Culture of Creativity or Constraints?

During some time this past week I was looking through my twitter feed when I came across this tweet from Laura Fleming:

Goal for a teacher is to create the conditions for students to explore their creativity and to be innovative…freely.

What does freely really mean in the context of education today? So many times we put challenges and goals in front of students and then say create, but have we thought about how those goals actually create a negative impact on the innovation we are looking for? Innovation comes from the desire to make something, to make something better for a reason, but that reason comes from the person who is making, not a figure that stands in front of them and gives direction. I am pretty certain that when innovation occurs it doesn’t occur because someone sits in a lab for days on end until finally a eureka moment occurs. Many times we expect students to be creative, but do we ever give them opportunities to be creative and make freely?

making-and-learning-freely copy
How can we take students and continue to constrain them? When in all reality we want them to think outside the box… to create and innovate!

How do making and learning, freely, go together?

I think of my son who loves to tinker and build in our “barn”, a garden shed. He will go out there for hours and saw, hammer, construct without any given goal by me or anyone else. He just builds for the sheer joy of building, then he takes it apart when he wants to build something else. We need to build this type of learning into our schools, allow students to make and create freely since that’s what we really want, creative ideas that are a student’s, not a teacher’s. How is this possible in today’s education system?

This brings us back to Laura’s comment on twitter: “teachers create conditions that allow for students to explore creativity and innovate freely”. When we really start to think about this I can see so many possibilities. One of these possibilities is to create a passion wall where students post items they are passionate about in their classroom. What kinds of things are students wanting to create, explore, and build? Giving them opportunities is what we want, to create a sense of curiosity that never leaves, stays with them for the rest of their lives. Curiosity won’t happen from a teacher giving a challenge, although it does come when students have the opportunity to explore a piece of that challenge that truly intrigues them.

Innovation arises from a culture of curiosity, not a culture of constraints.

Innovation comes from curiosity and sometimes it hits us directly in the face. We don’t even know that what we have created could make the world a better place. Students have a goal in mind, one chosen by them, that they can pursue and create without someone putting constraints on them.

There are many ways to allow for students to create, but we also must help put in place a system for creativity. Laura mentioned that teachers need to create a culture for creativity and innovation, but do students know how to be creative? Think about the first time you were told to be creative….. can you think of one? When someone tells me to be creative, especially at a younger age, I wasn’t sure what that meant. As I dive deeper into helping students make and create I keep coming back to the idea that Lego really creates a structure for creativity and free play. Think about how Lego starts from the box, a picture of what is going to be made. Once the model is built you can take it apart and begin to think about how other pieces fit together. Lego has so many great possibilities, but teachers are rarely using them to bring students the opportunities to be creative.







We can bring about creativity and innovation by setting up a supportive culture that allows for students to explore. Take the time to investigate a few ideas:

  • Curiosity Machine, These are simple challenges that bring nature and design creativity together. Amazing possibilities that can help to break down barriers and encourage creativity and innovation.
  • Lego Challenge, try this challenge first then let your students create without categories, what will they come up with?
  • Keva Planks, simple wooden blocks that hold a large amount of possibility for creative free play and innovation.
  • Coding using Hopscotch, Scratch Jr, or Tynker. Talk about creativity and innovation. These programs allow for student creativity to explode without constraints.
  • Cardboard boxes, stop recycling those boxes, and give students the possibility to create something brand new like Caine’s Arcade.
  • Yarn, Nails, Wood, and a Hammer, Give students the chance to create string art, take an image/design and transfer to wood. Beautiful art work that can change a culture quickly.
  • Storytelling, How many students are told to write a creative story, but aren’t sure where to start? Use Storybird to give them a sense of creativity.
  • Cameras, give students a camera and have them create and take pictures of items that interest them. This builds a sense of creativity without constraints, just find something interesting.
  • Origami, one piece of paper and the possibilities are endless. Creating and innovating using your hands creates that culture we want to build.
  • Minecraft, a ridiculous program full of possibilities for creativity and innovation. AMAZING
  • Book Making, students can make amazing pop up books or regular books that can tell so many stories. Give them the opportunity to amaze you!

These are just a few possibilities to create that culture of free creativity and innovation. We must build this culture at a young age and when challenges arise students will have what it takes to innovate. How will we ever bring about opportunities for students to explore their creativity and innovate if we continue our culture of constraints? What will you do today to build the passion for creativity and innovation in your students… about in yourself? Open your eyes to the possibilities and the world becomes an amazing place!




5 Comments Add yours

  1. I dig this bit, Andrew — and completely agree with you that creativity can be strangled in traditional classrooms and traditional schools despite being one of the most powerful characteristics of learners and meaningful learning experiences.

    And that frustrates me. I’m tired of working within the constraints of an inflexible system and then being held accountable for what others deem as unsatisfactory results. The “results” we are getting are a direct result/function of the system that we work within.

    On a somewhat unrelated note, I DO think that constraints can lead to moments of creative genius! Ask MacGyver!

    I wonder how that plays into this conversation…..

    1. andrewtk10 says:

      Thanks for your comments Bill! The system we work in is very constraining, but we can begin to stretch those constraints, a little at a time. With the conversations we have on twitter, through blogs, face to face, we can begin to alter the landscape and hopefully it gets the ear of a representative or two. We need to bring that creativity into our lessons each day, the choice that is the most obvious for students, their own interests.

      I agree that constraints can lead to multiple moments of creativity, but not as a Kindergarten student or even a 3rd grader. We need to provide support for creativity and see what students make, create, and innovate. Then encourage them through challenges, take the challenges away, then bring them back. This begins to equate creativity with problem solving and innovation compared to just reaching for a goal a teacher has put into place. As we get older challenges become more and more a part of our life, but not as a young learner. Sometimes those constraints can squash a creative idea and that learner loses what curiosity they might have had. Thanks for commenting!

  2. ktenkely says:

    Yes! This is why I love inquiry, it is the allowance of curiosity as a learning stance, the permission to freely explore away from constraints! So enjoyed this 🙂

    1. andrewtk10 says:

      Thanks for the comment Kelly! We have to push for this to happen all throughout our education system. Without the free play opportunities, exploration and curiosity begin to be pushed to the side. I truly believe that with curiosity comes success, and that can change the world! Thanks for reading!

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