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When innovation is the art of the unexpected

Creativity is part of being human. It is one of the tools by which we learn, develop, and move from childhood to adulthood. Without it we would never learn the boundaries between self and others, or the difference between fantasy and reality. So the real question is not how we become creative, but how some of us lose the knack.

People are learning machines, and everyone has their own preferred methods.

We often use trial and error, because it helps us to sort out what works and what doesn't.

When one method doesn't work, creative thinking helps us decide what to try next. Real learning and creativity are inseparable. A boy in a reception class I once taught was trying to build a tower out of different-sized wooden blocks. Sean tried all sorts of methods - once even licking them in the hope they would stick together.

Nothing seemed to work. He stopped, sat back and watched Rahina build her tower. Rahina was the only girl he would work with in the wooden brick area. She was a hot-shot tower builder and Sean was full of (well-disguised) admiration.

She built her tower, took it apart, built it again, and again, and again.

However many times she did it, Sean failed to grasp the "bigger bricks at the bottom" concept.

At last he had an idea. As Rahina started again, Sean selected the same bricks as hers. She built hers. He built his. Neither fell down. Sneaky it may have been - creative it definitely was.

Imitation is pretty high on the learning tools list, and children also learn a lot from adults. The trouble is they don't learn what you expect.

They may have difficulty remembering the first three elements of the periodic table, but like it or not, they absorb our values and attitudes.

If we believe they can do something, believe they are worth something, then they will believe it, too.

Mike Todd is a teacher in York and an education writer.

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