PROJECTTHINK Encourages Innovation in Education



An exploration of innovation and creativity in learning kicked off Saturday with the inaugural PROJECTHINK Conference. The SRQ Media-led event brought academic and nonprofit leaders together to discuss how to inspire more ingenuity among students and in the wider world. 

At the event, hosted at Ringling College of Art and Design, speakers dove into the science of innovation. Dr. Cyndi Burnett, an associate professor at the International Center for Studies in Creativity at Buffalo State, says not enough is done in education to make students explore possibilities as opposed to memorizing answers. “Instead, a teacher could give a curiosity quotient for the day,” she says. Creativity is a skill, she said, and instructors should challenge students to improve that like any other skill. PROJECTHINK was followed by the first SRQ KidsFest, where attending students participated in crafts focused on hands-on learning and opening creative thinking pathways.

That spoke well to what some sponsors hoped for in the event, namely exploring ways to evolve education to meet the needs of students growing up in a world where creative thought will drive the economy. “PROJECTHINK is about trying to imagine how to best educate the students of the 21st century, not the students of the 19th century,” said Larry Thompson, Ringling College president. 

Keynote speaker Nathan Schwagler, co-director of The Dali Museum Innovation Labs, led exercises for PROJECTHINK attendees to think of experiences spurring their own creativity. He brought lessons from Salvador Dali himself, inviting people to, when they draw a figure, “begin with the big toe” and to constantly think of new ways to approach problems. He brought other metaphors as well, talking on a firefighting team that fled from a forest fire but perished because they were unwilling to try new solutions or even to dump their backpacks when they had to flee the scene. “You’ve got to stop and analyze a situation,” he said. “Our tools, drop them if they no longer serve us, and roll with some new ones if you need them.”

Jacqueline Lloyd Smith led the group in Lego Serious Play, asking attendees in under a minute to assemble bricks into a duck, then comparing the varied ducks, then talking neighbors through the reassembly of the animals. Lloyd Smith spoke with SRQ later about how gamification and the interjection of play into learning and working spaces has spurred creative thought.

Dr. Cameron Camp, director of research and development for the Center for Applied Research in Dementia,spoke of how lessons in education can impact other real-world situations. Using repetition and interaction in his presentation, he talked of how Montessori teaching methods can be used to help dementia and Alzheimer’s disease patients to strengthen memory skills and retain functionality. “The best way to learn a skill is to practice a skill,” he said.

And Janice Francisco, CEO of BridgePoint Effect, encouraged attendees to explore their own tendencies when it comes to innovation, whether they were “developers” unweaving complex processes or “ideators” brainstorming masses of fresh ideas. “When we know our thinking preferences,” she said, “we can start to engage in creativity and innovation much better.”

Jennifer Vigne, executive director of the Education Foundation of Sarasota County, said the promotion of creativity will be critical for students embarking on life in an ever-changing world. “We need to prepare students for jobs not in existence yet,” she said. “We need to bring to center stage the role creativity brings to this process.”

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