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he creativity deficit made mainstream news in the July 10, 2010, cover article Tof Newsweek magazine. In “The Creativity Crisis,” authors Po Bronson and Ashley Merriman spotlighted what researchers and educators had been noticing for years: America is losing its creative thinking capacity and, as a result, its innovation muscle.

Coaching Creative Teachers What is creativity exactly? It isn’t just found in art or music. In fact, it’s found quite broadly. The Bay Area Discovery Museum’s (BADM) favorite creativity definition is: the capacity for original thought, new connections, adaptive reasoning and inventive solutions. The research world is exploding with new information on the development of creativity through the advances of noninvasive brain imaging technologies such as MRIs. Tapping into the rich neurological and cognitive evidence about how children’s brains develop fuels BADM’s mission to ignite and advance creative thinking in all children. In 2011, the museum launched the Center for Childhood Creativity (CCC) to explore ways in which this skill could be developed while meeting increasing program demands from schools and parents. Located in a large, picturesque 7.5-acre site at the foot of the Golden Gate Bridge, attendance had been fixed at approximately 300,000 visitors a year. With the museum’s budget and target population, the only way to deep-

en impact was to deepen relationships with existing audiences and to expand enriched programming, especially for under-served communities. Through BADM’s Connections program, 1,700 new Head Start preschool children began coming to the museum. But when program demand exceeded museum capacity, CCC took the knowledge

tion of the program. In partnership with Bay Area academic institutions, researchers from Stanford and UC Berkeley conduct primary cognitive development research among children visiting the museum. Through an additional partnership with University of California, San Francisco’s Department of Educational Neuroscience, the CCC has ac-


Elizabeth Rieke, Center for Childhood Creativity, Bay Area Discovery Museum gained from years of onsite learning experiences, combined it with leading research to export this expertise into the community. CCC began with educators. With private funding, the center worked with several schools to create a yearlong professional development program for 100 pre-K through fourth grade educators. The pilot program’s age-group focus not only correlates with the museum visitor ages, but also with a critical phase in neurological growth. Brain research has shown that children are born with billions of neurons. In the early years, roughly ages zero to nine, neurons are busy making connections, building neuropathways that serve as learning highways later in life. Teaching focused on right answers and memorized facts (5+5=?) produces fewer connections between neurons, while open-ended explorations (?+?=10) produce multiple connections. In both cases, children learn math facts, but the second approach produces a deeper level of learning. CCC’s advisory board of thought leaders in education and research forms the founda-

cess to the most current brain study results. The program’s hands-on training offers multiple modalities of learning, a pedagogy that teachers are encouraged to adopt in their own classrooms. Teachers learn about the complexity of brain development by building brains out of clay. They learn about the importance of active learning, emotional connections and dual hemisphere engagement. They explore the differences between intrinsic and extrinsic motivation and the importance of mindset in self-directed learning. In two- to three-day immersion workshops held at the museum, the major focus is content application: helping educators develop personalized strategies to apply research in their classrooms. For example, if brain research shows that it’s hard for young children to stay focused after fifteen minutes of sitting still (because the pre-frontal cortex is only partially developed at this age), then what classroom management techniques create a more active learning environment? continues on page 13 C o mmu n ity Persp ective

Lisa Zimmer, principal, Edna Maguire School, a CCC pilot partner I am always seeking ways to improve the educational experience for our students. They need to be fully engaged to absorb information. Providing teachers with the tools to enhance the delivery of the curriculum in meaningful ways and through different modalities is key. Teachers are the most important determinant of a student’s success. Through the Bay Area Discovery Museum’s teacher creativity immersion workshop and its sustained support, teachers learn the vital importance and broad neurological underpinnings of creativity. Understanding the importance of creativity in the classroom applies to every educator across the country, it is not dependent on a particular student population. The creative process can be integrated into every content area or mandated curriculum. As part of their training, teachers were able to take their grade level curriculum and apply the 4 C’s—critical thinking, collaboration, communication and creativity—through personalized strategies in their classrooms. How does your ideal creative-thinking classroom look? Teachers discussed topics such as, putting “thinking” on display, modeling their own curiosity, creating space for movement and exploration and inquiry-based learning stations. The CCC program modeled how to take “brain breaks” and infuse creative play with both intrinsic and extrinsic motivation techniques— both easy to apply in the classroom right away. Schools across the country are implementing the Common Core Stan-

dards—applying knowledge through higher order thinking skills. This approach emphasizes knowing how over knowing what, especially among problem-solving procedures. Bloom’s Revised Taxonomy of Thinking Processes, a leading classification system of learning objectives used by the educational community, now includes “creating” as its highest component. This skill emphasizes putting things together to make something new where learners will generate, plan and produce. Today’s more creative approach to curriculum delivery is not about how much students can retain but how much they can explore and apply thinking skills. The CCC is on the forefront of assisting teachers and schools with effective change in the instructional practice of teachers, creating “thinking classrooms” where risk-taking, creativity and play is encouraged and supported. 3

Hand to Hand

Association of Children’s Museums

In the year following the museum workshop, CCC professional development staff visit the teachers at their schools seven times for additional two-hour workshops that focus solely on application. New curriculumbuilding ideas are introduced; teachers learn from one another and from a dedicated online forum that serves as a resource for downloading facts to share with parents or sharing ideas or discussing issues with their community of practice. By working with whole schools—all the teachers and administrators—the CCC is able to increase its impact on many children. Parents learn about the CCC research fact base at back-to-school night, through the CCC website and at parent-teacher events. In addition, these messages are communicated directly to broader audiences— including parents—through the museum’s new speaker series.

The CCC is on the forefront of assisting teachers and schools with effective change in the instructional practice of teachers, creating “thinking classrooms” where risk-taking, creativity and play is encouraged and supported.

In its pilot phase, the program’s teachers have been partners in developing the best possible workshops for additional locations in the future. The program now boasts a 100% positive “Net Promoter Score,” a customer loyalty/satisfaction metric used by corporations, retailers and many museums to predict future attendance or participation. The CCC is currently working

This article first appeared in Hand to Hand (Spring 2013, Volume 27, Number 1), a quarterly publication of the Association of Children’s Museums. Reprinted by permission of the publisher. To learn how to obtain the full publication, visit

Hand to Hand

Association of Children’s Museums

throughout the Bay Area to roll the program into more schools this summer and the next school year through a shared fee-for-service and contributed revenue model. The museum was founded over twentyfive years ago by a group of parents who wanted to give kids a better start to life. CCC programs are only a year old, but the intent is similar: give kids a better start to education. Its programs for teachers and parents combine trends and opinions with research, mining science for practical tools that will have a positive impact on developing children’s creative thinking Elizabeth Rieke is the CEO and executive director of the Center for Childhood Creativity at the Bay Area Discovery Museum in Sausalito, California.

Hand to Hand  

Publication of the Association of Children's Museums