Now put your thinking cap on

12th March 2010 at 00:00

What do you think of the advert which celebrates "the crazy ones, the misfits, the rebels, the troublemakers, the round pegs in the square holes"? It is the award-winning advert which applauds the maverick thinkers who see things differently and who are at the forefront of creative technology. Teachers in the focus group which initially reviewed it are said to have hated it.

Yet we do have to encourage pupils to think differently. Maverick thinkers have, traditionally, often struggled at school. Albert Einstein, perhaps the most original of all the great thinkers, was told he would never achieve anything and that he was better off out of school.

Today, our schools still have some way to go before they can be places where creative thinkers can flourish and extroverts survive.

It is, after all, creative and original thinkers who will decide our future economic and social well-being. Success in technology, science and business, it has to be remembered, is often associated with being different.

We have to, for a start, keep moving away from the idea that each pupil learns in the same way. Howard Gardner's work on "multiple intelligences" shows how children are intelligent in different ways and that schools have traditionally failed to exploit the full range of pupils' strengths. Intelligences which are left undeveloped at school will often lie dormant forever.

Fortunately, the new curriculum encourages our pupils to work in different ways, including directly across curricular boundaries. There are more opportunities than ever before to make creative connections between different subjects.

Decluttering the curriculum will also help maths, science and other subjects to give more attention to teamwork, problem-solving and lateral thinking.

Perhaps more playtime may help. Much of pupils' best creative thinking, a team of researchers recently concluded, takes place in the playground. Plato, Dewey, Steiner, Jaques-Dalcroze and Freud all recognised a strong link between play and creativity.

Lessons on how to think originally and creatively, with examples of how "out-of-the-box thinking" has created wealth and enhanced peoples' lives, can also help.

I know a primary school teacher who, every year, takes his class to Glasgow's transport museum. "The museum is full of real-life examples of how new ideas improved people's lives," he says. "The exhibits capture the pupils' imagination and trigger their natural creativity. Back in the classroom, they come up with some great new ideas for useful inventions."

Recently, in California's "Silicon Valley", dubbed "the most innovative place in the world", I visited a school which has "thinking studios" where pupils work collaboratively on new ideas. The studios have soft seats and walls with posters extolling "blue-sky thinking", as well as speech bubbles containing descriptions of unorthodox thinking. Conventional classrooms, the principal argues, are too stressful for creative thinking.

In Japan, I have observed the "Ideas Olympics" in which groups of pupils work on new ideas (pictured). One group created a working robot which now hands out oranges at the school cafeteria.

In this country, the distorting role of exams has resulted in a "hurry- along curriculum" for pupils in S3 upwards, which leaves little time for creative thinking and, too often, involves pupils being told what to think rather than how to think. It is defensive thinking which encourages conformity rather than originality.

John Greenlees is a secondary teacher.

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