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.