Creative Capacity of the Educator > Creative Capacity of the Student

An experiment with LittleBits revealed something interesting about adult learners

Photo of Erin Quinn
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I'm a Learning Specialist with my school board, which means that my home base is a cubicle in our district office. Most of my time is spent supporting teachers and administrators around the topics of maker education and design thinking. As part of this, we have the Future of Learning Lab, an experimental makerspace, at our central offices. 

A goal of mine is to create sustainability in our team of Learning Specialists in infusing maker education concepts and pedagogies throughout our work. For instance, if a Specialist is going out to a school to do professional learning for science, why not bring along some of the circuitry tools from our Future of Learning Lab? If the conversation is about math, why not bring the Magformers to build 3D shapes?

The design problem: how might we build awareness of maker education tools and pedagogies within our team of specialists? With some colleagues, I brainstormed some solutions. One of the solutions was to bring the tools to the Specialists.

So I grabbed a couple of LittleBits kits, some consumable prototyping materials, and a Sharpie and created a quick design challenge: Make something that does something. I put the whole thing on a filing cabinet near our cubicles, with a printed copy of Jay Silver's article on Invention Literacy with big words scrawled across the top: "MARK ME UP!"

It was fascinating to watch what happened next. Most people walked by, eyed the LittleBits suspiciously, and kept on walking. It took several days for anyone to open the box. One morning, I went over, and found an invention - a light up high five machine. Encouragingly, our Superintendent of Learning walked by one morning and hauled me over to help her understand the inputs and the outputs in LittleBits. Her eyes lit up as she made the LittleBits' patented "Most Annoying Noise in the World" (TM). As more and more people gathered up the courage to stop and touch and try, more and more inventions were created and left behind.

A few things I've learned through this experiment:

1. Adults are hesitant to play. Even when invited, they've been socialized to think playing is something that kids do. I suspect this is true of older kids, too. How do we middle/junior and high school teachers encourage play as the highest form of research, as Einstein said.

2.  Someone always needs to go first. Once the first person takes a risk, it gives others permission to try too. A point of reflection: are you someone who goes first?

3. Most significantly, and circling up to the title of this contribution, I'm reminded of Robert Kelly's theory in his book Educating for Creativity that the creative capacity of the educator must be greater than the creative capacity of the student. If we expect our students to be creative, solve problems, and design their way out of our biggest problems, we as educators must be willing to go there too. We need to experience the process to know which bits are sticky, where we might run into problems, and how we can support our students in developing their own creativity.


[Optional] Synthesize a little! In one sentence, describe something you learned from your empathy exercises or analogous research.

We must engage before our students can engage.

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Photo of Michelle Fontenot

Wow! I agree, Erin! Designing lessons to spark creativity requires no small amount of creativity (and bravery) on the part of the educator. I'm looking forward to reading Educating for Creativity!

Photo of Erin Quinn

Bravery! Yes! We need to embrace ambiguity and be willing to risk failure!

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