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. firstname.lastname@example.org 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!
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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.