Researchers from Durham University investigate what teachers understand by creativity and how they nurture 'creative thought' among their students in science lessons

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'Teachers should provide experiences that foster critical and creative thought'

The National Curriculum criteria for science state that 'teachers should provide experiences that foster critical and creative thought'. But what do teachers understand by creativity and how do they nurture this in their classrooms? To gain an insight into this researchers Doug and Lynn Newton from Durham University surveyed 16 student teachers in the final stages of their primary teacher training programme.

The student teachers completed a questionnaire before the researchers interviewed them on their perceptions of what children did that was creative in science lessons. Based on the questionnaire feedback none of the trainees believed that science was uncreative but they thought that other subjects such as music, art and drama were more creative. The less creative subjects were seen as those where facts and subject knowledge had to be acquired before creativity was possible. The student teachers also found it difficult to think of examples of creativity in science lessons.  

In their interviews the trainees identified five ways a teacher could make creativity play a major part in pupils' science learning experience: 

  • ask children to produce their own explanations from their experiences. For example, asking pupils to observe objects floating or sinking and then guess what other objects would do, and then explain why;
  • encourage pupils to use their imaginations to visualise themselves as some other being or object; 
  • involve pupils in problem-solving and practical activities in which they have to use their existing understanding and devise ways of doing a task; 
  • do activities, such as demonstrations, that generate a classroom atmosphere where the children are excited, enthused and sometimes surprised about the phenomenon or situation they are presented with. The student teachers agreed that these activities get pupils to think about and question their understanding of how things work;  
  • set pupils tasks where they must follow the teacher's instructions to produce or achieve something that will reinforce the information covered and make it more memorable or meaningful to the pupil. 

Creativity is critical in a pupil's scientific experience and the researchers conclude that if providing opportunities for creative thought is going to be a significant part of science teaching then more attention needs to be given to appropriate classroom activities during initial teacher training.