Strategies to Nurture Creativity in the Classroom
Lucie Howell
Lucie Howell

Nurturing creativity in the classroom is a partnership between you as the teacher, your students as the learners, and parents and school administrators as stakeholders in your students’ learning. With this in mind, I have five key strategies that I use to bring an interdisciplinary approach to project-based learning that can be used in the classroom or as an after-school program approach to creative teaching and learning.

  • Have an overarching Learning Framework for your classroom or learning space.
    One of the most valuable tips a fellow teacher shared with me was to have a basic framework for the learning in my classroom that students could ‘hook’ their experiences onto. Make sure this framework or language is applicable to a student’s entire learning ecosystem, as it needs to work not only for the discipline that you are teaching, but also within other learning experiences your students have outside of your classroom. Design and innovation-based frameworks have always been successful frameworks for me with my students, as they include both the actions needed to be creative and the habits you need to apply in the creative process. I would look at design-thinking models or The Henry Ford’s Model i framework for Innovation Learning as examples.
  • Use or develop a Project-Based Learning (PBL) curriculum or lesson scope and sequence. Some of the best PBL curricula are designed to have a singular culminating project with hands-on, disciplinary focused learning experiences, which build a student’s knowledge and skills to such a degree that they can then work as a team to solve the overarching problem driving the sequence of lessons. I love this type of curriculum design as it recognizes the importance of developing disciplinary knowledge and understanding, while allowing for the opportunity for your students to apply their learning to a real-world problem. I have been lucky enough to work on the development of a number of these kinds of curricula and based upon that experience I would recommend reviewing curriculum models that have developed from STEM and engineering education programs, or the Invention Education and Innovation Learning movement (including Invention Convention Worldwide) which is currently gaining traction in the educational landscape.
  • Scaffold the PBL experiences in your curriculum using your chosen Learning Framework.
    One of the biggest mistakes you can make when introducing PBL to your classroom teaching is to think of these learning experiences as completely unstructured creative moments. If you think in this way, you can lose the very learning you are teaching your students to find and practice. This is when having a Learning Framework for your classroom can really have an impact, because you can use the language in your framework to provide the scaffolding around your students PBL experience. Then you and they can reflect on the learning experience using that shared language and compare it to other learning experiences the students have had both inside and outside of your classroom.
  • Connect with or create a Professional Learning Community (PLC) of likeminded teachers. Creativity in the classroom is only truly possible when the teacher leaders in that learning space have the confidence to be creative themselves. Be cognizant, however, that exploring new and exciting ways to engage students in the teaching and learning process comes with the same challenges as inventing a new product, innovating a new system, designing a new building, or creating a new sculpture: you may fail with some activities, you may hit obstacles you were not anticipating, and you may need expert help to overcome those challenges. This is where being part of a PLC of other educators who approach teaching and learning in this way can be invaluable. Teaching is a team sport, or it should be, and being able to lean on colleagues within your school or beyond it can enrich your own practice and provide a safe space to share your failures and your successes.
  • Showcase your classroom learning with schoolroom stakeholders. There is no better way to get buy-in from the other stakeholders of your students’ education, like parents and administrators, than asking them to join you at a showcase of your students’ work. This could be an invention fair competition, a design team solutions presentation, a gallery-walk of their projects or even an idea pitch competition. You can even do these showcases as virtual experiences if that works for your students and families. When you choose to showcase their work to other stakeholders, it is an extremely empowering experience for your students and will always make the case for your approach to your students’ learning.

By applying these five strategies to your teaching practice, you will see a change to the creativity happening in your classroom. It will strengthen your relationships with your students, their parents, and your school administration, and at the same time you will grow more confident in your ability to be creative in the learning opportunities you share with your students.

About the Author:

Lucie Howell is the Chief Learning Officer at the Henry Ford. An engineer by head and an educator by heart, Lucie is focused on driving the Henry Ford learning philosophy of learning by doing thorough innovation education. After 20 years working as a K-12 teacher, educational outreach, and career development professional in STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Math) and STEAM (add the Arts), Lucie believes that it is authentic, inter-disciplinary opportunities that empower learners by allowing them to demonstrate their strengths while growing and developing new skills and expertise. It is this approach that is at the core of the Innovation Learning products and programs that make up the recently launched The Henry Ford’s inHub virtual venue. Learning that is powered by perspective, applied in the real world, and shared equitably by all.

The Henry Ford is located in Dearborn, Michigan and was founded in 1929 by Henry Ford as the Edison Institute. Originally, it was a school that focused on Henry Ford’ favourite educational philosophy, ‘Learning by Doing’. That philosophy is still at the core of the museum-based institution it is today. At The Henry Ford, they foster inspiration and learning through encounters with their collection of over 26 million authentic artifacts that recognize the innovation, ingenuity, and resourcefulness that can be seen throughout America’s history. Their purpose is to provide unique educational experiences that engage people in these traditions, activate them in their own lives to help build a better future. Their vision is to be a global force for innovation, invention, and entrepreneurship as they strive to bring the past forward.

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