Engaging young minds: Part four

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By Huw Thomasheadteacher and writer

The fourth part of Huw Thomas’ series, discussing how understanding the way our brains work can help motivate learning, looks at creative thought

Illustrated head and cogs

In nine months a screaming baby gains nearly 100 billion neurons. Averaged over time such growth works out at 4000 neaurons a second. These neurons grow and find other neurons, making the connections we call synapses – information flows from one neuron to the other via the synapse. More neurons are created than will actually be needed – those that don’t make connections die away. Our daily experiences quite literally change our brains, making different synaptic connections between cells. We’re not fixed. Instead our heads are places of ongoing creativity.

Having looked at how our brains engage, enquire and analyse, we now home in on that business of creativity and look at its essential place in learning. (Take a look at the other articles in this series.)

1. Originality

One facet of creativity is the original slant creative thinking puts on things. Human beings have the tendency to search for information that is in keeping with the ideas we already hold – something called a confirmation bias. For example, asked how many squares there are on a chess board, we will most likely count the number of little boxes. We may not ‘think outside the box’ and ask whether we can also include squares made up of four smaller squares, or whether the whole board isn’t a square.

2. Lateral thinking

The thinking guru, Edward de Bono, coined the term ‘lateral thinking’ – presenting the image of hole digging as a way of understanding how our brains work. De Bono presented two types of thinking. Vertical thinking is a bit like digging deeper down the same course of thinking. De Bono acknowledges the place for such thinking, but suggests we need skills that enable us to think laterally, too – a bit like digging a new hole in a different location.

Faced with a problem, such as how to tackle litter in the lunch hall, lateral thinking would involve strategies such as these:

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