In a recent article on America’s declining ability to be creative, the author, Po Bronson, tries to explain why American children have declining abilities to be creative.
In one story, he explains how focusing on project work dramatically helps students learn creativity skills.
Along the way, kids demonstrated the very definition of creativity: alternating between divergent and convergent thinking, they arrived at original and useful ideas. And they’d unwittingly mastered Ohio’s required fifth-grade curriculum—from understanding sound waves to per-unit cost calculations to the art of persuasive writing. “You never see our kids saying, ‘I’ll never use this so I don’t need to learn it,’ ” says school administrator Maryann Wolowiec. “Instead, kids ask, ‘Do we have to leave school now?’ ” Two weeks ago, when the school received its results on the state’s achievement test, principal Traci Buckner was moved to tears. The raw scores indicate that, in its first year, the school has already become one of the top three schools in Akron, despite having open enrollment by lottery and 42 percent of its students living in poverty.
With as much as three fourths of each day spent in project-based learning, principal Buckner and her team actually work through required curricula, carefully figuring out how kids can learn it through the steps of Treffinger’s Creative Problem-Solving method and other creativity pedagogies. “The creative problem-solving program has the highest success in increasing children’s creativity,” observed William & Mary’s Kim.
It’s an anecdote, but I buy the premise. Projects are open ended by design, and force the students to engage with the challenge in ways rote memorization and fact recall never do.
But the thing the article doesn’t get at is why project based learning is rare at most levels of education. Here’s why:
- It takes more effort for teachers to plan projects
- They have to be more involved with their students
- Teachers become coaches and mentors, not dictators
- It’s harder to grade projects that tests
- Teachers have to understand, and manage the student’s within-team dynamics and conflicts
- Teachers have to put students in control
Until teachers are rewarded and trained differently, it’s very difficult to do what the Ohio school above did.