Time to split hairs.
On the surface of things, imagination, creativity, and innovation are probably the same thing, but if you go a little deeper each of those concepts are slightly different from each other. I see imagination as the ability to think up a bunch of things. Kids see things in different ways all the time. A lot of times, they come without preconceptions and see things in refreshing ways. I learn so much from my daughter, and one of my favourite lessons from her is to experience everything with an open mind. Her joy is pure joy. Her laughter is not there to create an impression. She laughs (and smiles and sings and dances) because it is an expression of her delight. In the same way, her imagination is organic. She comes up with ideas that seem divergent to me, but to her are just "ideas."
Creativity is putting your imagination into action. It sounds redundant, but creativity is creating things or actions, not just generating ideas. To me, something must be made or enacted, in order for the instance to be a creative one. My sister is incredibly creative. Her hands are always moving, always producing. She can be found cooking, sewing, or doing crafts at home. Not only does she do these things, for the pure love of the act, but she gives a lot of creations away to family, friends, and coworkers.
One of my favourite movies is Groundhog Day, and one of my favourite scenes is a very subtle one. Over halfway through the film when he is approaching enlightenment, Bill Murray is sitting in that diner and he hears some beautiful piano music. He smiles to everyone because for the first time he actually hears the music and smiles to everyone, though they don't notice him or the music. (Because he has to relive that same day over and over, it is strange that he never noticed it before, but I guess that is the point of the movie. Isn't it?) The next day he starts taking piano lessons because he realizes that some of the key ingredients of life are to appreciate the beauty around you, to create some of that beauty yourself, and to share it with others. (Just like my sister.)
Innovation is a little trickier. If imagination is having lots of ideas and creativity is acting on those ideas, then to me, innovation is not only creating something useful but to do things in a different way. The iPad is an innovation: it is useful and until recently, experiencing multimedia hadn't been done that way before. Lady Gaga, not so much. (The first time I saw her, I thought, "What happened to Madonna's nose?"). My dad, though very conservative, has an innovator's spirit. Some of his ideas were successfully executed (e.g. fashioning an exhaust for our lawnmower out of a tomato juice can) and some were not (e.g. ruining nice and expensive knives opening paint lids). The key is he was always thinking of new ways to use old things. (I call him "innovative". My mom probably calls him "cheap".) All of his ideas had use and forced us to look at everyday objects in new ways. Did I mention that he built and rebuilt a garbage can station for our carport, reusing the same wood in a couple of different residences? (The really scary thing is that wood now comprises the floor of my shed.)
Yeah, yeah, and What Does This Have to Do with Classroom Design and Education?
A lot of times on this blog, I seem to go off on huge tangents from my original focus (looking at the effect of classroom design on learning). Though this time is no different, I can bring the idea of Innovation back to education in two ways: me and conditions (though still about me, really).
First, I like to think of myself as an Innovator. But if this is really true, then I need to live up to my own definition: my ideas and creations have to be useful. I have a lot of ideas, but the problem is I don't enact most of them, plus the ones I do enact, don't always work. The good news is I have developed a really comfortable relationship with Failure. (You know, I saw Failure from across the room. We made furtive eye contact, but we never really connected. Then I started courting Success and that was really nice --- for a while. Success was very enticing and sexy, but I could never really live up to Success's expectations. So then I fell out of Success's graces and good old, consistent Failure was there on the rebound. Failure and I had an intense and long relationship, especially in the 80's and then again when I started teaching. But then Success started coming around again because of, ironically, all the lessons I learned from Failure. I don't see Failure as much as I used to, though we still keep in touch. We're still good friends and like any good friend, I don't fear Failure. I owe Failure so much. Failure is always there when I need to learn something or remember something.--- Yeah, I know, nice riffing.) Switching metaphors, I know I can't hit it out of the park every time, but overall I know I am a better teacher every time I try something new. Build on the Success, Learn from the Failure.
Second, the classroom design experiment is an exploration of Innovation. Can I change the way I teach by playing with how the classroom looks? What effect does it have on learning? By now, I've come to realize that classroom design will not change the way students learn unless the way I teach follows suit. If I teach the way we've always taught, then I'll have traditional education in a weird looking classroom. But as I've written about before, I know I have to go deeper with my students in terms of relationship and really listen to them. And then, based on my understanding of each child, to set the proper conditions for their learning. Some aspects are global: for example, my classroom must be a safe place to be in terms of respect for each other and the willingness to take chances; my classroom must be open to new ideas and points of view if Innovation is to develop; my classroom have access to choices (and failure) if students are to carve out an understanding for themselves; etc.
Having an open classroom design that reflects safety, choice, taking chances and thinking in new ways are just more of the proper conditions for Innovation (and learning) to develop.