Creative vs. Mechanical Intelligence

Last week my students were learning how to read charts and graphs.  We were identifying the parts of a  graph and learning how to approach complicated charts before we created our own infographics next week.  I prepared a few graphs for the students.  I cropped the title and X and Y axis labels off of one line graph.  I asked the students to suggest what the title SHOULD be based on the available information on the graph.  Obviously, there wasn't a specifically right or wrong answer, and most students chose something related to the key words still on the graph.

To my surprise, there were a few students who struggled with this.  There were several more that left it blank because they couldn't "find" the answer.  One student in particular really blew my mind and opened my eyes to different types of intelligences.  This student was a straight "A" student last year.  The conversation went something like this:
student-"I don't get the question"
me-"Based on what you can see, what SHOULD the title be?"
student-"I don't know because you cut it off"
me-"I know, I want you to use what you do know and create a new title that is appropriate."
student-(frustrated)"How can I get the right title if I can't see it?"
me-"I don't want you to guess the original title, I want you to be creative and write a totally new title that explains what is going on in the graph"
student-(looking away from her computer, sitting in silence, visibly frustrated now)
me-"Don't worry, there are lots of right answers"
student-(no response, bell rings and she leaves)
The next day, I sat down with her to "grade out" as we call it.  She had left the question blank.  I told her that I expect every question to be answered.  I tried to explain that there won't always be a clear answer this year, that she will need to be creative.  She seemed to accept it, but I could tell it bothered her.  This is a fantastic student, clearly very smart, but befuddled when a clear answer is not presented in the text.  I think this situation is a symptom of traditional education.  For too long we have told students there is only 1 answer.  This has created students that are mechanically intelligent, but lack creativity when given more open ended questions.  The world demands creative thinkers, and this student is not being served by an education that tells her there in only 1 answer to every question.


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    I had a discussion a while back about schools training kids to be obedient rather than teaching them to become intelligent. Sounds like you broke that barrier for her.

  2. Exactly!! I see this so often in my high ability classes. This is a problem I am working on starting in first grade. These bright kids get used to knowing the answer to all questions that when they get an open ended question it blows their mind. They really don't like "grey"!! It is a fun part of my job- then since there is no right or wrong answer it can become a debate which is also awesome!

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