Fostering positive creativity involves stimulating the production of novel and useful ideas and products that serve a positive, constructive function. As mentioned before, creativity is a socio-cultural concept, so what constitutes positivity and constructivism is in the eye of the beholder. To foster positive creativity that goes beyond individual, short-term consequences, educators should promote an orientation toward serving a common good in which students aim to balance the interests of all affected parties, keeping in mind short- and long-term consequences and reflecting positive ethical values. In addition, we can foster curiosity to aid in developing positive creativity. We engage students in a deeper level of exploration (an essential aspect of curiosity), discovering new ideas and ways to problem solve in positive ways. Fostering positive creativity requires reflection on the intended and unintended use or function of creative ideas and products and their consequences in the short and long term.
In what follows, we present the general service-learning pedagogy and concrete examples of fostering positive creativity through various service learning opportunities. A brief history of service learning pedagogy will be provided to give context to the reader.
4.1. Fostering Positive Creativity through Service Learning Pedagogy
Service learning pedagogy is a method of instruction where students learn and develop through curriculum integration and active participation in organized service experiences that address their community’s current needs [16
]. The National and Community Service Act (1991) stated that service learning should include experiences that allow students to think, talk, or write about what they learned and observed.
Service-learning pedagogy was developed with a constructivist perspective on learning. Students learn from their environment and experiences with this constructivist perspective [17
]. Service learning was also created based on John Dewey’s concept of experiential learning, which focuses on the importance of environmental influences on learning [18
]. Dewey stated that education depends on student action, which in this case, is through service learning experiences. Dewey also stressed that with experiential learning, “curricula should include both action and reflection so that students can see the interconnection between what they do and the informing principles” [18
] (p. 70). Educators should create time and space to guide students through a reflection period so students can reflect on what they achieved during the action period.
There are many benefits to service-learning pedagogy for general student development and for promoting positive and transformational creativity specifically. According to Pereira and Costa, service-learning pedagogy utilizes unique assumptions, creating an integration of learning technical and scientific knowledge with personal, social, and community development [19
]. This community development can be thought of as a process of creating positive and transformational creative products to help further develop the community in creative ways. The authors also specifically mention positive creativity when they state, “this methodology permits the student to realize interdisciplinary work and produce plasticity on [their] creativity whilst producing cognitive, personal, social, emotional and transcendental knowledge,” [19
] (p. 17). In addition, a meta-analysis of 62 studies on service-learning pedagogy involving nearly 12,000 students indicated that, compared to control groups, students participating in service-learning programs demonstrated significant gains in five outcome areas: attitudes toward self, attitudes toward school and learning, civic engagement, social skills, and academic performance [20
]. The meta-analysis also indicated that there was empirical support for recommended practices, including community involvement, which can include the creation of positive and transformational creative community development products.
Activities centered around service learning provide opportunities for students to develop their positive creativity through 21st-century skills in their communities [21
]. The major four 21st-century skills are collaboration, communication, critical thinking, and creativity [22
]. Positive creativity can be utilized as a 21st-century creativity skill that involves authentic, real-life skills, knowledge, and expertise to help prepare students for the workforce [23
]. Once in the workforce, people can express their creativity if there is an open, welcoming environment where ideas are shared freely without consequences. Loveless indicated that 21st-century societies actively require interactions “between people, communities, creative processes, knowledge domains, and wider social contexts” [24
] (p. 2). These interactions can also be held through service-learning opportunities, encouraging engagement in the positive creativity processes.
The K-12 Developmental Service Learning Typology that can foster positive creativity breaks up service learning into three major stages: community service, community exploration, and community action [16
]. Community service includes volunteerism with a lesser focus on learning, such as volunteering at an animal shelter. Next, community exploration involves exploring community issues linked to a specific curriculum topic and the application of that curriculum in that community, such as project-based learning. Finally, community action is the highest level of service learning on the service learning pyramid and positively affects the community. Students identify community problems and take action, including social activism and advocating through political means, among other service experiences.
In what follows, we explore how the various types of service learning may utilize curiosity to foster positive creativity and provide examples of various service learning activities we have used in our classrooms.
4.2. Fostering Positive Creativity through Community Service
Community service activities involve volunteer opportunities and typically focus less on learning or applying classroom content. Instead, community service learning focuses on student personal development and promotes student compassion, perspective-taking, social responsibility, and empathy [25
]. Students can also improve communication, critical thinking, and problem-solving skills by participating in community service [28
]. Additionally, researchers have found that service learning promotes open-mindedness toward new people, experiences, and ideas [30
]. Thus, community service activities can foster attitudes and skills underlying positive creativity.
Although community service learning activities tend to focus less on knowledge or skill acquisition and application, educators can incorporate them as part of an experiential learning cycle to promote deep level learning of classroom content and attitudes and skills underlying positive creativity [31
]. Rather than simply assigning volunteering as part of a course, educators can design community service learning activities that present concrete experiences for students to reflect on and invite them to apply course content to authentic settings as part of the community service experience. In what follows, we highlight an example of how to incorporate community service learning into an experiential learning cycle to target subject-specific objectives along with positive creativity objectives.
As part of an undergraduate introduction to an educational psychology course, the first author expects students to engage in a 10-hour field experience in which students volunteer at a Boys and Girls Club of America. This organization provides after-school programming for young people to promote academic success and personal development. Although the organization serves all youth, they mainly target at-risk youth. This assignment serves two purposes: (1) students observe, apply, and reflect on course concepts in an authentic setting; and (2) students practice empathy, compassion, social responsibility, perspective-taking, open-mindedness, problem-solving, critical thinking, and communication skills. The latter are all foundational to positive creativity. Through engagement in volunteer work and reflecting on those experiences, students may learn to value acting in service of others. These learning activities may also help students develop community values and allow them to practice responsibility for their actions and reflect on how their actions affect others. So, the skills, attitudes, and values learned during this field experience (i.e., community service learning activity) will better equip students to apply their creativity in positive, constructive ways for themselves and others.
To assure students work on mastering the intended objectives, there needs to be guided reflection. Guided reflection, both through writing a paper and classroom discussion, allows educators to target concrete learning outcomes, such as the course-specific and positive creativity objectives mentioned above [32
]. Reflection prompts can include descriptions or examinations of how the field experience has helped develop new knowledge, skills, or understandings; changes in values, perspectives, or worldview due to the experience; intellectual, creative, emotional, or social growth due to the experience, among other examples. As part of the introduction to educational psychology course, students write a reflection paper that documents the observations and application of ten course concepts to demonstrate mastery of the first, course-specific objective (students observe, apply, and reflect on course concepts in authentic settings). Secondly, students document their reflection on the overall experience by addressing concrete prompts such as “What did you learn about yourself as a learner and educator?”, “What was the most surprising thing about this experience?”, and “How has this experience shaped your perception of educators and students?” to demonstrate mastery of the second objective (i.e., students practicing empathy, compassion, social responsibility, perspective-taking, open-mindedness, problem-solving, critical thinking, and communication skills). Students often write about gaining an appreciation for some of their privileges and an improved understanding of educators’ important role in children’s lives. Many students reflect on the challenges of motivating and educating students in after-school programs, often expressing initial frustration or surprise when children do not function or behave as the student expected. Working through this frustration can be challenging, but it often enables students to practice perspective-taking and creative problem-solving with some support. Students quickly learn to be compassionate and understand the needs of the children they work with. They start to reflect more critically on the educational theory they have learned in class and understand the complexity involved in applying those theories to practice. Overall, students report and demonstrate a clearer understanding of course concepts and their application in authentic settings, and they show increased compassion, perspective-taking abilities, and critical thinking skills. Thus, this field experience example illustrates how educators can use community service learning to foster positive creativity through its underlying skills, attitudes, and values.
4.3. Fostering Positive Creativity through Community Exploration
In general, community exploration as a type of service learning involves exploring a community issue linked to a classroom topic and applying knowledge in the community. Community exploration can thus foster skills, attitudes, and values underlying positive creativity because it engages students in meaningful tasks and real-world applications that showcase exploring contextual effects of our actions.
Additionally, community exploration activities encourage curiosity—and, therefore, creativity—through service learning projects. Curiosity is a desire for knowledge in response to a focus on the specific absence of information (i.e., an information gap) [22
]; it is also associated with exploratory behavior. For example, Jirout and Klahr defined curiosity as the “threshold of desired uncertainty in the environment that leads to exploratory behaviors” [26
] (p. 150).
Curiosity has been discussed as a fundamental precursor to creativity [33
]. Some researchers have specified that curiosity is a precursor to a particular aspect of creativity—imagination [33
] Greater curiosity is also associated with more creativity, including generating new and useful ideas or products [27
]. A period of deep exploration, an important part of curiosity, can be harnessed to result in positive creativity outcomes for students. In what follows, we describe the curiosity-to-positive creativity process and provide examples of how this can be accomplished in classroom settings.
The Roberts Curiosity Community Exploration Cycle (R-CCEC; Roberts, in progress) illustrates a community exploration period. This cycle results in positive creativity outcomes (for more information about other creative problem-solving models, see [39
]). The Roberts Curiosity Community Exploration Cycle includes six stages: (1) stakeholders identifying community to explore; (2) teacher guidance on what a deep exploration period entails; (3) conducting the deep community exploration period; (4) teacher-guided in-depth questioning session in the classroom; (5) yielding positive creativity outcomes; and (6) reflection and redesign of the positive creativity outcomes.
This cycle gets started when curiosity is initially sparked by engaging the student in a community exploration period. A problem-based learning (PBL) unit can be used with this cycle, but instead of the teacher assigning the problem, students discover their problems to solve. During this process, a teacher needs to guide on how a community exploration period will look and how the teacher and their students will define their community. For example, if the student believes their community entails their family and their church, that will be all that they will explore. Instead, the teacher might define the community as the city or town in which the school resides. There needs to be agreement among the stakeholders of the exploration process as to how the community is defined.
Once all stakeholders agree upon the community parameters, the teacher will provide definitions, examples, and non-examples of what deep exploration includes. For instance, deep exploration can be defined as an exploration beyond the surface-level characteristics that can be answered with quick one-word or yes-no questions. Some examples that can be provided could be young children who looked inside a complex object (i.e., an object with drawers and additional objects inside the bigger object) and around the room to observe new objects within the room itself. Non-examples would be just moving the bigger object up and down repeatedly, not to explore its contents, but rather to entertain themselves.
Next, the teacher will encourage the student to explore their community deeply. This deep exploration will look differently for different students: some might explore specific objects in-depth, while others might explore more broadly and then focus on a specific aspect of their community. For example, a student might see a statue covered in graffiti in their community and become curious about what the controversy entails. Others might look at a collection of statues and critique how they are similar or different and explore their time points in history.
Then, after a period determined by the stakeholders in which the deep exploration occurs, the student will return to the classroom to discuss what they found. The teacher can then ask probing questions that encourage students to think deeply about what they found. Moreover, the teacher needs to explicitly ask students questions about what they found and provide enough teacher wait time to ensure all students are heard. It is acceptable to ask surface-level questions at first, but then the teacher needs to help guide the students to a more profound learning experience by asking in-depth questions.
The next step is producing positive creativity outcomes. The teacher can lead the student through an ideation or brainstorming session in the classroom. The teacher needs to provide enough time for students to process their thoughts to create something novel and task appropriate (i.e., different students will have different processing speeds). Once the student develops their idea, the teacher needs to encourage the development of that idea into a tangible product that is transformative and positively affects their communities. The teacher can not only encourage these students, but also guide them toward tangible product ideas. If students cannot think of a tangible product, the teacher can guide them toward further research on their topic to better create divergent creative ideas.
Finally, the teacher will lead the student in a reflection period to redesign and improve their creative products. It is important to gain the involvement of community stakeholders in this part of the process, including the teacher. It is helpful to gather outside opinions to better reflect on students’ creative products and improve upon their initial creations. In the same manner as the engineering design process, this process can yield improved positive outcomes for the users of the product and the community [33
For example, a student might be wandering around their community exploring and not find anything during their first trip around the community. The teacher or expert guiding the student then encourages them to persist in their curiosity. They explore their community again and finally find an empty lot in the center of town with overgrown weeds. They did not notice it at first, but then, through a period of deep exploration, they saw through the weeds and discovered old overgrown flower beds. The student then thinks of turning it into a community garden. This example of using a period of deep exploration highlights how channeling curiosity can yield positive creativity outcomes, including a community garden that has increased a community’s access to fresh vegetables and fruits.
This period of deep exploration could be the end of this exploration journey for this student. However, when the student returns to the classroom, their teacher probes with deep questions, such as, “how will creating this garden affect the community surrounding it?” This sparks curiosity in that same student, and then the student starts asking additional deep-level questions in response to the teacher providing a scaffolded deep-level question. The teacher can distinguish for the student when the student is asking deep-level rather than surface-level questions and can positively reinforce those deeper questions. In response to the series of questions asked, the student decides to explore their community and ask around to discover how this will affect their community.
According to a community planner, it transpires that there is no grocery store with fresh vegetables and fruit within a reasonable distance of the city’s poorest neighborhood. Then, the student measures how long it would be to walk to the community garden. It is located less than a half-mile from the most impoverished neighborhood. Consequently, the student wants to create the community garden, but they also want to start a marketing campaign to advertise the new community garden. In addition, the student could ask questions about the history of who originally created the community garden and could seek out someone who has planned a community garden before, a guide in that area of expertise. The student could take these questions back to their classroom and explore them with their teacher.
The problem is that the city’s poorest citizens do not have easy access to fresh fruits and vegetables. The problem-based learning (PBL) unit has the student answer these questions, create the community garden, and develop a marketing campaign to advertise the garden, which involves reporting back to members of the community stakeholders and communicating their findings. This student-centered unit involved a deep level of curriculum integration and student involvement; the student helped create the PBL unit’s problem. Then, they are responsible for asking additional questions to solve the problem and provide a completed product, creating a positive creativity outcome. The next step is the marketing campaign, which yields another positive creativity outcome, including marketing materials that help guide community members to the community garden. This marketing campaign can teach students concrete marketing skills and values of expanding access and equity to everyone in the community.
The final step of this PBL unit process would be a reflection on the student’s authentic deep exploration experiences. The teacher can facilitate this reflection period. While reflecting on the questioning period in the classroom, the teacher can remind the student of the deep learning that occurred and when their ideas were creative. The teacher can also take the student through a “What if?” conversation stating how to improve on their community garden and marketing campaign for the future. This is similar to the engineering design process that includes an improve-and-redesign step, making this authentic to a real-world engineering design process [34
]. These “What if?” conversations can also result in additional positive creativity outcomes and teach students along the way to see someone else’s perspective, how to evaluate consequences, and how to ultimately redesign your positive product with those components in mind.
Thus, this PBL example can be adapted to fit any subject matter and grade level. The example illustrates how teachers can use community exploration to promote positive creativity by leveraging students’ curiosity. Through guiding questions and other scaffolds teachers can incorporate positive creativity objectives into existing PBL units.
4.4. Fostering Positive Creativity through Community Action
Community action service learning is the most ideal for fostering transformational creativity as an extension of positive creativity. Community action involves having a positive impact on the community. Students are empowered and encouraged to identify community problems and create opportunities to address those problems. Therefore, these service learning activities can encourage students to use their creativity in transformational ways that serve the common good.
Community activism service learning activities involve advanced problem-solving, critical thinking, leadership ability, adaptive intelligence, wise thinking, creativity, social skills, empathy, moral sensitivity, and more. All are skills underlying positive and transformational creativity. Studies have shown that community action service learning can promote social justice interest in students, so it can help orient students to apply their creativity to a common good [34
]. Studies show that community activism supports students’ affective development while promoting social change in communities, making it a win-win situation for all parties involved [42
]. Thus, community action provides an effective pedagogical framework for fostering positive and transformational creativity because it requires the direct application of transformational creativity.
The previous example of the community garden could be continued to illustrate community activism. For example, students would not only report their findings back to a member of the community, but they would also come up with a creative advocacy plan—as directed through a series of scaffolding and modeling by the teacher—for the poorest citizens to gain access to fresh fruits and vegetables. This action involves authentic learning and the highest degree of learning—creation—as stated in Bloom’s revised taxonomy [44
In what follows, we also showcase how educators can use the Destination Imagination program and adapt other problem-based learning activities centered on community action to foster positive and transformational creativity. Destination Imagination is an international problem-solving competition for students of K-12 and college involving Science, Technology, Engineering, Art, and Mathematics (STEAM) challenges that require students to engage in a creative problem-solving process. Every year, Destination Imagination fosters students’ creativity and curiosity by providing challenges in various categories, such as engineering and fine arts. Although challenges in all categories can be adapted to involve an explicit focus on community action and positive and transformational creativity, Destination Imagination has recently included a category specifically for service learning. Destination Imagination’s service-learning challenge is designed to engage students in public service to address real-life community issues. It is, therefore, an excellent example of a community action learning activity. One year the Destination Imagination challenge was to create a community event that would serve the students’ community. The second author worked with a group of middle students to create an event to collect hygiene products for a homeless shelter. She, their gifted education specialist, encouraged them to be creative in their approach to the problem. They performed exercises with Substitute, Combine, Adapt, Modify, Put to another use, Eliminate, and Reverse (SCAMPER) before creating their positive transformative final products. The SCAMPER tool can be used to challenge students to create the most effective, efficient, and positive product or service. As students consider possible intended and unintended consequences of their creations, the SCAMPER tool can help them explore solutions to avoid possible negative consequences. Further, educators can engage students in a catastrophizing thought experiment in which students are challenged to think of the worst possible scenarios involving their creations. Catastrophizing can then be leveraged to consider short- and long-term consequences and can be combined with perspective-taking exercises to practice balancing varied interests. Throughout the creative process, the teacher is guiding students toward positive intentions and transformative considerations. This would require a safe and accepting space in which students are instructed not to say anything negative about other people’s ideas when brainstorming. When the students finally developed their solution to the problem, they came up with a convincing skit to present at the event to persuade audience members to donate hygiene products to the homeless shelter. Teachers can elevate this activity further and involve students in legislative initiatives and grant writing to further promote positive creativity as social activism.