An Independent School • Grades 5-12

by Elaine Christensen, Middle School director

I recently spent some time thinking about what lays the groundwork for creativity. What makes it possible? And I came up with five Cs:

  • Curiosity
  • Commitment
  • Critical Thinking
  • Collaboration
  • Courage

First of all, you need curiosity: challenges, problems, tasks that capture a student’s imagination.

Second, you need commitment. Another word for this is engagement. To inspire students to be creative, they must actually care about the problem they are trying to solve.

Third, you need the ability to think critically, to make decisions about what to do, what questions to ask, where to seek answers, how to construct and communicate the information in a coherent way.

Fourth, you need collaboration. Creativity does not happen in isolation.

And fifth, you need courage. You need to feel safe to test new hypotheses, dabble in new materials.

What makes all this happen? Great teachers who create learning environments that are challenging and supportive at the same time. This is happening all over the place at the Middle School.

In 6th-grade science, the students begin the year learning about sinking and floating (two concepts I took entirely for granted). To test what they’ve learned, they need to create an object that will float for ten seconds, and then sink. In 7th-grade English, the students have each taken on a superhero persona as part of the 7th-grade Justice League. They will read novels and short stories that examine this topic, and they will be applying what they learn to their own lives, puzzling over fantastic 7th-grade questions about right and wrong.

In 8th grade, students will spend the year in history studying the UN’s sustainable development goals. Their final project will be to design a sustainable city. Students in 8th-grade seminars will also design an advocacy action project that addresses a real-life challenge they observed while on their GSL trips. The challenge is “How can we, 8th graders at Lakeside School, make a real difference in the lives of others?”

The last creative space I’ll mention is our new makerspace, which plays an important role in our digital and information literacy curriculum. The makerspace is a room next to the library which is outfitted with all kinds of materials students can use to build 3D objects, to problem solve, iterate, decorate.

Our 6th graders were recently given a real-life challenge, one that is outside the comfort zone of most of them. The makerspace teacher, Heather Butler, sent a note to the entire faculty and staff asking them to request a small container for a specific purpose. Her colleagues wrote back with descriptions of what they needed and with a couple of sentences about what they did at the school and what kinds of things they enjoyed doing. Pairs of 6th graders were given two class days – 90 minutes total – to create and personalize a container. This meant that the 6th-grade designers were designing for real people. They had the run of the makerspace to create these containers. They used cardboard, PVC tape, corks, tongue depressors, fabric, pipe cleaners, 3D printer objects, and lots and lots of hot glue.

What this project demanded is that students think creatively on many levels. What was the container for? What did the person like? How could they make something useful and personal at the same time?

Isn’t that the goal of the entire Lakeside educational exercise? That students will take their curiosity, commitment, critical thinking, collaboration, and courage to make real things for real people that will make a real difference in the world?