Team ISTE
3 steps to creative problem solving in the classroom

Bringing creativity into the classroom came naturally to Mark Gura. He began his career as a visual arts teacher in East Harlem, and when his small school asked him to teach other topics like English and social studies, it made sense to integrate some of his artistic skills into his lessons.

“Running a creative classroom was all about the culture I established,” Gura says. “I was bringing the students into another way of being. Not of thinking, but of being.”

To do that requires restructuring “habits of mind,” as Gura puts it.

For example, many people think of creativity as a solo endeavor – the artist or writer who paints or writes in solitude. But creativity doesn’t happen in a bubble. Often it’s the result of team collaboration with a lot of brainstorming and bouncing ideas off each other.

How can educators best build a creative culture in their classroom? It begins with establishing a creative space where students can share their work. Gura is a fan of blogs, where students can post essays, videos or visual art projects and get real-time feedback.

Educators can also encourage students to come up with multiple solutions to specific situations. Too often, Gura says, students get caught up with finding the single correct answer to a problem. Instead, focus on finding multiple outcomes. Here’s how:

  • Develop a strategy. This involves researching the problem and its history to best understand it and then analyzing how others approached the problem and solved it. Look for mistakes made along the way and the gaps left to be filled.
  • Create a prototype, test or draft. Once students truly understand the problem, they are ready to solve it. This is where the creative community truly comes into play. Through collaboration, more minds are working on prototype solutions. Not only can students tap into their peers’ ideas, the feedback turns the classroom into a thought incubator where ideas are nurtured and grow.
  • Find an audience. Creative communities need a support system, someone outside of the creative team who can bring an unbiased perspective to the problem and solution. This can be done by soliciting feedback through blog posts, in a closed digital community or during classroom presentations. The idea is to use the audience to help refine the prototype or draft.

In creative classrooms, Gura says, the finished product isn’t the most important outcome. It’s the process of getting to a solution and then expanding it in new directions.

“That’s a huge shift in the habits of mind within the classroom,” he adds. “It’s ongoing, with students relying on the community for support.”

Discover ready-to-implement activities for developing student creativity in your school or classroom with Gura’s new book, Make, Learn Succeed: Building a Culture of Creativity in Your School.