What We Can Learn From the Paper Clip

Those who know me well are aware of my strange obsession with office supplies.  That’s why I couldn’t resist this recent article on Slate.com about the paper clip written by Sarah Goldsmith.  It turns out that this simple device, which was invented in 1899, represents an extremely rare artifact in the history of design: an object whose design hasn’t changed in over a hundred years.

After reviewing the conditions that created the right atmosphere for the development of the paper clip, Goldsmith explores what makes them so unique.  She writes:

“Paper clips can be used to pick locks, clean under fingernails, and hack into phones. Straightened out, they are used by office workers to distract themselves from the monotony of their intended use.”

As I read this section, it occurred to me that this is the heart of what science education should be.  We should be focusing as much on innovation and exploration as we do on vocabulary.  Students need to learn the concepts of science, but we won’t really grab them until we engage their minds and their interests.  The way to our students’ hearts is through their curiosity.  We need to work harder at giving students opportunities to open things up and look inside.  We need to encourage them to find new uses for the objects around them.

I’m in the middle of Jonah Lehrer’s new book Imagine, in which he explores the source and importance of creativity.  This idea–that teaching innovation by allowing students to explore the world around them–is based on research that is central to our understanding of how the human brain can create novel ideas.

Can we teach creativity and innovation?

photo credit: Lady-bug via photo pin cc