Welding Creativity with Problem Solving

Can you make oil and water mix? Can you make Republicans agree with Democrats? Can you make Democrats agree with Republicans? Can up and down ever get together?

Can you merge right brain divergent thinking with left brain convergent thinking?

Yes you can. Students / individuals can be taught to be more creative and they can be taught to be think critically, and both sides of thinking can enhance each other’s capacity to problem solve.

Parnes and those who have built on his model have developed a process where it’s possible to create solutions to issues, problems, and concerns, that plague us that would not have been “discovered” when using only conventional linear type thinking.

From time to time I will sprinkle in some of the methods Parnes et al have developed. This post is intended to continue the overview as a continued rationale for arguing that our present curricula and systems for schooling must be re-tooled for 21st century education.

Here’s an overview:

  • Students are led to, or discover issues or problems that need solution.
  • Teacher provides sources and / or instruction about the problem.
  • Teacher uses specific problem-identification techniques to squeeze the problem to its core needs.
  • Students engage these techniques to narrow and refine the problem.
  • NOTE that each all of the above activities are left brain / convergent thinking strategies
  • Now teacher switches to right brain / divergent thinking strategies such as brainstorming, force-fitting, SCAMPER, and piggy-back techniques
  • NOTE I will devote separate posts about some of these strategies down the line
  • Students, alone, and in small and large groups begin to generate as many potential solutions as possible
  • NOW teacher switches back to convergent thinking by inviting students to identify criteria that would help students assess their tentative – creative solutions in order to evaluate these for their potential success.
  • Using their criteria students begin to filter their ideas and to isolate those that appear to have the most promise.
  • Students use additional or previous research, canvas other individuals, poll, use feedback to refine their ideas.
  • Students use additional criteria to isolate the solutions they have created to choose the most likely ideas.
  • Students identify the audience they will present their ideas to. They will attempt to pre-identify the audience’s values and feelings, background and levels of expertise to anticipate any questions the audience may have.
  • Students use both creativity techniques and logical thinking to create presentations and evidence to sell their solution.
  • Based on their audience’s response they may go back to re-tool their thinking and presentation.

Ok, I know that sounds kind of dry. My intent here is to give you the snap shot of how the process may evolve. In the next series of posts I will elaborate on each bullet with some real-world examples.

Now what should we use as a basis for investigation and solution? How about what a 21st century education should look like?!

Left Versus Right isn’t Always About Politics

I was a coordinator and a teacher of secondary school programs for “gifted and talented” students for several years. We had constructed a wonderful model based mostly on Renzulli, where we extended our excellent elementary program’s emphasis on process skills mastery that would later be applied to “real-life” venues.

It was a very worthwhile program and very effective. What was fun for me at least, and for the children in the program, was that they were freed from the fetters of conventional chalk and talk teaching and they were intensively exposed to activities that were meant to help these children be able to think critically, decisively, and creatively.

Students had the chance to be in all sorts of experiential and complex challenging activities and projects. They went on archaeological digs. They created Madison Avenue advertisement campaigns. They designed and implemented their own simulations, to name just a few.

Over time I began to question the exclusivity of it all. After all,  we were not charged with creating an elite cadre of students because in doing so, we were excluding all the other youngsters who would have for sure, also risen to the challenges of exciting and interesting activities.

I began to argue that we revamp all of our curricula to accommodate at minimum, the first two stages of Renzulli, particularly the second phase, that of process skills instruction. A much earlier post in this blog spoke to and explained the rationale for this within the context of 21st Century schooling that drives this blog.

And that brings me back to creativity and of creative problem solving. And the moral obligation of curriculum designers to consciously spiral a set of creativity and of creative problem solving skills strands into all instruction for all learners.

You might also note that I spoke to creativity AND to creative problem solving (CPS). There are differences, mainly in the point of emphasis. Creativity curriculum strands might be built into the P21 literacies where students are expected to routinely practice and master the four aspects of creativity, flexibility, fluency, elaboration, and originality. Where Creative Problem Solving, most often but not exclusively attributed to Sydney Parnes, is a process approach that weaves creativity with so-called logical thinking.

And that is where the Left and Right in this post’s blog applies.

As you know, sometimes someone will say “This is a left-brain issue;” that is, in this instance we need to look at the problem at hand in a logical, linear, CONVERGENT manner, the assumption being that the left hemisphere of our brains are the centers for logic, speech, and detailed base behaviors. If you are a trekkie, the best analogy would be that of the immortal Mr. Spock.

The term convergent  speaks to the premise that this type of thinking promotes single points, or single fact reasoning. “Who discovered America in 1492?” is an example of convergent thinking.

More rarely I think, and also more poorly I think, sometimes someone will say “This is a right-brain issue;” meaning that the issue for solution requires some creative thought. In other words we are now talking about DIVERGENT thought processes, supposedly the responsibility of the right hemisphere of our brains. The right brain appears to be the “go-to” for emotional reasoning, non-verbal reasoning, creativity.

The term divergent then speaks to the type of thinking that promotes considering choices and considering  a range of ideas. “Who discovered America?” is a divergent thinking question isn’t it because it has a multitude of answers.

I am told that some are advocating that Bloom’s taxonomy be rearranged so that Creativity and Synthesis are at the top of the pyramid, Evaluation and Assessment having now been demoted to second from the top.

Do we know of, can you point out curriculum models that consciously incorporate the marriage of convergent and divergent thinking strategies into a spiraling strand where students can practice the expectations of using creativity to facilitate logical reasoning to produce effective solutions to real world issues K-12?

Hmm, all I have to do is to pick up the paper in the morning and find oh, I don’t know, maybe 10 issues that require futures based, creative problem solvers.