Creativity in education and beyond

S. M. Rayhanul Islam | Published: January 17, 2019 20:56:00

Over the course of history, human creativity has moved hand in hand with technology. There is a greater need for creative thinking in this ever-changing world today than ever before, and new technologies are offering innovative ways to help children and young people develop as creative thinkers. Dr. Mitchel Resnick has dedicated the better part of his professional life exploring the synergies between creativity and technology, especially in children. In the book 'Lifelong Kindergarten', he dispels the common myths about creativity (that it is confined to the arts, for example) as well as provides convincing examples and case studies of creative thinking in action and of its amazing outcomes. He also delves deep into the intriguing dynamics of creative thinking, and what he calls the Creative Learning Spiral - imagining, creating, playing, sharing and reflecting.

Drawing on experiences from more than thirty years at MIT's Media Lab, learning expert Mitchel Resnick discusses new technologies and strategies for engaging young people in creative learning experiences. He tells stories of how children are programming their own games, stories, and inventions (for example, a diary security system, created by a twelve-year-old girl), and collaborating through remixing, crowd-sourcing, and large-scale group projects (such as a Halloween-themed game called Night at Dreary Castle, produced by more than twenty kids scattered around the world). By providing children with opportunities to work on projects, based on their passions, in collaboration with peers, in a playful spirit, we can help them prepare for a world where creative thinking is more important than ever before.

The book contains six chapters. The first chapter titled 'Creative Learning' begins with a story of the author meeting the president of Tsinghua University, known as the MIT of China. The president states that his goal is to produce brilliant students, who are able to define problems, experiment with new things, and solve problems creatively. The chapter then introduces the concept of the lifelong kindergarten. As children play in a kindergarten, they go through a creative learning spiral -imagine, create, play, share, reflect, and imagine. In order to support creative learning, the author's research group at MIT has been developing Scratch, following the four P's of creative learning -Projects, Passion, Peers, and Play. Chapter-2 emphasises the importance of project-based learning and how projects contribute to creative learning. The Maker Movement that has become popular can provide children with opportunities to work on projects - the first of the four P's of creative learning. The author recalls his own experience of building a golf course as a child. He learned the concept of collisions, and calculated and measured angles. He also learned the process of making things-coming up with initial ideas, experimenting with the ideas, evaluating tentative solutions, and revising solutions. The author thinks that the best toys for children are those that can be used to create projects, and the best way to select a technology for children is to see what children can create with the technology.

The third chapter titled 'Passion' begins with an interpretation of the author's observation of children working on projects at the Computer Clubhouse which provides children with access to technologies and staff support when they work on projects. Children work hard on the projects, and some work more diligently than at school because they are passionate about the projects. To meet the needs of children with different interests, the author's Lifelong Kindergarten group at MIT designs and develops technologies that can support a wide range of projects related to children's interests. This chapter also introduces the concept of 'hard fun' which describes the phenomenon that children tend to work hard on things they care about, even when the projects are challenging. When children work on projects that they are interested in, it seems pretty obvious that they will be more motivated and willing to work longer and harder. Their passion and motivation make them more likely to connect with new ideas and develop new ways of thinking. Their investment in interest pays off with new knowledge. Ultimately, passion is the fuel that drives the immersion-reflection cycle.

The next chapter explores the role of the peers in the development of creative thinking. A learning space should be designed in a way that is convenient for learners to collaborate. The author states that the Scratch online community aims to "foster a culture of caring" and describes how the Scratch online community is created and maintained for children to collaborate with others, share their projects, and learn from others. The chapter then explains the relationship between peers and expertise and argues that, besides peers, children need mentorship and guidance.

Chapter-5 details how children can best learn from play and how to assess learning from play. The author distinguishes two types of environment -playpen and playground. A playpen is a restrictive environment that provides children with limited opportunities to explore.  In contrast, a playground provides children with more scope to move, explore, experiment, and collaborate. He draws our attention toward LEGO bricks that build a playground environment in which children make a decision about what to create and they can build a wide range of things. When children play with a LEGO robotics kit, they are involved in a tinkering process -try an idea, evaluate a solution, and refine the solution. The author also touches upon how to help students deal with mistakes. When children work on problem-solving activities, they may make mistakes. We need to help children overcome the fear of failure and learn from mistakes, which is critical for the development of creativity.

The final chapter of the book 'Creative Society' explores how to shift from an information society to a creative society. As the pace of change in the world continues to accelerate, the author urges, people must learn how to adapt to constantly changing conditions. Success in the future -for individuals, for communities, for nations as a whole -will be based on the ability to think and act creatively. The author examines a small Italian town's approach to creativity, which allows students the freedom to explore and create. Parents collaborate in the process of creativity, and he notes that "it not only takes a village to raise a child, it also takes children to raise the village." Mitchel Resnick mentions here many structural barriers to the educational system which need to be broken down in order to move toward a creative society. We need to break down barriers across - i) disciplines, providing students with opportunities to work on projects that integrate science, art, engineering, and design; ii) age, allowing people of all ages to learn with and from one another; iii) space, connecting activities in schools, community centres, and homes; and iv) time, enabling children to work on interest-based projects for weeks or months or years, rather than squeezing projects into the constraints of a class period or curriculum unit.

The author Dr. Mitchel Resnick is the LEGO Papert Professor of Learning Research at the MIT Media Lab, Massachusetts Institute of Technology, where he leads the Lifelong Kindergarten research group. He co-founded the Computer Clubhouse project, an international network of 100 after-school learning centres, where children from low-income communities learn to express themselves creatively with new technologies. Educated at Princeton and MIT, Professor Mitchel Resnick has long been an inspiration to the people who are involved in studying the roots of innovative thinking. His groundbreaking book 'Lifelong Kindergarten: Cultivating Creativity through Projects, Passion, Peers, and Play'  is not only an essential reading for an educator trying to nurture 21st century skills in the classroom; it is also an essential resource for anyone - parent, entrepreneur, artist, designer, thinker, researcher or simply someone who is curious about kids, learning, and creativity.

The writer is an independent researcher.

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