P21LogoHorizontalRGBtmThe following is a guest blog post from CEM partner Partnership for 21st Century Learning’s P21Blogazine

How can we add creativity to every PBL?

Curiosita, an insatiable curious approach to life and an unrelenting quest for continuous learning. The desire to know, to learn, and to grow is the powerhouse of knowledge, wisdom, and discovery.” ~ Gelb, 1998 

Several years back, we looked at our teaching and asked ourselves, “When were our students rigorously and joyfully engaged in learning?” Next we looked back on our own educational experiences and asked, “When were we immersed to that degree in our own learning?”


The answers were both the same. The highest engagement was always when creative thinking and productivity were involved. So we began to ardently pursue any training programs we could find that would help us make creativity a part of all teaching and learning including PBL. Unfortunately, for the most part, we couldn’t find specific instructional tools and strategies to help us teach with and for creativity. So our next step was to assimilate research and publications around the topic of creativity and use them to build new instructional tools and templates.

The final step of our intensive inquiry was piloting our new material for five years at Lakenheath Middle School in England. During a discussion on “What is creativity?” in one seventh-grade class, a student stated, “To me, creativity is like a meteor shower of ideas spinning off into infinity!” This was just the inspiration we needed. It lead us to create a fan model to depict the seven target areas that can be addressed to support the development of student creativity in all content areas. Most especially, we could see how the fan model was a natural that could enrich project-based learning.


In a review of literature, we discovered more than 112 definitions of creativity. This gave us the perception that creativity couldn’t be solidified as a teachable skill. However, looking a bit more deeply, we found that each of the definitions included one or more of these four Elements:

  • Fluency – many ideas
  • Flexibility – categories or groups of ideas
  • Originality – unique or one of a kind ideas
  • Elaboration – adding details to ideas

We soon realized each of these commonly known elements could be targeted as instructional goals and then recognized in the verbal and visual products of students. A straightforward example of using these creative elements can be seen in assessing a student’s literacy skills.

  • Fluency – number of words
  • Flexibility – different writing themes and styles
  • Originality – unique writing or word usage
  • Elaboration – adding details to stories

This was a good beginning. However, we were still left with more questions about what does creativity look like and sound like in the classroom. We looked again at what was happening in our classrooms and in the classrooms of peers. So after several discussions with colleagues, we came up with this formula for what happens in classrooms that are being taught with creativity.

Creativity = Critical Thinking + Creative Thinking + Creative Productivity

Now we had something we could all wrap our heads around! We could teach critical and creative thinking with tools and strategies. We could plan for product development in project-based learning environments that engaged students to the max.


The Creativity Fan is a Model to guide our thinking. The model consists of the Four Elements of Creativity (fan lights), surrounded by Seven Action Areas (fan blades). The Elements can be used as instructional targets in assessing student understanding and applying creativity skills in lessons, units and projects. The seven Action Areas were created from the information and knowledge gained from research and classroom practice. Each Action Area has accompanying teacher and student goals. The teacher goals are listed below.



  1. Process – to teach how new thinking strategies and tools improve creative thinking.
  2. Persistence – to engage students in learning opportunities that require effort, diligence, and task commitment.
  3. Product – to backwards plan for products in content areas so students can demonstrate their learning through verbal or visual products.
  4. Perception – to expose students to alternative visual or verbal viewpoints or perspectives so they can acknowledge diversity in thinking and form their own conceptions
  5. Passion – tp plann a wide variety of activities that address student strengths and interests so students can explore and discover passion areas of learning.
  6. Person – to instill in students an understanding and appreciation of the positive and negative creative behaviors and traits.
  7. Press – to introduce students to a variety of psychological or emotional influences that can be applied to influence creative output.


So can we teach creativity? The answer is an astounding yes! We’ve all been in classrooms where teachers are making this happen, including rooms where PBL is common– but unfortunately they are still too few and far between. Oftentimes, these teachers are viewed as the outliers within their organizations.

These teachers, and many of our parents, especially our homeschool parents, have naturally been a part of a revolution calling for innovative education reform. They are the shining lights at the end of a long tunnel leading to what we refer to as The Creativity Crusade. Today, with more information and resources available, everyone can become part of this revolution. Together we can change teaching and learning so that all children can live and learn creatively. Creativity, once infused, will forever change teaching styles with lessons based upon collaborative experiences between students and teachers. It will also result in a powerful paradigm shift, focusing on what students think, what they say, how they do it, and most importantly, what they produce.


Why teach creativity? Does it belong in the school curriculum? Again, our answer is a resounding “yes!” just because it changes children’s lives and it changes our world. We believe supporting and developing students’ creativity is essential for the continuous improvement of our world. We believe nurturing and protecting children’s creativity leads to their personal and professional happiness and success for a lifetime.


Rick Shade EdD is co-author with Pattie Garrett Shade of Curiosita Teaching: Integrating Creativity Into All Teaching & Learning and Curiosita Teaching: Handbook of Instructional Strategies. He is also the author of License to Laugh: Humor in the Classroom. His book, The Creativity Crusade: Nurturing and Protecting Your Child’s Creativity, received the Texas Association for Gifted and Talented 2015 Parent Legacy Award.

Patti Garrett Shade, M.A. received national recognition for both her work as Indiana State Director of Gifted and Talented and for the development of an Elementary Science Lab Enrichment Program. She served on the development team for the World Creativity Center with Dr. Edward De bono and co-author with Rick Slade of several books.

Contact Rick and Patti at info@curiositateaching.com or call 303-728-9276.

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