Saturday, February 13, 2010

Creating Innovators

One of my favorite aspects of teaching is seeing how creative my students can be. So often, I teach my students a specific process that they need to follow. If they stick to that process, they will come up with the answer I am looking for. This is a very important skill for them, since they need to understand the procedure for working through problems. I am always glad when they can do this, but there is an “aha!” moment as a teacher when they solve problems in new ways. To create the next generation of innovators and inventors, we are going to have to stress the importance of creative thinking and problem solving in our classrooms.

We have all heard the saying, “Think outside the box.” Many of us would love to encourage our students to do this, but it can be difficult to integrate this type of skill development in our every day lessons. Design Squad from PBS hits the nail on the head by combining activities that teach important concepts in a way that allows students to use creativity and have fun with problem solving. Students are not going through the motions to solve a problem with one “correct” answer. They are working like engineers to find the best possible solution for a challenge. There is brainstorming, trial and error, testing, and discussion at the end to evaluate the failures and successes. Hopefully, students will realize that using knowledge to solve problems can be fun!

Regardless of the subject or grade level you teach, activities like these may find a very important place in your classroom. You may not be a science teacher looking for activities to teach your students about scientific principles like buoyancy, types of energy and solar power. The Design Squad activities teach these concepts well, but they also teach the process of creative problem solving, which is important in all subject areas. . Check out all of the Design Squad resources on the Gateway. You just might find one that will be perfect to liven up your classroom this month.

Don’t pass over resources just because the target age range doesn’t fit your students. Adapting them to your class could be easier than you think. Take the activities one step further and assign a project at home to build on the ideas students learned during the in-class activity. One teacher suggested having your students come up with new challenges themselves. Your class can brainstorm challenge ideas that cover specific topics you are learning in class. You might spend some class time in groups working on solutions. Students can then coordinate outside of class to come up with a final solution for their challenge. When you test the solutions, be sure to discuss the process students’ used to come up with their final solution. I always like to reward creative points for solutions that really took students out on a limb.

Make sure your students “sell” their project to the class. You can let your students choose how they want to do this. Maybe they can create a skit or short video. Maybe they want to create a magazine ad. There are lots of ways they can present it, but it is important for them to be excited about the solution they came up with. We want them to share this enthusiasm with their peers. When students can “own” their learning like this, it can be really fun and rewarding for the teacher, too.

I challenge you to integrate some discovery activities like the ones from Design Squad into your classroom. Try one of the activities Joann picked this week, or search the Gateway to find one that fits your needs even better. See how creative problem solving can change the dynamics of learning for you and your students. Let us know what works and doesn’t work for you. We are excited to hear how it goes!

~Peggy's Corner~

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