Creativity in Science and Maths - reflections by James

Karen Carey speaks at the CEFPI conference
I didn't attend this whole conference - I accompanied our own Karen Carey who in her new life as a movie star had been asked to kick the session off. Karen spoke eloquently about how music education is essential for every child and should begin in primary school with properly trained music teachers because it is a whole body and whole mind activity that can develop cognitive, fine motor, social and other skills. The audience were primarily architects, but I saw lots of people taking notes, and so it went down well. Karen also spoke about the kinds of spaces you need to run the sort of music program we have at MLC.

Fiona Young invited me to stay for the panel and breakout sessions that followed, so I did. On the panel were all sorts of interesting people, including Patrick Nolan, artistic director of Legs on the Wall, Claire Gibb from Room 13, a student run art studio in Scotland, Adele Jeffreys (nee Sidholm, and ex-MLC teacher) who is now the education person at the Australian Theatre for Young People and a chap called Simon Pampena who described himself as a maths comedian.

The focus on the session for the panel was to speak about how what we know about the creative arts subjects approaches to teaching and they spaces they inhabit can inform teachers in maths and science (you wondered when that was going to come up, right?). Adele did a great example of teaching angles concepts through physical theatre, getting everyone off their feet and working in pairs to create different kinds of angles, symmetry and so on. The maths comedian showed us how bogans could complete sudoku easily by replacing the characters for numbers 1 to 9 with 9 football club shields. And he picked on Patrick to do the solution...

In breakout groups we were to look at blueprints of existing schools (mine was Ravenswood) and consider how the maths and science areas could be more creative and therefore engaging to students. We identified an open area between the rooms that wasn't being used, and considered how that could be a cool learning area, flexible, full of natural light, with a pergola for hot or rainy days. Ben who we'd met the week before at Melbourne University was there and talked about the importance of students feeling the space was like a home. We talked about science desks that could be moved outside to a second 'sump in the sun' and I wondered how Sarah would feel about that.

There were students at the session too, and they presented what each group found. It was a fun session, although I kind of wondered how much creativity had to do with it. I think perhaps what Fiona was encouraging in this session was just for people to think outside the traditional space for maths (desks in rows) or science (practical and theory areas) - and if so, it certainly worked.

Creativity, it seemed to me, is necessary in maths and science as much as it is in music and other performing arts, it just plays a different role. Or a number of different roles. Adele had shown us how maths could be physically engaging, and I know for one I would have remembered a lesson like that more than drawing angles in a workbook with a protractor and a compass. But I think that in a way is more to do with the creativity of the teacher. We all know that students learn best by doing. It's quite possible for an awful teacher to teach music, art, drama or dance without doing, just as it's possible for maths and science teachers to engage their students with exciting experiments, practical project based learning and so on. So there was a lot to take away, not just about spaces and being open to change, but also to acknowledge that good teaching is good teaching, and bad is bad, whatever your subject. In music we know lots about creativity, but we don't have any exclusive claim to it.