SPARK! Events


Children are Excited About Learning…
…Until We Take That Away From Them


By Beverly Davis

In the award winning animated short “Alike,” created by Madrid animators, Daniel Martinez Lara and Rafa Cano Mendez we see that children really do start out excited to learn. The animators created the short to showcase the conundrum of creative gifts being squashed in traditional school settings. But I like to see the bright side – the energy exhibited when children believe learning can be fun.

Engaged in his busy work life, Copi is a father who tries teach his son, Paste to follow the set order of school. Paste, eager to learn, bounces off to school the first few days and tries to spread his wings with artistic renderings during his lessons in writing the ABCs.

Copi and Paste live in a monotone world, where humdrum citizens walk dumfounded to and fro. Yet, in the midst of this rigor, a colorful violinist brings life to a tiny park in the grey city. As school grinds on for Paste with seemingly no end to the repetitive printing of the ABCs, Copi decides to reignite his enthusiasm and lift his spirits by taking him back to see the violinist.

With summer approaching, it’s time we adults remember – Children are excited about learning. Let’s give them the opportunities to explore their interests and engage that creative side over the summer.

SPARK! offers a series of summer camps, each week exploring new territory. Each week designed to ignite creativity and allow children to experience a variety of concepts and practices. It’s learning made fun. SPARK! Summer Camps.


Engage Their Brains Throughout Summer

By Beverly Davis
Remember the days of summer reading programs at the local library? I remember earning everything from stick-on-stars, to ribbons, to pizza and baseball tickets! I never really knew what motivated those programs, but since I was a kid and loved to read, I didn’t think much of it.

Now I understand the motivation. There are dozens of studies and many names for the motivation. We hear it called Summer Learning Loss, Summer Slide, and Summer Cognitive Decline. All this to say: if kids don’t engage in learning over the summer, they lose some of the “smarts” they gained during the school year. Research shows this is particularly prevalent for children in low income homes.

Beyond halting the slide, engaging kids in learning throughout the summer break has significant positive effects. That doesn’t mean you need to rush to enroll them in summer school. Instead, find something in which they are interested and engage in that. Most summer programs have a higher ratio of students to adults and are more individualized than school programs. With the array of camps, museum and maker space programs available, it’s easier to find programs in which a student can direct their own path for learning.

Often these summer programs feature hands-on, inquiry-based learning. Generally, they allow children to work in groups where they develop collaborative and social skills that more readily resemble the adult world for which we are trying to prepare them. When children engage in these high-quality programs over the summer, they’re more likely to identify their true interests and skills. These programs help them find a field of interest to pursue in secondary education. And, when kids are engaged in projects of their choosing, they actually learn more. They research online, they ask questions, they iterate and problem solve. These are the skills that support them through their entire lives and are the ones they don’t forget.

When you examine the benefits to some of the stellar summer options available today, kids can actually go farther over summer than ever before. Maybe programs such as the SPARK! Creator Studio and summer camps will go farther in preparing a child for secondary education than traditional schools!

Summer should be fun, and learning should be engaging. Let’s give them both at the same time.


Creativity Confab

SPARK! was pleased to host the 2019 Creativity Confab to ignite discussions about why the development of creativity is important for children and how SPARK! provides that opportunity. Six local expert panelists from various spheres of influence chimed in on the discussion.  Our panelists included:

Charles Eisemann

Sculptor and Long-time Supporter of the Arts in Dallas

Scott Rudes, Ph.D.

Vice President, National Arts Schools Networks

Laree Hulshoff

Philanthropist and Founder of Aging Mind Foundation

John Paul Batiste 

Chairman, Arts and Culture Advisory Commission, City of Dallas Office of Cultural Affairs

Maya Delgado 

Actress, Singer, Dancer, and Founder of “HeARTS of Maya”

We are grateful to Neiman Marcus for their generous sponsorship of World Creativity and Innovation Week. The community is coming together to ignite the spark of creativity inherent in all children! We invite you to support creativity by bringing your time, talent, and treasure to the children of Dallas. Please click here to get involved and click here to make a donation.

Pursuit of Passion Projects

By Beverly Davis
I read a book that validated so much of what we do at SPARK! It was so exciting I could hardly sit still to read. Thankfully, it was a quick but powerful read, because I literally jumped up every few pages to share a thought with my husband.

Lifelong Kindergarten: Cultivating Creativity through Projects, Passion, Peers and Play, by Mitchell Resnick was published in 2017. Not only do Mitchell Resnick’s words align with our approach to igniting creativity in children, but the foreword to the book is written by Sir Ken Robinson, the ultimate authority on teaching creativity; and creatively.

SPARK! had been open almost three years and the question I get asked the most is, “Does technology kill creativity?” My thoughts are, not only is technology a product of creativity, but it continually builds on our creative energies and in many ways, enhances them. And that’s why, in December 2018, we launched the Creator Studio to offer learning and innovation through technology.

In his foreword, Robinson shares, “Mitchell Resnick has spent his professional life exploring the synergies between creativity and technology…He dispels common myths about creativity (that it is confined to the arts, for example)…” I believe this book was the spark that brought our Creator Studio to life.

In the Creator Studio, we’ve adopted Resnick’s proclivity to alliteration and provide a space for children “in Pursuit of Passion Projects.” Here, SPARK! gives children the freedom to learn new skills, develop their own ideas and pursue their passion without deadlines, judgement or grades. Resnick talks about how children really are willing to take risks and try new things when these limiting factors are removed. He says, “They’re eager to define their own problems rather than simply solve the ones in the textbook. It’s students who come up with the most innovative ideas and creative new directions.”

SPARK! defines the creative process as Inspiration, with Iteration and Collaboration, leads to Innovation. When I share this verbally, I move my hands in intertwining and repeat circles to indicate that the creative process is not linear, but rather circuitous. Inspiration happens more than once in a project and collaboration might happen at any point. The creative process is not a 4-point line from A to Z. I once asked an artist to render our creative process as a tornado. Resnick illustrates his philosophy in a “Creative Learning Spiral,”

and goes on to say, “The Creative Learning Spiral is the engine of creative thinking. As kindergarten children go through the spiral, they develop and refine their abilities as creative thinkers. They learn to develop their own ideas, try them out, experiment with alternatives, get input from others, and generate new ideas based on their experiences.”
Thank you, Mitchell, for the validation of SPARK! programming, and for the spark to bring the Creator Studio to life.


Volunteering Returns More Than You Give

By Beverly Davis
Across the globe, people volunteer. And we do this for a great variety of reasons: to help eliminate poverty, build shelters, improve education, protect others, or assist in times of natural disaster. In each of these efforts, people, just like you and me, make specific contributions to others and our communities through our actions.

We’re motivated by the cause and the impact our work has on those who benefit from our service. But, in a positive spin on an old saying, “what goes around, comes around.” Turns out, the benefits to us from volunteer work are quite great. The top five benefits of volunteering return in abundance:

1. Connecting with the community. When I was younger, I moved around a lot, building my growing career. I found myself in a new community every few years. Volunteering helped me connect with like-minded folks. It gave me a place in the community, often led to social engagements and provided new friendships to help me integrate. Volunteering often time leads to networking opportunities that can assist career growth, community engagement and companionship during these lonely transitions. People are the “spice of life” and volunteering brings out all sorts.

2. Feeding your soul. Volunteering promotes happiness. You’ll simply feel better by giving back. It’s good for the soul. When you feel good about what you’re doing and how you contribute, it lifts your spirits. Interestingly, this positive effect has been studied. Compared with people who never volunteered, the odds of being “very happy” rose 7% among those who volunteer monthly and 12% for people who volunteer every two to four weeks. There’s both fun and fulfillment in volunteering.

3. Advancing your career. In addition to the networking opportunities available through volunteering, it’s often possible to develop or sharpen professional skills. Volunteering paints you in a good light and in good company. It allows others to view you favorably because of this work you do. Volunteering helps you build confidence in a variety of areas, from interacting with the public, to delivering a compelling story, to leading project task forces.

4. Being a well-rounded citizen. Through volunteer efforts, you become aware of things you never knew went on in your community. You see needs you might not have known existed, and see others pitching in to help just when you thought the world was growing callus and cold. Volunteerism makes one more civically aware and has a tendency to increase civic engagement and even voter turnout.

5. Realizing better health. The sense of well-being and happiness that comes from volunteering can have incredible health benefits. Various studies point to such things as lower blood pressure, longer life span and reduced stress. Oftentimes volunteer activities keep you moving, which keeps you healthier. Even the sense of purpose that comes from aiding others makes one happier, helps reduce stress and allows you to sleep better.

A few things to consider as you look to engage in volunteering. It’s important that you are passionate about the organization and the cause. They’re not necessarily always the same.

You should enjoy the time you spend volunteering. This is your free time, make sure you enjoy the task, the people, the cause or at least 2 out of 3 of these! Sometimes we’re willing to do an unpleasant task because the need is there.

Volunteer for an organization that appreciates your efforts. Yes, they need to thank you repeatedly. They also need to have meaningful tasks for you to do and they must let you know if perhaps they don’t need you on your regular schedule.

Do your research. Volunteer once or twice before committing to a greater schedule. Make sure you like the people, the environment, etc.


Creativity Thrives in a World of Automation

By Beverly Davis

Automation frees us to be creative! As robots, computers, and artificial intelligence take over the many simple and repetitive motions we now do, we’ll have more time and space to be creative and innovative.  Our history books taught us that the industrial revolution freed a primarily agrarian society from many labor-intensive jobs; freeing our best thinkers to become more innovative. Our nation thrived during and after this revolution and can do the same in this day and age.

In 2015, Klaus Schwab, the executive chairman of the World Economic Forum, introduced the idea of The Fourth Industrial Revolution.  We live in this new world characterized by a fusion of technologies including the automation that seems to be striking fear in many.  In October, 2016, the White House authored a report, “Preparing for the Future of Artificial Intelligence.”  Among the many forecasts were: “83% of U.S. jobs paying less than $20 per hour will be subject to automation or replacement. While up to 47% of all U.S. jobs are in danger of being made irrelevant due to technological advancements, with most job losses due to occur among the undereducated.”

We can solve for this by teaching our children how to think.  Giving them opportunities to learn and practice the creative process.  Creativity currently ranks #1 among the top skills required to thrive in the global economy.  According to the World Economic Forum, “by 2020, creativity and creative thinking will slip to third place behind: #1 complex problem solving, and #2 critical thinking, on the list of the most important skills needed to survive and thrive.”  

Complex Problem Solving is generally understood to mean the ability to solve for new, novel or ill-defined problems in real-world context.  Critical Thinking is skillful analysis, assessment and implementation of ideas and can be brought to bear in complex problem-solving.

Realizing that learning the creative process builds problem-solving skills and self-esteem, SPARK! sets out to educate our children.  Through it all, automation cannot replace the ability to think, to imagine, to create, or to innovate. We humans created automation, let’s enjoy it.  We’ll use it to make life easier, more convenient and allow more time for pursuits of creativity and pleasure. Let’s use our curiosity to drive the 5th industrial revolution!


The Importance of Corporate Volunteerism

By Beverly Davis
The Importance of Corporate Volunteerism

Helping others is in our DNA. Perhaps that’s why more than one billion people volunteer globally.  It’s at the core of our relationship with others.

Working together for the larger community fosters positive psychological relationships.  It can reinforce collegial associations even after everyone returns to work, because they’ve contributed to a goal that’s meaningful and has lasting impact.  By working together in the community, the entire organization is demonstrating that it wants to live its values in a way that has a positive return for everyone, both inside and outside the office walls.

When you establish group volunteer days as an ongoing part of your company culture, these shared experiences become part of what it means to work at your company.  Seventy five percent of U.S. adults feel physically healthier when they volunteer, as well as have a stronger connection to their employers. The mental and emotional benefits of volunteering are even greater, with 93% reporting an improved mood, 79% reporting lower stress levels and 88% reporting increased self-esteem when they give back.

Across all age groups, more than 70% of employees want their company to make a positive impact both socially and environmentally.  Almost three-fourths of employees who volunteer through work report feeling better about their management, and 91% believe it is important for an employer to allow their staff to volunteer on paid time.

When trying to identify a volunteer opportunity, it’s vital that you align with a mission that you are passionate about. Look into the organization and their cause.  Make sure they are aligned internally.

You and your team should have fun with your volunteer experience. This is your time, make sure you enjoy the task, the people and the cause…or at least two out of these three!  Sometimes we’re willing to do an unpleasant task because the need is there.

Volunteer for an organization that appreciates your efforts. Yes, they should thank you repeatedly. They should also have meaningful tasks for you to do and let you know how often they will need your services.  Every organization has lulls in their schedule. If they respect your time and talent, you will get a lot more out of the experience.


Think Outside the Box

Beverly Davis

How many times have you said, or been told, to “Think outside the Box?”  We’ve heard this so many times.  Yet, how do we learn novel or creative thinking?  It’s not a typical school subject; it’s not on most MBA syllabuses.  It’s required to compete in the global market yet we’re not preparing today’s children for success.

Too often creativity is misunderstood to mean artistic.  IBM has conducted numerous polls among global CEOs that expound the importance of creative thinking.  Are we to believe these global organizations seek painters, potters and sculptors as executives?  Clearly not.  Creativity needs to be understood as a way of thinking.  That thinking is a discipline called the creative process.  There are many definitions of the creative process; boiling it down to its most simplistic form, the creative process is like a whirlwind of inspiration, iteration, and collaboration that leads to innovation. 

 Children need to learn the creative process to prepare for life, for academic and career success. 

 The U. S. was the world innovation leader from late in the 19th century through most of the 20th century.  Not anymore.   When our schools started reducing art, music and liberal studies in an effort to replicate the success Asian students were having in math and science we lessened the innovative thinking power of future generations.  With the release of the 2016 Innovation Index, Bloomberg now ranks the U. S. as eighth.  We’re slipping because our children are taught to memorize and repeat; to perform well on standardized tests.  We are not teaching children how to learn, how create or how to innovate.  Over the last few decades, the emphasis on performance through standardized testing has become a singular focus in most schools.  This is instilling a fear of failure.

 When did failure become such a bad thing? Ask any successful person if they’ve failed. The answers range from “many times” to “early and often.”  Sir James Dyson recalls that he had 5,126 failures, or iterations, until he eventually invented the world’s best-selling vacuum cleaner.  Even legendary sports icon Michael Jordan says, “I’ve missed more than 9000 shots in my career. I’ve lost almost 300 games. Twenty-six times, I’ve been trusted to take the game winning shot and missed. I’ve failed over and over and over again in my life. And that is why I succeed.”  Our children have such a fear of failure that they are no longer exploring new ideas and this cripples their chances of success.

 The National Endowment for the Arts in 2008 and the SMU Meadows Prize Report in 2010 looked at the impact of art education on children.  These studies show positive outcomes such as better problem solving skills, a higher likelihood to attend college, earn a degree, do volunteer work, and hold a full-time job. 

 It’s not just about art and music education in schools.  Those things have been measured because they’re easy.  These typically are the only creative disciplines taught in schools.  When we dive deeper into understanding creativity, we learn that it’s a way of thinking and it drives innovation.  Dr. Paul Torrance studied nearly 400 children from childhood into their careers and proved that creative thinking skills can be learned.  His creativity index is able to predict who will have high performing careers such as entrepreneurs, inventors, college presidents, authors, doctors, diplomats, and software developers. 

 So much energy is focused on the product while little or no time is spent on the process.  It’s the process of creating that gives children space to fail, that teaches them to seek alternative viewpoints, answers or solutions.  If we continue to score every effort and punish the kids who attempt new things, we’ll continue to discourage innovation. Let’s seek out opportunities that allow children to explore, to iterate and to create. For children today, there are very few safe places to fail.

 When children work through the creative process they develop higher self-esteem and take pride in their abilities to overcome obstacles.  There is a light in their eyes that is unmistakable. 

 When our eyes shine with pride, we take on greater challenges and achieve greater things.   When that light is on, failure doesn’t weigh so much.  Let’s awaken our children to the joy of creating.

 

 


The Power of Collaboration

Dan M. Age 17, a local high school student – Came to recognize the power of collaboration during his internship at SPARK!   “My internship at SPARK! helped me become a better problem solver and team player. I used to try and do everything myself and now I collaborate with others.  Now I feel like I could either go on to be a fashion designer or a chemical engineer, I could be anything!”

 

Collaboration between coworkers is a powerful tool that leads to innovation.  Collaboration between peers and among disparate partners helps advance art, science, medicine and more.  SPARK! teaches the principles of collaboration found in these famous examples.

 

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A Crazy Art-World Marriage

From 1980 to 1986, renowned Pop artist Andy Warhol and a graffiti prodigy, Jean-Michel Basquiat, collaborated on a number of exciting pieces that actually led them to the position they now have in the art world.

Their working process went on like this: Warhol usually painted first, and then Basquiat entered the scene with his colorful imagery. One of the most popular examples would be the piece titled Olympic Rings, completed in 1985. Warhol actually made several iterations of the Olympic five-ring symbol, to which Basquiat responded with the oppositional graffiti style.

Olympic Rings, Andy Warhol and Jean-Michel Basquiat

 

International Cooperation

The International Space Station (ISS) Program’s greatest accomplishment is as much a human achievement as it is a technological one.  An international collaboration of space agencies from the United States, Russia, Europe, Japan, and Canada all working together on the most complex space exploration program ever undertaken.

The International Space Station Program brings together international flight crews, multiple launch vehicles, globally distributed launch operations, training, engineering, and development facilities, communications networks, and the international scientific research community.  It’s collaboration of a global scale to bring “out of this world” results.

 

The Alzheimer’s Challenge

 

To confront a challenge like cancer or Alzheimer’s is to stand at the intersection of science, medicine, and engineering. Finding solutions will require a combination of expertise and powerful collaborations that very few institutions command. Stanford has created Bio-X which stands literally and figuratively at this crossroads. At Stanford, the world’s leading experts in a wide range of fields are gathered in unusual proximity—working on breakthroughs in human health, while also dramatically increasing our fundamental knowledge about the biosciences.

Other institutions offer interdisciplinary research. What makes Stanford Bio-X so special is its extraordinary faculty and students, culture of collaboration, and can-do, entrepreneurial spirit that encourages risk-taking and delivers phenomenal results.

SPARK! on Collaboration

SPARK! engages children in the creative process, which we define as Inspiration with iteration and collaboration leads to innovation.  SPARK! is literally and figuratively at the crossroads of improving educational experiences for children. Working on a myriad of projects kids at SPARK! bring out their entrepreneurial spirit and can do attitude.  SPARK! is a safe place for risk-taking and innovation.

 


The Metamorphosis Project

By Beverly Davis

SPARK! helps children metamorphose into their full creative potential.

This statement is the inspiration behind the beautiful butterfly mural Rolando Diaz painted on the front doors of SPARK!

There’s a vast body of research that has been conducted about the importance of developing creative thinking skills, or problem solving skills, in children.  The data shows that self-perception, a sense of inquiry and the fortitude to take risks or “try, try again” are developed through participation in creative activities and are needed for success.

Shortly after SPARK! opened its doors, we launched a research survey that we called “Metamorphosis.” The name was derived from our desire to see children metamorphose into their full creative potential.  The objective was to understand exactly how many exposures to SPARK! programming were needed to make a lasting impact on a child’s life. We truly appreciate the Moody Foundation and the Harold Simmons Foundation for funding this work.

Metamorphosis examined the steps of the creative process as defined by SPARK! – Inspiration, Collaboration, Iteration and Innovation. Dr. Magdelena Grohman of the University of Texas, Dallas, compiled a questionnaire tool for Metamorphosis by consolidating three survey stems into one comprehensive series. Students were given a pre- and post-instrument and were measured in two groups: short-term exposure – (students receiving one week of continuous creative programming) and long-term exposure (students receiving multiple engagements over one year).

The population for this study included children aged 10 – 17 from low-income homes in or near Dallas County, Texas.  Students were recruited for both test and control groups.

The short test group represented strength when looking at the notion of imagination. These students received a more intensive, hands-on application of the creative process.  Students in the short test group attended a 5-day, week-long camp and were immersed in both the SPARK! creative environment and programming in the creative process every day for one week.

Responsively, the long test group demonstrated consistent and steady improvement in students receiving programming.  Continued practice and participation yields greater results.

We also noted that students who received programming at SPARK! had a higher perception of their own creativity than students who did not receive the programming. Studies have shown that enhanced perception of creativity is known to bolster self-esteem and help students confidently navigate the process of Iteration, or trial and error.

Students who come from educational institutions with the focus on daily inquiry do indeed outperform their peers in the area of creative perception.  The chance to utilize critical thinking skills repeatedly and pursue passion projects offers the greatest opportunity to turn new skills into practiced and recognized habits.

The data gathered was reviewed and plotted by the Statistical and Analytics department at SMU and released to Dr. Andra Barton to write the abstract.  In summarizing the impact seen through the research, she wrote, “The need for intentional acts that aid in the development of creativity should be frequent and ongoing for youth.  SPARK! is a prominent forerunner in creative development for students.”  Her abstract went on to say, “The increase represents the need for teachers to be exposed to training methodologies that embrace the SPARK! creative process of: Inspiration, Collaboration, Iteration and Innovation.

Since the completion of the Metamorphosis study, SPARK! has developed plans to engage children in creative learning on an ongoing basis.  Currently under development are plans for after school and weekend engagements.

The SPARK! Creator Studio will combine the equipment of a Maker’s Space with the technology of a computer lab and the materials in a Tinker’s studio. Children will be able to access the studio throughout the year, after school and on weekends beginning this fall semester.

A music program is under development and will launch with a week-long camp this summer.  Children will experience percussion, gain an understanding of rhythm, explore singer/songwriter programs, as well have opportunities for jam sessions and open mic performances.  This, too, will be offered year-round.

While we’re not currently staffed to provide teacher training on a widespread basis, the SPARK! team piloted a program with the Mesquite School District in March 2018 to train teachers in teaching the creative process.

The Metamorphosis study provided us with insightful data. There is a strong need for ongoing creative learning. The programming at SPAK! will help students enhance their creative skills which will ultimately allow them to excel in school and compete in the workforce.