Imagination is the Foundation of Learning

“Tell us a bed time story, please!!!”

“Alright, if you insist… Once upon a time there was a rocket ship…”

We have all been there on the other end of the ellipse, both as listeners and storytellers. The excitement and wonder that creative possibilities could bring to pass, even if only in our imagination, is the fuel of the future. As history has proven, science fiction and fantasy often become reality because somebody imagined it. Wald Disney, Steve Jobs, and George Lucas all had it right, the only limitation we have is our imagination. Any problem can be solved, any discovery can be made, and any dream can be fulfilled with creative thinking. The wonder of imagination comes to life everywhere but is infrequent in the classrooms of many regular public schools. Creativity, the most sought after and highest order of thinking, is not emphasized, taught, or tested in any public school. In fact, much of what is done in the name of socialization and control eliminates creativity and stifles imagination. This is “Why Children Don’t Like School” as explained by the author, Dr. Daniel Willingham.

Benjamin Bloom identified in 1956 the Cognitive Domain, as well as two other domains, and actually ranked them in order of difficulty. He called them a taxonomy and each level was described as an order of magnitude more difficult than the preceding. His pioneering work is now the foundation of every teacher’s pedagogy. There has been some debate about the last two rungs on the Bloom ladder, whether evaluation is more difficult than synthesis and some have even changed synthesis to creating (see I think synthesis is a wonderful word and captures the heart of what creation really is, so I would not change it, but I do believe that it is much more difficult to do than evaluation, at least an order of magnitude more difficult.

In 1865 Jules Verne imagined we would go to the Moon, in 1968, we did.

Imagination is therefore the most difficult and yet most essential thinking domain in our lives. We are surrounded by it continually in our music, entertainment, technology, and every aspect of our existence. We appreciate and yearn after it because it enriches our view points, makes life easier, and it makes us laugh. History shows that many things we imagine come to pass. In 1865 Jules Verne imagined we would go to the Moon, in 1968, we did. In 1931 Chester Gould wrote about Dick Tracy communicating with a two-way TV watch, Steve Jobs made it real in 2014. Gene Roddenberry created Star Trek flip communicators in 1966 but Motorola actually produced them in 1996. In the mid 1800’s Augusta Ada King envisioned a language for computing machines and her ideas form the basis of many programing languages.

How do you develop imagination and creativity in children?

  1. Teach these truths: Children must learn for themselves and that the only thing that makes learning relevant, interesting or worthwhile is creativity.
  2. Value creativity, celebrate it and reward it- Core learning must encourage creative solutions, and ways of expressing them through Art, Music, and Movement. Weight creativity grades higher than other grades.
  3. Teach the soft skills they need to be creative:
    1. How to think Analytically, Critically, and Creatively,
    2. how to be Inquisitive, opportunistic, flexible, open-minded, and teachable,
    3. How to take risks, and express themselves.
  4. Remove constraints- Give them space and a framework in which they can be creative. Put them in the driver seat, and let them learn from their mistakes, e. project-based learning, inquiry, discovery, collaborative groups,

Developing imagination seems so simple and yet it is so seldom attained. The main element is to create a learning space that encourages children to try things out, take risks and sometimes fail.  As part of that learning environment, we have to give the children the mental tools and discipline to be learners. We need to teach the children how to think. I mean really think, first to analyze for understanding, then evaluate or criticize validity and effectiveness and worth, finally the children are ready to synthesize or create something new, or solve or resolve something old. Other traits the children need along the way are inquisitiveness, ability to see and take advantage of opportunities, flexibility, open-mindedness, a desire to learn and be teachable, a willingness to take risks, and the ability to express themselves. As I discuss in my book, Teaching Students to Dig Deeper, these ten traits can help more children to be the creative geniuses that this world needs and craves, and yet is starving for.

In my book I discuss 138 different ways that teachers can weave these ten traits into their content learning. These ideas serve as a launch pad for other ideas and teaching techniques, but they all have on thing in common, they hold as an inviolate truth: children must learn for themselves. I am privileged to be the director of a school that has as its mission to integrate the children’ head, heart and hands and unleash the creativity within that each of them carries since birth, and to allow them to feel the wonder and joy of discovery and creation. The truth about learning is that the only thing that makes it relevant, interesting or worthwhile is creativity.

Imagination and creativity are the traits that fuel the future and make the present bearable, but are often left out of our learning when they should be integrated into every part of it. Benjamin Bloom knew that synthesis was a challenging thing to do and 65 years later we still struggle in getting our children to that level of thinking. As we go forward in the future, teaching children how to think becomes more important than teaching children what to think.

Dr. Ben Johnson