Edutopia on Facebook
Edutopia on Twitter
Edutopia on Google+
Edutopia on Pinterest Follow Me on Pinterest
WHAT WORKS IN EDUCATION The George Lucas Educational Foundation

"The intuitive mind is a sacred gift, the rational mind is a faithful servant. We have created a society that honors the servant and has forgotten the gift." - Albert Einstein

We do not need to teach creativity, but rather inspire its daily practice. Somewhere along the way, we simply forgot to honor this innate gift and how to access its power. Our role as educators is to encourage learning experiences that increase the ability to recognize and listen to our inner voice.

Let us begin by shifting emphasis from finding the right answer to creating school cultures that encourage risk-taking and embrace ambiguity. Psychologist Carl Rogers believed that we repress and even hide creative talent if our working environment is not psychologically safe or grounded on unconditional acceptance and empathy. Building a culture of trust is the first essential ingredient for an innovative community of thinkers to emerge. In order for innovation to breed, we need to feel safe enough to get out of our comfort zone, embrace uncertainty, take chances, and effectively collaborate with others. Together we can build ways to enhance rather than undermine creative thinking. No app, nor piece of technology, can produce this. It grows from the hearts, hands and guidance of a caring community.


The Idea Catcher

We can start by using note-taking apps to encourage observation and reflection. Have you ever noticed how ideas suddenly occur while going on a walk, taking a shower, driving or daydreaming? When our mind wanders between subconscious and conscious thought, we indirectly find ourselves working on ideas. Digital journaling can help us to tap into the flow of our internal conversations and then recognize and archive these moments. With regular practice, we begin to view the world through new eyes, and turn on the creative switch within us.

Useful apps are those that encourage the recording of our thought flow and merge text with features such as voice recording, video, sketching and photography. We can use photography to document thoughts that prefer to appear on the back of a napkin or whiteboard. The ability to assign search tags to digital notes empowers us to dig below the surface and discover trends between ideas. This spontaneous and intuitive process takes emphasis off our need to locate one right answer by making us curators of our thoughts.

Recommended apps:

Tricking the Muse

A strategy often used to help generate ideas is brainstorming. An essential cornerstone of this technique is an understanding that creativity thrives when criticism is absent. It is essential that during brainstorming all judgment of ideas, whether negative or positive, be postponed for a later decision-making stage. We must also hold on loosely to ideas, to keep the process moving forward and be more willing to revise concepts later. Brainstorming sets us out in search of a parade of ideas while simultaneously harnessing our natural inclination to focus and identify solutions. Whenever attention shifts to focusing on one idea, inspiration threatens to vanish. This strange dichotomy between loose focus and goal seeking is a bit like tempting the muse to visit with promises not to peek. We set out to capture ideas, but we must refrain from falling in love too soon. While running through ideas at a subconscious level, we quickly document inner murmurings, and then let reflective thought reveal potential later. Mobile technologies can assist with the capture of fleeting ideas and build a capacity for fluent and flexible thinking.


Electronic brainstorming provides a dedicated online space for asynchronous collaboration. This process allows individuals more time to process suggestions, and contribute ideas through a safe backchannel.

It is helpful to provide time to brainstorm alone, before coming together as a group. Apps that allow participants to generate ideas alone, before entering a lively brainstorming session, can provide the relaxed moment that some need to fully consider options. Since individual ideas are not initially under the influence of group dynamics, this process may prompt the delivery of a more diverse set of options. Very often, individuals will continue to privately record ideas during group discussions. Afterward, they will merge group ideas into one large communal pot and begin the decision-making process of sorting, categorizing and synthesizing. From here, collaborators can also manage task assignments.

Recommended apps:

Let's Get Visual

Doodling is also a powerful format for generating ideas. Again, this process needs to remain fast, fluent and flexible. The challenge here is to select a drawing app that reduces the desire to spend time creating art. The minute a thought becomes precious, the flow of ideas is repressed. The goal is to keep sketches open and unfinished, so that revision and modifications are easier to embrace later.

Collaborative drawing apps can promote synchronous design conversations that keep the sketching process fluid. Allowing teams opportunities to talk over designs and think collaboratively about visual concepts includes diverse perspectives.

Not all ideas will emerge from a digital screen. By using the camera, we can make room for thinking that emerges from concrete modeling or prototyping. Snapshots of math manipulatives in a variety of configurations can illustrate a single concept. We can document and seek feedback from clients by sharing images of low-resolution prototypes quickly built with 3D materials such as pipe cleaners, toilet paper rolls and Popsicle sticks. Through using the camera on mobile devices, there is always an option to archive constructions before cleanup time.

Combining divergent concepts is another popular strategy used as a prompt to generate ideas. Photo-collage and drawing apps, which allow users to very quickly crop, combine, resize, layer and reassemble various images into a variety of configurations, are a powerful medium for exploring idea combinations. With each modification, a quick screen shot or image save will document the idea, and allow the user to move on to the next arrangement.

Recommended apps:

Inquiry Questions

Design Thinking: User Need Statement

Credit: generated by Popplet

Paul Torrance defined creativity as "the process of sensing problems or gaps in information, forming ideas or hypotheses, testing, modifying these hypotheses and communicating the results. This process may lead to any one of many kinds of products -- verbal and nonverbal, concrete and abstract."

In order to innovate, we must have the capacity to redefine problems and frame questions. The formation of essential questions or need statements will direct and shape discovery-based learning. These questions are constantly referred back to, revised, used to establish criteria and regain focus during the decision-making process. Learning to write an inquiry question is a bit like peeling the layers of an onion; with every iteration, we get closer to the central issue.

When generating problem statements/questions, we need to adopt a flexible process that will promote the articulation of several versions. Mind-mapping apps can encourage a playful generation of multiple options. By simply saving each image as we drag and rearrange possible sections of text bubbles, we can work together to unlock the underlying problem. Later we can examine each archive of question configurations directly in the photo album. Sections of our questions, or text bubbles with some apps, can also incorporate images.

Recommended apps:

Be Brave

We need to demystify the creative thinking process and model how to tune into its power. Before questioning why thoughts, images, or sounds that resonate within us are important, allow time and space for unusual ideas to exist. Since the direction of this learning path can take unpredictable and seemingly random detours, it will require bravery on the part of both student and teacher. Do not be afraid to relinquish control. Use creative energy to spark the desire to learn, realize self-fulfillment, and fall in love with dreams. It will be worth it!


Comments (17)Sign in or register to postSubscribe to comments via RSS

Diane Darrow's picture
Diane Darrow
Artist and Educator

So pleased you found it helpful. Using apps for the decision making process holds great promise. They very useful for generating multiple versions of questions. Switching in and out images or sections of text within a user needs statement, is a great way to scaffold questioning.

Denise M. Cassano's picture
Denise M. Cassano
Artist, Educator, Dog Lover

[quote]No app, nor piece of technology, can produce this. It grows from the hearts, hands and guidance of a caring community. [/quote]
I love the fact that you point out that no app, not technology can produce creativity. It comes from your soul, and it must be nourished in an environment that encourages and rewards divergent thinking coupled with a design process.
For 20 years I have been teaching art, coupled with poetry and writing, as a reaction to a 'problem' presented. I was asked by my superintendent years ago if creativity can be taught. I told him that the environment can be made where the most reluctant child can feel empowered to raise her hand and voice her answer- even if it seems bizarre. "What if...?" is the best question you can ask in any class, and that is what I write about on my blog and share with anyone who will listen. Great post!

Whitney Hoffman's picture
Whitney Hoffman
Producer LD Podcast, Digital Media Consultant, Author

Some other apps to support creativity that I love include:
Penultimate with Evernote- a journaling app
Ideate- another sketching app
Skitch-for screen shots and annotations-also works with evernote
Storylines- a way to create stories with multiple people
Comiclife- create your own comics
ithoughtsHD for brainstorming, and
Over is fun for adding words to pictures and snapshots.

Diane Darrow's picture
Diane Darrow
Artist and Educator

Great app suggestions! Thanks for adding these to the list.

Lighthouse Learning's picture
Lighthouse Learning
Educational App Developer

We think that creativity is essential to successful learning - we try to facilitate creativity in our apps as part of a three-part approach (the others parts being social and cognitive learning). When we built our app, we wanted kids to be able to explore the connection between problem solving skills and creativity. So that's why we implemented a geometric puzzle builder tool in the app - we think it's a smart way to target creativity and reasoning with math to ultimately improve academic achievement. Since kids' creativity can absolutely be fostered by the learning environment that surrounds them, we think apps are a really great way to tap into the natural curiosity and imagination that all kids possess.

It's also a great visual platform for learning; the way the shapes can be manipulated and combined really helps children gain spatial awareness, particularly visualization skills, which is key to building further knowledge and skills in geometry.

On a related note we recently completed an article on the benefits of using apps as part of a wider educational experience, see here: http://www.lighthouselearning.com/educational-apps-for-kids/. It would be interesting to know if you support our conclusions. Also check out the trailer for the app and let us know what you think.

Mark Lamont's picture
Mark Lamont
Founder and Chairman at World Mosaic

A great article, Diane. Standing back, observing the flow of ideas you present, I could not help but think of learning environments where time is made for reflection, thinking, and experimentation, and where space is arranged to support time. I suspect you agree that many learning environments are hijacked by the perceived need to "get through the content" and prepare students for tests. Content coverage and testing will never produce or inspire creative students (or teachers). Too often, creativity is misunderstood as soft and of lesser rigor. We know that is not the case and so we need to make time and space for it. I see moves in that direction each year here and there, but that process also requires time. I rather like the creativity I see flowing from www.yahki.com - a relatively new, free curation, mashup and sharing tool used by those who make time and create the right space. (I do have a commercial interest in Yahki)

Ed Eldridge's picture

Technology as a cult, worshipping at the altar of silicon ones and zeros, they are tools nothing more. As far as critical thinking if one cannot down vote a thumb up is meaningless.

article Resources for Using iPads in Grades 6-8

Last comment 9 months 3 weeks ago in Mobile Learning

article Resources for Using iPads in Grades 3-5

Last comment 9 months 3 weeks ago in Mobile Learning

blog Using Voxer to Streamline School Communication

Last comment 1 week 4 days ago in Apps

blog PBL Pilot: Apps, Tips, and Tricks

Last comment 2 weeks 5 days ago in Apps

article Resources for Using iPads in Grades K-2

Last comment 10 months 2 days ago in Mobile Learning

Sign in to comment. Not a member? Register.