In a truly creative classroom, teachers need to plan time in their lessons for change and growth. They must allow children to transition from knowledge-gathering and memorizing to synthesizing and puzzle solving. This comes from using their imagination, and encouraging students to do the same.
Imagination is what stays when teachers are gone from their students’ lives. It’s what students have taken from a creative classroom and into real life. While basic knowledge and facts are important building blocks, imagination is the synthesis of that knowledge. Its the vehicle that gets them from point A to point B on their own.
Here’s a definition of imagination from Wikipedia:
“The faculty or action of forming new ideas, or images or concepts of external objects not present to the senses.” (Synonyms: creative power, fancy, vision)
Now here’s the puzzle: We can’t actually teach it.
‘Teaching’ imagination is like giving away the answers. It’s like spoon feeding. Students have to use and trust their own imagination in order to exercise it. It’s a path they have to take on their own. Sure, we can guide them through the process, but it’s their own skills that will serve them.
What we can do is give them ample opportunities to use their imaginations in settings that challenge their creativity. We can ask the right questions. We can give hints, but we have to stand back. This is a big part of the creative classroom.
Fostering a Creative Classroom With Imagination
Why do we need to teach with our imaginations? Because we can’t teach imagination itself. As teachers, we need to model it. We have to remain imaginative in our own problem solving tasks. This is especially true when it comes to helping students overcome learning difficulties that might arise. Here are a few ways we can do that.
Talk the talk
Let them know the difference between knowledge and imagination. Posters can be starting points for conversation. Say things like:
- Now that we know the facts, let’s see how can use that information to solve this problem.
- What kinds of strategies can we use to tackle this issue?
No matter what, in a creative classroom, keep your language focused on Growth Mindset.
Walk the walk
Your own curiosity has to be infectious. I can speak of this in my own story. My 4-year-old accidentally locked himself in our bedroom with no access to a key. I had to figure out how to talk him through unlocking the latch. It’s tricky for little fingers, and a difficult concept when it comes to young minds.
After many verbal directions and both shouting and speaking calmly through the door, I had to be inside his mind. What was he seeing and experiencing?
I began by saying, “What do you see?” By allowing him to give me his perspective, I was able to draw a diagram of what he saw. I showed him what the latch needed to look like in order to be open. He examined the drawings which I slipped under the door for a few minutes. I heard some fumbling and finally, a click.
He opened the door and gave me a hug. Though it was my own imagination that had to understand what his viewpoint was, he had to trust his own imagination to get from diagram A to diagram B.
See other perspectives
Another instance of teaching with imagination came as an early experience of working telephone technical support for an Internet company. I worked on the Macintosh support site, and I was on a long and confusing call with an elderly woman. I was getting frustrated as I needed her to “click the OK button at the bottom of the window on her screen.” She simply could not do it.
Then I used the “What do you see?” technique. I was able to deduce that someone had set her computer resolution to low, making everything appear larger so she could read better. The problem was that the windows were now so big they couldn’t fit on the visible portion of the screen. She couldn’t press the “OK” button, because it simply wasn’t there. I realized the simplest answer was to hit the return key, and that solved all.
Play and play some more
I’m always playing games with my children. We love word games, like puns and riddles. It’s one thing for them to solve the ones I give them. When they make them up themselves, it’s all the sweeter. Solve-the-mystery stories are also fun. Lateral Thinking puzzles that have unconventional answers are great activities too.
Imagination inspires. As a kid, I had friends with great imaginations. I got my first Rubik’s Cube because my best friend had one. He also got me interested in role-playing games like D&D (which set the stage for my later interest in gamification as a teacher). Band was so much fun because there were others who shared my musical interests. As a teenager, I read the autobiography of Richard Feynman because a friend of mine suggested it.
Teachers and friends who imagine outwardly inspire those around them. Their love of learning and curiosity are infectious. There seems to be an erroneous concept that facts have to be presented first before the fun imaginative investigations can take place. Don’t get stuck there.
Imagination gives rise to other questions. It’s then that new facts can be presented with more relevance than if you simply gave it to them on the board.
Why do we need to teach with our imaginations? Because imagination drives human discovery.