By Garreth Heidt Perkiomen
My first act in class this year was to have the students create “Creativity Journals” in which we would practice different techniques and exercises designed to develop creative AND analytical minds. One of our first exercises came to me after reading Michael Gelb’s How to Think Like Leonardo da Vinci. In that wondrous book, he describes an exercise in questioning, asking the reader to sit quietly and create a list of 100 questions. There is no direction as to what questions to ask, and there is to be no criticism or judgment of questions. You simply ask them. For my students (seventh graders) I shortened the exercise to 50 questions, and started them with a few examples from my own list.
Their questions were simply amazing. Themes ranged from theology, to science, to relationships, to mathematical, to metaphysical. Now, granted, these questions were not geared toward “innovation” of product, or even towards the generation of some product. However, the students were amazed at the questions they were capable of asking when they simply set to it.
Once they started asking questions, the classroom took on an entirely different tone, and learning focused more on what they wanted to discover. Once students saw the things they desired to learn, their productivity increased and, more importantly, their interest in class increased.
Questions give us focus and direction. They provide us with goals. When those questions are generated personally, by the students, the impetus for education is theirs. If we simply provide the questions and ask the students to find the answers, then education is hit or miss, depending on whether students find interest in the questions they are asked.
Students capable of asking their own questions and pursuing answers without prodding, these students become the kinds of workers I believe the workplace needs. But if schools simply turn out students who are capable only of answering questions generated by someone else, then the workplace will continue to be dissatisfied with the graduates we send their way.
Garreth Heidt Perkiomen is a teacher at Valley Middle School, Collegeville, PA (2001). Excerpted from the Innovation Network newsletter.