Posts tagged creativity
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.


Wonder Walks
This semester, interested teachers in Halton were able to apply for funding for projects that explored Innovation.  That is, projects that will improve a Process, Product or Understanding.




All in all, 49 applications were received with 18 of those projects receiving funding.  Matt and I have been busy trying to connect with as many groups as possible with the intention of blogging about what we’ve learned.  However, we’ve found that many of the groups want to talk about their learning in their own words.


Kelly Bourassa is a Grade One teacher at Brant Hills Public School.  She’s working with her elementary school colleagues at Norton and MacMillan Public Schools on peer to peer collaboration around open ended inquiry projects.


Finding innovation Outdoors


Every Friday morning my class goes on a ‘Wonder Walk’ in the forest near our school. It is my students’ favorite part of the week. The children are free to explore and commune with nature, some for the very first time. When I first ventured outside the classroom I had a plan, an agenda of what we were going to do in the woods. I felt that I was not doing my job if I didn’t assign them a task or a focus for their learning.


Over time I have watched the students as they discover this space and I have learned that to encourage creative minds and innovative ideas, you often need to abandon the lesson plan. You need to trust the innate sense of wonder and imagination that children have and let them lead the way to innovative ideas.  During their exploratory play they work cooperatively to build structures, create games and toys, and find treasures. The students are mindful, they self-regulate and cooperate. They make observations about the environment that lead to some amazing wonderings about the world. This is where I find my purpose as a teacher. I listen to their conversations and prompt further inquiry and discussion. This journey has allowed me to shift my teaching approach. I realized that I can cover curriculum expectations and encourage the development of global competencies through these authentic interactions.




We are beginning to recognize the importance of teaching transferable skills in order to meet the needs of the 21st century learner. This is going to require moving away from the current structured program and incorporate time in the weekly schedule for practicing interest based inquiry. Long journeys begin with small steps, perhaps in the forest.

~ Kelly Bourassa
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


Cycling Back to the Beginning
It’s the last week before the holiday break.  When I teach grade nine math my goal is to always wrap up the teaching of curriculum before the break.  I do this for two reasons.  First, so that we can spend two weeks engaging in review activities to help prepare for the final exam, which in this case is the EQAO.  The second reason is so that we can play around with a final performance task that is a bit more open than usual.

I had no idea if this plan would hold up now that our grade nine course team was trying a blend of project based learning.  When I step back and think about what our team has accomplished over these four months, I’m pretty pleased.  We started the semester with a question that was very loosely defined, “Can we teach Grade Nine Math using projects?”.  We took a risk and dove in.

After playing with Barbie Bungee, Dandy Candies and some intentionally frustrating algebra problems we decided on our next focus:  We wanted to use ratios to help drive home with the class the need for more formal algebra.

A respectable ratio
We started with an activity that asks students “What is the ideal Mullet Ratio?”  This is an activity that I first saw via Jon Orr on twitter but I’ve come to learn has travelled to us from Matt Vaudrey in California.  In this activity students are asked to determine what is the ideal length of “party” to “business” in a mullet.  It’s silly, students laugh, then they start debating, and then they calculate to justify if their opinions are correct.  The two days we spent on this activity were hilarious.


Of course, we needed a suitable project to go along with ratios.  We know from past experience that there are often challenging ratio problems on the Grade 9 EQAO.  The team wanted to spend time working on different ratio problems in order to set our students up for success in January.  We decided on introducing the class to Nana’s Chocolate Milk, another three act task by Dan Meyer.

We adapted things slightly to allow for students to complete a formal project.  We asked our students to find their favourite recipe and then intentionally mess it up. They then had to “fix” their recipe and prove to us that they ingredients were still in the same ratio.  We even asked them to think back on their work with linear relationships and create some graphs and equations for their recipe.

Bacon is ALWAYS the denominator


This one impressed me
After the students finished with “Nana’s Favourite Recipe” we realized that we needed to dive into the Analytic Geometry strands of the curriculum.  We spent a good two weeks doing some formal instruction with our classes as this is probably the most formal component of the course.  At the end of the two weeks we challenged our classes to create their own drawing in Desmos to show off what they have learned.  We asked for drawings with 8 different lines, since that’s all our classes knew how to do with equations.  We were surprised by the level of depth our students went to.  One boy in my class asked me how to draw curved lines.  When I wouldn’t tell him, he didn’t give up, rather he did some research on his own and then shared his knowledge with the class.  



We have spent the past week trying up any loose ends or curriculum expectations that we did not quite cover.  For the final two days before the break we will ask our students to play with cup stacking, running a project that is heavily influenced by Alex Overwijk and his Thinking Classroom.  By the end of the week students will have created models of different cup stacking strategies, analysed them and extrapolated from their data.

That's some good cup stacking!


What came out of our experiment has been an unintentionally spiralled course.  Algebra and abstraction skills became what we dialed down on but we didn’t spend all that much time on the details.  Our students felt the need for the mathematics, asking for more efficient ways to do things.  When we presented the cup stacking activity to them they were already searching for ways to create equations and models.  

There were many days where the students led the class, posing interesting questions and then answering them.  The teachers became facilitators of great discussions, parachuting in on different groups when they needed assistance or a push to go a bit deeper with their learning.  Some days were great, other days were disasters.  On the bad days, the team would go back to the drawing board, talking about what we could do better in order to help students uncover the curriculum.  We tried something new and learned a lot in the process.  I can’t wait to do it again next semester.
What Does Success Look Like?
Matt and I are fast approaching our one year anniversary in this role.  When we started, last February, with the roughest of plans.  We were going to demonstrate how the Halton District School Board is building a shared culture of Innovation.  How we did that was left, for the most part, up to us.  No pressure.

We both really wanted to create our own Podcast, but some advice from Phil Davison and Cindy Cosentino led us to believe that it might be better to start with a Blog first.  So we dove in, blogging and then eventually launching our “Case For Innovation…” video series, followed by a few Calls to Action.  We’ve Shifted at The Barn, we’ve presented at conferences both inside and outside Halton, we’ve been vulnerable and silly.  In short, we’ve tried our best to put our own individual learning on display.



Matt and I have a lot of fun in this role.  We have a very fluid “to-do” list that gets pretty fuzzy around the edges.  With lots of balls in the air it’s sometimes tough to judge if we are making progress.  Most days we spend our afternoons together talking about what to post next, or perhaps we plan an upcoming visit to a classroom.  We worry about how to create more secondary conversations, both on and off the blog.

Matt turned to me the other day and asked, “If we keep doing this, what does success look like in three years?”

To say I was shook up would be an understatement, because I don’t know what our success might look like.  Many subscribers to our blog and lots of views on our videos would be nice, but that in an of itself doesn’t make us successful.  

We’ve learned that Innovation is a process that leads to improvements to a product, process or understanding.  

Given that definition of Innovation and that you are here reading this blog because (hopefully) you want to improve something in your practice, I’m curious what success might look like to you?  If you follow along with us for the next little while, what would your success criteria be?  How would you know if you shifted your practice?

In the end, my own personal success criteria is a moving target and I’m ok with that.  I want to Make School Different and in three years time I’ll be happy if I can look back and see that change.  I’d also be alright with us making a podcast or two.
Can Creativity and Innovation Be Taught?
Shifting back to the Barn
On Wednesday night, 175 educators got to play together with a revisit to the Barn in Milton.

The theme of the evening was “Can creativity and innovation be taught?”.  We’ve come to believe that the answer is a resounding YES!  As we have been exploring here at the Shift, there are learning conditions that foster innovation, in our schools and for our students.  This is where we started with The Case for Innovation and exploring these conditions, followed by Community Building and Risk Taking, and more to come soon.  Rethinking the structure of our classrooms and our schools is what we are aiming to do as we aim to answer the important questions of whether creativity and innovation can be taught.  This is our BIG why as shifters.  This goal is in context to changes happening at the Ministry level as well.  Our report cards are on the verge of a major overhaul.  The stated goal by the Ministry of Education is to “help students of all ages meet the changing demands of today and tomorrow.”  We don’t know what tomorrow might look like, but we do know that navigating the 21st Century world will require skills in communication, problem-solving, critical thinking, creativity and global citizenship.  

If we want to teach Innovation and Creativity we need to realize that each school is different, with challenges that are big or small.  Some of the solutions to the various challenges can be found inside our home schools and some challenges need the experiences of those from other buildings.  Yet, everyone on the team has a role to play in overcoming the challenges we are facing today.  Things go faster if everyone shares their successes and failures.  You might possess the experiences that another school needs to overcome their particular challenge, so share your strengths and join the conversations.  Sometimes, solutions can be found in unexpected places.  Sometimes the box that we work within needs to be shaken and flipped upside down.  Teaching is a puzzle that can only be appreciated when we stand way back and see the contributions of everyone involved.
Working as a team, we can solve this puzzle!

Networking, asking questions, making observations, experimenting and connecting the dots of our learning are all skills that innovators need to have.  If you are an HDSB educator who is interested in exploring how to teach Innovation and Creativity, why not consider applying for an Innovation Grant! Consider learning more about the skills that innovative people possess and the conditions needed within a classroom or school for innovation to thrive as your starting point.  What is your WHY?  The application is really quite easy, and incredibly flexible in scope, so why NOT?

You can find the details on the grant proposal here on slides 23 to 29.