Creativity in the Classroom

by Michael Kline

(You:) What?
Not a great way to open a conversation eh? I wanted to write “Hello,” or “Good morning,” or something like that, but that’s what everyone does. And that is not me.

(You:) I’ll bite. Who are you?
My name is Michael Kline (my friends and the mail-person call me Mikey) and for, oh, 20 years or so, I’ve contributed probably thousands of visual tidbits to Kids Discover magazine. From occasional astronauts floating in the sidelines to full blown treatises on what the geologic time scale represents, it has been my pleasure putting pictures to words.

(You:) You sound very handsome and intelligent. Get to the point.
Okay. Every time (every time) I receive a request for artwork for magazines or books (on any one of hundreds of topics), the first thing I do is respectfully refuse or largely ignore any ‘notes’ that come with the manuscript. In short, I can read. And I want to give the publisher, the editor, the author, and the reader something very different anyway. My goal is fairly simple: Leave the kids with something fun, something memorable, and hopefully something they can expand on. Sound familiar?

(You:) As an educator, of course. That’s what I strive to do every day.
Good! So why am I here?

(You:) Why are you here? I have stuff to do.
I’m here to help. To help you find new and interesting ways to engage those munchkins you’re charged with educating. I want to teach you the processes I use, the attitudes I’ve adopted, and the way I simply look at things. I have many mantras (never buy prescription drugs on sale, always feed the cat before doing a lot of typing on a computer keyboard, etc.), but the one I come back to most of the time is “Never accept the first answer.” If I can come up with a good idea, I can come up with a better one.

(You:) And that helps me how?
I’ve been in many classrooms, sat down with many teachers, mulled over life’s problems with kids ranging from pre-K to post-grads, and the single largest impediment (there’s a 25¢ word) to learning for these kids is boredom. Children today are bombarded with new technology and forms of media. Games. Wide-screen TVs. iThis and iThat. It’s no wonder that many of them find the classroom as a place of respite and a period to disengage. But it doesn’t have to be that way. So, I’m going to help you change your perspective.

(You:) Me? I don’t have a problem with being engaged. Especially not after 4 cups of coffee.
Be that as it may, we (you and I and anyone else reading this blog) are going to look at things a little differently. Be prepared, be open and flexible, and be aware. When I give seminars on creativity, a discussion on a particular problem or question usually arises. When it does, I open the table to any and all solutions, no matter how irrelevant or obscure. And there’s always a person in the room who says “No way will that ever work.” I immediately wrestle that person to the floor and bind them with whatever rope-like object I have at hand, then continue the discussion.

95% of ideas that are tossed out during one of these verbal sojourns will have no merit whatsoever. But the remaining 5% will be brilliant. Why? I call it the Trigger Effect. No, it is not named for Roy Roger’s horse (oops, is my age showing?), rather for what it does. All creative solutions come from building on other ideas. Be aware.

(You:) You’re a gentleman and a scholar, and perhaps a little nutty, but let’s give it a try.
K! More superfluous ramblings in the coming weeks, but for now, give this a thought: Tests. The bane of a student’s existence, right? Normally the teacher hands out the test. The kids regurgitate “facts” via rote memorization, then it’s on to the next thing. Zzzzzzz.

Try this. Have your students break up into groups, and have them write the test. Then you take it. If the result is to familiarize kids with the subject, does it matter how they get to that place? Ask your groups to talk among themselves about how they arrived at their questions, or why they thought a particular question was relevant.

Thanks for being here. Teach. Learn. Enjoy!

Michael Kline

Michael Kline is the oldest youngster you will ever meet. An artistic contributor to Kids Discover for 20+ years, he is also the illustrator of The Doodles of Sam Dibble (Penguin Young Readers), a raucous account of a consummate third-grade doodler. Michael lives in Wichita, KS with his very understanding wife and feline office managers. He can be found at