Curiosity and memory

Curiosity is the drive to know or to learn something.  It’s a simple definition and we all recognize what it means.

What happens in the brain when a person’s curiosity is piqued is a whole other matter.  Neuroscientist Matthias Gruber explains that curiosity activates the brain’s “wanting” system, in the same way any other type of anticipation does.  It also activates the memory centres, which appears to have an effect on learning.  The surprising finding is that during the period between a person’s curiosity being stimulated and the curiosity being satisfied, any type of learning that takes place – not just learning related to the subject of curiosity – is much better retained.

The take-away is that piquing students’ curiosity not only helps to maintain motivation, it is also strongly instrumental in consolidating all the learning.

Watch Gruber’s talk here:


Jazz and the brain

Out of the blue comes this article on CNN’s website about neuroscience and creativity.

Dr. Charles Limb’s work shows that when jazz players get into “the zone,” the regions of their brain that allow for creativity become active at the same time as the areas responsible for inhibition and self-control in the prefrontal cortex are shut down.

Limb also shows that the same is true for other types of improvisational artistic expression.

There is an important lesson here because the relationship between an (over)active prefrontal cortex and inhibited creativity goes a long way to explaining why children tend to play a lot more than adults.  As our brains mature, we have a better capacity to self-monitor and inhibit the free thinking of childhood.

As the article explains, practice allows for easier access to “the zone.”  In other words, adults need to practice playing! How about it?

Improve your creativity: learn to be wrong

Improve your creativity: learn to be wrong


The idea sounds a little ludicrous at first, but heading down the wrong path or examining an incorrect hypothesis can be an important step to creativity and innovation.  This is true for three reasons:

  1. The process of attempting to prove an idea that turns out to be false or unfounded can generate a lot of information.  Independent of the original, unproven hypothesis, this data can be extremely useful to other, often unrelated enquiries.
  2. Sometimes, the original idea is incorrect, but not totally without merit.  In his book Rethink, Steven Poole points out that scientific discoveries often come about when an idea or a hypothesis needs to be re-thought or re-examined and another path forward conceived.
  3. Being wrong is also extremely useful to highlight what we don’t know. Steven Poole claims that what we don’t know is as important as what we do know to idea advancement.

This last point is particularly intriguing – and important.  How do we zero-in on what we don’t know?  In the realm of all that’s unknown, what do we want or need to find out?  Sound confusing?  The desire to fill in the knowledge gaps is at the heart of curiosity – when we want to solve the puzzle of the unknown. Steven Poole says that the key here is a reasonable gap in knowledge.  If the gaps are too big or too numerous, the scope of what is unknown is potentially limitless.  That’s a curiosity-killer.  A reasonable gap motivates us to find the answer to complete the idea.  This is where creative strategy comes in.  Conferring with others, Socratic questioning and well-managed brainstorming allow us to identify knowledge gaps that can pique our curiosity and lead to creative thinking.


Colloque de l’IB – résumé de l’atelier

Colloque de l’IB – résumé de l’atelier

Je tiens à remercier ceux et celles qui ont participé à mon atelier la semaine dernière lors de la conférence de l’IB en Amérique à Toronto.

Intitulé « Ensemble pour la créativité » cet atelier visait à démontrer que la créativité résulte de nouvelles associations ou connexions et que ce processus est enrichi lorsqu’un individu agit en tant que membre d’une communauté collaborative. Grâce à l’évolution humaine, les associations et la communauté sont des éléments indispensables et incontournables à la pensée créative.

Nous pouvons augmenter le potentiel pour la pensée créative dans nos classes si nous considérons nos apprenants comme étant des membres d’une communauté collaborative qui cherche à résoudre de vrais problèmes. Voici 11 principes qui aideront à atteindre ce but :

  1. On doit encourager nos apprenants à contribuer leurs diverses perspectives, expériences de vie, connaissances, valeurs et cultures. Plus ces contributions sont diverses, plus le potentiel de pensée créative est grand.
  2. Nos classes doivent être exemptes de jugements ; un tel environnement favorise un partage libre de nouvelles idées.
  3. Chaque nouvelle idée doit être bien reçue. Certaines idées seront retenues ; d’autres seront mises de côté. Une idée qui parait non valable à première vue pourrait inspirer une autre idée ou bien contenir des éléments qui seront utiles ultérieurement.
  4. Nous devons encourager la recherche de nouvelles idées, ressources et idées requises pour l’accomplissement des tâches que les apprenants entreprennent. Il s’agit de la motivation intrinsèque.
  5. Les échecs ne devraient pas être vécus comme étant entièrement négatifs, mais plutôt comme étant une étape dans le processus d’apprentissage qui pourrait contenir beaucoup de données importantes. Comme l’a dit l’inventeur Thomas Edison : « Je n’ai pas échoué. J’ai simplement trouvé 10 000 solutions qui ne fonctionnent pas. »
  6. L’école doit être un lieu de passions personnelles, un endroit où l’apprenant découvre, exprime et développe ses passions. La passion engendre la motivation et les nouvelles connaissances qui sont indispensables au travail de groupe et à la pensée créative.
  7. L’expérimentation doit faire partie intégrante des activités à l’école. On doit la célébrer et accepter tous les résultats, positifs ou négatifs.
  8. Les enseignants et les apprenants doivent cultiver un environnement d’écoute attentive, autant des mots que du ton, de l’intention, de l’émotion et du langage corporel.
  9. Nos écoles doivent laisser de la place à la non-conformité. Les artistes reconnus et les innovateurs célèbres sont très rarement des conformistes. La pensée créative émerge bien plus souvent lorsqu’on sort des sentiers battus.
  10. Nos devons mettre moins d’accent sur la standardisation, car imposer un seul standard peut facilement tuer la pensée créative.
  11. Dernièrement, nous devons fixer des objectifs clairs pour chaque projet. Les apprenants qui comprennent le but participeront mieux au processus de pensée créative.

Pour les enseignants, le défi est de concevoir le problème idéal ou plutôt de guider les apprenants dans l’identification du problème et des objectifs à atteindre. On peut facilement relever le défi en se servant des principes ci-haut : les enseignants sont eux aussi des membres d’une communauté collaborative. Ensemble avec leurs collègues et d’autres membres de la communauté, ils peuvent générer une banque de vrais problèmes qui deviennent des projets étudiants. Voici un peu d’inspiration (en anglais) :


Laissez vos commentaires ci-dessous. N’hésitez pas à proposer quelques problèmes à résoudre!

Conference of the Americas – workshop summary

Conference of the Americas – workshop summary

Many thanks to all who participated in my workshop at the IB conference of the Americas in Toronto last week. Below is a quick overview of the workshop.

Entitled “The Importance of Community to Creative Thinking,” the aim of the workshop was to demonstrate that creativity is the result of new associations or connections, a process significantly enhanced when an individual is a member of a collaborative community. Evolution has made this a fundamental and unavoidable element of humanity.

The potential for creative thinking can be enhanced in our classes if we see our learners as members of a collaborative community that sets out to solve real-world problems. Here are 11 principles that can help achieve this:

  1. Learners must be encouraged to contribute different perspectives, life experiences, knowledge sets, values, and cultures. The more diverse these contributions are, the greater the potential for creativity.
  2. Our learning environments must be exempt from judgement, to allow for unrestrained sharing.
  3. All new ideas must be valued. Some will be retained; others will eventually be set aside. An idea that might not seem pertinent on first consideration could spark another idea or could contain elements that may be worth pursuing at another time.
  4. We need to encourage the search for new information, resources, and ideas that allow learners to complete their tasks. This is research, but intrinsically motivated.
  5. Failure should not be experienced as entirely negative, but rather as a step in the learning process that can provide a lot of valuable data. As Thomas Edison said: “I have not failed. I’ve just found 10,000 ways that won’t work.”
  6. Schools should be a place where learners can discover, express, and develop their individual passions. The motivation and knowledge that arise naturally from individual passions can be invaluable to group work and creative thinking.
  7. Our classroom communities need to celebrate experimentation, which may or may not result in success.
  8. Educators and learners must develop a culture of deep listening; this goes beyond the words and includes intention, tone, emotion and body language.
  9. Non-conformity must be allowed. Very few of the world’s innovations or creative productions have resulted from conformity. Indeed, non-conformity is a surer path to creative thinking.
  10. We must de-emphasize standardization, which is one of the best ways to kill creative thinking.
  11. Lastly, we need clear objectives for each project. Learners who understand the goal will do a better job of thinking creatively.

For educators, the challenge is to design the right problem, or rather to guide the learners in identifying the problem and setting the objectives. This is where we come full circle: teachers are members of a professional community of educators that can also engage in the process of creative thinking as they design their classes. Together with their colleagues and other stakeholders in their educational community, they can observe the principles listed above as they set out identify the real-world problems that become student projects.   Here is some inspiration:


Your comments are welcome. So are your suggestions for real-world problems that students can tackle.