April 2, 2018

Creativity is Fundamental for Lifelong Learning

Categories: Digital Citizenship, Educational Practice
kindergartners playing on indoor playground equipment

Creativity is for everyone, according to Mitchel Resnick, the LEGO Papert Professor of Learning Research at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology Media Lab, where he directs the Lifelong Kindergarten research group.

“It’s fundamental. It’s not just about personal expression. Having creative ways of thinking will be important in the workplace, but it’s also important in your civic life. If you really want to make a real contribution to your community, you need to be thinking creatively,” he explained in an online conversation with Mimi Ito, director of the Connected Learning Lab at the University of California, Irvine.

As he writes in his latest book, “Lifelong Kindergarten: Cultivating Creativity through Projects, Passion, Peers, and Play: “There’s a greater need for creative thinking today than ever before, and new technologies are offering new ways to help young people develop as creative thinkers. Creative thinking has always been, and will always be, a central part of what makes life worth living. Life as a creative thinker can bring not only economic rewards, but also joy, fulfillment, purpose, and meaning. Children deserve nothing less.”

Ito interviewed Resnick and discussed his book as the second in a series of online conversations and podcasts, featuring books and research, aiming to help educators, scholars, parents and technology makers make sense of learning in the digital age. The first chat featured Anya Kamenetz, education and technology expert and author of The Art of Screen Time: How Your Family Can Balance Digital Media and Real Life.”

Should educators take a more creative learning approach in school, more students would be engaged in learning, Resnick said. “I worry that If we move away from a creative approach, it’s not going to work for the long term, it’s not going to be the success that will prepare kids for what they’re really going to need in the future in the workplace or outside.”

Creating Through Coding

As for computational learning, he said, kids create with coding. Resnick, the co-creator of Scratch, the programming language that enables young people to code their own interactive stories, games and animations, said “the program itself is a representation of their thinking.”

In other words, the code itself is a representation of the user’s thinking, he said. “You can keep making changes to it, look back on it to reflect on how it is that you did this. It helps support this process of thinking about your own thinking. That’s a valuable activity. There’s this added dimension you get when you have a representation of process.”

As with writing, which is not just about spelling, vocabulary and grammar, but a way of expressing ideas and developing identity, coding could play the same role, Resnick said.

Equity in Coding

Coding has appealed to a narrow group of people in the past because of the way it’s been introduced. “We know that if you do an after-school club and say, ‘who wants to come and do robotics activities?’ it’ll be mostly boys,” Resnick said. But, “if you ask, ‘who wants to make an interactive carnival?’ it’ll attract a much wider range of kids.”

Providing multiple avenues of entry to coding, such as the carnival activity, or coding through hip hop music making or other creative activity can become something everyone can engage in, Resnick and Ito agreed.

“Lifelong Kindergarten” Excerpts

lifelongkindergarten-bookcoverThe following are a few gems on creativity from Resnick’s book:

  • Rather than trying to minimize screen time, I think parents and teachers should try to maximize creative time. The focus shouldn’t be on which technologies children are using, but rather what children are doing with them. Some uses of new technologies foster creative thinking; others restrict it. … Rather than trying to choose between high-tech, low-tech and no-tech, parents and teachers should be searching for activities that will engage children in creative thinking and creative expression.
  • Risk-takers. Doers. Makers of things. These are the X students, the creative thinkers. They’ve been the driving force for economic, technological, political, and cultural change throughout history. Today, everyone needs to be a risk-taker, a doer, a maker of things — not necessarily to bend the arc of history, but to bend the arcs of their own lives.
  • When people work on projects that they are interested in, it seems pretty obvious that they’ll be more motivated and willing to work longer and harder — but that’s not all. Their passion and motivation make them more likely to connect with new ideas and develop new ways of thinking. Their investment pay off with new knowledge.
  • We live in an era when all the world’s information is available at a child’s fingertips, but that doesn’t mean children will necessarily know what information to look for or how to make sense of the information the find. We need to provide children with appropriate mentorship and guidance — and help them learn, over time, ow to find people and organizations that can provide the support and expertise they need.
  • We need to provide children with more opportunities to tinker, with both physical and digital materials. The tinkering process can be messy and meandering, but that’s true of all creative processes. A careful plan can lead to efficient results, but you can’t plan your way to creativity. Creative thinking grows out of creative tinkering.

Banner image credit: DanceLilSister