Does experience limit creativity? What a coffee cup did….

I had an interesting conversation with the better half last night. I was bemoaning marking and standardised testing, pondering why we do junior exams at all and generally ranting that my time (and the students time) would be much better spent doing real, relevant stuff rather the exams. Or watching the cricket on TV (although the blackcaps were terrible)

The husband pipes up with what else would you do? Employers use exam marks as a bench mark (amongst other things), universities and polytechs need those marks and careers paths can be determined yadda yadda yadda. I piped up with the fact that a lot of successful people failed exams, too which he replied, yip, but they tend to be the entrepreneurs and ‘out theres’ rather than the normal.

So I got smart and asked him what the coffee cup he was holding was for (He was drying dishes while I marked, he really is a better half). He said for coffee. I said we don’t drink coffee (or tea, or hot drinks in general…we are strange), why do we have a dirty coffee cup? He thought about it, and we both remembered that Ollie (our son) had grabbed it instead of his hungry hungry caterpillar cup. I had been to busy to care, he had some water to drink out of it and then tipped the remaining water all over the floor, and then he had spent about 30 minutes of precious quiet time exploring what could and couldn’t fit in a cup he hadn’t been allowed before. It made me stop ranting at the hubby and actually think about why the exams were bothering me so much (aside from having to mark them)

So to the hubby and I, the cup was a cup. Coffee, or tea, or milo or some other hot beverage goes in it. When we haven’t done dishes, it might be water or juice. And a pinch, it measures flour, might hold pencils or pens (or flowers every blue moon). But what else could a coffee cup do?

Maybe for an artist, it is a muse? Fragments could be used for a mosiac? Maybe it could hold paint brushes? Form a basis for a sculpture?

For my son, it was a toy of sorts…. helping him learn more about his world and volumes, spacial awareness, what fits inside what, and how to balance a cup with a handle – he still used two hands to drink from it, but did enjoy tipping water out of the cup via the handle. When he was pushing cars into it, it was a tunnel. It was a hill for the cars to drive over. It was a musical instrument as he bashed it around the house seeing what noises it made on different surfaces.

It made me reflect on idea I had heard somewhere (I can’t remember where – maybe ulearn14? Maybe MIEE? maybe a blog) that sometimes our experience can limit our creativity. To me and the hubby, it was just a coffee cup. Because we have been told it is a coffee cup, and experienced it being used in this way. To our son, it was a whole lot of things.

So, when do children start to see boundaries of what things are and what they can do? Am I inadvertently limiting my son and my students by telling them ‘facts’ about the world. I think I am, even though I am trying incredibly hard to make positive change to stop this happening so often in my classroom. Are these soul destroying tests the education systems clings to doing more harm than good? Simply because our experience tells us this is what education is for.

If I had never been in a school – what would I design for the young people in NZ and the world over to learn in? What do I think it is important to teach them? I certainly wouldn’t pick 4 drab walls and a stuffy room, even with the windows open. I certainly wouldn’t pick exams and test as an assessment method – but I currently feel hamstrung by my experience to be innovative and creative in providing an alternative.

But then a voice in my head argues you do need some experience – if you have never tried something, how can you say if it works or not? How can you critically review an idea of you don’t have a knowledge base behind you. And how can you build a knowledge base if you don’t have a set of ideas or facts to scaffold them on?

And that other nagging voice says who are you to make those calls? What if your students fail because of the changes. Students like notes, why an’t you just give them notes (A heartbreaking piece of feedback in surveying my yr 12 chem class was a student wanted more worksheets – It was this sole piece of info the HoD grabbed onto, rather than the videos were great, took a bit to get used to but ended up loving the blog, liked the animations, loved the internals….)

So, I am going to try again and look at things in different lights, different contexts and different places. Maybe I can see how things can work in a new way, by trying to forget about how they worked before. I need to try and build knowledge in different ways, so myself, my students and my son can see things in terms of possibilities rather than black and whites.

So for me, the coffee cup was a catalyst. It kick started a whole lot of ideas that had been milling around in my head without quite enough energy or direction to make a connection/reaction. But now those connections are starting to make more sense to me, and hopefully, like many chemical reactions, once they start, they build some momentum.

To carry on with the chemistry metaphor, a chemical reaction at equilibrium acts to minimise change. You can change things, but the system always tries to shift back. So I am going to try and get out of an equilibrium, and drive a reaction forward. And if it goes to completion, and blows up in my face, I can always go back and try again 🙂

Maybe I should start drinking coffee 🙂

Have fun

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