Why Creativity is Important in a Classroom

The Lascaux Paleolithic cave paintings in southwestern of France are famous. They join neighboring painted caves on the UNESCO World Heritage Sites list. These paintings are significant because they are over 20,000 years old and contain images of animals that used to be native to the region but are no longer there. They are evidence of an important part of our history, but they are also a testament to the power of creativity.

There was no real life-altering purpose for painting in the caves. One could suggest that the caveman would have been better served spending his time hunting and gathering, discovering fire, or creating a wheel. Nevertheless, history shows us that it was the man that created art that survived. Why is that?

Creativity is unalienable tied to our evolutionary history and success as a species.

Think of a baby that is just learning to walk. In the beginning, you can see the little worry lines of thought cross their foreheads as they weigh out the possible consequences of moving from squat to stand to first steps. In those first moments, creativity accesses a part of our brains that challenges us and enables us to problem-solve. We learn and grow as we take on new tasks. Not all creativity serves the same purpose. Some exist merely for the beauty of it or the challenge of accomplishing it.

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Nevertheless, each opportunity we take advantage of to create something new, we empower our brains to accomplish more work.


Creative thinking is essential to success.

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We often think about problem-solving and creativity in terms of invention, but that is not the only place where it is needed. More and more, we are seeing employers require creativity in everyday job tasks like maintenance and cleaning. Creative thinking enables workers to manage multiple demands on their schedules while also being sensitive to the needs around them like a family sleeping in the room you are supposed to clean.

Creativity empowers students with learning differences.

The brain is a powerful and interesting machine. It is more active than a thigh muscle during a marathon and it can help us creatively maneuver around problems. Such is the case with many people with learning differences who achieve success daily by developing coping skills around their differences. The ability to adapt so readily creates long-term success for them. According to a study reported in the New York Times, 35% of entrepreneurs are dyslexic in America. That number is higher than in other countries. You can read the New York Times article to find out more about it here.

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Images from Jeff Goodman, Department of Curriculum and Instruction, Appalachian State University

How Can I Bring This Home In The Classroom?

Being creative is a process of trial and error in the classroom. Your goal should be to always keep the class interesting and exciting. Don’t be afraid to try new things, and don’t be afraid to ask your students for honest feedback.

If you care about getting something across to your class, put extra emphasis on it through personal stories, visuals, activities, etc. A lot of times we are so focused on covering the material we are supposed to cover in our lesson plan that we don’t even care about making sure that the students are actually getting it. Try asking them what they remember the next day after you taught it to them. Would you like to be a student in your class? If you don’t think you’d enjoy being a student in your own class, why should they?  

–Jeff Goodman, Instructor at Appalachian State University

Another approach could be to establish an atmosphere where students are able to question material and decide for themselves what they need to learn. I leave you with Danez Smith’s experiences on this subject.

Design Thinking: Teaching to Problem-Solve in Creative Ways

When you realize the value of creativity, one of the questions that begin to probe your mind is: how can I get started integrating innovation and creativity in learning environments?

One approach is through Design Thinking

Design Thinking is a problem-solving process that begins by seeking to understand the end user of a product and challenge and redefine ideas and assumptions about making that product to better suit the needs of the end user.

What does design thinking look like in the real world?

There was a doctor named Doug Dietz who saw a problem with our modern MRI system.

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The problem he found was that children were really scared to go into the system, so it was hard for them to be still enough to get a clear scan. To resolve this issue, Dr. Dietz thought about what designs changes could be done to the machine to make it less intimidating to kids. The results were amazing.

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Dr. Dietz created whole worlds that made the MRI become a portal into a new adventure. Kids responded well to the new machine and were excited to use it. (I would be too.)

These are the sort of out of the box solutions that the world is craving on a large scale, but this kind of thinking is also needed on a smaller scale. Take, for example, a janitor in a hospital at night. The janitor is told to vacuum in the waiting room, but he realizes that a family is sleeping in that area right now. Instead of disturbing the family while they sleep, he decides to do some of the other work on his shift and come back to vacuum at a later time. His design thinking provided extra quality of care for the customers when they needed it the most. We can’t train employees fast enough to meet the demand for creative thinkers like this.  

What are the steps in Design Thinking?

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Images from Jeff Goodman, Dept. of Curriculum and Instruction, Appalachian State University

  1. Empathize
    1. Think about the people experiencing the problem and in need of your solution
    2. Imagine how they feel and what it is like to live their life
    3. Gain perspective about them through market research such as interviews, historical sketches, etc.
  2. Define
    1. Outline what the problem actually is including any sub-parts of it
    2. Identify what you want to achieve by solving this problem
    3. Identify any barriers to solving the problem
  3. Ideate (Brainstorm)
    1. Think through the issues defined about the problem and its proposed customers
    2. Sketch out ideas to resolve the problem and meet the needs of the customer
    3. Work together in groups and/or on collaborative software such as Google Draw or Google Docs
  4. Prototype
    1. Create a 3-D model of what the solution to the problem will be
    2. Physically build the solution in a replica form; don’t just let it stay on paper or conversation
    3. Work together in groups and/or on collaborative software such as Google Draw or Google Docs
  5. Test
    1. Conduct a series of experiments to test the product with consumers to see if it fixed the problem
    2. Modify the product as needed to obtain the desired solution
    3. Repeat this process as necessary till a workable product is obtained

How can we use design thinking in the classroom?

Design thinking is more than creating a project for students to complete together. It is more like creating a story with many complex and interworking parts. Design thinking should be something that challenges students to do research and think through problems that develop along the way on their own or in a collaborative group. 

Imagine having students identify a reoccurring problem in the class and set about creating a solution to fix it?

What if they decided to work together to create their own survival kit for a bomb shelter in World War II?

What sort of business could students design that would also give back to charities in the community?

Given a set budget and a travel book to a foreign country, what sort of vacation would they plan?

What could students do to provide supplies for a fall-out shelter if you have to make your own energy, clean water, and food?


To find out more about Design Thinking and why some of the world’s leading brands and top universities are using it, check out this website.