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Breaking habits and building creativity

Rebecca-Meyer.jpgCreativity is on the decline in the U.S. I am learning that creativity takes practice--actually, it takes a LOT of practice--and that sharing ideas is a far better strategy than holding ideas close.

In a prior blog post, Mark Haugen challenged us to improve our programs by changing a habit. I'm taking a MOOC (Massive Open Online Course) called Creative Problem Solving. It's a way to learn more about sparking creativity in our youth, (a 21st century skill) and maybe to become more creative myself.

The notion of change is inherent in the course syllabus. Each week, an assignment calls on us to do something different -- in other words change a habit. These Do Something Different (DSDs) assignments (e.g., talk to someone different, or eat something different) tug at something inside, a deep exploration of my core habits and values. Although relatively simple in design, they push me outside of my comfort zone. While in certain moments it can be very uncomfortable, the experiences are quite profound - especially through the interactions with the thousands of other students in the course.

My interest in creativity is centered around designing STEM programs for youth. I've written a number of blog posts about developing 21st century skills like creativity.

The MOOC has me thinking more about how to change and improve specific program habits to intentionally target creativity and innovation. For instance, my 52,000 fellow students are on every continent, from the largest cities in the world to remote jungles. I wonder what would happen if we could design our STEM youth programs to interconnect so many youth across programs and countries in the rich work of STEM and design, specifically engaging youth globally in practices of creativity doing things different and outside their comforts. Opportunities like Maker Camps hint at the possibilities.

coral-reef.jpgIn his book, Where Good Ideas Come From: The Natural History of Innovation Steven Johnson focuses on "the space of innovation" and the environments that can spur or curb it. He describes Darwin's paradox of the diversity of life in ocean reefs surrounded by nutrient-poor waters. Like the oasis in the desert, it is rich in innovation and complexity, different from everything around it. What causes an oasis or a reef to form? Could a "creativity reef" be created through our own effort? Could a youth program be such a place?

Methods like the MOOC put us at the frontiers of youth program design and can be a generative space for creativity. It's exciting and will require us to be both courageous and take risks.

So, how can we do a better job of interconnecting youth in our programs to become the rich "reefs" where innovation is truly developed?

-- Rebecca Meyer, Extension educator, educational design & development

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  1. Becky,
    All organizations have habits....I love the idea of building in an intentional DSD plan! I'd love to learn more about your experience.
    Charles Duhig did a great job in his book at sharing the base structure of a habit. A habit begins with a trigger that causes an action. The action is our routine, our automatic way of doing something. We recognize the trigger and complete the action because of the final component; the reward.
    Extension 4-H programs in Minnesota have a strong and positive habit of creating and exhibiting project learning at county fair programs. Would it be possible for us to modify the routine to include different rewards for youth that create space to develop innovative solutions to a specific challenge?
    What would you suggest to modify our awesome habit of project based learning exhibition in a way that will affect the individual learners experiencing outside of the county fair?

  2. Thank you for sharing! I am going start thinking of DSD in my instruction. I think innovation and leadership are extremely important to cultivate in learners early. In my opinion, we need students, parents and teachers all to see creativity and innovation as absolutely essential to the future and tie it to how it will help students develop a story for college.


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