Today we gathered over a TED Talk by Tim Brown on Creativity and Play.
Tim reminded me of something very important, there comes a point in schooling where we begin discouraging play. We ask students to sit in their seats, to fill in the circles completely with a number two pencil, and to stay on task. There is very little time in schools for play. I think that by making schools void of play, we harm our students. There is a lot of important learning that happens during play and discovery.
In the video, Tim shows some pictures inside some major design firms (Pixar and Google). At the beginning of the year, I asked students to describe what their dream school would look like. I was very sad to learn that most of them couldn’t conceive of a school that looked different. In our first brainstorming session, most of them talked about having more recess or a longer lunch and that was the extent of their wishes. I really tried to impress on them that their school could look and be structured any way they wanted. I was met with blank stares and confused looks. The problem in the first brainstorming session was that students were doing what they do all day long in school. They were trying to guess what I was thinking. They wanted to give me the right answer. But in this instance, there wasn’t a right answer, every answer was right. I showed my students pictures of Googleplex and Pixar and explained that there was a lot of work and creativity that came out of both companies. What they saw was a playland. Nearly all of my students declared that they would work at Google or Pixar when they got out of school. One of my students asked if I would help her write a resume so that Google would have it on file when she was ready to work there (she is 9). We brainstormed a dream school again. This time the students understood that there wasn’t a right answer, that the sky was the limit. Few of them included desks in their dream school, nearly all of them included animals of some kind, and most of them wanted slides and piano stairs to get from one floor to another. We collaborated on Wallwisher and dreamed together. At the beginning of the project, I told the kids the school could look like, and operate, any way that they wanted, but there were two restrictions: 1. it had to be a place of learning, and 2. they had to justify why they included everything in their school. Most of them cited an increase in creativity and innovation (we learned that word as we looked at pictures of Googleplex). One of my students wanted a huge cylinder tropical fish tank in the lobby with clear pipes branching out and winding around the school and through the classroom. She thought the fish would be interesting to study and an inspiration for learning. Another student wished for swing chairs hanging from the ceiling so that they could move while they learned. Several kids wanted dogs in the school that they could read to because, “dogs won’t make fun of you when you make a mistake reading out loud.” Once the students felt comfortable with not having one right answer, they let their imaginations run wild and came up with excellent ideas and suggestions.
We need to help kids understand that there usually isn’t only one right answer. They have been so primed to believe that every problem has one correct answer because we overload them with tests and worksheets that tell them that it is so. We squash creativity. Pretty soon they become adults who don’t know how to play and as a result, aren’t creative. How do you encourage creativity and outside the box thinking in your classroom?