How to Advance Creativity in a Learning Environment

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  • 0:12 What is Creativity?
  • 1:09 Barriers to Thinking…
  • 3:19 Creative Problem-Solving
  • 5:58 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Wind Goodfriend
Students in a classroom can attempt to solve problems in a wide variety of creative ways. This lesson defines creativity and then covers barriers to thinking creatively, including response sets and functional fixedness. Finally, the lesson discusses different types of creative problem solving, including brainstorming and working backward.

What is Creativity?

Imagine you're a teacher in an elementary school, and you want to involve your students in raising money to help them get new books and supplies. You ask the students for their own ideas on fun, creative fundraisers they might do in the community. Maybe they suggest selling toys they don't use anymore, or having a puppy parade down Main Street, where people buy concessions. In order for the students to come up with solutions, they must think creatively. What exactly is creativity, and how might it work in a classroom environment?

The definition of creativity is the ability to come up with new, original, unique solutions to problems or ideas. In another lesson, you can learn about how creativity is based in an area of psychology called cognitive psychology, and you can learn about how creativity is related to types of intelligence. This lesson focuses on creativity in a classroom environment, and what factors might hurt or help the creative process.

Barriers to Thinking Creatively

We'd all like to be able to think creatively, but sometimes it's a challenge. What are some barriers that stop the creative process?

Using pencils as mini fence-posts requires overcoming functional fixedness
Overcoming Functional Fixedness

The first variable that's been identified in educational psychology is called a response set. A response set is the tendency for people to approach problems in a rigid, habitual manner or persistent pattern. If you always respond to a problem the same way, you're not going to be very creative. For example, I work as a university professor. Whenever there's a club on campus that wants to do a fundraiser, it always sell T-shirts. I have so many T-shirts; I will never buy another one! In order to make more money, the clubs should come up with a new, creative way to earn money, and they would probably be more successful. If they always approach fundraising with the same idea, they are working from a response set that is not going to be very successful. If a campus club tried something like a puppy parade through the middle of campus, they might raise a lot more money, because they had gone outside of their old response set.

Another barrier to creative thinking is a tendency called functional fixedness. Functional fixedness is the tendency for people to use objects or tools in only a certain, specific way. If you only think about an object in a certain way, you won't be able to think of creative ways to use that object. Let's think of another classroom example. Imagine you decide to give students an assignment in which they create three-dimensional dioramas in the school courtyard, in which they display a famous scene from history. They have to use supplies from inside the classroom to create the displays. Students who are not very creative will have trouble with this. How can you use things like a pencil or a post-it note to create a historical scene? If students can only think of pencils as writing tools and post-it notes as notepaper, they are experiencing functional fixedness. But if creative students can use the pencils as miniature fence-posts, to build a fort from the Revolutionary War, and they combine a pencil and a post-it note to create a little flagpole, they have overcome the barrier of functional fixedness.

Creative Problem Solving

So, we've talked about two barriers to creative thinking: response sets and functional fixedness. But what are ways that we can encourage creative thinking? There are two main methods identified by educational psychology.

Doctors use the working backward strategy when asking patients about their medical history
Working Backward Strategy Example

The first method is one that you've probably heard of before: brainstorming. When people brainstorm, they get in a group and quickly identify ideas for how to solve a problem. Brainstorming requires a group setting, so that people can bounce ideas off each other. Maybe someone else's idea will get you to think about a solution that you wouldn't have identified on your own. Brainstorming also requires that no one criticize any ideas at this stage. The purpose of brainstorming is simply to get the creative ball rolling, so being critical at this stage will hurt the process instead of help it.

A teacher might use brainstorming to solve a problem like the one from the beginning of this lesson, such as ideas for a new, creative fundraiser. The teacher could gather all the students in a circle, ask for ideas, and quickly write down every idea on the board. Only after all of the students have contributed ideas, and no more ideas seem to be coming, should the teacher then start to analyze the pros and cons of each idea, before finally choosing one.

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