The best way to kill creativity is to talk about it.
For eight years, David Squires has taught a course on creativity in Room 376 in the education department at Brigham Young University - and he tries not to mention the "C" word very often.Squires cites a study that shows that people who are asked to brainstorm come up with more and better ideas on their own. If you first explain to them the steps involved in creativity, their list of ideas is much shorter.
So Squires doesn't ask his students to study creativity. He justs asks them to invent a game.
Shantelle Christensen's final project for the class will be a board game called "College." Players must pay tuition, study in the library and suffer setbacks when they get sick during finals week. "If you make it to graduation," says Christensen, "you win."
Another student of creativity, Brent Chowen, is working on a game of the French Revolution. It's called "Keep Your Head."
Chowen is planning to be a history teacher. He hasn't quite decided if he'll use his game in his classroom. It does feature a map of France and actual historical characters, he says, and it does require students to analyze the causes and strategies on of revolution. Still, he worries that maybe he shouldn't let his future students play a game in class. "I'll want them to make the most effective use of their time."
David Squires believes games like "Keep Your Head" can be the most effective way for some students to use their time. It's the best way for them to learn.
We don't all learn in the same way, he explains. That's why inventing a game is such a good exercise for his college students - the act of creation gets them using parts of their brain they don't use very often.
And, he believes, when his students become teachers they will be more creative in the classroom. They will be more accepting of students who have different learning styles, who don't learn very efficiently through the old read-a-chapter-take-a-test method.
Squires has identified nine or 10 different learning styles. People who are "verbal/convergent" thinkers, for example, do well within the school system. They are good at computation and have good memories.
People who are "visual/verbal," on the other hand, understand by doing, not by memorization. They have talents - such as art or auto mechanics. They are logical thinkers. A game like "Keep Your Head" might fit their learning style.
"There are certain strengths and also certain challenges associated with each learning style," says Squires. For example, a verbal/convergent thinker may have a difficult time translating all those facts he's memorized into action.
And visual/verbal thinkers can do quite well in school, if they are allowed to learn the way they learn best. Too many of them don't succeed in school, though, Squires says, and they learn to think of themselves as stupid.
Squires says some of the most popular learning projects and games that his students have invented are art projects - like the one where you are asked to make a clay model of something that describes your major, and other students guess what your major is.
"If teachers can invent a game, they can take their students beyond the textbook," says Squires. That's creativity. That's what he's silently seeking.