“Imagination is More Important Than Knowledge”

Albert Einstein said it best, “Imagination is more important than knowledge.” As educators, it’s our job to bring this idea to life every single day. In my classroom, I always tried to think about my objectives and ask myself, “How will I help my students really learn this?” It wasn’t enough for them to sound out words, I wanted them to see phonics as a means to get to the real story, the deep meaning. It wasn’t enough for them to learn to subtract. I wanted them to see subtraction as a way to compare.

We all know that children come to us as natural learners. From the moment a child is born, she’s a learner. She takes in everything around her. She experiments with muscle control as she is learning to walk. She experiments with the sounds of language as she is learning to talk. She experiments with interactions as she is learning how to be social.

And yet, when children get to school, we often replace real learning with memorization, recall, and acceptance of shallow thinking.

Experts have noticed this phenomenon, and they are encouraging us – nay, pleading with us – to rethink the experiences children face in school. In their book, Most Likely to Succeed, Tony Wagner and Ted Dintersmith state, “Student after student in school after school, spend their school hours bored, covering irrelevant material, doing mindless tasks, taking far too many ill-conceived standardized tests, and having the creativity and innovation schooled out of them.”

So…what does real learning look like, and how can we facilitate authentic, imaginative learning?

1. Let’s tap into the passions of our students.

One way we can tap into student interests is to allow them to provide context to the skills we’re teaching. For example, if you’re working on ratio, you may post a ratio table for all to see. Then ask the students to create a context that matches the given table. Students will tend to gravitate towards contexts that are relevant to them. This connects the skill to their lives and provides you with greater insights into their interests.

2. Let’s help our students develop critical skills and purposeful approaches to life.

We are preparing students to make a difference in their worlds. Critical thinking, creative problem solving, citizenship preparation – these are the things that will prepare students for careers and for life. You might, for example, create a problem set that lends itself to multiple contexts. Given a predetermined ratio table, identify several contexts that could all use the same table. Students can select from the options which may include cooking, carpentry, automotive science, physics, arts and crafts, or other “clustered” interests that emerge from the class.

3. Let’s inspire our students.

When students are bored, they are not really learning. When students are simply memorizing and regurgitating facts, they are not really learning. Creativity and innovation inspire young minds. It’s not enough to know how to complete a ratio chart – the end game is knowing how to use ratios as tools to solve real problems through modeling authentic situations. It’s the act of using ratios to create a work of art or to track current events that inspire young minds.


Can you suggest other ways to spark students’ imaginations and creativity? Please share your ideas in the comment section below.

Kimberly Rimbey, Ph.D., works with teachers and leaders to develop system-wide change in mathematics teaching and learning.

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