Don't Teach To The Test--Teach Creative Thinking.

Posted by: Bruce Nussbaum on October 24, 2006

I took a poke at the Tom Wolfian extravagance of the National Design Awards gala last week but make no mistake of my total support of the National Design Museum’s education initiative that helps teachers create lesson plans based on design thinking. As part of National Design Week, the National Design Museum (once known as Cooper Hewitt) launched the first online education resource center devoted to design thinking. It is a major attempt to help teachers around the country teach creative thinking to students.

I find the design education site to be an antidote to the teach-to-the-test education paradigm being used across the US. In an effort to teach facts, the testing mania is undermining the one thing going for America—its ability to innovate. Rote learning and innovation do not mix, the one pushes out the other.

The power of design thinking is that it is experimental, it is iterative, you look for new solutions to problems, you see things through fresh eyes. It is the opposite of testing. So check out the Cooper Hewitt’s new Education Resource Webite and send in suggestions to make it better.


The MacArthur Foundation just gave $50 million to research how kids learn today. This is what the release said: ” The MacArthur Foundation is providing support to researchers, educators, game developers, and others to explore how, and to what extent, digital technologies are changing the way young people learn, play, socialize, and participate in civic life. Grants are also made for efforts to dermine how educational and other social institutions must change to meet the needs of this and future generations. The following is a list of projects supported through the MacArthur digital media and learning million to learn more about digital learning. “

Check out the list of schools and institutions getting grants. One went to Patrick Whitney’s Institute of Design at the IIT.

Reader Comments

Tracie Willman

March 30, 2007 7:34 PM

yea…good luck with that….you can’t teach creative thinking it is a predisposed trait….and only flourishes in the absence of formal structure….and….philosophically….i do not think that it would be such a good idea if everyone was….you would have to expand the prison system….most people do not have the moral reasoning to rightfully “apply” their creative whit….creative people are savage to any form of social conditioning and will avoid adhering to it at all costs...

Scott Pobiner

April 2, 2007 4:59 PM

I completely disagree Tracie. You can absolutely teach creative thinking and it certainly does NOT flourish in the absence of a formal structure. Only people who are particularly talented AND have an innate capacity to think creatively can actually transform that talent to a useful contribution on their own. Even in the case of extreme talent, it is often nearly impossible to 'succeed' without some formal training. Keep in mind that apprenticeship is still widely used alone and in combination with other methods for training skilled workers and it is certainly formal and not the least bit innate.

While I agree that there are a lucky few who are talented enough to have an advantage, even these special people need formal training to transform raw talent into real skill and then to hone those skills towards an application. Talent, after all, is useless without a way to express it and apply it to a meaningful end. Moreover, talent is not always understood by the individual who has it.

I would argue that the real risk, as Bruce seems to suggest, is to avoid creative thinking as we teach in favor of more simplistic ends. There is nothing more dangerous than a creative mind without a positive application... remember the fate of 'idle hands'...

Tracie Willman

July 4, 2007 1:01 AM

to scott..the behaviorist..tis'true..you can teach someone How to think more creatively..but then again..to teach someone How to think creatively..is just..yet again..another learned (taught)algorithm..and i highly doubt that the majority of the population is cognitively capable of identifying novel patterns..forming novel relationships..employing a novel, conceptualized premise..and developing a novel representative model....so..if your premise is true, than individuals with an average iq will produce something that is novel..and to further challenge your conclusion..i offer myself as the counterexample..i was home-schooled my entire life by a mother who isolated herself in her room and only became involved in my education at the end of the summer so she could "hand" me the teacher keys so that i could "fill in the blanks"..the intelligence i now posses is the product of the last 6 years of my life..five of which i spent at a junior college..and at the end of the summer..i will finally be tasp exempt in math..even in spite of the fact that as of last summer i was placed with a mentally handicapped tutor at a learning center because i tested at a third grade level in math..but..was placed with the "normal" children when i had told the tutor that i "noticed" a correlation between something i was given to "memorize" and its relation to the four dimensions..and to further challenge your premise..if creative problem solving was not more of a classic example of survival of the fittest..then please help to to logically explain How i was actually able to make an a in college physics having a third grade level of mathematical reasoning..?..i developed and employed a novel method.."tracie-math"..problem-solution..

Dr_Me_Savage

January 10, 2008 6:17 PM

"It is a miracle that curiosity survives formal education." -- Albert Einstein

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Want to stop talking about innovation and learn how to make it work for you? Bruce Nussbaum takes you deep into the latest thinking about innovation and design with daily scoops, provocative perspectives and case studies. Nussbaum is at the center of a global conversation on the growing discipline of innovation and the deepening field of design thinking. Read him to discover what social networking works—and what doesn’t. Discover where service innovation is going and how experience design is shaping up. Learn which schools are graduating the most creative talent and which consulting firms are the hottest. And get his take on what the smartest companies are doing in the U.S., Asia and Europe, far ahead of the pack.

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