Prisma is the world’s most engaging virtual school that combines a fun, real-world curriculum with powerful mentorship from experienced coaches and a supportive peer community
To answer the question of why creativity is important, we must first delve into the very nature of what it means to be human...no, really! We are creatures with a unique capacity for thought and imagination, and it is through these faculties that we are able to create, innovate, and evolve.
We are all creative people, whether you think of yourself as creative or not. It takes creative thinking to paint a picture, but it also takes creative thinking to figure out the right formula to use in a spreadsheet, to invent a twist on a chocolate chip cookie recipe, or to plan a birthday party. But some people are more practiced and comfortable in the creative process than others.
At its core, creativity is the expression of our most essential human qualities: our curiosity, our inventiveness, and our desire to explore the unknown. It is through creativity that we are able to push the boundaries of what is possible, to imagine new worlds, and to find solutions to some of the most pressing problems facing our society today.
In a world where automation looms to take over all but the most innovative tasks—ones that truly require unique thinking—how can we make sure the next generation is capable of creatively solving these problems? We founded Prisma precisely because we were concerned that the traditional forms of education weren’t building creativity in learners.
In this post, we will explore the importance of creativity in the education system, the role of creativity in students' emotional development, and the ways in which it can be taught.
Despite the vital role that creativity plays in our lives, it is often undervalued and neglected in our educational system. We are taught to memorize facts and figures, follow rules and procedures, and conform to the expectations of others. This approach may produce technically proficient students, but it fails to cultivate the spirit of creativity that lies at the heart of true innovation.
In a rapidly evolving world with increasing automation, the ability to think creatively and come up with innovative solutions to problems is critical. This is particularly true in education, where fostering creativity can help students develop important critical thinking skills, as well as prepare them for the 21st-century workforce.
“There’s no doubt that creativity is the most important human resource of all. Without creativity, there would be no progress, and we would forever be repeating the same patterns.” -Edward de Bono
What does creativity have to do with critical thinking? At its core, creativity is about problem-solving. This is a skill that is becoming increasingly important right now as the world rapidly changes. In order to keep up with these changes, young people need to be able to come up with creative ways to solve problems, and to be able to adapt to new situations quickly.
At Prisma, learners engage in a workshop called Collaborative Problem-Solving two times per week. These workshops might involve a critical thinking simulation, like when learners had to solve a mystery of stolen eggs from a Zoo and each week had to vote on a suspect to eliminate, or a science simulation where they had to figure out how to power a city using a combination of resources. In real life, much of creative problem solving happens in teams, yet in many traditional schools, kids are asked to solve problems on their own.
To build the form of creativity that leads to innovative thinking, learners need complex, interesting problems to solve. Education needs to figure out ways to design these kinds of authentic problems to prepare learners to succeed.
“The most regretful people on Earth are those who felt the call to creative work, who felt their own creative power restive and uprising, and gave it neither power nor time.” -Mary Oliver
One of the benefits of creativity is the role it can play in learners' emotional development and building of “soft skills”. As mentioned above, creativity is an essential part of what it means to be human. It feels good to make something and be proud of it! When learners are given the opportunity for creative expression, it can help them develop their self-esteem and build confidence.
Prisma learners complete a creative project every 6 weeks based on our interdisciplinary learning themes, and present their final projects during a celebratory “Expo Day.” LaShonda S., a Prisma parent, described how making a creative project for the first time impacted her son this way: “His sense of pride and accomplishment has gone through the roof. He has told all of our family and friends about his podcast.”
Building students’ creativity isn’t just about the warm and fuzzy feelings, though. Going through a creative process is tough, and can build resilience, grit, and tenacity. It’s much easier to follow step-by-step instructions than it is to brainstorm, ideate, and iterate on your own idea. Creative projects can help kids learn to take risks and embrace failure, which is always an important part of the creative process.
In addition, creativity can help students develop important social skills. When learners work on creative projects together, they learn to collaborate and communicate effectively. This is an important skill that is becoming increasingly important in the 21st-century workforce, where teamwork and collaboration are essential. Since Prisma is a virtual school, our learners go even further, learning how to collaborate on creative projects virtually with young people all over the world, much like many adults do in their jobs today.
The education system has not always prioritized creativity. In fact, many education systems around the world have placed a greater emphasis on rote learning and standardized testing than on creativity and innovation.
Chen Jining, the president of Tsinghua University in China, once described the dichotomy between “A students” And “X students.” “A students” were those who followed all the rules, achieved excellent grades from kindergarten through high school, and aced standardized tests. Jining noticed that what these Chinese students often lacked, however, was an aptitude for risk taking, trying new things, and “defining their own problems rather than simply solving the ones in the textbook.” (Mitchell Resnick, Lifelong Kindergarten). The kind of creative people who could do those things could be thought of as “X students.” High-achieving students who lack creativity are a major problem for any society who wants to solve problems, invent solutions, and innovate. What kind of learning environment might create a society of “X students” rather than just “A students”?
Fortunately, there are many educators and thinkers who are working to promote creativity in education. Sir Ken Robinson made a splash when he argued in a highly popular TedTalk and other writing & speeches that the education system needs to change in order to prioritize creativity and foster innovation.
Prisma’s curriculum was inspired by Seymour Papert, a mathematician and computer scientist who was a pioneer in the field of educational technology. Papert believed that technology could be used to promote creativity and empower students to learn in new and innovative ways. He also believed that creativity was a key component of the learning process, and that students should be given the freedom to explore and experiment in order to develop their creative thinking skills. His philosophy that learners learn most when engaged in a process of “hard fun” inspired the design of Prisma’s engaging curriculum themes & creative projects.
Another influential thinker in the field of creativity in education is Peter Gray, a psychologist and author who has written extensively on the importance of play and creative expression in children's lives. Gray argues that play and creativity are essential for children's emotional and cognitive development and that schools should prioritize these activities in order to promote social skills and academic success.
One of the challenges in teaching creativity is that it can be difficult to measure. Unlike standardized tests, which (arguably) provide a clear measure of students' knowledge and understanding, creativity is more difficult to assess. This prompts some educators to dismiss its importance. However, there are ways to measure creativity, such as through creative projects and assessments that focus on problem-solving and critical thinking skills.
Before joining the founding team of Prisma, I spent time researching creative assessment at Harvard. We discovered that strategies such as assessing the process as well as the final creative product, allowing opportunities for peer & family feedback on projects, and incorporating lots of self-assessment and self-reflection helped reliably assess students’ creativity.
So how can teachers and homeschool parents foster creativity?
So what happens when schools decide to emphasize these strategies? Kids can do amazing things! As one Prisma parent describes, “This year, my 10 year old designed her own ecosystem in TinkerCAD, started her own business with a functioning website, served as "Swedish Ambassador to the UN council" where she debated how to resolve the Syrian refugee crisis, coded her own game to educate others on Audio-Sensory-Processing-Disorder, and wrote her own fairy tale.”
Creativity is a critical component of education in the 21st century. By promoting creativity, educators can help students develop important problem-solving and critical thinking skills, as well as foster their emotional and social development. While there are challenges to promoting creativity in the education system, there are also many educators and thinkers who are working to make creativity a priority in education. As we navigate an increasingly complex and changing world, promoting creativity in education is more important than ever before.
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