Grow Their Brain

progress-is-impossible

How do you grow a brain? It’s Saturday morning and I’m deep in thought. I’m revising a growth mindset unit for the following week. After 18 years, I still begrudgingly work on Saturdays. Why is it that teachers don’t like to write lesson plans, but like to be prepared?

This week was the kick off to our Growth Mindset unit.  This inquiry based mini unit focuses on praise, empathy, grit, risk taking, reflection and feedback. It also includes collaborative projects and team building activities.  My learners become familiar with Kid President Pep Talk videos and his words of wisdom and encouragement. It will also be the foundation for our creativity and innovation (creativation) sessions for George Couros‘, The Innovator’s Mindset Online Course #IMMOOC.

Why begin our innovation course with Growth Mindset?

Well, I think about a fixed mindset and growth mindset this way: If teachers or learners subscribe to a common belief that things are good…right here, right now…and not progress forward in any way, the result will be, okay at best (fixed mindset). This way of thinking will most likely not produce anything innovative. If teachers and learners think freely, embrace change (rather than the status quo) they are more likely to create environments that produce risk taking and creative solutions. In other words, a growth mindset will lead to innovative solutions.

When it comes to innovation, I feel a fixed mindset will squash creativity. If my gifted and talented learners believe their innate skills and their current level of intelligence is what helps them succeed, they will fail to recognize the power of continuous learning. They will fail to recognize what they may become.

Can we change a learner’s mindset? How can we best cultivate, nurture and operate a growth mindset within our classroom of learners to drive innovation?

I enjoy constructing units of study. My previous school district did not have a “textbook series” for Language Arts, Social Studies, or Math, when I first started teaching 1st grade, 15 years ago. Our lessons reflected best practices, our learners interests, and each individual teacher’s unique style. They were authentic and real. It’s easy to ditch a textbook, when you never relied on one.

This Growth Mindset unit is called “Growing Our Brain” and it begins with a mini lesson which focuses on the impact of praise. We discuss what praise is, why we give it, what phrases we’ve heard, and how it feels when we work hard on something and then DON’T receive praise. You know, you put your blood, sweat and tears into a project and your work is over looked. OUCH.

As we were discussing this, the conversation turned towards failure and how our learners deal with it. So, I shared two quotes about failure, one from Michael Jordan and one from Thomas Alva Edison. I asked my learners to analyze and interpret these quotes. Some wrote down their ideas, others struck up a conversation. When their responses began to sound similar (they’re about not giving up); I asked them to go deeper, and use their critical thinking skills. I waited patiently. Then, a learner’s profound statement came. He said…

“If we keep trying, and keep trying, and don’t stop trying then we don’t fail. We don’t fail because we’re still trying…we’re still working it out! Failure is when we stop, when we give up. We gotta keep going. Don’t let failure win.”

~ 3rd Grade learner, G&T, Commonwealth Charter Academy

Whoa. My learners “get it”. They understand an important part of Growth Mindset is grit and perseverance. It’s about the process, and sticking with the problem until they figure it out. They begin to understand that their “giftedness” is not so much an innate ability they have, but they can grow their intelligence, continuing their learning. Challenges and working through them will grow their brain. Most importantly, they realize they can succeed in areas that they don’t feel strongly in. They just need to stick with it and grow their brain.

How do you help your students grow their brain? What foundation will you lay for your learners to innovate? How will you do this? Will you adopt a growth mindset? 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Creativation

Creativity is thinking up new things.

I read an article recently which identified creativity as the No. 1 “leadership competency” of the future. Innovation was also in the top five. It went on to discuss the lack of creativity and innovation in US schools. As I read, I couldn’t help but think about what creativity and innovation would look like in my classroom next year.

To me, creativity and innovation go hand in hand. I perceive creativity as the prime source for innovation. I see it as a process, a way of generating ideas and expressions, which can amplify knowledge and lead to new ways of thinking and problem solving. Bringing those ideas to fruition is innovation. It can be an original production, something altered, something better and more useful. There is no one right way or answer. How can I incorporate creativity and innovation into my classroom? What would this look like?

When I think of creativity and innovation as a session in my classroom, I think of it as something similar to my Genius Hour. It’s a time devoted to student curiosity and interest; a time for research, collaboration and exploration. Where every student can feel empowered to explore their passions. Creativation (yes, this is what I will call it) is the adjunction of creativity and innovation. Creativation is a time for divergent and convergent thinking; a time to generate many unique ideas, and to combining those ideas into the best result.

All around us are national and international problems, real world problems of importance %22Creativity and Innovation are about finding unexpected solutions to obvious problems%22-2that desperately need creative solutions. Our world is running out of natural resources each day, many still do not have safe drinking water, and our oceans are heavily polluted. Creativation will give students an opportunity to generate solutions to such issues.  Students will be able to understand the importance of contributing original ideas and being receptive to the ideas of others. They will see creativity and innovation as a necessity. These two necessities of human ingenuity should be unchallenged.

The more I think about creativation, the more I wonder; is it learnable?  Can anyone really learn how to be creative and innovative? I believe so. When I think about it, a vertically challenged basketball player comes to mind. Being tall assists a pro basketball player immensely, but even short players (Spud Webb and Nate Robinson…I know…I’m dating myself) have achieved success through hard work and practice. In the same way, there are certain individuals naturally prone to being creative and innovative thinkers. Creativity and innovation requires a constant shifting of ideas. It requires a blending of new information with old, new ideas with forgotten ideas; a constant back and forth, pendulum swing, the blending divergent and convergent thinking. I feel those who practice creative activities learn to prime their brains’ to think in this way.

So what does this mean for America’s standards-obsessed schools? Creativity and innovation are very much sought after in American schools, but its clearly been misunderstood and certainly not supported. Some argue that creativity and innovation should only happen in an art room, shop class or a kindergarten wing. Others believe we can’t teach creativity and innovation because learners already have too much to learn. Most school curricula does not, as of yet, encourage creativity and innovation, mainly because they are not clear how creativity should be defined and how it should be treated in learning and assessment. A school district’s curricula is often overloaded with content and this content reduces the possibility of creative and innovative learning approaches in practice.

Schools play a key role in fostering and developing students’ creative and innovative capacities for further learning. Creativity needs to be viewed as a cross-curricular skill, a  skill which students should be encouraged to develop. Creativity and innovation isn’t about freedom from concrete facts. Rather, it’s fact-finding, it’s rooted in deep thoughtful research.  These are vital stages in the creative, innovative and learning processes. Creativity and innovation have strong links with knowledge and learning. Creative learning requires innovative teaching. This type of teaching calls for educators to become reflective practitioners. Teachers need to be able to distinguish how a teaching method or activity can stifle or trigger creativity and innovation in their students.

One of the enemies of creativity and innovation, especially in relation to our own development is

So, how do we do this? Currently, teachers lack support in bringing forth creativity and innovation into their classrooms. Many focus on convergence and discipline instead of divergence because it’s easier to handle. Teachers play a major role in constructing creative environments. Our teachers need training, support, and encouragement from administration, colleagues, parents, students, and the community. Many educators agree that current curriculum standards can still be met, if taught in a different way. The time has come to change our educational culture to one that values creativity and innovation and sees it as an asset in the classroom. What will you do differently to promote creativation in your classroom?