Nava Silton, Professor of Psychology, Marymount Manhattan College
A famous neuroscientist wrote, “There is no greater joy that I have in my life than having an idea that’s a good idea. At that moment it pops into my head, it is so deeply satisfying and rewarding…My nucleus accumbens [at the core of the brain’s reward system] is probably going nuts when it happens.”
One of the features I cherish most about teaching is the opportunity to transform traditional course assignments into creative and novel opportunities for students. These assignments challenge students to exercise their divergent, outside-of-the-box thinking and to “go to town” with the assignment.
The following four assignments offer a brief overview of how I attempt to integrate creativity and innovation into student work:
In my Dr. Nav Talkshow Assignment for my NYC Child Development Seminar, I challenge the students to utilize a minimum of three peer-reviewed journal articles to present a child development issue (i.e. potty training, imaginary friends, bullying) to the class. They are then asked to submit three questions to Dr. Nav, the talk show host (professor) and to use their referenced sources to respond. They then act as a child development expert, while the studio audience (the class), has an opportunity to ask further questions.
In my Social Policy Before Congress Assignment in Child Development, students select a policy issue (i.e. Childhood Obesity, Cyberbullying, Sex Education, Afterschool Arts Programs, etc.), explain their policy issue and utilize a minimum of three empirical research articles to advocate for their issue. They then select a congressperson whose policies most align with their own. The Congress (class) votes on which policy should be awarded congressional funds.
In my Shark Tank Project in Ethics of Creativity, students work in groups of four to innovate an original, creative product or business which serves a social need. The teams conduct a needs assessment using a minimum of three empirical research articles for their product or business and they then harness their creative course tools to develop a business plan. Teams of students compete with one another to determine whose product will be funded by the professor-selected Shark Tank.
Finally, in my Disability Tool Project for my upper level Developmental Course, students research a minimum of three peer reviewed articles, conduct a needs assessment, and create a product that would be helpful for an individual with a disability. These products have ranged from books, musical CDs, toys, clothing lines, board games, a wheelchair-accessible Barbie’s Dreamhouse, flight kits for children with autism, calming devices for individuals with sensory issues in the theater, TV scripts and more.
Fortunately, students report strong enthusiasm, passion and appreciation for all four of these assignments in these courses. They are so grateful for the opportunity to showcase their creative, innovative and divergent thinking and to have these skills lauded and prized by their faculty. In the uncertain time of COVID, I find that students are particularly grateful and refreshed by the opportunity to color out of the lines a bit and further realize and actualize their potentials.