Encouraging inventiveness in the classroom

By: | August 28, 2019
Kathy Schrock is an educational technologist with a keen interest in critical evaluation, emerging technologies, and information literacy.

We are all familiar with invention—the process of creating something new and useful. But what about the creativity factors that play a large role in this process? The form of creativity leading to invention is called inventiveness. How can you help your teachers or colleagues promote inventiveness in the classroom?

The Belin-Blank Center for Gifted Education and Talent Development at the University of Iowa includes a great overview of inventiveness in its Invent Iowa Curriculum Guide.

Invent Iowa started in 1987 and was created to help teachers promote the invention process in their classrooms as well as allow students to showcase their inventions at state and local conventions.

The Invent Iowa guide states that inventiveness includes four components:

  1. Fluency: the ability to brainstorm
  2. Flexibility: the ability to think in new and different ways
  3. Elaboration: the ability to add details or missing parts
  4. Originality: the ability to create things that are new

In this program, students in grades 3 through 8 are encouraged to use a series of problem-solving steps during the invention process. They begin by identifying or finding a problem that might be solved or lessened with an invention. Then, they gather information about related inventions. Before an inventor begins creating, he/she explores the idea in-depth. Finally, the inventor imagines their invention idea and begins creating it.

As the student explores their idea, they need to answer common questions to prompt them to think about all the aspects: who, what, where, when and why. The inventor also needs to think about “how,” including: “How can I make the invention?” “How can I get investors?” and “How can I market the invention?”

The Invent Iowa Curriculum Guide includes a rubric that can help the classroom teacher develop timelines and task goals with the students. It includes the problem, the solution, the explanation, the uniqueness and the benefits of the invention, the inventor’s log, and the invention itself. The higher-order thinking skills of evaluating, analyzing and creating, as well as the importance of reflection, comprise a large part of this process.

The curriculum guide also provides some tips for teachers on instilling a climate for inventiveness in the classroom, including:

  • Create challenge and motivation:
    • Stimulate student questioning.
    • Ask questions calling for creative thought.
    • Discuss the unknowns.
  • Encourage students to challenge their assumptions.
  • Provide freedom for exploration:
    • Establish trust and openness.
    • Defer judgment whenever possible.
  • Use affirmative judgment.
  • Permit liveliness and dynamism:
    • Encourage student involvement and ownership.
  • Encourage playfulness and humor.
  • Allow time for examining differing ideas and viewpoints.
  • Minimize conflicts.
  • Encourage risk-taking rather than “safe” responses and conformity.
  • Provide time for thought and action.

By giving students both time and practice in questioning, collaborating, researching, designing, iterating, redesigning and reflecting, we will be empowering and motivating them to apply the process of inventiveness both in and out of the classroom.

There are some interesting ways for the classroom teacher to foster creativity in the classroom. Kristin Hicks, in an Edudemic blog post, provides five ways to do this:

  1. Allow students choice in the format of their assessments. They can mix and match formats—a video with a recorded podcast review, for example.
  2. Set aside time each day for students to follow their passions. Create a “genius hour.”
  3. Use technology to broaden your idea of assignments. For instance, use Google Maps along with a novel to identify locations. Have students interview experts on Skype. Have students follow experts on Twitter or in a
    Reddit group to gather their information for a research paper.
  4. Make sure your tech toolbox includes some unconventional tools. Have students create a TED talk about a chapter in the science book, have them draw an XKCD-style comic strip, or have them create a Fakebook page for an explorer. (I have a variety of categorized online tools on this page for you to investigate.)
  5. Encourage discussion among students, using the Socratic seminar method, so students are not afraid to take a risk. They will learn how to formulate good questions, and how to respect the opinions of others. (Take a look at one of my recent blog posts called “Civil Discourse in the Classroom,” to investigate more about helping students learn to value someone else’s point of view.)

I am also a fan of Stacey Goodman’s methods of encouraging divergent thinking in his classroom. (His expected results would lead to a climate of inventiveness, too.) His methods include:

  • Use problem-based learning: Instead of giving the students the problem to solve, have them create the problem questions based on their own knowledge and passions.
  • Set norms: Develop activities that encourage students to defer judgment. If students know they will not be immediately judged, they are more likely to offer divergent ideas.
  • Provide time for inquiry and observation: Have students spend time observing; holding back on expressing their likes and dislikes; and following-up with statements or questions that start with “I noticed” “Why?” and “How?”
  • Encourage play and manage failure: Develop activities that encourage students to play and experiment, and are followed by reflection and iteration until students are satisfied with the result. Help them learn not to be afraid to make mistakes.
  • Use art strategies: Goodman is an art teacher, and he presents some art activities in the article that would easily work across the content areas to promote inventiveness.

Another succinct overview of the components that can help lead to creativity and inventiveness has been developed by Tanner Christensen. He includes the aspects of confidence, observation, humility, mindfulness, curiosity, resourcefulness, energy and action. His poster would be a great idea to discuss and study in a professional learning network with your colleagues. Each meeting could target a different aspect.

Discovery Education has material to support creative thinking in your classroom:

The Spotlight on Strategies (SOS) “Take a walk” activity is based on a Stanford University study that found creative thinking improves as you walk and for a short time after.

The “Above & Beyond” video, created by Fablevision, showcases how a collaborative project can lead to some creative results.

The “Teaching to Inspire Creativity” video segment is a short professional development video for educators.

After looking at both the Hicks and Goodman criteria and the Discovery Education resources, I don’t believe inventiveness is tied just to the invention process. I think it is a natural part of the creative and divergent thinking processes, too.

For some fascinating reading, Tanner Christensen’s Creative Something blog explores the science of how creative thinking works to help his audience “use it every day to create, empower and motivate.” Isn’t that what we want for students?

Allowing students to pursue their passions in a way that’s meaningful to them is a process that can be mentored and practiced in the classroom. By giving students both time and practice in questioning, collaborating, researching, designing, iterating, redesigning and reflecting, we will be empowering and motivating them to apply the process of inventiveness both in and out of the classroom.

Kathy Schrock is an educational technologist with a keen interest in critical evaluation, emerging technologies and information literacy. She will be a featured speaker at DA’s FETC 2020.
This blog post is reprinted in its entirety with permission from Discovery Education, where it was published on Kathy’s Katch blog in June 2017.

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