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Six Essentials to Foster Creativity and Innovation in the Classroom

Technology lives up to its potential when we approach it creatively.


I was overjoyed when I read the news that the International Society for Technology in Education (ISTE) had added creativity and innovation to its standards. While many of us pioneers in the education technology movement have assumed these goals were implied, it is wonderful to see them made "official." To me, technology lives up to its true potential only when we approach it creatively. At its best, technology allows us to make new connections and share new ideas. It also allows us to test theories, bend the rules, see the results, react and modify. We can use it to connect and collaborate and to see what else is possible. It will help our next generation brainstorm and carry out "next steps." Those who are nimble, flexible, open-minded and creative will have the edge in the future.

The very simple but human act of listening can change a life.

The past test-centric decade has been challenging for both students and teachers, but I am confident that we're heading into the decade of creativity and innovation. If the ISTE's creativity and innovation standards are embraced and supported, we'll see some fantastic things happen in teaching and learning. I've boiled down the new standards into the following goals. Creative and innovative students and educators will be inspired to:

-generate new ideas, new products and new processes;

-create original works as a means to personal or group expression;

-use models and simulations to explore complex systems and issues; and

-identify trends and forecast possibilities-that is, to vision.

Sounds nifty, eh? Is it possible? Not if we keep things exactly the same. I've seen some extraordinarily boring uses of technology in schools around the nation over the past few years. I've seen programs that perpetuate the "in the box," fill-in-theblank, drill-and-fill paradigm of learning. With the onslaught of testing and testing preparation, we have robbed educators and students of the time, flexibility and freedom to tackle open-ended projects that might require more than 20-minute blocks of time.

Here are six essential suggestions for inspiring more creativity and innovation in the 21st century classroom. I created this list a while ago to help educators navigate through challenging waters, but they have taken on a new urgency and clarity with the new support from ISTE.

1. Blank Page Software

This is my best test for powerful educational software. My favorite software companies understand that creating things starts with nothing but your imagination. This demands that the user contribute and create. Companies like FableVision, Inspiration, Tech4Learning, LCSI and Adobe provide the framework for a user to contribute personal content. FableVision's Stationery Studio and Animation-ish, Inspiration's Kidspiration, LCSI's MicroWorlds Jr., and Adobe's Flash are just a few examples of UCCAs (user-created content applications).

2. The Graphics Tablet and Pen

Here's a very specific "don't walk-run" tip. Buy a boatload of Wacom Graphire graphics tablets and pens for your school. For less than $100 a pop, you can convert any PC or Mac into a Tablet PC. If you have ever watched kids trying to draw with a mouse (or worse yet, a track pad), it is a cross between painful and awe-inspiring. The graphics pen allows kids (and yes, you too!) to input data the old-fashioned way. The pen or pencil-or, as I like to call it, the "creativity stick," has been a terrific way to "make your mark" since 4000 B.C.

3. Time and Freedom

Now we're moving into the items that cannot be bought with a purchase order. It is my hope that the test-centric times we have battled through recently are beginning to give way to a more enlightened decade. To create, we must have the time and freedom.

4. Mission

Some folks have creativity tool kits. Some have creativity power-tool kits. The difference? Mission. What are we using all these extremely cool tech-tools for? My hope is that we can use them to further our personal missions, our community missions and our global missions. Whether it is to capture family stories, to inspire civic engagement or to inspire equality, we can accelerate our missions if we use technology to connect, invite and inspire. Giving purpose to projects makes them more powerful and meaningful.

5. Love

No technology required. While I believe technology is extremely cool, the most powerful tool we have to help students realize their true potential is love. While hugs have become suspect in schools nationwide, love can be shown in a variety of powerful ways.

The very simple but humanly exquisite act of listening can change a life-even save a life. To notice another human being's potential and to help it emerge and bloom-this is the most creative human endeavor. Love is by far the most essential tool in the creative tool kit.

6. Leadership

Without enlightened leadership, none of our lofty goals for revolutionizing education can take root. We need brave leaders who can invent the future with their staff and with the next generation. We need leaders who live the new ISTE standards personally, rather than pass them along on badly photocopied sheets for teachers to pass along to students.

This is not the "pass it along" era. This is the "connected universe" era. Unconventionally constructed social networks are reinventing the world. Will we allow schools to partake? It's up to you.

Peter H. Reynolds is the founder and CEO of FableVision (, an educational media developer and publisher. In addition, he is a best-selling author, an illustrator and an advocate for "off the path" learners.