Creativity is the Nature of Science

Creativity is the Nature of Science

Wading through the Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS), one cannot help but notice the references to creativity.   The NGSS guide us along the paths of eight understandings about the nature of science, one of which is “Science is a Human Endeavor.”  Creativity and imagination progressively highlight the application of science integrated with engineering design principles from Kindergarten through grade 12.  Ideally, the youngest students leave elementary school believing that “creativity and imagination are important to science.”  In middle school, students learn that real-world scientists and engineers “rely on human qualities such as persistence, precision, reasoning, logic and imagination and creativity” to discover and design in collaboration.  High school students graduate, supposedly ready for college or career, with an understanding that “scientific knowledge is a result of human endeavor, imagination and creativity.”

Given these emphases, one can imagine a 21st century science curriculum invigorated by a focus on creativity that generates real excitement among students about learning science.  Teachers no longer plod through each lesson asking “what,” and waiting for students to regurgitate the right answers.  Rather, they infuse the foundational knowledge of a lesson with “how” and “why” questions, encouraging students to arrive at their own conclusions, daring them to take risks and, perhaps, even think outside the box.  That is the essence of inquiry-based science, a methodology encouraged by scientists and science educators since the 1980s.  Yet it is difficult to find any focus on creativity and imagination in science among educators discussing the NGSS.  State administrators, district curriculum specialists, and teachers tend to discuss assessment strategies, resistance to discipline integration at the high school level, and state testing regimes as they plan the strategies and tactics for NGSS implementation.

These discussions blur the nature of science presented in the NGSS.  However, they illustrate the current state of science education in the United States.  Elizabeth Marincola, former president of the Society for Science and the Public and publisher of  Science News, suggests that “U.S. instructors are constrained to teach objectively measurable facts, limiting their freedom to encourage discovery and creativity and instead rewarding them for ‘teaching to the test’.”  An exclusive focus on objectively measurable facts in science, while crucial to foundational knowledge, blocks most students from ever discovering, in the words of Carl Sagan, “the wonder of it all.”  In a global economy based on continuous innovation, more students than ever before should not be intimidated or bored by science but rather embrace the wonder of it all, discovering they can understand and apply science to transform visions into reality.  The NGSS certainly pay homage to creativity as essential to understanding the nature of science as a human endeavor.  And that is a crucial first step.  Now comes the hard work — figuring out how creativity fits into an educational culture distracted from discovery and learning by weekly, monthly, and yearly tests.

Author

Karen Collias

My name is Karen Collias and I founded Knowledge Without Borders™ to infuse creativity and innovation into the most salient educational issues affecting global contemporary society. I attribute my enthusiasm to cross the borders of traditional knowledge domains to the multi-disciplinary nature of my education and professional experience. The first in my family to go to college, I have a Ph.D. from Columbia University. My professional experience focuses on interdisciplinary research, teaching, and strategic thinking at a variety of institutions, including Princeton University, the Smithsonian Institution, and the U.S. Department of State. I currently live in Shanghai, crossing borders and exploring cultures in Asia.

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