In recent years there has been a flurry of conversation regarding the concept of creative learning in the education community. In his TED Talk titled “Do Schools Kill Creativity?” Sir Ken Robinson states, “Creativity now is as important in education as literacy and we should treat it with the same status.” Many arts educators feel that they have valuable knowledge and skills that can enhance the educational process; however, according to arts advocate and educator Eric Booth, “many feel like a generous person with food to give away to a hungry public that doesn’t notice them.”
So, why exactly is creative learning so important to the educational process? Arts and leadership educator Lisa Phillips suggests arts activities can enhance skills such as creativity, confidence, problem solving, perseverance, focus, collaboration and accountability, among others (Washington Post). According to the Austin Independent School District, arts engagement leads to higher attendance, improved critical thinking skills, and greater likelihood of college enrollment.
Beyond academic success, creative learning has also been found to bolster entrepreneurial skills. The Gallup Business Journal recently detailed some of the talents creative thinkers bring to the table as entrepreneurs, including the ability to steer their businesses in new directions, being cognizant of changes in the business environment, having the ability to act quickly, acting as nonconformists and being willing to push boundaries and experiment with new ideas (Gallup Business Journal).
Unfortunately, recent research has found that creativity among American students has significantly decreased since 1990, with kindergarten to third graders decreasing the most in terms of creativity, followed in second place by fourth to sixth graders (Parenting.com). Some educators attribute this decrease to an upsurge in standardized testing across the nation.
University of Texas professor Jennifer Keys Adair explains that this combination of increased testing and decreased creative learning can actually damage students’ ability to think creatively (Parenting.com). On the other hand, former educator and current educational software CEO Jennifer Medbery says that standardized testing isn’t necessarily a negative thing, but believes that we are measuring the wrong things (Fastcoexist.com). Medbery states that the world needs “more leaders, problem-finders, and rule-breakers,” and thus, students should graduate “ready to tinker, create, and take initiative.”
As Austin continues to grow as a technology hub, the city will demand tinkerers, creators, and initiators. So what might be one solution to reclaiming students’ creativity? You guessed it, creative learning. The good news is there are already creative learning programs taking shape across Austin.
Below are a few of the creative learning programs already at work in Austin:
- Anthropos Arts: Anthropos Arts’ mission is to bring high-quality music education to low-income and at-risk students in the Austin community. Anthropos provides one-on-one music lessons and mentorship to over 100 students across 16 middle and high schools. Students have performed throughout the Austin community, including at ACL, SXSW and the Austin Music Hall.
- Austin Independent School District + MINDPOP – Creative Learning Initiative: In partnership with arts education nonprofit MINDPOP, AISD has developed the creative learning initiative to provide arts education for every child in AISD, along with educating AISD teachers in arts-based instruction strategies.
- Creative Action: A nonprofit arts organization, Creative Action operates creative learning programs both in the classroom and after school. Their mission is to “spark and support the academic, social and emotional development of young people.”
- Cunningham Elementary School – MicroSociety: This past school year Cunningham introduced MicroSociety as an after-school program, which used teamwork exercises, service learning, and other hands-on activities to give students first-hand experience as real “citizens.” Students participated in activities such as creating their own student-elected government, starting their own “restaurant” during snack time, selling hand-made arts and crafts, and running a post office. The program was so successful that Cunningham is incorporating MicroSociety into the school day during the coming school year.
- EcoRise: Through their innovative curriculum, EcoRise teaches sustainability, design innovation and social entrepreneurship to middle and high school students in Austin in hopes of creating the next generation of creative problem solvers. EcoRise’s objectives are to enhance STEM education, promote sustainability, expose students to green careers and develop twenty-first century skills.
- The Foundry – The Missing Alphabet: An Austin-based organization, The Foundry supports creative learning through its book The Missing Alphabet, which acts as a guide for parents “to discover, understand, and amplify the individual strengths and creative potentials of their own children.” The book draws on research in creativity, individuality, play and media to help engage children in creative learning.
- Pollyanna Theatre Company – The Good Neighbors for the Arts: Pollyanna has teamed up with the Long Center to deliver arts education to low-income youth in Central and South Austin. Using methods such as teaching in role, story dramatization, sound and motion activities, and creative movement, students learn creative thinking, problem solving, cooperation, and self-expression.
- Thinkery: An evolution of the Austin Children’s Museum, the Thinkery describes itself as an incubator for a “new generation of innovators and creative problem solvers.” The Thinkery allows families to explore innovative problem solving through science, technology, engineering, arts and math-related exhibits and workshops.
During our latest grant cycle, the Bazaarvoice Foundation was excited to see a number of applications that centered on creative learning, including several of the above organizations. As an organization dedicated to creating Austin’s next generation of innovative leaders, we believe creative learning is an integral part of setting the foundation for innovative thinking.