John Fraser, PhD, AIA, is the director of the Institute for Learning Innovation based in Edgewater, Md. He led a study that assessed the creativity and imagination development in children under 12-years-old who participated in Disney's Planet Challenge.
What was the goal of the research?
We aimed to understand if Disney's Planet Challenge contributed to the development of imagination and creativity skills for participating youth.
How do you quantify such subjective areas?
In social sciences, we talk about truthfulness to the experience, not quantification. We took a 360-degree approach because kids are not able to self-reflect on their own learning process. Teachers and parents give us a much better picture of what's going on in kids' heads. So we spoke with kids who participated in a project, kids considered to be at the same level in the same school who did not participate in a project, teachers and parents.
What was the most significant finding?
Kids who participated in Disney's Planet Challenge became more capable of using their imagination and creativity skills. They became self-effective learners who could understand how to use their imagination and creativity skills in practical ways to address real-world problems.
How did participating in Disney's Planet Challenge help students score higher on standardized tests?
They were using all their academic skills—math, graphing, telling stories through numbers and words, organizing data and language arts. They were putting more time and effort into learning because they felt it matters. If they don't get a graph right, the quail might not survive. This is what teachers recognized as the most important part of project-based learning.
In what ways does DPC extend beyond the classroom?
One father told us how his daughter taught him how to prune their tree after a tornado, in order to protect one of the few large trees left in their community. He was going to do the status quo and just grind it to nothing and hope the city would put in a new tree. These kids are thinking creatively and improving their community.
How do teachers influence students' success?
The most successful teachers trust their kids to solve problems by using their collective minds. They support kids' imagination. They challenge them to think. Did results vary by region or socio-economic status? No. The results varied based on how the program was implemented and not where and who the kids were. This project shows that kids will flourish if they're challenged to use their imaginations to create solutions to the environmental problems surrounding us.