21st Century Learning Skills

Month of November - Creativity Skills


Robin Fogarty has celebrated creative thinking in the classroom since her first years as a teacher. Since then, while working as a consultant, teacher educator, editor, mentor and author, Robin has been one of the nation’s strongest advocates for developing the creative talents of teachers and students alike. Her most recent books coedited with Brian Pete and Jim Bellanca for Solution Tree Press treat How to Teach Thinking in the Common Core and Leadership Guide to the Common Core (also with Rebecca Stinson. In press)

Driving Question:  How Do We Know Creativity When We See It?

A Chinese delegation visiting schools across America entered a College Preparatory High School on Chicago’s Near North side. After being greeted by the administrative staff the leader of the group enthusiastically voiced this request, “What we really want to see is your Creativity room. May we go there first?”

Americans are known for their creativity and innovation. In fact, it has been said by futurists that Japan may out manufacture us, but they will never out innovate us. Recent statistics in a Wired survey (2012) showed that 9 out of 10 of the most innovative companies in world are US companies. In fact in a slightly broader spectrum, 44 of 50 of the most innovative companies around the world are US companies.

Creativity is the ideation of a thought, while innovation is the realization of the idea.

The Partnership for 21st Century Skills calls for creativity and innovation as one of the essential skill sets of future citizens. And, while we do not traditionally have a Creativity Room in our schools, we have a mandate to instill the skills of creative thinking to foster a never-ending stream of innovations.

There is a myth that says, we can’t exactly define creativity, but we know it when we see it. While that may be true in one sense, there are four elements often examined to identify creative ideas, products and performances. Going deeper into an understanding of the discrete skills of creative and innovative thinking, there are four areas that impact on the overarching category of creativity and innovation: 1) Fluency; 2) Flexibility; 3) Elaboration; 4) Originality. (E. P. Torrance, 1958).

Fluency is the ability to generate a steady flow of ideas in a brainstorming session. Alex Osborn coined the term “brainstorm.” According to Osborn,  brainstorm means using the brain to storma creative problem and to do so “in commando fashion, each stormer audaciously attacking the same objective”). The flow of brainstorming may follow a predictable fluency pattern as depicted in Figure 1. (Fogarty, R., 1994)


(Figure 1)

Fluencyis the brainstorming process that produces a flow of ideas. Typically, there is a burst of ideas, followed by an anxious pause. Then, looking over the list and associating to previously stated words, more ideas are added. Often, these ideas take on silly to the point of outrageous as creative risk-taking prevails. More times than not, even an X-rated flavor appears, as the flow goes random. Somewhere along the way, or at the point of a nearly exhausted stream of ideas, novel ideas emerge. There is no censorship in the brainstorming phase. Everything counts. The critical examination comes later.

#1 Fluency:  How many foreign language words can you think of in 2 minutes? What was your most successful strategy?

Flexibilityis the ability to shift gears, make that right angle turn to a new idea, or make that tight U-turn that literally takes the original ideas in a drastically new direction. Flexibility in thinking is having a number of very different ideas, exploring diverse possibilities. The quintessential example of flexibility in thinking is illustrated with problem of disgruntled tenants in a new high rise. The elevators were too slow and after brainstorming all kinds of alternatives, the final solution proved to be a result of thinking outside the box. Mirrors were installed on all the walls by the elevators on every floor, and as predicted, most people stopped complaining. They we preoccupied by looking at themselves in the mirrors and were no longer annoyed by the delays. Far-fetched? Absolutely, but also quite innovative don’t you think?

#2 Flexibility: Imagine at least five different ways to resolve the problem of identity theft, an ever-increasing cyber challenge of 21st Century.

Elaboration is signaled by defining details, visible embellishments, fine-tuning and fussiness. Elaboration is finishing the product or performance with spit and polish, that last minute touch that gives a splendid flourish and the elegance of a masterpiece.  Enhancing a fashionable outfit with a statement belt, or an exquisite scarf that brings the look alive speaks to the element of elaboration. “Accessorize! Accessorize!”. Similarly, in the classroom, elaboration is often addressed when working with word choice, adjectives and adverbs to enhance the emerging mental image. Also, with the simple question that begs for details in oral language explanations, “Tell me more.” Encourages students to extend their creative thinking.

#3 ElaborationDraw one circle, large, medium or small and transform that simple shape into something elegantly recognizable. Use broad strokes to craft the image and then add detail after detail after detail until the intended object emerges brilliantly on the page.

Originality is marked by its signature uniqueness. The product or innovation is new, novel, extraordinary, distinguishable from the lot. It stands out!  A recent experience at a formal affair showcased originality in all its glory. After guests were served their cocktails, they passed by tables of delicate hors d’oeuvres. At one station, there were small dishes filled with finely chopped, raw vegetables. The server asked for my selections, briskly plucked them out with his ice tongs, and placed them in a martini shaker, with my dressing of choice. He then placed the lid on the top of the shaker and fashionably shook the “martini” and “poured” it into a sparkling, stemmed martini glass. The final garnish for my “martini salad” was the cocktail fork, as he handed me his creation.

#4 Originality: Think about an unusual, original, outstanding, genius-level way to carry all of “summer beach stuff (book, sunglasses, brimmed hat, ipad, cover up, brush, sun guard, ipod, and flip flops, bottle of water, ball, float, and beach towel) to the shore.

Unwrapping creativity, this premiere skill of the 21st Century, is just one step in furthering the cause of creativity and innovation in our schools. Yet, with focused intention, purposeful projects, enlightening performances woven into the curriculum as a matter of course, students can be properly prepared with the tools of thinking attitudes of courage, courageous and a natural and unbreakable will to create. Creativity is the premier skill and the overriding mission for 21st Century learners.

Fogarty, R. (2009). Brain-Compatible Classrooms. Thousands, Oaks, CA: Corwin Press.

Osborne, A. (1979 3rd Ed) Applied Imagination: Principles and Procedures of Creative Problem Solving. New York: Scribner.

Torrance, E.P. (1958). Torrance Tests of Creative Thinking. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press.

Month of September- Problem Solving Skills

Problem solving

Students need the ability to solve complex problems in real time.

Why it’s important: In the future, complex problems that we can’t even conceive right now will be everywhere. As society advances, so will the complexity of its manageable conflicts. The more we focus on students’  ability to devise effective solutions to real-world problems, the more successful those students will become. It means solving complex problems effectively in real time using unique and carefully designed solutions.

21st century skills problem solving

In addition to this, problem-solvers can work independently from higher supervision. They are initiative takers and enjoy risk, and they aren’t afraid to get their hands dirty and make mistakes. They also learn from those mistakes, and habitually debrief their processes to create more efficient and economical solutions.

These are the kinds of people who will be successful in a global marketplace like ours. Such an individual is an asset to any workforce. It’s worth mentioning that in this future we’re talking about, workers who are unable to think proactively towards solving problems will have a hard time finding employment.

“If we are not prepared to think for ourselves, and to make the effort to learn how to do this well, we will always be in danger of becoming slaves to the ideas and values of others due to our own ignorance.”
William Hughes

Articles on Problem Solving:

What is Problem Solving – MindTools

The Importance of Problem Solving – Huffington Post

The Four most effective ways leaders solve problems – Forbes