1.MY ASSUMPTIONS
As technologies emerge in the 21st century, new ways to solve old problems keep education in a changing state. Our structures and needs as a diverse, multi-cultural, still deeply flawed society change at an increasing rate.  One thing remains unchanged though--the thirst for even more innovative ways to better and enrich our lives as individuals, and the thirst to achieve better understandings and connections with each other. Creativity--the ability to find or build patterns where there were none--may be our best bet to develop the flexibility to adjust to our fast changing environments.
While a basis in science, technology, math and engineering may provide skills that are needed in today’s world, the need for the arts with its highly metaphorical, critical and abstract thinking provides a framework to give the students the needed flexibility to move learned skills from an existing platform to one that has not yet appeared.
Even in inherently creative situations (i.e., performing arts), I have observed students consistently reacting to creative prompts with hesitation and fear. Those fears may stem from the authority the education system confers on teachers, and from the internal power dynamics in student groups. Our implicit and explicit bias may also exacerbate those fears.  These power structures limit the capacity of students to navigate perceived failure when engaging in the creative process.
These observations have led me to a series of questions. Can we, as teachers, find better ways to increase creativity in students?  Is creativity an inherited personality trait, or is creativity trainable? Why do I perceive that students’ resilience to failure has an oversize impact on the creative process?  Are those observations part of a set of biases on my end, or are there systemic forces in the education system that push students to self-censor and to comply unquestioningly with the narratives of their society?  What does it mean to educate artists?
​​​​​​​2. BEGINNINGS
For the past few years, I have used devised, project-based writing exercises, and visual/performative projects to increase engagement, creativity, and the ability to collaborate in educational settings.  As I developed those methods, I saw an encouraging (but, as of yet, not rigorously tested) improvement of students’ creative output and problem-solving. 
3. WRITING EXERCISES
As a performing arts educator, I chose primarily dramatic writing as the creative form of choice to implement some of the ideas.  I will concentrate in one of the larger-scale works I worked with my students.  In this project, my students and I decided that we would commit to generating a final collaborative product--a few pieces of dramatic writing, which would eventually be staged.
The STEAM Panel collaboration with NJIT reverberated greatly with our students. Because there were several presentations, different students took different approaches in their creative processes and a few plays came from this experience.
One in particular proved enduring and fruitful, the presentation of NJIT professor Simon Garnier and his ideas on swarm theory--in particular how simple organisms achieve complicated ends by self organizing.
From that germinal idea, students and I began to devise a series of rules, prompts and limitations to decentralize the creative process, take away personal investment in story, and crowd source material before a rigorous editorial process begins--what the students called The Swarm Plays process.
The process was whimsical, filled with false starts an invigorating.
In its basic structure the students generated an open source document and established a set of random rules and limits which allow writers to input, edit or delete material in a random pattern.  As this process developed, participants agreed to avoid discussion of plot, theme or concept, thus shutting away social hierarchies and pressures.  Eventually, we devised a way to use Google Docs itself to make input anonymous.
The process went on for two months. After that we “harvested” material and began the editorial process.
What we would like to let you experience today is the effect of the beginning process the students used to generate a “seed” document, using one of the random feeders and a very basic set of rules.
Even in a small workshop, participants may experience the liberation of using words as building blocks, unlocking creativity, and generating unexpected material before a more conscious process begins.
4. RESULTS
While I acknowledge the need to engage in more research and data gathering, these are some of the encouraging signs leading me to do more work on this subject:
- Over a period of seven years 98% of students in my program were accepted to four-year colleges. For context, when I started the program less than 10% attended four-year programs.
- Of those 87% went to four year programs and 77% finished their college.
- Students' SATs (at least in the Reading and Writing sections) improved over the general population of the school.
- Students received several awards and honors during their time in the program.  Here is a sample:
Lauren Cyrus - Silver Key, Honorable mention NJ Scholastic Writing Awards, 2018
Ashley Kiser - Another Hashtag, presented at Crossroads Theatre, NJ,2017
Jessica Dell Beni - Governor’s Award for writing, NJ,2016; Visible, Winner of the 2016 New Jersey Young Playwrights Festival
Kimani Isaac - Costume Design Winner, Fences Project, McCarter Theatre,2013;       QuestBridge Scholarship Recipient, 2016; Cherubs (Northwestern University) scholarship recipient, 2016
Alexis Plaza - Best Supporting Actress Awards, Planet Connection Festival, NYC,2015
Imani Redman - Play #ifyougunmedown, Gold Key National Winner,Dramatic Writing, 2015; Gold Key, Silver Key, five Honorable Mentions, Scholastic Writing Awards, Northeast Division, 2015
Brett Temple - Best Actor Award, Planet Connection Festival, NYC, 2015
Michael Villanueva - Governor’s Award for writing, NJ, 2017; Play Packing, Winner of the 2017 NJ Young Playwrights contest; Presented at Crossroads Theatre, Luna Stage in NJ, 2017
Alexis Wilner - Cherubs (Northwestern University) scholarship recipient, 2018
I fully acknowledge the large lacunae in data and in my ability to tie those exercises to these results--the data field is too small and there are too many factors that could have contributed to the above, including sheer luck of having had amazing students at that particular time.  Part of this project is achieving a more rigorous look.
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