Using Creative Education in your classroom

In yesterday's article, Dr Tim Patston from Geelong Grammar in Victoria discussed why his school decided to introduce Creative Education, and outlined the process they used to develop the framework. In today's final instalment, he shares examples of how teachers can use Creative Education in their own settings.

Many teachers teach with one main goal: to fulfil the requirements of their prescribed curriculum. This is necessary for a number of reasons, but is it possible to teach in more creative ways and still meet bureaucratic requirements?

We believe that if students are more aware of the processes which lie in common between and within subjects, that they will find the learning of facts and knowledge not only easier but more relevant.

Our students are asked to work on topics and ideas that meet curriculum requirements and also develop their creativity. These ideas are based upon the RISE model and have been trialled as Pop Up Pedagogy projects, which are small trials of new ideas teachers have found effective. All of them provide the students a context which shows greater relevance to their learning than simply passing a standardised test.

Example 1: Environment, Grade 5

At the start of the school year, all furniture and removable fittings are taken out of the room. In the empty space, students are asked to design their ideal learning environment. They discuss ideas and present them in a format of their choosing, working as a team. The final layout is that designed by the students.

When speaking to the teachers who teach these classes, they had some interesting observations:

  • They were surprised at how much the students knew about which learning environment and spaces they would learn in the best. The discussions were rich;
  • The students collaborated in a selfless manner, with opinions respected;
  • The students came up with many creative and useful ideas which the teachers had never thought of; and,
  • The lessons are going well, as the students understand the role of different learning spaces throughout the day, and change their behaviour accordingly and seamlessly.

Example 2: Student, Year 10 Maths

A recent study conducted by the University of Melbourne (Young, 2016) found that students can struggle to find value in mathematics as a subject, beyond doing homework and exams. One of the reasons is that it can be seen to be prescriptive, rather than creative.

In Year 10 students were given the following task:

They were given, at the end of a lesson, a problem which they did not know how to solve. Their homework was to try and do as much as they could and bring it to class the next day. In the next lesson students were randomly assigned to a group of four or five. They were asked to compare notes and see if they could develop the process toward a solution. Each group presented their work, then the class came to a consensus on the process and the solution if they could.

Teachers observed the following:

  • Even the least able student was able to make some progress with the homework;
  • Randomly assigning groups was more effective than choosing groups based upon ability;
  • The small group peer-to-peer teaching worked well;
  • Initially the teacher struggled with not directing the lesson, but was pleasantly surprised at how well the students did without them; and,
  • The students had greater motivation in the class when solving problems together.

Example 3: Investigation, Year 8 Science

There has been a movement toward STEM education in the past few years. Part of the value of STEM, and project-based learning, is that students learn the value of iteration, which is a component of creativity that focuses on repetition in the face of failure.

While many STEM projects rely on the use of digital technology, it is possible to obtain the same understanding of processes and concepts using analogue tools, as in a Rube Goldberg machine. Rube Goldberg was an American cartoonist, best known for his series of comics depicting complicated, deliberately over-engineered contraptions that perform a very simple task. One step triggers the next in a chain reaction until the final task is complete.
In this project the students had to use a variety of machines, such as levers, pulleys and inclines, in order to achieve a task – the ringing of a bell. The students were offered no digital or electronic devices, just everyday items such as string, toilet rolls, and disposable plastic coffee cups.

The teacher observations were as follows:

  • The students embraced the patience and problem solving skills required to develop their solutions to the problem. The teachers reported that some students who had little patience when doing classroom book exercise were more than happy to have 10 or 20, or 50 failures before coming to their final solution;
  • The students came up with many creative and useful ideas which the teachers had never thought of;
  • The small group peer-to-peer teaching worked well;
  • Initially the teacher struggled with not directing the lesson, but was pleasantly surprised at how well the students did without them; and,
  • The students could see the value of understanding the theories of physics and maths which underpinned their projects.

Example 4: Results, Year 10 Texts and Traditions

With subjects which may be perceived to be ‘hard' or ‘boring' by students, it can be tempting to infantilise the teaching using animations, or simple videos, rather than challenging the students to develop critical thinking skills.

The same can be said of assessment, that ‘hard' subjects require ‘hard' assessments. The model of assessment used in this subject combines the creative with the traditional. In this subject the students are given their end of semester exam to look at in the first week of classes. They are asked to discuss the types of questions asked and the knowledge they will need to develop over the semester.

They then discuss what type of note-taking they might like to use, and it is suggested that they trial some different forms like handwriting, or using a computer, photos, recordings. As with the previous examples, students are given agency over a part of their learning process.

In terms of assignments students are invited to choose their format of submission for their assignments. The key is to demonstrate understanding. They also self-assess and peer assess their work in class before final marks are decided. Developing self-determination is a key to developing creative skills.

Throughout the semester the exam paper is shown every four weeks or so, and the students are asked to look at how their understandings are developing. If they have misunderstood a concept, then this is captured well before the final exam. Teacher observations:

  • After the initial shock of being given an exam six months before due, and being shown the questions, students expressed gratitude that they could determine their learning strategies over time;
  • The freedom to take notes in a format of their choice, and to experiment with note taking techniques was valued by the students;
  • The small group peer-to-peer teaching and sharing of note taking, memorisation and study techniques worked well;
  • Students proved extremely capable at both self and peer assessment, and reported that it gave them a deeper sense of engagement in the subject; and,
  • The students developed a deeper understanding as to why certain concepts were very important, and how themes could be connected in the final exam.

The above examples clearly show that teachers can teach with creativity and for creativity in their classes, while still meeting curriculum requirements.

Our journey toward Creative Education at Geelong Grammar has just begun. However, teachers feel more engaged with their teaching as they have more choices in their classes, and students feel more motivated and engaged in their learning, as they are given more freedom and choice.


Young, H., (2016) Value in Mathematics Learning, Unpublished Masters dissertation, University of Melbourne.

In example 3, teachers found students were happy to have up to 50 failures before coming to their final solution. Do you embrace failure as part of the learning process?

Freedom and choice is part of Creative Education at Geelong Grammar. How often do you give students the freedom to choose how they approach a task? How could you introduce this into a lesson or unit you’re teaching next term?