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Finding original ideas in an age of Google⁠—Part 2

In the first part of this blog series, we shared how five educators encourage creative thinking among students. Here is part two, featuring more innovative tips from educators around the world.

We had such a big response to our tweet: “In an age in which students Google everything, how do you teach them to come up with original ideas?” that we’re sharing more responses from IB teachers and alumni.

Encourage students to embrace progress

An inspired educational leadership team should be able to persuade students to risk being creative. The operative word here is, ‘risk’, since we live in an age where results define the credibility of academic performance.

Our endeavour should be to encourage students to focus on the process and not the product; to embrace progress over perfection. It is only then that they will appreciate the varied means they may employ to complete a task.

The following are just some of the measures that could help make our students more process-driven and, in turn, more original in their thinking:

  1. Device-free days or self-management days for the entire school communityStudents are encouraged to use this time to solve, or at least engage in, a series of discussions on real-world problems.
  2. Visits to the library followed by a reflectionStudents learn how to reflect and comment/critique whatever they have read. The skills required for this step will be cultivated over time.
  3. Create texts that demonstrate concepts that students have already learnedStudents should be encouraged to conceptualize, design and create new genres free from the shackles of archaic structures and designs.
  4. Apply the Feynman TechniqueEncourage students to explain complex concepts to younger students. This technique forces them to breakdown problems to its bare bones. Not only will they identify gaps in their own comprehension, but they will also learn, ‘how to learn’ rather than, ‘what to learn’; the most common malaise that makes students resort to Google while studying.

Sheldon John Dias, Diploma Programme (DP) extended essay coordinator, DP language & literature higher level (HL) at GEMS Modern Academy in Dubai

Ask open-ended questions

We really focus on the, ‘non-Googleable’, questions by guiding students to create open-ended questions that guide them to key concepts.

Robin Cole’s students posing questions about the environment.

We begin by providing a provocation connected to what we are learning about, usually a photograph, and we ask students to generate as many questions as they can. They then classify them as, ‘open’, or, ‘closed’, questions and have an opportunity to identify the open questions that they think could lead to further inquiry or serve as a basis for research.

For those specific questions, they then have the ability to adjust them to be even deeper by challenging themselves to reframe them. Instead of just simply, ‘why’, and, ‘how’, questions, they extend them to become deeper, such as, ‘why might’, and, ‘how would’, sort of questions, which provide that, ‘non-Googleable’ piece that we are looking for. The questions that the students end up with are then paired with the key concepts they best fit with, which again guides the inquiry further and gives the students a lens to navigate and research.

By giving students the opportunity to generate truly original questions, it connects to their own ideas and wonders. What speaks to one student might not speak to another, and that is why I love this technique. It is structured, yet incredibly open-ended to embrace that spirit of original inquiry.

Robin Cole, IB Coordinator for the Primary Years Programme (PYP) and Middle Years Programme (MYP) at St Clement Catholic Elementary/Junior High School in Alberta, Canada

Use Google to begin research

My response looks at this problem from a different perspective. I think students using Google can encourage more originality, objectively, due to the ability to research and analyse the field of answers and converge that information into new directions.

I argue that, prior to Google, just because people were not able to search anything in a matter of seconds did not mean they were necessarily original. Perhaps subjectively they were, but they could simply be rehashing ideas that have been said or done before.

The research-based approach to originality allows us to respect history, and stand on the shoulders of giants to reach new levels of creativity, breakthroughs and original thinking.

Elijah Claude, IB graduate 

Original ideas are original if we allow students to imagine

Google is a search engine full of information that students can access at the mere touch of a button. It does provide students with tools that allow them to collaborate and create, but educators need to encourage students to explore through creativity, questioning and problem-solving regardless of which tools they use. Students can be empowered to think, act and do through their own original ideas.

“These ideas can be creatively expressed through their thoughts and constructive imagination. We can provide opportunities for a student to express what they imagine, see, feel and think.”

Encouraging students to express themselves kinaesthetically, visually, verbally and in written forms, in collaborative learning environments and in creative ways encourages them to use their imagination. Giving students such opportunities to demonstrate their conceptual understanding creatively is key to any successful unit of exploration and inquiry.

Some ways to tap into students’ creativity in active learning classrooms could be as simple as using materials to make things that express a concept. Furthermore, you could use digital tools such as animation to explain the concept of time, place and space using visual expression and language.

Even creating and composing songs using real instruments can allow students to express emotions as a form of communication. By tapping into their inner creativity, we will help our students think and do rather than passively find and receive information.

June Evans-Caulfield, Middle Years Programme (MYP) coordinator & I&S educator at Trinity Lutheran College in Victoria, Australia

The flexible big question

Start with a big question. Allow students to engage with the question at their own level/interest point. Then, give students opportunities to research and communicate in their own ways.

When trying to drive inquiry in the classroom, students need to be guided by something I refer to as, ‘the flexible big question’. For example, if you are exploring, ‘Innovation’, you could ask the students a question, such as: How do _____ inspire innovation? The word you put in the blankartists, athletes, musicians, etc.will provide flexibility and change the lens of inquiry. This change will provide the students with an opportunity to develop original ideas. The next step is to allow the students to engage with their answers and those of their peers.

Teachers need to remind the students about the big question and their answers throughout the process. Provide them with opportunities to add new and interesting ideas to their inquiry.

Robin Cole’s students posing questions about partnership.

Mark Ryan, Head of Specialists Primary Years Programme (PYP) and PYP visual arts teacher at Raha International School in Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates

Have a look at the first part of this blog series to see how educators are encouraging creative thinking among students. Furthermore, consider following these stories on Twitter, LinkedIn and Instagram and feel free to email us your story. 

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