The Collaborative newsletters have been featuring conversations among its Research Thought Leaders, who are nationally and internationally recognized experts in their respective fields of arts, sciences, creativity, and neuroscience. These conversations provide robust insights into the importance of creative (a novel idea) and innovative (applying the novel idea to solve a problem) thinking.
This article builds on those insights to offer a look at how creative and innovative thinking could be used in K-12 classrooms. In the following articles, we will look at how curriculum could change to provide these important skills, what administrators need to know about them, and why we should care about STEAM, which fosters these skills.
We invited the Collaborative’s Innovation Fellows to offer their perspectives. The Fellows are top K-12 arts, STEM, and classroom teachers and administrators from across the U.S. who help lead the Collaborative’s K-12 STEAM efforts.
Charles Hayes, formerly a 5th grade science teacher, is advisor for middle school science in Memphis-Shelby County schools. Anne Ludes, a graduate of the Collaborative’s STEAM Teacher/Administrator Professional Development program, is Director of the Massachusetts Academy of Math and Science at Worcester Polytechnic Institute. Ashley Lupfer is K-8 Visual Arts Educator at Brooke Charter Schools in Boston, MA. Kimberly Olson is Visual Arts Educator at Centre School in Hampton, New Hampshire. Julie Olson, formerly a high school science teacher, is now Natural Science Instructor at Southeast Technical College in Sioux Falls, SD. Kathleen Sweet, former elementary school Art Educator, is now Student Improvement Coordinator and Computer Science Teacher (grades 2-5) for Starmont Community School District, IA.
Below are questions and valuable insights from these educators and administrators.
1. How could/do you use creative thinking in STEAM in your classroom, school, or work environment?
One of my responsibilities as the middle school science advisor in my district is to develop curriculum that allows instructors to encourage creativity and innovation in the pupils. As a result, I rely on guidance presented in A Framework for K-12 Science Education: Practices, Crosscutting Concepts, and Core Ideas (2012), which suggests that the best to way to teach science is to construct lessons around science and engineering practices, crosscutting concepts, and disciplinary core ideas.
“The science and engineering practices mentioned in this work and the Collaborative’s Effective Practices Higher-Level Thinking Skills have a lot of commonalities.”
My intentionality in lesson planning for our teachers, based on lessons that best support and highlight these skills, ensures that they have the resources, plans, and support they need to engage our children in meaningful hands-on experimental and project-based activities that shift away from rote memory assignments and toward activities that allow them to be creative, develop soft skills, and improve their scientific literacy. A lot of our lessons require students to create new ways of looking at existing phenomena. We challenge them to come up with different approaches to explaining the phenomena and new ways to test ideas and also to generate new ideas and thought-provoking questions based on their findings. We use statements such as “What if…, I wonder what would happen if…, Is there a different way…”.
Our teachers constantly redesign their units to make sure the content is fresh and relevant to our students. This means analyzing data and incorporating feedback so the students get as much out of their work as possible. Nearly everything we do is project- or inquiry-based.
“This allows our teachers to start their lesson planning with "What if I do this instead?" as the way they prepare for an upcoming unit.”
Everyone collaborates with each other, so teachers bounce ideas off everyone else—me as the director, the school counselor, other teachers, and the students - to work out the details. And this philosophy is at the heart of our school culture: Think creatively, reinvent yourself, take risks, and stretch yourself to grow as much as you can!
Our Humanities teacher delivers a lesson on Tom Stoppard's Arcadia (a brilliant play that I highly recommend if you haven't read it already!) and integrates the concepts of entropy, fractals, and chaos theory into her instruction (co-taught by a me, a former math teacher and now director of the program). The students' reflections and final projects are all unique and creative representations of their understanding of these concepts. Some projects take the form of a poem, a musical composition, a computer program, or even a board game.
In the sciences, there are so many abstract ideas (e.g. the atom) that students need to be able to visualize in their heads. Space, color, and arrangement all help to "arrange" the parts of these not really seen entities. I give students a variety of materials when doing projects - the more the better. Sometimes/oftentimes they are initially overloaded, but then categorize, visualize, and start to put some of these things together in their heads before actually testing and building.
“My Physics students do the Art and Light project with the addition of describing the physics of their projects (e.g. reflection, wavelength, color) as well as the biology of vision. They have to make their projects in this unit aesthetically pleasing and engaging.”
They also create marble runs at the end of the semester with requirements taken from the various units (e.g. waves, potential and kinetic energy). Environmental Science discusses the aesthetics of good conservation. The students have many open-ended experiments that require them to visualize, assemble, and communicate their findings in graphs, charts, and diagrams. Anatomy and Physiology classes are tasked with creating an assist device for someone that cannot grasp a pen, pencil, marker, or paintbrush so they can use it in art class. The device must be comfortable, look good, and appeal to a young pre-teen.
Creative thinking is the very basis of my entire elementary curriculum.
“Students respond to open-ended lesson problems to apply the design thinking process which so closely mirrors the science inquiry process.”
Students apply lesson objectives as “I Can” statements derived from the standards to formulate their own individual responses. Some responses may lead to collaboration, innovation, and extended learning. Social emotional learning is supported throughout and contributes to perseverance, autonomy, and grit. Student artists are observers, observing and asking questions. They also visually analyze, define, and clarify a problem, shift between perspectives based on discipline connections, and make connections to their own interests in order to generate ideas to develop solutions. Along the way they communicate in a variety of ways, collaborate, persist, and assist as necessary to an end based on a rich and inspired journey.
You can use creative thinking in every subject, classroom, or work environment.
“This type of thinking promotes engagement and keeps things moving forward, not becoming stagnant.”
An example: Co-teaching with the art, science, and language arts teachers. Using bacteria to paint original art and using writing to communicate and explain your thoughts and ideas. You would be learning about science, art, and writing and developing all those skills simultaneously.
2. How could/do you use innovative thinking in STEAM in your classroom, school, or work environment?
“Our district recognizes the value of Project-Based Learning (PBL) in developing our kids’ inventive abilities.”
We are planning several science competitions in which students will consider local, regional, and national issues and research related to these issues. Students will develop innovative and novel approaches to addressing these issues based on information and thinking skills developed in our classrooms.
“Providing students time in the classroom to create and innovate is essential.”
Time to understand a problem, to experiment with new tools and materials, and to work with their peers to develop original ideas. When students are learning within a culture of creativity, they have time to become more invested in the learning, are more comfortable expressing their ideas, and are more open to taking risks. In my classroom, activities often provide a balance of choice and structure.
“Our program is all about innovative thinking!”
For example, our students' first project in their computer science class is to use HTML and CSS to develop their own websites from scratch! They have to think about color (RGB), formatting, design, images, organization and layout, as well as content. And their final products are BEAUTIFUL and informative. But it doesn't stop there! In their STEM class, our students put their engineering design skills to good work when they develop and build an assistive device to help a client in need. The students have to work collaboratively to address a person's disability while thinking about utility, cost of materials, and the person's individual needs. Students use so many of their higher-level thinking skills, including defining a problem, generating and evaluating ideas, synthesizing, developing a solution, and persisting. And all the while they also are becoming more aware of the lives of others.
More open-ended experiments and engineering projects. Student choice is necessary.
Students approach all problem-solving aspects of lessons secure in the knowledge that “there are no mistakes in Art.” They work to imagine and develop their own personal responses to lesson problems and often, serendipitously, their work transcends creativity to elements of innovation. This occurs through collaborative work at the elementary level as well. Creating a safe, student-reflective curriculum, classroom community, and learning environment establishes the climate students need to feel able to take risks, revise, share, and elaborate or extend ideas and learning.
“Basing learning on student interest and identity establishes the right conditions for creativity to move closer toward innovative thinking and doing.”
“I believe that giving open-ended directions or parameters with enough direction to start with an idea but end up with a new one helps to promote innovative thinking.”
An example: To pair up two or more people and give them a piece of paper, 12 inches of tape, and scissors. Then ask them to make something using these materials. The outcomes would be infinite, even though every group received the same materials and directions.
Thanks to our esteemed Innovation Fellows for sharing their insights and especially for their creative and innovative efforts that inspire us all.
what is steam to you?
In education, STEAM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Arts, and Math) is a rapidly growing strategy in many learning settings. In can be found in K-12 classrooms, in museums and other out-of-school-time venues, in higher education, and even in educational toy product development.
In practice, STEAM takes many different forms. It accomplishes different goals, depending on its usage.
The Innovation Collaborative’s STEAM goals are to provide a strong research base for STEAM effective practices in K-12 and out-of-school-time experiences, lessons, and strategies. The Collaborative also is focused on effective collaboration across disciplines and learning settings.
In this role, the Collaborative is interested in how others perceive STEAM.
Join us in this quest to understand STEAM more deeply by sharing YOUR ideas of what STEAM is. Answer any or all of the above questions. You can respond briefly or in depth, but please limit your response to 300 words or less.
To get a start on your answers to the above questions, review the Collaborative’s position on STEAM at http://www.innovationcollaborative.org/steam-position.html
Click on this link or use the QR code to respond.
perceptions of steam
As we look at perceptions of STEAM in this newsletter issue, it is helpful to look at some of the work that already has been done to understand the many lenses through which STEAM is perceived.
Important work in this area has been done by the Arts Education Partnership (AEP). A national network of organizations that helps advance arts education, AEP focuses on research, policy, and practice. Below are some STEAM policy briefs that AEP has produced.
Preparing Students for Learning, Work and Life.
P-5 STEAM Education and Equity.
Research and Policy Implications of STEAM Education for Young Students.
Who’s Who in STEAM Education and State Governance.
By David Pyle, Collaborative Advisory Council member*
"I'm very concerned that the visual thinking mind - the art mind — is being screened out of school,” said Dr. Temple Grandin during a rapid-fire widely broadcast interview hosted as a partnership between the Colorado State University Arts Management program and the International Art Materials Trade Association (NAMTA).
On February 23, I had the pleasure and privilege of hosting this special Zoom-based conversation with Dr. Grandin as she discussed the principles in her new book, Visual Thinking; The Hidden Gifts of People Who Think in Pictures, Patterns, and Abstractions. In her book — and during the Zoom-based program - she repeatedly emphasized the critical importance of learning in the arts — not just for their standalone value — but also for their impact in cultivating skills for which our larger communities and economy have a direct and dramatic need.
"We're seeing a gigantic shortage in the skilled trades — and those are where we need the art mind," she said.
Dr. Grandin is a professor of animal science at Colorado State University and the author of New York Times bestsellers Animals in Translation, Animals Make us Human, The Autistic Brain and Thinking in Pictures, which became an HBO movie starring Claire Danes.
"When I was a child, art was my absolutely favorite class. Art and mechanics go together," noted Dr. Grandin. "(But now) we've got too many kids who have never done any art. Who have never used any tool. We are losing skills! We've lost the clever fixers!"
She also cites sewing as a powerful skill-building tool. "I sewed costumes for the school play. I was not interested in being IN the school play. I wanted to make costumes FOR the school play."
In her book, Visual Thinking, Dr. Grandin adds, "We screen out designers, inventors, and artists. We need future generations who can build and repair infrastructure, overhaul energy and agriculture, create tools to combat climate change and pandemics, develop robotics and AI. We need people with the imagination to invent our next-generation solutions." (Visual Thinking, p. 55)
As further evidence of the need for arts experiences, she noted that "Nobel prize winners are 50% more likely to have an arts and craft hobby compared to other scientists." (Robert Root Bernstein et.al. 2008)
As the session approached its close, I asked her, "You've made such a strong and compelling case for hands-on arts education, how can we move past preaching to the choir? How can we advocate for arts education to the larger community?"
She quickly answered, "I think we have to do it one school district at a time. And then we need to write about it."
*David Pyle is an artist and Instructor in the Colorado State University Arts Management program in addition to being Creative Director of Pyle Creative Studio. He is known for his 35-year career in the art products business. There he most recently was Senior Vice President/Group Publisher for F+W Media, managing The Artist’s Magazine, American Artist, Watercolor Artist, Interweave Knits, Love of Quilting, and more. He is author of What Every Artist Needs to Know About Paints and Colors.
Free Summer Virtual STEAM Professional Development for Public School K-12 Teachers