Learning and the Brain – Orlando 2016

How can we foster more creativity and curiosity in the classroom?  How might we, as teachers, instill passion in our students?  Should there be more time for creativity in the school day?  Is it as important as, let’s say, reading or math?  Do we need to assess it?  

These were some of the questions and overarching themes at the Learning and the Brain conference in Orlando, April 6-8th.  

Scott Barry Kaufman, from the Imagination Institute (part University of Pennsylvania’s Positive Psychology movement) stresses that creativity needs to be fostered and promoted in all areas of learning.  He reminds us that it is not just for the arts, but all parts of the curriculum including math and science. For example, improv and storytelling can involve taking data and beginning a compelling story.  Creativity leads to deeper student engagement and learning, giving students the opportunity to create personal meaning in a general lesson plan.  Do we leave room in our day for creativity or are we so busy racing through our lesson plans that there isn’t any time for daydreaming?

Kaufman asks, “What does it mean to be creative?” He offers activities such as daydreaming, imagining, reading fiction, personal meaning making, retrieving personal memories, and perspective taking. Characteristics of being creative include persistence, deep thinking, open to change, risk taking, finding purpose in life, and being ok with a mindset of one.

Can you think of students like that in your classroom?  

According to Kaufman, teachers often feel that these students are the hardest to teach.   Take a look at the chart below. How do you see a child?

So, How can we foster children’s imagination?

FullSizeRender-1Kaufman offers the following suggestions:

*Allow time for daydreaming/personal reflection – journaling, talking/discussing

*Scaffold moving between task oriented focus and meaning making focus.  “Now I want everyone to stare out the window and think about what I said. “

*Scaffold meta-awareness – mindfulness  “ Close your eyes, take deep breaths, get in a comfortable position…” (This leads to a good stream of consciousness.)

*Support harmonious passions – We need more individualized options in classrooms –more choice

*Encourage actively imagining pathways to goals.

*Effectively integrate social media and social imagination

*Use stories and role models to help students build personal narratives.

*Give students meaningful opportunities to make personal choices about curricular content

*Encourage diversity of experiences

*Encourage thinking differently

Every child has character strengths – we need to build on those!


Helen Hadoni also agreed that creativity needs to be fostered, adding that it did not have a high level of inheritability.  She gave us two definitions of creativity:

  1. novel AND useful ideas
  2.  useful, novel and surprise.  (Most of us focus on the novel but forget about the useful.)

Hadoni then offered 7 components of creativity:

  1. imagination/originality                                        1-3 are cognitive
  2. Flexibility
  3. Decision making
  4. communication/self expression                         4-5 are social and emotional
  5. Motivation
  6. Collaboration                                                          6-7 are physical
  7. action/movement

*Imagination play is essential to creativity.  HMW foster this more at MVPS, not   only in the Lower School, but all levels?  How can we be innovative if creativity is not fostered?


In her session, The Power of Imagination and Harry Potter: Engaging students in the classroom, Catherine Belcher spoke about the contagiousness of passion.  In the classroom, she argues that allowing a teacher’s passion to weave it’s way throughout the daily lesson plans would grab the students’ attention, even the most disengaged ones.  Think about the last time you spoke to someone who was passionate about a topic. What did his or her eyes look like?  What was the body language like?  You couldn’t help but lean in and listen a little more closely with a smile on your face.  

Using a clip from the movie, Harry Potter and the Prisoner from Azkaban, Belcher showed us what passion in an engaged classroom might look like. Professor Lupin asks the students to face a “boggert,” a creature that takes on the shape of their worst fears.  Talk about hands-on learning!  Using a particular spell, he uses humor, compassion, empathy and fun to create an environment where the students are pushing and shoving to line up and participate in a very scary situation.  Does that happen in your classroom?  Lupin even whispers to a student, Neville Longbottom, that imagination is the key to success in this task! What is your passion?  Star Wars? Africa? Running? Quadratic equations?  HMW further infuse our passions, or better yet, our students’ passions into the classroom?  Does our day allow that to happen?  What might be hindering that?

Some resources from the conference…

Animal School reminds us that each child is different and testing everyone the same way isn’t always appropriate.

A great Exit ticket: The “Traffic light.”  On the way out of the classroom, students place a post-it on…

  1. the green light with something that they’ve learned
  2. The yellow light with a question they have about the lesson(s)
  3. The red light with something that stopped their learning

Center for Childhood Creativity  – a great site that has the goal of igniting and advancing creative thinking for all children.

Thrively.com – a website that has the goal of uncovering every child’s genius (passion)

Nepris.com – a website that connects industry professionals to the classroom – great for PBL!


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