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Divergent Thinking Opportunities

“I reject your reality and insert my own!” -Adam Savage

For the exact same reasons that we need to introduce opportunities for creative expression and use an inquiry model we also need to go out of our way to create situations in which divergent thinking is rewarded and valued. Situations in which there are many right answers are few and far between in our traditional educational system.

Divergent thinking can arise in many ways. For example “brainstorming,” the process of generating as many different possibilities as possible, without giving any one idea a great amount of focus, is a divergent thinking exercise. After spending as much time as is needed to brainstorm a set of ideas, we often review them and place them back into categories, a convergent activity.

Divergent thinking also ties into metaphorical learning, in which there are no right or wrong answers and students are left to prove their ideas by supporting them with their knowledge of the subject. This divergent, or metaphorical knowledge often comes about when students are asked their opinions on a topic. This type of processing promotes real learning in a way that mechanical regurgitation of facts does not.

Evelyn S. Zent, an instructor at the University of Washington, suggests the following types of activities for stimulating divergent thinking in a classroom; brainstorming,journaling, freewriting, mind (or concept) mapping. Luckily, there are technologies that make each of these methods much easier or more engaging.

  • Brainstorming can happen on websites like WallWisher or via google forms.
  • Journaling can happen (either publically or privately) in a blogging tool.
  • Freewriting can happen with word processing applications on your desktop, or in Google Docs.
  • Concept mapping software exists in desktop tools like Inspiration or Kidspiration as well as websites like bubbl.us.

Beyond these situations, we can promote divergent thinking by asking divergent questions. These are questions in which students are asked to predict, hypothesize, infer, or reconstruct. These often include phrases like:

  • If… then: “If the South had won the Civil War, what would be different about Nebraska today?”
  • Imagine/Suppose: “Can you imagine a world without animals? How would it be different?”
  • Predictions/Guesses: “What would President Lincoln say about the immigration issues we’ve discussed if he were alive today?”

These sort of questions are well suited to being answered creatively through video responses, musical compositions, parodies, reenactment in alternative settings, script writing, poetry, etc.

The evaluation of any creative endeavor by students should be focused upon the learning on display, not on the use of the tools or the quality of the final products. (Unless the core subject is the use technology.) If the student has not synthesized the information and presented new ideas, the prettiest pictures or fanciest slideshows, or most inspiring movie soundtracks should not convince you that learning took place.

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