Friday, October 10, 2014

Learning Community

This fall, I'm teaching a CRS 205 Introduction to Creative Studies in a new environment - a Learning Community.  The students are kept together for all classes through the first semester and are also given field trips - like the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame - and extra assignments like service learning. They meet for regular classes, but also for an hour once a week with all their teachers together called Integrated Hour.  I like the process.  It builds their relationships with each other which is often a problem during the first year - trying to make friends who can be with you for more than one class.

This group is also made of pretty dedicated and interested students.  On October 18th 13 of them will go with me to the Service Day event in honor of the inauguration of the new Buffalo State President Katherine Conway-Turner.  I'm not sure what we will be doing - helping the Red Cross prepare materials for blood drives or cleaning a park, but I'm looking forward to it.  They will get no credit for this activity - I told them it would just be a deposit in the Bank of Good Karma - and they jumped on.  One girl is bringing her mother.  Should be fun which is how I think education should be.

Thursday, November 7, 2013

Back to the Kid in me

It's funny to me that as I grow older, and busier, I leave out the art, music and crafts that I always did for fun, relaxation, and production of gifts.  I just haven't taken the time.  So recently, Rebecca and I decided to have "painting" sessions.  Since I rarely use my kitchen table, we set out all sorts of materials and started to work.

Rebecca has had a long-standing desire to paint pictures of grass.  Don't laugh, I don't get it either, but she finds pictures that have varieties of grass, fields, trees, sky and sometimes a flower or two.  I bought several containers of green paint and she has now produced four or five paintings.  They are good!  Interesting!

I have concentrated on a recent find - Zentangles.  Basically rough shapes or outlines of objects which I fill in with a variety of simple designs - as many designs as possible.  I don't like them as I'm doing them because I see all the flaws, missed parts, etc., but later I do like them.  Doing something creative - even when I don't appreciate the outcome much is having an excellent effect.  How can a person forget to do this? it is important to be free to create!

Monday, September 23, 2013

Crayola Attractions

After going to a wedding in New Jersey (my Taiwanese "daughter" Dao Wen and Paul), my daughter, Rebecca, and "daughter", Emily and I were driving back through Pennsylvania when we saw a sign for Crayola Attractions.  We had to go.  It's in Easton, PA where crayons were invented and are made.  Easton is a lovely little town with a town square, interesting restaurants and music.

We weren't sure at first whether we would regret the $16 entrance fee, but soon recognized it was a bargain even for so-called adults.  We had a great time.  We were able to name a crayon color, make our own, multicolored markers and play with Model Magic.  And that was just the first of 4 floors of attractions.  We colored and constructed treasure boxes and pictures with every crayon color imaginable.  We melted crayons and molded them into shapes such as dinosaurs and worms.  We painted with melted crayons and also made spin art pictures with melted crayons.  We took black-and-white outline pictures of ourselves which we could then color or have put on a puzzle or a t-shirt.  We crayoned pictures on cardboard which were then cut into puzzle pieces.  We drew on large light-bright boards and on a computer screen from which we could email the results to ourselves.  There was a giant climbing playroom and some other toys we didn't use, but we played with the boats in the replica of the Erie Canal to see how the locks and other systems worked.  There was a virtual step-on piano keyboard, which later became a step-on xylophone, and later still a game where balls would appear which exploded when stepped on.  There was a wall of virtual crayola men caricatures and if you stood on the rug in front of one, it would do everything you did - wave, jump, bend, etc.  Rebecca, of course, had to challenge it and finally the head of hers popped off and he looked destroyed - only for a minute or so.

In short, it was worth the side trip and the two hours we added to our journey.  The only regret is that we didn't have some little people of our own to play with us.

Wednesday, July 31, 2013

Read the directions

Reading the directions is not something I normally do.  My family always says "When in doubt, read the directions."  And we aren't in doubt much - we just barrel into new computers, subjects, and adventures until we have questions.  Seems good from my POV.

But, then I see posts in many groups about creativity and realize that the same things I do are annoying when someone else does it - on one of my subjects, like creativity.  There have been many articles, books, and comments about brainstorming not working, for example.  And the latest is that creativity can't be taught.  I want to rise up and announce that brainstorming has been working for me and my family for more than 30 years - that's how we figure things out when we have those doubts.  And I've been teaching creativity for more than 30 years also.  Student feedback is really rewarding - they change from thinking they are not creative to thinking they have ideas and methods to implement solutions they never had before.

Some of those people are still in the 1980's mode of thinking that creativity is about music and art - which addressed in a previous blog. Creativity includes evaluation.  Ruth Noller's (one of the founders of our program at Buffalo State in the '60's) definition is that creativity is a function of your attitude toward Knowledge, Imagination and Evaluation.   Yes, we accept that some ideas are wild at first.  Wasn't the airplane? Alex Osborn, who first wrote about brainstorming in the '50's said, "It's easier to tame a wild idea than to invigorate a weak one. "

Sid Parnes, along with Ruth, did an intensive study, published in the Journal of Creative Behavior in the early '70's showing that, not only could creativity be taught and learned, but that students who were taught creativity also did better in other subjects and graduated more frequently than a control group who were not given the classes.

This stuff has been out there for a long time.  And more has been reported since in 7 refereed journals on creativity since then.  So please, read the directions before you sound off on this.  

Wednesday, October 5, 2011

Creative and Critical Thinking

Often when I explain that I teach Creative Studies, people think it is about art and music.  They also think it is more important to have critical thinking.  Those thoughts are based on misinformation.

Creative Studies is about thinking.  It includes metacognitive thinking, cognitive thinking skills, affective thinking skills and the ability to both diverge in thought and converge in thought using evaluative tools.  My concern is that people have been taught to BE critical and that has been considered critical thinking.  Usually the first word children learn and understand the meaning of, outside of possibly mommy and daddy, is "no."  If we show students an unusual product, the first instinct is for them to say what is wrong with it.  True evaluation is about looking at the positives as well as the negatives - seeing what is right, interesting or possible and what the concerns might be.  Creativity also involves looking at the concerns and finding ways to improve the product or ways to deal with it in context.

Critical thinking, it seems to me, looks for one right answer to a problem.  Creative thinking looks for the right answer to the problem for the people, the organizations, and the context involved.  The right answer is different if those elements are different.  And whether the answer is right or wrong is in the eyes of those it affects.  There is great joy when people find the "right" answer for themselves.  Creativity allows that to happen.  There are no judges saying the answer is wrong to them.  Ideas are only judged affirmatively - what's good about it, what would you like to change or improve about it, what concerns do you have, and how might you overcome those concerns.

We teach children that there is a right answer.  We criticize their mistakes.  They lose confidence and feel they will never catch up.  I think the confidence, energy and enthusiasm that comes with students solving their own problems is a better learning experience than always being expected to be right.

Wednesday, September 28, 2011


Today I saw a student from last semester's CRS 205 class.  He came up to me to say how much he enjoyed the class and how it changed the way he thinks.  He said the learning was like hitting a wall, but now he can't turn off his creative thinking.  It has been cropping up in his other classes. 

Also today, we said goodbye to our dear friend, known as Peter, who will return to Beijing early tomorrow.  He was a visiting scholar in finance at Buffalo State for more than a year.  He visited my CRS 205 classes many times and loved them.  He said they don't allow that kind of creativity in Chinese schools.  He's hoping that I can some day go to Beijing to teach some classes.  Wouldn't that be wonderful?

These are not new or unusual reactions to creativity classes.  I've met adults in their fifties who say that creativity classes changed their lives.  It's interesting to speculate what might happen if creativity classes - even one - were mandatory.  Would more people find excitement in coming up with new and relevant ideas easily?  Or would the fact of a mandate cause them to rebel and fight the learning?  I think the former possibillity because it is hard not to get drawn in when you can't get wrong answers and having fun is part of the program.  Our schools seem to basically tell kids, "There is only one right answer and you probably don't know it."  They come into my class feeling insecure and anxious - afraid to answer questions, afraid to share ideas, low self-esteem.  When I ask how many think they are creative, few raise their hands.  When asked to write as many ideas as they can on paper in three minutes, many have less than five written at the end of the time.  At the end of the semester, most have more than thirty ideas in three minutes and virtually all now see that they are creative.

Somehow, creativity is often thought of as "fluffy,"  unnecessary, or only for the arts.  In fact, creativity is necessary for innovation, change, good personal relationships, business dealings, almost anything you can name.  The skills of creativity are used any time we need or want a new and useful solution to a problem, challenge or opportunity.  It is positive, upbeat, productive, useful and FUN.  Creativity rulz!