Creative problem solving helps our students thrive in the classroom and beyond! Join us in conversation with Dawn Jeffers (Columbia County) and Jennifer Borngesser (Fayette County) to learn how to enhance student resourcefulness.

Jennifer Borngesser and Dawn Jeffers in Classroom Conversations

Creative problem solving helps our students thrive in the classroom and beyond! Join us in conversation with Dawn Jeffers (Columbia County) and Jennifer Borngesser (Fayette County) to learn how to enhance student resourcefulness.


Ashley Mengwasser: Hey, Georgia educators. We have new discussion guides available to use with classroom conversations episodes. These discussion guides include open-ended questions to facilitate great discussion and professional learning. After listening to each podcast, find the new discussion guides posted with the classroom conversations, episodes and blogs in Georgia Home Classroom. Good day educators. We're glad you're here. Listening to another episode of Classroom Conversations. I'm Ashley Mengwasser. And as you know by now, this is the platform for Georgia's teachers, a place for you to share and learn. Classroom Conversations, now in its third season, is presented by the Georgia Department of Education and Georgia Public Broadcasting to bring you more perspectives, fresh instructional strategies, and some good-humored conversation. Teachers have a big job. Your day-to-day instruction is more of a long game with the end goals of talent development and college readiness. At every grade level through every discipline, you're essentially coaching for the Olympics of life as students train to matriculate. Today's topic is sure to be a big part of students future success, cultivating creative thinking. Today's guests each teach a gifted resource class, which is multi-grade and interdisciplinary. Dawn Jeffers at River Ridge Elementary School in Columbia County, and Jennifer Borngesser at Fayetteville Elementary School in Fayette County. Welcome to the podcast, Dawn and Jennifer. Hi.

Dawn Jeffers: Hey. Good to be here.

Ashley Mengwasser: How are you doing, ladies?

Dawn Jeffers: I'm just doing really well. So happy to be here.

Ashley Mengwasser: Happy to be in front of a microphone, Dawn.

Jennifer Borngesser: Absolutely.

Ashley Mengwasser: How about you, Jennifer?

Jennifer Borngesser: Just very happy to be here.

Ashley Mengwasser: Happy to have you both. You creative thinkers probably think on your feet really well. It's kind of what you're known for. So I'd like you to react to this quote I'm about to read to you. It's Steve Jobs. Okay? "Creativity is just connecting things. When you ask creative people how they did something, they feel a little guilty because they didn't really do it. They just saw something. It seemed obvious to them after a while. That's because they were able to connect experiences they've had and synthesize new things." What do you think about that, Dawn?

Dawn Jeffers: Well, when I hear that, one of the things that we talk about to students is there are different areas of creative thinking, fluency, flexibility, originality, and elaboration. And elaboration is when you piggyback off of your ideas or others ideas. So that is something that kids can learn. So when I heard what you just read, that's what makes me think of that, that he elaborated off of others' ideas so that it wasn't just one idea, it was a chain of events that led him to it.

Ashley Mengwasser: Led to that moment. What do you think about what he said? Do you need it again, Jennifer?

Jennifer Borngesser: No. So I had do an activity with my students where we start on a picture, we start on a little writing prompt, and I prompt them. They can't finish it, it the time that I give them. And then they have to walk around the room and look at each other's work. Then when they come back I say, "Okay, now it's your time to steal ideas from other people." And I tell them that engineers do that all the time. If not, we would still be sitting tapping morse code to everybody.

Ashley Mengwasser: Right. Exactly. One thing that I think is interesting about the quote is he isn't just speaking about that kind of borrowed nature or that elevating nature of creativity where you see something someone else does. He's also taught both things. He's talking about you saw something and it prompted that spark within you. So it could be a cue in your environment and it's nothing you went out and did. There's a little bit of passivity in there if we put ourselves in a place to receive the ideas that are dawning on us, the stimuli that are coming to us. So I think that that's interesting about the quote, but I would love to hear more about the four domains you just mentioned here in the show. Dawn. What grades do each of you teach? Let's start with that, and then also tell me how you became teachers. Jennifer, you first.

Jennifer Borngesser: I teach first through fifth grades, gifted resource one day a week, and I became a teacher as a second career. I was originally a counselor in a children's psychiatric hospital. I stayed at home for a little while and found teaching through him. He had gone back and got his teaching certification and I saw how much he enjoyed it. And we both have always loved working with children. So I followed him in and I love it just much.

Ashley Mengwasser: And now you're a teacher, Dawn, what grades do you teach? And tell us about your road to becoming a teacher.

Dawn Jeffers: I teach second through fifth graders as well, and I am gifted resource, so I get different groups of students every day. I always wanted to be a teacher.

Ashley Mengwasser: I love that.

Dawn Jeffers: When I was in kindergarten, I did cry every single day and I didn't want to go to school, but I still wanted to be a teacher. So as I went through, I was a teacher at 21, and I had a rough situation and I didn't want to stay with it. And I'd call my mom crying every day and saying, "I want to go back to school and get my master's in business." My really dear friend, Kelly said, "Dawn, give it three years." And in three years she was right. The magic happened.

Ashley Mengwasser: Something switched.

Dawn Jeffers: Absolutely. And so I've been a teacher ever since.

Ashley Mengwasser: That's a beautiful story. I think we should focus on this because this is relevant to most of our audience listening, that idea of maybe it could be a rocky first year.

Dawn Jeffers: Definitely.

Ashley Mengwasser: Tell me what was rocky about each of your first year as a teacher?

Jennifer Borngesser: My first year, I started my first year with a rough patch of students and they were a challenge to develop relationships with. But that year where I spent my planning period with the lights off in the dark crying in the corner taught me a very important skill that I've used the rest of my career, which was how to develop relationships with students who can traditionally be hard to develop relationships with.

Ashley Mengwasser: Wow. And then I bet that fills you with energy now.

Jennifer Borngesser: Yes.

Ashley Mengwasser: Instead of being depleting.

Jennifer Borngesser: Exactly. Yes.

Ashley Mengwasser: Oh, I love it.

Jennifer Borngesser: There's no student that I don't love.

Ashley Mengwasser: What about your first year, Dawn? You said it was treacherous.

Dawn Jeffers: It was. I was punched in the face within that first year because I didn't know that you don't go to break up a fight this way. You stand behind them and pull them back or get two other people to do it. You don't do it. But there were just so many students and so many challenges. But the truth is, is anytime you go into a new situation, it takes time to learn. So I think part of that was getting that time, working with veteran teachers, and they truly helped me and gave me those little quick ways to manage my time and all that. Then it just fell into place and I'm so glad I stuck with it.

Ashley Mengwasser: And being the creativity mavens you are, you have evolved. You see new opportunities that you've seized. Who are your favorite creative thinkers out there in the world? Is there anybody you idolize in this capacity? Dawn?

Dawn Jeffers: Well, definitely E. Paul Torrance. And he was the one that developed the Torrance test of creativity. So I was trained on how to administer it and grade it. So I saw how he broke that creativity down where we can truly quantify it and grade it. What I really loved is how I would know students and I would know them out of school and see how creative they were. And then when they took the test, it totally showed up. So I thoroughly understand it. So when I was given the E. Paul Torrance Creativity Award, one of his former students came up to me and she said I was his student and his colleague, and he would've loved you. So that was just probably such a...

Ashley Mengwasser: Very affirming, I'm actually going to mention him in my close.

Dawn Jeffers: Oh, good.

Ashley Mengwasser: So, stay tuned. It's interesting that you mention him. What about you, Jennifer? Who do you look up to?

Jennifer Borngesser: I think about Michelangelo. He was innovative in his technique and his medium. He painted scenes in spaces that were unimaginable at the time. Da Vinci.

Ashley Mengwasser: True.

Jennifer Borngesser: Da Vinci, his sketches were very controversial at the time, his engineering sketches that caused hundreds of years’ worth of innovation just from his ideas. Then I think about Lexus a few years ago, probably about seven years ago, they developed an actual working hover board and they have a video that released seven years ago where they document the trials and revisions and innovative thinking it took to get there. I show my students this video to help them know that it's okay to fail. And it took them 403 days of failing and redesigning to get it right. And it's really about getting back on the horse and letting go of what doesn't work.

Ashley Mengwasser: 403 days, that's a long time.

Jennifer Borngesser: Very intelligent people failing.

Ashley Mengwasser: Exactly. Have you guys, speaking of creativity, and you maybe think of technology and innovation, have you seen the work coming out of Boston Dynamics right now? The robots? I won't sleep at night because they're too realistic. It's just, it's disturbing.

Jennifer Borngesser: A few years ago, we took a family trip up to MIT and we got to see some of those in person. They are very...

Ashley Mengwasser: I mean, there's like these four legged-

Jennifer Borngesser: ... It's ethereal.

Ashley Mengwasser: I don't know what they're called, dog bots. But it scares me. I have a Bassett hound. She doesn't look like that. And then the human ones are so human-like. It's like, okay, I will bow down to you eventually. I'm just putting that off in my mind while the world is still run by humans. How do we know when we are thinking creatively? I can pretty much imagine adults and kids alike may sometimes get into the head space, "I'm not that creative." It's some sort of inborn talent, but surely there is a way that we can identify in our bodies and our minds, "Well, this is creativity happening right now." What are some of those signs, Dawn?

Dawn Jeffers: So, before I went through my training on my gifted endorsement, I did not understand creative thinking. So once I did understand it and I really put it into play, I saw how the biggest thing to help people understand is that creativity is something that we can learn how to do and how to do better. So we talk about fluency, which is many ideas, and flexibility, which is different groups of ideas, and originality, which is that idea that is so unique and different. And then the elaboration where you piggyback off of others. So when you talked about how do I know, what I've seen my kids do once we teach them that, and then we also have an acronym for when they are doing brainstorming, WWPDQ. And I have a umbrella hat that has the WWPDQ on it. And the W is for welcome. The second W is for wild, and then Piggyback, Details, and Quantity. What happens is they understand that it's not just that wild, crazy idea. It's not just that.

Ashley Mengwasser: Right.

Dawn Jeffers: It's also can you generate many ideas? Like what you said, elaborating off of what Jennifer said, is I do the same thing where we are in a project and then halfway through we get up and we look around and we elaborate off of others. What we teach our students to do too is say, "Wow, Jennifer, I really like how you shared that. So now I'm going to do this." Or I like how you did this. It gives people like, "Oh, I liked what you did and I'm going to build off of that to it." And you're not just copying, you're elaborating. And it creates this culture in the classroom and we're doing it in the entire building of how that feels that we work together, that idea is we're not just isolated. Very few of us work in a tiny little closet in the corner by ourselves. We are usually with others. And to teach them how to do that in a healthy way, I think is a great life skill to help our kids have as well.

Ashley Mengwasser: That's an excellent point. What do you think, Jennifer?

Jennifer Borngesser: I think some of the symptoms of creative thinking are at first frustration and confusion.

Ashley Mengwasser: Oh, man, you're right.

Jennifer Borngesser: When students have more experience, and even adults, an exposure with the... the symptoms are more effective collaboration, like Dawn was saying, and communication skills with each other and tenacity. It really helps build tenacity.

Ashley Mengwasser: Okay, yeah, I feel this buzzy feeling, or is that just me in my own psychosis? I'm like, "Hey, I'm onto something here." You feel a little lighter and what you're saying, Dawn, you're able to produce multiple good ideas and find the best one from a pool of ideas. So it's just so exciting to be in the zone, as the manifesters would say, when you're trying to think creatively about a project. And there's nothing quite like being in a room of creative thinkers. We're like that a lot in the media business, right? The idea you go in with is never as good as the one you leave with.

Jennifer Borngesser: That's so true.

Ashley Mengwasser: So those think tanks are really valuable. Okay. What's the wildest thing each of you does in your classrooms to promote creative thinking? I've read a little bit about each of you, but I want to hear you say it. You first, Jennifer.

Jennifer Borngesser: I wouldn't say there's anything wild. I would say that I do things probably a little untraditionally to get students creative thinking is I have them start something and not finish it. Because students in general just really have a... They want to see something through. So having them just come up with ideas and then stop there.

Ashley Mengwasser: Wow.

Jennifer Borngesser: Because that can really get that anticipation built up inside of them that they kind of can't let go of, which is what I would like to build in them. So I don't know that it's wild or crazy or anything, but that's what I do.

Ashley Mengwasser: But it's interesting because it's a little anti-climactic, right?

Jennifer Borngesser: Exactly.

Ashley Mengwasser: You think you're going to get to the end and you're not. So the tension that creates actually promotes going further with it.

Jennifer Borngesser: Yeah, exactly. I'm trying to help them develop ideas, not necessarily see them through.

Ashley Mengwasser: Oh, I like that. Okay, Dawn, I know you're a wild one.

Dawn Jeffers: Yeah. Well, I mean, one of the things that I did for years was I dressed up like Dr. Creativity and I had the umbrella head on and then a coat and the coat had all kinds of patches all over it. I didn't call myself Dr. Creativity, they saw it and they're like. "Dr. Creativity." And so what they knew when I did that was we were going to be brainstorming. So I think I get excited about what we do. So, when we're brainstorming and we model that brainstorming many ideas, but we're not evaluating in any way, we are just accepting ideas, but then when we talk about how we put them together. So again, I don't know if it's a wild idea, but the kids do have a space that they are free to be wild and crazy. I remember one student came back to my classroom, he had been gone a couple years, and I had a portable at the time, and he walked in and he goes, "Miss Jeffers, I can just feel the creativity now." And he just exploded and it was so precious. I'm like, "Oh I'm so glad you feel the creativity here."

Ashley Mengwasser: It is palpable, especially when you add a performance element to it.

Dawn Jeffers: Yeah, absolutely.

Ashley Mengwasser: What is unique about teaching creative thinking, Dawn?

Dawn Jeffers: It is unique because it really opens up kids' minds in a new and different way. So if a child is used to thinking in kind of a black and white, everything's right or wrong, or a multiple choice, one of four, that this allows them to see, "Oh, there are a multitude of ideas." And I think that really helps them because that's a real life skill to be able to do that. And of course they have to go on to the next step and break it down or to make the decision making process, what's really going to work, what's not. But I definitely think it does help them.

Ashley Mengwasser: It's thinking expansively.

Dawn Jeffers: Mm-hmm.

Ashley Mengwasser: Jennifer?

Jennifer Borngesser: I think what's unique about teaching creative thinking is that, inadvertently, you're also teaching metacognition skills.

Ashley Mengwasser: What?

Jennifer Borngesser: So, a child has to really think about their thinking. How did I come to that? Can I explain my reasoning? So there's not just giving an answer that kind of feels good in my gut at the moment. It's really having to push the child and also explain through it so they can develop that metacognition inadvertently.

Ashley Mengwasser: Such astute observations, you two. I mean, you're obvious celebrities. Any connection to showbiz, either of you? Jennifer?

Jennifer Borngesser: I was in, way long ago, I was an extra on Pet Sematary 2 in high school. My mom let me skip finals that week. Thanks, mom.

Ashley Mengwasser: Pet Sematary 2, I've seen it.

Jennifer Borngesser: Yes.

Ashley Mengwasser: I have seen it. How about you, Dawn?

Dawn Jeffers: My son was... They actually had contacted me as a Horizons teacher and said, "We are looking for students with special talents that could help govern themselves." And so there was a show called Kid Nation. So my son was on that, and so he was on it for 13 weeks and we got to make guest appearances. Probably a funny thing about that is they're filming us in our kitchen, and at the time we were having a soccer banquet in the garage and we couldn't let them know what we were doing because it was a secret, but it was kind of funny. But we had the real world problem solve there, and we just made it work.

Ashley Mengwasser: Creative people do creative things. I like that. All right. Well, let's get into our subject matter in terms of the classroom and how you're working with kids to cultivate creativity. Why is cultivating creative thinking important to develop talent in your classrooms? Jennifer?

Jennifer Borngesser: Students today are exposed to many different canned activities and tasks. They need opportunities to develop the skills of thinking independently, being posed with tasks that force them to innovate and give them opportunities to engage in productive struggle.

Ashley Mengwasser: So, this does that for them.

Jennifer Borngesser: Yes.

Ashley Mengwasser: What do you think is developing talent in your classroom?

Dawn Jeffers: I think what I've evolved to over the years is that one of the very, very most important things we can give our students is the ability to be real world problem solvers. And at the start of solving a problem is brainstorming and that you need to generate a lot of ideas and that there's always more than one answer to every single problem, and that every single person has a problem every day. It might be really small, but my favorite thing is when I'm on bus duty and one of my students walks up to me and says, "Miss Jeffers, guess what? I solved a problem today." And I'm like, "Tell me about it." And so for a second-grader to come up to me and tell me how he left his T-shirt at his dad's house because his parents were divorced and it was a hundred day shirt and he couldn't go get it, and the mom said, "Well, you can't wear one to school." He's like, "No, mom." And she's like, "We don't have another T-shirt." And he said, "We can solve this." And she said, "No." They went to bed. They woke up the next morning. He said, "Mom, what if we take a sheet of paper with a hundred things on it and pin it to my shirt and I can wear that over one of the other shirts?" And I said, "Did it work?" He said, "Yes, I did." I said, "Did you solve a problem?" He said, "Yes, I did."

Ashley Mengwasser: Very creative.

Dawn Jeffers: Fabulous.

Ashley Mengwasser: Right. So you're instilling that in them young, that life is going to be all about solving problems and the people who get through it well and with their sanity are just adapting. That's right. That's exactly right. In your personal experience, how has cultivating creative thinking, elevated student engagement and learning? Like we said, that that creativity can be electric in a classroom. What are you seeing, Dawn?

Dawn Jeffers: Oh, I definitely see that. When they know that... I feel like we're empowering them to say, "Okay, Mrs. Jeffers is giving me this challenge. What can I do to figure this out?" And they're not stuck. They're not like, "I don't know where to start." They know that they start brainstorming. And we do a lot with the engineering design process. So we just use that model of the first part is that brainstorming and getting all those ideas out. And then also the idea of ideas sometimes don't happen at a snap of a finger, giving them the challenge and then say, "I'll see you next week." Think about it. That's your thinking homework. I give thinking homework all the time.

Ashley Mengwasser: Thinking homework. So kind of like Jennifer was saying earlier, pick it up, put it down, come back to it later. Pick it up, put it down. What are you seeing in terms of how student engagement is changing in your class, Jennifer?

Jennifer Borngesser: My students have become much better at collaborating and communicating with each other. They feel free to give and take ideas to build on each other's ideas and to be wrong. And it's very important to feel comfortable being wrong and feel comfortable in their own skin. They definitely don't feel that way at first. It's very uncomfortable for them. So developing that in them.

Ashley Mengwasser: It's like the expectation now. When they come into your classrooms, this is how we think creatively. This is how we get through it. And they have to rise to the occasion. I really like that about it. What advice do you have for teachers regarding how they can cultivate creative thinking with their students?

Dawn Jeffers: One of my favorite activities, and we've actually initiated a new project this year at our school, and it's called 10 Minutes on Tuesdays. So I've made up a slideshow and a booklet for every single one of our students, and they are challenged to do one creative thinking activity. My favorite one in that is that you give them a question and then they have to brainstorm for two minutes. So a couple elements, key elements is, number one, you give them the question and they have to think for 30 seconds. Don't start hearing ideas. Then you work your way through the classroom. Nobody can pass. If you get stuck, the teacher will help you. And then you take the ideas and you tally them on the board, and the class as a whole is working to see how many ideas they can come up with.

And you can always build off of someone's idea, piggybacking, or adding a detail, and that frees them up. The fluency is built up so well, but that activity is such a great brainstormer or such a great opening motivator to just review. Tell me everything about a cell, or whatever subject you're in to add it to that.

Ashley Mengwasser: It's a good baseline. What advice do you have, Jennifer?

Jennifer Borngesser: Kind of piggybacking off of done.

Ashley Mengwasser: Ah, piggyback.

Jennifer Borngesser: Yeah.

Ashley Mengwasser: Yes.

Jennifer Borngesser: Well, teachers are very similar to gifted students. Probably most of them were gifted students in school, so they struggle with letting go, just like gifted students tend to. So gifted students struggle with perfectionism and probably a lot of teachers do too. So allowing time for students to develop creativity means a lot of time spent in imperfection. So yeah, allowing teachers the courage to let go and allow their students to just be really bad at things for a while, when you're developing creative problem solving opportunities for your students, I think it's really important to be okay for your classroom not being perfect.

Ashley Mengwasser: Let things go awry a little bit and see how you can get them back on track. I want to hear how this plays out by listening to some examples of how you're weaving your creative thinking exercises into instruction starting with standards, right? Because we have our course content standards to work with. Go ahead, Dawn.

Dawn Jeffers: So, if you're talking about the standards that the regular classroom would use, and I was just telling you about that brainstorming activity, that two minutes, you can make it three or four, whatever you need to. But you can tie that in, let's say you're getting ready to have a test at the end of the week, have a creative question that you might say, blank is the answer. You tell me the question. So then it's a way to review. You're talking about George Washington, everything about George Washington. Or, you could compare two things. Like, how is George Washington an elevator? He's your content, and give it something crazy, and just stretch that thinking. What I was telling you about how we're doing that throughout our whole school, one of the reasons I wanted to do it is that all the adults are doing the same thing with all the kids. So anyone at any time can have conversation like, "Oh, tell me how this, tell me how that went." And the excitement I've seen in the kids and the students. I mean, the teachers tell me, the students are like, "Oh, today's 10 minutes on Tuesday." They're so excited to do these little things. And teachers, regular classroom teachers are so stressed out and I don't want to put more stress on them. But doing that with the standards is really great. Then, so as far as the two of us, we have standards of communication, research, problem solving, knowing oneself and research. So I've really found that the engineering design process is a great way to tie all of those skills in. Then, like I said, doing those creative brainstorming activities. Another thing, the last thing I love to do is I love to take an object in my classroom, like a brad and hot glue on it too, an index card. Then everyone has the same palette and they have to go home and come back and make that brad into something else, and then they present it to the class and it's just amazing.

Ashley Mengwasser: What have you seen people do with that?

Dawn Jeffers: It is fabulous. Things that you're used to, eyes, but then I had one young lady make it into a roller coaster. So the roller coaster was on top, so it was actually moving. I had one student that did it so it was rotating and you could see... I mean, it is so fabulous. And that's just one of my favorite activities that we've done this year and just outstanding.

Ashley Mengwasser: That is really cool. What are you doing, Jennifer?

Jennifer Borngesser: Well, I've been presenting at conferences for years, and I've been privileged to work with the Georgia Department of Education for the past couple of years in developing PL for teachers. And one of the things that I will constantly get towards the end of a session is teachers asking me, how do I justify this to my administrators? And I think teachers understand that finding tasks to develop creativity are easily accessible. I think they just hesitate because they're afraid it won't seem as valuable. But there are several grade level standards that you can use to justify the seat time on task, standards of mathematical practice, almost all support students developing reasoning, perseverance, and attending to precision. For STEM tasks these are my go-to standards. For social studies standards designed for helping students develop information processing skills, things like identifying issues and problems and alternative solutions, drawing conclusions and making generalizations. There are overarching standards in almost every domain that teachers can use to help them feel more comfortable with using class time on creative thinking and problem solving tasks, such as making their own books.

Ashley Mengwasser: Oh, that's nice.

Jennifer Borngesser: Plus, you can incorporate the writing standards. So, you can take a creative thinking task and tie it to a writing standard usually pretty easily.

Ashley Mengwasser: Okay, that's a good idea. Another game I like to play, it reminds me of something you were talking about, Dawn. It's just a good word association game. If we're talking about George Washington, or if we're talking about podcasts, I might say microphone. What might you say, Dawn?

Dawn Jeffers: Oh, podcast? All I can think of is blue right behind you.

Ashley Mengwasser: Because it's right behind you.

Dawn Jeffers: Yes.

Ashley Mengwasser: What would you say, Jennifer?

Jennifer Borngesser: I'd say nervous.

Ashley Mengwasser: We'll stop that extra subject. But you see where I was going. And that's really fun too, because then you get answers. You get these adjacent words and concepts that you didn't ever think of, and they take you totally on a new path. And it's really fun and exciting.

Jennifer Borngesser: It reminds me of a game that I used to play with my kids in the car.

Ashley Mengwasser: What?

Jennifer Borngesser: That I started playing with my students a few years ago, and it makes me want to pick it back up. I would choose a word. Everybody in the car would choose a word, and in my head, I had to start. I had to choose the word first, and everybody in the car would then choose a word and then tell me. And then I had to make an association with one of their words to my words. Just four random words, but it was my task to... And whoever I tied it to, then it was their turn. So it-

Ashley Mengwasser: ... To find a way to relate the words.

Jennifer Borngesser: There's a lot of creative problem solving.

Ashley Mengwasser: And there's always a way.

Jennifer Borngesser: Yes.

Ashley Mengwasser: That's the fun part about that. Well, let's conclude with maybe just your one premier tip for cultivating creative thinking that teachers can take back to their classrooms and use today. What do you have for us, Dawn?

Dawn Jeffers: All right. One of my favorite activities is creativity bags. And you can do this with any subject, and you give every single student a paper lunch bag. It can be brown or white or whatever. Then inside of each one, give them an index card, a piece of tape, a piece of gum, a paperclip, and then they have to take that bag and create something new. So you can do that generically, or, you can tie it with your standard. Say, if you're all reading a book, make this into something that your character could have used in his story. Or if you're doing something like a history section, like going out west, what is something that they could have used on the Oregon Trail? So that activity is so fascinating. I've done it with so many kids and just the different ways they use each thing. And then again, with the communication, they can write about it, they can present it. It can be a homework activity or an in-school activity. So that one is truly one of my favorite things.

Jennifer Borngesser: I'd say don't be afraid to let creative control go. So allowing your students to code. They're already on scratch. Let them code something to show you their understanding. Let them develop an animation. There's several apps out there. Just don't be afraid to let them have some little bit of ownership so that they can develop their understanding. But the most important thing is to start small, but start. You get more comfortable with it as time passes, and it's okay if you're not good at it first. As a teacher, you'll get better, just like the kids will get better at with time too. It's important. It's very important work. I know that Dr. Derek Cabrera said on a TED Talk titled How Thinking Works, that students are getting all the way to college and have no idea how to think through novel problems or unstructured tasks.

Ashley Mengwasser: Oh, no.

Jennifer Borngesser: Life as an adult is full of novel problems and unstructured tasks. And that makes me think of, there's a quote from Takumi, they're a Japanese master craftsman. And there's a quote that they use and it's, "The difficult takes time, but the impossible takes just a little longer."

Ashley Mengwasser: Look at that. Be patient with the process.

Jennifer Borngesser: Yes.

Ashley Mengwasser: Trust the process. I would bang my head against the wall with that quote, but it's so true. We just want to get to the end of things sometimes, don't we?

Jennifer Borngesser: Yeah.

Ashley Mengwasser: Ah, thank you so much, creative specialist. Did you have a good time here today?

Jennifer Borngesser: I did.

Dawn Jeffers: Absolutely.

Jennifer Borngesser: Absolutely.

Ashley Mengwasser: Excellent.

Jennifer Borngesser: Thank you for making it comfortable.

Ashley Mengwasser: Oh, good.

Dawn Jeffers: Absolutely.

Ashley Mengwasser: You guys are delightful to talk to, and I feel a little extra pressure now about students getting to college and not think creatively. It's up to us everybody.

Jennifer Borngesser: Yes.

Ashley Mengwasser: Mobilize, right?

Jennifer Borngesser: Yes. Okay.

Ashley Mengwasser: Borngesser is your last name?

Jennifer Borngesser: Yes.

Ashley Mengwasser: Is this German like my people?

Jennifer Borngesser: It is absolutely German. My husband said. That's his family. Yes.

Ashley Mengwasser: Borngesser.

Jennifer Borngesser: Yep.

Ashley Mengwasser: Well, we're sure about you, Jennifer. Thanks for coming today. And way to go with your methods, Dawn. You were truly born for this.

Dawn Jeffers: You know what, I am getting ready to retire, and so I still will be in education, but not full-time. That's what my hope is. But I will say that I do feel very, very blessed that I've just had such an amazing job and so many fabulous people that I've worked with, that I've elaborated off, and then also all these amazing students. That's the thing about creative thinking, it's good for every single child.

Jennifer Borngesser: It's good for adults too.

Dawn Jeffers: It is. I've done seminars with adults as well. Absolutely. And it does, they do look at you differently. Once they hear you give your spiel, they're like, "Oh.."

Jennifer Borngesser: Yeah. Oh, it's okay to let go.

Dawn Jeffers: Right. I didn't realize that.

Jennifer Borngesser: And honestly, I'm not doing anything that's brand new or novel. I'm just piggybacking off the ideas of other people.

Dawn Jeffers: Sure.

Ashley Mengwasser: Which is still creativity.

Jennifer Borngesser: Which is what I'm trying to teach the other teachers in the room is that let's collaborate. Let's make each other's ideas better, and that's what we need to encourage with students too.

Dawn Jeffers: My daughter once said to me, "Mom, I can tell how creative a person is by how quickly they shut down when faced with a problem."

Jennifer Borngesser: Absolutely.

Ashley Mengwasser: That's a litmus test. Yes. No shutting down allowed here. Thank you, Jennifer and Dawn Jeffers. Or shall I say Dr. Creativity?

Dawn Jeffers: Yes.

Ashley Mengwasser: To the rescue. Thank you both so much for being here.

Jennifer Borngesser: Absolutely.

Ashley Mengwasser: What better way to conclude a creative thinking episode than with a keepsake creative exercise? Dawn actually mentioned it. In your classrooms today, try the Torrance Test of Creative Thinking developed in the sixties by psychologist Ellis Paul Torrance. EPT is considered the father of modern creativity. The test presents an incomplete image and you're asked to finish the picture. It's fun, fantastical, and trust me, very engaging for students. This next statement isn't creative at all, really. It's direct reporting, and that is you're a great teacher, as usual. Talk to you next week on Classroom Conversations. Bye-bye. Funding for Classroom Conversations is made possible through the School Climate Transformation Grant.