Creativity During Pandemic: A Blog Series Introduction

Thanks for joining us on this journey. All of us have been on a complex journey since the COVID-19 pandemic began nearly one year ago. This project: Creativity During a Pandemic is a product of the reflective work between Dr. Viktor Freiman and Jacob Lingley. Since the beginning of the pandemic, these two life-long educators have been particularly interested the pandemic has had, continues to have and will have on creativity in learning.


During the next 5 posts, we will try our best to keep the complexity of our thoughts light and well referenced. There is an incredible amount of ideas to unpack. Each of them have been inspired by observations of resiliency from our students and teachers across Atlantic Canada; who are innovating their learning experiences in the most trying of times. A more concise version of these ideas was first published in our Fall 2020 issue of Brilliant Labs Magazine and can be found here.



Let's get started.

Viktor and I have been collaborating for quite some time. In fact, our organizations (CompéTI.Ca and Brilliant Labs) have had a formal partnership since 2014. This partnership is inspiringly complex as it has lead to many studies. We thought we would create a visual timeline that describes our partnership and how we have arrived to this series of blog posts. Click on the pulsating tags in the interactive window below to learn more.


A little bit more about CompéTI.CA & Brilliant Labs


The CompeTI.CA (Compétences en TIC en Atlantique) Partnership Development Network was founded in 2013 to investigate (1) a continuum of digital competences over the life span; (2) exemplary practices of their development in different contexts and settings; and (3) to initiate collaborations to build new practices.


In connection to the first objective, the project’s team lead by Dr. Viktor Freiman, a Professor of Mathematics Education at the Université de Moncton interviewed 45 experts from different partnership organizations (K-12 schools, post-secondary education, workplaces, communities, and family services) to learn how they became digitally savvy (Godin and Freiman, 2020). As for the second objective, researchers has been studying 10 exemplary practices of digital skills development (Freiman et al, 2017; Godin et al, 2020).


During this study, researchers have met with the Brilliant Labs team to begin, since 2016 visiting a number of provincial schools, French and English who have introduced making experiences to their students. Hence, in year 1 (2015-2016), based on the end-of-the-year visits of 6 NB schools (3 French, 3 English; 1 high schools 5 elementary schools), experiences of 120 students and their teachers have been documented (Freiman 2019). In 2016-2017, the study has focused on how students’ projects in makerspaces were being evolved over the school year to exemplify a possible role soft-skills (21st century skills) could play in digital competencies development. Further, these sets of skills had become a focus of the 3rd year (2017-2018) (Freiman et al, 2017; Furlong et al, 2019; Léger and Freiman, 2018; Freiman and Robichaud, 2018).


Finally, a novel branch of research has emerged during the fourth/fifth years (2018 - 2020) with a focus on possible roles of makerspaces as vehicles of social innovation. Also, the understanding of some making-specific digital (soft) skills, such as tinkering and debugging, as well as methods of problem solving (design thinking) has been deepened (Freiman et al., 2020).


This research partnership has resulted in many interesting findings including:

  1. Previous teaching experience is an important role for pioneering makerspace teachers. They use this prior experience to look for new learning opportunities for their students (Freiman, 2019)

  2. Students that have been surveyed in the first year have perceived improvement of their learning (of technology), increased opportunities to present and share their work, and useful real-life related skills

  3. Regarding the development of soft skills, it was documented that makerspaces seem to offer a learning environment that is, among others, flexible, hands-on, technology-rich, diverse, interdisciplinary, while providing multiple affordances to enrich students’ making experiences. Students’ learning in makerspaces is supported with open-pedagogies: complex real-life related tasks, challenge, flexible assessment valuing success, process- and improvement-oriented. Finally, there is an evidence that makerspaces promote new type of learning opportunities: contextual, problem-based, real-life connected projects, learning to learn, initiative-based, collaborative, shared-experiences, productive, efficient, self-directed, responsible, ethical, and networked. (Freiman et al, 2017). In the context of mathematics learning, students working on making projects besides application of basic skills (measurement and calculations) have demonstrated higher-order numeracy skills: reasoning, problem-solving, & communication (LeBlanc et al, 2018).

  4. Makerspaces seem to foster students’ STEM-creativity over the school grades (in the context of K-5 STEM-Lab experiences, middle-school design-based learning, and CO-OP course for high-school students (Léger and Freiman, 2018; Freiman and Robichaud, 2019).

  5. First results of social innovation strand: engages and motivated students; variety of projects and their complexity; a lot of sharing and collaboration; risk-taking to explore new things, the success is passed on the process (perseverance), high level of students’ autonomy with caring guidance from teachers and mentors, impressive level of communication abilities (also in very young students). (Freiman and Robichaud, 2019).



CREATIVITY DURING PANDEMIC


Multiple school observations conducted by the CompéTI.CA research team has documented, since 2016, important gains in student creativity (Freiman and Kamba, 2020). For instance, when team members arrived at one school in western New Brunswick, they were literally pulled by three Grade 3 students over to a project that filled the foyer of their school. Researchers were soon captivated by a passionate, 40-minute long story about how a model community, made from cardboard, wires, tape and blinking lights was produced by the students’ entire class.

A photo of the model community made by students.

It was an amazingly rich lesson of creativity. A lesson that was given by these students, one of which mentioned that he and his classmates felt more like teachers than students. The student voices were filled with pride for what they had made -- they had harnessed their collective creative power and accomplished something real. This was only one example of rich experiences students shared with us in makerspaces across the province from May 2016 when we made the first visit until March 2020 when school life of all students across New Brunswick dramatically changed.


Almost seven months later, September 2020 has seen students, teachers and thousands of school community members return to a very different culture of learning. While the brilliant ideas of the young makers described above were abruptly cut short in March, there is new hope and opportunity for a reimagined version of their ideas to continue. As this new reality is being co-constructed by school communities, it remains unclear what influence adaptations to new learning conditions during a pandemic will have on creativity in education. For more information on how Brilliant Labs responded to the pandemic take a look at our Magazine linked below.



Since the media coverage of the pandemic has seen many graphs to help inform the public about the impact of COVID-19, we will rely on the use of a graph as a metaphor to convey the important role of creativity in education in the context of making. Since 2014, many schools in New Brunswick, Canada have joined an international community of educators who are dedicated to providing students with creative opportunities to express their knowledge (Freiman, 2019). Concurrently with this community growth, Brilliant Labs has observed a marked change in the number of schools who have adopted a culture of making through the construction of makerspaces and maker-centred student projects. In fact, the number of student projects Brilliant Labs supported in New Brunswick alone has grown significantly from 21 in 2014 to 2382 in 2019.


As we find ourselves discussing a growing number of creative student projects, we often rely on metaphors like a graph with an increasingly steep slope. This is purely a qualitative observation and not one that relates to any

specific set of data. There are numerous student project examples that could be used to explain the manifestation of creativity on this curve. What is impossible to know is where the next point on this metaphorical curve will be in the next few months.There are necessary pandemic constraints that may lead some readers to think that the curve could dip downwards. The restrictions on material sharing, classroom occupancy and simply how close any one student can be to anyone else, lead to conversations and concerns that for right now, have no end.


Like many of you, many of our conversations this summer were filled with speculation concerning what will happen to this trend in creativity when students return in September. What was amazing (yet unsurprising given the passionate dedication our teachers contribute to their profession), was how easy it was for us for our speculation to explore scenarios in which creativity wouldn’t only be present in our schools but could indeed increase. We were inspired by how our social media streams were inundated with examples of how students and teachers were expressing their resilient selves and remaining creative regardless of constraint. We are further inspired by the multiple local and global initiatives of significant merit that could have their own creative metaphor. Even though most of what lies ahead in this blog series is based on speculation from during the lockdown between March and June, we had fun aligning past research to what is a n optimistic forecast for creativity in education.


The next few posts in this series will present a portrayal of what we call A Coordinate System of Makers’ Creative Endeavors. Extending our curve metaphor a little further, below we present a brief portrayal of what we call A Coordinate System of Makers’ Creative Endeavors. This system comes from our research data and helps us to identify two main axes through which we speculate maker educators will embrace a new reality while remaining as creative as ever (and perhaps even more!). Did we mention we are both mathematics educators?


Stay Brilliant.



Contributed by:

Dr. Viktor Freiman

Director of CompéTI.CA & Co-Author of these thoughts turned blog series


Jacob Lingley

Director of Instructional Design at Brilliant Labs & Co-Author of these thoughts turned blog series


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