Creativity to be the Foundation of 21st Century Learning


Nicole Braun, Staff Writer

You shuffle down a long, crowded hallway. It doesn’t matter where you’re heading, maybe it is to History or your too-long math class, the scene is always the same: technicolor school bags swing along, threatening to hit you in the face and jerseys from every sport proudly displaying their numbers. Maybe you see a friend and wave or share a passing high-five. Finally reach your destination, and you walk in the classroom finding your seat among the many rows and prepare for class to begin. The day drones on as it always does, looking at the clock every five minutes to see how long until your sentence is up. Maybe you have a science test that day, or a presentation in French, but it is all just a part of a never-ending stream of boring work.

After a long day of school, ninth grader, Alexa Austin arrives home and is able to decompress before she begins the daunting task of completing her tons of homework. Alexa is an intelligent student who is in all honors classes and participates in Debate Club and Biology League, along with running her own YouTube channel. When asked about how long it takes for her to complete her incredible workload, she replied in a fake cheery voice, that it takes her about two to three hours.

That feeling of dread and panic  when you remember at 11:30 on Sunday night that you forgot to do your English homework is something that every student has probably felt. According to U.S. News, high school teachers assign, on average, 17.5 hours of work each week. Students not only receive, what some may consider, an excessive amount of work, but most students also participate in after school clubs, band, chorus, and sports.

The point is, it’s not just the amount of homework that students receive, it is about the fact that they do not feel that they are expressing creativity through their work. Around 61% of freshmen students surveyed

A student uses her iPad, to do homework. Photo Courtesy of Nicole Braun

responded that they found that their English classes incorporated creative elements into the classroom by allowing students to design posters, work together in groups, and let them pick the books, poems and writing units that they want to study, among many other things. Alexa says she appreciates it when teachers give students “creative freedom” to do projects because it usually generates more passionate responses. In addition, it makes the work feel less like a chore. However, Alexa remarks cynically that a teacher’s definition of creativity can be very different from a student’s. A teacher’s fun way of being creative in class can be anything from coloring to “creative essays,” which have the potential to be anything but fun.

A part of understanding creativity is knowing that to a student something automatically becomes boring when it is forced. A prime example of this is summer reading. Some students may enjoy reading novels in the sweet summer air, but this hobby can turn sour quickly when they are forced to annotate said novel. A student said that classmates who, “have more creative control over their assignments are more motivated to do their work because they will be doing something that they like, as opposed to their work being dictated by a teacher and them having no say in it. Which results in them being less motivated.”

Out of the thirty-three students surveyed, twenty-seven of them (82%) responded that they wish there were more creative components in school, while only two (6%) students said that they do not wish for more creative aspects in school. Alexa commented that the mentality in school is that “you learn and you just do stuff,” and you don’t take very creative approaches to assignments.

A teacher who is trying to combat this bland outlook on school is Mrs. Calogero-La Neve. This extraordinary teacher conducts classes on Fashion Design, Art Experiences, Ceramics and Sculpture, Visual Arts, and Design Thinking. Her courses are “very process oriented, and the idea of brainstorming and coming up with innovative, interesting ways of creating your work has become more of the focus.” As of Design Thinking, the class follows Stanford University’s design thinking programs which consists of five steps: empathize, define, ideate, prototype, and test. Stanford describes the design thinking method as a, “process [that] first defines the problem and then implements the solutions”.

The Design Thinking course is a unique class that allows students to collaborate and work on a solution for an actual problem that a company nearby faces. Since people outside of school rely on their results, students are motivated “to do their best work.” Students who have taken this class have stated that “Having that outside source gives a healthy level of anxiety.” About her class, Mrs. Calogero-La Neve remarks that “design thinking isn’t a content driven course; it’s more about this challenge.”

This kind of “creative problem solving” is something that Alexa enjoys in the debate club. She is required to think on her feet during debates to construct compelling counter arguments in an attempt to win.

Similarly, according to Mrs. Calogero-La Neve, the traits of a Design Thinker are that they have a very “yes and…” attitude, which means that they are constantly seeking better answers for problems and are never satisfied. They are also very collaborative. and they have a  “natural curiosity about the world”

Design thinkers and artists alike approach problems and come up with as many ideas for solutions as possible in order to “Exhaust all possibilities.”  Next, they weed through the ideas to find the ones that they are the most passionate about and the most creative. However, they also “need to have a good balance of creativity and sensibility.” The skills taught in Mrs. Calogero-La Neve’s class are definitely ones that students can use in other classes as well, but sometimes, “students compartmentalize their subjects without seeing the overlaps.”

Can creativity be taught to those who feel that they lack it? Mrs. Calogero-La Neve said that it “can definitely be taught” and that there “is a lot of stigma [surrounding creative abilities].” She also understands that some students in challenging classes feel a need to go into a field that has more mathematical and scientific elements. Alexa said that she feels “a lot of pressure” to go into a profession centered around science and math. Even though many Honors students feel this way, they don’t have to. There are so many creative jobs in the technology field that don’t necessarily incorporate science and mathematics. Places like Google and Apple are constantly coming up with creative solutions and new innovations. There are so many ways to be creative in our society that students should not feel obligated to go into a field that are commonly associated with science and math.

Have you ever heard of the term “Creative Confidence”? What that means is that “everybody has some creativity to them.” As people grow up, they have less faith in their creative abilities, as explained by Mrs. Calogero-La Neve. David Kelley, who wrote the book Creative Confidence along with his brother Tom, recalled that as a child, he and his classmates would be shut down if they tried to be creative in school, and now as an adult, when he does creative workshops with successful businessmen, they get very self-conscious and uneasy when creativity is involved. They brush it off saying, “Well, I’m just not the creative type.”

Things seem as if they’re starting to change in school, with Dr. Thumm’s Vision 20/20 program and the design thinking classes; however, in the meantime, many students still feel as if they are perpetually shuffling down the long hallways.