SPARK! Blog


SPARK! to Launch After School Programming

SPARK! To Launch After School Programming

by Beverly Davis

For centuries, the positive impact of creating has been widely recognized.  Some of our earliest childhood memories are of bringing art projects home from school and having our parents hang them on the refrigerator, or display them on a table.  The pride and boost to our self-esteem at these times was significant.

At SPARK! we focus on the creative process and teaching children problem-solving skills through that process.  These experiences grow confidence and give us the strength to tackle the next project or problem that comes our way.

Research helps inform everything we do at SPARK!  In 2016 we launched the Metamorphosis Research Project.  Among other variables, this research tested dosage. We measured impact on children who received three doses across a school year, versus those who attended a 5-day a week camp.  This research project ended about the same time the 2017 City of Learning project drew to a close. Between the two, it became evident that children need large dosages to truly learn and adapt new behaviors.  Minimal exposure for understanding of new concepts proved to be 20+ short doses or 30+ hours of concentrated application. This level of engagement provided the connectivity children need to gain mastery in a new skill.

These findings naturally led us to develop programming that would be offered for longer durations.  Launching October 1, 2018, SPARK! after school programs will include Music Study and the SPARK! Creator Studio.  These programs were BETA tested the week of August 13, through week long camps. In the Creator Studio camp, thirteen children ages 10 – 17 worked together to test their programming skills, assemble robots and build a castle.  Before the week was out, the castle soared eight feet high and had bright pink windows, two thrones and a table. The collaborative nature of such projects helps children improve socialization, collaboration and communication skills.  Completion of creative projects gives children the confidence and self-esteem they need to thrive in life.

It’s important to align interests with programming opportunities.  Natalie Rusk said, “Interests are a natural resource that fuel learning.” Children need a variety of activities from which to select that most interests them.  This helps maintain their interest, engagement and most importantly, excitement. Variety in task keeps children engaged and allows them to make new friends along common interests.

As SPARK! after school programs grow, they’ll be expanded to offer even more disciplines.  We envision workshops hosted by professionals from throughout the community. Plans include offering programs to help students build portfolios to get into magnet high schools and develop interviewing skills to assist throughout their careers.  Thoughts are already leaning toward entrepreneurship classes and rudimentary understanding of business models. With creativity, there’s no telling how far these kids will go.

We’ve stepped out in faith with after school programming, believing that if we build it, they will come.  Not only are we seeking children who will participate in the program, but funders who believe in the power of creative education who will support the programs.


The Arts, Humanities and Health

The Arts, Humanities and Health

By guest blogger, Dennis Kratz

I started to write something about the importance of ongoing efforts to integrate engagement with the arts into the education of future and practicing physicians. Then last week I had the opportunity over several days to observe physicians, nurses and other healing performers at work in a hospital. I saw injections given, medications administered, smiles, expressions of concern, and more readings of blood pressure and other physical functions than I could count. I heard questions to patients about how they felt emotionally as well as physically; kind Wordsworth patients from nurses, physicians, technicians, and fellow patients; a few diagnoses; dreams of future medical advanced; and conversations about valuing family, changing behaviors, and celebrating the return to health. My original subject, in retrospect, struck me as incomplete, as is the attitude that the arts -like the humanities – at best only complement the science of medicine.

I have come to believe that we should educate future physicians to approach the practice of medicine as the harmonizing of three powerful forces, each vital but ultimately incomplete without the others. Science is self-evidently not only essential but also irreplaceable as the guide to attain, recover and maintain good health. The arts and humanities, however, are equally essential to the health of individuals and communities. They are more than an accompaniment or an assistant to the healing process. They should play a role, hand in hand with scientific knowledge, in how we not only go about healing but also what we mean by “health.” Science refers specifically to the disciplined search to understand and explain the physical processes at work in the world. Art emerges from the innately human desire to make our experience “special.” Engagement with the arts – as creator and responder – hones our ability to imagine the “what could be” lurking behind “what is.” Among the best artistic expressions of artful thinking that I know is Rene Magritte’s painting “Clairvoyance,” often also known as “Perspicacity.” [My ideas about the nature of art are strongly influenced by the writings of the anthropologist Ellen Dissenayaki.] The Humanities study the processes by which we fill our need to find and express meaning in life. They enlarge the ethical and cultural contexts within which we assess the value of our actions.

Health, like every scientific theory or artistic creation (the list could go on an all) is partial and provisional – always susceptible to change thanks to new evidence or new perspectives. Health is more than a temporary biological condition like the absence of disease or the lack of obvious symptoms of sickness. What are the positive characteristics of a truly healthy person, community, nation or world? It is a question that physicians, philosophers and artists have long pondered. The philosopher Georges Canguilhem suggested that the essential characteristics of a healthy organism include the ability to respond to environmental change and adapt to new situations. He also suggested that energy, and a confident sense of adventure, are components of real health. I really like that image of health. I saw reflections of this more embracing concept at that hospital. Science and medicines alone can take us to the first stage of health – a biological system working as it should. Advertisements from pharmaceutical companies to the contrary, it can’t produce deep happiness or a meaningful existence. That requires the thinking, imagining and empathy enhanced by the arts and humanities. We should integrate these profound complementary forces of understanding – science, art, Humanities – into the education of physicians because we should integrate them into the education of everyone if we want to foster a truly healthy society. I would like to see the power of science enlarged by imagination and humanized by genuine respect for the welfare of others that I witnessed last week on display everywhere and every day throughout our society.


Shoes & Stories

This past Sunday, SPARK! hosted their fourth annual Shoes & Stories event. Led by storyteller, Dana Proulx-Willis, Shoes & Stories provided the girls a unique way of storytelling and design by illustrating their journey on a pair of white canvas shoes.

A special thank you to Marsha Clark & Associates for sponsoring our event!


Packaging the Maker Movement for Kids

 

The Maker Movement

Written by Beverly Davis

 

The Maker Movement entered mainstream awareness around 2005 and in that same year, Dale Cougherty founded Make Magazine, a magazine for the makers and the Do-It-Yourself audience.  When describing the “Maker Network,” Cougherty says, “…makers have a sense of what they can do and what they can learn to do. Like artists, they are motivated by internal goals, not extrinsic rewards.” He continues, “They are inspired by the work of others. Most importantly, they do not wait until the future to create and make. They feel an urgency to do something now— or lose the opportunity to do it at all. “

That spirit resonates with the work that we do at SPARK!  It’s that flexible and inspired way of thinking that children so desperately need to build the path to their future.  Maker Spaces have been popping up across the country. While most spaces are focused on adults, some spaces offer admission for teenagers and others provide summer camps for kids.  Truly progressive schools are incorporating these spaces for students at their facilities.

The affordability of new technology such as 3D printers and laser cutters, combined with collaborative online learning tools, allow more of us the ability to engage our impulse to create. Getting this technology in the hands of children will make learning more fun and relevant, while piquing their interests in problem solving.

 

“The role of the teacher is to create the conditions for invention rather than provide ready-made knowledge.” —Seymour Papert. 

 

Papert was South African-born American mathematician. A computer scientist and educator, he spent most of his career teaching and researching at MIT. He was one of the pioneers of artificial intelligence and of the constructionist movement in education.

Papert believed that “Children deserve rich experiences across the widest range of disciplines available.” 

Here at SPARK! we agree.  Our mission is to ignite the spark of creativity inherent in all children. We’ve always believed that the best way to do that is to give children hands-on, practical experience in a wide variety of creative disciplines.

Papert points out the obvious tie between art forms and STEM education, stating, “Music composition is often required in programming a computer game or making your robot dance. Oral presentation skills are necessary for pitching your invention or in narrating your film. Artistic skills, creativity and curiosity are in high-demand by any project, no matter how technical.”

In August, we’ll introduce the SPARK! Creator Studio, to provide year-round, creative learning opportunities for youth. The SPARK! Creator Studio combines the equipment of a Maker Space with the technology of a Computer Lab and the materials in a Tinker Studio, to allow children to work on projects inspired by their own passions and interests.

An instructor will be on-hand to provide training on each piece of technology and equipment and will serve as a mentor to the students, providing help and feedback as needed. Participants will have the opportunity to earn digital badges as they learn to master software and technology.  In addition to the primary instructor/mentor, a rotating schedule of expert and professional guest instructors and lecturers will host classes and workshops that deliver insight and advice on a broad array of creative disciplines.

The goals of “learning by making” is to develop and increase student skills and confidence in the creative process through critical thinking, problem solving, collaboration and self-management.  In the Creator Studio, the focus on education is a focus on the process while working toward an outcome or product.  When children engage in passion projects and combine this with peer review and collaboration, they are more interested and involved.  The learning is integrated and comes naturally through the projects they inspire and create.  The SPARK! Creator Studio will allow children to understand what they are truly capable of doing.

 

What’s available in the Metroplex for kids?

 

SPARK! Creator Studio in South Side on Lamar

Equipment: Both Apple and PC computers and tablets, IPad Airs, Software for music and digital recording and to drive all technology. Digital wood cutting equipment, 3D printer, two recording booths, 4/C silk screen press, large kiln, printers, industrial sewing machine, vinyl cutter, 3D pens, robotics, microcontrollers and access to all visual art supplies.

Staff: One full time coordinator, part time staff as required, rotating schedule of mentors, certification and digital badges

Programming: Opening the week of August 20, 2018: 4pm-7pm Sunday – Thursday, for students age 10 through high school; programming is free; however students and parents must sign contract for participation and rules of membership. One hour of community service required for every 5 hours of programming received.

 

Best Buy Teen Tech Center @ Juanita Craft Recreation Center

Equipment: bank of computers with Adobe Cloud Suite, large printer, sewing station, vinyl cutter , 3D printer , recording studio, Legos

Staff: One full time, one part time, mentors are difficult to arrange

Programming: 3pm-5pm for elementary kids, 5pm-7pm for middle and high school;

 

The Forge at Denton Public Library

Equipment: Mix of desktop computers, 3D printers, regular printer, resource library, software, supplies for Arduino, supplies for video & music production, Lego Mindstorms, Knex, Little Bits, two large presentation screens connected to desktop

Staff: tech librarian, business services librarian

Programming: Free to public during open hours, workshops required to run equipment, classes, charge for filament, paper

 

Techie Factory 5600 W. Lovers Lane

Equipment: 2 & 3D printers, sewing machine, Cricut, Macbooks, craft materials

Staff: Facilitator, part time adult helpers, teen helpers

Programming: Summer camps, after school labs

 

Walsh Makerspace W. Fort Worth

Equipment: woodworking equipment, computer design software, 3D printers, laser cutter, robotics lab, electronics lab, Lego wall, Makey Makey invention Kit.

Staff: unstaffed, offering classes and advanced operation of tools in the spring.  Plans to host regular programs for local student groups – Aledo ISD

Programming: Kid friendly methods to create

 

Dallas Makerspace

Equipment: 3D printers, automotive tools, sewing machines, vinyl cutters, electronics,  multi-meters, kilns, soldering tools, mills, saws and laser cutters

Staff: volunteer, membership-based organization

Programming: year-round classes taught by community members. Designed for adults.

 


Think Outside the Box

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

 

 

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.


The Creative Process

At SPARK! we teach the creative process.  It’s a way of thinking. A problem-solving methodology.  We define the creative process as “Inspiration with iteration and collaboration leads to innovation.” We refer to these as our “Ations” of creativity and teach them to the kids.  

 

This way of thinking sharply contrasts with most public-school curriculum. Too many schools are teaching children to memorize facts. Too few are teaching them how to think.  SPARK! gives children the opportunity to try, miss the mark, try again and continue on this process until they are satisfied with their creation.

 

There is a giant swing at SPARK! that resembles a lion head-shaped door knocker. We use this installation to illustrate the creative process. On his travels through Europe, artist Rolando Diaz was inspired (Inspiration) by the very large lion head door knockers he saw on castles throughout the country.  When we decided that the alcove in the lower level of SPARK! needed a special installation, Ro recalled his travel memories and sketched his swing concept.  

 

Once the concept was approved, we approached Pascale Pryor, an artist who works in 3D sculptures, and asked her to translate the concept into a 3D piece (Collaboration).  Pascale provided a paper machete prototype that brought some of the lion’s facial features into focus. The machete was approved and sent with the drawing to the welding team of Byron Zarabbi and James Bauer (more Collaboration). Byron and James created a small-scale mock-up that really started to capture Ro’s vision.  The work was approved and the team installed the full-size lion head at SPARK! It was beautiful.  

 

As we compared the swing to Ro’s original drawing, we thought a little more work could be done to meet the vision of the lion’s wild mane (Iteration).  Another small-scale mock-up was created in which gold and copper curls were added. This began a circular process of Collaboration and Iteration as Pascale, Byron and James set about adding hair, painting eyes, sharpening fangs, adding whiskers and even modifying the design of the swing. After a few weeks, everyone stood back and admired the swing (Innovation) as it exists today.  A gorgeous work of art resulting from the efforts of a creative team.

 

Children are often amazed to learn that a team of four, “adult, professionals” went through several rounds of trial and error to get it just the way they wanted it.  Kids don’t typically have the opportunity to work on projects through the process of iteration. Our schools don’t allow for iteration or collaboration. SPARK! encourages these important steps to let children focus on the process of learning and thinking with less emphasis on the final product.

-Beverly Davis, CEO


The Runaway Species

Excerpts from The Runaway Species

by Brandt & Eagleman © 2017

I read constantly.  The ideas and research on creativity are growing exponentially with each passing year.  Sometimes what I read impacts what we do here at SPARK! Periodically I offer bits and pieces for others to ponder.  A few months back I read The Runaway Species by Brandt & Eagleman. They’ve captured so much of what we believe and practice and they use other words to describe it.  Rather than translate or even present a book review, I’d like to share their words, as I highlighted them in reading.

Even their dedication resonates:  

  • “To our parents, who brought us into a life of creativity…our wives, who fill our lives with novelty…and our children, whose imaginations summon the future…”

In the introduction I was drawn to these thoughts that summarize the need for programming such as we offer at SPARK!:

  • …our inventiveness typically runs in the background, outside of our awareness.
  • As important as creativity has been in our species’ recent centuries, it is the cornerstone for our next steps.
  • …the world has found itself transitioning from a manufacturing economy to an information economy.
  • We are already seeing the first glimpses of this new model; the creativity economy.
  • Synthetic biologist, app developer, self-driving car designer, quantum computer designer, multimedia engineer – these are positions that didn’t exist when most of us were in school, and they represent the vanguard of what’s coming.
  • …corporate boardrooms everywhere are scrambling to figure out how to keep up…
  • Only one thing allows us to face these accelerating changes: cognitive flexibility.
  • This mandate for innovation is not reflected in our school systems.  Creativity is a driver of youthful discovery and expression – but it becomes stifled in deference to proficiencies that are more easily measured and tested.
  • If we want a bright future for our children, we need to recalibrate our priorities.
  • A balanced education nurtures skills and imagination.

Not only is creativity inherent, but, as they titled it: Chapter 1: TO INNOVATE IS HUMAN

  • The new rapidly evolves into the normal.
  • Smartphones revolutionized our communications, but new tech becomes basic, universal, and invisible before our eyes.
  • …magic of human brains: we relentlessly simulate what-ifs.
  • Hope is a form of creative speculation: we imagine the world as we wish it to be rather than as it is.
  • Creativity is an inherently social act.
  • Thanks to our appetite for novelty, innovation is requisite.
  • The innovative drive lives in every human brain…
  • The drive to create the new is part of our biological make-up.

In Chapter 2: THE BRAIN ALTERS WHAT IT ALREADY KNOWS Brandt & Eagleman dive into the first of our “Ations” Inspiration:

  • Steve Jobs…Creativity is just connecting things.  When you ask creative people how they did something, they feel a little guilty because they didn’t really do it.  They just saw something. It seemed obvious to them after a while; that’s because they were able to connect experiences they’ve had and synthesize new things.
  • Human creativity does not emerge from a vacuum.  We draw on our experience and the raw materials around us to refashion the world.
  • …modern science historian Steven Johnson puts it, “We take the ideas we’ve inherited or that we’ve stumbled across, and we jigger them together into some new shape.”
  • Creativity relies on memory.
  • …our exceptional sociability compels humans to constantly interact and share ideas   

Brandt & Eagleman present their own definition of the creative process that resonates with the SPARK! definition through the steps of Inspiration and iteration.

  • …we propose a framework that divides the landscape of cognitive operations into three basic strategies: bending, breaking and blending.

Chapter 3: BENDING

  • Bending can remodel a source in many ways.
  • …bending is a makeover of an existing prototype,
  • …human culture incorporates an ever-expanding series of variations on themes passed down from generation to generation.

Chapter 4: BREAKING

  • …something whole…is taken apart, and something new assembled out of the fragments.

Chapter 5: BLENDING

  • In blending, the brain combines two or more sources in novel ways.
  • By enabling different lines of thought to breed in novel ways, blending is a powerful engine of innovation.

Often we talk about the importance of allowing children to take risk.  Risk taking not only in their play, but also in their learning. Our schools today don’t encourage risk, and testing is set-up so that failure is a frightening prospect.  We must allow children to take risks and we must refrain from penalizing them when they do so. Brandt & Eagleman dedicate an entire chapter to this concept; then they move on to talk about what we hope will be the school of the future.

Chapter 10: TOLERATE RISK

  • …new ideas take root in environments where failure is tolerated.
  • James Dyson invented the first bag-less vacuum cleaner.  It took 5,127 prototypes and fifteen years for him to nail the model that would finally go to market.                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                     
  • Like so many other human endeavors, creativity is strengthened with practice
  • FabLabs, Makerspaces, and TechShops are burgeoning, with their communal tools for making artwork, jewelry, crafts, and gadgets.        

Chapter 12: THE CREATIVE SCHOOL

  • …but too many classrooms offer little to be digested, instead proffering a diet of regurgitation.  That diet threatened to leave our society hungry for future innovators. We’re stuck in an educational system born during the industrial Revolution.    
  • The model doesn’t prepare our students to remake the raw materials of the world and generate new ideas.       
  • An education in creativity lies in the sweet spot between unstructured pay and imitating models.  The sweet spot gives the students precedents to build but it doesn’t condition or constrain their choices.              
  • Praise efforts, not results.
  • Any problem with an open outcome promotes risk-taking.
  • To produce a thriving society of creative adults, it is crucial to inspire risk-taking students who don’t cower in fear of the wrong answer.
  • Giving students a chance to solve real-life problems is an inspiring way to spur creativity.
  • Creativity is the fuel for our species’ runaway progress.
  • …young minds need art.
  • …the arts…are the most accessible way to teach the basic tools of innovation.
  • Every facet of the creative mentality can be taught through the arts…
  • Students learn the experimental method in science class, but the experiments they conduct are often aimed at a predetermined result: as long as the students follow the right procedures, they will arrive at the expected outcome.  In the arts, students learn the experimental method, but without any guarantees.
  • …all of us merit the opportunity to develop our creative capabilities.  
  • …all of us merit the opportunity to develop our creative capabilities.  Otherwise, society provides an incomplete education.

And in summary: Chapter 13: INTO THE FUTURE

  • If we don’t cultivate creativity in our children, we won’t take full advantage of what’s unique about our species.  We need to invest in imagination.

Definition of Creativity

Creativity means different things to different audiences.  And it can be expressed in so many ways that is difficult to come up with a definition that suits everyone. Merriam Webster defines creativity as “the ability to create or the quality of being creative.” So much for not using the same word to define itself.

 

When we were shaping our mission in the early stages of SPARK! – to ignite the spark of creativity inherent in all children – we spent countless hours thinking how we would define creativity. I had researched the topic and the importance of igniting a child’s thinking both in and out of the context of formal education. I was adamant that our definition of creativity not be limited to artistic endeavor or even restricted to “The Arts.”  With STEM focus being so prevalent at that time (2011), It was necessary to make sure our definition included those areas of study. Our belief was, and sill is, that creativity is a more global approach to problem solving.

 

Our Programs Committee, comprised of teachers, a principal, an artist, business people and two individuals who run educational programs outside of schools’ standard curriculum, wrestled with this issue.

 

Here is the result of that deliberation:

Creativity – A sense of wonder that invites exploration and the discovery of new possibilities.

 

This definition starts with a mental process.  A sense of wonder is sparked by many things — a need, a problem, an opportunity, a request, an assignment, and even pure inspiration. It is aligned with the adage, “necessity is the mother of invention” and the ability to question how to do something better, cheaper and faster. Sometimes we see the work of others and that inspires us to question, “What if I did it this way?”

 

Entrepreneurs see an opportunity to make money by creating a product, service, or experience that others need or want. Their sense of wonder comes from a determination to deliver something others will purchase.  In school, teachers give assignments designed to ignite that sense of wonder.

 

Exploration is the actual process of the creative mind. It involves research, production, modification, collaboration, iteration, and trial, to reach a desired result. This aspect of the definition applies to works of art, scientific discoveries, the creation of new products, and more.  

 

Sir James Dyson recalls that he had 5,126 failures, or iterations, until he eventually created the world’s best-selling vacuum cleaner. 

 

The discovery of new possibilities happens throughout the process and is often the culmination of this process.

 

At SPARK! we teach children that creativity is a process that drives us toward a goal.