How School Kills Creativity And How To Fix It


First, we kill our students creativity. Next, we ask them to be creative and wonder why they have such a hard time.

We always aspire for our students to move away from fact regurgitation and move toward higher level thinking and deeper understanding. When we ask students to brainstorm and generate ideas, provide solutions to problems, or to think and reason critically, we are really asking them to be creative. The sad truth is that by standardizing education we often kill creativity. The hope lies in the fact that creativity is an acquired skill that can be improved.

If we make a conscious decision to change things up in our classrooms, to change the way we educate our students, we can increase their creativity. With increased creativity they can innovate and be more successful.

The human brain is composed of gray matter and white matter. Gray matter stores knowledge and is used when we think. White matter is tissue through which the brain transfers and connects information. Scientific studies show that extraordinarily creative individuals have more white matter than others. This is good, because it proves creativity is something we can get better at.

The mechanism of becoming more creative is simple: Create many connections in the brain by learning new and diverse things and using them in projects we are passionate about.

When we take on creative tasks, we increase the amount of white matter, the number of neural connections in the brain, and as a result we become more creative. To optimize our creativity, we should do things we are motivated by; what we care about, have passion for, and want to do.

Let’s fix schools to achieve more of that.

Use Big Events to Teach Cross Curricular Content.

Use current important and controversial events and teach from multiple perspectives. This way, each student can find something relevant to him and can offer his unique perspective on the issues at hand. This caters to his interests and strengths and motivates him to contribute. As a bonus, he becomes primed to learn from his teammates. If Jack likes science and Jill is a social studies freak, they’ll help each other understand their perspectives and be able to shine doing it.

Check out my recent post Why We Need To Abandon Subjects And Focus On Big Picture Learning for more.

Implement Genius Hour and Project Based Learning.

This one is huge. HUGE.

In most schools, students are told what to do most of the time. They are given assignments we want them to do. Often, these are irrelevant topics they care little about. They are out of context, and while some students do like them, many are indifferent. They end up getting through math, chemistry, art, history etc. Whatever their Kryptonite, they cram their way through tests unmotivated to learn about it. It’s hard to be creative when you just don’t give a sh*t…

I know. I know. We must teach standards. But, make at least 20% of the time highly enjoyable for those two, three, or ten kids who kinda sorta think your class (not you) stinks. Do Genius Hour on Fridays. That’s right, let students work on passion projects; ones they come up with and want to do. Trust me, bits and pieces of your curriculum will miraculously end up in them!

Implement more Project Based Learning into your every day instruction. Check out books such as Launch, Innovator’s Mindset, and Hacking Project Based Learning to implement it and promote creativity. Use the formula below to level it all up.

Help Your Students Become Idea Machines.

I must confess. I got the Idea Machine concept from James Altucher. His daily practice involves writing down 10 ideas about anything to exercise and develop the idea muscle. Here’s my classroom twist.

Before a group project, have your students research for 10-15 minutes on their own. Then, ask them to write down as many ideas as come to mind. Only then do they meet and share these ideas with their group. This way, they will come up with more ideas then they would have if they began in the group. While many ideas will end up as throwaways it’s important to practice generating them. Don’t forget to prompt your students to write down any new ideas that result from brainstorming.

Students interests are often very different from our own. We can try and fail to be their Kryptonite or we can be their Superheroes. Choose wisely.

You have the power to change the world. Use it often.

Check out my Blog on Teaching & Learning.

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