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Articles in the "Research on the Creative Process" Category

How Arts Training Improves Attention and Cognition

Friday, September 18th, 2009

Does education in the arts transfer to seemingly unrelated cognitive abilities? Researchers are finding evidence that it does. Michael Posner argues that when children find an art form that sustains their interest, the subsequent strengthening of their brains’ attention networks can improve cognition more broadly.

Check out this fascinating article at The Dana Foundation

Learning from the Artist’s Process

Wednesday, February 18th, 2009

Science and language arts educators increasingly advocate that instruction should reflect the way real scientists and writers work. For example, instead of dry lectures on scientific principles, teachers suggest engaging children in genuine scientific inquiry,  experimenting, and learning content as they solve real problems. Similarly, writing teachers ask students to generate many ideas, select and organize those ideas, then undergo a series of revisions, often keep process portfolios of their work. Admittedly, this is a more difficult way to teach but ultimately more meaningful for students.

In the visual arts, while there are many wonderfully creative ideas for children’s art making, in books and on the internet, these lessons rarely mirror the way real artists work. So why is it important that, when making art, children reflect the ways artists work? Primarily because children can come away from an arts experience misunderstanding artists and the creative process or, worse, feel like failures and ultimately shut out the arts from their lives.

I first noticed this phenomenon when working with emotionally disturbed elementary-aged children. Naively, I thought that art projects would make them happy and relieve stress. Wrong, so wrong. When art materials were scattered onto the floor, chairs flew across the room, and fights broke out, I questioned my premise and became curious.

Here is what I came up with…..A typical art lesson gives children one piece of paper, for example, and one chance to “get it right.” Most art lessons are designed

to be completed in one 45-60 minute class period. Certainly, this is a practical consideration as school art teachers often have an extremely large number of students to serve. However, it is so foreign to the way most artists work.Like writers, artists spend time making sketches or models around an idea that interests them. They try different materials to find the ones that best accomplish their idea before settling on one approach. While children can be resistant to multiple revisions in writing they often like such “do-overs” in art.

It’s about the process.  Like scientists who conduct many experiments around a single problem, artists often work in series, completing variations around a theme until the artists feels she has exhausted the idea for a while. Revisiting, revising and rethinking is part of an authentic creative experience, as is generating many ideas then choosing among competing priorities.

In the end, working like a real artist not only allows children to have an authentic experience, it also teaches them intellectual discipline, perseverance, and creative problem-solving.  These qualities transcend all subjects creating well-rounded individuals for our communities and better learners over all!

Make art like an artist!

Thanks to pmorgan, and ElvertBarnes for the great images!!

What is Visual Literacy?

Tuesday, February 17th, 2009

What is visual literacy? When we have the ability to interpret, negotiate, and make meaning from an image, or information presented in the form of an image, it can be said that we have visual literacy. It can also be considered a vision-competency, says John Debes. Many are familiar with the value of linguistic literacy, as found in the printed word through books and journals, but the importance of visual literacy is growing as it delivers information without the need for the print.

When traveling, we see a sign with a bicycle and a red diagonal line through it. As someone who is visually literate, a traveler knows that the sign means something to the effect of “Please do not ride your bicycle here.” Likewise, if we see a sign with the picture of a child and a ball, with no red line through it, we understand it to mean “Children playing; please watch out for them.”

Several 21st century scholars, including Courtney Cazden, Allan Luke, and others advocate for the importance of both linguistic and visual literacies as modalities in the process of meaning-making. Implications, then, for classroom or home-schooling would be to incorporate the written word with visual information to provide a rich teaching and learning environment. For example, one might give kids a picture and asking them to write a caption or an empty cartoon and asking them to fill in the speech balloons to see what kinds of different interpretations emerge.
Exciting fields effective in visual literacy training include art history in all its glory: paintings, drawings, sculpture, architecture, even textile design and furniture design. Of particular delight to students in these fields are uses of color, texture, style, shape, size, and form. Who is not visually delighted when confronted with patterns of colors, which convey excitement, cheer, and suggest lively festivities?

In terms of learning tools, one visual tool used in teaching environment is PowerPoint, intended to present information visually. One expert on visual literacy, Edward Tufte, a Yale professor and an expert on the presentation of information graphics, offers us a challenge: Do the slides communicate? His interest focuses on the efficacy of the tool rather than simply the happy opportunity to have the tool.

Thus, visual literacy not only refers to learning through the visual experience but learning useful, helpful, and usable information! It is easier for a student to make meaning when not only information is provided but information that a child can use to make meaning of her or his world.

Learning is delicious in whatever form. In capable teaching hands, linguistic and visual literacy make wonderful partners. For the learner, integrating these with other modalities—such as music—continue to expand learners’ meaning-making capabilities.

Rhonda Robinson: Visual literacy for a digital age

Wednesday, January 21st, 2009

 

As promised last week, welcome to Madcap Logic’s second podcast, and this time with our special guest, Dr.Rhonda Robinson from Northern Illinois University. Dr Robinson works with educational technology and assessment as well as teacher training for technology and has spent her career working around ideas of visual learning and literacy.

Originally an English teacher in middle school, Rhonda was very interested in media literacy and language arts and began to pursue media production in

her masters and doctorate degree. Beginning with ‘old media’, Rhonda’s techniques now span into the digital realm, encouraging students to analyze imagery from newspapers and also video, tapping into kids’ (and their teachers’) natural creative abilities.

Rhonda has used our Creativity Express program to teach her masters students color and composition, expanding their practical orientation to consider the aesthetic dimensions of the images they and their students create. Rhonda believes that we learn first through vision but the verbal orientation of schools has privileged verbal learners. Whether or not we have natural inclinations towards art, these skills can be developed over time. Images provide us with an easy door to learning, and it may be that we learn more through them than more literary or verbal texts because we have a reduced resistance to them.

Dr Robinson therefore, believes that visual literacy should complement and supplement other forms of literacy in education to aid diverse learners in the classroom. Teachers of reading in particular, have embraced this entire collection of literacies, as have teachers of science and mathematics. Integrating technology into the classroom, as opposed to having it shut out of the lesson or considered something different, is critical as visual literacy involves not only encoding or the creation of the image but also decoding, that is, how we select meanings for the same image and messages. This is increasingly important in a digital age with our ability to manipulate images!

We hope you enjoy our conversation with Rhonda! There is much to be learned from this fascinating conversation around the renewed importance of art and visual literacy in our contemporary times and its contribution to citizenship.

With thanks to lakewentworth for his art!

Encouraging The Creative Mind: Lessons from Leonardo

Wednesday, January 14th, 2009

It’s tempting to think that our intelligence is measured through our verbal reasoning and mathematical capacities but such a narrow version of intelligence has been thoroughly debunked by contemporary psychology.

Howard Gardner in his work Frames of Mind, believes we have 7 major forms of intelligence.

Here they are, as listed by Michael Gelb, from his work ‘How to think like Leonardo da Vinci’, complete with examples of each intelligence in action:


1. Logical-mathematical
— Stephen Hawkings, Isaac Newton, Marie Curie
2. Verbal-Linguistic — William Shakespeare, Emily Dickinson and Jorge Luis Borges
3. Spatial-Mechanical — Michelangelo, Georgia O’Keefe
4. Musical — Mozart, Ella Fitzgerald
5. Bodily-Kinesthetic – Muhammad Ali, Martha Graham
6. Interpersonal-Social — Nelson Mandela, Queen Elizabeth I
7. Intrapersonal (Self-Knowledge) — Thich Nhat Hanh, Mother Teresa.

Of course, given such a list of intelligences that we possess, intelligence does not/cannot exist solely in your head! Neuro-scientists insist that we are intelligent at our very cellular level, and as a result, the mind-body-spirit separation that occurred over time in history does not serve us well. Moreover, as we get older, our brains are capable of making increasingly more complex new connections if we encourage them to do so. And this is the rub. In order for our intelligences to become developed equally, we must take a holistic approach to their development, only then do we have a chance of becoming, like Leonardo da Vinci, gifted, multi-talented individuals. Renaissance men and women.

Michael Gelb, based on a study of Leonardo and his methods, offers 7 Da Vincian principles to be remembered, developed and applied (across all ages!):

1. Curiosita – a perpetual curiosity and willingness to ask questions, continually learning about the world around you
2. Dimostrazione – the application of knowledge to experience and being willing to learn from mistakes
3. Sensazione – the refinement and development of sensory intelligence, especially sight as a way of enlivening experience
4. Sfumato – to go up in smoke – the willingness to embrace ambiguity, paradox and uncertainty
5. Arte/Scienza – whole brain thinking — balancing science and art, logic and imagination
6. Corporalita – the cultivation of grace, ambidexterity, fitness and poise
7. Connessione – systemic thinking – the ability to recognize and appreciate the interconnectedness of all phenomena.

Renaissance men and women are not restricted to any societal period. Indeed, many people demanding educational reform to create citizens more capable of living and thriving in an interdependent world believe that we need a new form of Renaissance individual for these times. Our current educational systems demand us to specialize, when really, a more general and generous understanding of the holistic nature of our world would serve us better. At the very least, contemporary and future citizens need to be digitally literate as well as globally aware.

In this new year, consider how you can expand your repertoire of intelligences — what would you like to learn this year? what would your kids like to learn? How can you begin to craft a creative mind and life based on Da Vinci’s principles?

With thanks to maven and Dave ‘Coconuts’… for their images!

Kids on Computers : When to Start?

Tuesday, December 16th, 2008

 

During Randy Parker’s Seattle radio interview, the issue of age appropriateness came up.

Yes, we hear stories of eighty-year-olds having a grand old time with Creativity Express, but what about on the other end?  When is a child ready to play with the program?

This can be puzzling. The animated software program suggests ages 7-97. Dr. Toy, which has recognized Creativity Express as one of this year’s “Top 10 Creative Products” suggests 6-12. (Thanks also to Homeschool Blog for an award).

Really, when can kids get the most value out of Creativity Express and other programs? If we say Let’s Start With Art, when do we start?

We probably all know a family (or three!) that are all over tech. The parents are engineers or web developers. The kids are writing code by eight. They design games for each other for fun. But what about the rest of us?

Well know that you are probably not the first to ask. Daniel D. Shade wrote his oft-quoted piece, Developmentally Appropriate Software back in 1991. Some of us weren’t even “launched” then. He developed, with Dr. Susan Haugland, a criteria scale, that measures the value of software programs for kids.

Some of the criteria are obvious.

* Does the software offer clear instructions?
* Age appropriate in terms of realistic concepts?
* Appropriate methods?
* Expanding complexity?  “low entry, high ceiling.”

He also writes, “Please do not think, however, that we have reached the pinnacle of early childhood computer applications. The majority of software produced for early childhood is still drill-and-practice, software improvements continue to center on graphics and sound rather than content.”

So, as we have heard before, in other contexts, content is key. What are kids being asked to do?  Chase things around to groovy sounds and lights? Or is there value in the program?  Frustration or mastery?

Between the ages of 1 and 2, cause and effect makes sense to a child. They also start getting computer basics around now. Be gentle with the keyboard. Don’t sit on it. Don’t throw it. There are games that offer magic by simply touching a key. Since this age group can’t recognize letters, keyboarding is limited to forward and back arrows. Full-on assistance please.
There are programs like Baby Smash that don’t even ask for fingers. My boys loved this one.

At around 3 or 4, your child will start showing readiness for “real” software. Simple stories. Puzzles. No complicated scenarios. No timed games. They need to work at their own pace.
They also still need a helper, since few children are reading at this age. A parent or teacher on hand is a good way to learn.

There is software that supports learning numbers, colors, shapes, letters. It’s also a good age for music and artistic software. Make sure there is a  balance between structured learning, right/wrong stuff, and open play.
It’s all good.

According to the National Association for the Education of Young Children, when used appropriately, technology can enhance children’s cognitive and social abilities. Computers are compelling. Colors. Sounds. Little people see us big ones working on computers, they want to do that too. (They want cel phones too, but that’s another story).

The right software programs engage them in creative play, problem solving, some sort of conversation. And control! How cool for them to control pacing. Repeat games as often as they want.

Again! again! again! heard that before?

NAEYC also recommends, “Just as parents continue to read to children who can read themselves, parents and teachers should both participate with children in computer activities and encourage children to use computers on their own and with peers.”

So they are on their own, but they aren’t. Be with them to offer help, encouragement, praise.

In terms of choice, Dr. Hoagland offers these sage words of advice.
“The instructions should be clear and easy to understand and the software should provide the kids with visual prompts and/or a help option they can refer to when needed, minimizing adult supervision. Software should contain no violent objects, characters or activities, and should include positive social values, such as cooperating, sharing, communicating and expressing feelings.   Advertisement is visibly reduced and the children are exposed to concrete representations of objects, sounds and settings that belong to the real world, since children tend to believe without much questioning that what they see and hear is true.”

And there will be merchandise targeting the little people.
There are scaled-down versions of mice that claim to work from ages 2-10.
Or why not just shoot for the whole FunKey Board Fun Mouse Bundle.
And what about a pre-school computer desk, “comfortably fits a child from 2 to 6.” But maybe we don’t need to shell out the big bucks to create our Mini Me.

Dr. Hoagland sums up by saying ” in their early ages, children need to engage in activities that require the use of their hands, hearts, bodies and minds.”

So true. Let’s not make the computer, like the TV, in Stephen Spielberg’s assessment, “the third parent.”

Also, don’t forget to introduce healthy computing habits.

* Posture (Did we all just straighten up?)
* Seat comfort.
* Take breaks to rest the body and eyes.
* No food or drinks within dangerous proximity.
* Clean screen. Just like grownups.

Also, realize that kids will be online more as they age. But don’t worry. That’s a good thing. According to a recent Macarthur Foundation study, it turns out that America’s youth are developing important social and technical skills online. They are hanging out, but they are also learning. So that’s good, right?

It’s what we do.

So there is no right time to start with art. Just let the little bots play, explore, and see what happens. Years from now, who knows what they will be doing with computers?

But if we help them now, they will help us later, when the latest technology confounds us oldsters.

Doctors Agree, Music Is Good For You

Monday, December 15th, 2008

              

It’s Holiday season and music fills the air, and our hearts, and our brains, and the malls.

Maybe you want to hear Little Drummer Boy piped into Target as you do the Bounty/dish soap run.

Or maybe you don’t. As Daniel J. Levitin outlines, “Unwanted music in particular is not waterboarding, but it is a kind of torture. Don’t forget, the American military drove Manuel Noriega from his compound by blasting him 24/7 with AC/DC and Van Halen.”

We will explore music again later this week, as we talk to Dave Wish, founder and director of Little Kids Rock. Really talk to him. Our first podcast.

But music truly does make us bright and brilliant and healthy and happy. Juliet Chung’s Wall Street Journal piece, Sound Research, summarizes recent, credible science.

  • A team at Stanford University School of Medicine used functional magnetic resonance imaging to view brain activity. Listeners’ noggins showed clear differences during and after having heard 18th-century symphonies. This study, which was published last year in Neuron suggests listening to music helps sustain focus.
  • A Finnish study published in Brain (I know, we all get these publications regularly) showed that “verbal memory and focused attention improved significantly more in stroke patients who listened to their favorite music several hours daily.”
  • Good for the brain. So what about blood? Music is good for that too. Researchers at University of Maryland School of Medicine found the “diameter of the average upper-arm blood vessel expanded by 26% when subjects listened to music they had previously selected for making them feel joyful.” What does this mean? Blood vessels expand when nitric oxide is being released, good for that bad cholesterol, LDL.
  • Mood/motivation? We all know how music can lift us from the blues. Kurt Vonnegut said, “Music is, to me, proof of the existence of God.” Powerful stuff, this music.
  • A team at Brunel University in England “found that certain music deemed motivational can enhance a recreational athlete’s endurance and increase pleasure while exercising.” Hear the theme track from ‘Rocky’?  ‘Chariots of Fire’? We all do.

Now to each his own on music choice. One person will spend the extra 10 minutes on the treadmill with AC/DC on their IPod. Another person will kick it to Chopin. Someone else rocks to barum-pa-pum-pum.

Whatever works for you. But at least now there’s lots of science to prove that it does work for us all…..on many different levels.

Image thanks to Gaetan Lee

This Is Your Brain On Fun

Wednesday, December 3rd, 2008

One way to reach kids, to teach kids, is to engage their imagination, their eyes, ears and senses. Regardless of the subject matter, if children are connected, they are open to receiving incoming info.
Actually, this is true of anyone, young or old, two legs or four.

Dr. Marion Diamond, the first woman on the science faculty at Berkley elaborates in her Response of the Brain to Enrichment.

“In 1874 Charles Darwin mentioned that the brains of domestic rabbits were considerably reduced in bulk in comparison with those from the wild because, as he concluded, these animals did not exert their intellect, instincts, and senses as much as did animals in the wild. However, it was not until the 1960s, that the first controlled studies in animals demonstrated that enriching the environmental condition in which they were confined could alter both the chemistry and anatomy of the cerebral cortex and, in turn, improve the animals’ memory and learning ability.”

So if brain morphology actually changes as a result of experience, wouldn’t we want to expand and vary teaching experiences?

As educator/author, Dee Dickinson writes:

“The human brain is the most complex system on earth, yet it is too often used in schools primarily as a simple device for storage and retrieval of information.” So true, as information is poured out of one human’s mouth, the teacher, sometimes with the sole visual aid of written words, numbers, diagrams on a board. Students are then expected to absorb and repeat data, facts upon command (testing).
Dickenson says, “New neural connections that make it possible for us to learn and remember and problem-solve and create can continue to form throughout life, particularly when human beings are in environments that are positive, nurturing, stimulating and that encourage action and interaction. Such environments are opposite from dull, boring, rigid environments in which students are the passive recipients of information. Well designed arts programs provide just the kinds of environments that Diamond describes.”
Aha, the arts again. Looks like an artistic environment really does encourage children to engage their imaginations, open up to information. Wouldn’t you prefer a brain on fun?

Image courtesy of ParaScubaSailor via Flickr

Art Smart

Saturday, November 1st, 2008

One thing on everyone’s minds these days is the role of arts, and children, and are they getting enough. Or in the crunch to meet standards, do we just focus on the old R and R (reading/’rithmetic). Which would be a shame. Research tells us that children exposed early, and often to the arts fare better in tests, careers and life. But sometimes we see arts getting booted pretty low on the priority list. Or off the list.

Some people understand the need for a meaningful arts education.

  • Neuroscientists get it. Training in the arts improves cognition.
  • Teachers get it. Students who participate in the arts have higher test scores and lower drop-out rates.
  • Corporate leaders get it. Terry Semel, past chairman of Warner Bros., said, “Art is central to a civilized society. Kids who create don’t destroy.”

Thinker/writer, Daniel Pink notes that we are at the end of a binary-only thinking era. Students who can think imaginatively, creatively, or “outside the box” will become the most attractive workers for global corporations. Arts education prepares young minds for non-linear thinking.

As the oft-quoted Elizabeth Murfee writes in her 1995, Making a Case for Culture, “Drawing helps writing. Song and poetry make facts memorable. Drama makes history more vivid and real. Creative movement makes processes understandable.”

Socially, arts have proven to be an effective outreach tool to engage youth. Self esteem, cooperation, resilience improves when students have been exposed to the arts.
And lastly, what of the joy and wonder the arts offer the mind and spirit? Arts play a key role in the life of a child.

With thanks for a great image to Nicole Marti

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