At Birchwood School of Hawken, we believe there are three important factors behind teaching creativity and innovation. Creative thought is within each child’s grasp. Even though some children are innately more creative than others, creative thinking is composed of skills and strategies that all children can learn:
Creativity requires subject specific knowledge – Research shows the capacity for creativity in any discipline correlates to the creative thinker’s knowledge base. Meaningful creativity and innovation is frequently a response to a real problem, challenge, or opportunity. This means something in a creative thinker’s environment is forcing him or her to address a need. It could be as simple as a mother trying to put a healthy dinner on the table or as complex as a biomedical engineer hoping to develop more effective artificial limps. In either case, the “creator” must have a knowledge base: years of experience in preparing family meals or study to understand body movements. Then the creator must find fresh ways to bring that knowledge to bear on a new problem or challenge.
There are two categories of problems – They are those thrust upon the innovator and those the innovator discovers in the course of reflection, forethought, and inspiration. In either case, research has identified skills and strategies that help the innovator move from challenge to innovative solution. This is our starting point for teaching creativity. We help children identify problems and needs within their own environment that require solutions or improvement.
Problem identification starts the problem-solving process – Problem definition lays the groundwork for finding solutions. Children derive solutions through a variety of strategies taken from the research of pioneers in the field of creative problem-solving. From this perspective, much of our problem-solving instruction comes from within students’ own lives. We show them how to identify personal problems and opportunities and we illustrate how they can be on the lookout for problems and challenges in the context of their own lives.
Using this approach, students should learn to take charge of their own lives. If they can identify needs, problems, and opportunities, they will find ways to grow, mature, and lead a satisfying life. In time, they will learn to apply creative problem-solving skills to the profession they choose and make meaningful contributions to their fields.
Future Problem Solving
Birchwood middle school students also have the opportunity to participate in Future Problem Solving (FPS) in which they learn how to approach real-world problems. Working in teams of four, students learn the six-step problem-solving method used in many government and business think tanks. Students learn to search for problems, identify central issues, brainstorm possible solutions, evaluate their best solutions, and elaborate on a workable solution. FPS participants also have the opportunity to compete at the local, state, and national competition levels.
“My education has been essential in providing me with the tools to succeed. I received training in critical thinking, developed a character of curiosity and integrity, and appreciated the importance of learning as part of a community."