Monday, August 20, 2012

See How Easily You Can Design a Lesson for Creative Thinking

In 1941 the U.S. Air Force had a problem. A large proportion of their aircrew trainees were not graduating, they could not pass their performance tests.  You want to talk about high stakes testing...scantrons and number two pencils have nothing on a young pilot behind the stick of a high powered plane taxiing down the runway. The least of his problems is making dark neat marks inside the circle.

Enter JP Guilford, a psychology professor from the University of Southern California.  Guilford had been studying the diversity of individual differences in intelligence; he noticed that intelligence was a combination of multiple abilities.  Taking this into account, and based on his research of intelligence testing, he worked with Air Force and discovered there were eight specific cognitive abilities that were needed to fly an airplane not just one.

The Air Force needed to be more divergent in their training.

I think we forget  sometimes about looking for divergent thinking in school.  We are victims of our own schooling, trained for years to play the game of "what does the teacher want?"  But like the trainers in the Air Force 70 years ago, we can remember to teach for more than just one answer.

Educational writer and consultant Ian Gilbert shares some ideas in his book Why Do I Need A Teacher When I Have Google? 

Give students a group of pictures the one below (which, like Ian Gilbert in his book, I just made up):

Which one of these doesn’t belong? Why doesn’t the pencil belong? The headphones? 
What would come next in the series?  Why should one be outlawed? 

Which should be a national symbol? 
Which of these is most like a geometrical proof?

These are just questions that popped into my head, I am sure you can do a better job asking questions that will push the students thinking.

Another benefit to using these types of questions is helping students understand differing perspectives and explaining their own perspective. Some gifted students are often frustrated when they have an idea in their head but do not have the words or opportunity to translate the thoughts into explanation. Quick warm-ups this gives teachers a chance to help students listen to each other but also work on their ability to explain their divergent ideas.


Lets make this idea do double duty: work on perspective building and add rigor to our content.

Divergent Thinking in Science:
You could stick with the theme from above...
Why is your science lesson like a dog or earphones or a pencil?
What would you get if you combined all three together?

or put up a slide like this:
Which one of these doesn’t belong? Why doesn’t the Potassium belong? Nitrogen? 
What would come next in the series?
Why one should be outlawed?
Which should be a national symbol?
Which of these is most like a geometrical proof?
How would the world change if all three were banned from the United States?

Divergent Thinking in Social Studies:



Which one of these doesn’t belong? Why doesn’t Enron belong? Spindletop?
What would come next in the series?
Why should one be outlawed?
Which should be a national symbol?
Which of these is most like a geometrical proof?
Why should all three of these be legal forms of tender in Washington D.C.?

Divergent Thinking in Math:


Which one of these doesn’t belong? Why doesn’t 1.5 belong? 2.67?
What would come next in the series?
Why should one be outlawed?
Which should be a national symbol?
Which of these is most like recess?
If these three numbers ran a race, which one would win?



Waiting for Right Answers

The lesson from Guilford and his time with the US Air Force is that if we want students to be able to think on their feet, they need to interact with our content in divergent ways. The charge to us as teachers is do we give equal footing to divergent answers in our classroom?  Do we light up imaginations with possibilities or dim student thinking expecting the right answer?


If you would like to read more about using divergent thinking in the classroom please pick up a copy of Stand Up! Speak Out! The Social Action Curriculum for Building 21st-Century Skills available from Prufrock Press and Amazon and Barnes & Noble.

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