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Creative classrooms

The creative juices were flowing at Centro Caboto Centre on January 17.

Around 200 Winnipeg School Division educators took part in The Creative Classroom, a talk/workshop led by John Spencer, a former middle school teacher, published author and current professor at George Fox University in Oregon, who believes schools should be “bastions of creativity and wonder.” 

Spencer touts such concepts as design thinking, project-based education, interest-driven learning and encouraging students to develop a “maker mindset.”

“Making is magic. There’s something deeply powerful inside of us that comes out when we have the chance to make,” Spencer said.

During his presentation, Spencer described how he himself developed this mindset as a Grade 8 student. A self-described “shy and nerdy” kid, Spencer was encouraged by one of his teachers to take part in a National History Day project.

Passionate about social justice, history and baseball, Spencer set to work on his research project: the breaking of baseball’s colour line. However, he hit a snag early on, finding that the topic’s written history was sorely lacking. His teacher advised that he would have to talk to players from that time period; it was both an intimidating and rewarding experience.

Photos: John Spencer, co-author of the best-selling book Launch: Using Design Thinking to Boost Creativity and Bring Out the Maker in Every Student, spoke to Winnipeg School Division educators on Jan. 17 at Centro Caboto Centre.

“Research doesn’t have to be the textbook,” he said. “I had to actually talk to real people, and I got a perspective from these former ball players that was completely different from what I read in the books and articles.

“I learned that the opinion of the integration of baseball was mixed. Yes, it was a victory, but it came at a heavy cost, because all these African-American-owned teams went out of business. The players I spoke to asked questions like “When will we have our first African-American owners? When will we break that colour barrier? When will we have more African-American managers?’ At the time we only had one, Frank Robinson.

“They were asking really hard questions that blew my eighth-grade mind. And that’s only because I took the research off-road.”

Spencer stressed the importance of new technologies to design thinking and project-based learning. But, even with limitless information at students’ fingertips, he said that most students are consuming, not making.

“We have this one-size-fits-all factory model of school where students passively consume content,” he said. “One-size-fits-all is great for socks, but it’s a lousy model for the mind. Teachers use phrases like ‘Deliver my lesson’ and ‘Did my students get it?’ It assumes learning is a product you consume rather than something you internally create.”


“They were asking really hard questions that blew my eighth-grade mind. And that’s only because I took the research off-road.”

With the rise of industrial automation, job-hopping and the gig economy, Spencer stressed that the ability to be creative is more important than ever, and educators need to encourage and foster creativity in the classroom.

“Not every student will become an entrepreneur, but they will need to think like one,” he said. “They have to be flexible, nimble, know how to do project management, know how to collaborate and know how to create.”

Richard Roberts, learning technologies consultant at WSD, said the division is doing an OK job of sparking imaginations, but is striving to do better.  

“We’re starting to see it happen in schools more and more, but it’s still happening in pockets,” Roberts said. “Our goal is to have a culture of student-centered learning happening throughout the division and not just in certain schools.”

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