Posts tagged creative process
Innovation Journey
WI Dick Middle School in Milton is on an Innovation Journey.  Inside their school they had a large, open area called “The Mall” that was used for Quality Daily Fitness breaks.  Really, the space was being misused and ended up collecting large amounts of garbage throughout the day. As well, WI Dick Middle School had an aging Mac Lab that, while used, didn’t do much to promote creativity or collaboration among students.  The staff identified that they wanted to make improvements to how these learning spaces were utilized. Not to spoil anything, but they were more than successful!



The Mall has since become an extended classroom that teachers can use for group work, combined classes or breakout space.  It has been furnished with flexible seating, whiteboards, a dedicated chromebook cart and other supplies to drive collaboration.  But really, the repurposing of The Mall was a side show compared to what we were about to witness in the old Mac Lab, now rebranded as the “Innovation Lab”. To set up this space, science teacher Mark Maunder has taken the tired, aging computer lab and has transformed it into a dynamic, student centred space where they tackle design thinking projects, learn to empathize, build, code and solve creative problems.



There have been many times when we have had the good fortune of witnessing the energy of empowered students in our travels into schools around Halton, like the Learning Commons at JT Tuck, and Ms. DiGiantomasso’s Grade 8 math classroom at Aldershot. The Innovation Lab at WI Dick Middle School exuded that same level of kinetic energy!  This space is a great example of structure creating behaviour. In this case, by focusing on students creating in teams, and guiding them through the design process, Mark has set the conditions for empowered learning to take place in the room. He reflected on how some of the students that have had difficulty engaging in some other areas of school have found a safe space here where they are engaged, interested and valued.



The space itself has been thoughtfully designed to be flexible, inviting and dynamic.  Students work on whiteboard tables that are able to lift up and store vertically with ease.  The tables allow for risk-free ideation and much like the Thinking Classroom framework, allow students to work vertically.  There were some lost cost design solutions as well including LEGO donated by the community, and some repurposed cork boards and other reinvented materials.   They demonstrated how creating a space like this can also involve solutions don’t necessarily always break the bank.

One of the reasons for success in this project, which is still very much framed as a pedagogical experiment is the presence of The 3 Ps of Innovation (Permission, policy, protection) that nurtures the conditions to allow this new venture to happen.  Mark was given open permission to create this space and program with the focus on learning skills and soft skills as outcomes, rather than specific curricular outcomes and grades.  Mark has noticed that there are many more opportunities for fluid pairings with other subject teachers as needed to cover curriculum. This repurposing of space has worked because Principal Christine Bejjany gave teachers the permission to launch, with the policy and protection to try, fail and learn with a focus placed on learning skills as allowed a flexibility to the project to exist.

In future, the hope is to find ways of bringing this type of learning into all spaces, using maker carts and a design thinking framework in other classes and in other courses.  The insight and the forethought into scaling up is both exciting for the school and welcome that the space fits into a greater plan of change within the priorities of the school.


Teaching Creativity

Amanda Williams-Yeagers has written a number of guest blog posts on the Shift. She is also leading the HDSB Empower Book Talk.

Jordie Burton has also written a guest blog post on the Shift. He is an Art Educator passionate about creativity and design thinking. Amanda and Jordie have teamed up with other HDSB educators to use an innovation grant to delve into teaching creativity and design thinking in our schools.

Sir Ken Robinson begins his famous 2006 Ted talk “Do Schools Kill Creativity?” by speaking about the evidence and the range of human creativity. He also begins by talking about the uncertainty of the future. The irony of this, is that this brilliant talk took place twelve years ago.

Today we are still wondering what the future will look like and we are still hoping to prepare our students for jobs that don’t even exist yet. We are also curious about the range and extent of human creativity:


What is the definition of creativity? What environment is conducive to creativity for learners? How can we create an environment that nurtures rather than undermines creativity? How can we support our learners to become comfortable with making mistakes?

Sir Ken continues to say that one of the greatest issues in education is that we educate people out of creativity. He captures this when he says that students,

“have become frightened of being wrong. We stigmatize mistakes. And we're now running national education systems where mistakes are the worst thing you can make. And the result is that we are educating people out of their creative capacities.”

While recognizing that this was said twelve years ago, we are left wondering if this is something that still exists in education today. In fact, we have a number of questions about creativity that are grounding our inquiry. We are using a design thinking approach to ask the questions, “How can we improve students ability to learn to be creative?” “How can we empower students to identify themselves as creative?” and “How can we change a single story of student’s self-image to the untold story of limitless potential?”



Our first investigation has led us to investigate a broader definition of the concept of creativity. The organization Creativity at Work defines creativity as “the act of turning new and imaginative ideas into reality” and that if you have ideas but do not act on them, you are imaginative, not creative. Daniel Pink, in his book A Whole New Mind says that creativity is “giving the world something it didn’t know it was missing” or as Hugh Howey says “Seeing something that doesn’t exist and then making it so,”. While we continue to work on our broad definition of the concept of creativity, that application of the topic is what matters to us the most.

So, we are putting it out there and asking other educators to support us in our journey and we have lots of questions! We are exploring the idea that creativity has some core elements that can be shared, taught and built. What is the best way to bring that into a classroom? If we want our students to graduate with the ability to think creatively, how do we achieve this? What does teaching “creatively” look like? Are there examples of lessons that explicitly teach creativity? How do we convince our students that everyone has the potential to be creative? 

If you have any ideas, and are willing to help us with our inquiry, please complete this survey and help us by sharing your experiences. We don’t need you to have all of the answers (we don’t either!) we just want you to help us by coming along for the ride.



And with that we leave you with this:


“Creativity is as important now as literacy and we should treat it with the same status.”

-Sir Ken Robinson


Reimagining the Final 30%
Jamie Reimagines Exams

A few years ago I got frustrated with traditional exams.  They were not exciting.  They were not a celebration of student learning.  It wasn’t a showcase of a semester of hard work.  It was a stressful slugfest for our students to regurgitate a semester's worth of learning in an arbitrarily short amount of time.  I realized I didn’t like my traditional exam because it was filled with questions, curriculum and content that I thought was the most important.  In a classroom where student voice is valued, I didn’t think this was an appropriate send off to my students.  I wanted to know what they found to be the most important components of my course.  I wanted to know what they learned, without having to force them down one defined path.

So I mixed it up.  Last year I gave my Advanced Functions students a choice.  They could complete a traditional final exam or they could complete a more open ended exam.  I called it the “Modern Exam”.

I allowed my students to change their minds up to the moment the exam was put in front of them.  I spent lots of time leading up to the final exam coaching each student about the choice they wanted to make.  I provided lots of review, study tips and time to prepare.  In the end, about a third of my class chose to attempt the Modern Exam.  This year, I’m providing this choice again and seeing about 50% of my students choose to try the more open ended exam.

The results don’t disappoint me either.

Matt Reimagines Final Performance Tasks

In our Art classes, we were also growing tired of our final performance task in grade 9 art.  The results of project that we had designed and used the last few years ticked all the boxes, it was safe, and well, a little formulaic.  It didn’t provide room for students to flex their creative muscle and lean on their strengths as creators.  So as part of a final 30% pilot, we redesigned the final performance task.  We called the project “Not-A-Box”, a reference to the imaginative children’s book by Antoinette Portis.  Our aim was to provide some structure and boundaries at the beginning of the project, by requiring students to choose two aspects of our learning from the art course.  The other requirement was that the students were provided with a cardboard box.  They had to re-imagine the box into an art piece and they had to use the entire box to do so.   The results were creative, and incredibly widely varied.  It was great to see students pulling this project in different directions.  There was healthy creative friction for some as they worked through what direction they wanted to take their work.  This is the first iteration of this project, so we will tweak and improve the project for the upcoming semester.

Both of us liked how the “Modern Exam” and “Not-a-Box” allowed students to access their own strengths.  Students had to be pretty self-reflective and look back on their own experiences in our courses.  In both our math and art courses we need to get better at supporting students as they explore their own choices in how they show us what they know.  We like that we are moving away from a teacher-student model to a model that more reflects mentorship.

If you had the ability, what would you change about your Final 30% Tasks?
Why the heck did I do that?
“Why the heck did I DO that?”  


Have you ever found yourself asking that question after teaching a lesson?  I did, a week or so ago.  I delivered a classic “powerpoint”, with teenager eyes glazing over but I’m powering forward and getting through my slides because “that is the lesson”.  Immediately after finishing the period, I realized I messed up. Students had probably retained 5% of the information that I just talked at them about.  This stung a little, especially since what I just did flew in the face of my current “WHY” as a teacher.


One iteration of the creative process we are playing with.
Let me back up and give you a bit of context.  I’m an art and photography teacher and my colleagues and I are really pushing hard to reimagine the creative process.
WHY are we doing this?  We are finding that when students’ experiment within the creative process and are not evaluated, they engage more in the risk taking and truly embrace their creativity.  Being set up as an experiment, students are taking pictures while genuinely curious about how the shot will turn out, not because the teacher expects something specific to happen.  We ask students to take LOTS of photos.  With curiosity driven outcomes, not mark driven outcomes; where failure has no real consequences and is only a learning tool to encourage students to try again, our classes have been a lot more free in their willingness to try creative experiments.  We are responding to Sir Ken Robinson in our own way and trying to right a wrong.


In photography, we have been working on using a series of active daily shooting challenges to get students out and experimenting.  The goal is this: by getting students to experiment and create with cameras in their hand FIRST before we get into the technical specifics of the camera, this will set the stage for students to uncover the curriculum, not the teacher covering the curriculum.  The challenges work around an idea or a technique, each day uncovering a different aspect of the topic.  I have got to say, these challenges have been going really well; the class gets into a groove, knowing that each day, we will be directing our focus to something different.  It is kind of like a Photography Workout of the Day (WOD).  These Shooting Challenges aren’t evaluated, so students are given permission to fail.  At the end of the week, students select their Photo of the Week, share and post it, and talk about what worked and why.  The emphasis each day is on shooting TONS, being encouraged to play, try weird things and to share with each other, with no expectation that “Today is the day you make a good image”.  The Photo of the Week is a tool for pause and reflection, to look back at those weird experiments and pull out something interesting.


Which brings me back to me messing up last week.  I had just spent the week prior structuring the course to allow for student centred discovery of the material, why did I decide to cap off the learning with some teacher focused “chalk talk”?  At the time, I figured that the students needed to know all the specifics, so I had better give it to them.  I only realized that I had messed up when I saw those glazed eyes. This was definitely the wrong approach.  So I was determined to improve the next week, when we would be tackling a different subject: shutter speed.


The following week, the class started to uncover the next topic in the same way, daily shooting challenges.  Lots of fun, lots of experimenting.  

To cap off the learning, students again choose their “Photo of the Week”, and instead of me talking at them about the ins and outs of shutter speed, I pulled inspiration from a sketchnote created by Laura Wheeler in a tweet I had seen a day before:




I randomized groups by picking playing cards, put up large paper on the walls of the room, and gave students key words for students to group and arrange in a way that made sense to them.  Then I floated and watched as the students started to pull together their learning on their own terms.  I encouraged them to access the information posted to Google Classroom and to Google Search other terms or techniques they were unsure of.  It was great to see students debating and discussing how to lay out their mind map and making connections to their learning in the past week.  What they were putting up on their mind map wasn’t always correct, but that was an opportunity to clarify and start a discussion.  
Students spent their time discussing, mapping and organizing their understanding


What I took away from the last couple weeks in photography class, was that TRY, FAIL, LEARN isn’t just for the students.  As teachers, we need to be more comfortable failing, reflecting and sharing.  Its great to share our amazing home runs on social media and it is also important to talk about when things DIDN’T go as planned.  Let’s open up our classroom, talk to others, share our experiments (failed or successful) with other teachers and let’s start to talk openly about our practice, warts and all, because if we do, we will become more creative and more dynamic in our classrooms and in our schools.  So how about you?  Can you think of when a lesson, a unit, a project went seriously sideways?   How did you pivot and save the lesson, or what did you do differently next time?