Teacher Voice: Assessing Creativity & Innovation

So what does it sound like when you have a group of teachers and para-educators engaged in a conversation about project-based learning? What does it sound like to have teachers and para-educators engaged in a collective discussion about the impact passion driven learning opportunities can have for teachers and students?

The following comments are from teachers and para-educators in response John Larmer‘s blog “How Can We Teach and Assess Creativity and Innovation in PBL?” In preparation for our discussion, I asked the staff to contribute to a Google doc in order to collect their reflections on the article. The challenge? To identify one transferable skill, concept or idea and merge it with our work next fall. In my previous blog, Obstacles v. Opportunities, I share how this same group chose to view the unknown challenges before them as they took on the task of redesigning their master schedule. In two words…”I’m proud.”

How Can We Teach and Assess Creativity and Innovation in PBL?


The goal of this activity is for each person to identify one transferable skill, idea or concept from the article by projecting what that may look like in preparing for a new school year. If you want to link yours to your specific role in the school that’s fine. If you’d like to link it to the work you have done or will do with students next year that works too. Please make sure to use the following format. Thank you.

Your Name: Your identified skill, idea or concept.

Steve K.: “But today creativity is also talked about as part of problem-solving or designing (or even just improving) a product, service, or process.”

Systems are meant to evolve. Systems that fail to evolve fail to thrive and remain viable. I see  our school as being no different than living organisms or an ecosystem. Both continually adapt to new pressures that influence their current state. I believe we have a responsibility to function in a similar manner. Thriving systems retain and strengthen their existing parts while doing away with the impractical and or non-essential components of the system.

Emily H.: “When students display creativity and innovation in PBL, they are able to generate and refine solutions to complex problems or tasks.”

We (the 8th grade team) will enter the final PBL of the year with this thought in mind. As students are working to be #DifferenceMakers, they will also need to be creative and think outside the box. This will require contacting professional experts to express their needs in order to help solve a supposed community problem.

Angela F.: Ditto what Emily said for our upcoming project. “Design Projects to Bring Out Creativity”

This past year the 8th graders learned how colonial people treated an ailment or disease ( before drugs). We learned how people today use natural remedies. Using the Iowa Core: Understand the process of how humans develop, learn, adapt to the environment, and internalize their culture – students created a commercial to convince their peers to use a natural remedy to treat an ailment or disease. This allowed for collaboration, creativity, and fun! (21st century skills)

Kim D. (Para): “Think about how your students might create an original product or come up with solutions to a problem

I think that the key to sparking creativity is to find a subject or area of study that they are interested in.  If the entire class is “designing a better mousetrap” and a student could care less about mousetraps, he/she is not likely to be as creative. The same can be said about students that need to come up with a creative idea to solve anything; the subject is too broad and somewhat overwhelming. I propose that students be given categories, with subcategories as a starting point. Example: (just a few)

*Agriculture        * Transportation                     * In the home                * Technology

~farming.                ~personal vehicles                        ~products to make             ~programs

~gardening            ~ public transportation                ~Life easier                          ~products

~lawn care

Steve H.:  “Creativity is traditionally associated with the arts; we say someone like a writer, painter or musician is creative when they have original, out-of-the-box ideas or ways of doing things.”

Math is often thought of as a subject where there is very little creativity, but in a math classroom this should not be true.  As a math teacher, the best type of problem that I can give kids is one that has two elements.  It needs to be something that is applicable to the real world.  It also needs to be a problem where there is not one correct way to solve it. This type of problem allows students to show me their creativity and typically the best math students are the ones that can be creative in how they solve math problems.

Shelly A.: There are different ways in being creative in math.  Math students can be creative in how to solve a problem.  They can also be creative in how they explain how they solved the problem.  Giving them “exemplar” type problems is where I see math students excel.  I need to design purposeful projects that help students be creative.

Sharon M. and Barb L. (Paras): ” When students display creativity and innovation in PBL, they are able to generate and refine solutions to complex problems or tasks.”

I would like to advance two theoretical concepts that might be helpful when developing curriculum for Project Based Learning.  The first is Howard Gardner’s Multiple Intelligences where he espouses individual intelligence within a framework of cognitive organization such as linguistic, logical-mathematical, spatial, musical, bodily kinesthetic and two kinds of personal intelligence.  The second theory focuses on Mind Styles by Tony Gregor which incorporates perceptual quality and ordering ability of the individual.  I have used both of these theoretical constructs as well as Bloom’s Taxonomy to develop differentiated instruction for learners.  They all take into account the cognitive strengths and needs of the individual learner.

Rose B.: Design Projects to Bring Out Creativity

This year for my culminating weather assessment, students had to apply what they learned and demonstrate that knowledge through a presented medium of their choice. While a list of ideas was provided (3D model, Myth Busters flip book, song…idea of your own, etc.) there were no instructions regarding process. The only requirements were to provide notes taken during the research process, learning targets presented, and a bibliography. Allowing students to choose any weather related idea or event really ignited their interest. Some research time was given in class but the bulk of the project was created at home.  In one instance a student who rarely finishes their English papers and assignments not only turned in the project early, but with excellent results.

Lisa L.: Give them the desire to learn.  I can think of past students who had no desire to learn about math or read in the classroom setting.  However, let’s give  them the ability to think outside the box with an idea they were passionate about.  A personal example for me is with my son.  He struggled with reading since kindergarten, so reading a book has always been the last thing he wants to do… but, give him any type of motor that has been taken apart, and he will search online to find a manual to put it back together.  Even though he has to read to figure it out, it isn’t the “reading” he didn’t want to do in the past.  

Rachel A.: Help spark their creativity by finding out what they want to learn and have them develop the questions they want to ask. I had a student that wanted to talk with somebody that has a job he is interested in. He came up with creative questions to ask. It really is the more practical and just flows with what you are wanting the students to learn. HOW to think not WHAT to think.

Nicki Barragy:   1. Design Projects to Bring Out Creativity: Planning a project that integrates the arts is an obvious example of how you can bring out students’ creativity. Also think about how your students might create an original product.

In 6th grade general music the students are just finishing a project like this.  Students were asked to construct 3 songs, each one having it’s own set of requirements.  The 1st piece could be done with a group and had the most requirements. The 2nd piece could also be done with a group with less requirements. The 3rd piece had to be done alone and had the least amount of requirements.  Wow, I have been impressed with the products the students have presented.  It took a while to teach the basics of Garage Band, but once that lengthy process was done, it was exciting to see the creativity flowing.  If students didn’t know how to integrate something, they felt comfortable asking a classmate.  Many students are sharing of ideas and collaborating daily.

Brenda S.: Create a culture that promotes creativity”.

This going to be an adjustment for the students. They are used to being “graded” regularly for each step, etc.  As teachers, we will need to guide them, help them with a new way of thinking/looking at their chosen problem.  Using the rubric, we can help them see the amount of originality they have implemented, remind them that they will be doing a lot of testing/revising of their solution, encourage them to “think outside the box” for new ways of solving problems.  It’s not “done” the first time, as they are used to, now.

Tom H.: “Also think about how your students might create an original product or come up with solutions to a problem – the more authentic, the better,”

This is all about AIW.  Allowing them to generate their own ideas is key to them wrapping their little brains around an overall concept.  Furthering their understanding through something they created will allow them to understand what it means to learn through both successes and failures.  It is natural that nothing will go perfectly but that is OK.  We, as a staff, will go through those growing pains as well.  I liked the example Lisa Lacey gave about Briar.  Taking something they are interested in may not “fit” exactly with what parents think school should be but for students to have success we need to find what works for them.  Each student needs some of that freedom to make their own choices.  Taking on a facilitator role will be something we can adjust to with a little time, we will all get there.

Marc L.: Having kids think for themselves (creative)  rather than being told what to do.   In various activities already this year I’ve left it open to what they want to do and this is something they have struggled with because they are so used to being told what to do.

Angie G.: Design Projects to Bring Out Creativity

I would like to see students use their creativity, being able to express what they are interested in and applying it. We, as teachers, will guide students in their process. Students will be successful because they will learn as they go and grow from their mistakes.  I am looking forward to being a part of the 8th grade #DifferenceMakers, what a great opportunity for students to have a voice in their learning and being able to make a change in their school or community.

Nick D.: An opportunity that might be effective for encouraging creativity is the course I plan to implement with the sound booth.  Creativity would be in the design and understanding of complex electronic concepts and sound system design.  My goal is to foster a safe environment for risk and creativity.  There are bound to be lots of misconnected wires and wrong turns but that is OK – because success will  come about through trial and error.  Finally, the assessment is a natural outcome, because it will either work or it won’t.  There is not judgment from the teacher.  The child becomes the self -evaluator – which is the ultimate test in creativity.  If a child determines they are creative, I have succeeded.

Sue L. (Para):  Design projects to bring out creativity.

To design a project is a great way for students to excel. It gives kids opportunity to be creative, plan, think big & exceed our expectations. I remember taking our students to the wood shop room where Don Christ would come in and help the kids design and create bird houses to take home to their families. this gave them the hands on opportunity to create something of their own.



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