I find that I am most creative when tackling a problem. When I have to use my whole brain, and my objective is clear, I am a pretty good problem solver actually. Luckily I learned this about myself the first year of my educational career while an assistant teacher at a Jewish Montessori preschool in San Diego. Then again, on-the-spot training on how to teach 3-4 year-olds important skills such as how to use a computer, how not to bite, and the Hebrew names for snack items would, no doubt, be a crash course on multi-tasking and problem solving for anyone.
Looking back, it was a little late in life to have gained creative confidence. Put another way, why don’t we gain or preserve that confidence throughout our school years? Now that I teach 5th and 6th grade science, that question is turned back on me as a teacher. How can I preserve and or foster creative confidence in my own students?
Given the creative ways adolescents get themselves into trouble, you would think that asking them to get creative would be an effortless exercise. In reality, however, by 5th grade, students have learned that they exist in a rather rigid environment. The world is filled with behavioral norms, adults who are expected to have all the answers, and static classroom settings; elements which are important for students’ safety and assimilation into the real world, but at what expense? More and more, students are expected to be enthusiastic consumers, rather than engaged makers, of their educational experience. Learning the rules for fitting successfully into your community is an important process for adolescents, but how does that assimilation affect creativity and confidence in problem solving? To address this perceived creativity gap, more schools are creating Maker Spaces.
To test the efficacy of these types of learning spaces in a middle school setting, a second initiative in the iLab was to allow it to be a Maker Space as well. Generous donations from parents last Spring have helped outfit the iLab at Hillbrook with the latest technologies to help encourage our tech savvy students to have a “maker mindset.” The iLab will sport such tools as a laser cutter, 3D-printer and other rapid prototyping tools, as well as traditional hand tools.
Inspired by Ed Carryer’s Special Product Design Lab (SPDL) course at Stanford and Stanford d.school’s approach to design thinking, educators and staff at Hillbrook are exploring ways to use the iLab to empower student’s creative confidence and problem solving skills. The first example of this is the newly designed Problem-Based Science curriculum, or PBS for short. Using real problems—some small, some large—students will be able to apply the scientific, mathematical, engineering, technological and artistic principles they discover in real time while experimenting with solutions.
On the first day of school my 5th grade class had to find as many novel uses for a metal pie pan as they could think of in 10 minutes. Each group of two students snatched up a dry erase marker and raced to a white board. Ideas splashed across the reflective surfaces—pie pan as a tiny chair for a Chihuahua; pie plate as metal for electronic parts (see photo). This activity allowed students the space to think on their toes and led them into their first unit on exploring the possibilities and limitations of solutions based on specific materials. The iLab has become a favorite space for our students because they sense the potential it represents. As for me, for the first time in my teaching career I won’t have all of the answers to the problems that my students will face. It is humbling and exciting as we venture together into this space.