The activities in this series illustrate how, by using specific tools for generating and focusing ideas, you can engage your students’ creative and critical thinking at the same time you are helping them to meet the content or curriculum standards (as established by your state or professional teaching area). You will also be preparing them for successful personal and career experiences in the future. These goals belong together, as shown the Figure below; they are not mutually exclusive or opposed to each other.
Skills for the Workplace of the Future
To be successful in our complex and rapidly changing world, and in dealing effectively with both personal and career opportunities or challenges, people must be able to think creatively and critically, to solve complex and open-ended problems, and to make effective decisions.
For more than 25 years, many national reports have offered definitions and lists of these “new basics” or fundamental skills and competencies for all students. In 1982, for example, Gisi and Forbes compiled a list of the "basics of tomorrow" that included items such as: evaluation and analysis, critical thinking, problem solving, creativity, and application. In 1991, Carnevale, Gainer and Meltzer identified what their national survey of employers found to be the "workplace basics," which prominently featured creative thinking and problem solving. Educational literature today is full of discussions of "21st Century Skills", including: creativity and innovation, critical thinking, and problem solving skills (e.g., Partnership for 21st Century Schools, 2007).
These skills are also represented in the mission and vision statements and the broad goals or outcomes that many school districts today have developed and adopted on a district-wide basis. They also appear in several lists we have seen from schools, ministries of education, and organizations internationally.
The congruence of the lists that have been developed, discussed, and adopted in many different settings worldwide underscores our belief that deliberate attention to these skills in today’s schools will contribute in important ways preparing students for the future. These skills not only provide a foundation for effective, creative, and critical thinking, but also for ethical or principled behavior that is essential in today’s world and for our future well-being.
There has been steadily growing attention to identifying the essential content standards that should be at the heart of curriculum and instruction. The widespread (and expnading) adoption of the "Common Core State Standards" indicates broad concern for attention to the quality of curriculum content across the U.S., and comparable concerns are evident globally.
Over the past decade, we have reviewed the content standards from states throughout the United States and from educational agencies in a number of other countries. After we completed our own review, examined the work of several other writers and developers, and reviewed other discussions of standards in the literature, we reached several conclusions that guided us in developing this series of activities. Although the specific terminology for classifications varies across sources, as do specific organizational patterns or structures, there is also a very high degree of commonality across all the presentations we reviewed. The expectations that one agency or locale might hold, for example, for language arts, science, social studies, or mathematics at certain age or grade levels are generally quite similar to those held by any other agency. The similarities substantially outweigh the differences. In addition, we concluded that it would be possible to construct sample activities that could be related to content standards that would apply broadly and could readily be adapted to any specific setting or context.
Tools for Productive Thinking
The kinds of thinking that build upon, but extend beyond knowledge, recognition, and recall, are often described as “higher level” or “higher order” thinking skills. We use the term productive thinking to encompass creative thinking, critical thinking, problem solving, and decision-making. We intended the activities in this series to provide examples or illustrations of how to apply the tools, not to provide instruction in what the tools are or in the tool’s basic steps.
The tools we applied in these activities are derived from the Creative Problem Solving framework (Isaksen, Dorval, & Treffinger, 2011; Treffinger, Isaksen, & Dorval, 2006) and specifically related to the ten tools presented throughout our work (see, for example, a variety of other print and electronic resources on this website). The activities in this series draw from two foundational sets of tools: generating tools (linked with creative thinking) and focusing tools (linked with critical thinking).
You will use the Generating Tools with your students to help them think of many, varied, or unusual ideas, or use their creative thinking abilities. Creative thinking usually emphasizes four different (but related) processes:
- Fluency, or being able to think of many ideas
- Flexibility, or being able to produce varied ideas (Changing your viewpoint or perspective)
- Originality, or being able to think of ideas that are novel, unique, or unusual
- Elaboration, or being able to make an idea “richer,” more complete, or more interesting by adding details.
Basic Guidelines for Generating
When you want to help your students to be as creative as possible, begin by ensuring that the students understand and follow a few important “basic guidelines.” Although many educators may be familiar with these as the “ground rules for brainstorming,” they are equally important to use when you are working with any tool for generating options, and not just when you are using the brainstorming tool. There are four basic generating guidelines; they are:
- Defer Judgment! Evaluation, whether it’s praise or criticism, can turn off the process of generating ideas. When you want your students to be fluent, flexible, original, or to elaborate, work very hard to refrain from any evaluation or judgment of ideas. You will be able to analyze the ideas later.
- Get as Many Ideas as Possible. The more ideas the group can generate, the more likely it is that at least some of them will prove to be creative and valuable. Encourage the students to contribute every idea they possibly can!
- Accept Every Idea, No Matter How Wild or Silly It May Seem. Sometimes an idea that seems silly, or funny, or maybe even a little “crazy” can be made into a good idea later. Also, we find that the “wild and crazy” ideas sometimes serve as good “springboards” for other ideas. Remember that, as the late Alex Osborn (father of brainstorming) said, it’s always easier to tame down a wild idea than to improve an ordinary one.
- Work on Making Connections. Very often we find that one idea leads to another, and that an idea given by one student might stimulate other students to think of even more new ideas. Therefore, it will be helpful for you to encourage your students to make creative connections with each others’ ideas. We call this “hitch-hiking” or “piggy-backing” in which one idea suggests many others.
Our Thinking With Standards activities provide a variety of practical classroom examples of ways to apply our basic Generating Tools in instruction that addresses specific curriculum standards. Each activity identifies the content standards it involves, and also names the specific Generating Tool it uses, to guide you in recognizing the tools and seeing clearly how they work. Becoming proficient with these tools and confident in using them in any content area will help your students to improve their creative thinking. Other Center for Creative Learning books, online resources , and distance learning modules will provide support for you in learning more about the tools themselves.
The Generating Tools in the Thinking With Standards PDF activities include:
- Brainstorming. Brainstorming involves generating many, varied, or unusual responses for an open-ended question or task.
- Force-Fitting. Force-fitting involves using words or objects that seem unrelated to each other, or to a task or question, and linking them to create new possibilities or connections.
- SCAMPER. SCAMPER is a “checklisting” tool that uses an acronym to prompt the use of several action words or phrases to evoke or “trigger” new or varied options. It is based on Alex Osborn’s “Idea Spurring Questions.”
- Attribute Listing. Attribute Listing involves breaking a task or challenge down into its parts or elements, and then searching for new possibilities or ideas related to each part or element.
- Morphological Matrix. The Morphological Matrix provides a tool for analyzing the structure of a task or challenge, identifying its main components (or “parameters”), generating options for each parameter, and then identifying novel and promising combinations of elements.
You will use “Focusing Tools” with your students to help them analyze, refine, or select ideas, or use their critical thinking abilities. Critical thinking is important for being logical and careful in thinking, and for improving or strengthening ideas we like, comparing ideas, analyzing ideas to find out their strengths, weaknesses, and potentials, or choosing ideas and making decisions.
Basic Guidelines for Focusing. When you want to help your students to be good critical thinkers, there are also several important basic guidelines to understand and follow. These are:
- Practice Affirmative Judgment! Being a critical thinker is not simply a matter of criticizing ideas, and analyzing ideas is not just “attacking” them. A skillful critical thinker is constructive, or “affirmative,” and looks at ideas thoroughly and carefully.
- Be Deliberate. Guide students to understand that critical thinking is important and should be done carefully and deliberately. Rather than just jumping quickly on one idea that is very attractive, help the students to apply tools that will support careful observation, attention to details and logic, reflection, and effective decision-making.
- Remember to Seek Novelty. Don’t settle for ideas that are obvious or familiar, or are just “retreads” that no longer have much use or value. Remind yourself that productive thinkers seek to improve existing ideas, or to examine new ideas, and be certain that the students are applying their critical thinking in ways that will help them “move forward” in their thinking or problem solving.
- Don’t Lose Sight of Your Objective. When you are analyzing, comparing, or evaluating ideas, be certain to keep a clear, sharp focus on what you’re trying to do or develop using those tools. Productive thinking keeps the important content in mind, and leads towards an important outcome or result.
Our Thinking With Standards activities also provide a variety of practical classroom examples of ways to apply our basic Focusing Tools in instruction that addresses specific curriculum standards. Each activity identifies the content standards it involves, and also names the specific Focusing Tool it uses, to guide you in recognizing the tools and seeing clearly how they work. Becoming proficient with these tools and confident in using them in any content area will help your students to improve their creative thinking. Other Center for Creative Learning books, online resources, and distance learning modules (coming soon) will provide support for you in learning more about the tools themselves.
The Focusing Tools in the Thinking With Standards PDF activities include:
- Advantages, Limitations (overcome), Uniqueness [ALoU]. This is a tool for refining and developing options. This tool helps you to examine options carefully in order to polish, improve, or strengthen them.
- Hits and Hot Spots. Hits and Hot Spots is a tool that involves organizing options by categorizing or clustering ideas into meaningful and useful sets or groupings.
- Sequencing [S-M-L]. The Sequencing tool involves organizing options by arranging them in a logical and useful order or sequence.
- Evaluation Matrix. The Evaluation Matrix tool involves deliberate efforts to judge, compare and contrast, weigh, or choose among options using specific criteria.
- Paired Comparison Analysis (PCA). Paired Comparison Analysis involves examining and analyzing ideas carefully and in a systematic way, in order to set priorities or rank options.
Click here for a listing of the activities and the curriculum standards and thinking tools that are represented in each of the activities.