Story Starters—A Deck of Cards for the Young Imagination

In our book Imagination First, Eric Liu and I write about Oblique Strategies, a deck of cards created by musician Brian Eno in 1975: “Each of the over one hundred cards contains what Eno calls ‘a worthwhile dilemma’—a concise, cryptic prompt….meant to give direction.” Today, I bring news of another novel deck of cards, this one aimed at children: the Spark Your Imagination Story Starters.

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Changes in the Education Systems of East Asian Countries Look to the West

Image by David Woo*

Success carries its own need for change

Since World War II, East Asia has had the fastest-growing economy in the world. Japan was rapidly joined by China, Singapore, South Korea, and other nations seemingly swept along by each other’s successes in the marketplace.

From the beginning of its post-war ascent, East Asia has made education a priority. Now, the face of its education is changing. While this is much less debated than the economy, it is certain to have a profound effect on East Asian rapport with the West.

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The Imagination Network

Image by Jane Hoffer

What do Disney, the National Council of Juvenile and Family Court Judges (NCJFCJ), and the U.S. Army have in common? Representatives from all three organizations appeared at America’s Imagination Summit, the education event that Lincoln Center Institute (LCI) hosted in New York City this past July. Their presence was not arbitrary; rather, I believe that the dynamic intersection of such diverse influencers can lead to change in our country’s schools.

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Lincoln Center Institute’s Capacities for Imaginative Learning

Image by Nancy Bareis

A growing number of blog visitors have been seeking information about Lincoln Center Institute‘s Capacities for Imaginative Learning.

LCI has created the Capacities for Imaginative Learning as a framework for student learning, applicable to the Common Core Standards across the curriculum. The Capacities operate as both strategies for, and outcomes of, study according to LCI’s practice.

The Capacities for Imaginative Learning are:

Noticing Deeply to identify and articulate layers of detail in a work of art or other object of study through continuous interaction with it over time.

Embodying to experience a work of art or other object of study through your senses, as well as emotionally, and also to physically represent that experience.

Questioning to ask questions throughout your explorations that further your own learning; to ask the question, “What if?”

Making Connections to connect what you notice and the patterns you see to your prior knowledge and experiences, to others’ knowledge and experiences, and to text and multimedia resources.

Identifying Patterns to find relationships among the details that you notice, group them, and recognize patterns.

Exhibiting Empathy to respect the diverse perspectives of others in the community; to understand the experiences of others emotionally, as well as intellectually.

Living with Ambiguity to understand that issues have more than one interpretation, that not all problems have immediate or clear-cut solutions, and to be patient while a resolution becomes clear.

Creating Meaning to create your own interpretations based on the previous capacities, see these in the light of others in the community, create a synthesis, and express it in your own voice.

Taking Action to try out new ideas, behaviors or situations in ways that are neither too easy nor too dangerous or difficult, based on the synthesis of what you have learned in your explorations.

Reflecting/Assessing to look back on your learning, continually assess what you have learned, assess/identify what challenges remain, and assess/identify what further learning needs to happen. This occurs not only at the end of a learning experience, but is part of what happens throughout that experience. It is also not the end of your learning; it is part of beginning to learn something else.

Click here to download a copy of LCI’s Capacities for Imaginative Learning (pdf)

LCI Joins Channel Thirteen in a Celebration of Education

On March 18 and 19, WNET will sponsor the 2011 Celebration of Teaching and Learning. From Mehmet Oz to Oliver Sacks to Leymah Gbowee, each year the Celebration brings together extraordinary thinkers of our era, and whether their expertise lies in technology or health sciences, all come to discuss the state of education and the possibilities for its future.

Common Core standards in Math and ELA will be addressed, as will STEM, autism, and other burning issues—not forgetting the arts and creativity, which is where Lincoln Center Institute comes in.

We are proud to announce that Scott Noppe-Brandon, LCI’s Executive Director and author of Imagination First, and Ashley Merryman, award-winning journalist who has covered the “Creativity Crisis” beat in both book and newspaper, will present a panel on the subject of imagination, creativity, and innovation in schools: the “ICI Continuum.” Book signings will take place at the event and are hosted by Barnes & Noble.

The Celebration takes place at the New York Hilton. For exact location, times, and detailed information about the program and the speakers, go to http://thirteencelebration.org/

Give Them Room to “Just Do the Thing”


High school history teacher Diana Laufenberg has witnessed some amazing learning—and learned to step back and allow her students to fail along the way.

In this brief TED Talks video, Laufenberg discusses how profound changes in the information landscape have altered education, opening up opportunities for experiential, student-centered learning focused on exploration and creativity. During her father’s childhood, she explains, kids went to school to gain information; school was where the information was. When she was a kid, her parents bought a set of encyclopedias and, as the locus of information shifted to include her home, education shifted as well. Students in the public high school where Laufenberg now teaches each have a laptop that is fully connected and portable. If information is everywhere, what is school for? Laufenberg argues for learning as a creative process involving failure, processing failure, learning from failure, and trying again. School is no longer about accessing information—kids can do that anywhere; school can now be about playing with information. Want to hear more about the kinds of activities that have opened up these types of learning experiences for Laufenberg’s students? Click here for the full 10-minute video.

Imagination Conversation Report: Denver Botanic Gardens, Colorado

Image ©Scott Dressel-Martin

The Colorado Imagination Conversation on October 20 was held in a beautiful local space that embodied the ideas explored at the event: the Denver Botanic Gardens. Host organization Colorado Creative Industries (CCI) is a division of the state’s Office of Economic Development that aims to, among other things, “increase access to … creativity skills in P-20 education and workforce development.” Upon arrival, audience members were treated to guided tours of the Gardens’ inspiring exhibit of works by 20th-century British sculptor Henry Moore. The ensuing Conversation featured panelists ranging from acclaimed novelist David Milofsky to Lara Merriken, inventor of popular energy bar LÄRABAR—yet another example of imagination’s impact across disparate professional fields.

CCI Executive Director Elaine Mariner reports that the topics covered by the participants included: imagination’s innateness in everyone; the danger that external influences such as parents, teachers, and peers may squelch imagination; and the importance of surrounding oneself with positive and encouraging people rather than naysayers and non-believers. “We had a capacity crowd,” Mariner notes, “and the audience was very engaged and pleased with the depth and diversity of the views that were expressed.” Video of the Conversation will be available soon on the Web site of official government station Denver 8 TV.

UPDATE 1/3/11: The video of the Denver Imagination Conversation is now available from the Denver 8 TV Online Video page–look for “Imagination Conversation” under the “Featured” tab.

Click here to view all of the Imagination Conversation Reports.

The Only Thing We Have to Fear is Fear (of Failure) Itself

Image by Vancouver Film School*

The eighth annual Teens and Entrepreneurship Survey, conducted in August 2010 by Junior Achievement (JA), an organization that prepares students for success in the global economy, reveals contemporary teenagers’ concerns about their futures. According to a press release, out of 1,000 respondents between the ages of 12 and 17, 51% want to eventually start their own business, but 74% see risk and failure as the biggest obstacles in their path. An overwhelming 84% of young people believe business initiative should be taught in school, and 34% identify imagination and creativity as the most important assets for marketplace achievement. With regard to the aforementioned anxiety felt by aspiring entrepreneurs, JA USA President and CEO Jack E. Kosakowski says, “[T]he time is now to teach them those essential skills to overcome that fear.” One way of addressing this need is to encourage students to re-engineer their conception of failure by teaching them “failing well”—that is, preparing them to learn from failure rather than feel ashamed of it and avoid it at all costs. Educators should work to foster this ability, an essential one for all potential innovators. Overall, the Teens and Entrepreneurship Survey shows that American kids are ambitious, aware of imagination’s economic power, and intent on having schools offer them knowledge that will fuel their professional careers. By “[b]ringing the concepts of entrepreneurship and innovation into the classroom,” JA is responding to that demand—but others must join in the effort.

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Coloring Outside the Lines

Image by Samantha Celera*

Lincoln Center Institute’s Imagination Conversations aim to, among other things, unite diverse sectors by drawing attention to their shared reliance on imagination. So it’s exciting for me to see the corporate and education worlds coming together on behalf of this cause: Crayola and the National Association of Elementary School Principals (NAESP) have just awarded “Champion Creatively Alive Children” grants to 20 American elementary schools. According to a press release, the grants, “which will fund innovative programs aimed at fostering children’s critical thinking, creativity, collaboration, and communication skills,” include $2,500 and Crayola products worth $500. The winning programs include one that will enable students to “find their individual voice” through puppetry, and another that will ask students to visually solve a new problem every month. (The full list is here.) For any interested educators, the eventual outcomes of these learning initiatives will be made public on NAESP’s Web site. In the press release, NAESP Executive Director Gail Connelly touches on one of LCI’s main concerns when she mentions “preparing our nation’s children to thrive in the 21st century—a task that depends on fostering a culture of creativity and critical thinking.”

In a similar vein, LCI has created the annual Imagination Award to recognize and highlight imaginative thinking in the teaching and learning practice of public schools. Begun in New York City, and inspired in part by LCI’s Capacities for Imaginative Learning, the Imagination Award is now also awarded to a school in Washington State. Winning schools exhibit evidence of the incorporation of imaginative thinking across the curriculum, in subjects from art to English to the natural sciences. The school must demonstrate the ability to construct learning environments in which imagination is cultivated as part of learning as well as teaching.

These ideas, it seems to me, is very much on the minds of people in all realms of society right now. I applaud Crayola and NAESP as well as the grant recipients for transforming them into action. The education and business communities are beginning to see that both of their futures hinge on their ability to harness the power of imagination.

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2nd Imagination Practice Winner Announced

Image by Orin Zebest*

We recently announced that the next winning imagination practice might find its way into the upcoming revised edition of Imagination First. Well, so might the winner of the current contest round. Let’s have California teacher Betty Cavanaugh tell you about her imagination practice in her own words:

“What is the world’s biggest secret? That is the prompt I use with students. Their imagination soars with that question because the answers are limitless. After working in a group to generate ridiculous answers, students select their favorite response to develop into a colorful drawing and written story. Some favorite answers include: All the dinosaurs migrated to the center of the earth and their movement causes earthquakes. Animals are actually alien life forms from other planets. Tiny gnomes and fairies come out at night and paint the colors on all the flowers and leaves. Students enjoy playing this ‘game’ that also generates creative, imaginative written responses and dynamic artwork. I have also used this lesson during long car rides with my children.”

Cavanaugh is also an author. For a peek at her book, Multicultural Art Activities, check it out here on Google Books.

Cavanaugh joins our first winner Randy Compton, a Colorado teacher and creator of educational toys called Think-ets, in winning an iPod as a prize. Both might be included in the second edition of Imagination First. The third round of the competition is now underway! Read Imagination First and think about other practices of possibility from your own work and life. Write them up and submit them. Our team will read and review all the practices you submit and post them online. Don’t delay: the deadline to submit your practice for the next round of the competition is November 15th!

*There is a Creative Commons license attached to this image.