Often, people do not mix math and creativity together, but they should. According to the site Creativity at Work, “Creativity is characterised by the ability to perceive the world in new ways, to find hidden patterns, to make connections between seemingly unrelated phenomena, and to generate solutions.” They add that, “Creativity involves two processes: thinking, then producing”.
Typically, school math focuses on learning procedures to solve routine problems.
The key to being successful in the math classroom is to learn to think inside-the-box. However, real-world Mathematicians think out-side-the-box so they can solve real-world problems as they arise. Kids today need to be creative and innovative out-side-the-box thinkers, like Mathematicians, so they can solve real-world problems and become the innovators of tomorrow.
It has been argued that in the 21st Century, kids need the ability to learn what they do not already know, the ability to solve new and novel problems, and the ability think innovatively. Being a creative thinker is a critical factor for each of these important skills. And yes, we can hone and develop them inside the math classroom. How? First, we need to inspire kids to want to engage in math. Dan Meyer gives math teachers excellent examples of how to get kids engaged in problem solving inside the math classroom. Engagement is key; once students are engaged in a problem, they are more likely to persist through and find a solution. By doing this, students are able to develop the mindset and skills needed to learn what they do not already know.
In addition to being engaged and being able to persist through a problem, math teachers want their students to see and recognize patterns and make important connections. This is an integral part of mathematics and is critical for connecting math to the world beyond the four walls of the classroom. Finally, we want students to be able to look at word problems and mathematical tasks and find more than one solution or method. This requires students to think flexibly and to see problems in more than one way.
In sum, today’s math classroom demands that students develop the ability to think mathematically. This means they have the tools and the mindset to persist through struggles as they solve real-world problems as opposed to merely following routine procedures and solving rote problems. We want students to think and produce but this does not mean produce what they have been carefully guided to produce.
Instead, producing means engaging students in their own learning by capturing their interest, teaching them to see problems in many ways, putting forth conjectures, ideating solutions, juxtaposing different ideas, and evaluating their solutions/ideas. If we look closely, we see that these skills are inherently linked to the creative process. In my graduate course this fall, Creativity Across the Disciplines, we will be exploring these connections more closely. It is an exciting time to be a Mathematics/STEM Educator!