Sir Ken Robinson and the Call for Creativity

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Education thought-leader Sir Kenneth Robinson, born March 4, 1950, died August 21, 2020.

Just as I was getting ready to write this week’s blogpost, the news came out that the fabled, British-born, education thought-leader Sir Kenneth Robinson had died, aged 70.

Along with many educators, we at BrainQuake have been greatly influenced by Robinson. His thinking about education, especially in relation to creativity, was made particularly influential by virtue of his ability to give engaging and entertaining — while at the same time highly thought-provoking — public talks. His 2006 TED talk in Monterey, CA, turned him into an Internet star.

I particularly like the animated video of a talk he gave in 2009 at the Royal Society of Arts in London, UK. The RSA edited the hour-long talk down to just over 11 minutes and created an animation. If you are not familiar with Robinson and his work, that provides the quickest way to get an overall sense of his thinking — though almost all the witty ad libs that made his talks (always planned, but unscripted) so entertaining are edited out.

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In 2010, RSA Animate created and published an 11-minute animated version of a talk Sir Ken gave to the Society in 2009. RSA image.

With his focus on systemic school education, Robinson’s influence on our thinking at BrainQuake was, as you will appreciate, indirect. For us, his message was, and remains, to focus on creativity and develop tools for learning that encourage, develop, and reward creative (mathematical) thinking. I outlined how we do that in a blog post on May 23, where I also described how we measure the degree of creativity in a student’s solutions to our puzzles.

As a result of taking creativity to be important, as I have noted in a number of posts, even where our puzzles have unique right answers (as is the case for the Tanks puzzle), many of the puzzle instances require creativity to solve them. You cannot simply apply computational procedures.

Not that a degree of computational fluency is not valuable. Indeed, without it, it’s extremely difficult to progress in mathematics. But without the ability to think creatively, it’s almost impossible to handle all but the most mundane math problems.

What’s more, as Robinson always made clear, we humans are born to be creative, and we take great pleasure in thinking and acting creatively. At BrainQuake, we benefited from his influence. The world will miss his wit and his great wisdom, but his message will live on.

– Keith

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