Voices in Education

How We Can Bring Creativity and Imagination Back to the Classroom

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Why is learning with imagination just as important as having knowledge? Why must both teachers and learners use imagination in learning? Let’s examine how imagination and knowledge support each other in the quest for authentic learning.

Imagination is defined as “the faculty or action of forming new ideas or concepts of external objects not present to the senses.” On the other hand, knowledge is about facts and information. It encompasses the skills we acquire through experience or education -- the  theoretical or practical understanding of a subject. How do these two divergent ideas compliment each other in learning?

Our Imagination Changes

Imagine is organic; it grows  as our knowledge grows. Knowledge feeds the imagination which spurs us on to seek new knowledge. Ultimately, this is the cycle of discovery and learning that we strive for in education. An imaginative student, for example, would be free to take risks and be a leader, and to state opinions rather than just correct answers. In the same way, an imaginative teacher can also take risks, be a leader, and be adaptable to the changing needs of their students.

What happens to our imagination when we get older? It seems that for most of us our imagination slips from what it used to be when we were children.The grand explanations for a question as simple as, “What do you see outside?” can be full of detail. You can see the creativity and glow on their face.That’s the kind of imagination I wish I still had. Listening to my students go all out with their imagination is overwhelming. And don’t get me wrong here. I don’t mean “overwhelming” as in I can’t take the storytelling, I mean that it’s amazing how they think and where they allow their brains to go. It’s like watching your own kid experience something for the first time. The way their eyes open wide  with interest and excitement. It’s what we used to have before the real world and life or “adulting” took over. When we were kids we didn’t have the worries of bills, our job, expenses, and drama. We were free to imagine what we wanted without having to weigh the pros and cons. 

How Do We Get Our Imagination Back? 

Imagination is not dead. Imagination could sometimes be confused with creativity, but they are different. Imagination allows us to think of things that aren’t real or around us at any given time while  creativity allows us to do something meaningful with our imaginations. One can argue that we are moving from the information age into the imagination age. Imagination is not dead; it is being re-created into something just as mystical or as creative as having superpowers.

The imagination age is driven by technological trends like virtual reality and the rise of digital platforms like YouTube, all of which increase demand for user-generated content and creativity. It is also driven by automation, which is taking away a lot of monotonous and routine jobs, leaving more high-ordered and creative jobs. Thus, imagination begins to be repurposed and rethought, especially in the classroom.

In the imagination age, we can collectively imagine and create the future we want to inhabit before we lose that chance. This isn’t just about generating utopian visions to make ourselves feel better about the challenges we face. We have the unique opportunity to prototype and test ideas that can alter our lives. 

Automation has a role to play in the outsourcing process. A recent study found that jobs involving data collection, data processing, and predictable physical work are most likely to be automated and outsourced to technology. In contrast, the hardest activities to automate are those involving complex expertise in decision making, planning, human interaction, imagination, or creative work. Unsurprisingly, humans continue to outdo machines when it comes to innovating and pushing intellectual, imaginative, and creative boundaries.

Recognizing the Economic Value of Imagination

One of the tragedies of traditional education is that it was designed for the industrial age. But now, we’re not only living in the information age, we’re already moving on to the imagination age. Most traditional schools have failed to keep up with the effects of exponential growth in  our world. Instead of putting an emphasis on grades or content knowledge, we need to start putting an emphasis on 21st century survival skills. This includes keeping up with the increasing economic value of imagination and creativity.

Contrary to popular belief, imagination and creativity are not completely intuitive/innate and not just critical for those officially in creative jobs. Like any other skill, these abilities can be cultivated and are critical for success for individuals regardless of professional backgrounds. Entrepreneurs, scientists, writers, corporate leaders, and innovators can all gain from enhanced creativity and imagination.

Ways to Improve these Creative Abilities in Young Minds

  1. Place an increased focus on multi-disciplinary thinking, where students are taught to make cross-curricular links and see problems from different angles and contexts.
  2. Encourage students to not be passive consumers of information but to be involved in creative processes as active doers, using the knowledge they gain to actively solve problems. 
  3. Provide forums for other imagination-enabling activities. These can include self-reflection, creative writing, listening to inspiring non-lyrical music, immersing oneself in creative films or books, and so on.

Imagination is More Important Than Knowledge

By getting ahead in the imagination age, our students can shape the future. There is more than just economic value to be gained from the emergence of the imagination age. Before we go about shaping the future, we first need to decide what kind of future we want to live in. This is where imagination is a powerful force. In the words of the prime minister of Dubai, his highness Sheikh Mohammad bin Rashid Al Maktoum, “The future belongs to those who can imagine it, design it, and execute it. It’s not something you await but rather create.” The ability to envision radical and exciting futures, for ourselves as individuals and collectively as a species, is a fuel for human progress. After all, it is the reason Albert Einstein famously said, “Imagination is more important than knowledge.”

In many ways, we are already living in our imaginations. Consider this: every invention or human construct—whether it be the spaceship, an architectural wonder, or a device like an iPhone—once existed as a mere idea, imagined in someone’s mind. The world we have designed and built around us is an extension of our imaginations. The actual jobs that will be available are ones that you do need a different kind of education for -- and that's what we need to pay attention to. Educators will have to step out of what is comfortable to them and embrace the idea that the world is changing.

Encourage Asking, Exploring and Doing

Stifling creativity leads to problems in the classroom. Bored students stop learning: they act out, drift off, or shut down. But “getting up and doing” creates positive change. Within teach for the test, learning by memorization, and standardized curriculum, we have lost imagination and creativity. Students have learned to follow by rote and perform rather than ask and explore. Getting creative does not have to cost money. Creativity is not going to take away from what we are paid to do. In the end, it will pay off, with happier students who are actually learning in a healthy environment.

Aubrey Jones

Aubrey Jones Special Education Teacher https://justmeghansthought.blogspot.com/ Twitter: @spedteacheriam

I am a special education teacher. I don't believe in labels or excuses but empowerment, growth and opportunity for each and every student. Each story is a chance to learn and can contain a meaningful lesson if we just take the time to listen.

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