July 19, 2007

MIT's Mitch Resnick: Tools for Creative Thinking

Mitch_resnick I met Mitch Resnick at MIT's Media Lab last Tuesday where he illustrated the finer points of playing a banana skin with Scratch and a Scratchboard - you can see the video if you don't believe me. He's one of the nicest, most approachable experts, a real expert, that you could ever hope to meet. He is, therefore, the ideal candidate to talk about Creative Thinking and some of the tools that can help us nurture that.

The UK's creative sector, for one, is now earning as much for our economy as the financial sector, which in itself is about to bypass the New York financial centre. Creativity is big business, if you're one of those educators who really needs to link education to economic wellbeing. Richard Florida in The Rise of the Creative Class provides a more global as well as a US-centric perspective.

Img_7165 In Kindergarten we have a lovely spiral of imagine, create, play, share, reflect, imagine and so on so forth, yet something happens after that to destroy the imagine and play part. Emerging technology, used in the right way, can help us work on more advanced ideas than we have done before but in a kindergarten style. It's no mistake that Mitch's place of work is called the Lifelong Kindergarten. It's what every school and education policy should be entitled.

Technology needs to provide us with a low floor (an easy way to get started) and a high ceiling (lots of possibilities for taking things even further). There also needs to be wide walls, so that projects can be extended into other domains (from building robots in Lego to building Crickets).

Img_7169 Create
The 'Cricket' is a programmable box that can be attached to inanimate objects to make it do things - a cat model that, when stroked, miaows (or when the light sensor is covered, make a noise). These are no pre-programmed toys from Toys R Us that the kid just has and 'interacts' with, but programmable toys that kids can design and develop and truly interact with. What about the characters that start to jump up and down quicker the more  you blow into a sensor? All programmable by the kids.

And by taking the physical object we can start to make things happen virtually on a screen, with a free programme like Scratch.

Whole projects can then be designed around invention making, using tools with low floors and limitless ceilings.

The one thing Scratch and its website offer us is a way not only to share the products of our learning but also the way we did it, without any extra stages. It would be so good to have a way of doing this in education in general, a way for teachers and students to share the products of their learning and, without too much extra work, the steps they took to get there.

Going through how you did something, though, is a vital part of reflection and we can only see how we could do things better if we go through this reflective step. I wonder how much reflection is done by Scratchers, though, when it's so easy to upload and then forget about what you have produced. Others, of course, reflect on your work and alter it, but does the payoff not appear mostly for others, rather than the individual who is trying to learn?

Update: You can listen to the whole talk over at Bob Sprankle's Bit By Bit Podcast.


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Increasing the amount of reflection is the hard part with any sort of creative teaching, maybe especially with young children? My class just dabbled with scratch, but I could see the need to help some of the children onto a curve, where they thought about how to improve what they did. Not sure exactly how to do that and leave open ended tasks?
Maybe the ACfE will help give Scots classrooms a bit more time to play around with this over the next few years?

Speaking for myself and maybe some creative people I've observed, we try lots of things once or twice, and then move on. We see some kids lose themselves with ceramics, others with theatre or sports. If the activity doesn't connect with our personal creative sense (imagine a born actor in the gardening club), there's no desire to reflect. When we hit on something that ignites a spark, then we start going deeper to understand the tools and how we can use them, and what kinds of designs are possible. Just looking at the Skratch Intro Facilitorial I saw lots of different kinds of things you can do: music videos, stories, games, Rube Goldberg contraptions -- different things are going to ignite that spark in different children, so maybe you have to offer them a smorgasbord?

Ewan - that's really interesting... I remember Mitch many years back with his rule based necklace beads passing attibutes of flashing light to each other. As it happens I'm reading this in the midst of a seminar where we are a year or two into looking afresh at the whole relationship between recognition, accreditation and the narrative of our learning journeys. There are vectors and velocities in this and what is esp interesting about Mitch is his continued pace of progress - always unswervingly faithful to the learner/s.

I'm not sure that creativity IS big business - although the Creative Industries ARE huge here, but I'm sure as heck that INGENUITY is the value part! There is something about being ingenious that embraces purpose too. If I put a vase on my head that might be creative, but it probably isn't ingenious unless there is a purpose for that... if you see what I mean.

This is what Stephen Heppell said in response to a question I put to him last week re creativity ... this thread has been going for a while now in UK moved on by Geoff Dellow ... I put the same question to Sir Ken Robinson having been inspired last year by his TED contibution ( his pr firm did not 'allow' him to respond)

On 15 Jul 2007, at 10:05, Doug Dickinson wrote:
> I would be really interested to know what Ken and Stephen feel about this'creativity' issue

Interesting debate all round really. My twopennyworth is:

Most efforts that I can remember to establish standards in
educational ICT have failed. And that is no loss. They hold
everything back and make ICT that joke you allude to. The whole world
of ICT is so organic and changes so rapidly - one minute my Space is
cool, the next it's where your grandad goes. Just as adults get their
blackberries finally emailing to each other, so children have stopped
emailing altogether ("it's what your dad does.."). And so on. We need
agile strategies, not ossified ones. I remember being told by a
national agency in the early 90s that a huge internet learning
project I'd developed was wrong for schools because its database
generated pages were not what the web standards were about! (noone
has apologised since of course! lol) but the children poured into it
anyway and we made it into the Guinness Book of Records! - all very
2.0!. This makes me very nervous about any attempts to legislate for
creativity (I lie awake at night trembling at the fear of a
"creativity hour")

In the early days ICT Advisors did a lot of key development work - on
software and even hardware - but their most important role now is to
lay down a level of ambition - for creativity, for ICT, for
ingenuity, for learning. Systems are never ambitious for children.
Children are, so are their teachers, parents and others are too, but
without a shared vision of just how good all this can be, it all
founders into a generation of coasting kids delivering on dull
targets. If you word search the "Higher Standards, Better Schools For
All" white paper for example you will find the word "creativity" is
entirely absent, as indeed is the word "ingenuity". The word
"standard" appears 144 times and "fail"or "failure" 53 times!

Those of us lucky enough to run projects that are not constrained by
the many boxes of systemic factory education (the dismal school
architecture, the tiny lesson blocks in the timetable, the rigid
subject domains and so on) constantly see, and are delighted by, just
how ambitious children can be for their learning - especially where
it is mixed age, project based, over a decent length of time, shared
and not capped in any way. We need to lock that ambition into policy.

Last week I was in a school working with a group of young secondary
children who were busy designing a CPD workshop to bring their
teachers up to speed with the cool things they might do on Facebook,
with why poking isn't rude any more, with Bebo and myArtSpace and
YouTube Comments and so on. They were very sanguine about what their
teachers needed to know and were in turn interested as to the ideas
their teachers might have about using these new places and spaces in
learning. There is a rich irony in imagining that down the corridor
their teachers might have been busy parsing a policy document to plan
the ICT curriculum for those same children!

As I see it schools are busy inventing and testing, with the help of
their students, the many, many ingredients that make great learning.
Then they are assembling their pick of those ingredients to make
great local recipes for learning that work with the context and
culture of their schools. And as their students test the recipes they
refine them and add new flavours. A simply central role for advisors
is to collect and narrate these many ingredients and to pass them on,
rather as samples, as they go from school to school. A more complex
role is to establish metrics that allow us to be clear that something
has happened! This is nowhere more true than with ICT. I think if
Hollywood can measure satisfaction as people leave the rough cut of a
movie (and then fund the re-shoot of an ending as with Pride and
Prejudice in the US version) then we can measure creative esteem,
ingenuity, delight, satisfaction and so on. All or any would be more
helpful measures than cohort aggregate exam passes.

Have a look at www.learnometer.net or indeed at www.heppell.net/
doctoral if you want to see where I imagine all this will be going.
The learnometer project is already under way.

Sorry to witter on... the debate sounded interesting, and Doug asked,
that was all...

This is great for kids to improve their creativity...and with such a young age they could be the next Einstein! I really am so amazed on how the children's toys evolved!

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About Ewan

Ewan McIntosh is the founder of NoTosh, the no-nonsense company that makes accessible the creative process required to innovate: to find meaningful problems and solve them.

Ewan wrote How To Come Up With Great Ideas and Actually Make Them Happen, a manual that does what is says for education leaders, innovators and people who want to be both.

What does Ewan do?

Module Masterclass

School leaders and innovators struggle to make the most of educators' and students' potential. My team at NoTosh cut the time and cost of making significant change in physical spaces, digital and curricular innovation programmes. We work long term to help make that change last, even as educators come and go.

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