Bringing Creativity to Science Education
Most students associate science with mastering complex equations and courses of action, not with a creative process.
But believe it or not, science is in fact a creative process. Because of the way science education classes are taught, many feel that it requires a rigid, step-by-step process with no room for thinking outside the box. Classes are taught in a series of procedures, which is leading to the misconception that science is a dry subject devoid of creativity.
So how do we find the creative side of science? The creativity in science and science education lies in building models, whether they be physical, chemical, or mathematical models. If the model works in practice, you’re set. But if there are hiccups, you have to rethink the model. This means that you have to build the model yourself from scratch. There’s no rigid template to follow; you have to get creative.
This may sound scarily open-ended, but your model doesn’t have to perfect the first time around. You have to start somewhere, even if your model is ridden with errors. An experiment is then born out of your model. Scientific creativity involves a lot of trial and error, and it does involve procedures, but those are not the main components. Science education makes it seem that way.
In science education, teachers and professors tend to overuse instruction and procedure. Evaluating how well a student follows a set of steps is easier than evaluating a more open-ended assignment. An article in Wired on how to implement creativity in science education suggests that instructors treat science education more like an art course.
Creativity can be introduced in the lab through giving fewer instructions. For example, Rhett Allain, a physics professor at Louisiana University, has found a new way to teach his students about the conservation of momentum. His method is colliding two carts to show how momentum is conserved.
“I used to give very detailed guidelines,” said Allain. “Now, I just show them the carts and let them play for a bit.”
As a result, his students are finding new ways to explore collisions.
Allain says that his students hate the open-endedness of his exercises at first. But, as with the momentum exercise, when they start to find unique ways to complete an experiment, students begin to love these exercises.
Science is creative, but science education often is not. According to Allain, that can change easily: instructors simply must rely less on rigid procedure.
Once students get the hang of things, they’ll look forward to creating their own models and codes, and science education will get the creative attention it needs.
Sarah Samel is an Emerson College senior Writing, Literature and Publishing student focusing on young adult fiction. When she’s not browsing bookstores, she’s blogging or jotting down ideas for new poems and stories.