Are Some Classrooms Dampening Creativity?


Noah complained to his father the other day about how “boring” school was. Noah is 11-years-old and loves to build with his LEGOs and is a devotee of Minecraft. In fact, you can find Noah at his mother’s desk in their family room after homework is completed, lit by a glowing iMac screen, and laughing with delight as he builds a variety of obstacles. Oh, but what about throwing his friends off guard? That will take some thought Noah believes!

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We can certainly see why school-age children are thrilled to play with LEGOs and Minecraft as well as other “building” games. These games build problem-solving skills and help a child critically think about their continuing adventures, with inferential reasoning all a part of the process.

Researchers have now suggested that too much structure can put a damper on creativity, as noted in Organizational Behavior and Human Decision Processes. 186 undergraduate participants were asked to build an alien with LEGOs. The catch was that half of the participants in the study were given 442 LEGO bricks neatly organized by color and shapes, with the other group given the same 442 bricks all jumbled together in a box. The findings were interesting! Those participants who were provided the jumbled LEGOs built more unusual and creative aliens than those given the organized box, as judged by the assigned raters. Participants with the unorganized condition also spent 16.8 minutes on the task as compared to 11.5 minutes, on average.

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This study has important implications for the classroom. Spurring creativity takes time, thought, and planning on the part of the educator. This may be why the class, Robotics, is so sought after by school-age children given my interviews with them. This class requires problem-solving skills, ingenuity, and critical thinking, with also integrating principles of math and science into a “real life” situation. This situation is never boring. While parents can’t determine the landscape of the classroom, stimulating their child will likely have long-term effects, with creativity reinforced!

Karen L. Schiltz, PhD