Creativity in STEM

Day Greenberg recently wrote a blog post about one of our newer GET City members, M*, who was not able to join in the 2014- 2015 GET City session, by virtue of not being in middle school (our grade requirement), but made sure Day knew he would be back. Now that he’s in 6th grade he is an active force in our group. I can completely imagine what M’s persistence to join must have looked like because we see it every session. There were probably six different elementary school-aged youth who regularly come to the door (or come on in and sit right down) to ask if they join GET City today. One elementary youth in particular, L*, and I have a lot of fun talking about WHY she can’t wait to be part of GET City. Her answer is simple, “You guys make awesome stuff!” We regularly talk about the flying shoes she wants to create — she has a clear vision of why she wants to make them, and what she’s going to use them for. Her imagination, her desire to change the way she interacts with her world, and her belief in the potential of science (and GET City) come together in this amazing vision that pulls on the importance and potential of creativity in STEM.

Creativity in STEM is getting an increasing amount of attention these days; but it’s a narrow kind of attention. It mostly seems to be coming from business leaders and politicians — from those who want to push innovation because that’s what drives economic development and competition. From these perspectives, the standard bar for creativity (as an idea or product that is both novel and effective) is judged against cultural norms; which means those who can be deemed creative are those already within that culture and that ideas / products will only be judged as creative if they contributed in a way perceived as important to those top dogs who issued the call.

The value of being called “creative” or considering yourself creative is something I’ve long been interested in. Why do so many people think it’s for artists only? What makes it tricky to see the creativity in science? I was recently at a professional development seminar where not one of forty faculty members and graduate students were willing to identify themselves as creative. Who says you have it or don’t? If you don’t have it, who does? These are all questions I look forward to teasing out, but for the purposes of this blog post, I’ll re-focus in on my main question: how can thinking about being creative in STEM expand opportunities for youth voice and agency?

I’m excited to start some conversation groups in the last few months of GET City to see what the youth have to say about creativity in our science and design work — what it looks like to them, where they see it, why they think it’s important, and how we can be better about supporting it. This top-down push for creativity in STEM doesn’t match up with science education; it’s a mis-aimed point: advocating for creativity in our science classes shouldn’t just be about how creativity can push the agendas of those in charge. It should be about the power of creativity to elevate the experiences of those whose expression might otherwise not be recognized as authentic participation in science. Creativity has transformative power for individual’s meaning-making and agency in science — we see this frequently when we ask our youth engineers what their inventions say about them, because two narratives often pop up: 1) “that I care about my community,” and 2) “that I’m a creative person.”  I think that speaks volumes about what happens when we support creation. Flying shoes included.

*names withheld for privacy

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