December 2010
Home Page

Innovation and Creativity

Donald G. Perrin

Much effort in teaching and learning is focused on strategies for building cognitive structures and processing information. In teaching, we organize knowledge and skills into curricula; we apply tools such as Bloom’s Taxonomy of Behavioral Objectives to structure cognitive learning from basic knowledge to higher order thinking skills. To this we add physical (psychomotor) skills and social values. We apply a host of strategies to facilitate memorization and concept building – advance organizers, questions, inquiry, participation, feedback, collaboration and interaction.

For higher levels of learning, we use the scientific method to collect, verify and classify data, develop concepts, and build and test hypotheses. We set up models and experiments. We observe events and behaviors in the natural world. We process our findings with inductive and deductive reasoning and creative problem solving to prove or disprove hypotheses and draw conclusions. If a solution is not feasible, we look for gaps and discrepancies in the data and flaws in our reasoning. Then we repeat the scientific process starting from the beginning.

We customize teaching and learning for individual students based on differences in mental abilities, aptitudes, prior knowledge and experience, learning styles, and motivation. With knowledge comes the responsibility to use it wisely. We mold social behavior and values to apply our intellectual assets in an ethical and responsible manner. We resolve conflicts and competing demands by research and discussion. We learn to respect different opinions and cultural values.

Creative accomplishments require analysis and synthesis and problem solving. As we approach the unknown, we need creative tools such as synectics, brainstorming, mind maps, chaining, affinity diagrams, and quality function deployment. Artificial intelligence and computers can model thought processes. We do not yet have algorithms to explain insight, genius and creativity and their role in innovation and invention. But we can identify great thinkers in almost every field of human endeavor. Expression of new ideas involves risk, personified by Galileo whose vision did not mesh with existing theories of the universe. For progress to occur, we must encourage free expression to embolden creative thought and action.

What can educators do to foster creativity?

First, we must capitalize on the curiosity and high energy of children to explore their environment and express themselves freely – characteristics we often suppress in order to “control” children, especially in classrooms. To foster freedom of expression, we can use subjects like drawing, music, theatre, nature study, the physical sciences, and ancient civilizations. We can offset limitations of classroom environments with regular access to community resources including inspirational leaders and activities in social services, business, industry and government.

Communities and learning spaces should be a culture of innovation that places a high value on exploration, experiment, model building, and discovery. We must encourage free expression and acceptance of different points of view.  We must provide tools and resources for invention.

What made the Silicon Valley in Northern California a crucible of innovation? Curiosity, knowledge, skills, freedom of expression, and collaborative effort caused an experiment in a garage to become the Apple Computer company. Through sharing and competition the Silicon Valley became a bastion of seemingly endless creativity and a major force in the world economy. Thousands of cities around the world have unique expressions of innovation and creativity, both past and present. Are today’s educational institutions taking adequate measures to foster innovation and creativity in their students?

go top
December 2010
Home Page