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8 Tips For 21st Century Skill Building

Creativity and innovation used to be considered soft skills. They are now thought to be the the hard wiring for a successful employee, colleague and global collaborator in the 21st century workforce. Here are eight ways you can bring these skills to life.
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Creativity and innovation used to be considered soft skills. They are now thought to be the
the hard wiring for a successful employee, colleague and global collaborator. They are the 21st century skills that matter when teachers prepare children for tomorrow's workforce.

The word creativity has evolved dramatically. Once primarily used to describe projects within the arts domain, the word now is associated with business and is understood to be a key leadership competency. How do we explore and integrate creativity and other 21st century skills into our classrooms, museums, community centers and other places of formal and informal learning?

Here are eight ways that we bring these skills to life in the Camp Invention, weeklong summer enrichment program:

Examine the market value.
Dr. Teresa Amabile, whose career evolved from one as a chemist to a creativity and organizational innovation research scholar based out of Harvard Business School, describes creativity as the production of novel and useful ideas. One of the hallmark approaches of Thomas Edison is that he only spent time on inventions that he foresaw as having market value. If he did not think an invention would potentially be useful or desirable to others, it would not receive the time of day from him or his muckers. Helping children explore ideas with real world applications empowers them to be global citizens who can enhance people's lives.

Think creatively.
Master educators E. Paul Torrance and H. Tammy Safter describe 18 creative thinking skills that can be developed and used to approach goals, wishes and challenges. Utilizing one or more of these skills (e.g., keeping open, being flexible or combining and synthesizing) to develop a lesson plan, program or project, can make a colorful, creative impact on the content and experience.

Dive In.
Dressing up, building props and decorating a physical space can help to set a mood and tone, stimulate the senses and draw children into a storyline. Words can also be a powerful way to create immersion. Stories and narratives invite children into a world where everyday parameters do not apply and their imaginations have the opportunity to soar without limits.

Know that mistakes lead to epiphanies.
The list of "Oops to A-Ha!" inventions, from potato chips and Teflon® coating to microwaves and Post-it® Notes, continues to grow. National Inventors Hall of Fame Inductee Patsy Sherman is a shining example of this pathway to invention. After an accidental spill of a fluorochemical rubber (intended for jet fuel hoses) showed resistance to water and oily liquids, she went on to co-invent Scotchgard fabric protector. When we create safe spaces for risk-taking and failure, we create gardens where creativity, innovation and inventiveness can be cultivated.

Remember that guidelines are your friends.
Alex Osborn, the forefather of classic Brainstorming, made sure this novel concept was equipped with a set of idea-generating guidelines that could produce imaginative results. Applying these guidelines, such as striving for novelty and quantity, deferring judgment and building off others' ideas, makes a significant difference in the quality of the results.

Perform open-ended challenges.
When children navigate open-ended challenges that can be solved in more than one way, they have the opportunity to apply the skills they have acquired and build the skills they need. By giving children simple materials that they can manipulate (e.g., recyclables, duct tape, simple circuit materials, etc.), we give them access to the process of bringing their ideas to life. If you look closely between the tape lines and folds of the cardboard boxes, you can often catch glimpses of heightened self-esteem, a deeper sense of resourcefulnes s and an ignited spirit of creativity and innovation.

Make connections.
Creative thinking requires making a leap from what is known to what is desired. We can help children build the skills to make these leaps by utilizing a creativity technique that pairs unrelated items and forces a connection. The image of an apple can be used to brainstorm ideas around where to go on a family vacation or a sculpture can be used to generate ideas for potential community service projects to pursue. Objects of inspiration are all around us, waiting to be the source of our next great idea!

Build teams authentically.
Teambuilding is more multidimensional than bringing a group of individuals together and giving them a goal to accomplish. Authentic teambuilding provides context, skills, coaching and tools to support individuals in working together. As children are coached through teambuilding, they have the opportunity to develop an understanding that roadblocks can be transformed into stepping stones and diversity in styles can be the secret to a team's success.

About Camp Invention
Hosted and led by local educators, the national, weeklong Camp Invention program immerses elementary school children in exciting, hands-on learning disguised as fun summer activities. Each day children rotate through themed modules that employ creative thinking to solve real-world challenges while learning vital 21st century life skills such as problem solving and teamwork through imaginative play. For more information on Camp Invention, visit