Creativity and Criticality in the Classroom

Creative Curriculum Storyboard-01

by Tyler Woodside

My summer project for 2013 was to design a website from the ground up. For me, that meant doing just about everything: creating the layout, writing the HTML, implementing the CSS, drawing the background, and even creating the custom storybook code I wanted to use to make reading the short stories on the site that much more engaging. While I did get some help from a very attractive and clever friend to do the background, this was still one of the most ambitious projects I had ever embarked upon, made doubly so by the fact that I didn’t have any experience with any of the coding languages I was going to need to get the job done. It took me more than four months to finish, but by the end I had learned a ton about HTML, CSS, and JavaScript. I had gone from knowing nothing about the languages to being able to create an awesome looking website and a moderately complicated web app, all with very little help from others.

That wasn’t the first time I tried to write a website. In high school, I created a site for the speech team to use as a central information hub, where travels plans, practice times, and other announcements could be posted and seen by team members. At that time, I wasn’t so intent on creating the site from the ground up; instead, I found a free web host that provided default themes, and simply did a little bit of customization to one of those and built a few subpages where people could check for the information they wanted. The site flopped; the theme never looked good, things broke, and it quickly became apparent that the team never used the site. I stopped updating not long after it went up, and two years later the only people that remembered the site were the coach and I.

What was the difference between those two experiences? Well, the obvious one was my own excitement. I was motivated enough to spend four months working on my own blog, despite incredible setbacks and difficulties when creating it, but the speech team’s site was never important enough for me even to keep functioning. The reason one was more important than the other can be summed up in one word: creativity. My blog was full of my own ideas, and I was able to conceptualize and design it any way I wanted, without limits from the web host or the needs of the site. The speech team’s site was always restricted to the themes I had available and the information that the team needed to have on the site, rather than what I wanted to make and put up.

The other, more subtle difference, was experience. It may seem like my experience level at the start of either site was the same, but I was just a little more equipped for the second site. In high school, the extent of my experience with coding was my middle school dabbles into a fairly basic scripting language called Game Maker Language, which I never learned enough about to even understand basic syntax. The summer of 2013, on the other hand, was just after my first year of college as a Computer Science major, and I had spent the year learning Java and object-oriented programming. While Java didn’t directly teach me how to write HTML, understanding objects and properties in Java helped me to comprehend tags and attributes in HTML and CSS, and JavaScript has many syntactical similarities to Java. That little bit of technical knowledge, as well as knowing where to go to actually learn the languages online, helped me to be able to start and finish my blog, in a way I could not have with the speech team’s site.

In the end, I needed both the technical knowledge I gained from school and the creative freedom of my own project in order to learn the very valuable skills I gained from working on my blog. Now imagine if I had been in a classroom, where a teacher could have directed my learning, ensuring there wasn’t gaps in my knowledge, I was learning everything in an order that made sense, and I was complying to standards of good code. If a student could have the motivation of a creative project alongside the technical knowledge gained from having a quality teacher, that student would learn much more and be more excited about what he or she was learning. That’s why educators need to incorporate both technical and creative learning styles in all subjects, both scientific and arts related. After all, even if you don’t incorporate it into other subjects, teaching kids creativity through the arts can have huge benefits beyond just their ability to do art, and when you do practice incorporation, that creativity becomes just as crucial a part of his or her success as an individual’s talent or intelligence.

One of the easiest ways to foster creativity in someone is to involve him or her in the arts. In many ways, the ultimate goal of the arts is to create new, beautiful, and unique things, so bringing the arts into someone’s life goes a long way in making that person more creative. Because of that, being involved in art can make you both more creative and more intelligent. At an early age, according to Glenn Schellenberg, professor of psychology at the University of Toronto Mississauga and a prominent researcher of the effects of music on child development, introducing a child to music can have huge impacts on the growth rates of their IQ as well. In 2004, Schellenberg conducted an experiment in which he gave four groups of first graders IQ tests, then a year later gave them a subsequent IQ test to compare which group had the highest and lowest levels of growth. Three of the groups were given an extra-curricular activity to be engaged in: one group was assigned vocal music training, one group keyboard training, and the third drama training. The fourth group was assigned to be involved in no extra-curricular activities. The drama group and the uninvolved groups served as control subjects, as a way of comparing both normal IQ growth, and IQ growth purely as a result of extra-curricular activities rather than music. Schellenberg found that, while each group had an increase in IQ growth he attributed to school, the two musical groups had a greater increase across all categories of intellectual ability measured by the IQ test used. Similarly, the drama group saw a higher increase over those who were entirely uninvolved (Schellenberg 319). What this means is that the students who study music early are quantitatively more intelligent than those who don’t, which gives those students an powerful advantage in school and in life. In addition, according to Michael Gazzaniga, director of the Arts and Cognition Consortium, “interest in arts…leads to higher levels of motivation and better attention span” (qtd. in Baker par. 6-7). These two benefits affect more than just your ability to think, they affect your dedication to projects, whether artistic or scientific. Obviously, then, art has powerful benefits even if you don’t accept that it makes you more creative, and if you do, then you get that benefit as well.

After all, IQ is not the sole determinant factor in success. Malcolm Gladwell, author of Outliers: The Story of Success, explains that intelligence only determines a portion of one’s achievment. He states that past a point, around 120 on an IQ test, other factors determining success take over as more important (79). Those other factors are things like motivation and creativity, two things that have been shown to be fostered by the arts. It makes sense too: who seems better suited to be a leader, someone who has 200 IQ points, but no motivation or creativity, or someone with 90 IQ points who is determined to finish things and creative enough to find alternate solutions? Creativity matters in the real world, and it has real power to make better inventions in both scientific and artistic settings.

In the end, it’s not enough just to teach creativity through art and critical thinking through science. Each discipline does well teaching the though processes for that discipline, but the creativity that led to surrealism won’t help physics find the theory of everything, and the critical thinking that proves the reflexive property in math won’t help an artist understand why something is beautiful. If you can’t use artistic creativity in science, then you have to teach scientific creativity. Let’s do that, then. Let’s stop forcing students to choose between creative, technical, and critical career paths, and instead bring them together to push us forward into a new and greater era of humanity.

 Works Cited

Baker, Beth. “Arts Education.” CQ Researcher. 2012. Web. 29 Sep. 2013.

Gladwell, Malcom. Outliers: The Story Of Success. New York: Little, Brown and Company, 2008. 69-90. Print.

Schellenberg, Glenn. “Music and Cognitive Abilities.”University of Toronto Mississauga. University of Toronto, n.d. Web. 25 Sep. 2013. 

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6 thoughts on “Creativity and Criticality in the Classroom

  1. Yes, I 100% agree. In my way of thinking, I constantly hear people talk about how they don’t understand why they have to take classes that don’t have to do with their major. Like for an Art major, why students must take a math or English class. To some extent I understand what they are saying, but in the future all the experience learned in that class will come up later when you get into the real world and find your own job. I’m an Art major and I’ve been using math and geometry constantly with my art. I also know that being able to correctly format and write a paper is absolutely fundamental when it comes to being successful in any profession. Anyway, back to what you were saying in your article. I believe a creative, artistic project in any class would be a wonderful idea. Though, being an art student I wouldn’t know how successful that would be with someone out of my major. It also would have to depend on what people already knew. What if people don’t have an artistic bone in their body or didn’t know programming? Would it be like a project that had to do with the Class and what the student enjoyed doing as a hobby?

  2. I find these projects as you have done to be very constructive and help create valuable skills. You actually want to work on the project rather than being forced to do it. Computer Science guideline really needs to be adjusted so that people can work on things that interest them, rather than very strict programs that I’ve done in the past. You will enjoy yourself more when studying/following what you’re passionate about. You see this with alright programmers and great programmers. The great programmers had their own passionate projects on the side that helped them become that great programmer. The alright programmers just did the bare minimum. Hopefully with more interesting projects in school, it would also create better programmers. This is a huge disconnect in the business world between a programmer and a great programmer.

  3. I agree with you completely, Tyler. For one, I personally DESPISE math. It’s very technical to me and teachers/professors do not make it creative whatsoever especially when a person gets to the high school or college level. Loss of creativity at these levels has only made me despise math and other subjects with no creative teaching much more. I have never really enjoyed math, but with experience from other subjects that were taught creatively as well as technically, I tended to/tend to enjoy more than I would have if they were just taught technically. I am in College Algebra this semester, and because of the technicality and no creative side at all, I am not very interested and find it hard to remember how to do math problems when it comes to a quiz or test and it’s reflected in my grade. I am both a visual and hands-on learner, but when it comes to subjects that I don’t particularly care for, some creativity in the teaching style would greatly help me.

  4. I completely agree! I really like your ideas for your blog as well. I do love science and I am involved in a lot of art and creativity extracurricular courses too. I love the challenge of science, but like you said the creativity of the fine arts portion. I would love to see more classes being taught that involve both of the two mixed together. I feel doing that would not only challenge the person, but allow them to think out of the box and be a problem solver in their own creative way. I love what you said about would you rather have a person who has a high IQ but not as much creativity or someone who has a lower IQ but its able to find alternative solutions through their own creativity. This was a very interesting post and caught my attention. Very unique!

  5. Great stuff, I love the pragmatic thinking you are employing here. You’re starting to touch on concepts of fluid intelligence and crystallized intelligence being related to one another which is something that really needs to be examined more. You also use your personal narrative as a very effective and relatable tool in this post.

  6. I agree with your perspective on education needing to be both creative and technical. The real world does not often have a one in four multiple choice option; problems we face are open-ended questions where there is frequently not just one correct solution. To educate students in a way that perpetuates the idea that there is only one answer puts them at a disadvantage.

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