Creativity and MSUrbanSTEM – New Publication

In recent years, I have had the privilege to work with an amazing collection of educators as a part of the MSU-Wipro STEM & Leadership Teaching Fellowship. One of the new learning opportunities I have had from this experience has been the process of sharing our work with the broader academic community. I have been fortunate to work on several publications with the MSUrbanSTEM team (you can find more here), including a recent publication focused on creativity in urban contexts. Citation, link to the article and, abstract are below.

Horton A., Henriksen D., Mishra P., Seals C., Shack K., Marcotte C. (2019), Creativity-and-MSUrbanSTEM-2018 In: Mullen C. (eds) Creativity Under Duress in Education? Creativity Theory and Action in Education, vol 3. Springer DOI: https://doi.org/10.1007/978-3-319-90272-2_16

Abstract: We examine the urban context of learning for the fellows in a partnership between Michigan State University (MSU) and Wipro Limited, a leading global information technology, consulting and business services company, which resulted in the Wipro Urban STEM Fellowship Program at Michigan State University (MSUrbanSTEM) program. This grant-funded fellowship provided full tuition scholarships and stipends for 124 highly motivated teachers in Chicago Public Schools (CPS) who demonstrated a passion for teaching STEM. The fellows were divided up into three cohorts. Each cohort participated in an innovative yearlong integrated learning experience to build STEM teachers’ capacity to lead and inspire transformative, innovative practices in urban K-12 schools. In this chapter, the fellows’ instructors explore how to support these teacher participants in their efforts to foster creativity in an era of intensified authority, control, and resistance. By engaging in creative pedagogies explicitly connected to disciplinary knowledge, the program aims to disrupt traditional ideologies around teaching. The mission of the MSUrbanSTEM program is to empower K-12 math and science teachers in CPS to create transformative, innovative, and multimodal instructional experiences through project-based and experiential learning experiences. Each educator participant was encouraged to engage in inquiry around how the ideas of wonder, improvisation, invention, and reflection connected with his or her subject-matter expertise. As reported by way of this case example of teacher creativity, these strategies supported the activities the teachers engaged in throughout the year. The fellowship itself provided a foundation for fellows to develop projects for reshaping aspects of their teaching practice.

Improving Writing by Empowering a Growth Mindset

The correlation between a growth mindset and student success is easy to see. We all want our students to view learning as a process, not as a static goal or finish line. As Carol Dweck explains in her book Mindset, a growth mindset is the attitude that ability and intelligence are not predestined, but are ever evolving, growing and developing. The “wicked problem”  for me has been addressing students who have developed a fixed mindset, especially older students who often arrive in my room with little experience related to the value of a growth mindset.

As I began to consider ways I could incorporate characteristics of a growth mindset into my pedagogy, I reflected on the approach my students take to writing assignments. Traditionally, I have assigned students a writing task as a summative assessment at the end of a unit. I provide time in class to work on the assignment, and offer my help to students as they work through the writing process. This culminates with a due date, when the writing is set to be complete.  However, I have noticed that many of my students default to the human tendency of finding the shortest route to accomplish the assigned task. From a student’s view, that route involves writing as little as is required, turning it in and moving on from the assignment. Since only one grade is entered when the final product is turned in, it is easy to see why brainstorming, prewriting and most importantly revisions feel like “extra” work for a student approaching the assignment with a fixed mindset.

For these fixed mindset students the assignment feels like an opportunity to demonstrate their current writing ability, not an opportunity to learn. Proficient writers will view the assignment as a chance to demonstrate that they are “good” writers, and struggling students will see it as a chance to prove they are “bad” writers. In both scenarios, the student’s view that their ability as a writer is “fixed” can hinder their growth.

As Dweck explains in her book, students can develop this fixed mindset through messaging.  When a writing assignment leaves no time for improvement, feedback or reflection, it can communicate to a student that the goal of writing is the final product, not the process of learning how to create a quality piece. The danger here is that students learn that their job is to get it “right” the first time, or not at all.

To address this, I decided I needed to rethink the way I implemented writing in my classes. The goal is to remove the emphasis from “fixed” elements of writing, and to place the emphasis instead on the “growth” elements. The structure of a writing assignment should communicate that writing, like ability and intelligence, is a never ending process of growth, failure, revision and development. Instead of assessing a student’s ability to complete a final product, assessment is focused on the improvement of writing.

My first attempt at communicating this message is to place the emphasis not on the final product, but instead on the revisions. For my students final writing project this trimester, the rough draft they turn in will be worth roughly 25% of their final project grade. The remaining 75% will be connected to revisions of their writing, with the focus of the assessment being on the inclusion of teacher feedback in those revisions. This not only communicates that the revisions are the most important part of the process, but also that growth is the determiner of a grade, not static ability.

The goal of this change is to communicate to students that success is not the measurement of talent or intelligence, but instead success is found in the process of learning and growth. As noted by Dweck, a student’s mindset is developed through constant messaging. I don’t expect this small change to create a room full student’s demonstrating a growth mindset. As all teachers know, students bring their prior experiences with them each and every day, both the good and the bad.  However, I view this as an opportunity to reverse the messaging and communicate that I am not interested in judging their skills, ability or intelligence, but celebrating their development as young writers and learners.

 

Works Cited

Dweck, Carol S. Mindset. Robinson, 2017.