Project-Based Learning (PBL)

Creative Thinking, Part Two: China Imports Project-Based Learning to Promote Imagination

The future will belong to those capable of producing ideas.

November 20, 2008

This is the second part of a two-part blog entry. Read part one.

I guess I should not have been surprised by the rigid structure in Chinese schools when I visited the country. After all, I was in a nation that is one of the most capable at taking someone else's idea and efficiently reproducing it. To do that, each individual has to be willing to do what he or she is told to do and not worry too much about self-direction. To put it simply, the Chinese are, as a nation, very well schooled in doing what they are asked. This fact, and the resulting ability to make things to order efficiently and in great quantities, has led to China's current economic boom. The country makes so much of the stuff we buy.

So, the more I got to know the Chinese educational system and the Chinese people, the more I understood their hunger for project learning. I was not there to help anyone think about how to push more content to more kids. They don't need help with that; they have the fact-pushing thing down pat. Rather, I was engaged in professional and personal conversations about how China might, through ongoing professional development in project learning, purposefully increase the amount of creative thinking in China. I find this a bit ironic considering this is the culture that first brought us gunpowder, the magnetic compass, and seismographs, but it feels like they are sort of starting over.

During my visit, many people -- both parents and professional educators -- told me of the growing awareness in China of the need to develop creativity in their children. They understand that if it doesn't happen, there is no way they can transform from a nation that produces things other people think up to a nation that comes up with its own big ideas. They all know that fresh ideas are the silver, gold, and platinum of the twenty-first century. These people understand that the future will belong to those capable of producing ideas, not to those who are good only at reproducing widgets inexpensively.

I think America's most important product is creativity, along with the ideas and innovation spawned by that creativity. I have long thought creativity is an important attribute for any learner, but my conversations in China -- the country we have all been encouraged to worry about via videos such as Did You Know? -- have made me realize that this attribute is now fundamental for every nation and, in fact, for the world: Everyone needs creativity, and we all need to value it.

So, I have a question for you: What do you do in your classroom or your school to support the development of capable and creative kids to help guide our future? Identifying 5 percent of your kids as gifted and letting the remaining 95 percent slog along won't do. And, no, sending all of your kids to art and music classes once a week doesn't cut it, either. Yes, those arts classrooms tend to be creative places, but if we are serious about creativity, then creativity has to show up in serious places. Read my post called "The Choreography of Calculus: Using Art to Comprehend Content" to see what I mean.

You know what I think we Americans really ought to begin thinking about? How about the future of employment when all those creative Chinese high achievers with experience in project learning become the next generation we compete against? I think my visit to speak to educators there is one piece of evidence that the process of growing creative thinkers has already begun, and, as I've mentioned, once China focuses its collective will on getting something done, it will be unstoppable.

We all need to be creative -- so get creative and share your ideas for supporting the development of creative kids everywhere, especially in our classrooms here at home! Project learning, anyone?

Please share your thoughts.

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  • Project-Based Learning (PBL)
  • Creativity
  • Social Studies/History

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