Open access peer-reviewed chapter - ONLINE FIRST

Developing Creative and Meaningful Learning in the Curriculum

Written By

Um Albaneen Jamali

Submitted: December 6th, 2021Reviewed: January 12th, 2022Published: March 31st, 2022

DOI: 10.5772/intechopen.102644

IntechOpen
CreativityEdited by Sílvio Manuel Brito

From the Edited Volume

Creativity [Working Title]

Ph.D. Sílvio Manuel Da Rocha Brito

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Abstract

Creativity as an important skill has attracted increasing attention. The attempt was to provide a framework, which is not costly nor time-consuming while is applicable to all subjects. To do so, it highlights the characteristics of meaningful learning and explains the relevant creativity thinking skills, which should be developed according to each characteristic of meaningful learning. The chapter then provides a summary of a research study carried out in 2021 by the author in this regard. It discusses the results and suggests implications for policymakers and educators while provides recommendations for future researchers in the field.

Keywords

  • creativity
  • meaningful learning
  • fluency
  • flexibility
  • elaboration

1. Introduction

Creativity as a vital, 21-century skill has attracted increasing attention in recent years [1]. It is now highlighted as a predictor of growth in various fields of science, technology, engineering, art, and math (STEAM) [2, 3]. Moreover, creativity predicts leadership development, lifelong accomplishment, and technology advancement [4]. Thus, educators are examining different ways to foster creativity as to prepare their students for the future. The current chapter starts by defining creativity using the CAT’s Cradle model, then, proposes the meaningful and creative model of learning (MC model), by discussing ways in which meaningful learning could develop creativity. It, then, explores the present study, which examines the MC model and suggests future potential implications.

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2. Creativity

Broadly speaking, creativity denotes producing something novel and useful [3]. Various definitions and models have been associated with creativity. Differing variations, however, do not mean confusion nor contradiction, rather, refer to how creativity was elaborated and discussed in detail in different contexts [3]. The current chapter explores creativity according to the CAT’s Cradle [5]. The model argued three factors for flourishing creativity in terms of creative climate, creative attitudes, and creative thinking. These factors have been applied in educational contexts [6].

2.1 Creative climate

It refers to the environment of a home, a classroom, a school, or a culture. Kim argued that creative climate goes beyond physical settings to include psychological aspects [7]. A creative climate in a classroom, for example, includes both physical support like time and resources, in addition to psychological supports, such as trust and collaboration. In this regard, educators call for creativity-developing behaviors of teachers, such as focusing on solving, for example, math problems in different ways or appreciating unusual ideas [8]. Such a creative climate allows students to freely discuss their opinions, make mistakes and offer novel solutions [9]. Creative climate paves the way for individuals to display and develop their creative attitudes and creative thinking.

2.2 Creative attitude

It denotes personal qualities within individuals. Researchers refer to a range of personality traits, such as openness, that are crucial for fostering creative behaviors [9]. Kim’s concept of creative attitudes, however, is broader than creative personalities, as it constitutes inherent and learned personal characteristics [5]. It comes from within individuals and includes a wide range of personal attributes, such as curiosity, passion, courage, persistence, and humor [6]. As individuals develop and display their creative attitudes in a creative climate, they will be able to develop creative thinking.

2.3 Creative thinking

According to the CAT’s Cradle, creative thinking requires three patterns of convergent, divergent, and emergent thinking [6]. Divergent thinking denotes a loose pattern of thinking and results in generating novel and original ideas [8]. Convergent thinking refers to a method of thinking and results in assessing the usefulness of the generated ideas. Emergent thinking describes deep thinking, which uses novel and useful ideas, and translates them to creative products. Thus, creative thinking requires cooperation among these three patterns. Furthermore, adopting the three patterns of thinking requires enhancing a range of thinking skills [10]. Divergent thinkers demonstrate skills of fluency (i.e., producing many ideas), flexibility (i.e., generating diverse ideas), and originality (i.e., producing unusual ideas). Convergent thinkers analyze ideas, and emergent thinkers indicate skills of abstract mindset (i.e., considering beyond the obvious) and elaboration (i.e., adding details). Creative thinking patterns and relevant skills are presented in Table 1.

Creative thinking skillsDescription
Divergent thinkingFluency (generating many ideas)Fluency—The number of ideas generated
Originality (generating unusual ideas)Originality—The number of unique ideas generated
Flexibility (having another perspective or using another sense)
  • Unusual visualization—Looking with another angle

  • Internal visualization—Conceptualizing the invisible

  • Colorfulness of imagery—Using the five senses

  • Movement or action—Using body movement

Emergent thinkingAbstract mindset (enjoying the complex and ambiguous)
  • Abstractness of titles—Thinking beyond what is seen

Persistence and elaboration (working on details or describing with imagination)
  • Elaboration—The degree of detail and persistence

  • Storytelling articulateness—The skill to tell a story

  • Expressiveness of titles—The skill to be expressive

  • Richness of imagery—The skill to visualize

Integration (unconventional and connecting between the seemingly irrelevant)
  • Extending or breaking boundaries—Nonconforming

  • Synthesis of lines or circles—Reorganizing

  • Synthesis of incomplete figures—Connecting the different

Convergent thinkingLogicalAnalytical/evaluative/logical thinking—Part of intelligence

Table 1.

Creative thinking patterns and relevant skills [7].

The creative climate was traditionally referred to as a classroom in a school. Nowadays, we can argue that a creative climate could be even a room, a kitchen, or a corner down the stairs. Corona pandemic taught us that attending to physical aspects may not be as imperative as ensuring psychological support provided in such contexts. The current chapter focuses on creative climate referring to teachers’ and parents’ behavior to foster creativity. It also examines such climate in relation to creative thinking skills due to its direct applicability for both educators and learners.

A proliferation of research studies has investigated teachers’ behaviors and provided abundant instructions and programs [10, 11, 12]. However, these studies are either too narrow in the sense that the specified and detailed instructions are not applicable to most subject areas or too costly in terms of time and resources. Nowadays, considering the pressured environment of schools, where teachers are pressurized with credibility and assessments; providing a flexible guideline is vital to develop creativity. One of the most systematic models that offered such a framework is the model of meaningful learning. It was first argued by psychologist Ausubel in 1968 [13]. It was further developed by Howland et al. [14]. According to them, creative learning cannot occur unless meaningful learning takes place. Similarly, researchers argued that creativity is an advanced level of meaningful learning [15]. However, while the researchers repeatedly mentioned the link between meaningful learning and creativity no systematic theory as to explain the nature of such link was argued. The current chapter is an attempt to do so. Providing such an explanation may well serve to teachers and parents in their attempts to develop creativity. Psychologists and educators argued a number of characteristics for meaningful learning [14], which are discussed in detail in this chapter. Each characteristic results in developing certain creative thinking skills, which were emphasized accordingly. Furthermore, although the attempt was to highlight the characteristics in order of difficulties, there is, certainly, no “one size fits all”! Teachers and parents may well tailor them to suit their subject areas. Similarly, some students may develop creative thinking skills faster than their counterparts do. Indeed, providing such students with encouragement and motivation results in further fostering and deepening their creative thinking skills. The chapter concludes with a summary of research conducted in this regard, providing implications for educators and parents.

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3. Meaningful learning

Howland and colleagues argued five characteristics for meaningful learning [14]. According to them, learning is meaningful if it is constructive, active, intentional, cooperative, and authentic. Each of these characteristics and its related creative thinking skills. The MC model of meaningful and creative learning proposed in this chapter is shown in Figure 1. According to this model, learning is creative and meaningful when the five characteristics of meaningful learning result in developing creative thinking skills. Constructive learning results in fostering fluency and flexibility. Active learning results in developing flexibility, while intentional learning fosters originality. Cooperative learning develops fluency, flexibility, and elaboration, while authentic learning fosters fluency, flexibility, elaboration, and originality. The MC model of learning is discussed in detail.

Figure 1.

The MC model of creative and meaningful learning. Applying five broad characteristics of meaningful learning results in each characteristic developing certain creative thinking skills.

3.1 Constructive

According to this model, meaningful learning should be constructive. This view of knowledge development aligns with constructivists’ theories of learning [16, 17]. Constructive activities invite learners to reflect on their thoughts and information. When a learner starts to reflect s/he will be able to incorporate the new knowledge and understanding with his/her previous prior knowledge. With engaging in reflection and teachers’ and parents’ support, their previous mental models become more and more complex. This results in creative meaning-making and generating new knowledge [18]. A handful of activities can be used to foster constructive learning. KWL charts (i.e., What I know? What I want to know? And what I learned?) are one of the well-known activities that help students to organize their thoughts before, during, and after a lesson while indicating its effectiveness in fostering creativity [19].

The creative thinking skills that will be developed during constructive learning are fluency and flexibility. Learners recall as many ideas as they know regarding their previous knowledge (e.g., What I know?). Afterward, as they want to incorporate the new knowledge with their prior information, they will develop the creative thinking of flexibility. They search for new and different ways of interpreting old knowledge while finding various ways of incorporating the old one with the new knowledge [20]. In simple words, they want a fluent mind to present them with a flow of ideas from before (fluency) and a flexible mind to be able to represent different ways and different thoughts of how old understanding can be interpreted and incorporated with new knowledge. As a result, their previous schema and mental model become more complex, and, hence, constructive understanding will occur.

Some activities that can be used in this regard are, for example, mind maps that provide learners with the opportunity to develop as many ideas as possible. Other activities such as open discussions, commenting, liking, or disliking their classmates’ responses also provide learners with opportunities for reflection. It helps them to consider various ways of interpreting and incorporating their old knowledge with their new knowledge. Such activities could be as simple as young students’ commenting by happy face or star, as presented in Figure 2.

Figure 2.

Constructive learning activity through students’ commenting.

3.2 Active

The second feature of meaningful learning is being active. Active learning denotes activities involving students in doing and thinking about what they are doing [21]. Active learning has a positive influence on learners’ creativity as it builds new knowledge and develops new skills [22, 23]. It begins as learners start to interact with their surroundings. Some examples of activities in this respect involve learning new game skills or dealing with a new device. Researchers indicated the important role of active learning in fostering creativity among students [22, 24, 25, 26]. The creative learning skill that will develop through active learning is flexibility, which denotes producing different ideas. The flexible mind uses different ways to approach new knowledge and new skills. Games, including online educational games and robotics, for instance, are very effective in developing children’s creative skills of flexibility. Furthermore, smart device applications regarding digital stories are very useful for those students who demand lots of active learning, where they can write their own scenario and produce it. Developing the creative skill of flexibility becomes evident as they build different characters, who become involved in different events and produce story morals.

3.3 Intentional

All that we do is toward achieving a goal. Basic goals may be as simple as making someone happy. More complicated goals may involve deciding to invest in stock exchanges or enter a new profession. As learning becomes goal-oriented and intentional, learners start to develop self-regulated strategies, such as time management; self-discipline strategies, such as organization, or may develop twenty-first century skills, such as leadership [27, 28]. In this stage, I suggest for teachers and parents to provide their learners with opportunities to be involved in local or worldwide events and contests. Researchers indicated that students’ learning goal orientation was significantly associated with their creativity [25].

When learners intend to participate in challenging events, they start to develop ideas that are unique and original [29]. As a result, intentional learning helps learners to develop creative thinking skills of originality. Some examples of intentional activities may include publishing digital postcards regarding “Earth Day” and “Children’s Day” and raising social awareness or participating in various contests.

3.4 Cooperative

The fourth characteristic of meaningful learning is to be cooperative. As the old saying states, “team work makes the dream work!” Cooperative learning results in individual and collective knowledge building. In cooperative learning, students communicate together by sharing their thoughts and listening to each other’s perspectives. They work together to accomplish the task. A number of creative thinking skills will develop through cooperative learning. A flow of ideas will produce as team members start sharing thoughts (fluency) [30]. Various ideas will develop as they listen and discuss the task (flexibility) [31] and as members began to add ideas and details to their thoughts, they develop the creative thinking skill of elaboration. Similarly, researchers demonstrated that the more information being shared, the more nonoverlapping knowledge emerges from students within the group. Therefore, the process of knowledge sharing and collective adding of information can leverage students’ creative skills of elaboration [25, 28].

3.5 Authentic

Authentic activities enable gifted learners to bring their knowledge and skills into life [32]. As they start to establish the new knowledge through constructive and active learning and master it through intentional and cooperative learning; they will be ready to generalize or apply their learning into new contexts. Authentic learning activities, hence, enable students to deepen their understanding. Authentic learning allows learners to absorb new knowledge. Furthermore, it strengthens the links between what is learned and what they can transfer to future contexts. Subsequently, it helps them to solve future problems in which this present authentic learning may be applicable [33, 34]. Researchers emphasized the development of creative learning when it was contributed to students’ life and well-being [26].

The skill that develops during authentic learning is creative problem solving [33, 34], which involves a combination of creative thinking skills of fluency, flexibility, originality, and elaboration. When facing a problem, learners use a flow of ideas (fluency), provide various solutions (flexibility) to come up with original and unique ideas (originality), refine the final solution by adding details (elaboration), and finally solve the problem. This could not be achieved without providing meaningful learning, which is constructive, active, intentional, cooperative, and authentic.

The current chapter reports on a research study, which examined the development of learning as part of continual professional development in Bahraini primary schools. The study was carried out in a primary school when the researcher provided teachers with training workshops on creative and meaningful learning and monitored the result on students’ creativity. The study hypothesis denoted that applying characteristics of meaningful learning of constructive, active, cooperative, intentional, and authentic learning, positively affect developing creative thinking skills of flexibility, fluency, elaboration, and originality.

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4. Methods

4.1 Sample and design

A mixed method was used for the purpose of the current study. The quantitative method consisted of a control experimental and pre-posttest design. The qualitative approach included observation and interview. The researcher observed students’ task performance and conducted semi-structured interviews asking students to elaborate on their tasks’ performance.

A random sample of 60 female students aged 9–12 participated in the study (n = 60). They were, mostly, from middle socioeconomic status and attended a primary girls school in an inner area of Bani Jamra. They were randomly assigned into two groups of treatment and controlled groups.

4.2 Procedures

A series of two workshops on integrating meaningful and creative learning in classrooms were executed for 30 members of the teaching staff. Sixty follow-up sessions’ observations on two periods were carried out. Students’ creativity was measured using Frank Williams [35] Creativity Assessment Package (CAP) prior to and after their teachers took part in the training.

Furthermore, during class observations, the students’ performance on class activities were observed and 30 follow-up semi-structured interviews of 30-minutes long were conducted. Students were asked to elaborate on their tasks’ performance. The quantitative data was selected to provide an overall picture of the impact of applying meaningful learning on students’ creative thinking skills, the qualitative data was sought to further investigate the possible impact of each characteristic of meaningful learning on the development of creative thinking skills.

4.3 Data analysis

A pre and posttest design was selected for the purpose of this study. The quantitative data source included CAP tests that students completed on a pre-post basis. Respondents were asked to complete 12 drawings, using a simple line as a stimulus provided. The test measured changes in students’ creativity skills of fluency, flexibility, originality, and elaboration. The results indicated in pre and post CAP were analyzed using the t-test with repeated measures. It was conducted to compare the pre-post scores on overall CAP results, besides subscales of creative thinking skills of flexibility, fluency, originality, and elaboration.

The qualitative data source included observations of students’ performed class activities, where researchers explored their creative thinking skills of flexibility, fluency, originality, and elaboration based on their class activities’ performance. Students’ interview transcripts were also used to inform the observation. Mixed methods ensured triangulation. Cronbach’s alpha was used to rate reliability in the test; alpha was 0.78, which was in the acceptable range.

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5. Results

The findings from both quantitative and qualitative data yielded interesting results. The participants achieved higher scores on creative thinking skills following teachers’ training interventions in the treatment group, when compared to the students’ scores in the controlled group, and these changes were significantly different. The paired samples t-test comparing creativity posttest scores in the treatment and controlled groups demonstrated significant gains at posttest, t(29) = 2.157, and p = 0.040 (p < 0.05) in favor of students’ scores in the treatment group. Student scores after teachers’ training program (M = 45.666, SD = 8.482) showed an increase of on average 6.533 points compared to their counterparts in the controlled group (M = 39.133, SD = 8.105). These findings supported the study hypothesis denoted that applying characteristics of meaningful learning of constructive, active, cooperative, intentional, and authentic learning, positively affect developing creative thinking skills of flexibility, fluency, elaboration, and originality. It also provided support for the MC model of creative and meaningful learning, where each characteristic of meaningful learning (i.e., constructive, active, intentional, cooperative, and authentic) was suggested to result in developing creative thinking skills of fluency, flexibility, elaboration, and originality. The results of the t-test with repeated measures comparing students’ posttest scores on subscales of creativity in the treatment and controlled group is indicated in Table 2. The study findings regarding these creative thinking skills shall now be discussed in detail.

GroupNMeanSD(t)Significance(p)
Controlled3039.13338.105262.157.040
Treatment3045.66678.48247
Controlled3010.33331.397282.483.019
Treatment3011.53331.24595
Controlled306.00001.362772.808.009
Treatment307.33331.23443
Controlled302.13331.302010.442.662
Treatment302.46674.48277
Controlled3019.40005.422182.716.011
Treatment3024.33332.61498

Table 2.

The results of the t-test with repeated measures comparing students’ posttest scores on subscales of creativity in the treatment and controlled group.

5.1 Flexibility

The t-test comparing flexibility posttest scores in both treatment and controlled groups indicated significant gains at the posttest, t(29) = 2.808, and p = 0.009 (p < 0.05) in favor of the students’ scores in the treatment group. Flexibility gains were the most significant among other creative thinking skills as the pvalue of 0.009 was indicated. This may be due to the argument put forward by the author as presented in the MS model, most characteristics of meaningful learning resulted in the development of flexibility. Similarly, students’ performance on various activities and their interview subtracts supported the above findings. For instance, following the session with a focus on active learning, a student explained how she/he built and programmed a robot to do different missions (i.e., flexibility) of watering, moving, and providing data regarding the soil moisture and temperature. Similar results were found following sessions focusing on constructive, cooperative, and authentic learning. These findings supported the study hypothesis that the above-mentioned characteristics of meaningful learning resulted in developing creative thinking skills of flexibility. The findings were in harmony with previously mentioned studies [23, 30, 31].

5.2 Fluency and elaboration

Similarly, the pvalues regarding other subskills of creativity in terms of fluency and elaboration indicated the following gains of 0.019 and 0.011, respectively, which were statistically meaningful. Students’ performance on cooperative tasks indicated the development of creative skills of elaboration and fluency. For example, student participants were able to create a cap, which consisted of 18 components and performed four activities using artificial intelligence. The findings supported the study hypothesis as cooperative and authentic activities resulted in developing fluency and elaboration. The findings were in line with previously mentioned studies [25, 28, 30].

5.3 Originality

In contrary to findings regarding fluency, flexibility, and elaboration, there was no significant increase concerning the subscale of originality, t(29) = 0.442, p = 0.662. This was despite students in the treatment group (M = 2.466, SD = 0.482) attending higher scores than students in the controlled group (M = 2.133, SD = 1.302), as presented in Figure 3. These findings contradicted research findings in which intentional and goal-oriented activities demonstrated to develop originality [25, 29, 30].

Figure 3.

Mean of students’ posttest scores on subscales of creativity in the treatment and controlled group.

The results from the qualitative method, however, indicated fostering originality skills among some students. For instance, a group of students created a smart mask using a combination of robotic sensors and herbal medication, namely, Organa plants from the school garden. Such a unique and original idea of combining tradition and technology was awarded the first prize in the Kingdom of Bahrain’s science fair. The students further mentioned that they decided to think of unusual ideas following the session in which the teacher encouraged them to perform a goal-oriented activity while introducing the science fair. I would take the view that intentional activities were effective in developing originality at least among some students. These findings partially supported research studies [25, 29, 30], that demonstrated the impact of goal-oriented activities on developing originality and unique ideas.

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6. Discussion

The findings from the current study provided insight into creativity and meaningful learning through introducing the MC model of meaningful and creative learning. It investigated the impact of applying five characteristics of meaningful learning, namely, constructive, active, intentional, cooperative, and authentic learning on developing creative thinking skills of fluency, flexibility, elaboration, and originality. The posttest scores of participants in the treatment group indicated significant differences in creative thinking skills compared to the posttest scores of students in the control group who received no training intervention. The findings from qualitative data of task observation and students’ interviews further supported the study’s result. The findings suggested that teachers’ incorporating creative and meaningful learning had a positive impact on developing students’ creativity.

The results were consistent with earlier research studies [22, 24, 26, 28, 30], which indicated positive impacts of meaningful learning on fostering creativity. Furthermore, the findings in the present study demonstrated significant gains in a wide range of creative thinking skills of fluency, flexibility, and elaboration compared to previous studies. I would like to argue that the gains indicated in the present study could be due to the study sample, the length of intervention, and the research setting. The study was carried out in students’ familiar settings and learning was delivered by their teachers and not by stranger researchers. Considering the participants’ young age, a familiar instructor and a familiar setting might have been effective in developing creativity.

Furthermore, the teacher training intervention provided in this study was a detailed instructive program, which was closely supervised by the researcher. The aim was to avoid vague and general instruction guidelines, being executed in one intensive workshop. In the present study, teachers attended the workshops according to a timeline, which ensured their mastering of the skills. Teachers were supervised and follow-up meetings were conducted. In addition, the study lasted for a prolonged period of 15 weeks. The aim was to avoid pressure on both teachers and students. This might have had a positive effect on developing creative thinking skills.

On the other hand, the present study had some limitations. The study used a random sample of female students from middle socioeconomic backgrounds. Conducting research with larger and randomized samples consisting of both genders, and from different socioeconomic backgrounds may yield more valid findings in future studies.

Moreover, the current study applied quantitative and qualitative approaches. Adopting other mixed methods of data collection, such as case study, may provide further information regarding how meaningful learning enhances creativity in children.

In addition, the classroom context of the present study did not provide a controlled laboratory setting. However, the setting in the present study might have been more advantageous in encouraging teachers to consider incorporating various features of meaningful and creative learning in curricula in their classroom contexts.

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7. Conclusions

In summary, the chapter highlighted the MC model of meaningful and creative learning. The current study provided useful insights into the impact of meaningful learning and its five characteristics on developing creative thinking skills among Bahraini students. As an experienced specialist in creative learning, I was overwhelmed by the impact of a humble teacher training intervention on developing a wide range of creative thinking skills of flexibility, fluency, elaboration, and originality among the students. As a result of the present study, policymakers and educators may consider various implications. Policymakers may consider providing training opportunities in creativity as part of continual professional development programs; while funding large-scale and longitudinal studies in the field. School leaders and teachers may consider incorporating meaningful and creative learning in curricula. The present study demonstrated an easy, doable, and inexpensive attempt to foster creativity. Further attempts are, indeed, required to further enhance means of developing meaningful and creative learning for both teachers and students in the future.

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Conflict of interest

The authors declare no conflict of interest.

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Thanks

Special thanks to the teacher Batool Al-Shabani who provided the author with a slide of her exemplary English lesson.

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Written By

Um Albaneen Jamali

Submitted: December 6th, 2021Reviewed: January 12th, 2022Published: March 31st, 2022