Engaging in the Hard, Fabulous Work of Creativity

My bathroom has two sliding doors. I designed the bathroom with these doors as canvases for some sort of artwork. Finally, one side of one of the doors is finished!!! Well, to be specific, the artwork is finished,but the door remains perched on two saw horses in my bedroom/studio, waiting for a few coats of polyurethane before it is hung again on its slider.

.door on saw horses

It is remarkable how much thought, research, doodling, re-thinking, kibitizing, talking, looking, and physical work, are involved in being creative! I love the process, but for some reason, this project really encouraged me to notice the time, effort, thought and work of creativity.

My process:

  1. I spent days thinking about the project. I imagined what I wanted. I thought about how I might achieve what I wanted. I changed my mind numerous times. I decided I wanted to — somehow — stay true to the architectural design of my arts and craft bungalow home.
  2. This sent me on a long path of research – looking up arts and craft fonts, flipping through a plethora of arts and craft design and art books, and googling various people and pieces I was particularly drawn towards.
  3. I found two fonts, and many designs I liked. Now I had to see if I could actually use them. Could I learn how to draw them and make them my own?
  4. Next came the doodling and sketching. Funny as it may sound, I experience joy when I find and use a pencil that feels good in my hand, moves smoothly across the paper, makes great marks and erases easily. And speaking of erasing, the number of iterations I went through in order to come up with the final design, was amazing! I wish I hadn’t thrown away all my sketches. It would be good for my students to see and know that the work that looks so easy, and causes them to say, “Wow, you are so good at that, Miss James!”  is actually informed and supported by many other tries! I’ll be sure to keep the next batch.
  5. My final design is the result of being open to possibilities wherever I found them, and mashing together ideas from many different arenas – arts and craft designs, zen-tangling sensibilities, yoga, mandalas, nature, botany, math, color theory, and I’m sure many more that I’m currently forgetting!

door collage

But that wasn’t the end! The work, thinking, experimenting, ideating and iterating continued.

  1. Now I had to take my idea  – drawn on an 8.5 x 11 piece of paper – and transpose it into something beautiful on the actual door. Rulers, yardsticks, lovely pencils and erasers, compasses, and scratch pieces of paper were purposefully strewn across the door. I measured, sketched, thought, looked, breathed …. and did it all again for some time. It was fabulous! Finally the design was sketched onto the door.
  2. Next was the wood-burning stage which would create the dark lines of the design on my door. I should mention that this stage was also preceded by many hours of practice. The burner comes with many different tips. I experimented with each one to see what type of line it created, which heat worked best for it, and how easily I could manipulate it to create the lines I wanted. I experimented on various types of wood – they all seem to burn differently – and then explored the different areas of the clear pine I was using. The grain caused different burning rates and necessitated changes in speed and heat.
  3. Finally, time for color! I loved the look of the design burned into the wood. I’m sure it would have been fine to polyurethane it in its natural form, but I had created it with color in my mind and knew it would seem unfinished if I left it uncolored. So, once again, I risked “wrecking it” in order to make it what I knew it could be.
    1. I laid the colors out on the design – playing with different combinations.
    2. I painted the colors onto a similar piece of wood. I was amazed by the difference in the colors out of the paint tube versus on the tube.
    3. I thought, looked and waited. Mostly the waiting was because I was working during the day and coaching in the evenings, leaving me little time to create. But, that waiting was important, because I had time to look, and look some more, and allow my brain to play with the colors.
    4. I couldn’t decide on all the color combinations so I started with one color combination – the leaves – and as I painted, the other colors combinations coalesced for me.

The color and painting process was fascinating! I tried to figure out the entire color scheme, but failed time and time again. When I stopped trying and began painting, I – for lack of a better phrase – began to see better. It was as though the process of immersing myself in the medium – the paint and the painting – increased my clarity.

I can’t explain it — many ways it was magical! As I painted the leaves, with the tubes of paint lying about me, and I would notice myself thinking “Oh! That might work.” I’d continue painting, and notice another thought “Hmm, perhaps that is too much. I think this might be better.”

Often I’d run my ideas past my brother (another creative, learned soul) for clarification and validation. I wouldn’t always use his ideas, but somehow his ideas fed mine and helped them become more “perfect.”

door closeup

Each step in the process involved risk, flow, joy, time and triumph. It was all fabulous, but the time was really important. Time to think, to do, to wonder, to mess up, to re-think, and to experience the process, the product, the materials. I would often just stand at my work – leaning on the door, examining it with my eyes. Other times, I would run my palm over the work. The tactile experience of touching my work in its various stages of completeness was incredibly important, necessary and satisfying.

It makes me think about school and my students. How can I help them have this experience of creativity — in all its angst, sweat and splendor? How can I give them the time and opportunity to experience — in their own creative work and thought — what I experienced in mine?

I’m not completely sure, but rest assured I’ll be thinking about it, and letting the question, and any possible answers, inform my teaching practice!

 

 

Using Creativity to Boost Young Children’s Mathematical Thinking (MindShift)

I am SUPER excited to share this article with you!

MindShift author, Deborah Kris, did a spectacular job. She asked thought provoking questions that encouraged me to continue to research mathematics and creativity, and to reflect again upon my beliefs and practice.

I loved immersing myself in the research and reflection. As I did, I came to believe even more deeply that creativity in thought and action increases the power and beauty of mathematics. I hope you enjoy the article, and that it enhances your thought and teaching practice.

Using Creativity to Boost Young Children’s Mathematical Thinking

By the way, there is a link in the article to my paper – Managing the Classroom for Creativity. If you haven’t read it yet, give it a look.

James, M. (2015) Managing the Classroom for Creativity. Creative Education, 6, 1032-1043. doi: 10.4236/ce.2015.610102.

 

 

Breathe, Pause and Listen

golden windows

 

“I love your gold windows” I said to one of my young painters.

I smiled and began to move on to the next student, and the next thing to notice.

As though she sensed my attention was moving she said with urgency and haste …

 

“It’s the sun, shining off the windows!”

 

 

It’s the sun, shining off the windows! Of course it is!

I love that, for her, the gold windows were purposeful and beautiful. She didn’t use the gold simply because it was sparkly and pretty. It was the sun, shining off the windows!

I love too, that she shared her thoughts with me

I am struck by the profoundness of that moment – her words, her joy, her sharing, my being the recipient of her beauty, awesomeness and understanding – and how easily we could have missed that encounter!

I took the briefest of breaths as I began to move on, and she grabbed that moment and shared her noticing, remembering, joy, beauty and understanding with me.

I am grateful for her deep desire to share, and her willingness to call me beyond noticing – which is good – into sharing and conversation – which is great.

Take that extra breath, that extra moment, and just listen.

 

 

Courageous Creativity

math canvas 1

Sometimes we have to show a little courage in order to encourage it in our students!

Our math coordinator felt, I think, a little left out of my Kindergarten classroom. It is a lovely space, rich in the opportunity to do math, but not so rich in the “in your face, obvious, look this is math” kind of way! I love math, yes, for real, I really do. So I thought “Let’s go all out!”

I pulled out two canvases. They were beautiful! Big, thick, pristine, white canvases. I was excited to make some sort of creative, statement piece. Something that was fabulous artistically and aesthetically, and actually said something about math.

You may recall, I’m sometimes a bit of a chicken when it comes to the big, blank, white page! And, let me remind you, this was not a only big, blank and white, it was a canvas, and not a cheap one at that. But I had no time for timidity! I had two days to create two canvases. Eeek!

I flipped through a couple mixed media art books, and came upon many ideas I thought I could use – putting paint on the canvas with an old credit or gift card, creating layers with stencils and cut paper – and perhaps most importantly, not being afraid of the process.

A deadline is not always helpful when you are being creative, but this time, it was incredibly helpful. I didn’t have time to entertain my fear of the blank page, or the possibility of destroying the canvas. I had to trust the process, the colors and me, and just do it! So I did.

It was super fun and super freeing. Hopefully it will inspire parents and students to wonder, investigate, think, share, strategize, question, problem solve, reason, make mistakes, try again and learn … even if they are feeling a bit trepidatious!

math canvas 2

 

The Crayon Initiative

Have you ever heard of The Crayon Initiative?  Me neither! Until today.

The Crayon Initiative recycles “unwanted crayons into unlimited possibilities for children.”

How cool is that?

I’m sure there are lots of people/organizations who are doing creative repurposing with crayons, but for now, I’m liking and blogging about this one! :) (No disrespect to any of the others.)

crayons

I like the process they talk about as they tell their story …

  • twirling a crayon – deep in thought
  • wondering out loud
  • asking questions
  • discovering a problem
  • being confident in their ability to discover a new way to address the problem
  • accepting the challenge to make a positive change
  • thinking
  • ideating (having ideas! Awesome word, isn’t it? Around since the 1800’s I believe)
  • bringing one of those ideas to life to “recirculate the endless supply of free materials and bring the Arts to children everywhere.

There’s a lot to love about this! The process, the creativity, the crayons (I happen to love crayons, lol.) the openness to possibility, the thought, the action, and the benefit to children and the environment.

Rock on Crayon Initiative!

Let’s follow their lead. Let’s wonder, question, think, ideate, believe, and make positive innovations!

 

T4D – Teach for Delight!

While reading Tom and David Kelley’s book – Creative Confidence – I came upon Design for Delight. D4D (Design for Delight) is the brainchild of Intuit’s Kaaren Hansen. D4D involves “evoking positive emotion by going beyond customer expectations in delivering ease and benefit so people buy more and tell others about the experience.” (p. 176)

As I read, I immediately thought – OH!!! T4D! How fabulous would that be?

T4D

T4D … Teach for DELIGHT!

It’s an interesting twist isn’t it? Not teach for meaning. Not teach for skills. Not teach for understanding. Not teach for learning.Teach for delight!!! Cool, creative and fabulous, right?!?!!!

Now, before our educator heads explode, let me reiterate – for something to be truly creative it must be useful and appropriate. Meaning, understanding and skills are essential parts of teaching and learning. Therefore, they remain an integral part of my vision of T4D. So, let’s revisit. T4D is cool, creative and fabulous, right?!!!

Think about it. What if our focus, as educators, was delight? What if our goal and intention was for all constituents to experience delight in the learning/teaching journey.  Wouldn’t that be amazing?

Delighted students would engage, think and learn more deeply. They would discover the pleasure and satisfaction of learning, questioning, experimenting and even struggling. Hopefully they would seek to know and understand far beyond our classrooms. Delighted parents, might partner, more fully, in their children’s learning. And we, delighted educators, could, breathe, smile, and engage in the process of learning and teaching with increased fervor and purpose.

AND WE WOULD ALL BE DELIGHTED!!!

Yes, I know, I’m yelling, lol. I’m yelling because T4D  is a concept I’d like everyone to hear and embrace!

T4D. Increase the joy, and deep learning. Teach for Delight!

Resources:

Creative Confidence: Unleashing The Creative Potential Within Us All by Tom Kelley and David Kelley, 2013, Crown Business Publishing

Reflections on Making Room for Creativity in Math

math blog

Tons of things happened when I made room for creativity in math. My students and I:

  • thought
  • shared our thinking
  • struggled with moments of confusion, not knowing, and even small failures
  • laughed at ourselves, and laughed with each other
  • challenged one another’s thinking, explanations, illustrations, words, and math
  • encouraged one another to keep at it and not give up
  • were creative – in our ideas for the math story, in our illustrations, and in our explanations
  • transferred our math knowledge to our real life, and our real life to our math work and thought
  • persuaded others regarding our thoughts and conclusions
  • worked to understand each other’s point of view
  • did a lot of math
  • drew some great illustrations
  • enjoyed seeing our ideas in print

But, what surprised me the most was the depth of understanding this exercise afforded me!

My girls all have a basic understanding of addition and subtraction, and they all employ various strategies to solve simple number sentences. Some have a greater comfort than others manipulating numbers, and actively seek the opportunity to share their adding/subtracting prowess. While I was excited to experience the thought and creativity of all my girls, I was particularly interested in what these girls would do with the challenge. I imagined their math skills would allow them to revel in the thinking, and come up with great, inventive ideas. I never imagined what happened for a few of them.

They could not complete the task!They came up with many number sentences and easily solved them. But, they struggled to find a way to connect their number sentences to real life. They seemed perplexed as to why anyone would do that, and honestly, seemed to feel a bit betrayed by me for asking them to do so! We worked through it together, and they were able to, joyfully, produce work that made sense to them and their friends.

It was fascinating! This wide open exercise that combined life, art, math, writing, thinking and communicating, allowed my girls to show – in a new and insightful way – what they did, and did not, understand. It was an amazing assessment opportunity – of their learning, and my teaching!

 

Making Room for Creativity in Math

By the second half of the year, my girls understood addition is putting things together to get more. They understood subtraction is removing things to get less. They were able to use various strategies to solve problems I created. They enjoyed showing their mathematical prowess as they computed the numbers I gave them.

But, I wanted more for them. And, in a funny way I wanted more for me. They were always amazing and amusing me with their thinking and creativity in other pursuits – actually, we amazed and amused each other! I wanted to experience that with them in math as well. I wasn’t sure how to provoke this creativity, independence and amazement in math. But, believed it could (and should) happen.

After letting it “ferment” in my brain for a few days, I had an idea. What if I asked them to create  a real life addition problem? What about a real life subtraction problem? Oh my! What if I challenged them to create a real life math problem that involved subtraction AND addition? Now that would be something!

I asked them to think of an addition story. Not just two and two is four, but two of what and four of what. And perhaps most importantly why? Once they had their story, I asked them to record it in three ways: illustration, word and number. It was fascinating, and fun, to listen to them, talk with them, and watch them work.

IMG_2334 math add subtract

Next I had them create a “math mystery.” Their pictures were visible, but their word and number stories were hidden (under the flap). When they were ready, they partnered with a friend, shared their pictures and tried to guess each other’s word and number stories.

constructing math2

This helped them notice nuances that they missed, or didn’t need, when all the information was before them. For instance, is this 2 people joining 2 other people floating in a balloon (2+2 =4)? Or is it 2 people getting off the rock to go home, leaving 2 people on the rock (4-2 =2)?

Two very different scenarios, and depending on your interpretation, either could be true. When differences arose I encouraged the girls to talk with one another. “Ask each other questions. Tell each other what you think and why you think it. Explain your work. Add detail if you think it’s important. Help each other!” What an important and impressive process. Sometimes they agreed to disagree, secure in their explanations. Sometimes they amended their drawings, or noticed something they previously missed and amended their guess.

I think they amazed and amused each other. Certainly they amazed and amused me! Hopefully they began to see that math is useful, fun and all around them.

So, what did you guess the word and number stories were for the above picture?

This real life math problem is:

constructing math1(There were 4 people in the pool. 2 got out. How many are left? 4-2=2)

Of course! :)

 

 

Possibility, Power, Perception … and Transformation

Yes, lol, such a long blog post title, but I couldn’t choose just one word. Clearly I couldn’t even choose two! Perhaps you will think of a better title. Good! If you do, share it with me.

I was on Facebook today, and noticed a photo and article a friend shared.

11665599_870285546341093_899220086246508560_n

(photo from Facebook post of http://www.amightygirl.com)

I was pulled in by the idea and the awesome photo. Heading to the website link I discovered this video: (from http://www.Yuwa-India.org)

Let’s Put Every Girl’s Future Into Her Own Hands

Give it a look. It is compelling and joy-filled!

Watching the video, I was struck by something I noticed and loved about Reggio Emilia and El Sistema – two educational systems/approaches I researched for my MA – a deep belief in the transformational power of what is being done.

The soccer coaches are not teaching the girls to play soccer simply to play soccer, or even to become good at soccer. Yes, of course  playing soccer is important, becoming good at it is important, but it is so much more!

Education and creativity are like that, too! Yes, of course education is important for education’s sake, and creativity is important for creativity’s sake. BUT if we leave it there –if we stop at education, or creativity, or sports, without perceiving, and believing deeply, in the profound possibility that is found in them — we miss the opportunity to share, and be touched by, their transformational power.

I’m published!!!

WOO HOO!!! My first academic paper is published in the Journal of Creative Education (June 2015). It’s based upon my MA Creative Thinking research.

Here’s all the info:

James, M. (2015) Managing the Classroom for Creativity. Creative Education, 6, 1032-1043. doi: 10.4236/ce.2015.610102.

AMAZING to see my name – Molly James – as the author in a research journal. I hope it is the first of many.

Please feel free to join me in a happy dance and a lovely cup of tea!

tea

Then, pop over to Creative Education Journal and take a look at my paper. CE is an open access journal, so you will be able to download and read my paper without the need to subscribe. (YAY!) Here’s the link:

Managing the Classroom for Creativity

It’s a great read – if I do say so myself! My hope is it will help many educators create classroom environments that encourage deep thinking, academic excellence, and creativity.