Science - Creativity is all in the mind

8th February 2013 at 00:00
It's not just about making posters - develop pupils' thinking skills

Science is a logical discipline: we gather data, test hypotheses and explain natural phenomena using evidenced-based theories. It's not a creative subject, right? Wrong.

There is a lot of creativity in science. The main problem we have when teaching science in a creative way is defining, knowing and understanding exactly what "creativity" is. For too many teachers, creative science is about asking pupils to write stories or poems or make a poster. That almost always means wasted time - pupils putting lots of work into creating bubble letters for titles and painstaking colouring in but very little advance in their understanding of the concepts being studied.

Creativity is not about using creative arts in a science setting. Creativity will be found in the thinking skills that your pupils must develop. Being open-minded, thinking outside the box and even lateral thinking are all aspects of creativity and useful skills in science. It is important to teach children that many scientific discoveries involved creative thinking on the part of the discoverer.

One of the most celebrated scientific discoveries is that of the structure of DNA by Francis Crick and James Watson. Many scientists were working towards understanding DNA but it was their creativity that solved the riddle. Using information from a range of sources, they realised that the evidence pointed towards a double helix structure. You could argue that there was a degree of "creative arts" in their discovery, as they built a model of the structure using laboratory clamps, stands and cut sheet metal. But the creativity was in the thinking, not the building.

To develop your pupils' creativity, try combining thinking skills with physical model building, turning narrative descriptions or two-dimensional structures drawn on paper into three-dimensional models. Get pupils to work in small teams: few major discoveries in science are now made by lone scientists. Teams of workers with skills varying from practical to cognitive are more likely to solve problems and advance our knowledge and understanding of science than anyone working in isolation.

Developing creativity in science teaching through the use of extended project work, involving a range of thinking and practical skills, is the best way to increase engagement for all pupils and enhance science teaching and learning.

The creative arts, however, do not have to be absent from your science teaching. Projects that require skills such as art (drawing, model making) can increase the appeal of science to pupils who otherwise shy away from the subject. The act of communicating science to others can also engage those pupils who have particular skills in the written word (through poetry, storytelling and so on). For budding media stars, a project that explains a scientific concept or the results of an experiment by researching and producing a short film clip (using real people or animation) can again mean collaboration between pupils, combining a variety of approaches and skills.

James Williams is a lecturer in science education at the University of Sussex's School of Education and Social Work

See Comment, pages 48-49

What else?

Pupils conduct a real-life forensic investigation to find out which science teacher committed a crime, in a lesson from skyonx.


Watch Steve Spangler Science's "Slippery Science" video to find ideas on turning ordinary experiments into memorable and creative opportunities.


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