Creative Thinking Is Work

This post is the second of a twelve part series based on a post about creativity by Michael Michalko.

I saw a very interesting video last night. In it, a boy named Jacob Barnett gave a TEDxTeens audience some insight into how to be creative. In his very young way (he is 14), he told the audience to stop learning and start thinking. Now, this is a boy who was put in special education when he was younger. His parents were told that he was autistic and would probably never talk. Since he had that diagnosis and was put in less restrictive learning environments, it gave him time to think about other issues. Now he is filling out college applications and having Princeton physics professors trying to disprove the work that he is not only doing, but publishing research papers on.

There is a disconnect between what learning is and what thinking is. This disconnect is caused by the nature of our education system. Jacob Barnett encourages teens and others to stop learning for twenty-four hours and start thinking about something that they are passionate about. He recognizes the motivators: the ability to autonomously think about something that you are internally motivated by because of passion. 

He told a room full of teenagers to stop leaning on others for their knowledge and start thinking for themselves.

Doing this is hard work, especially if you haven’t done it before. However, once you begin to allow yourself the time and  attention that it takes to immerse yourself in your passion, it spreads through you like some sort of disease – only much, much better. Your brain begins thinking and making connections, and it is an exhilarating feeling to know that your brain has the capacity to do that much, to make that many connections. It is addictive; I would rather spend any vacation time that I get working on the ideas that I put forth in this blog or researching other ideas to put forth or present than do anything else. Because of this addiction that I now have, I am working harder than I have ever worked in my life and am busier than I have ever been in my life.

Creative thinking is work. It is hard work.

I have created many things. Many workshops, many blog posts. Most of the workshops that I created before were not that great. Some of my blog posts aren’t that great either, but I keep typing away because it is what I am passionate about. I work hard every day to create a workshop that will be inspiring and will allow participants to learn in their own unique way. It takes a focus and a passion and a patience that I didn’t know that I had. But I do, and you probably do, too. Find your passion and the rest will come with it.

This same type of focus and passion are necessary for an effective creative classroom environment. I am constantly changing things in my classroom to find out what works and what doesn’t. I work hard to apply the concepts that I discuss here in the classroom environment to make sure that they work. I have to be patient, because sometimes results don’t come right away. I have to be flexible, because sometimes the children have a different agenda than I do. And I have to be focused; I can tell when I didn’t plan very well. The children can tell, too. There is not a moment in my classroom when I am not working. Even when the children are sleeping, I think about incidents that happened throughout the morning, what they mean, and how to extend learning because of them. I think about individual children and what I need to do to help them learn. I think about class projects that I want to do. I plan how I need to change materials around the classroom to help them learn different things. Teaching, like learning and thinking, is dynamic. It should always be working and evolving, never sitting still.

Creative thinking is work. I am working harder now than I ever have in my life, but I love every second of it.

Cleaning Up the Clutter

Throughout my research into the Reggio Emilia approach to education, I have heard stories of how teachers using this approach constantly reevaluate how their room is being used, how the centers are being used, and what the children’s interests are. I have also seen pictures of how uncluttered and streamlined their classrooms look. Both of these points have caused me to look at my room differently and reevaluate the centers in my own classroom.

Today I did a major overhaul of two centers. My art center has always looked cluttered. The shelves were more like small cubbies, just big enough to slide papers in. It may have been a mailbox shelf for teachers at one time, as a matter of fact. My biggest goal for this week was to switch out this shelf for the one in the science area so that the art supplies would be open and more accessible to the children. I have the pencils, scissors, crayons, and collage materials in individual pencil boxes on the shelves. Paper is on the shelves also, as well as magazines that the children can cut pictures out of and use them to make collages. Tomorrow I will fill the glue bottles up and put them on a shelf as well, so that they will be there for when the children want to make collages or whatever.

The science area now has the cubby-like shelves, and while I don’t really like that shelf at all any more (initially I had begged to be able to keep the shelf, because I thought it would make a great art shelf) I am stuck with it for now because I have nothing to replace it with. So I will see how it works where it is for now, until I can get something better.

I wanted to change out my manipulative shelf for a shelf that the school-age teacher had, but all of her shelves match so she was loathe to give any of them up. She had a couple of shelves that were lower, which I thought would be good for my kids, but we have used what we have and have been fine with it. But the top of the manipulative shelf is completely cleaned off now – no more clutter! Actually, there were toys on the top of the shelf, but it is very hard for the children to reach them when they are up there, so I think that I am going to get a plant or something to put on top of that shelf.

So I have a couple more places to clean, a couple other shelves that have become catch-all spaces for me. I will have to retrain myself to not use these places in that way – it is hard because I don’t have a lot of storage in my classroom! But the top of the manipulative shelf looks so good that it is inspiring me to clean up the rest of the room!

And I Thought I Was Brave…

I have never had a qualm about having insects in the classroom. I’ve grown up catching tarantulas in my yard, after all. But I ran into these posts (second post here) about a class learning about spiders, and I realized how much I had limited my class’ learning about the same thing! Wow, I have a lot of respect for this teacher and how she taught her students. Notice how the feeding of their turtle turned into a whole new exciting learning experience! I am so loving this research! There is no limit to where the class will take you and the things that you will learn!