“[Creativity] may be harder to find in older children and adults because their creative potential has been suppressed by a society that encourages intellectual conformity.” (Baumol, 1999: 93)
Entrepreneurship is about innovation, problem solving, and creativity. We understand the innovation process well, and how to solve problems. Creativity is the elusive piece…
How do we Teach Creativity?
In the video above Dr. Emma Fleck explains her exercise for supercharging student creativity!
This article is a collaboration with Emma Fleck at Susquehanna University who developed this exercise to stimulate creative imagination by taking students back in time to when they were overflowing with creative confidence. Students get to embody their own superhero through imaginative play and the use of costumes, masks, and icons which represent this powerful time in their lives.
Her complete lesson plan is available to download below, but here’s a quick overview.
Step 1: Before Class
Your 5-Year-Old Students
Before this exercise, your students should ask family members what they were like as 5-year-olds.
They can talk to parents, grandparents, siblings, etc. – anyone who knew them at that age. It’s critical for this exercise they are reminded of their younger, more creative selves.
Encourage your students to bring a memento – a stuffed animal, a picture, etc. – something that represents that time in their lives.
In addition, any good lesson on creativity in schools should begin with Sir Ken Robinson’s classic TED talk, “Do Schools Kill Creativity?“, and Tony Schwartz’ article “How to Think Creatively“. Assign this video or reading to be completed before your next class.
Step 2: Discuss School, Creativity & Entrepreneurship
Have a discussion with your students about the role of creativity in education, and whether the American education system supports or detracts from creativity.
Some of these ideas are controversial and can stir up a healthy debate. Take advantage of that to engage your students in a lively discussion.
Continue with a discussion of creativity in the entrepreneurial process, and how we can be more creative.
Step 3: Who is Your Superhero?
Here is your chance to be a superhero! Don a mask, a cape, and any other superhero accoutrement – sell your students on the excitement of remembering their superhero dreams!
Take your students back to when they were 5 years old. Ask them:
- What inspired them?
- Who did they look up to?
- What did they dream they would be when they grew up?
- What were their favorite activities/toys?
- What were the limitations in their lives?
Take your students back to a time when there were no imaginary boundaries, no limitations, and when they had the ability to see the world in a different capacity. Encourage your students to share about their past, their history, through what they learned from family members.
Step 4: Become Your Superhero
Ask your students what happened between when they were 5 years old and today. What happened to those dreams of astronauts and figure skaters? This discussion brings a large dose of reality (and excuses!) into the room.
Fill your classroom with costumes, masks, and craft materials.
Play music from when your students were 5 years old. Play superhero music. Encourage your students to embody their 5 year old superhero. Take lots of pictures, and encourage your students to take lots of pictures – these will come in handy later in the semester as reminders to embody that superhero, when they find themselves in a creativity rut.
Talk about superhero characteristics.
Drive home the notions of endless possibilities & no limitations that encapsulate what their concept of a superhero ignites in them.
Step 5: Reflecting on Creativity
Ask your students to write a reflection based on these questions:
- How do you feel during this exercise? What element of this exercise had the most impact on you? Why?
- How can we capture that feeling of creativity and lack of imagination as our 5-year old selves and use it for future endeavors within entrepreneurial problem solving?
This works well later in the semester when you need your students to think around problems, to imagine endless possibilities and no limitations.
Remind them of their superhero and enable them to take the leap!
This exercise has been tested over an 18-month period within four entrepreneurship courses:
- A high-school summer entrepreneurship course (17 students aged 15-18)
- An undergraduate introduction to entrepreneurship course (24 students aged 18-19)
- Two upper division undergraduate entrepreneurship courses (48 students in total aged 20-23)
In gleaning feedback from all participants, Emma noted the following:
If left as a single touch point, this exercise has limited impact. The reflective elements outlined above are essential to the success of the exercise where students are challenged to acknowledge the feelings associated with the exercise.
Students acknowledged that their creativity had been stifled due to an immersion in their degree program and that this activity helped them to remember that they were creative problem solvers.
“This being my last year of college, I have realized that a lot of the time you are conditioned to overanalyze, memorize for exams and get good grades but this showed me that sometimes you really do need to go back to the most basic, innocent way of thinking. While this was fun, it did have a powerful impact on me and I have already started using this way of thinking in, and outside of school situations.”
A small number of students, specifically older students, reported feelings of discomfort such as “I felt very silly. I just don’t like to be silly in class.” It is imperative that students are made to feel comfortable in the classroom environment when taking part in the exercise and in sharing their personal experiences.
You should reassure students that the classroom is a safe environment and photographs must only be taken with permission.
Further support should be given to these students in attempting to let go of their inhibitions and this is addressed if the educator can immerse themselves in the activity by dressing up which alleviates the discomfort of those students.
The more you can help your students feel safe, by being embodying the principles of the exercise yourself – creativity, self-expression, childishness – the more your students will be able to re-discover their hidden creativity.
Complete details to bring this exercise to life in your class, including all the instructions for you, are in the lesson plan below.
Get the “Embodying the Superhero” Lesson Plan
We’ve created a detailed lesson plan for the “Embodying the Superhero” exercise to walk you, and your students through the process, step-by-step.
It’s free for any/all entrepreneurship teachers, so you’re welcome to share it.
Your students want to fly. They want to dream. They want to believe. It's our job to say yes! Click To Tweet
Thank You to Dr. Emma Fleck
A big thanks to Dr. Fleck for creating and sharing this exercise! For more information about Dr. Fleck and the amazing work she’s doing at Susquehanna University, click here.
Dr. Fleck is also one of the professors who piloted our forthcoming Experiential Entrepreneurship Curriculum (ExEC). Her insights and feedback have been some of the most formative we have received. We strongly encourage anyone who gets the chance to collaborate with Dr. Fleck, to jump at the chance.
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