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Can creativity be taught?

All humans have a mindful capability for creative thought. Unleashing it is dependent on how we're taught to go about the creative process.

The Elephants by Salvador Dali
  • Divergent thinking is a fundamental aspect of creative teaching.
  • Studies have found that there are a number of valid teaching methods that inspire creativity in their students, regardless of what field they're in.
  • Ordinary modes of education are not conducive towards developing creativity if they do not employ methods like divergent thinking and also allow mistakes to be made while learning.

Creative intelligence is the ability to observe or act with any of the senses, enact mimicry to a certain fidelity and then through repetition make that thought, action or idea your own before you can then develop it to new places it's never gone before.

The creative spirit and process is something that is highly sought after. For writers and artists, the concept has even been deified as the Muses. Nowadays it's not just the eccentrics and poets looking to get a creative hit, but also business people and regular students seeking out that creative magic.

It's a process that, for a while, many people didn't think could be taught. It's more than a set of skills or behaviors within a predefined set of parameters. It's mysterious and novel. Creativity manifests when somebody has mastered a subject or skill and then needs to invent a new solution to a problem that couldn't be overcome with any previous method.

While it's difficult to teach someone a new creative solution, it is possible to instill the fundamentals so that a person may go on and become creative in their own right.

Analyzing creative teaching systems 

Photo: Wikimedia Commons

A creative mindset can be taught, but not from sitting in a lecture hall or taking a standardized test.

In the early 21st century, researchers from the University of Oklahoma set out to analyze a number of different creative teaching systems. They set out to learn how different training programs helped foster and spur creativity, and published their findings in the Creativity Research Journal:

Over the course of the last half century, numerous training programs intended to develop creativity capacities have been proposed. In this study, a quantitative meta-analysis of program evaluation efforts was conducted. Based on 70 prior studies, it was found that well-designed creativity training programs typically induce gains in performance with these effects generalizing across criteria, settings, and target populations. Moreover, these effects held when internal validity considerations were taken into account.

Observations of these teaching methods showed that there was an effective increase in successfully developing cognitive skills that helped students apply a creative mindset during realistic exercises.

Although creative trainings differ in scope and the field they're trying to train people in, the authors found a few fundamental trends for successful programs. Most successful creativity training shares a common foundation: divergent thinking. They write:

We refer to the notion of divergent thinking or the capacity to generate multiple alternative solutions as opposed to the one correct solution… The evidence accrued over the last 50 years does suggest that divergent thinking, as assessed through open ended tests such as consequences and alternative uses, where responses are scored for fluency (number of responses), flexibility (category shifts in response), originality (uniqueness of responses), and elaboration (refinement of responses), does represent a distinct capacity contributing to both creative problem solving and many forms of creative performance.

The authors have identified divergent thinking as something that is fundamental towards teaching and recording creative ability. But that's just one part of creative abilities.

Methods for how to teach creativity 

Thinking outside the box has become such a cliched maxim that we take for granted how important it is to be able to come up with far out ideas for solving problems. Methods for teaching creativity are just as vast and varied as the act of creation itself.

Here are a number of tried and true methods that have been able to light a creative spark for many people throughout the years.

Utilizing a creativity model

The Osborne-Parnes model is a very popular system used in educational and business settings. It's split into six steps, each one bringing with it a divergent thinking pattern to challenge status quo ideas.

  1. Identifying a goal or objective.
  2. Gathering data.
  3. Clarifying a problem.
  4. Generating ideas.
  5. Evaluating ideas.
  6. Creating a plan to implement ideas.

Diverge and converge

Designing assignments that have both divergent and convergent ways of thinking. For example, standardized tests are a great way of measuring analytical thinking (convergent) by relying on deduction and answering for one correct response. A mix of divergent questioning would be tremendously helpful for creativity testing.

Build a congenial learning environment

Creative thinking is one of collaboration and bouncing ideas off of others in a social setting. Promote student's creativity by validating their off-hand ideas that go beyond the subject matter.

Try the incubation model by E. Paul Torrance

It has three stages which include: Making connections between classroom work and real life situations, engage curriculum in multiple ways, extend learning opportunities outside of classroom settings.

Applying these methods in a focused manner can be a surefire way to get the creative flames rising.

Louis R. Mobley’s IBM school for creativity 

It was in 1956 that Louis R. Mobley was tasked with turning IBM's executives into creative powerhouses. The executive school was built around six insights that Mobley came up with for inspiring and teaching creativity.

  1. Traditional teaching methods are useless for encouraging creativity.
  2. Becoming creative is more about unlearning than learning a new process.
  3. We don't learn to be creative, we learn to become creative people through action and transforming ourselves in the experience.
  4. Creative people beget other creative people. Basically, hang out with other creatives and watch what they do and how they think.
  5. Self-knowledge is imperative if you're to overcome your own limiting biases.
  6. Give yourself the permission to be wrong and to fail. There are no bad or wrong ideas, just ones that just aren't quite there.

The process isn't going to be easy and learning to be creative is still going to be difficult. Some are more apt to it than others, but there is no doubt that the seeds of the imagination can be taught and passed down to others.

Live today! Unfiltered lessons of a female entrepreneur

Join Pulitzer Prize-winning reporter and best-selling author Charles Duhigg as he interviews Victoria Montgomery Brown, co-founder and CEO of Big Think, live at 1pm EDT today.

Two MIT students just solved Richard Feynman’s famed physics puzzle

Richard Feynman once asked a silly question. Two MIT students just answered it.

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Here's a fun experiment to try. Go to your pantry and see if you have a box of spaghetti. If you do, take out a noodle. Grab both ends of it and bend it until it breaks in half. How many pieces did it break into? If you got two large pieces and at least one small piece you're not alone.

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Two-thirds of parents say technology makes parenting harder

Parental anxieties stem from the complex relationship between technology, child development, and the internet's trove of unseemly content.

Sex & Relationships
  • Today's parents believe parenting is harder now than 20 years ago.
  • A Pew Research Center survey found this belief stems from the new challenges and worries brought by technology.
  • With some schools going remote next year, many parents will need to adjust expectations and re-learn that measured screen usage won't harm their children.

Parents and guardians have always endured a tough road. They are the providers of an entire human being's subsistence. They keep that person feed, clothed, and bathe; They help them learn and invest in their enrichment and experiences; They also help them navigate social life in their early years, and they do all this with limited time and resources, while simultaneously balancing their own lives and careers.

Add to that a barrage of advice and reminders that they can always spend more money, dedicate more time, or flat-out do better, and it's no wonder that psychologists worry about parental burnout.

But is parenting harder today than it was, say, 20 years ago? The Pew Research Center asked more than 3,600 parents this question, and a majority (66 percent) believe the answer is yes. While some classic complaints made the list—a lack of discipline, a disrespectful generation, and the changing moral landscape—the most common reason cited was the impact of digital technology and social media.

A mixed response to technology

children using desktop computer

Parents worry that their children spend too much time in front of screens while also recognizing technologies educational benefits.

(Photo: Chris Hondros/Getty Images)

This parental concern stems not only from the ubiquity of screens in children's lives, but the well-publicized relationship between screen time and child development. Headlines abound citing the pernicious effects screen time has on cognitive and language development. Professional organizations, such as the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry, issue warnings that too much screen time can lead to sleep problems, lower grades, weight problems, mood problems, poor self-image, and the fear of missing out—to name a few!

According to Pew's research, parents—which Pew defines as an adult or guardian with at least one child under their care, though they may also have adult children—have taken these warnings to heart. While 84 percent of those surveyed are confident they know how much screen time is appropriate, 71 percent worry their child spends too much time in front of screens.

To counter this worry, most parents take the measured approach of setting limits on the length of time children can access screens. Others limit which technologies children have access to. A majority of parents (71 percent) view smartphones as potentially harmful to children. They believe the devices impair learning effective social skills, developing healthy friendships, or being creative. As a result, about the same percentage of parents believe children should be at least 12 years old before owning a smartphone or using social media.

But a deeper concern than screen time seems to be what content those screens can access. An overwhelming 98 percent of those surveyed say parents and guardians shouldered the responsibility of protecting children from inappropriate online content. Far less put the responsibility on tech companies (78 percent) or the government (65 percent).

Parents of young children say they check the websites and apps their children use and set parental controls to restrict access. A minority of parents admit to looking at call and text records, tracking their child's location with GPS, or following their child on social media.

Yet, parents also recognize the value of digital technology or, at least, have acquiesced to its omnipresence. The poster child for this dichotomy is YouTube, with its one billion hours played daily, many before children's eyes. Seventy-three percent of parents with young children are concerned that their child will encounter inappropriate content on the platform, and 46 percent say they already have. Yet, 80 percent still let their children watch videos, many letting them do so daily. Some reasons cited are that they can learn new things or be exposed to different cultures. The number one cited reason, however, is to keep children entertained.

For the Pew Research Center's complete report, check out "Parenting Children in the Age of Screens."

Screens, parents, and pandemics

Perhaps most troubling, Pew's survey was conducted in early March. That's before novel coronavirus spread wildly across the United States. Before shelter-in-place laws. Before schools shuttered their doors. Before desperate parents, who suddenly found themselves their child's only social and educational outlet, needed a digital lifeline to help them cope.

The COVID-19 pandemic has led many parents to rely on e-learning platforms and YouTube to supplement their children's education—or just let the kids enjoy their umpteenth viewing of "Moana" so they can eke out a bit more work. With that increase in screen time comes a corresponding increase in guilt, anxiety, and frustration.

But are these concerns overblown?

As Jenny Radesky, M.D., a pediatrician and expert on children and the media at the University of Michigan's C.S. Mott Children's Hospital, told the New York Times, parents don't always need to view screen time as a negative. "Even the phrase 'screen time' itself is problematic. It reduces the debate to a black and white issue, when the reality is much more nuanced," Radesky said.

Radesky helped the American Academy of Pediatrics craft its statement about screen time use during the pandemic. While the AAP urges parents to preserve offline experiences and maintain limits, the organization acknowledges that children's media use will, by necessity, increase. To make it a supportive experience, the statement recommends parents make a plan with their children, be selective of the quality of media, and use social media to maintain connections together. It also encourages parents to adjust their expectations and notice their own technology use.

"We are trying to prevent parents from feeling like they are not meeting some sort of standard," Radesky said. "There is no science behind this right now. If you are looking for specific time limits, then I would say: Don't be on it all day."

This is good advice for parents, now and after the pandemic. While studies show that excessive screen time is deleterious, others show no harm from measured, metered use. For every fear that screens make our kids stupid, there's a study showing the kids are all right. If we maintain realistic standards and learn to weigh quality and quantity within those standards, maybe parenting in the digital age won't seem so darn difficult.

How meditation can change your life and mind

Reaching beyond the stereotypes of meditation and embracing the science of mindfulness.

Videos
  • There are a lot of misconceptions when it comes to what mindfulness is and what meditation can do for those who practice it. In this video, professors, neuroscientists, psychologists, composers, authors, and a former Buddhist monk share their experiences, explain the science behind meditation, and discuss the benefits of learning to be in the moment.
  • "Mindfulness allows us to shift our relationship to our experience," explains psychologist Daniel Goleman. The science shows that long-term meditators have higher levels of gamma waves in their brains even when they are not meditating. The effect of this altered response is yet unknown, though it shows that there are lasting cognitive effects.
  • "I think we're looking at meditation as the next big public health revolution," says ABC News anchor Dan Harris. "Meditation is going to join the pantheon of no-brainers like exercise, brushing your teeth and taking the meds that your doctor prescribes to you." Closing out the video is a guided meditation experience led by author Damien Echols that can be practiced anywhere and repeated as many times as you'd like.
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