Jump start your creativity: question yourself!
A short webliography of tools to help you ask good questions.
Have you experienced a creativity slump lately? If you are an educator, you’re probably laughing right now. Every day of our professional lives, we must find creative and effective strategies for addressing our students’ needs. Some educators are happy to use their same techniques year after year, which may serve them well. But at some point, all educators are challenged to find new and creative ways of working with students. We can use our colleagues as sounding boards and with internet connectivity, we can access articles like this one. (I hope I’m not presuming too much about this article!)
What happens, though, when our colleagues are not around and we are looking for a fresh perspective on teaching a topic we have taught numerous times? Try a technique that we have all used with our students but that we often fail to use with ourselves: asking questions. When students approach us with their frustration with locating information for research or with their inability to generate a topic, we hold their hands by asking them questions. What aspect of this topic interests you the most? Why did you choose this topic? What should others know about this topic? It seems quite natural that we respond in this way when talking with a student. So why can’t we try a similar approach with ourselves?
This time saver article focuses on a collection of web tools to help you jump-start your creative juices. Although you might not develop the perfect lesson by using one of them, you’ll likely be closer to your destination than when you started. The tools vary in their design and purpose, but the functionality they offer can bring us closer to generating creative solutions to our problems. The act of questioning is a simple tool that we use throughout our daily lives to understand and to be understood. The tools mentioned in this article pose questions that move us toward creative insight into instruction.
Creativity Web is a collection of resources to help you get your creative juices flowing. “10 Creativity Kick Starts” is a list of activities to facilitate idea generation and to foster creative thinking in general. Some of them we already know, but may not think of during a slump. One suggestion encourages “Regular Fresh Input.” This technique suggests that we should seek new opportunities for input each day, such as listening to a different radio station or taking a different route to work. How does this relate to questioning? By trying something different, breaking free from our habitual routine, we create opportunities for ourselves to question the world around us. The site also includes an extensive list of “Techniques for Creative Thinking.” This list includes familiar techniques like brainstorming and storyboarding in addition to many you may have never considered. The essential element here is the role that questioning plays in all of them.
If you’re feeling a little playful, take a look at the Idea Workout Gym. This tool of the Innovation Network, created by Thinksmart.com, offers a range of suggestions and ideas for developing your mental muscle. By passing your cursor over a matrix of engaging images, you reveal a range of creative stimuli such as “Take a long perspective” (What might happen to this situation in 50 years? 1000 years? What would your great-grandchildren say? How would it look in Istanbul or to someone born on another planet?)
If your focus is to create a learning situation for your students that incorporates web-based resources, take a look at the The Idea Machine from TomMarch.com. This tool randomly generates a series of questions to stimulate your thoughts. It contains a text box into which you can paste each question you like. When you are finished, you are prompted to type your name into an additional text box and then click a button which launches a new window with your questions ready for print.
The entire Harvard ALPS Project website is worth a look. One tool on the site, The Connection Cube, is designed to help students make connections between prior knowledge and new knowledge. The design, however, offers some functionality that you may find useful in generating ideas. Like some of the preceding tools, it offers a series of questions. To generate a question, simply type your topic into an input field and click a button labeled “Roll the Dice.” that appear as you “roll the dice.” One question you might get is this:
Imagine that this topic doesn’t exist, or never existed. Describe two ways that the world might be different. Ask the group for help.
The site offers a second input box into which you type your responses. Your responses are saved as you continue through the exercise. The end result is a printable webpage containing your ideas about the topic.