Sunday, March 30, 2014

Students Yearn For Creativity, Not Tests

The other day as I was sitting in my office, sophomore Sarah Almeda popped into my office, as she usually does. After day three of PARCC field testing, I was catching up on some dreaded paperwork, one of the least favorite aspects of my job.  Sarah, bubbly as ever, asked if she could email me her presentation as part of the Academies at New Milford High School.  I said sure but then asked her when she would be giving the actual presentation. Her reply was later today.  I immediately looked at my calendar, cleared the time, and told her that there was no need to email the presentation to me as I was going to attend in person.

As part of our Academies program, students engage in authentic learning activities outside the school day in the form of field trips or special projects. These are in addition to the added coursework required for an Academies designation.  For this particular activity, students had to read Out of Our Minds: Learning to Be Creative by Ken Robinson.  They then watched a video and had to create a presentation where each student was required to share their “creative” experiences with the group. Total freedom was given to create a presentation in any format they wanted to include but not limited to: a written document, a poster, a collage, a pinboard, a chart, etc.  The entire assignment and rubric can be accessed HERE.  Each student had to be prepared to answer/explain the items below.
  • Tell the group about your creative self.  Explain how you are creative (what’s your medium?).
  • Tell when you feel the most inspired.  
  • What stifles your creativity?
  • Tell us about (at least) one other person whose creativity you admire and how he or she inspires you. 
  • Explain what you believe schools need to do better for students to promote and enhance their creativity. Provide an example of something that would have helped you to be more creative or something/someone who did help you.  
Now back to Sarah.  After watching some amazing presentations, one of which I will highlight later, Sarah’s turn came. I had to use my administrative privileges to get the YouTube video to work for her (students will be advocating soon for unrestricted access). Once her video began, everyone was floored.  I can honestly say that this was one of the best, most inspiring, thought-provoking student presentations I have ever seen.  Not only was it created entirely through self-directed learning, but it also sent a strong message about how powerful creativity is to learning for our students.  Please take a few minutes to watch the video below in its entirety.  She created it using her graphics tablet and the software Bamboo Pad both by Wacom, Quicktime to record the computer screen as she drew, and iMovie for editing.  If you like it, I encourage you to share and send a comment Sarah’s way. 

Days like today inspire me to keep pursuing an aggressive agenda for growth while promoting the work we are doing at New Milford HS.  It provides affirmation as to what students want in an education and how we are striving to provide it.  Throughout the presentations, I heard student after student discuss how important creativity is to their learning.  Their words expressed how they yearned to have freedom over how they could demonstrate what they know and a true desire to have ownership of their learning.  Like Adobe, I strongly feel that creativity is essential in a student's learning experience.  As this report shows, creativity matters and its value beyond high school in terms of potential success in careers cannot be overstated. 

Many students expressed gratitude for the culture that has been cultivated at NMHS, a culture that supports creativity, choice, and authenticity in learning.  A presentation by sophomore Stefany Lazieh put into perspective how creativity is stifled, ways schools can promote more creativity and ways she has become more creative as a result of the established learning culture at NMHS. For her presentation, she used PowToon.

As a principal and educator, you could not ask for a better day.  We witnessed our students shine when given the autonomy to produce a learning artifact that was meaningful and relevant and reflected the importance of student voice.  The conversations that resulted during and after the presentations acted as catalysts to empower students to take action and work with us to create an even better school. There was one other significant takeaway that I learned from my students that day. When it comes to creativity and learning, standardized tests are one of the most significant inhibitors.  I leave you with one of the many images that students willingly integrated into their presentations to hammer home this point. 

Don't prepare students for something. Prepare them for anything. We need to let our students MAKE GOOD ART! 


  1. Amazing! See you tomorrow in Syracuse!

  2. Sarah,

    Beautiful way to begin Sunday morning with your video. I will share with so many individuals who I know will appreciate your voice, passion and energy for innovative, creative learning! Thanks for your resources. Will check them out. I just finished reading The Innovator's DNA by Jeff Dyer, Hal Gregersen, Clayton Christensen. You and your video reminded me of the messages contained in this book.
    Best wishes. You will make a difference in our world! Alicia

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  4. Eric,
    I cannot explain how refreshing it was to read about creativity this morning! I can relate to the deflation of student interest due to the cookie cutter education style. Unfortunately, sometimes the vision of the "exact" final product trumps the learning process and the student's vision of what a product should look like.
    My district/campus experiencing a technological transition at this point. As I have mentioned the last time we spoke over a camel burger in Houston, Clear Creek ISD is phasing in a 1:1 initiative. We have many dedicated and fantastic teachers in our community. I feel that a large number of instructors feel trepidation about utilizing new technology in the classroom. I have a great idea for an action research project that I plan to conduct next school year. Hopefully, the project will highlight a conglomeration of techniques and best practices that bear authentic and creative fruit throughout our campus.
    Sarah's project was pretty awesome! I plan to share it with the entire faculty! Thank you for sharing!
    See you in a couple of weeks!
    -Ryan Peterson

  5. Sarah... thank you for being Brave enough to share with the world what you believe schools should be... or better yet, what schools shouldn't be! I am proud of you for stopping by your principal's office to share this with him and I am very excited that he cleared his schedule to watch you in action! I am a principal at a grade 5-6 campus in Texas I part of our challenge as a campus this year has been to BE CREATIVE in our daily work... both for teachers and students. School is fun an enjoyable when we take that approach.

    Keep sharing your ideas of creativity and thinking differently against the status-quo. Your mindset about creativity will change the world by making a difference in people's lives that you will never even meet. Keep up the POSITIVE point of view & Make Great ART everyday!


  6. Ryan - Let's talk about how I might be able to assist you with making your vision a reality in your District next week.