Gift Wrapping Creativity in the Classroom

For an article review, let us look at theIMG_0762 article, “Novel, effective, whole: Toward a NEW framework for evaluations of creative products,” by Danah Henriksen, Punya Mishra, and Rohit Mehta. As it turns out, this article is not available online through UNCW where I am taking classes. UNCW has hard copies of the journal, and the library was closed at this writing. Instead of waiting for the library to open, I looked further. I put the title in a scholarly Google search and got two hits. The top hit was a link to where I could purchase the article. Below that link there was a link to a pdf of the complete article. I was willing to read this article, but I was not so willing to site the link until I realized that the link came from one of the two authors of the article, Punya Minshra, at Michigan State University. As there were no restrictions stated on his site, I sited the article via that link, and I did not need to visit the library.

This twenty-four-page article is about the assessment of creativity. The article makes four points. The authors recognize a lack of assessment instruments available to measure creativity in the classroom. They devised a clear definition of creativity using the acronym NEW for novel, effective, and whole. They used that definition as the basis for a Likert scale rubric, and finally, the authors provided examples of creativity demonstrate the rubric.

The authors described novel as fresh, unique, startling, pioneering, and trendsetting, among other things.

They described effective as valuable, significant, necessary, logical, appropriate, and useful.

They described whole as organic, organized, complex, meaningful, intricate, graceful, and clear.

Together, these elements are presented as guidelines. They create a leveled framework in which to identify creativity when creativity needs to be identified. The rubric is meant to set clear standards of quality in terms of creativity. I have touched on this in my own class over the past few years when I encourage my students to score double points when they make comments in class by staying relevant to score “teacher points” and being funny to score “classmate points.” The authors pointed out that context is key to the value and quality of creativity expressed. Scoring creativity must involve an awareness of the context which includes relevance to the topic at hand and sensitive to the players involved.

My comment about this challenge to find a way to assess creativity, even though the notion of boxing up creativity to assess it is ironic, is that it still makes sense, and I believe it can be applied almost too easily to the classroom. I believe we need to be careful about how we apply the assessment. When first applying the creativity rubric, it ought to be a student choice or just a teacher’s suggestion, because the drive to be creative could easily distract students from the context of the assignment or activity. From informal observation it seems that funny and creative are tightly linked in the young learner’s mind. In order to actually promote creativity, teachers may need to encourage creativity and be ready to respond to student creativity with a relevant assessment such as this assessment when the creativity is a culmination of clear and measured thought. Students work up to creativity. To be used correctly, this assessment needs to be a vehicle that provides feedback about how a student’s work is creative and not about how it is not. A creativity assessment, too soon, will creates a negative stigma too easily for those who are struggling to master the material. That is where creative teachers come in. When students present assignments creatively, it is as if they are presenting a gift of value. When teachers are able to clearly describe why the work is creative using this assessment, it is as if the teacher is carefully gift wrapping the work, and returning the value back to the student with respect.

Henriksen, D., Mishra, P., & Mehta, R. (2015). Journal of Technology and Teacher Education23.3, 455. Retrieved from

Red Herrings to Orange Herring Gulls to Clean, White Herring Gulls

I recently responded to an article in the June 22, 2010 Wilmington Star News (hard copy only). I wrote:

Dear Editor,

I have a message for your audience: that is, Reader Beware!

In his June twenty-second article, “Gulf Oil Leak Wouldn’t Yet Fill Up Superdome,” Associated Press writer, Gareth McGrath tosses us a red herring with distracting comparisons of the massive oil leak to similarly massive volumes such as the Mississippi River’s effluent and the space inside nine-thousand-plus living rooms under the guise of a better perspective. Quantities of spilled oil do not compare with similar quantities of airspace within architectural spaces. What is worse, is that McGrath sights a “mathematical context” (which, being math, many readers hesitate to argue against) and tells us that the problem, “isn’t that huge,” because lots of water is rushing into the gulf. The spill IS huge! The consequences are DIRE! While his Superdome comparison may be true, no true statement can make a bad argument valid. I sometimes need to remind myself to read critically. At best, McGrath’s article is not worth printing. At worst, it is drivel, not unlike the leak, itself, that is aimed to desensitize us from the bane of flora and fauna in the gulf. Instead of passing around red herrings, our time would be better spent supporting the clean up efforts in places such as East Grand Terre Island, where the white breasted, first year herring gulls have turned orange from the oil mess. Let’s make the effort go from “red herrings” to orange herrings to clean, white herrings.

Scott Dodd

June 22, 2010


Cole, C. (2010, June 6). Gulf oil spill: Birds in Barataria Bay hit hard. Los Angeles

TImes. Retrieved June 22, 2010

Watercolors and Science Mix Well

For the past couple of weeks my classes have been muddying the waters as they study the ways land (soil) and water interact together. Using a dirt-filled plastic tote with a hole in the corner, they each set up a variety of situations- each with a messy potential, I mean, a messy attraction. At about the same time we discussed vocabulary that included “meander,” “tributary,” “deposition,” and “delta.”

We are learning out-write that experiencing new concepts, rules and relationships are learned in tandem with the vocabulary used to identify the concepts. Sometimes the experience comes first, while other times the words and definitions lead the way. I have found that two important aspect of this learning combination is that the students need to realize that concepts and raw information such as vocabulary are learned differently, and, secondly, that these two ways of learning work best when addressed in succession- not really at the same time, but one after the other.

After mucking around long enough to recognize how water percolates and how run off changes the topography, we went to the GeoGlossary map in  the GeoSkills program we have available on our computer network. There we connected and noted key vocabulary while we discussed the way the words matched our messy classroom experience.

The following day we took watercolor paint to paper to represent the concepts we have learned. I uploaded representative student sample paintings to a Voice Thread at >> . Watch as the students add detailed comments to the voice thread about what is going on, scientifically speaking, in the river scenes. The students are in the process of setting up Gaggle accounts to complete the task.

5′ by 6′ Salt Marsh Serves as Classroom Focal Point

Mini Salt Marsh of Room 412

Mini Salt Marsh of Room 412

When the students return from spring break, this mini salt marsh is what they will find in the classroom. The materials were collected, with permission, locally. The mini salt marsh  is a fantastic jump-off point for the class’s study of both ecosystems and land & water. From my past experience with pond-like water features in the classroom, this will last up to eleven school days.

The topic of my last post on “Academic Respect” gives me reason to believe that the students will be able to focus together on the science of the mini marsh, and not simply play around.

As I was collecting material, I know there are a variety of life working together in this small 5 foot by six foot space. Watch for future posts on how to put this feature together in the classroom.

The Creativity of Following Directions

In class last week the fifth graders completed an activity that  addresses the relationship between following directions and being critical and creative. The lesson was not complicated, but the implications of it were profound in developing a student-centered learning environment.

I asked the students to make a detailed technical drawing of a K’NEX vehicle we had built earlier. The directions were to draw the vehicle as accurately as they could. It was a straight-forward assignment, and to start, I was rather explicit about modeling  a technique for drawing the wheel and tire onto quarter-inch graph paper for the students. Then, beyond the tire, I expected the students to apply similar techniques to complete the graphic representation of the vehicle.

To illustrate my expectation of independence to the students I shared a couple of stories. First, I told them about the time I was on a flight out of Hartford, CT next to a Yale medical school professor who was grading papers on the plane. I asked him if he would rather work with students who were good at following directions or students who were creative and better at figuring out  problems. He said, without hesitation, “If medical school students cannot follow directions they will never make it through medical school.” I told my students that his response confirms the importance of following directions, but what about creativity? Is it separate? How does it relate to directions?

The educational process is not all rote. During our scale drawing lesson I drew a smiley face and started to write a message inside the circumference of the face. As the sentence arched around the curving line I realized I was demonstrating my point, and I explained it to the class. By beginning to write around the the curve I had set up a rule. As the sentence continued, I had to figure out how I was going to follow that rule by writing upside down and way. Figuring out how to follow rules and directions is a necessary skill.

The skill of writing an effective persuasive letter is a key element of the fifth grade NC standard course of study (NC SCOS), and my next example to my students. To write a persuasive letter well requires rule following and creative problem solving within one assignment that includes a strict adherence to accepted form and a convincing argument in the body of the letter that needs to stand out to the recipient. We need to follow directions and be creative.

Fifth graders confront the need for creative problem solving when they process directions. Student-centered classrooms need to identify and promote this built-in relationship  between decision-making and following instructions. I was pleased to participate with the classes as they looked to themselves and to discuss with each other about how to complete their task.