Saturday, December 25, 2010

Some creative people I'm following

It will hardly be news that I think these two are creative.  Still, I do recommend Wil Wheaton and Neil Gaiman and their blogs. They are both on Twitter.

Gaiman offers special advice for creative people, although it is good for everyone.  Write a will.  I suppose I should suggest, 'write to Wil' or something similar as I have connected them in this post.

Also, please keep in mind that GRRM is not your bitch.

Finally, beware of Wheaton's beard.

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

art and medicine

Studio 360 podcast has two pods available discussing art and healing.  Does music help burn victims recover?  Listen in.  "Get inside the creative mind."

Sunday, December 12, 2010

You can improve but there's no promise that you will

A depressing title but the website, "badwritingthemovie", does show how one man moved on.  It also shows the value of editing and letting time remove the immediacy or urgency of your writing before you work to revise and edit it.

The movie maker and attempted author worked to write poetry.  After some time, he sat back to review what he had written.  He expected the early stuff to be terrible, and it was, but also expected to see improvement, which he did not.  Taking crap and making fertilizer, he decided to make a movie interviewing several authors to learn how to write and to explore 'bad writing'.


UPDATED: Salon Magazine on Bad Writing.
 ...let's consider the original source of Docx's concern: the enormous popularity of Larsson's Millennium Trilogy and the novels of Dan Brown. Certainly, these writers are far from the best their genres have to offer. Even the most vehement of genre champions will not argue that either man is a good, or even adequate, stylist. (Larsson himself seems to have been well aware that he was no Hemingway.) Rather, they are both, in many respects and apart from the whole genre question, fairly bad writers. So why do so many people devour their books?

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

theories for encouraging creativity

The Chronicle of Higher Education has an article with the title of How College Kills creativity: Nothing Succeeds like Failure.  The article discusses how many artists and creative people had a parent die before they were ten years old, then dismisses the argument:
The notion that genius is nurtured by childhood adversity "is a tempting one," Robinson writes, but it crumbles under careful scrutiny. For every figure that fits the bill (Joseph Conrad was a bookish, withdrawn child whose parents died before he turned 12), another genius bucks the pattern (Henri Cartier-Bresson clashed with his wealthy parents, but they were supportive—and alive).

and on to another theory:
Sudden Genius looks for answers in the lives of 10 pioneering thinkers and artists, including Marie Curie, Charles Darwin, Satyajit Ray, Virginia Woolf, and Christopher Wren. Robinson tries to ferret out the "sources, ingredients, and patterns" of their talents. The big—if bland—takeaway is this: Geniuses are made, not born. Breakthroughs that appear like flashes out of the blue in fact result from at least 10 years of preparation, if not a lifetime of industriousness. When Thomas Edison died, he owned 1,093 patents (that's about one every two weeks of his adult life); Picasso produced more than 20,000 works; Henri Poincaré published 500 papers and 30 books. The lesson, Robinson says, is that "hard work does pay off."
What doesn't encourage creativity?  University:
Robinson is emphatic about what does not contribute to creative excellence: higher education. The academy's emphasis on specialization and its "inherent tendency to ignore or reject highly original work that does not fit the existing paradigm" is an impediment to creativity, Robinson argues....
..."If anything," Csikszentmihalyi wrote, "school threatened to extinguish the interest and curiosity that the child had discovered outside its walls."
Read more of the review at the link above or check out the book at Amazon.

Also found today is a review of a research paper.  Tyler Cowan of Marginal revolution looks at an article about "the relationship between attractiveness and risk taking in chess" as a way to encourage innovation.

Thursday, November 11, 2010

art tools and resources online

Another link dump - and to make it even less thoughtful, I am linking to someone who has clearly put effort into preparing a list of useful links.

Shelly Terrell at Teacher Reboot Camp offers a list of 20+ resources to help children draw and create art, and also to compare and contrast art.

She doesn't mention Aviary, which has some excellent tools online for image manipulation and for audio and possibly video.

Well, I'm at it, let me compliment Google Docs for their relatively new drawing tool online.

Joachim Thornstrom (with an umlaut over the second "o" in Thornstrom) produced a Prezi in what I guess is a Scandinavian language but most of the brand-names are understandable and name interesting web tools online.  His Prezi is here and although it lacks links, it names some useful sites for a variety of creative uses.
For example:
--Screenr - a sort of video screen capture website that allows you to make videos of what's on your screen up to five minutes long.  I love it.
--Sound Bible - holds a variety of public domain sound effects in mp3 format.
--Google Sites
--Myna Audio editor - ah, part of Aviary
--Glogster - I think it is a poster making website.
--Audacity - a free mp3 making program you can download to record yourself with. This program you download, while Aviary's is entirely in the cloud.  I used Audacity when I used a Windows computer, but haven't needed it since switching to Mac. - I am not a Macophile, but I do like Garageband!
--Roc Music creator - I suspect this is part of Aviary as well.
--+ several more.

Since I started with Terrell's list of links, I should finish with this Prezi on engaging web 2.0 tools by Ryan McCallum - It is more focused on teaching than on creativity per se, but does provide a good bookend.

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

Nanowrimo problems

I also posted this at Surprises Aplenty.

I prepared ahead - albeit insufficiently - for November and Nanowrimo.  I've had an idea for a novel for some time now and have wanted to try writing it.  I have written short fiction and essays short and long for this blog, a few magazines and my students.  I was ready, I felt, to extend myself...
No point in being wordy now.  It will take an extreme effort of will to continue at this point.
Oh, Nanowrimo, for those unwilling to follow the link, is short for national Novel Writing Month.  The organization is international now, so the name is both cumbersome and incorrect.  Anyway, the goal for Nanowrimo is to type 50,000 words during the month of November.  Quantity is important and quality is not.  This makes sense to me as the first step is a sort of brainstorming, with the expectation of massive revisions coming afterward.
By the end of November first, I was a little behind in my word count, but not disastrously so.  In the late afternoon of November second, I received word that my father-in-law had fallen from a tree -a cultivated persimmon tree, so it was particularly tall - and we spent that evening driving to the hospital and visiting with him.  Still, I could catch up.  However, we made plans while at the hospital to work at the farm all weekend to help the family catch up on their work.
I've enjoyed even this half-assed attempt at Nanowrimo and see real value in it.  I hope that I can get it together and continue working on my novel even if I don't reach 50,000 words.
If you think the idea of thousands of amateurs trying to write novels in November is crazy, you aren't alone. Laura Miller, at Salon, feels the same way and salutes the reader.
Consider turning away from the self-aggrandizing frenzy of NaNoWriMo and embracing the quieter triumph of Kalen Landow and Melissa Klug's "10/10/10" challenge: These two women read 10 book in 10 categories between Jan. 1 and Oct. 10, focusing on genres outside their habitual favorites. In her victory-lap blog post, Klug writes of discovering new favorite authors she might otherwise never have encountered, and of her sadness on being reminded that "most Americans don't read ANY books in a given year, or just one or two." Instead of locking herself up in a room to crank out 50,000 words of crap, she learned new things and "expanded my reading world." So let me be the first to say it: Melissa and Kalen, you are the heroes.

Korea and Remembrance Day

Sunday, October 31, 2010

Hallowe'en scare

I'm proud of how the mannikin worked out.  The frame consisted of a hiking pole that reached from one ankle to the neck.  One bent coat-hanger gave support to the other leg and a fully straightened -but bent once around the hiking pole - coat-hanger worked as the two arms.  I used some of my son's Winter wear for the clothes.  His insulated pants were the perfect length and included suspenders that I was able to stretch over the arms, helping to tie the whole thing together.  Unfortunately, they were heavier than the pajamas I used last year.  To reduce the weight a little, I filled the clothes with inflated balloons rather than crumpled newspapers.  Still, the weight was a little excessive.  The paperclips I used as hooks needed frequent re-shaping.

The mannikin I used last year.

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

I think I can do better

Consider this a work in progress.  Perhaps an entry in the Bulwer-lytton contest for the worst sentence could be found here.

Flying above the boat, the bird resigned itself to re-signing the contract.  Then the dove dove to the bow where a man with a bow was bowing to a girl with bows in her hair...

Monday, October 25, 2010

My creative ambitions..crushed!

I took a silly online quiz titled, "What side of the brain are you?"
Here are my results:

You Are the Left Side of the Brain
You are a logical and orderly person. You have a system for almost everything in your life.
You like to stay busy, and it's important that you stay on task. You prefer to do one thing at a time.

You are rational and detail oriented. You love to analyze, and you have a head for numbers.  

You are also good with words. You love to read, and you've been known to write well. 
At least I have some skill with words.

Saturday, October 23, 2010

My favorite day approaches

We are still working on the concept.  this 2 litre water bottle wrapped in paper and with toilet-paper-roll horns will become a carnotaurus...we hope.  We have made a green paper snout and head with teeth, but large portions will have to be redone.

The snout was going to be held on with straps and cover my son's mouth and nose, but I now like hanging it on the brim of a cap and having my son's face below.  That will be more practical for eating and talking, I think.  I wonder if we should go so far as to use face paint or makeup to help him match his costume.  incidentally, what is a good colour for a carnotaurus?  His toy is brown, but he liked green until he saw how much it resembled an alligator.

I figure this dinosaur will wear people-clothes, with appropriate lumps on the back - carnotaurus was a lumpy dinosaur.  This way, I need only make a head - already in progress, tail and perhaps hands and feet. I have reserved a few surplus coat hangers to be bent into whatever shapes are needed. I think I can anchor a tail on my son's belt... and run a strap between his legs?

I don't have experience working with fabric -or with paper, for that matter- but perhaps that would look better.  It would certain stand up to abuse better.

I think I could glue fabric to the water bottle but hadn't considered that for the paper ..hey, new idea!

It is hard to get too involved as Koreans don't really celebrate hallowe'en.  I will see if my co-workers with kids have hallowe'en plans and learn if there is a party somewhere.

Thursday, October 14, 2010

New Yorker Caption Contest

I tried using a New Yorker Caption Contest comic - a comic without any text- in class and it fell flat.  The image was possibly too weird for my students and we didn't get any interesting answers.  I still like the idea and have worked on a few captions for my own enjoyment.

Here is a short video (3:20 or so, and you could pay to see the full 20+ minute video) discussing the caption contest.

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

A few links, serious and not

Where Good Ideas Come From (Amazon, Barns & Noble, What The Book) sounds like a good book.

I recall that in the 'swinging ropes experiment' in which participants were shown two ropes and told to hold both at one time.  The ropes, however, were hanging from the ceiling and in holding one, you could not reach the other.  For the participants who had trouble, the researcher would step forward and encourage them, then walk away 'accidentally' hitting a rope and setting it swinging.  Participants quickly got the idea: swing one rope and go get the other, reach out, and catch the swinging rope.

Participants, however, did not know how the idea came to them.  To outsiders it was obvious, the researcher nudged a rope and set it swinging.  To the participant, it was simply a flash of genius.

Steven Johnson covers deeper ground in his book and looks at revolutionary ideas - from Darwin's Theory of Evolution to Berners-Lee's World Wide Web - and sees, not a genius flash of unknown origin, but a steady buildup of years and even decades that led to the epiphany.

I liked this quote from a Salon interview with the author:

You cite a study that observed science labs and found the breakthroughs happened more often during staff meetings than at the microscope. I hate meetings.
It's funny that you say that, because I hate meetings too. I love those stretches where I've just been a writer -- when I haven't been doing Internet start-ups -- where I pretty much eliminate meetings from my life. But there are different kinds of meetings. What the research found was that it was the weekly status update meeting that was so generative. It was when everybody would get together and tell stories about what they were working on and the problems they were having in their particular work. That's very different from the meeting where you're getting together to discuss the annual budget.

This book has been added to my wish-list.
Just in time for Nanowrimo, is a 'female character flowchart' to create female characters for movies, TV and probably books.  The idea reminds me of various suggestions for generating D & D characters.

I wrote earlier about a review of Agatha Christie's notebooks.  They were chaotic, with 'to-do' lists next to plot ideas, next to travel plans...
J.K Rowling, by contrast, seems like a writing machine.  I very much enjoyed the Harry Potter books and ordered the final three as soon as they became available (I started the series at about that time) and was impressed with how closely plotted they were.  Here is a page from her notebook of plans for HP and the order of the Phoenix.  This is supposed to be a larger image.

Hip Hip Hooray ESL textbook

I have used these books to teach English-as-a-Second-Language in Korea.  Looking at their website (Pearson Longman and the HHHooray dedicated site), I think I used the first edition, as the books displayed don't look exactly as I recall.  Anyway, each book uses a classic story as a theme through the book.  Book one uses (used?) Town Mouse, Country Mouse and others used The Shoemaker and the Elves and Swiss Family Robinson.  There are six books in all and I would like to offer a suggestion and defend that suggestion against the inevitable small-minded nay-sayers out there ( I sure hope you can click to embiggen):

The Road at WhatTheBook and Amazon.

Tuesday, October 5, 2010

Nanowrimo is coming!

A reminder that NAtional NOvel WRIting MOnth (NANOWRIMO) starts on November 1.  The goal for Nanowrimo is to encourage people to write.  The goal for adults is 50,000 words in November.

From the website:

National Novel Writing Month is a fun, seat-of-your-pants approach to novel writing. Participants begin writing November 1. The goal is to write a 175-page (50,000-word) novel by midnight, November 30.

Valuing enthusiasm and perseverance over painstaking craft, NaNoWriMo is a novel-writing program for everyone who has thought fleetingly about writing a novel but has been scared away by the time and effort involved.

Because of the limited writing window, the ONLY thing that matters in NaNoWriMo is output. It's all about quantity, not quality. The kamikaze approach forces you to lower your expectations, take risks, and write on the fly.

Make no mistake: You will be writing a lot of crap. And that's a good thing. By forcing yourself to write so intensely, you are giving yourself permission to make mistakes. To forgo the endless tweaking and editing and just create. To build without tearing down.

My bolding - my son is looking over my shoulder and loves the letter 'z'.  He is probably too young, but there is a young writers section.  Adults are expected to write 50,000 words in the month of November, but young writers can set their own word count goals.

1) Sign up for the event, and be sure to register as a "Young Writer."
2) Click on "My NaNoWriMo" and you'll see three edit options on the left-hand menu bar. Use each one to tell us about your writerly self. Add a photo and exciting info about you and your book-to-be. [I don't want to be a worry-troll; but be cautious with your personal info.]
3) Starting October 1, you can set your word-count goal! This is really important. You can do this by going to "My NaNoWriMo" and then "Edit Novel Info" located on the left-hand menu bar.
4) Set your time zone. This is just as important as setting your word-count goal. You can do this by going to "My NaNoWriMo," then to "Edit Profile Settings." If you don't know what your time zone is, ask your parent or teacher.
5) Use our Resources for Young Writers. This is where you’ll find news, updates, pep talks, and helpful links.

The various brainstorming exercises I have described and read about all describe the creative process as starting with an outpouring of ideas.  Corrections and cuts come later.  I suppose after the month is through, you can start quality control.  I like P.G. Wodehouse's method of revision.  He apparently wrote on loose pages, then tacked them to a wall -starting low on the wall.  After he corrected or proofed a page, he placed it higher on the wall. When all the pages were at a certain height, he was ready to go public.  I don't think I have room for more a very short story in my apartment.

But the corrections come later.  Get the quantity in, then worry about quality.

One local dedicated nanowrimo writer is Charles of Liminality.  I could only find a link to one of his entries, but I think he has entered a few times.  At one time, if I recall correctly, he wrote his novel, blogged about it and offered assistance to other writers.

Sean of Repatriate Me - here is your challenge - and mine, too!

At the nanowrimo website - linked at the top - you can set up an account.

My letter of intent

At the university, I was asked to give my employment intentions for 2011 this week.
Here is the request:

Your committee work record form and letter of intent are required for your 2010 evaluation. 
Thus, please submit them to the office by Monday, October 11 (6 o'clock)

1. Letter of intent (Re: renewing your contact)
- You can use your own wording (informal).

And here is my response, suitably redacted (click to bigify):

For the curious, my university has a policy of linking rookie teachers to veterans for assistance through the red tape.  They could probably cut the red tape and have less need of the buddy system, but deliberately giving a buddy to new teachers does make the place feel like they plan ahead.

Oh, and I don't actually know anyone who let their students out early, but the empty threat is a proud component of gossip, I believe.

Saturday, October 2, 2010

trivia game for residents of a LTCH

This post is not for general consumption and I am 'hiding' it back here. If you found it, fine.

Trivia for LTCHomes

Thursday, September 30, 2010

What I think I've learned

In the presentation I gave a few weeks ago, I stated that creativity can be improved, there are techniques that can be taught.  I am not sure I went into enough detail about what those technique are.  We practiced one in class and I listed others, but didn't specifically point to them and explicitly say, "These are the techniques that you can use to improve your creativity."

I also ran into confusion -my own, in the middle of my presentation- about what Daniel Pink discussed in his book about loosening the focus of your concentration - allowing yourself to be somewhat distracted- and what John Cleese was saying in his video about cell-phone destroying creativity because they cause too much distraction.

I want to clear this up here and formalize my thinking on the subject so that I can speak more clearly on it in the future.

On the one side, we have Daniel Pink (TED video) telling us we need to deliberately tighten and loosen the focus of our concentration.  deBono (Amazon book), Michalko (Amazon book) and probably Hall (Amazon book) put some effort into telling how to do this.

Their core technique is the "Many Roads Lead to Rome" concept.  If there is a solution to a problem, you can probably get to it from a variety of starting points.  How do you determine a good starting point?  With a randomly selected word.  You focus on the problem and use the randomly determined word to open that focus up a little.

This is a very controlled way to broaden your thinking while not being 'distracted' per se.

Cleese (video) is concerned about distractions, but about larger sorts of distractions where you need to totally disengage yourself from whatever problem you are working on, handle the distraction, then return to your problem.  He figured it takes around fifteen minutes, after being distracted, to be able to focus on the problem again.  He is talking about 'uncontrolled distractions' rather than the deliberate use of a random element described above and he is worried about cell-phones and laptop computers for providing these distractions.

Perhaps in the middle, we have obsessed inventors waking in the middle of the night to try something new or write something down in their idea journals.  Leaving a problem for a day and thinking about unrelated things can work, can help, but doesn't work on a deadline.

Sunday, September 26, 2010

where good ideas come from

Another quick link dump, I'm afraid.  TED has a video in which Steven Johnson describes where good ideas come from.  As that is a big part of the question I want answered on this blog, here is the link.

Friday, September 17, 2010

presentation slides

Classroom exercises

I'm feeling a lot better now, thanks for (imaginarily) asking.  But, today I present!  I link to this blog a few times and promise my listeners that all the details can be found here. Now, I am busy making sure this is so.

One presentation slide offers classroom exercises.  I had better discuss them now:

First a note on random words (also, see the post below with random word generators):   Edward De Bono wrote a short book called Creativity workout: 62 exercises to unlock creativity.  The book contains, well, 62, exercises and most could be used in class.  It also has a list of random words organized so that you can find some using dice.  I have done this and it works, but to better fit your student's ability, I suggest using the index or vocab lists in the relevant ESL textbooks.

Central word - choose 5 words from an ESL text from the hagwon - pick one word and explain how it is central and the other words all relate to it.  Then pick a different word from the 5 and explain how it is central….

Caption contests
          Find any picture and ask for a caption.  I have tried The New Yorker's caption contest page and the images are a little abstract for the students.  They don't have an easy caption waiting to jump out.  This can be good, but the image I showed in the presentation failed to elicit interesting captions.

prepare a story  Choose four random words.
    The first word indicates the general setting of the story.
     The second word suggests the various characters
    The third word suggests the storyline
     The fourth word gives the outcome of the story
Example: Serenade, Rib, Seat, Vase
Serenade easily suggests a romantic situation.  Rib - one character works at a butcher shop. Seat - The woman is first seen sitting down.  Later, she is seen to be taller than the man - and short men are 'losers'!  Vase - It is not size that matters, but what is inside, like flowers in a vase.

tests - for discussion purposes - not psychological!!!  Note post below which discusses a few tests of creative ability.

problem solving and finding errors in textbooks.  My university textbooks are full of errors.  Ask students to find the one on page XX.  The tests described in the suggestion above and in a previous post include a few problem solving questions which seem to be lateral thinking-type questions or riddles of the:
  1. What side of a cup should the handle be on?  - The outside!
  2. If I have 5 oranges and 3 apples in one hand and 3 apples and 5 oranges in the other, what have I got? - Big hands!

lazyman's comedy - top ten lists.  I like funny top ten lists and it is a relatively simple concept to explain.  Sadly, comedy doesn't always cross-over.


In the presentation, I handed out partially completed number-image mnemonics that we finished in class.  I can tell you that this one can take a full hour.

Did you lie? - Why did you lie?   A student is told that he claimed X.  But X doesn't appear to be true.  Did you lie?  Why did you lie?

Thursday, September 16, 2010

Multiple choice tests aren't all bad

Professor David DiBattista, from my alma mater, Brock U, was recorded in a podcast discussing when it is appropriate to use multiple choice tests.
The iTunes info:

Fostering Critical Thinking Through Multiple-choice Testing - David DiBattista
ReleasedMay 18, 2007
Professor David DiBattista is a recent 3M Award winner who’s research focuses on the use of multiple choice questions, particularly in large classes. This podcast episode is a condensed version of professor DiBattista's presentation that was captured April 10th, 2007 during the Univierty's *Inquiry Across the Disciplines faculty development day.

In brief, Mult-choice tests have more flexibility and usefulness than they are given credit for, and written answer questions can be poorly worded enough that a few mult-choice questions would be the better choice.

His talk reminded me of a legend i had heard in High School:  A university student sat down to write an engineering exam and came to a question, "Write what you know about adiabatic engines (Well, I can't recall the actual content - Write what you know about ____.)  The student thought carefully and answered, "I don't know anything about them."
After significant legal wrangling, the university gave him full marks for his answer and later professors were cautioned to think about their test questions more closely.

What I love about the answer, and his successful battle, is that he managed the only creative response possible to the question.  Any other answer would entail remembering and repeating knowledge - which is what mult-choice questions are good for testing.

DiBattista did explain the boundaries for mult-choice questions and mentioned "Bloom's Taxonomy" which I had heard before but which I now think I need to research further.
* [sic] I'm embarrassed for my university to see the word 'university' misspelled like that.  On the other hand, I recall making either a Facebook or a Yahoo Groups page titled "--previous workplace-- Univeristy".  I did my best to convince my coworkers that I deliberately misspelled it to make it harder for outsiders to search for.

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

MeeGenius children's story contest

I looked at MeeGenius a few months ago and liked the site enough to register with it.  It is a collection of children's stories in which you change the names and other details so as to put your child in the story.  If you stick to the original story, it will read it aloud, highlighting the individual words as it does so.

Unfortunately, it suffered from some poor editing.  Right now, I only recall missing or incorrect punctuation, but I am sure there were other problems.  Hopefully, they have been fixed or are in the process of being fixed.

They are having a contest now with a deadline of October 31.  Here are some details from the email I received:

MeeGenius! Contest
Have you always said to yourself "I could be a children's book illustrator/author?" MeeGenius wants to hear from you! In honor of National Literacy Month, we are looking for the most creative and fun new children's book to hit our site! Join the Meegenius children's book contest and have your book published on our website and via our app! The grand prize winner will receive an Apple iPad and four runner-ups will win an iPod Touch!

More details at the website's contest page.  I am definitely interested.  I hope any readers will be, too.

Just be sure to fix any punctuation before you submit, okay?
I lust looked around the site for the first time in a while.  The books they already have available are all listed: $1.99 FREE.  Perhaps the site will go pay sometime soon.  Visit the site before that happens!

John Cleese on the Internet and how it damages creativity.

Follow the link to an eleven minute video of Cleese describing his creative process and how interruptions damage creativity.  The video is interesting in it's own right, but also Cleese discusses where he gets his ideas from.

"I get them Ken Levinshaw from Swindon who mails them to me every Monday."

There you have it.
Added much later (April 14, 2012).  At Boingboing is a video of Cleese giving advice on how to be creative.  I am a huge fan of Cleese but feel the videos may fit together quite well. This video is 35 minutes long so I presume it covers more and different material.

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

When creativity isn't wanted

I've been a little sick lately, and in a fever haze at 4:00am, I decided I liked the term 'creativist'.  I still do, but I'm sad to note I am not original in coining the term. Creativist.

Part of my talk this weekend will be about times when teachers don't want creativity.  Here are some of my - again, fever-induced- thoughts on the subject.

Strong ESL speakers need to be creative and produce original phrases and sentences.  That's obvious and clear.

Beginners don't.

To go further, we don't want them to.

Imagine the following situation

Teacher: How are you?

Student 1 (going through a quick mental checklist):  I'm tired.

Teacher:  Good.  Well, good English; I'm sorry that you feel tired.

Student 2 (the creative one): Booong,  fart, fart! (Bong is the sound Koreans feel farts make.)

Brian as teacher: I'm angry.  Sit down.

Brian as Creativist: Wow. You have suggested to me that you have intestinal discomfort and perhaps need a bathroom break and done that with limited English skills.  That's excellent communication.

As teachers, we need to be creative and offer the content in novel ways.  However, even this is not always true.  An arithmetic teacher needs students to repeat the multiplication tables over and over again until they are memorized and quickly retrievable.   Sometimes, endless pages of the same content is needed.

Elsewhere on this blog, and apropo to the conversation above, I discussed the finding that frequently when teachers are asked to identify problem students, these same students tend to be the most creative.

Daniel Pink in his book, Drive, discusses how to motivate people to do routine, non-creative work.  Prizes and awards.  We do this well, already.  The main thrust of his book is how to motivate people to do creative work, but that isn't relevant to this post.

I'm sick... and need to organize my presentation!

I probably won't be doing that this evening.  However, being sick gives me an excuse to dump a link without giving it much explanation.
Learn like a kindergartner.

Hey, it sounds creative. ... I don't know.... give me some aspirin.

Oh, from the link:
Here's MIT Media Lab prof Mitch Resnick talking about "Lifelong Kindergarten," a one-hour talk on "how new technologies can help extend kindergarten-style learning to people of all ages, enabling everyone to learn through designing, playing, and sharing."

Monday, September 13, 2010

Myths and woo

On the mind-map (hey, I'm creative, I use mind-maps!) I have already prepared for my presentation this Saturday, I have listed "Woo, myths, muses and pseudoscience" as an area I want to explore.  I guess I should get at it.

From Fast Company Magazine (6 myths about creativity):
2 Money Is a Creativity Motivator
The experimental research that has been done on creativity suggests that money isn't everything. In the diary study, we asked people, "To what extent were you motivated by rewards today?" Quite often they'd say that the question isn't relevant -- that they don't think about pay on a day-to-day basis.
3. Time Pressure Fuels Creativity
In our diary study, people often thought they were most creative when they were working under severe deadline pressure. But the 12,000 aggregate days that we studied showed just the opposite: People were the least creative when they were fighting the clock.

Fear Forces Breakthroughs
There's this widespread notion that fear and sadness somehow spur creativity. There's even some psychological literature suggesting that the incidence of depression is higher in creative writers and artists -- the de-pressed geniuses who are incredibly original in their thinking...we found that creativity is positively associated with joy and love and negatively associated with anger, fear, and anxiety. 
From LifeDev (15 widespread creativity myths):  They cover similar ground as at the link above.  They also look at the 'creatives are messy, weird people' myth and call it that.
One myth I liked, because I already planned to discuss it, was the "blank canvas" myth:
7. Structure is bad for creative thinking
Everyone likes the idea of working on a “blank canvas”. No boundaries, just limitless possibilities to start creating.
Even a blank canvas has four corners. There are always limitations to any project. Limitations shape how the project or idea will be developed. And it’s not a bad thing. Structure gives you the opportunity to think outside the box, because without structure there is no box! Just let that marinate for a bit.
The real creativity comes when you’re able to work around the structure and limitations place. Structure also ensures that the project isn’t too wide open and the scope isn’t set to broad.
There are others and I recommend giving the article a read.

At 10 Creative Myths, the "drugs will help me be more creative" idea is looked at and found...slightly, barely true.  Some drugs will lower inhibitions but others will merely make you think you are being creative.

Two of the links above have discussed creativity and memory.  My poor memory is part of why this blog exists. Dream or idea diaries are valuable tools.

There is a poetical and mystical description of the Muse here.  Taken as creative writing, it is fine.  Taken more seriously, the poem seems to describe the moment an idea is conceived.   The site states, "Energies spiral upward, inspiration is electric..."  That is as good a description of how it feels when the idea forms.  I like the idiom of the 'genius hand' that reaches out and touches you. Still, the article is full of too full of woo and superstition for me.

Similar wo can be found at Dr. Leslie Owen Wilson's Homepage.  Also on the site are acupressure points.  Also here.

Saturday, September 11, 2010

Is it that easy?

One frame from a Saturday Morning Breakfast Cereal webcomic:

My own failures in visual arts suggests it may not be that easy.  On the other hand, after seven years of teaching ESL my stick figures are capable of pretty good subtlety of expression.  Read the rest of the comic at the link above.  Note this comic is fine but some are NSFW

creativity tests and ESL

You may have noticed the increased activity here at CP; I will present the results of my 'research' next Saturday at the local KOTESOL (an association for ESL teachers in South Korea) conference and need to both be prepared and have an intelligible site for my links and explanations - this blog is no longer purely for me!

Indiana University has a variety of creativity tests that are well-explained and at least some are suitable for ESL teachers, from an English teaching standpoint as well as for the actual measuring of creativity*.

The first test I looked at is the Guilford's Alternative uses task.  It is simple and easy to understand grade.
The test (and there may be a time limit- I think you merely need this if you are testing a class - keep all of them bound by the same limit.  See my disclaimer (*) below) is simple:  "Name all the uses for a brick".
There are four components to scoring the test and the final one looks useful for ESL instructors:
Elaboration - amount of detail (for Example "a doorstop" = 0 whereas "a door stop to prevent a door slamming shut in a strong wind" = 2 (one for explanation of door slamming, two for further detail about the wind).
The next one is a little tricky.  There appear to be several forms of the Torrance Tests of Creative Thinking (Indiana University, Newsweek).  Both forms that I looked at displayed a few lines on a page and either asked students to describe what they were looking at -ala a Roschart test, or to add to the lines and complete the drawing.  However it is done, it appears interesting although there is relatively little English used.  I guess a teacher could have a student complete the drawing, then describe it, but that, while reasonable, is merely appending the ESL component to the test.  This test appears to require training to properly use it, but as a conversation starter, it would seem to be useful to lay-personel.
From Indiana U:

To score the TTCT you will need "Manual for Scoring and Interpreting Results", obtainable from the Torrance Center,  or from Scholastic Testing Service.  The manual includes national norms, standard scores, and national percentiles for each age level. 

To administer the Torrance you should have experience administrating tests (e.g., you are a teacher, counselor, school staff, or work for an accredited school, college, or governmental agency, or are conducting research as a graduate student working under a supervising faculty member)
To order
The Torrance Center offers training workshops

Other tests look at creative problem solving and resemble 'Lateral Thinking exercises". One example from Indiana U goes like this.
"Marsha and Marjorie were born on the same day of the same month of the same year to the same mother and the same father yet they are not twins. How is that possible?"
The solution is available at the link.

There are several others, but my son is calling me away.  Possibly more later.
The first test I describe above specifically says "no training required", but I am leery of this.  I am by no means a psychologist nor do I feel confident in rating people's abilities in anything aside from ESL and competitive swimming (I was a competitor for many years and a coach for many more years afterward).

Friday, September 10, 2010

Prezi and other site for students and teachers

Shelly Terrell's roundup of websites that allow students -and others - to create interesting content doesn't quite fit with the goals of this blog, but she does use the word, "creativity' in the title.

Here is a quote -laden with links that may not transfer over.  If you are interested, visit her site for -presumably- working links and more sites.

Top Sites to Get Students to Create

These are my favorites tools you can use to get your students presenting! Included is a brief description and helpful links to facilitate using these tools more effectively in the classroom. I have also included the links to the free educator accounts for each of these sites.

Essay contest on 21st century East Asian Community

The contest is run by the Korea Times and may be interesting to my readers:

I'm not sure if this link will work, but information - the copied bit above - can be found here.

Monday, September 6, 2010

Daniel Pink: A Whole New Mind

Pink recently gave a talk in Toronto that was recorded by TVO's Big Ideas and placed on their podcast.  It appears to have been given on July 1, but I only received it through iTunes recently.

In his lecture, and I guess his book, he discusses how the old skills, math, analysis and straightforward problem solving, are still needed, but also we need new skills - those typically considered right-brain skills: design, intuition and lateral thinking.  We need them for a few reasons.  Chiefly, the old skill-set is easily outsourced - with machines or cheap labour in Asia, for example.

The whole talk is worth listening to, but i was particularly interested in the new style of SAT testing that he suggested.  Rainbow project, robert sternberg:  blank New Yorker cartoon- add a caption, You get a title, "The octopus's sneakers" and you need to write a story...That test turns out to be a better predictor of college performance than standardized SATs.

Again, I like his talk and his ideas, but the thing about standardized tests is that they can be marked easily.  I don't mean this trivially; it is not merely that I am lazy.  Rather, you need a small number of people to mark a large number of tests each or each test needs to be multiple marked - by a committee, to remove biases and errors.  Such a test could ease unemployment by giving people jobs -marking the test, but it will not be as cheap, quick or simple to evaluate as the previous.

If the current test doesn't work, then yes, we need to scrap it.  But if it has some value and the improvement is only a matter of quality, I am not sure it will be worth it.  Yes, I wrote this blog to promote creativity and, as soon as I see a test that rewards creativity I criticize it.  I want to be creative, not blind.

Random Word generators - who knew what a business it seems to be?

Many creativity exercises and tools use random word generators.  As I understand it, there are two good reasons for this:

  1. The exercise or tool is designed to prevent undue focusing.  Dan Pink, in Drive, describes how an experiment on creativity and rewards showed that offer a reward causes people to focus too tightly and not consider outside or less-obviously-relevant ideas.  By artificially offering an less-relevant input, we open our minds to a wider range of possibilities.
  2. This wider range of possibilities might be all we need as many words have different meanings and conjure up different thoughts that can have the same endpoint. - Most roads do lead to Rome.

Here are three random word generators I have found online. They are listed in no particular order but I am surprised that there is sufficient market for a good generator that products like it exist.  The trial version appears sufficient to my needs.

I said the first was sufficient to my needs, but in testing the three - far more exist- the words offered were somewhat beyond the understanding of my students.  I am likely to use vocabulary lists from their reading or conversation books, although the results will be less random.  The students will still need to understand the meaning(s) of the words and describe how they relate to whatever problem is at hand.

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

Escaping the box, breaking the mold, ...

...leaving the rat race, taking the road less travelled, following a different drummer, keeping all your pencils in one cup on your desk...

Okay, the last phrase was from a Mad TV skit years ago and probably doesn't fit.  The penultimate one might be miswritten (and this is the first time I have used "penultimate"- hooray!).

I am writing today about a young adult who has turned away from expectations and has chosen to quit university.

I cannot decide, and neither can the commenters at the link, if the woman was wise to quit or lazy; is she making a bold stand or thoughtlessly removing the safety net while on the high-wire of life?

This is my story, but it is not only my story. For 25 years I have been run like a horse on a racetrack. Like a champion horse, I was happy to leave my less-accomplished friends in the dust. I was unhappy when a friend did better than me. Living that way I gained admission to a "top school".
But strange. Not matter how hard I pushed myself my strength ebbed away and my heart had no more. Right now I'm standing stockstill, considering the racetrack. Where does it end? Seems to me it just gives you the qualification to enter the second gate, "getting a job". We just get onto a new racetrack where your qualification is ahead of mine, someone else's is behind mine, and we all compete for new ones. That's what I've realized. What I've been chasing after is nothing but an endless track. A track where you can never reach a plateau.

Elsewhere, she describes universities as 'qualification sellers', which fits in my situation.  I am an ESL teacher in South Korea and my degrees are in Biology and Recreation Studies.  To work as an ESL teacher in South Korea, you need a degree; any degree will do.

Commenter Cory Weaver is supportive:

If people really questioned the education system, their value of their education would be much greater (I didn't realize this until my last year of college). We wouldn't be excited to have an "easy class," or thrilled when our professor lets us out 30 minutes early. We'd realize we were getting ripped off. We'd also be more involved and invested. We would question the value of the "test", and the "homework". We'd be excited to learn, and question if this is the best way to learn...

To say, "this is life, it's hard. Deal with it." is BS, because it doesn't have to be...

Hee-jin says:
...a lot of students make the most out of their 4 years by creating artistic groups and try to get involved in the school life. I guess, it depends on the person, but you don't have to become a product when you go to these universities, just get the most out of it: in her case have the opportunity to have a great school name on her CV, but if there's something else she wants to reach for, she should use the school to attain it.
I like Hee-jin's response and have seen many clubs with diverse goals at universities.  Without knowing the full situation of the author, I can only really comment on my own experience at university. There were students who pushed for better teaching and different or specific material to be taught.  There were also clubs and events that helped personalize education.  At university, one lecturer spent one hour talking about modern transportation systems and their problems and from that point I began reading and studying the subject on my own.  It has not been an area that is likely to turn profitable for me, but I still find it fascinating.

Still, university really is overrated in Korea.  I suspect a large percentage of home-makers have university degrees.  I guess this is something for them to fall back on in times of trouble, but also somewhat of a waste of three or more years.
NOTE: I used the word 'homemaker' above - I guess it could be a description of males and females, but typically it is for females.  This is simply the first example that I thought of and I do not want to get into an argument about females and education - this is not my goal at all.  I should repeat, in my defense, that I am not using the education I worked somewhat hard for -in Biology- in my current work.
Artists can and do go to university and I can, as a complete outsider, sorta' see why.  It makes sense for a painter to understand something of the history of painting, for example.  Still, it is not completely required.  Being a professional artist is something like being an entrepreneur, you are working to do something others haven't.  I really don't see how university can prepare you for that.

I hope the young lady finds her way.  At the same time, I hope I do, too.

Sunday, August 8, 2010

creative writing exercises

Kottke has a video showcasing  a creative writing class that had an unusually controversial prompt or starting scenario.

Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Pencil Me In

Tom Johnson's Adventure in Pencil Integration is a fantastic (literally; you'll see) blog that I think is really about dealing with the modern problem of using new media forms in education and elsewhere.

It is written entirely in metaphor. It is set in 1897 and Tom Johnson is working desperately to convince his school to use pencils, yes, pencils, in addition to, or instead of, chalk and slate boards. People have 'plogs' or Pencil logs, the IT guy (Instrument Technician) is concerned about the music classes and worried that if the hall becomes too narrow, the band will have trouble moving their instruments (yes, a band-width problem), and so on.

I have to admit that when I am busy, I skim through his posts when they appear in my reader queue but I am consistently impressed with how he stays in character as a 19th century teacher and yet discusses modern computer and teaching issues.

Well, now he is putting a book out. Pencil Me In is due out on September 1 and I recommend you check it out.

Ideas worth doing - TEDx

TED: Ideas Worth Spreading, the place that I get much of my inspiration for this blog, is holding a competition.

TEDxAmsterdam has thought up a creative way to curate their audience — pose a global challenge to transform an ‘idea worth spreading’ to an ‘idea worth doing.’

Entrants are encouraged to realize an idea before October 19 — and document their progress through photos, video, testimonials or press. 100 winners will receive tickets to TEDxAmsterdam on November 30, 2010. Enter your idea here.

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

following through on an idea: leatherman

How the leatherman multi-tool was devised. I thought 'Leatherman' related in some way to uses for the tool- carried in a leather pouch or good for working leather... No, its the guy's name. Well, Duh! Anyway, interesting stuff.

Oh, and note the related stories: How to become an inventor and How to design, patent and sell an invention.

Friday, July 23, 2010

writing advice from the Los Angeles Times

Janet Finch offers 10 rulers for writers. Here are two:

1. Write the sentence, not just the story
Long ago I got a rejection from the editor of the Santa Monica Review, Jim Krusoe. It said: “Good enough story, but what’s unique about your sentences?” That was the best advice I ever got. Learn to look at your sentences, play with them, make sure there’s music, lots of edges and corners to the sounds. Read your work aloud. Read poetry aloud and try to heighten in every way your sensitivity to the sound and rhythm and shape of sentences. The music of words. I like Dylan Thomas best for this–the Ballad of the Long-Legged Bait. I also like Sexton, Eliot, and Brodsky for the poets and Durrell and Les Plesko for prose. A terrific exercise is to take a paragraph of someone’s writing who has a really strong style, and using their structure, substitute your own words for theirs, and see how they achieved their effects.

2. Pick a better verb
Most people use twenty verbs to describe everything from a run in their stocking to the explosion of an atomic bomb. You know the ones: Was, did, had, made, went, looked… One-size-fits-all looks like crap on anyone. Sew yourself a custom made suit. Pick a better verb. Challenge all those verbs to really lift some weight for you.

I've seen many such advice lists. Let's see if I can find one or two more to round out the post.

Hmm. John Steinbeck wrote a letter containing such advice. An excerpt:
The basic rule given us was simple and heartbreaking. A story to be effective had to convey something from the writer to the reader, and the power of its offering was the measure of its excellence. Outside of that, there were no rules. A story could be about anything and could use any means and any technique at all - so long as it was effective. As a subhead to this rule, it seemed to be necessary for the writer to know what he wanted to say, in short, what he was talking about. As an exercise we were to try reducing the meat of our story to one sentence, for only then could we know it well enough to enlarge it to three- or six- or ten-thousand words.
Stephen King and Stephanie Meyer have short videos offering advice.

Author's Network offers very clear advice. As with Steinbeck, the meat of the message is that a writer needs to write and that is hard work. This fits with what I learned (second-hand) from Prisoners of Gravity, a book review show on CBC television (see here and here -Oh! oh! and the second link seems to have some videos!). The advice there was (after all these years, this isn't an exact quote, but very close), "If you can find something else to do, do it. Only be a writer if you are driven to be one." The message isn't exactly to follow the JK Rowling model - write or starve - but to be the sort of person who always wants to write.
Added the Next Day:
Ian McDonald explains how he does his research before writing a story ( Chicago Centre for Literature and Photography / via Boingboing ), An excerpt:

IM: What, give away all my secrets? Well, I have this avatar body I can occupy...It takes years. I read a lot. I travel a lot -- and as much as I can afford. I talk to people, I read the papers. I cook the food. I buy the music, I follow the sports teams. I try to second-guess what the government will do in international politics. I learn a bit of the language. I study the religion. I study the etiquette. I try and work out what the day-to-day details are like. I watch people.

Saturday, July 17, 2010

sports vs arts

From America's Finest News Source, I learned that a school in financial difficulties had to cut it's football pro...That's a good joke: goodbye Arts programs!