Untethering Imagination

Photo Credit: determinatum via Compfight cc

This week I’ve been thinking a lot about creativity, imagination, and creative thinking. Part of the reason is that I’m working through the exercises in Claudia Azula Altucher’s Become an Idea Machine – and Todd Henry’s Accidental Creative trying to exercise my “creativity muscle” and explore new ways of looking at the world around me. One of the exercises, which I haven’t been quite doing every day, is to write down 10 ideas about a topic each day. I started off with an easy topic, like writing blog posts, and was able to get 10 but it wasn’t as easy as I thought. As I read through the book and have been trying to write down 10 ideas, it has become clear that it isn’t as easy as it sounds. As I work on my own ideas for my thesis, exploring ideas and putting together questions to “try on”, I have found myself thinking more about being creative and what that entails.

Ideas – Currency of the 21st Century

I was first introduced to the book Become an Idea Machine on Chris Brogan’s podcast The Owner’s Mind and after listening to the interview, I went and downloaded the book for free. As I read through the first few chapters, the current blogging challenge for our #saskedchat came to mind.  Each member who has signed up has been asked to come up with an idea to blog about for the week. Last week our topic was imagination/creativity – what a great topic to begin the challenge!

The topic for the blogging challenge this week is all about imagination. How can we foster imagination in the classroom? Why is it important for kids to be able to use their imagination in school?

The various bloggers who took part had some great ideas and posts about creativity and imagination. One that really struck me was from Alan Stange – a teacher in Moose Jaw – who wrote in There is No Box how our current schools really aren’t built for collaboration but more for individual reflection and creativity. One of Alan’s comments really resonated with me

The Internet, and our learning networks are not the only source of creative teaching strategies. … As we plan our units, we have to stop shying away from poster making, cartooning, model building, experimenting, role playing, and all the other time consuming or messy activities.

Hands on creating and using different tools for imaginative problem solving is an important part of creativity – simple things that allow the imagination to go in different directions.

Design Thinking – A Process of Creating

A few summers ago I took a course about Design Thinking from Stanford University. It was a great introduction to the process. I also read Change by Design by Tim Brown on the use of the Design Thinking process. One of the great things about Design Thinking, from my perspective, is the power it gives to the people involved to solve problems through creativity and designing using simple items – paper clips, tape, sticky notes, pipe cleaners, paper cups, etc, – to create initial ideas in a combination of hands-on making and sketching out different ideas from brainstorming sessions. The whole process, captured in the graphic below, is focused on coming up with solutions to issues or problems in novel and unique ways with a focus on creativity. For schools, this process could really benefit students while looking at ‘real world’ issues – combined with Genius Hour or Maker Space – to be creative while exploring possible solutions or avenues for possible solutions.

During the class, after coming up with a question, we were asked to come up with 50 ideas based on some lead questions – how might a 5 year old see the problem, if you had no money,  unlimited resources, etc. In this way, we were able to examine the problem from new perspectives which really helped in the creative brainstorming.  The point was that we needed to begin to see things in new ways which would then, hopefully, free us from being confined by our ‘boxes’.  There are many great resources for schools interested in Design Thinking but I would recommend Design Thinking for Educators, which has a great toolkit to help in the process, An Educator’s Guide to DTDT for Educators Vimeo, and notosh which all have great resources for educators interested in DT. 

The Multiplier Effect

One of the books I would recommend for school leaders and teacher-leaders is The Multiplier Effect – Tapping the Genius Inside Our Schools  by Lize Wiseman, Lois Allen & Elise Foster.

They offer a model of leadership that recognizes that the critical leadership skill is not personal knowledge but the ability to tap into the knowledge of others.

The book examines how leaders, through recognizing the intelligence of others, supporting them and allowing them the autonomy to solve problems, can help to reshape the learning environment in schools allowing teachers and students to become creative problem-solvers.

New Approaches Needed

Our schools are filled to overflowing with potential — just watch the energy of students as they interact with each other and the world around them. In It’s Time to Invest in New Models of Professional Learning, Brian Lewis comments that

They should be empowered to control their professional learning path. Educators need varied, collaborative, contemporary professional learning opportunities in order to meet the evolving needs of students.

In recent years much of the focus has been on the ‘things’ that teachers can use to help them – iPads, iPods, laptops, etc. I don’t disagree that these are important – for some students like my daughter who uses various tools to help her with reading they are essential. Instead of continuing the debate of whether they should get to use them, access and the multiple other restricting conversations that take place, a new approach is needed that will open up schools and allow for greater creativity. Part of this, I believe, is to focus on the creative process and helping students develop their ‘creative muscle’ in various ways. Using the  Design Thinking process is one such way but it isn’t the only way. The real power comes from building relationships and using those relationships to collaboratively solve problems and explore things in different ways.

What ways have you tried in your classroom? What is your school doing to help students with their ‘creative muscle’? How do you use sketchnotes, brainstorming, role-playing, cartooning, ideating, prototyping and other ways of exploring ideas in your classroom? I’d love to hear your ideas and what is happening in your classroom and in your school.

If you enjoyed this article, Get email updates (It’s Free)


I am a husband, father, son.... I am currently working on my PhD in Education - Curriculum and Instruction. My focus is teacher professional development and social media integration. I have a beautiful, supportive wife who has been my partner for 28 years. We have 8 wonderful children who are amazing individuals. Together, we are exploring the world around us, sharing our stories, and enjoying the journey!