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Cultivating Creativity with Sticks and Stones: From Divergent Thinking to Convergent Thinking as Creative Problem Solvers

Walking through the park this month, enjoying the beautiful spring weather, I noticed the familiar along my path – trees, shrubs, sticks, stones, leaves, daisies, and pine cones.

Roycemore’s Lower School students, however, found new ways to utilize the familiar as these same items were transformed into currency, fairy homes or other landmarks. As Mrs. Aksamitowski shared in the Lower School Newsletter on May 2, 2021, she observed how students leveraged their creativity to play and engage with each other in collaborative ways. Students identified many unique ideas to utilize the resources in front of them (divergent thinking) and then combined those ideas into the best results (convergent thinking).

Creativity is all about the ability to utilize the familiar in novel ways to solve a specific problem in a specific context. As detailed in their book, A New Culture of Learning by Douglas Thomas and John Seely Brown, to be creative requires both divergent and convergent thinking.

Cultivating creativity, a key subset of Scholarship in Roycemore’s Portrait of a Graduate, is an important priority. Creativity is not limited to the art classroom. A culture of creativity is embedded in every subject. Students learn to try out their own ideas, apply alternative thinking to solve problems, and utilize unique approaches to demonstrate and communicate what they have learned.

It’s even important in math class. At first blush one might think that the key to becoming a strong mathematician is the ability to memorize math facts and theorems. However, the ability to solve a bunch of equations on a math test does not make one a math expert. In fact, expert mathematicians are individuals who can apply their skills to an alternative complex problem. It’s about creative thinking rather than replication. Throughout Roycemore’s math classes, students are challenged to apply their math skills to real world situations. In Geometry, for example, students design a mini-golf course for our annual all-school Carnival celebration. They work together to creatively use math to design a fun game for our entire school community. In doing so, they apply their geometry skills to a real world problem and they get to see the fruits of their labor when our youngest students happily putt away!

Learning another language involves memorizing a lot of new vocabulary, however simply focusing on memorization is one of the least effective ways to master a new language. When students have the opportunity to demonstrate their learning in a variety of ways, including speaking, listening, and application of words in novel ways, their learning will be deeper and longer lasting. In Roycemore’s Middle School French class, students use their creativity to demonstrate their learning in end-of-unit projects. For example, last semester, students carefully designed dream homes for a fictional family. They were given a short biography and had to use critical thinking and creativity to design a house that met all of the family member’s particular needs. Students had the opportunity to present their creation and explain their architectural choices.

One’s mind might often wander to art when prompted about creativity. However, an art assignment that is simply about replication is not necessarily creative. Creativity involves improving upon what exists or utilizing a skill in a new way. Our fifth and sixth graders, for example, are learning about the dire situation in South Sudan and how the lack of water fuels many of the conflicts and wars. For their final project, they had to respond to one of three prompts through prose, poetry, or art to show the world what they learned. One student chose art to demonstrate their understanding of the critical situation in South Sudan:

Through their description of the art, one can appreciate the empathy the student has gained for the plight of the people of Sudan as well as their gratitude for the abundance of water they have in their own life.

Design Thinking is a creative problem solving approach that was developed at the Stanford Design School and is now utilized in a wide range of industries to spur innovation. Several years ago as part of our collaboration with Adobe Corporation, Roycemore teachers learned how to teach Design Thinking to their students. Today, students throughout the school have opportunities to employ this creative problem solving approach that actively engages them in a design process that includes empathy for the individuals for whom the solutions are being designed.

Creativity begins with an intentional approach to viewing a situation through multiple perspectives, challenging preconceived ideas, considering both incremental and transformative solutions, and then analyzing and evaluating the ideas to invite even better results.

Our world today faces monumental challenges that will require ingenuity and approaches to solve them that don’t exist today. These innovations will be created by today’s students if we provide them with a learning environment that fosters creativity.