Wednesday, November 28, 2012

What I Learned Today: Constraint Breeds Creativity

This morning at our school's staff development, we rotated through three different teachers' classrooms to sample their instructional approaches.  It's my favorite form of staff development, as teachers are invariably inspired by experiencing what their colleagues do with students, and it's free and easy. 

I was volunteered to "hold fire" in the chemistry class as we learned about combustion:

But that wasn't necessarily the most exciting part.  We learned that our woodshop teacher is not so much running a "shop" as a studio. 

The first thing he asked us to do was design a table using pencil and paper.  Then he collected our sketches and displayed them.  Like his students, he noted, most of us drew rectangle tables with four legs. 

His curricular challenge is to move his students beyond the "rectilinear," and move his course beyond the board-and-glue birdhouse. One way he disrupts students' thinking is by creating profiles of potential users for their tables.  When Mr. H asks his students what kind of table they'd design for a 16-year-old girl who uses a wheelchair and lives in an igloo, he inspires intriguing results.

This is because, he shared, constraints breed creativity. 

We see this all over, but I don't always appreciate how rules, restrictions, and limited resources arouse ingenuity, innovation, and beauty.  People living in small houses find creative ways to store stuff.  Reality cooking and fashion shows provide contestants with similar ingredients and materials, but the resulting products demonstrate the work of distinct, imaginative minds.  Cities and buildings find ways to use pockets of space, walls, and roofs. 

Back in the day, MacGyver showed us how to jury rig cabbages and shoelaces into lifesaving devices. 

It's sort of what I was trying to demonstrate to Big Sis with her spelling sentences:  we are often more motivated by tasks with a restricting challenge. 

Our world will increasingly benefit from this kind of thinking outside the rectangle, particularly as we grapple with increasingly limited resources, sharing of space, and the challenge of reconciling our natural environment with new technologies. 

Mr. H showed us slides of students with their tables of varying shapes and sizes and functions.  And in the back of the room, we could see the skateboard decks they were designing. 

Another day I'm proud to be an educator.


Marisa Reichardt said...

The best educators are the ones continue to learn themselves. Bravo, Jen!

Kiara Downey said...

great post, jenny. nice photo as well. :-)