Alike…curiosity, creativity and schools

“We’re all born curious, creative and imaginative.” 

These are the words of Tony Wagner, who has promoted educational innovation through his work with Harvard University, Keynote speeches and books.

As babies we are finding out how things works. Why do babies put paper ( or any thing for that matter) in their mouth? It is to test it out. They want to know all about it. It is the natural curiosity in them to see what the object is.

As toddlers we are constantly asking questions. Why? When? What? Where? Who? Again, it is the natural curiosity in toddlers.

Our youngest learners in school are full of curiosity, innovation and creativity. When walking through Pre-school this week I saw this in full flow. Children were using see-through umbrellas to mix paint on. Another child was holding the the umbrella watching what was happening. It was great to see.

CC J.Bevans 2017
CC J.Bevans 2017

My question to you is do your students ask those sort of questions? Do they show this natural curiosity? Are they willing to take risks? Try something new? Or has “the system” or school changed or re-wired this curiosity, creativity and innovation. What changes?

Take a look at the cartoon, below, from Jean Marc Cote. Amazingly it was drawn in 1901 and  it predicts a school in 2000. Is that what school is really like in the new millennium? Do we feed information to our students? Or are we inspiring, creating opportunities for innovation and creativity, creating a sense of awe and wonder?

By Jean Marc Cote (if 1901) or Villemard (if 1910) [Public domain or Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons
This week I watched an inspiring short film named Alike. In the short film directors Daniel Martinez Lara and Rafa Cano Mendez remind us of the importance of letting our children be children. It is 8 minutes well spent.

Take a look at it below.

I loved the film it really resonated with me and I cant wait to share it with my class, my fellow teachers and in this blog! My take aways from the film are that our students are naturally driven by curiosity, by passion and a sense of freedom that is slowly being taken away from them by “the system” in which they grow up. Students need opportunities for innovation and creativity. They need to understand that thinking differently is good and that you probably won’t be thinking the same as other people. Children need to be able to follow their hearts and their dreams. So…

  • Let’s be rebels. Let’s teach our children to be rebels.
  • Let our students be open to life, to love, to art and to nature.
  • Let them find the music and dance. Let them find the colours and paint.
  • Teach them to share love.
  • Give them the opportunity of creation, of imagination and adventure.
  • Let them play.

How am I going to use it in school?

As a teacher…

I think the short film offers an opportunity to use as a provocation with students. It will allow them opportunities to think and discuss the type of learner that they are. What are there interests? It would be great to use at the start of the year and sow the seed that every child in the class is an individual whose opinion really matters. It could be used as an introduction to Passion Projects or Genius Hour.

For teachers…

I think it could be shown to fellow teachers so that they can reflect on the type of learners that they are encouraging in their classroom. Where and how does the learning happen? Is it a one way process (like Jean Marc Cote’s cartoon) or are all members of the class involved in the learning? Is creativity limited and are students expected to produce the same work/learning ( like Paste was expected to in Alike)? Are children able to express themselves and play a violin? 

As a ATL…

In my role at Activator of Thinking and Learning, to try and create a Culture of Thinking, I am currently creating a video to share with staff at our last meeting of the year. The video is simply about thinking. I ask them 3 or 4 questions to students and they answer the questions. The questions are:-

  1. What is thinking?
  2. If I were to open up your head and look at what is happening inside what do you think I would see? You can use your imagination here…
  3. When do you do your best thinking?
  4. What do you like to think about? 

As I have collected more videos something really struck me about the answers to Question 2. What is happening in your head when you are thinking?

When I asked children in the Early Years (aged 3-7) children responded with creativity, imagination and freedom. They gave answers such as:

  • “Colourful clouds in my brain mixing together”
  • “Different coloured lights flashing”
  • ” Balls moving around quickly”

However the children in the later grades ( ages 8-11) found the answer much harder to answer. They gave me more serious answers about the brain and the left and the right side of the brain. No I am not doubting that they are valuable answers but Why is that? Even with the opportunity to use their imagination some children find it difficult. Does school repress this natural reaction? Or  Is it that the children by 8 years old have already lost that innate curiosity and creativity? 

I suppose my big take-aways from Alike are:

  • We need to teach children the right values from a very early age.
  • We need to understand what makes our students happy.
  • We need to allow creativity and innovation in every classroom. Creativity brightens our souls and allows for new thinking and new connections.
  • Schools need to allow time for students to practice these skills. These skills will help them in our changing world. Creativity, imagination and curiosity need to be built in to our Units of Inquiry/Learning.
  • Teachers and leaders need to model creativity, in schools and classrooms, and allow for more opportunities for children to use their imagination and follow their natural curiosity.
  • “If you can light the spark of curiosity in a child, they will learn without any further assistance.” Ken Robinson

10 thoughts on “Alike…curiosity, creativity and schools

  1. Hey Joel,

    Really like the short film and the message it brought. I think it is interesting to note the connections between creativity, freedom and overall happiness or well being. The little girl had her creativity, vibrancy and color drained right from her and when she turned that grey color her expression changed from happiness to a dull sadness or blank expression.

    In the United States we have this nationwide curriculum called the Common Core. And it expects all students to be working on the same standards, and knowing the same information. When all the students are expected to do the same work we are draining the vibrancy and color from individual students and not giving them the space to express their own ideas and thoughts.

    Your topic of alikeness and the danger it can bring is an especially pertinent topic to education and for educators to be aware of 🙂


    1. Hi Matt,
      Thanks so much for stopping by and taking time to read my thoughts and watch Alike. I really like the film and I think it shares many important messages. One of them, as you rightly say, is about the link between creativity, freedom and happiness and wellbeing.
      As educators I believe we are doing our students such a disservice if we are not allowing them opportunities for creativity and expression. There should always be opportunities for children to be able to show their learning in a way that works for them.
      I think it is important that all education systems around the world make sure that there opportunities for children to follow their passions and for the them to move the learning in a direction that helps them continue as a learner. If we are not doing this then maybe we are just creating children who are all the same, grey in colour, with a dull sadness ( like the film). I think it is time for a change. Lets bring some colour and excitement to school.
      All the best,


  2. Hi Joel, I watched this video during Sonya’s L2 session this year. I think I’ll show it this fall when I do some staff PD as a reminder to each of us that education must focus on the needs of the students. If we as educators truly put this at the heart of our decision making, I think we can change what education looks like today. I feel like I’m constantly referring to Sam Sherratt’s L2 talk from 2015 called Breaking Moulds, but it is a good watch. He talks about the need for schools to break out of the archaic system they have become and find a new path. I couldn’t agree more. Your post helps remind me that there is a group of like minded educators out there, looking to move beyond the very structured system school has become in hopes of finding more creativity and freedom for our students.


    1. Hi Carrie,
      Thanks for the comments and the link…I will definitely check it out.
      I think education needs to do a better job of giving children skills that are going to be useful in their life time. Education needs to be creative and expressive and it needs to move to meet the needs of our diverse classrooms, schools. I think it is our role to allow children to shine and to give them a platform so share what they know or what they have found out. School should never be a one size fits all system. Let’s celebrate our differences,lets enjoy our diversity, lets collaborate together because together we are stronger.
      We need to make changes for the future, so that we give our students the skills to succeed in their life time.
      Thanks for your comments Carrie.


  3. Joel,
    I saw this video as well and thought how true of some schools and teachers. I have tried to spend my time in education being the risk-taker and “outside of the box” thinker and I hope that it shows in my students. I think that when we worry too much about falling in line with what is “normal” we risk student’s futures.

    Who knows what normal will look like in 10-15 years. I doubt many people thought smartphone use would be “normal” in 2017. I just finished drafting a post where when we as teacher only show students that we are experts and never show them how to become an expert by making mistakes we never show them what the correct process is for achieving success. We then expect them to understand what the process is and not expect success right away but they have never seen someone go through it.

    Be a risk-taker, try new things, don’t go with the flow!


    1. Hi Cary,
      Thanks for your comments. I completely agree with you.
      I think that one of our roles as educators is to model that we take risks, make mistakes and that it is good to think differently. By modelling this behaviour we are showing our students that this is something that we value and think is important. Usually we will see similar behvaiour replicated in our classrooms. Modelling collaboration, creativity, and life long learning in the classroom shows our values to our students. It is so important that educators share these skills with their students.
      The future of education is an unknown quantity, as is technology and it’s use in the classroom. So lets give children the skills that they might need in their lifetime.
      Thanks again for your comments.


  4. Hi Joel,

    Thanks for sharing your thoughts and the alike video. As a high school maths teacher, whist I agree in theory with your sentiments and the comments left above, I sometimes find them hard to put into practice within a classroom setting. As a department we have recently adopted Jo Boaler’s positive norms for math classes,one of which states “Math is a very creative subject that is, at its core, about visualizing patterns and creating solution paths that others can see, discuss and critique.” Unfortunately, many standardized external tests do not provide students with adequate opportunities to demonstrate their understanding of the subject in this way. As teachers, of course, one of our tasks is to prepare students for their exams. With time pressures, we are often torn between teaching exam content and facilitating creative explorations of the subject.

    Although many appear to comment on the apparent negative correlation between creativity and age, could the causal factor actually be due to a third variable – the amount of external constraints? I can only talk from my limited experience as a HS maths teacher but it seems to me that as pupils progress through the education system they are faced by more externally set testing – is it not this, and the pressures teachers face to prepare students for them, what is ultimately quashing creativity in the classroom?


  5. Hi Joel,
    Thanks for your post. The ‘Alike’ video made me very sad. It so beautifully captures that loss of freedom, innocence, joy, autonomy. Every subject area has the power to inspire and our job as a teacher is to find those opportunities. Like you say in your comment to Cary: “to model that we take risks, make mistakes and that it is good to think differently.” Indeed! My son is 13 and very much turning into the student from the film–he’s lost all his colours. It is breaking my heart and turning me into an even stronger fighter for what education should look like and can look like. I’m happy that in international schools we have a bit more autonomy and power to change the system. I will be sharing the Alike video with our leadership team followed by a discussion about how we can spark this conversation across our school. Thanks for posting!


  6. Hi Joel,

    What some amazing food for thought in this post! Love the idea of an ATL… I’d be interested in finding more about that. Do you have anymore info or can you direct me to some further reading? It is also very useful to think about the articles that I am reading through different lenses, as a teacher, learner, trainer and user of technology. I like the way this blog as really got me to think about how I read and relate to articles – so thank you.

    It really is a scary world in which we are required to be reminded that kids need to be kids! Encouraging them to be rebels and take chances!
    Thank you for posting.


    1. Hi Sylvia,
      Thanks for stopping by. The ATL role stems from Ron Ritchart’s Book Creating a Culture of Thinking. I suppose it is a role that is keeping the Culture of Thinking on the table alongside all of the other things that go on in school. It is a great role and one I am really enjoying. You can see a little more about our role and how it works and the documenting of our journey as a school so far in another blog Thinking at ISLUX . I am glad that the post got you thinking through different lenses. I find that can be challenging in my role too, as a ATL and a classroom teachers. Thanks, Joel


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