By GRACE GADDY
PALESTINE — Palestine Independent School District is at the forefront of a national research initiative highlighting creativity, innovation thinking and problem-solving learning in schools, according to a presentation made Thursday to the Palestine Area Chamber of Commerce.
Lucinda Presley, executive director of the Institute where Creativity Empowers Education Success (ICEE), explained to attendants why innovation-based learning was important, followed by details of PISD's involvement in a growing national research collaborative with ambitious goals for the future.
Presley said the vision is to prepare “an innovation workforce” by teaching students more than just what to know, but how to learn.
“We know education ultimately affects the workforce, but it is now directly tied to our nation’s economic position in the global economy,” she said. “So that's why the White House and all the federal agencies are really, really focusing on innovation thinking and trying to find ways to integrate this with standardized-test learning.”
Presley referenced a study by General Electric – the Global Innovation Barometer – which found that 95 percent of business executives thought innovation would drive the economy. Yet 85 percent reported having a hard time finding workers with innovation-applicable skills, such as creative problem-solving.
“So we want to train these kids as they get to higher-ed to be able to think properly,” Presley said.
To do this, Presley is working locally, nationally and internationally to develop and improve teaching and curriculum in schools, museum programming and other education strategies. Currently, she is working within a national multiagency collaborative project involving the STEAM program – which stands for science, technology, engineering, math and arts education, formerly known as STEM – to research the benefits from structuring school lessons and curriculum to require creative problem-solving and innovation thinking.
Presley compared PISD's efforts to Torrance Tests of Creative Thinking, which measures creativity in individuals and predicts potential, to a degree.
“And so our group, we're working on evaluation instruments other than Torrance, which costs a fortune,” Presley said, adding that from store managers to CEOs, “everybody says we need our workforce to be able to solve problems creatively and to be able to collaborate.
“So that's what these things are working on.”
Presley said PISD is using strategies from studies developed at the University of Texas at Dallas Center for BrainHealth's SMART program, which stands for Strategic Memory Advanced Reasoning Training. Based on cognitive neuroscience principles, SMART aims to engage frontal brain networks to build strategic thinking, advanced reasoning and innovative problem solving skills.
“The teachers are trained in how to get the kids to do the strategic reasoning, come up with a gist, which is like the big idea, and then apply it, especially with reading and with writing,” Presley said. “They tried this and demonstrated not only an increase in the innovation / creative thinking skills, but also an increase in test scores.”
Presley said the program was so successful that the legislature approved funding for it to go all over the state.
“So it's offered to any district free of charge,” Presley said. “What our group has been brought in to do is to integrate this with STEAM learning and with math and social studies, (and to see) how we can integrate writing and science. We've discovered when the students are writing, especially in the reflections, they're learning a lot.
Presley said PISD is looking to hone strategies to determine how they can be used, and how they can be integrated with content learning on a large-scale state model.
“That's where Palestine comes in,” she said, calling it the “pilot project.”
“We now have a name, logo, goals, vision and a project. We're in the process of staging the cells and the criteria for this research project, and we're going to launch it probably this semester.”
Findings from the project will be reported to federal leaders and observers. Presley is hoping to accrue data that will position their efforts for a grant that would enable schools to incorporate strategies on a wider scale – such as nationally.
In September of 2013, the National Endowment for the Arts and the National Endowment for the Humanities signed a memorandum of understanding, “which means they're going to collaborate on programs and funding,” Presley said, “which at the federal level, that's like an earthquake.”
“So this is really, really significant. The implications for education are phenomenal. An opportunity for Palestine to be recognized on the national level comes from these findings.”