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Dutton Park State School students mark the Year of Creativity

Creativity has often been considered the domain of dancing, drawing and drama - but what about its place in other subjects such as science or sport? As REBECCA PERRY discovers, creative thinking, a crucial skill for students and teachers, will remain on the agenda well beyond the 2009 Year of Creativity.

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Outside the square | Year of Creativity

You know it's a typical school day at Buranda State School when principal Lynne Hinton tells her young charges that her neighbours live in a coconut.

They laugh hysterically until she asks, 'Why wouldn't they?'

Buranda State School principal Lynne Hinton

Buranda State School principal Lynne Hinton

'Because it is wet and dark,' some offer. 'A house needs an entrance.'

Even after 12 years of pioneering philosophy in primary education, Ms Hinton hasn't tired of the task of challenging youngsters - instead she thrives in an environment where arguments are plentiful, yet peaceful and productive.

'Young children intrinsically know concepts, such as the things that make a house, so we encourage them to create logical arguments, test their reasons and theories, respect other people's ideas and know it's OK to be wrong or change their mind,' she says.

From her school of 215 students in Brisbane's inner south, creativity and curiosity are catching on - classrooms around Australia and in countries including the United Kingdom, Singapore, Japan and New Zealand have introduced philosophy into their curriculum.

Even Queensland University of Technology staff are working to include Buranda's philosophical ideals as part of its education courses.

All this interest, sparked from one innovative program that began as a way of improving literacy and numeracy, gives a glimpse into the potential of Queensland's future, thanks to the power of creative thinking.

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Creative Queensland

The Year of Creativity will feature celebrations across the Department of Education, Training and the Arts with a focus on creativity in education - and why it is a critical part of learning.

In a world of changing technology, educators agree harnessing creativity and innovation will become more important than ever before. Creative skills could help solve world issues such as drought, climate change, famine and local issues such as public transport and skill shortages.

New Farm State School principal Virginia O'Neill believes the most creative people often are scientists and mathematicians.

'They have to come up with unique ways of solving problems,' Ms O'Neill says.

Her Year 7 pupils are living proof that young people's ideas can make a difference.

The students have been part of the consultation for student activities to be staged at this year's Ideas Festival, which began in 2001 as a platform for presenting ideas, promoting public debate and celebrating innovation.

The festival is one of a host of Year of Creativity events, which will also include a professional development Twilight Series for teachers covering a range of inspiring topics.

Bright Sparks is another key activity. The project will tour the state asking Queenslanders to digitally record their thoughts on creativity and how they use it in their lives. The best student responses will be made available on the Year of Creativity website.

There will also be a series of three Creative Challenges managed by the Queensland Academies. The challenges will centre on bringing together students from state and non-state schools, universities and industry partners to creatively solve real issues currently facing Queensland.

The calendar of events also includes Creative Generation - State Schools Onstage, the Creative Generation Excellence Awards in the Arts, the Showcase Awards for Excellence in Schools, State Education Week, Science Week and the Brisbane Writers Festival.

Creative expert Professor Anna Craft

Creative expert Professor Anna Craft

High-profile ambassadors, from fields including writing and poetry, photography, business, information technology, art, design, political science and media will lend their expertise to events throughout the year.

Celebrity chef Alastair McLeod is among them, and believes a dash of creativity is an essential ingredient in his culinary creations.

He says all of us have the potential to hone our creative skills.

'It is a bit like learning an instrument,' he says. 'Once you know the basic rhythm and melody, you can create riffs of your own.'

Fellow ambassador and former Blue Heelers star Paul Bishop agrees.

The Gladstone-born actor and graduate of Brisbane State High School is channelling 20 years of acting experience into the business of helping others create sustainable futures in a creative way through his company Arts Evolution.

'When I look at the future, I can't see it without looking through the eyes of my children,' he says.

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The big picture

Queensland is part of a global push to encourage creative minds in schools which has seen educators across Australasia, Europe, Africa, America and the Middle East embrace innovative practices in the classroom.

Studying them has become a specialty for Professor Anna Craft from the University of Exeter and The Open University in the United Kingdom.

The former primary school teacher was puzzled when she saw creativity, a skill largely inherent in youngsters, slipping in favour of a pressure to perform purely academically.

'My commitment to creativity in education was cemented when a senior colleague took me aside, confided that he found my choice of research area "a bit odd", and recommended I focus on "something sensible - like science, for example",' Professor Craft recalls.

'I realised then this area needed a research focus and champions prepared to develop and understand it better.'

Professor Craft will speak at the Ideas Festival in Brisbane from March 25 to 29 and give the key lecture at the Twilight Series on March 27. The Year of Creativity team has 20 free tickets for teachers to attend Professor Craft's March 27 talk. If interested, email your name, school and day time contact number to Year of Creativity.

With a host of books and articles to her credit, Professor Craft offers a fascinating future perspective through her concepts of 'possibility thinking' and fostering creativity with wisdom.

She encourages teachers to give students space and time to generate ideas, provide a physical environment that allows quiet reflection along with mess and ensure actions are connected with values so they are meaningful.

'We should be celebrating the individual and collective imaginations of young people,' she says.

Professor Craft is also investigating the practice of 'flattened hierarchies', which involves repositioning teacher and learner relationships to encourage 'respect, engagement and sensitivity on both sides in listening and actioning'.

She says this simple act of listening and talking seems to get the creative process back to where it often happens naturally - in young children.

Regional Executive Director of the Wide Bay Burnett region, Kirsti Kee, a representative on the Year of Creativity committee, agrees youngsters often get it right.

'You see all the fresh-faced littlies going into primary school, so excited about the world that is facing them and not afraid to give it a go,' she says.

'That is the attitude we need to nurture.'

Ms Kee said she constantly sees creativity in daily classroom activities across her region and often, there isn't a paintbrush in sight.

'The Maryborough Technology Challenge will be featured as part of Year of Creativity celebrations in September, when students will design devices that use environmentally friendly energy sources,' she says.

'A lot of the success also comes from embracing a school's local surroundings. A good example is at Wondai State School, where their Paddock to Plate program is embedded in the curriculum to encourage children to grasp the full circle of their rural environment.'

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Creative solutions

Educators agree a common misconception is that creativity is limited to the arts.

It is largely about creative solutions - such as at Hervey Bay State High School.

Although the school is known for its strong artistic flair, with drama teacher Marjolijn Dudgeon commended with an Australia Day regional cultural award, it is now putting creativity into practice to improve relationships among the wider community.

'About 10 per cent of our student population is Indigenous and in the past, there has been some family dissatisfaction with the school and between families,' principal Julie Learoyd said.

'We spent a lot of last year looking at ways we could do things better and we have now employed a community education counsellor to work with students and their families.

'We are also finding ways to promote Indigenous culture so that students are proud of their heritage and want to share it with the rest of the community.'

The school has joined the national Dare to Lead initiative to improve academic success and inclusion with Indigenous students, and will showcase activities during NAIDOC Week as part of their Year of Creativity activities.

Visit the Year of Creativity website to share your school's work and check out the list of activities, competitions and events being staged during the year.

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Teaching creativity

Creative students can become critical thinkers with the help of teachers who encourage creativity. Here are some tips for teachers:

  • celebrate curiosity and wonderment
  • encourage children to consider alternative suggestions and ideas
  • teach children to evaluate ideas and to make reasoned judgments
  • have children understand that there may be more than one correct answer
  • provide opportunities for children to think about their own thinking and the thinking of others
  • teach children to explore disagreements reasonably and respectfully
  • let children have time to develop their ideas
  • reflect on your own work, as well as what you are thinking, doing and saying.

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