Limits on Creativity

Creating something new is challenging.

The way I see it, there are two major obstacles to “creating.”  The first is having creativity – you actually have to think creatively to create!  The second is skill – you need certain skills to go from an idea to a product.  For example, if I wanted to draw a picture, I need to be able to envision what I want to draw in my mind (creativity), and then I need to have drawing ability to actually produce the work (skill).  The same can be said for producing music, or writing a short story, or landscaping your backyard, or designing and building a shed, or preparing a delicious meal.  Each of these examples requires having creativity and skill.

I have often felt that I have a desire to be creative but lack the skills to actually produce quality work.  Recently it occurred to me that technology has improved my ability to create because it lowers the barrier on skill.  Technology makes creation more accessible.  For example,  with only a rudimentary level of skill in digital photography, my DSLR camera helps me take (some) great photos.  In addition, programs like Adobe Photoshop, and Lightroom have allowed  me to turn great photos into stunning images that I am incredibly proud to share with friends.  These technologies help me to produce a level of quality that I never could have attained with my limited skills.

Over the past 2 years, I have been thinking a lot about fostering the creativity of my students.  I continue to look for opportunities for students to be creative in my lessons and assignments.  Since technology lowers the barrier to creativity, it has often been the conduit through which my students express themselves.  For example, I have had great success with student blogging, film making, and designing infographics.  My students have started poking fun at me saying,

“Sir, none of our other teachers have ever used the word ‘infographic’, and you say it at least twice a week!”

These days, I am excited to explore  more low-tech forms of creativity in my classes (such as creative writing and drawing).  Sunni Brown gave a great 5 minute TED talk called, “Doodlers, unite!”  In it, she explains the benefits of doodling for brain processing.  I found the talk inspiring  and I am already making plans to incorporate doodling into my Physics lessons on a regular basis this coming semester.  My hope is that doodling encourages a deeper (or more concrete) understanding of concepts in Physics.  And, as a bonus, I might be able reuse some of their cartoon gems to teach concepts to future classes!

Photo Credit: Kim Petersen


  1. Yes, there has to be some basic creative ability and some basic skills. However, I believe the missing factor is that of motivation. Don’t forget that old truism: “necessity is the mothre of invention”.

    It is remarkable what creative ideas people will come up with and develop into pratical solutions if they have a personal investment in the outcome.


  2. This is a great blog post. I never thought about the different processes required to successfully imagine a new thing and then the skills needed to actually create it. DSLR and Adobe Photoshop has definitely taken my amateur photography to a new level. On a side note, I love making HDR images on Photoshop too.


  3. I agree with Phipaine. There definitely needs to be skill but there has to be desire. So many kids these days give up as soon as additional thought is required. It takes a lot of effort to create and in order to do that, you have to be able to persevere through the stages of not knowing. In our ever-changing technologically savvy world, it is critical that people come out of school willing to learn something new and put in the energy to do so. Creating is what drives our world, and we need people willing to put the time and energy in to creating something wonderful!


  4. I agree with anersem, many times when kids come across a bump or a challenge they don’t know how to tackle it. I think many times teachers jump in and rescue them far too soon instead of guiding them to try and reach for something new. Allowing students to talk amongst eachother or read in order to figure something out is a better solution than a teacher stepping in too soon.

    I agree with you, you need to be able to think creatively and also have a particular skill to be able to be a creative. I also think that having a classroom that fosters creativity is one that students grow the most from.


  5. You make a great point about creativity and skill. This is something that our students will face as we enter the knowledge age of being able to DO something with what we learn/know. In addition, digital media requires creativity and skill which is a potential industry our students could enter. However, we are still sometimes stuck in just teaching the skill and not fostering the creative aspects of the skill. The future job market will require people to have skill, creativity and desire. You ideas for sparking interest are great.


  6. Technology is amazing when we consider what it makes available to students. In this case, it’s lowering the skills level necessary for your students to create effectively, creating a level playing ground for all of your students. I love that you are considering using what they are creating to teach in your future classrooms. This makes their creative experiences so much more meaningful and authentic!


  7. I agree that technology is so helpful at helping students engage in creativity, but I think we also have to give students the CHOICE of how to use technology. Some apps/websites/modes of response click with some students, while others are completely overwhelmbed with the process of making the product and not creative with it. I think the best thing we can do in our classroom is set up a menu of artifacts students can produce to demonstrate understanding. This will allow them to use technology in a creative way, but it will also give the option of doodling. The first six weeks of school can be completely dedicated to teaching the options students have for response.


  8. I agree with sgrisham, it is important for students to have choice in how they express their knowledge. Another way you can have students be creative with technology is to allow them to make a power point presentation. Not only will this improve their communication skills in explaining topics, it gives them a creative outlet to house what they have learned.


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