The Creation Story

14th May 2004 at 01:00
Introducing our five-page focus, Gareth Mills looks at how ict can be a potent force for creativity

"Scrambled eggsI oh my baby how I love your legs." It's a line from an anecdote that could serve as an urban myth about the mystical nature of creativity.

Apparently Paul McCartney woke one morning with a fully-formed tune in his head. It seemed so complete he spent the next week asking friends to identify the song he felt he must have subliminally stolen. Only after he had been reassured that the melody was original did he feel confident enough to develop his interim working lyric. So after a few days work "Scrambled eggs" became "Yesterday". The rest is history.

Whether it's Newton being bumped on the head by an apple or Archimedes shouting "Eureka" in the bath, tales of "sublime intervention" form part of the mythology surrounding creativity.

But do we have to wait for a bolt from the blue or can we work at being creative? And what has all this got to do with ICT?

Research undertaken at the Qualifications and Curriculum Authority (QCA) suggests that we can all be creative. So what do creative people do, and how can ICT help?

Creative people explore possibilities. They keep options open and investigate alternatives. Clearly the ease with which digital information can be edited is a key feature in supporting "possibility" thinking. Pupils given regular opportunities to use ICT to develop ideas iteratively tend to explore a wider range of options. Software features such as "undo" encourage experimentation. Ask children to rewrite work using pen and paper and they'll think it's a punishment.

Creative people are also able to evaluate critically what they do. Brian Helgeland, the director of the film A Knight's Tale, describes how every film is made three times: "once in the writing, again in the filming and for a third time in the editing suite". He recognises the importance of critical review as part of the realisation of an idea.

ICT tools readily support these critical review and developmental processes. In increasing numbers of PE and drama lessons, for example, teachers are using DV cameras and video-software to capture and review performances.

Creative people are curious; they soak up information. They are invariably immersed in their subjects. Nobody goes to more concerts than musicians or reads more science books than scientists. In this respect the internet is a fantastic way to bring ideas into the classroom. At Sir Robert Hitcham's Primary in Suffolk, for example, pupils worked with a visiting artist, discussing what inspired him and how he approached his work. This offered the pupils useful insights into the creative process and stimulated their own ideas.

Creative people think laterally and make associations between things that are not usually connected. They see relationships and use analogies and metaphors. When Jonathan Ives designed the hugely popular multi-coloured iMacs he was inspired by the shape and translucent quality of gumdrops.

They envisage what might be by asking challenging questions like "What if?"

In ICT "What if" questions might involve changing numbers or formulae in a spreadsheet to examine consequences and identify relationships. It might involve experimenting with a graphics package. In one school I visited recently pupils had designed sculptures and scanned them into the computer.

They explored ideas of scale and location by overlaying their scanned images on to different landscapes.

Finally, technology is opening up opportunities to work in media previously only available to a few. Pupils are increasingly using ICT to make films, design and manufacture products and record music.

I was recently told by a former BBC TV film-maker that he learned more about a subject by making a film about it than anyone could possibly learn from looking at the finished programme. The process of researching, planning and editing was where the real learning took place. The real power of ICT comes when we see it not simply as a vast library of information but as a tool for thinking and creativity. When we move from being consumers to creators. When we turn our own "scrambled eggs" into nuggets of gold.

Gareth Mills is principal consultant for ICT at QCA TEACHING TIPS

* Talk about "What a good one looks like?" Help pupils develop criteria to judge their own success.

* Make things explicit.

Use "thinking out loud" strategies to model thinking processes.

* Ask open-ended questions.

Ask "What if...?", "Why is...?" and "How might you...?" to help pupils see possibilities.

* Make time to act on feedback. Allow enough time for ideas to be developed step-by-step. Help pupils to give, receive and act on feedback.

* Go with the flow . Capitalise on unexpected learning opportunities where these are likely to be productive.

21ST CENTURY CURRICULUM

Both ICT and creativity are crucial components in any curriculum addressing the needs of pupils living and working in the 21st century.

It is estimated that more than 50 per cent of jobs today's pupils will have to do have yet to be invented. Currently more than 90 per cent of new jobs already require proficiency in ICT. Employers also look for people who can take the initiative and solve problems.

A curriculum also seeks to develop individuals personally and socially.

Creative activities enrich lives and encourage individuals to pursue their particular talents. Pupils encouraged to think independently become more interested in discovering things for themselves. They are open to new ideas.

ICT supports broader educational aims too, in particular the promotion of thinking skills. When used effectively ICT supports critical, logical and hypothetical thinking.

WHERE TO GO NEXT...

* www.ncaction.org.ukcreativity

* www.creativitycentre.com

* Type in the search term "creativity" at www.teachernet.gov.uk

www.ictadvice.org.uk, l www.nestafuturelab.org

* www.fischertrust.org

* www.nesta.org.uk

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