Let's talk about Creativity

There were many great sessions at the NCSM conference this year.  Math education is changing for the better and it's fun to engage in the change with so many enthusiastic educators.  I appreciated hearing about topics such as growth mindset, number talks, tasks, standards for math practice and most importantly equity.  Back in class this morning I could feel myself slowing down to listen more to my students because of the presentations I heard earlier this week.  We spent 30 min. talking about a WODB problem with high engagement and it was so much fun.
As a personal reflection after the conference, I asked myself what was new to me, what surprised me, what I disagreed with and also, was there anything missing from the conference, if so what? I want to take a minute to reflect upon what I thought was missing.  I love that we have moved from teacher led instruction of skills to creating learning opportunities for students' understanding, problem solving and critical thinking skills.  These are such important topics to be talking about in order to refine and improve our teaching practice.  However, all of these things were about students doing our problems and not about creating their own meaningful work.
As teachers, coaches and leaders, we learned how to create better tasks, formative assessments, engaging number talks, etc.  We're doing a lot of creating for students to consume, do and apply.  This teacher work is important for students learning, but it shouldn't be our only focus.  Just as we create on a daily basis, our students need that opportunity as well.  I'm not saying that teachers aren't allowing this opportunity, but we're not talking about how important it is for students to produce their own meaningful work. Quality, open-ended math tasks should lead students to problem solve with creative thinking.  In the past, students were expected to solve a problem with the same process as the teacher.  I think every speaker I heard this week values individual, creative thinking from students.  I want to challenge us to not just expect students to creatively solve our problems, but also to draw out their unique creative talents in an educational system that is focused on consuming knowledge and achieving academic success.
Assigning projects where students create something new gives opportunity for differentiation, student voice and multiple entry points.  When students create, they have pride in what they produce.  Creation gives students ownership of their learning.  They get to display their learning in their own style.  I've found that students who aren't engaged on a day-to-day basis come alive when I assign projects.  So often as teachers we feel pressure to find the topics and examples that will peek our students interest.  By assigning projects, we give students the power to bring their interests into our classroom.  When students create, I get to know them better.
The jobs we are training our students for are creation jobs.  They will be creating new technology, medicine, transportation, business, etc.  We should be fostering their creativity in our classrooms today.
With technology it is easier for students to create something meaningful to share with a larger audience than the teacher and their parents.  Creativity isn't limited to a poster like it was 10 years ago. Now students can display their learning on a dynamic infographic that can be shared via social media.  Let's have students create something that is fun, impactful, and appreciated in the school or community.
We don't have to have the perfect project to begin fostering creativity in our classrooms.  Start small.  Have students come up with the questions that you'll spend the class time seeking answers to.  Let students explore and play with Desmos Marbleslides.  Add a writing or drawing component to an existing task. For example, I had students read an article, answer some questions pertaining to linear functions and then on the 3rd page had students creatively engage with the topic of the article (stolen cattle). When you're ready to have students create something bigger, invite them into the planning by asking them what they want to create.