Classroom-Based Scientific Creativity

Creative thinking is critical to scientific advancement. Generating novel hypotheses, flexibly connecting diverse information, and envisioning solutions to ill-defined problems all depend on scientific creativity. In the STEM fields, creativity is the difference between innovation and standard competency, and that difference has become a central determinant of opportunity for STEM students. Fostering creative thinkers is a primary goal of educators from kindergarten through graduate school, and creative thinking ability consistently predicts academic achievement. However, the strong historical association of STEM exclusively with technical, rather than creative, thinking skills has left STEM creativity severely under- researched. Thus, despite the timeliness of the question, very little is known about how to foster creative thinking in STEM education. There is a critical need for rigorously developed tools for measuring STEM creativity that educators and researchers can apply to test how different teaching/training approaches impact scientific creativity. For many students, we don’t know what works, and we don’t yet have the tools to find out. Psychology and neuroscience have made considerable progress in characterizing domain-general creativity (e.g., divergent thinking), including brain-based predictions of an individual's creative ability. This project aims to leverage these discoveries to characterize, and potentially enhance, scientific creative thinking, starting with the development (in collaboration with teachers) of a classroom-useable scale to measure the development of scientific creativity in grade-school students.

In this project we are 1) developing a new assessment of scientific creative thinking, incorporating classroom-usability (working with STEM teachers in urban Baltimore) to extend promising findings we have obtained for a pilot version of the test, including expanded psychometric scale development, 2) extending recent findings on the connectomics of domain-general creativity to identify neural overlap/distinctness between domain-general and science-relevant creativity, and longitudinally test whether strength, and perhaps change in strength, of neural networks adds value to standard academic measures (e.g. grades) in predicting future creative thinking and STEM performance, and 3) piloting the efficacy of individually-tailored electrical neuromodulation, in combination with neuroimaging, for facilitating communication within brain networks that support scientific creativity. By providing foundational knowledge on the nature and measurement of scientific creative thinking, the proposed project will inform educational efforts to promote creative thinking in the classroom.

Creative thinking projects to become even more valuable than technical skills at which artificial intelligence will outpace human cognition, so impacts for opportunity and attainment in STEM are great and growing. The proposed research will establish the empirical foundation for measuring scientific creativity by developing an assessment instrument that has value for both researchers and STEM educators, and advance neuroscientific understanding toward facilitation of creative thinking. A key barrier to the broader impacts of research (especially for education and STEM inclusion) is that instruments developed by researchers are not designed for "real-world" use by classroom STEM educators. We will work directly with teachers of students living in high-poverty Baltimore communities, who are underrepresented in STEM, to optimize classroom usability. The proposed work addresses Next Generation Science Standards, which stress the importance of scientific practices, such as the generation of hypotheses. Even beyond STEM creativity, bridging neural connectivity with neuromodulation (from observation to intervention) represents a timely challenge for neuroscience.