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Thursday, May 24, 2012

How creativity powers science | Jennifer Cutraro, Science News for Kids

Some of the best ideas come not from poring over the facts but from a walk in the woods

Voices of the science instructors, teachers and professors interviewed by Cutraro:

Robert DeHaan, a retired Emory University cell biologist now studings how to teach creative thinking:
Creativity is the creation of an idea or object that is both novel and useful. Creativity is a new idea that has value in solving a problem, or an object that is new or useful.
If you’re doing an experiment on cells, and you want to find out why those cells keep dying, you have a problem. It really takes a level of creative thought to solve that problem.
Bill Wallace, a science teacher at Georgetown Day School in Washington, D.C.:
A lot of kids think that science is a body of knowledge, a collection of facts they need to memorize.
If instead, you teach science as a process of learning, of observing and of gathering information about the way that nature works, then there’s more room for incorporating creativity.
Dave Incao, vice-president of Global Walmart Support for Elmer’s Products:
Science and math fairs — those develop a child’s sense of curiosity to dig in and figure out why things happen. Even if you don’t grow up to be an astronaut or mathematician, that sense of curiosity will help you in whatever career you pursue.
Carmen Andrews, a science specialist at Thurgood Marshall Middle School in Bridgeport, Conn.:
In the best science investigations, it’s not the questions that are most creative, but rather how the experiment is measured and how the data are interpreted, given meaning and how students see the investigation as a component in understanding a scientific problem.

Science as a creative quest 

Chemist Dudley Herschbach of Harvard University and a longtime leader of the board of trustees of Society for Science & the Public, publisher of Science News for Kids:
In science, you actually aren’t concerned right off the bat about getting the right answer — nobody knows what it is. You’re exploring a question we don’t have answers to. That’s the challenge, the adventure in it.
Deborah Smith, education professor at Penn State University in State College, Penn.:
The invention from the data of a possible explanation is the height of what scientists do. The creativity is about imagining possibility and figuring out which one of these scenarios could be possible, and how would I find out?

Unfocusing the mind

Dehaan:
The best time to come to a solution to a complex, high-level problem is to go for a hike in the woods or do something totally unrelated and let you mind wander.

Fresh perspectives, new insights

DeHaan:
Preconceptions are the bane of creativity. They cause you to immediately jump to a solution, because you’re in a mode of thinking where you’ll only see those associations that are obvious.
Susan Singer, professor of the natural sciences at Carleton College in Northfield, Minn.:
Preconceived notions or a linear approach to solving problems just puts you in this tight little box. It’s in allowing the mind to wander when you find the answer.
DeHaan:
Everyone has the aptitude for creative thinking. A creative insight is just allowing your memory to pick up on ideas you never thought about before as being in the same context.

Creativity in the classroom

Wallace: 
I had seven groups of students, and got seven different ways to measure inebriation. That’s what I would call creativity in a science class.
Smith:
When you talk about creativity in science, it’s not about, have you done a nice drawing to explain something. It’s about, ‘What are we imagining together? What’s possible, and how could we figure that out?’ That’s what scientists do all the time. 
What we’ve been missing is that science itself is creative. It’s a creativity of ideas and representations and finding things out, which is different from making a papier-mâché globe and painting it to represent the Earth.
Herschbach:
Too often in school, students get the impression that science is for a specially gifted subspecies of humanity. 
Scientists don’t have to be so smart. It’s all there waiting for you if you work hard at it, and then you have a good chance of contributing to this great adventure of our species and understanding more about the world we live in.

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