BLOG CHALLENGE – Week one
“In the future, students will need to be nimble. They will need to know how to experiment, iterate, and pivot. ” (Spencer)
@FriedEnglish shared “7 ways to inspire divergent thinking” with me last week and the article resonated with me immensely. After all, as a scientist this is our bread and butter. Scientists are naturally curious, risk-taking experimenters so surely these things were abundant in my classroom just by the nature of the subject?
The more I read the article, the more concerned I became about the amount of options I give my students to play and to take creative risks (I got to number 5 before I could make any connections with what happens in my classroom….eeeek!). “Oh, this article must be intended for primary/middle school where they have more time to complete projects” I told myself momentarily. The focus on large long-term projects to inspire divergent thinking caused me to spiral into a little bit of panic. I want my students to be creative thinkers but the syllabus and time restraints of IGCSE and IB mean that completing long-term projects is pretty challenging.
As a result, I spent all week playing “spot the divergent thinking” in my classroom to identify day-to-day activities that inspire thinking. There were several activities that encourage creativity and flexibility that I was already doing (phew!):
- Experimental work with minimal equipment “Can you work out the formula mass of the gas inside the lighter with just this equipment” (sometimes I let them request one extra item!)
- Experimental work with no method eg. “Create an experiment to work out which one of these is the best antacid.”
- Synthesising numerous hypotheses: Come up with 3 hypotheses why the colour changes? How could you test your hypotheses?
- Evaluating the strengths and weaknesses of models: lots of good answers possible.
- Linking key concepts together. eg identify places where hierarchy is important in science.
Whilst I was reassured that these activities were already a part of my teaching I had a much bigger realisation: no matter how jazzy my thinking activities are, the kids must feel happy with being mildly confused for a while (check out my previous post on the gift of mild confusion). It isn’t easy to create a culture where getting things wrong is okay and creative risk taking is celebrated, but there’s some key factors that I’ve found definitely help:
- Be goofy. Let the kids see that you say stupid stuff sometimes and that you make mistakes too. A relaxed attitude is far more likely to encourage them to think outside the box rather than trying to give you the answer they think you want. (The power of humour in creativity).
- Tell the kids when you’re trying something new. Let them see that you’re taking risks and that it’s something to be excited about. Model the behaviour that you want to see in them.
- When you fail, be explicit about the learning. When something didn’t go as planned, talk about it. Discuss why you think it didn’t go to plan and how you might adjust it next time (maybe even redo the activity with them the following lesson if appropriate).
- Celebrate the students who take risks. Spotlight the thinking to the rest of the class, tell them individually how impressed you were with their thinking, send an email home, maybe get a marching band… But definitely make sure the kid knows that their kind of thinking is awesome.
Creating divergent thinkers is all about being intentional; intentionally being a good role model and intentionally planning small activities that have a multitude of pathways for students to take.
Are there any other ways that you help kids feel comfortable?
Are you a high school teacher that manages to incorporate projects and really inspire that curiosity? I would love to hear from you!