155 Lessons in the Creative Process

Some of you might have seen that I’ve been working on a daily blogging project this year called My Daily Create. You can visit it at www.mydailycreate.com (or click the link in the menu bar above). The basic idea is that I’m attempting to create something every day of the year during 2014. It could be music, a video, a drawing, a photo or a poem. It could be something practical and usable, or something retinal and frivolous. It doesn’t matter what it is, I just plan to make something each day. So far it’s going pretty well and I haven’t missed a single day yet.

Earlier this week I presented a keynote at the EduTECH conference in Brisbane on the topic of creativity at the invitation of the organisers. I find creativity an interesting topic to talk about, but it’s usually one of those things that’s easy to talk about in general terms but much harder to talk about specifically. I felt even more challenged by it because several of the other speakers were also talking about creativity, including Sir Ken Robinson, who, as I’m sure most readers of this blog will know, is considered somewhat of a guru on the topic of creativity in education.

I do find that the general message of what most people say when talking about creativity in education boils down to “It’s important, you should do it”, with very little actual guidance on HOW to make it happen and I tend to think we probably need a little more information than that.

So the plan for my keynote was to be a bit more practical and specific about creativity and so I decided to share some of what I’ve learned from doing my daily create each day in the form of lessons I’ve learned about the creative process and how they might be used with students.

For the people who asked for a copy of the presentation, here are the slides (I’ve had to remove the video content as it was just too big a file with them included)

Despite a shaky start due to some dodgy AV, I was pretty happy with the way the keynote went. The talk was basically presented in three parts…

  • Exploring Creativity – showing examples of the sorts of creative projects I’ve been coming up with during the first 155 days of My Daily Create.
  • Learning from Creativity – sharing some of the lessons (or meta ideas) about creativity that I’ve found from forcing myself to make something every day.
  • Applying Creativity – showing a few examples of how some of my daily creates have turned into activities and tasks that I’ve been doing with my kids in the classroom.

The lessons that I offered about creativity were these…

  • Create is a Verb – you have to actually DO stuff in order to be creative, not just think about it or talk about it. Actually DO it. Seriously. It’s amazing how many people wish they were more creative and overlook this simple fact.
  • Wonder. A Lot – Most creativity springs from being curious about things. Wondering “what would happen if…” or “why do we do it like that?” are often the starting points for coming up with new creative ideas.
  • Curiosity + Action = Creativity – When you combine the wonder with the action, things happen. Take action on your ideas, no matter how silly or fleeting they might be. Anyone can have a good idea, but the people who take action on their ideas are the ones we deem creative.
  • Make time to Play – Yes, making stuff takes time. So if making stuff is important to you, then make time for it. Make time, not find time. None of us can find time, we each get only 24 hours in a day so you already have all the time you’re getting. It’s a matter of clearing space in your day to make time for creative acts.
  • Wander off the Path – Something that becomes incredibly obvious when you force yourself to make things every day is that you almost always make something different or unexpected to what you thought you might make. Be led by your curiosity, your mistakes and your hunches. If you go somewhere you didn’t anticipate, just keep going. Don’t try to undo your mistakes, just turn them into the end result,.
  • Your Ideas are not Original – Hardly anybody ever has original ideas. Everything is a remix of things we’ve seen and heard elsewhere, just repackaged and remixed in our own way. So copy ideas shamelessly. But remember that while copying one idea is plagiarism, copying lots of ideas and combining them all together in new ways is where real creativity comes from.
  • So Share – If you use other people’s ideas (and you do!) then don’t be precious about letting other people use yours. Share generously and give away your stuff freely. Don’t be an idea hoarder. You’re just a conduit for ideas, so pass them on to others.
  • Creating = Learning – You learn when you create (and isn’t that the goal in education?) You might learn the things you expected to learn, but more often you will probably learn things you didn’t expect to learn. Be open to ideas, follow them, be inquisitive, be generous, and you really cannot help but learn through being creative.

The “big idea” I wanted to communicate was that creativity is a process, an active thing you do, and should do it regularly. Borrow and share, be open and curious, and you WILL come up with creative ideas. Some people claim they aren’t creative,  but there is no such thing as a non creative person, just a person who has chosen not to see the world creatively.

Finally, I showed some simple examples of how my daily create has spilled over into my teaching and helped me bring these ideas into my classroom.

I finished the talk by getting the audience to help make Daily Create number 155, chanting the phrase “Creativity is  daily deliberate act”.

The response I got afterwards from people was really nice. Quite a few people came up to say they got a lot out of the talk, and Twitter had lots of positive feedback too. It’s really nice when that happens. When you give a keynote it’s always hard to know what you could possibly say that might be of any value to the audience, especially when so many other speakers seem to know so much more about it, and speak so much more eloquently. But all I can really do is speak from my heart and mind, sharing my own personal experiences, so I’m glad it resonated with others and they found it useful.

Here is a link to the slides in Google Drive, (without the videos) but if you’d like a copy of the actual slide deck in Keynote format just drop me a note and let me know.

Slam That!

I had the chance to take one of our Year 6 classes this morning while their teacher was away. This class is part of our BYOD iPad program where every student brings their own iPad.  Borrowing the Slam idea from the Google Summits, I got them to do an App Slam. Every student was given an opportunity to voluntarily participate, and they had 2 minutes to share an app, game, tool, tip, etc with the rest of the class. I said it could be anything at all, just something that they enjoyed using and would like to share with the class.

I was amazed at just how eager they were to do this, and they were figuratively falling over themselves to add their name to the list of presenters. As they each did their slam (which of course they had to end by shouting the word Slam!) I added their name and the thing they demoed to a Google Form. After the last student presented I simply published the form, gave them the short URL to access it and let them vote for their 5 favourite slams.

It was a lot of fun and a great way to let them share what they are learning with their iPads.

appslam2

I particularly liked the fact that, of all the apps and games and things they shared, I was only previously aware of two of them. Part of the magic of having a BYOD approach to our use of iPads is that the kids are discovering apps and things that I would probably not. It’s pretty clear that the students feel far more in control of their own learning when they are the owners of the technology.

I also found it interesting that, when we allowed our kids to bring their own choice of iPad, they brought in a diverse range of iPad configurations. Some were using older iPad 2s and 3s, some had newer iPad Airs, some chose to use iPad minis. Everyone seemed to have a different kind of case, with lots of different styles and colours and types. Some had chosen to use bluetooth keyboards because they wanted to, others were perfectly happy with the standard on-screen keyboard. The thing is, had our school decided what type of iPads, cases and accessories they should be using and dictated the size and configurations they should be, then a significant number of our “customers” would have ended up using something other than what they actually wanted to be using. If we take a one-size-fits-all approach to giving technology to kids, we run the risk of making choices that disappoint our end users.

Is BYOD the best approach? I don’t know but I thought this next fact was food for thought… I was talking to a teacher yesterday from another nearby school that also went 1:1 iPad, except they took a non BYOD approach. Their iPads were school provided, highly locked down, kids could not install their own apps, and they were being used for little more than digital textbook readers. In their first year of operation they had $14,000 in damages!

In contrast, we’ve had virtually no damages at all. It turns out that students look after their stuff when they own it. What a concept.

y6appslam

Coding for Kids

While not every student might want to write their own software, understanding the big ideas of coding is a skill that all students would benefit from, even the very young ones. Understanding the key ideas of computational thinking – identifying patterns, thinking algorithmically, manipulating data, solving real problems, etc – is an important step in helping our students build mastery over their world.

This presentation aims to take you on a guided tour through some of the resources available to your students to help them learn the principles of creating code.  It starts by looking at a range of desktop and mobile apps suitable for teaching very young students to program, right through to tools and websites that can help your older students learn to hack code, and much more.

If you do actually try any of this stuff out, I’d love to hear your thoughts in the comments below.

PS: This is my fourth contribution to the K12 Online Conference, and I think it’s a great format for an online event. I like how it drip feeds out a bunch of presentations over a 2 week period online, but continues to make them available as a permanent archive. There is quite a collection of presentations in there now. Check them out!

Making Conferences Worthwhile

Conference

Having just experienced an interesting juxtaposition of two quite different conference modes, I was struck by the following thoughts…

I spent most of last weekend putting a presentation together for the k12 online conference.  This virtual conference was started by a small group of teachers and has run every year since 2006. It is composed entirely of online video presentations of up to 20 minutes in length. These videos are presentation of ideas, best practice, classroom examples and big thinking submitted by educators from around the world. Presenters submit proposals just like a conventional conference, and these proposals are vetted by a selection panel for quality and relevance. Selected presenters then produce their 20 minute video and submit it and each year, over a 2 week period, these videos are released publicly.  There are a few live events and such to accompany them over the 2 weeks that the “conference” is running, but importantly these video presentations live on afterwards on the website for anyone to use and benefit from.  If you’ve never seen them, they are all available at www.k12onlineconference.org.  Go check them out.  The conference starts this year in about 2 weeks time and I recommend it to you.

 Alongside that, I spent the last two days at a real physical conference here in Sydney. It offered many excellent opportunities for networking and sharing. We heard from excellent keynotes, did a number of hands-on workshops, and best of all we had lots of student participation.  It was a great couple of days that I personally got a lot out of, and in my mind there is clearly still a place for this kind of face to face conference event.

However, what struck me was a couple of sessions I went to that could very well have been released as 20 minute videos and been just as effective.  These sessions were basically just someone presenting a set of slides and explaining them.  While I did get some useful information from these sessions, I could have just as easily got the same value from them if they were short video presentations, much like the k12 online experience.

It got me thinking about what types of experiences are best suited for real physical conference events.  Unless we get a chance to interact, ask questions, contribute to conversations, get hands on experience, and do things that require your actual physical presence, then perhaps those other things don’t belong in a real physical conference.  I feel a bit cheated when I go to an event (and pay good money to do so) only to feel as though what I experienced could have been just as well communicated virtually through video or some other means.  I feel a bit the same when I go to a real physical conference and find that one of the “keynotes” is being beaming in via satellite on a big screen that we all just sit and watch.  I expect better than that.

Just like we talk about the SAMR model of technology integration to do things with computers that are more than just a computerised version of what we currently do with pen and paper, perhaps we need to be thinking about what a modern physical conference should look like by making it into something more than that which can be experienced equally well virtually.  If I can get value out of a conference by simply following the twitter hashtag (and saving myself $1000 in travel expenses) then conferences are going to have to start offering a lot more than sitting in a room and hearing someone speak at me.  Prior to the rise of social networks, live streaming, blogging, etc, you basically HAD to turn up if you wanted to get value from the event.  That’s no longer the case.

I attend quite a few conference events each year, I’m guessing more than most people, and often the ONLY real benefit of attending is the networking and connections. And increasingly, real physical conferences are simply just a chance to meet people in “meetspace” that I’ve already known online for quite a while. I really enjoy the chance to meet people IRL that I’ve only known through the networks, but I don’t feel the need to pay huge amounts of money to do so if the rest of the conference doesn’t give back anything above what a virtual event could have given.

I’m not against real physical conference events – far from it – but I do think they need to morph into something that offers considerably more than the current format used by most of them. I don’t want to attend a conference to have someone show me PowerPoint slides or show me how to do something that I could have learned by watching a YouTube video. I want a compelling reason to attend (and those reasons do exist!) but I need something more to show for having attended the event than just a increase in the amount I owe on my credit card.  Conferences need to provide more than just information, because I can get that anywhere.  They need to provide experiences… moments that could not have happened any other way. Moment that change the way I think, teach or see the world.  (Do you think people go to events like SXSW or Burning Man for the information? I doubt it! It’s about having a peak experience)

I find it strangely odd to hear people talk about conferences as their big chance to get some PD. Sure, professional associations are important and I hope you all belong to one that suits you, but be aware that the chance to grow professionally is not something that happens annually or biannually.  PD in this day and age is a matter of being immersed in the right networks of people, and it’s an all the time thing that never stops.  Whether it’s something like Twitter or Facebook or LinkedIn or Google+, or Scootle Community or listening to podcasts or reading blogs or watching YouTube or some other means… the point is that it is constant.  You CANNOT stay up to date anymore by attending an annual conference, or waiting for your state association to keep you informed.

PD is no longer something that is occasionally done TO you by an external third party. It is something you do FOR yourself, by yourself, constantly.  That’s just a professional responsibility.

Creative Commons photo by Zigazou76

Removing Friction

videostoreWith Google turning 15 last week, I’ve been pondering  about just how much friction has been removed from our lives because of technology (and web technology in particular).  Thanks to the web, many things that were once difficult, expensive, complicated or time-consuming have been made less of all of these things, and much of the inherent friction in these things has been dramatically reduced, and in some cases even eliminated completely. This removal of friction hasn’t always been painless, and many industries have been decimated by the massive disintermediation that  digital technology has brought to them.

Take the music industry as an obvious example.  In the space of about a decade, we’ve seen a huge shift from the idea of buying music on plastic disks to that of downloading music from “somewhere on the Internet”, hopefully by still paying for it with some sort of subscription model like Spotify or Google Play All Access, but all too often pirated for free from torrents and filesharing services. Aside from the  freedom of cost, it’s far more about the freedom of choice. I use the All Access subscription service and I love how it lets me think of pretty much any song I want to hear and immediately stream it directly from the web. I’m listening to more music than before, and paying what feels like a fair price for it. The record companies who used to control the music business are no longer in charge, and in a post-Napster world, the idea of buying music one CD at a time seems so outdated. Along with the power shift in the music business there have also been massive disruptions to the way the money flows. Artists are free to bypass the labels. Thanks to the web, to YouTube, to iTunes, etc, indie artists have the same opportunities that were only afforded to big names bands attached to major labels. More musicians can now play in this space, and it’s all thanks to the way the web has removed so many of the friction points that used to exist between musician and listener.

Example two. We saw the photographic film business almost vanish in a few short years because of digital cameras. Those 24 hour film processing places that either didn’t see the change coming, or didn’t react to it fast enough, were simply crushed by the revolution of digital photography.  It was a case of evolve or die, and many simply died. Kodak, once the titan of the photographic film industry, closed down their film production business and these days they are barely more than a footnote in the history of photography.  The inconveniences of shooting with film, like being able to take only 24 photos at a time, the fact that you couldn’t see what you shot until you got the photos back days or weeks later, and of course the expense and inconvenience, all conspired to make film photography an easy target for any technology that would make it simpler, faster and cheaper. While a few diehards still swear by film, it turns out that for the general photo-taking population, digital photography removed so much the friction from the cumbersome process of taking photos that the old ways of doing things became obsolete almost overnight.

Thanks to my Apple TV and Chromecast I haven’t set foot in a video rental store in many years.  The fact that  video rental stores still exist at all is just because of that percentage of the population who are still hanging on to their old ways. I’m sure that once Netflix arrives in Australia it will be the final nail in the video store coffin. These online digital download services remove almost all of the friction from the process of renting videos. No more getting in the car to go to the video store, no more futzing around with disks and having to remember to return them, no more sitting through endless ads before the movie starts, and no more late fees. Delivering video over the web has removed most of those pain points, and in the process has virtually killed the physical video rental business.

Then there is banking. I hear my 81 year old mother talk about how she still goes to the bank to get money out, or to the post office to pay her bills. Although I’m old enough to remember what that was like, I can’t imagine doing it that way any more. The web has removed so much of the friction from those things, there is no going back to the old way.

The list goes on… thanks to the web, we can more easily keep in touch with old friends, share our locations, publish our ideas, map our way through strange cities, and much more… faster, cheaper and more simply than ever before, and decimating the incumbent industries along the way.

Although I still know plenty of teachers who complain that technology is hard, that it’s all too overwhelming, the truth is that technology, and the web in particular, has made things easier than ever. It’s easier than ever to network with ideas, learn from others, and connect our students with the learning experiences we want them to have. Thanks to the rise of the web, we are living in a time which is, potentially, the fastest, cheapest and easiest it has ever been to be a learner.

So ask yourself, how has the web changed your classroom? Your school? Your profession? Your life? Are you doing the same things you’ve always done? Or have you seen these changes coming and reinvented your approach to the way you teach and learn? Has the web changed your job, and in the age of the Internet, have you reconsidered what exactly your job IS these days?

It should be obvious that the world has changed forever because of digital and network technologies, and that the genie is never going back into the bottle. Despite the apparent fact that a large number of schools still believe that they can keep doing what they have always done and everything will be ok, education is no more exempt from these changes than any other industry.

What are you doing to ensure that your classroom will not become the educational equivalent of a video store?

Done is better than Perfect

95% doneI’ve never really been what you might call a perfectionist. Nor do I believe that it’s ok to do a half-assed job of things. It’s good to do things right and to the best of your ability, and if I had a choice between doing something badly or doing it well, I’d always rather do it well.

But it’s also easy to become paralysed with inaction when you feel that something needs to be done perfectly.

I saw two examples of this recently…

Our school has a very dedicated team of foreign language teachers, and we take our language education very seriously. Many of our students graduate with great proficiency in multiple languages, which I think is pretty amazing. Our languages staff are all deeply passionate about their language teaching and insist that any language should be taught using only the “proper” version of that language… so, for example we teach our French students how to speak Parisian French, and would never encourage them hear “improper” versions of the language like, say the French spoken in Québec.  We take a similar outlook on the other languages we teach… Italian, Latin, Japanese, Chinese.

Our school website used to have translated pages in Chinese and Vietnamese, since we tend to get quite a few students from those countries. The translations were laboured over, initially by paying considerable sums of money to translation agencies, and then having those translations fine tuned by our language staff members. The process was expensive, extremely time consuming, and worst of all, the translated pages easily went out of date whenever we updated the English version of the text. In the pursuit of having perfectly translated pages, we ended up with translation options that were limited and often out of date. Not exactly the level of perfection we were after.

I was a little surprised recently when I looked at our school website and discovered that the expensively translated pages had been removed and replaced with a single dropdown menu of language choices that would convert the page using Google’s free Translate service. By making a choice from the menu, the page was instantly converted to not just Chinese of Vietnamese, but into any of  17 different languages!

Naturally, when I pointed this out to the language staff they were horrified! They felt that the Google Translate service was completely inadequate for the task and that the translations would be utterly unusable by anyone who wanted a “proper” translation. Some of them immediately opened the site and translated a page or two into “their” language to see just how poorly it was being done. Surprisingly, the general consensus was that, yes, it wasn’t perfect and there were a couple of instances of poorly constructed sentences, but on the whole it was much better than they expected.

The benefit of the trade off was clear to me. While the machine translated pages were not perfect, they were at least up to date (since they were always being translated on-the-fly based on the most current English versions) and we could offer many more languages than just the two we had previously offered. Oh, and of course it was all being done at no cost and with no effort from our staff.

I’m not a language purist (I don’t even speak a second language), but to me it seemed that as long as the translations were “good enough”, then the benefits outweighed the imperfections. In this case, it seemed obvious that “Done is better than Perfect”.

The second example is in our school’s shift away from Microsoft Office towards Google Drive. I’ll occasionally get some of our teachers expressing their concern that Google Docs doesn’t have some feature that Word had. It’s usually  some missing feature that hardly anyone else even realised Word had, but occasionally their gripe is about legitimate concerns like Docs’ inability to manage simple tasks like merging table cells. (By the way Google, can you get onto this? We really do need it!)

But seriously, when you compare the extra stuff that you can do in Google Drive – the easy sharing options, the realtime collaboration, the ability to access your files from anywhere on any computer with nothing more than a web browser, the auto saving, the overall simplicity of use, and the fact that it’s completely free – then the trade-off with whatever you might lose from MS Office becomes much easier to deal with. Sure, it would be nice to not lose any features at all, but if I have to choose (and I do) then Drive/Docs wins hands down for me. What I gain far outweighs what I lose. Having a tool that meets my actual daily needs and matches the way I work is a far better option than a “full featured” tool that gets in my way and is missing the real features I need, like realtime collaboration.

Again, “Done” (or in this case, the tool that misses some features but does the things I need and value most) is better than “Perfect” (the tool that supposedly has it all and is the “industry standard’).

When you work on a project, it’s pretty easy to get it 95% perfect. And sometimes, yes, you do need to go the extra mile to get it 100% perfect. But the older I get, the more I come to realise the truth of “Done is better than Perfect”, and that the exponential amount of effort required to take a project from 95% perfect to 100% perfect often really doesn’t matter. Closing that 5% gap usually requires far more than 5% more effort. I’ve spent an hour editing a short video, but then wasted three more hours adjusting the timing of the opening titles or tweaking exactly how the credits dissolve to black and where the music should fade… and really, it was probably just fine the way it was. It makes me wonder what else I could have gotten done with that three hours if I just accepted that Done really is better than Perfect.

Image by KevBurnsJr –  http://blog.kevburnsjr.com/95-done

PS: I was so impressed by the Google Translate service that I added it to this blog. If you scroll right to the bottom of this page you can translate this blog into any language you like. Just don’t expect it to be perfect.

A Place to Call Home

It’s been a while since I’ve posted here, which got me thinking about why that might be.

I think the obvious answer is that it’s just too easy to contribute on other platforms. When I first started blogging I used to post almost every day, sometimes a couple of times a day. It was to share a video or a picture that I found, jot down an idea, or just share a thought.

These days, there are easier ways to do that than with a blog. For many, it’s Facebook. For me, for a long time, it was Twitter (and it still might be if I could sort out this stupid password issue!) More and more it’s becoming Google+, which really is emerging as THE social platform of the future. These services make it so easy to throw an idea out there quickly. And let’s face it, for most people the level of engagement you get back on these platforms is probably higher. It’s really no surprise that most of us are blogging less often.

But having said that, I’m incredibly glad that I started this blog back in 2006. Looking through the archives there have been only a few months where I didn’t write something here, and over time this blog has grown into a body of work that I look back at and feel proud of. It’s a collection of ideas and experiences that has become extremely defining for me, and in many ways have been a major contributor to where I am in life right now. I’ve found that blogging has been extremely powerful for me because it’s forced me to think in public.

Despite the fact that I write here less than I used to, and instead contribute to the conversation in other places with other tools, I understand the reasons for it. Given the rise of these other social platforms, it’s probably to be expected. But at the same time, I’m very glad that I own this WordPress space of mine. I’ve seen free tools come and go, I’ve seen Google discontinue “unpopular” products, and I’ve poured lots of time and energy into social spaces that I no longer have any permanent record of.

That’s the nice thing about a blog. You own it. It’s yours. You’re in control of it. The longer I live on the web, the more I appreciate that.