Exploring Creativity at Old Trail School

Daphne and I visited Old Trail School in Bath, OH, this afternoon.  The school teaches grade 2-8 and is located within the perimeter of Cuyahoga Valley National Park. Given its place-based assets, it’s fitting that curriculum emphasizes the value of local natural resources, and encourages sustainable practices.  The school’s wastewater treatment system, the Hybrid Wetland Living Machine®, is one of only a handful of its kind.  Wastewater is filtered through three types of wetlands which purify it to a grade safe for discharge into a nearby tributary of the Cuyahoga River.  The greenhouse that houses the wetlands, doubles as a Living Classroom space for environmental education, and has a really cool turtle and fish pond!

The purpose of our trip to Old Trail School was to visit a 4th grade class, and test the theory that young children are more imaginative than adults because their approach to a problem is fluid and adaptable (at least until “school kills creativity”) On the other hand, an adult’s approach to a problem might  be standardized by professional experience.  For example, in a business environment employees are trained to plan-and-execute, and in the process, forget the value gained through playful brainstorming and rapid prototyping.  Tom Wujec elaborates on this phenomena in this fascinating TED Talk. We wanted to explore the creative process of children and seek to emulate their open mindedness.  As biomimicry practitioners, having an open mind helps us make imaginative leaps from biological model to abstract design principle.

We asked a group of 4th graders a few questions,including:”If you could be any plant or animal which would you be? Why?”  Some of the results were very clever:

1. “A snake because it can slither…and I think that we be faster going around places”
2. “A kiwi bird because I could stick my beak in the ground and smell out little bugs…I would have nostrils on my beak because I am the only bird that has them”

We also took the class outside and asked each student to take a picture of something in nature that bears a likeness to something else.  We found that the context in which you ask a question of children has a noticeable impact on the inventiveness of their answers.  Being outside, seemed to encourage the children’s creative spirit. (Evidence of biophilia?) The kids thought the shape of a berry was like the shell of a snail; spider webs were like cotton; a fallen tree like a bridge; a tree like a torpedo…

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