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Education Innovator: Creativity and Technology Need to Be Part of the Lesson Plan

According to Ai Addyson-Zhang, education needs to get a lot more creative—and technology can help.

A professor of education and founder of the Classroom Without Walls alternative school for entrepreneurship, Addyson-Zhang will be a featured speaker at the 4Front Conference, which will take place June 15–16, 2021, in Denver, Colorado. She talked about the disconnect between education and critical thinking during a recent 4Front podcast.

Addyson-Zhang knows all too well how an education system that emphasizes rote memorization and testing can inhibit actual learning. Growing up in China, she didn’t have a good education experience in a Science, Technology, Engineering and Math (STEM)–oriented system because it wasn’t as enjoyable as her other classes. That changed when she enrolled in an undergraduate program jointly supported by the Chinese government and the University of Colorado at Denver. The program introduced the idea of critical thinking as part of the learning process, and it was a revelation for Addyson-Zhang. Inspired, she moved to the United States, obtained a master’s degree from Syracuse University and embarked on a career in education that focuses on teaching creativity and innovation.

“I think we’re kind of missing the bigger picture, because when you look at the future, traditional skills such as memorization—a lower cognitive skill—will be replaced by AI and technology, and we need more students to be creative, to be innovative, to think outside the box, to create,” she says. “I think those are the things that we need look at.”

There’s ample research to back up Addyson-Zhang’s argument. A 2019 Gallup study found that K-12 teachers who make assignments that require creativity see more of their students demonstrate better cognitive skill, resulting in a bigger learning payoff. In addition, teachers who use technology—including multimedia, augmented reality and other digital tools—are more successful in engaging their students. As a result, these students are better at creatively solving problems, retaining what they’ve learned and even making connections between various subjects.

Addyson-Zhang also notes that kids already use technology to consume content, but the trick is to teach them how to use technology to create content. To that end, she suggests adding an additional “M” to the STEM model: Media. Teaching students how to create digital media is “a learned skill,” she says. “That has to be taught.”

Listen To Ai's Podcast

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