family vacation.  You can use brainstorming to solve this in a way that engages kids and adults alike.  Here’s how you might go about it:  

  • Gather your family together.
  • Set a fun mood. Tell everyone that you’re going to have some family fun coming up with all the possible ideas of family vacations for the summer.
  • Present the guidelines of brainstorming.  
  • Supply plenty of Post-it notes and pens.  
  • Write this challenge question on a big sheet of paper and post it so all can see: “What might be all of the vacation ideas for this summer?”
  • Ask for family members to write their ideas (in response to the question) on Post-its, say their ideas aloud after they write them, and post the ideas on a large piece of paper that all can see.  Try coming up with 20, 30, 40 ideas.  They can be fun, crazy, outlandish.
  • When you’re done, give each person a pen and have them mark their top five ideas.  
  • After they’ve marked their choices, separate all of the chosen ideas from the unchosen ones.  (Be cautious of the classic pitfall which is choosing the most pragmatic ideas; challenge yourself and go for interesting. Ideas can always be modified later.)
  • Identify through conversation the overlaps and consensus among categories.  Now that each person has registered their interest, you can start from that basis to find something that will work for everyone.  

If there is disagreement, see if there’s a way to combine ideas.  If not, try to identify broader topics that have emerged, and brainstorm again to build on those topics to find a vacation that will be exciting for everyone.  

This outline of the brainstorming process can get you started.  There’s a lot more nuance to this method of using creative problem solving, and there are many resources to help you become an expert if you wish to dig deeper.  

Based on the Creative Problem Solving method, I’ve created a free resource for parents.  (It’s available through this link for a limited time; otherwise, free to email subscribers at sparkitivity.com). In it, there are creativity tools that will help you identify your challenge (you can substitute any challenge for the education question), generate ideas to solve it, evaluate ideas, and implement them.  I created this resource to empower parents as experts, and to find workable solutions to realize their goals for their children.  

If you’d like to go even deeper and receive specific training in creativity and problem solving, check out the resources and offerings at the International Center for Studies in Creativity. You can attend conferences, take individual courses, and earn certifications and masters degrees.  

If you want to give your kids the opportunity to learn creative problem solving while they tackle complex world problems (or local community issues), check out Future Problem Solving Program International.

The bottom line is that there are many, many tools in the field of creativity and innovation that can help you with every phase of family decision-making: with school work, projects, arguments, major decisions, and more.  These tools help you turn the tables on all of us bloggers so that you and your children can confidently become the experts on you and your children.


Currey, Mason.  (2013).  Daily rituals: How artists work.  New York, NY: Alfred A. Knopf.

Eyman, David.  (2015).  Are the other benefits of group creativity practices just as important as good ideas?  In M. K. Culpepper & C. Burnett, (Eds.), Big questions in creativity 2015 (65-77).  Buffalo, NY: ICSC Press. 

Osborn, Alex.  (1953).  Applied imagination.  New York, NY: Charles Scribner’s Sons.

Copyright 2016 Sparkitivity.  All rights reserved.

Does your child create poetry, short stories, inventions, musical compositions, or visual arts?

The International Torrance Legacy Creativity Awards are a wonderful avenue for students ages 8 to 18 to share and become recognized for their creative work. The contest celebrates the life and work of E. Paul Torrance, whose work on creativity and learning has greatly influenced Sparkitivity's philosophy and practices. The deadline for this year's awards is August 20, 2016, so your child has all summer to create!

Please Thank a Teacher for Doing What This Teacher Does

Alan Harvey is an educator-gem.  You know the ones I’m talking about: the teachers that truly love what they do.  The teachers that look for ways to help their students understand more about who they are in the process of learning.  The teachers that encourage self-expression and that exemplify Einstein’s quote: "It is the supreme art of the teacher to awaken joy in creative expression and knowledge."

Alan is the middle school science teacher at Woodmont K-8 in the Federal Way School System in Washington State.  He also teaches seventh grade social studies and one elective course.  Alan’s been teaching for 16 years and has a master of education in integrating teaching through the arts.    

At the beginning of each year, Alan’s goal is to create supportive culture in his classroom.  He shared, “With my new class I want to quickly establish their personality strengths and bring them together as a unit.”  When he read Creativity for Everybody, Alan was struck with an idea that would help his students think about their own strengths as they studied science, writing, history, and art.

One of the ideas central to Creativity for Everybody, and to creativity in general, is “starting with what you have” and identifying your “creative strengths.”  The book includes a graphic that looks like the night sky, populated with over 50 creative strengths “stars,” such as trustworthy, active, original, curious, courageous, inquisitive.   

For his project, Alan typed up the adjectives from the star chart in the book. He gave each student a copy and instructed them to choose between 12 and 21 of those adjectives that best described themselves.  From that list, they highlighted six to eight of their strongest traits. 

Then, he gave students a copy of the star chart graphic.  With a push-pin, they punched through each star that corresponded to their chosen traits onto black construction paper.  They used a pencil to enlarge the holes for the six to eight strongest traits.

From those stars, students “connected the dots” and developed their own pictorial constellations, imagining what each shape might represent—a bird, king, flower, dolphin, or anything else.  Alan told me, “Einstein said, ‘Imagination is more important than knowledge.’ Who am I to argue?”

At this point, the class set the project aside until later in the year to integrate with their study of astronomy.  Already, students had obtained valuable awareness of their own creative strengths (and those of others) to build upon immediately.  

Alan said that when they returned to the study of space, the students already had a personal connection to the content since they had worked with their own constellations.  As many educators know, this personal connection creates meaning, which is essential for deep engagement (Mayer, 2002).

When the constellation projects emerged again, students created original artworks of their constellations with colored pencils.  

They then translated them onto black scratchboard, revealing golden stars connected by golden lines.

Finally, they wrote myths, ancient Greek style, to explain the existence of their personal constellations.

Alan said, “The artwork definitely reflects the individuals who created it. Their personalities shine through. The scratch boards create a uniformity that unites the class, and the myths were some of my favorite results. They incorporated the self-identified traits with their constellation figures.  Angelina’s daisy had each of her traits on the petals and Erienna’s boat sailed for cancer research, which is a present concern for her family.” 

Creative Learning in the Classroom
Alan’s project is a model example of creative learning.  Creative learning necessarily provides opportunities for students to apply their own original thinking, which can include self-reflection.  It also integrates traditional subject matter (Craft, Cremin, Burnard, & Chappell, 2007; Sawyer, 2006; Torrance & Safter, 1990). 

In this case, literature, history, science, writing, and art were all incorporated into one exploration.  When they are able to make a personal connection to a topic, students are more engaged.  When they apply their own original thinking, they are using creative thinking, which is the “highest form of mental functioning” (Millar, 2004; also see Krathwohl, 2002).

There are many teachers out there who give their classes the opportunity to experience creative learning. They know that if they can get their students truly thinking and originating, they will learn more and the learning will stick.  They know that if their students can get to know themselves in the process of learning, they are setting them up for life success. 

Even though such teaching yields deep learning for students, as evidenced by project results and enduring knowledge, it can be a lonely row to hoe as an educator. 

As Alan said, “Projects like these are incredibly valuable for the students. But teaching like this can feel isolated so I hope to share with others about the benefit of incorporating the arts in our students’ lives.”

Though it may be an ideal way to teach, teachers who do so are often bucking the system by “straying from the curriculum guide.”  They do this at their own risk because they know it is right and they see the increased engagement and depth of their students’ learning.  

These teachers deserve to be mentioned, and they deserve to be celebrated.  If you know teachers like this, please thank them.  If your child has teachers like this, please support them.  Did you ever have a teacher that igniting deep, integrated, creative learning?

Teachers, if you love to give your students experiences in creative learning, please contact me at Sparkitivity.  inspired@sparkitivity.com We are developing a world-wide network of creative hotspots where creative learning thrives.  We’ll be happy to add you and your classroom to our list, and connect you with other like-minded educators.  We know that pioneers must have support, and it is our mission to support creative learning around the globe!

© 2016 Sparkitivity, LLC.  All Rights Reserved.  


Craft, A., Cremin, T., Burnard, P., & Chappell, K.  (2007).  Teacher stance in creative learning: A study of progression.  Thinking Skills and Creativity, 2(2), 136-147.  

Haydon, K. P., & Harvey, J. (2015).  Creativity for everybody.  New York: Sparkitivity.

Krathwohl, D. (2002). A revision of Bloom’s Taxonomy: An overview. Theory into Practice, 41(4), 212­218. 

Mayer, R. E.  (2002).  Rote versus meaningful learning.  Theory into Practice, 41(4), 226-232.

Millar, G.  (2004).  The making of a Beyonder.  Bensenville, IL: Scholastic Testing Services, Inc. 

Sawyer, R. K.  (2006).  Educating for innovation.  Thinking Skills and Creativity, 1, 41-48.

Torrance, E. P., & Safter, H. T. (1990). The incubation model of teaching. Buffalo, NY: Bearly Limited.


Creativity for Everybody Reviewed by QRCA Views Magazine

Creativity for Everybody Reviewed by QRCA Views Magazine

"Creative thinking is necessary for any business, and it is essential in the insights industry. But how to incorporate “creativity” in business has been a challenge. Creativity for Everybody is the best resource I have found to do just that."