Updated: Aug 28, 2021
This blog post marks the beginning of a series of practical actions that teachers can take to integrate creative thinking and problem solving into their curricula and classrooms.
I will share all of my creativity tips on LinkedIn and develop them in the Hexis21 Blog.
Teachers are busy people, so this blog will be to the point, with a worked example. The tip could work with many different academic subjects, including citizenship, PSHE, geography, civics and so many more.
Tip #1 seems fantastical but it can have a transformative impact on students in terms of their creative confidence.
You may be teaching a class that is beginning a new topic. This tip can work as a starter activity. Of course, it is a huge ask for students without prior knowledge to solve a problem that they do not fully understand yet. This in part is the beauty of this approach: instead of asking students to 'write down everything you know about X or Y' which is a common teaching approach to establish prior knowledge, this approach allows the students to experience ambiguity and uncertainty.
To be effective creative thinkers and problem solvers our students need to experience ambiguity and be okay with that.
This approach fosters resilience and a growth mindset.
The stakes are low but the curiosity levels will be high.
For example, if you are beginning a new unit of work on climate change you could introduce some short pieces of information related to rising temperatures and sea levels, the impact on food supplies, the health of individuals and communities, migration etc. This NASA resource is a good starting point for such prompts as is this video from the Centre for Disease Control and Prevention and this UNICEF video which includes the voices of people whose communities will be negatively impacted by climate change.
Gaining an empathetic understanding of the impact of climate change on marginalised communities is also key to creative thinking. Adopting a human centric approach (and in this case, all living species) to problem solving will help students gain a deeper understanding of the challenge to be solved. This website offers an interesting overview of the impact of climate change on marginalised communities
They can use these and other prompts to work collaboratively to gain an introduction to the impact of climate change on the world.
Students could now be asked to define the problem that the world is facing. They can do this by using the 5whys technique where they ask 'Why?' five times in order to get to the root of the problem. There are innumerable questions that could be asked, but I will give one illustration of how this task could go:
Why is climate change happening?
Climate change has always happened on Earth. Greenhouse gases in the atmosphere have been rising since the Industrial Revolution, leading to more heat retention and an increase in surface temperatures.
Why have greenhouse gases in the atmosphere been rising?
Human activity. Most of the carbon dioxide that people put into the atmosphere comes from burning fossil fuels such as oil, coal, and natural gas. Cars, trucks, trains, and planes all burn fossil fuels. Many electric power plants also burn fossil fuels.
Why are fossil fuels being used to such an extent?
Because they are thought to be efficient, convenient and well-established unlike renewable energies which are thought to be more expensive, less reliable and have geographical limitations (eg: solar power is more efficient in areas where there is a good level of annual sunlight.)
Why do people have these beliefs about renewable energy?
Some people lack education in the benefits of renewable energy
Why do people lack education in the benefits of renewable energy?
Misinformation and shifting prices leave many people confused on exactly how much renewable energy costs and how it works. Many consumers fail to investigate properly and assume that installation and maintenance costs of green energy are far outside their budget.
Now that the students have got to the root of one aspect of this challenge, they can formulate a 'How Might We?' question so that they can identify clearly the problem that they could solve. Granted, climate change is a monolith of a challenge, so the class will likely come up with many different questions. This reflects the complexity and interconnected nature of this real-world issue. A group that chose to look at rising temperatures or deforestation will take a different route now but this will help students realise that they are thinking in systems as opposed to silos. This will become evident to them in the final phase as they see how all of their issues are connected into a system.
A 'How Might We?' question that this group may come up with could be:
How might governments create a public information campaign that conveys clear information to educate their people about the relative benefits of switching to renewable energy sources?
How might we encourage energy companies to share clearer pricing and benefits related to renewable energy?
Now students can skip to the end of the problem solving process by being asked to imagine that they had a magic wand that they could wave to solve the problem immediately.
They should then be asked what the world looks and feels like like now that the magic spell has been cast.
They will use their imaginations to imagine a world that is not negatively impacted by the challenges and problems that they have uncovered. They can communicate this to their peers and share what they have found out. Each group is likely to have taken a different route in their exploration of this issue as a result of the prompts that most resonated with them which will then have informed their 5Whys and 'How Might We?' question construction.
So now students need to find the path to this 'magical' utopia where the challenge and problems do not exist.
The idea here is that they have the solution and they need to identify the steps that could be taken to get there. They are, in effect, working backwards to go forwards. As a class they can all contribute their ideas which will provide the journey to the solution.
They can plot this on a road map (just use black poster paper to create a road shape, or access this downloadable from Twinkl or a decal from Etsy) that could be pinned to a wall to provide a visual representation of the steps but also the magnitude of the issue that they will face. This allows the students to understand the experiences of people living in different parts of the world which will develop their empathetic skills.
This first creativity tip creates opportunities to develop the 21st century skills students need.
They are able to communicate, collaborate, think creatively and critically while tackling a relevant real-world issue. The experience feels authentic because of this. Student voice and choice are at the heart of the direction of this task.
How else can you apply this in the classroom?
When discussing issues relating to bullying.
When teaching issues related to social and economic inequalities
When discussing international terrorism.
When thinking of ways to change something at school: uniform/healthier options at lunchtime etc.
When discussing how to create a blueprint of an ideal state.
I hope you found value in this creativity tip and come back for more. Follow or connect with me on LinkedIn to catch my next creativity tip. I am always interested in hearing your views, so please leave any comments below or on my LinkedIn posts. If you want a deeper dive in to creative thinking and problem solving, access my course here or access my YouTube channel.
View Tip #2 here