Help kids understand creativity with Sparks and Grinds

It is hard to teach creativity

 I tried for years to teach creativity to my student in my science classroom. A few kids would run with the activity but most would struggle or barely try. It took many, many tries and failures for me to learn that one activity by itself will not help a kid be more creative.

Let’s change how we ask kids to approach creativity. I was asking kids to take one idea and do *something* with it. They didn’t really care about the idea, nor the something they came up with. Two days later, it was as if it never happened. Creativity needs to be embedded in what the kids are doing and in topics that they care about.

It is difficult to teach creativity

I was looking for a better approach to teaching kids to be creative. 

Let’s change how we ask kids to approach creativity. I was asking kids to take one idea and do *something* with it. They didn’t really care about the idea, nor the something they came up with. Two days later, it was as if it never happened. Creativity needs to be embedded in what the kids are doing and in topics that they care about. 

One summer, I interlibrary loaned as many books on creativity as I could and got busy. Most were not helpful. One was – The Spark and the Grind is a book by Erik Wahl. I was one of many that I read as I puzzled over teaching creativity. 

What are Sparks and Grinds?

Sparks are the inspirations and ideas that we have every day. Most of them pass and are forgotten but having more and more sparks is a great way to eventually find a great idea. It is not helpful to only have ideas, however. You have to pursue ideas and learn from your experiences. 

A “Grind” is the work that goes into an idea. If you never grind an idea, you don’t learn how that idea actually works in the world. Kids are pursuing Sparks and Grinds as a part of Innovative Arts class. Anything they worked to design assemble, test, solve, overcome, or figure out

Creative creators balance these two things – pursuing their ideas and constantly generating more. 

How does this help to teach creativity?

I have my students start to record their ideas as we go through class. This new habit is the most important part of the system. We can all have ideas, but writing them down is the secret. The ideas stay there, right next to each other… just waiting to start mixing with each-other. If they aren’t written down they never existed. Sparks are handy when kids need to choose their own TinkerCAD projects.

Later, I have my students put their ideas into an idea generator that will start to pair their sparks with random project ideas and nouns. For example, a kid might write down they are interested in baseball. The idea generator might spit out a suggestion like this:

“A backlit silhouette of a baseball that features long streamers” or something else equally random. The generator is a is a nice way to show how randomness can add to creative ideas. The Ideas Generator is in early development but Ican shae 

Grinds are the ideas they choose to pursue. Do they have to finish the idea once they start? No, but they need a good reason to quit. 

So how does this work?

Kids keep track of their  Sparks and their Grinds throughout their time in Innovative Arts on paper in 5th and 6th grade. During 5th and 6th grade kids are working to gain new skills, try out new machines and processes. 7th and 8th grade kids are diving into becoming creators of their own types and are more free to curate their sparks and document their grinds in any way they want. 

Version 1 of the Sparks and Grind Sheet:

See more resources to help teach creativity here.

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