Tuesday, February 25, 2014

Teacher Creativity Skill: Meet a Challenge


One of the ways that we grow creatively is by challenging ourselves to do something new or to push ourselves farther than we have been. I've often said that learning is a continuous act of managed risk-taking. By that I mean that we learn by using what we already know to help us complete new tasks that seemed difficult to us before. If you haven't seen the video below before, it illustrates what I mean better than anything I could write:

When we take risks and meet challenges, we add to the internal resources we can bring to bear in new situations. The more challenges we face, and the more experiences we have, the more resources we can call upon when life demands our creativity.The digital world is filled with opportunities for us to challenge ourselves, to learn and develop new skills, and to test ourselves against the unknown. I recently shared a post about developing our problem-solving skills in the Digital Age. In that post I share the many ways that we can use technology to enhance our ability to solve a problem at hand.

But we should also be aware that we can prepare for future problems and develop our skills without the immediate need to answer a burning question. Using the Internet as a training ground to grow and test ourselves is an opportunity we should not pass on. In fact, not only should we be viewing the web in this way, we should be encouraging our students to do the same.

There has never been a better time to learn.

One way that we can use our connected devices to achieve this is to remember that any topic or skill that we want to explore is already well-documented online, not only in terms of text, but in terms of video resources, dedicated websites, and passionate learning communities. Given that, we can all set ourselves the challenge of learning something new. With the right search skills, anyone can learn to play blues harmonica, learn to re-tile a bathroom, learn to speak conversational Greek, learn the basics of String Theory, or learn to paint happy little trees. Not only that, but they can be doing any of this within a matter of minutes.

And, thanks to resources like iTunes University, TED Talks, Coursera, Udemy, and MIT Open Courseware, we can all be learning from experts in a given field.

More than that, connected educators and learners can take advantage of their connections through social media to find already vetted and curated resources that will best help them develop the skills or learn the content that they want to master without having to search for the proverbial needle in the haystack.

Additionally, many online communities and resources exist just to give learners the challenge that they need in order to develop their creative side in hands-on ways. The Internet is filled with challenges that run anywhere from a week to a year. Annually, the team I work with puts out two challenges. The first is a Web 2.0 challenge designed to help educators explore digital tools for the classroom. The second is our Digital Heroism Challenge designed to invite students to explore and discuss topics related to living ethically in the Digital Age. The Indiana Department of Education eLearning team runs a digital learning challenge during February.

There are also great challenges that focus on writing skills, video production, and photography. There are fitness challenges, cooking challenges, technology challenges, and art challenges. While some challenges are actually contests that include prizes, most challenges are really just a way to help participants find inspiration and stay focused.

A Few Favorite Challenges

Here are a few great daily challenges that you might try:

The Me You Health Daily Challenge- The Daily Challenge is a social well-being experience that gives you the opportunity to positively impact your life every day by doing simple daily challenges and sharing the experience with your personal connections -- all while you earn points, collect stamps and achieve new levels.

The Daily Create- The Daily Create provides a space for regular practice of spontaneous creativity through challenges published every day. Each assignment should take no more than 15-20 minutes. There are no registrations, no prizes, just a community of people producing art daily.

Find the Awesome in Your Family- From Parent Wellbeing, this is a series of challenges designed to help you get past the challenges of parenting in a hectic world.

A Daily Brain Teaser- A great blog that offers up a brain teaser each day. If you are looking to challenge your brain, this is a great place to start the day.

Teacher Reboot Camp 30 Goals Challenge- One of my favorite challenges. Now in its fifth year, this challenge focuses on great teaching and learning. Such a gift from @ShellTerrell

Our Challenge

All of this brings me to our ultimate challenge. We need to develop the skills that it takes to be persistent independent learners. The purpose of finding the resources that will help us challenge ourselves is that we will develop good habits of mind and strong skill-sets that we can call upon when we need them. This allows us to not have to learn skills and content as we are supposed to be applying them. Instead, we can approach creative problems confidently.

More importantly, developing these skills in ourselves enables us to create learning opportunities for our students that will help prepare them for similar challenges later. Not only should we be identifying and embracing challenges for ourselves, we should be creating these types of challenges for kids. Imagine a daily creativity, leadership, or collaboration challenge for students that would engage their minds and challenge their talents. Imagine daily learning challenges that call upon student passions and talents, while pushing them into unknown territory.

Really, isn't that what we want learning to look like everyday, anyway?


  1. I LOVE her reaction after she makes it down the hill, especially after hearing how anxious she was before! I think students (and most adults) initially have a similar trepidation to any new challenge, but the feeling of accomplishment afterwards might make them be willing to take those challenges on again and again.

    1. I agree! I think one of the things that makes learning compelling is risk. When we fail to provide enough risk to our students, we lose their interest.