12 March 2018

Computers, the Internet and Creativity - Net Gain or Net Loss?

One topic for discussion in our gifted curriculum class last week was creativity. 

Our instructor began the discussion with a fact: since the 1980s, researchers have seen a decline in creativity.

::Alarm bells::

Hang on, what?

We've got kindergartners posting to their own YouTube channels, entire websites essentially dedicated to people trying to cultivate or share their creativity (Pinterest, anyone?), memes and "it" ideas of Internet culture last only a matter of days or weeks, and everyday, regular people, every day going out to work, trying to figure out how to stay ahead of the computer that ultimately wants to take their job, and people are LESS creative?

I'm less creative than the 1970s version of myself that came home from work, patted his kids on their sweet heads, ate whatever random Campbell's soup-based casserole was for dinner that night, and then watched a couple of hours of the generic, broadly appealing TV that the 3 broadcast networks were pumping to the rabbit ears on top of my television?

Come on... I realize that this research from Kyung Hee Kim of the College of William and Mary analyzing 30 years worth of results from the Torrance Tests of Creative Thinking supports it, but I don't buy that this is a closed question.

Perhaps we're asking the wrong questions now. The internet has changed the speed of innovation and shortened the shelf-life relevance of many ideas, so why wouldn't smartphones and the internet affect the way we think about and measure creativity? 

A quick digression in case you're unfamiliar with the Torrance Tests of Creative Thinking
The Torrance Test of Creative Thinking (TCTT) was developed in the mid-20th century by educational psychologist Paul Torrance, and is built upon previous work from Joy Paul Guilford defining creativity and fleshing out creative traits of divergent thinking: fluency, originality, flexibility, and elaboration.


Okay, back to my argument (with a little bit of stats talk)
To summarize the article linked above from Dr. Kim about the decline in creativity, she observed changes in the median score on the figural (non-verbal) portion of the TTCT over a 30 year period. For most of the creativity traits, the normed scores were level-ish (yep, of course that's a scientific term. LOL), but particularly in this century, most all of the parameters median scores feel by a statistically significant level from the 2000 norming of the test to the 2008. She acknowledges that the scores might even be inflated because of the long timeframe between national norming of the test. As an example, drawing a smartphone during one phase of the figural test constitutes an "original" idea according to the scoring, because that would not have been an "average" object in 2008. In other words, test takers are getting points for originality that they probably should not be.

I read that entire article, and poured over every chart, hoping to find a chink in the numbers that explained what I was anecdotally seeing in my world - that the internet was, in fact, enhancing humans' creativity in 2018.

An interesting parallel trend to the decline in creativity is that average IQs scores have increased over the same period. So...are we getting better at thinking like computers? (And all the while programming our computers to learn and to think more creatively)?

What's the score?
Here's my general take - overall, computers and the internet have been a positive change for creativity and creative thinking, but that they have had a negative effect on some aspects. I'll use the TTCT Figural Test categories for reference.

Fluency: GAIN
Its nearly impossible to NOT be aware of more ideas and news in a broad range of topics in this day and age, and the more connected you are to social media and internet culture, the more accustomed you are to a breakneak speed of creative output and publishing. Ideas get old quickly on the web.

Originality: LOSS
This one was most important to one of my classmates. He sees his coding kids attempt to steal code from other projects they find on the web nearly every day, so its his professional responsibility to stress the importance of shutting out the echo chamber, sitting with your own thoughts, and having your own ideas.

Elaboration: GAIN
I think elaboration can be the inverse idea of both fluency or originality. Whichever it is, we get lots of practice in our connected culture taking other creatives' ideas and adapting it or viewing it with a critical eye for how we would do better.

Resistance to Premature Closure: EVEN
I've got to admit that I still don't totally understand this one. It has something to do with being okay with an idea not totally being "finished". This sounds to me like apps releasing in Beta and nearly finished products getting funding on Kickstarter. On the other hand...a lot of days long arguments on Facebook stem from individuals seeking closure of an argument that by its very nature probably will not.

Titles (Abstractness of Titles): GAIN
We title things on the internet all the time. Our reviews on Amazon. This blog post. The meme we created for the latest politician's blunder. That perfect caption under your Instagram post.

BUT...the research clearly says that creativity is in decline. So, what's your point?
We've got to keep looking into this! For everyone brave enough to attempt what becomes the next Pinterest Fail, for the DIYer that is going to transform their guest bath, and for every small-business and start-up that risks epic failure to address a problem that currently is underserved, we cannot stop and assume that our creative muscles are atrophying with our thumbs swiping screens, but that rather, we're only getting stronger.

Just because we haven't proved it yet doesn't mean we aren't.

JOIN THE OPTIMISTS!

21 February 2018

Book Review: Called to Create: A Biblical Invitation to Create, Innovate, and Risk

Book: Called to Create: A Biblical Invitation to Create, Innovate, and Risk
Author: Jordan Raynor

You are called to createPlatform: I read this on the Hoopla Digital app (and the Hoopla Digital website) with my library card from the St. Louis County Library

You could also find it at:
Amazon | Barnes & Noble | iBooks

Who's This Book For?
  • Anyone who thinks they have entrepreneurial skills
  • Anyone who thinks they might desire entrepreneurial skills
  • Anyone who doesn't know what they want to do with their work lives
  • Anyone who would describe themselves as a "creative."
  • Anyone currently feeling unfulfilled in their "secular" job.
  • Students seeking to understand entrepreneurship and working in a "creative" industry from a Christian, Biblical perspective

My Take:
Leading a single-income household with 3 children (my wife has been lovingly giving of herself, joyfully staying home since 2011), I've often felt a pressure to leave my paltry teacher's salary behind for greener pastures of private industry as a corporate trainer or the like.

The thing that usually made it hardest for me to envision myself NOT in education was the idea of leaving behind this people-centered industry for a job where my worth would largely be measured in efficiency over love, and generating wealth for others over shaping lives. It felt like a dead work. It felt less spiritual. It felt like a waste of the majority of my waking hours in the name of making my family more secure and comfortable. Certainly, I have a mandate to care for my family, but I don't believe God wants us to work so that we can put our trust in our 401k.

Part of that low view of corporate life came from ignorance on my part of the amount of face-time that you all not in education get with co-workers on your teams and in your offices, part of it was a blindness to the impact I could and should have been having to bless my fellow teachers (not only my students), and a low view of how God uses work and business to help us glorify Him in how we live and what we value.

If you've ever felt the same way about work, this is a great book for you. I appreciated Raynor's breaking the book into a what, why, how, and so what framework of entrepreneurship and creating from a Christian worldview. The tangible examples from businesses and business owners that you'll probably find familiar serve as a means to build your faith for the way God uses work, entrepreneurs, and creative productivity to bless those around you and to fulfill a mandate from Genesis to create and bring order, just like the Creator (who Raynor sometimes refers to for the purposes of this book as the "First Entrepreneur".

I also appreciated how Raynor mixes in biblical and scripture references into a genre that I've seen sometimes error toward vaguely biblical, but more self-helpy. I didn't come to this book expecting every piece of truth to come explicitly from scripture, but there is plenty of good reading on entrepreneurship and innovation if you're not looking for a Christian perspective. Layering the word God on an otherwise "regular" business book doesn't make it better, it makes it less genuine. All that goes to say, Raynor mixes biblical truth and business examples into the narrative in a way that enriches his story, rather than distracting from it.

Called to Create clocks in at 240 pages, which might be a tad longer than a busy entrepreneur/creative might typically be able to get through if not in the practice of reading, but the narrative is easy and the 4-part structure of the chapters also makes it more digestible.

I wholly recommend this book!

19 February 2018

I Went to a PBL School and Discovered How Little I Know About PBL

Altogether, I've probably attended at least 75 hours worth of professional learning and workshops on Project-Based Learning between my work with Pathways to Prosperity, various sessions at EdCampSTL, METC, and MORENet conferences, and training from THE Buck Institute for a week last summer and one day in December with my new school, the STEAM Academy. I've designed and/or implemented several projects that I thought were pretty good. I've seen the Most Likely to Succeed film 5 times. I have a great foundation on the general "how" and definite passion for the "why" of project-based learning.

I had AMAZING visions for what my students were going to accomplish this year! We started so well - I threw the curriculum pacing slightly out of order, found a project integrating Algebra, Geometry, and Architecture that I loved, had a friend come mentor the kids for a day, and took some really good pictures! I co-designed a project for our 6th graders that involved planning the purchases and recipe scaling for a Thanksgiving meal for all 80ish 6th graders in our building. My co-teacher was super into it! The kids worked together so well!


And yet, here I am in the middle of February, and I find my classroom and our school becoming test-prep central. Don't get me wrong, PBL activities are still happening in the building - our fine arts department has begun a cool Carnival themed unit called "STEAM Caliente" that I'm sure is going to be amazing for our students, but I feel entrenched in this anxiety and pressure to prepare my students to death so we can meet our goal of all students scoring "proficient" or "advanced" on our state tests in May.

If YOU were to ask ME the question, "How can I do PBL units and make sure I cover all of my standards," I would tell you to "make sure that you design your unit backward to ensure that what you want the kids to learn is at the front, and that as the kids work, the learning will work itself out." I would point out that your test-prep cramming is meaningless in the end anyway.

But here I am, feeling at a complete loss for vision for the task before me.

See the source image
http://borderlessnewsandviews.com/2013/06/no-wealthy-child-left-behind/

Who's got a model for PBL that involves deep, interdisciplinary projects with kids who do well on their standardized tests AND also administer days worth of practice tests to generate predictive data for students' performance on state tests. Send me your links! :)

Back to that question that you would ask me - I would tell you that feeling uncomfortable is really good for you professionally, and I still believe that, but I've also found that it can be a lonely, humbling place. (But in the end, humility is great, too).