A weekly class implemented by math teacher Alyssa Charles has fourth graders tackling some strange problems, such as “How do you get a hippopotamus out of a bath tub?" and "What are all the ways we can use 1,000,000 ping pongs balls?" Those are the kind of issues that get discussed in creativity class, where there are no dumb questions and no wrong answers. Instead, there is investigation into the definitions and principles of creativity, and plenty of opportunities for students to exercise their own creative muscles.
Research suggests that children tend to lose their natural creative ability as they grow. While 98 percent of children qualify as “highly creative” at age five, a study found that rate drops to 30 percent for ten-year-olds and 12 percent for 15-year-olds. What causes the drop-off? It’s easy to point to any number of possible factors: schooling driven by standardized testing, a glut of television and video games, social pressures to follow and fit in. The good news is that the decline can be combatted with practice and support, and that’s exactly the idea behind creativity class.
The class comes at a critical point in the students’ development, says Alyssa, when scholastic matters often take backseat to social acceptance, a phenomenon known in education circles as the “fourth grade slump.” At this age, children are trying to define their own identities outside of the guidance and protection of adults. In this way, the components of creative problem solving are really life skills, empowering them to make their own mark. Additionally, fourth grade is a turning point in terms of the cognitive aspects of creativity. While young children are adept at engaging their imaginations just for the sheer fun of it, by age 10, their creative thinking tends to be more contextual, focused on problems and solutions. If they aren’t given the chance to exercise that aptitude, their creativity withers, as do the possibilities that go with it.
Look for more on creativity class—and on other ways creativity is being explored at Elmwood Franklin—in the upcoming Bulletin Board magazine.