Creative Education
2012. Vol.3, No.5, 603-611
Published Online September 2012 in SciRes (
Copyright © 2012 SciRe s . 603
Thinking about Creativity in Science Education
Yannis Hadzigeorgiou1, Persa Fokialis1, Mary Kabouropoulou2
1Department of Pre-School Education and Educational Design, University of the Aegean, Rhodes, Greece
2Department of Primary Education, University of the Aegean, Rhodes, Greece
Email: hadzigeo@r ho d e
Received June 28th, 201 2; revised July 26th, 2012; a c c e p t e d A u g u s t 1 2 th, 2012
In this paper we discuss the notion of creativity in the contexts of science and science education. In doing
so, we consider and reflect on some taken-for-granted ideas associated with school science creativity,
such as inquiry science, and integrating art and science, while we search for a notion of scientific creativ-
ity that is compatible with both the nature of science and the general notion of creativity, and also realistic
in the context of school science education. We then propose a number of activities/strategies that encour-
age creativity, and more specifically imaginative/creative thinking, through the learning of school science.
Keywords: Creativity; Imagination; Science; Science Education
Is there anything new to be said about creativity when the
literature on the subject is literally voluminous and covers al-
most half a century’s research? An ERIC search revealed that
well over one million articles have been written about creativity
in the contexts of education and learning, and a little over one
hundred and fifty thousands about creativity in the context of,
or relating to, science education. Yet the above question is quite
timely, now that creativity is increasingly considered a crucial
ability for the future. As we are entering a new era, creativity is
not just becoming increasingly important (Pink, 2005), but it
seems that “our future is now closely tied to human creativity”
(Csikszentmihalyi, 1996: p. 6). Gardner (2010), in his Five Mi nd s
for the Future, has argued for the crucial role of creativity, as a
one of the five cognitive abilities that leaders of the future s hould
seek to cultivate.
The fact that curriculum documents worldwide make explicit
reference to creative thinking as a worthwhile aim of education
reflects the great importance we attach to creativity. If the wor l d,
as we know it today, is the result or the product of the creative
thinking of few individuals, and if progress in any human en-
deavor and field of study is due exclusively to the development
of new ideas and new ways of seei ng reality, then it makes se ns e
to make creative thinking a curricular goal. Science is one of
the disciplines that can make a contribution to the achievement
of this goal. The current Creative Little Scientists project, aim-
ing to foster creativity in early childhood in several European
countries, is evidence of the priority given to creativity in gen-
eral and creativity through science in particular, especially in
early years education (
However, there is empirical evidence that students do not ap-
preciate the creative thinking required in doing science, and that
they do not view science in general as a creative endeavour (see
Schmidt, 2011). This is somehow paradoxical, given that crea-
tivity is inextricably tied to the nature of science itself (McCo-
mas, 1998), and also the consensus among scientists and sci-
ence educators that scientific knowledge is indeed the product
of creative thinking (Osborne et al., 2003). On the other hand,
the rhetoric around creativity in general and scientific creativity
in particular is also something that needs to be considered. Slo-
gans such as “creative science”, “creative problem solving” and
“creative inquiry” may remain just slogans if we keep on pay-
ing lip service to these notions (Kind & Kind, 2007; Schmidt,
2011) and if we tend to identify creativity simply, or mainly,
with the generation of novel ideas without appreciating the spe-
cial role of imagination (Holton, 1996) and the role of content
knowledge in creative thin king (Rowla nds, 2011).
It is the purpose of this paper to discuss the notion of creativ-
ity in the contexts of science and science education and then
propose a number of activities/strategies that encourage creativ-
ity, and more specifically imaginative/creative thinking, through
the learning of school science. What Jean Piaget has said about
creativity provides a purpose for the writing of this paper, since
slogans around creativity abound, and since one has to critically
look at what scientific creativity is, before implications for sci-
ence education are drawn and certainly before activities that sup-
posedly make children more creative are designed and imple-
The principal goal of education is to create men who are
capable of doing things, not simply of repeating what other gen-
erations have done—men who are creative, inventive, and dis-
coverers. The second goal of education is to form minds which
can be critical, can verify, and not accept everything they are
offered. The great danger today is of slogans, collective opin-
ions, ready-made trends of thoughts. We have to be able to re si st
individually, to criticize, to distinguish between what is proven
and what is not. (Ginsberg & Opper, 1969: p. 5)
Creativity in Science
The idea that science is a creative endeavour is indisputable.
Scientific ideas are creations of the mind. As Einstein and In-
feld (1938) put it, “Physical concepts are free creations of the
human mind, and are not, however it may seem, uniquely de-
termined by the external world.” (p. 33). The invention, of
course, of concepts and theories, more often than not, requires
extraordinary imaginative leaps, but it is also true that even
everyday scientific work, like, for example, problem finding
a nd s o l vi n g , hypothesis formation, an d modelli ng, require s imagi-
native/creative thinking, although the latter is not usually asso-
ciated with novelty.
If creativity is one’s “ability to come up with new ideas that
are surprising yet intelligible, and also valuable in some way”
(Boden, 2001: p. 95), then novelty and value should be the two
conditions or characteristics of scientific creativity too. And ac-
cording to these two characteristics, scientific creativity can be
identified either with “historical creativity ” (i.e., when somethi ng ,
like a new idea, a new theory, a new discovery, is historically
new) and/or with “personal creativity” (when something is new
in a personal sense regardless of whether that something is not
new to others) Boden, 2004, for a distinction between h-crea-
tivity and p-creativity). It can also be identified with both ex-
traordinary, “big C creativity” (BCC) and ordinary, everyday,
“little c-creativity” (LCC) (Craft, 2001). It seems reasonable to
identify LCC with “normal science” and BCC with “revolu-
tionary science”, according to Kuhn’s (1970) terminology,
since LCC is akin to imaginative and what Craft (2001) calls
“possibility thinking”, which is a kind of thinking that takes
place in everyday life.
In distinguishing between ordinary (LCC) and extraordinary
creativity (BCC) one may be tempted to think of the latter as a
purely personal ability, since it involves imaginative leaps and,
sometimes, sudden insights. But since it (BCC) exists within a
socio-cultural system, consisting of three interacting elements
(i.e., a domain or culture that sets symbolic rules, a person who
brings new ideas into the domain, and a community of experts
who will validate the produced novelty) (Feldman, Czikszent-
mihalyi, & Gardner, 1994), the purely personal dimension of
creativity, even in the case of some rare individuals, who make
new discoveries and invent new scientific theories, seems to be
complement ed with a soci al dimension. It is for this reason that
creativity is increasingly considered a socio-related issue (Miell
& Littleton, 2004; Ricchuito, 1996). Whitehead’s (1957: p. 116)
view that “Everything of importance has been said before by
somebody who did no discovered it”, certainly reflects the so-
ciological view that the source of ideas is the individual and
would be “more correct to say that s/he participates in think
further what others have thought before her/him” (Mannheim,
1972: p. 3). However, it raises an issue in regard to the original-
ity of the ideas put forward by scientists.
To pursue this issue further is beyond the scope of this paper,
but it is nonetheless important to consider it when approaching
creativity in the context of school science (see next section).
Suffices to say here, it makes sense to view creativity as a men-
tal ability emerging from a social context, which is, anyway,
compatible with the social dimension of science itself. In actual
fact, the view that science is a social activity—“constitutively
social”—as Woolgar (1988: p. 13) put it—says much than sci-
ence having a social dimension. It rather conveys the view that
that the very nature of science is social. There is evidence that
creativity emerges from interacting scientists (Latour & Wool-
gar, 1986). The image of the “l one star” scientist, working i n the
lab and experiencing a sudden inspirations and insight, thus sol v-
ing a problem on his/her own, although not completely a myth,
is very rare, at least nowadays. Interactions among scientists
and among groups of scientists play a catalytic role in the crea-
tion of knowledge (Feldman, Czikszentmihalyi, & Gardner,
1994; Simonton, 2004).
However, in talking about scientific creativity, the personal
dimension of creativity, which is associated with the aesthetic
element of science, needs to be considered. In actual fact, the
philosopher and historian Thomas Kuhn has stressed its impor-
tance in scientific revolutions: “Aesthetic considerations can be
decisive. Though they often attract only a few scientists to a
new theory, it is upon those few that its ultimate triumph may
depend.” (Kuhn, 1970: p. 156). The history of science provides
evidence that aesthetic factors did play a major role in theory
construction and in influencing scientific practice in general
(Hadzigeorgiou, 2005 ). It should be noted th at the common ground
shared by art and science has been recognized after a shift from
positivist epistemology took place. Science, in fact, might have
a greater commonality with art than was originally thought in a
more positivist era (Tauber, 1996).
The idea that “wholeness”, through its association with beauty,
can be experienced during one’s appreciation of both a sci ent ifi c
theory and a work of art, is evidence of the common ground
shared by science and art (Bohm, 1998). This means that s cientifi c
truth is not judged solely on the grounds that scientific ideas
correspond to certain observable facts, but also because they
contribute to a sense of wholeness (Bohm, 1988). That aesthetic
factors contribute to this sense of wholeness is well document-
ed in the literature (Root-Bernstein, 2002; McAllister, 1996,
What is important to point out is that inspiration and imagi-
native engagement are shared by both artists and scientists. And
that at the moment of creation, the boundaries between art and
science cease to exist and aesthetics play a central role (Miller,
2001). What is also important to bear in mind is that with the
advent of quantum physics and the theory of relativity, the dis-
tinction between art and science became blurred. Not only aes-
thetics (Tauber, 1997; Root-Bernstein, 2002) but also symbolic
language became central to the creation of scientific knowledge.
Werner Heisenberg described Niels Bohr as an artist, who, in
using his brushes and various colours, tried to convey, just like
an artist, his own images to other scientists (Heisenberg, 1971).
And Bohr himself did point out that in the new physics, where
one studies the behaviour of atoms, “language can be used as in
poetry” (Tolstory, 1990: p. 16). Miller’s (2001) work on the life
and work of Einstein and Picasso reveals parallels between the
two men, and provides an insight into how the shift from posi-
tivism influenced both art and science. For the distinctions be-
tween the visible and the invisible, the distant and the near be-
came blurred, and the unification of time and space, the idea of
simultaneity and that no two observers see exactly the same
thing, were ideas that were common in both art and science.
The similarities between cubism and the theory of relativity is
evidence, according to Miller’s (2001) analysis, of those com-
mon ideas. Moreover, the creation of mental imagery and
analogies, used by both artists and scientists, points to the cru-
cial role of imagination in both artistic and scientific creativity.
Yet, despite these similarities, the differences between art and
science should also be stressed. For example, while in art “some-
thing travels”, in the sense that people, who did not participate
in the creative act (which produced a piece of art), feel delight
and inspiration, and are carried away, in science the delight and
inspiration are closely tied to the act and context of the scien-
tific discovery itself, that is, to the scientist who made the dis-
covery or developed a scientific theory (Medawar, 1967: p.
172). Also in science there is always the process of verification,
which does not exist in art.
Simonton (2004), in using as examples The Principia, The
Republic, Hamlet, The Last Supper, and the Fifth Symphony,
makes Newton’s scientific creativity quite distinctive from all
Copyright © 2012 SciRe s .
the rest, since, as his argument goes, any literate person can get
an understanding of Plato’s logical argument in the Republic, or
an idea of the dramatic development in Hamlet and also what is
graphically conveyed in the Last Supper or musically expressed
in Beethoven’s Fifth Symphony, but makes no sense of what
Newton in The Principia actually put forward. It is perhaps this
reason why scientific creativity is culturally valued more than
artistic creativity.
From neuroscience’s perspective, Dietrich’s (2004) work on
creativity types is very informative, since it can help us di ff ere n-
tiate between scientific and artistic creativity. He classifies crea-
tivity into four major types: deliberate and cognitive, deliberate
and emotional, spontaneous and cognitive, and spontaneous and
emotional. Scientific creativity requires sustained attention and
focus on an idea or problem and is therefore the result of a de-
liberate cognitive function (taking place in the prefrontal cor-
tex), although there are occasions when spontaneous cognitive
creativity makes one solve a problem. Artistic creativity, on the
other hand, is associated with spontaneous and emotional func-
tioning (taking place in the amygdala). Scientific creativity,
more often than not, is based on logic, in the sense that “Once a
scientist masters the logic of science and the substance of a
particular discipline, creativity is assured.” (Simonton, 2004: p.
6). In other words, what is usually considered a mystical inspi-
ration, a product of some extraordinary ingenuity, may very w ell
be the product of logic. Although logic is one of the sources of
scientific creativity—the other being genius, chance and zeit-
geist, according to Simonton (2004)—it is nonetheless an im-
portant one. There is consensus that scientific creativity is always
matched by rationality, with experiments playing a crucial role
(Schwartz, Lederman, & Crawford, 2004). Scientific ideas, as
was pointed out previously, are always subject to verification
through experimental testing.
The comparison that has been made between art and science
is quite crucial, given the interdisciplinary connection between
the two in the context of education. This issue I will take up in
the next section, but here the point that should be made co nce rn s
both the similarities and differences between the two, which
need to be considered when one approaches creativity. Art is
more imaginary than science, in the sense that in science logic
is always a complement to imagination. Which though is more
creative is hard to answer, granted that both can be creative, and
in fact transformative, in the sense that they can both contribute
to our change of outlook on the world (Miller, 2001).
This comparison may lead one to identify scientific creativity
mainly with two general abilities, that is, imaginative and logi-
cal thinking. Both intellectual abilities, in actual fact, are con-
sidered necessary, although not sufficient, for the generation or
production of novel ideas. Yet creativity, as an emergent ability,
is the result of a complex interplay of several factors, such as
intellectual abilities (i.e., problem finding, seeing problems in
novel ways), prior, domain-specific knowledge, p ersonality t ra it s
(i.e., self-efficacy, risk taking, a tolerance for ambiguity), mo-
tivation and environment (Sternberg, 2006). This complexity,
coupled with the way and the circumstances under which scien-
tific ideas burst forth (Gardner, 1994, 1997), makes scientific
creativity an unpredictable ability or event. For it is also true
that the subconscious and unconscious have also played a cata-
lytic role in the generation of novel ideas and problem solutions.
According to the literature, dreaming and daydreaming have
resulted in sudden and unexpected insights—even illuminations
(Vernon, 1970; Kind & Kind, 2007).
The age of those involved in the creation of novel and rev olu -
tionary scientific ideas is also a factor that needs some consid-
eration with regard to scientific creativity, as is the fact that
scientists, more often than not, are “deliberately creative” (in
the sense that they deliberately look for novelty that can be
useful to society). The fact that the scientists who transformed
both their disciplines and the way people see the world were
very young—i.e., in their early or mid-twenties (Simonton,
2004), is something that may very well have implications for
science education.
It is therefore apparent that scientific creativity is the ou tcom e
of a complex interplay of factors that cannot be predicted. Yet
despite the complexities inherent in science, as a field of inq ui ry ,
and despite the complexities in approaching it as a creative en-
deavor, a reliable picture of it should be based upon the fo l lo w in g
statements (Kind & Kind, 2007: p. 14):
Scientific theories are creative products (ideas) made by
Many scientists work on the same problems and new ideas
(theories, laws) emerge by common effort.
Most science theories develop over a long period in small
Some scientists are highly creative and make substantial
contributions in their fields, but they always build on other
people’s ideas.
All scientists must use their imagination when contributing
to the development of science.
Scientific theories are created in many different ways. The
processes are sometimes highly creative and/or highly logic,
rational and/or accidental.
In science creativity and rationality always work together.
Scientific creativity never works without rationality and st r i c t
empirical testing.
This reliable picture is important to consider when ap pr oa chi ng
scientific creativity in the context of school science and science
education. The reason is it can provide the background and
rationale for designing activities, which have the potential to
foster creativity in school science education. However, two id ea s
that do not explicitly appear in the above list are 1) The a es th e tic
dimension of science of scientific knowledge (Girod, 2007) and
2) the idea of scientific inquiry , which includes asking q ue s t i on s,
problem solving, designing and conducting investigations,
forming hypothesis formation and formulating explanations, an d
a l s o r ef l ec ti n g u p on e x pl an a ti on s a nd f in d i ngs ( Ba r row , 2010).
Although implicit in the above list, these two ideas, along with
imagination, need to be seriously considered by science tea-
chers and science educators in approaching scientific creativity.
Iimagination, as a mental ability that has a close relationship
with scientific creativity, deserves special attention. As McCo-
mas (1998) has pointed out, “close inspection will reveal that
scientists approach and solve problems with imagination and
creativity, prior knowledge and perseverance.” (p. 58).
Imagination, as an ability that allows one to form mental
images and also to think of the possible rather than just the actual
(Egan, 1990), and “to play with different hypotheses” and “with
different ways of making objects” (Gaut, 2003: p. 280), is not
simply important but central to science. For scientists, in their
attempt to understand how the world works, visualize unobser-
vable entities (i.e., atoms, electrons, lines of force) and pheno-
mena (i.e., electromagnetic induction, change in intermolecular
distance) and also think of possible ways to explain phenomena.
They also play with ideas, with different possibilities, through
Copyright © 2012 SciRe s . 605
thought experiments, analogies and modelling. It must have be e n
in the aforementioned sense that Einstein considered imagina-
tion more important than knowledge. For he is reputed to have
said that while knowledge points to what there is, imagination
points to what there can be. And he also urged people who want
to become scientists to take thirty minutes a day and think like
non-scientists (Di Trocchio, 1997).
That imagination is the sine qua non of science can been seen
not only in its role in some indispensable mental abilities, such
as re-imagining problems, creating mental images, and possibility
thinking, but also in its central role in narrative thinking. This
kind of thinking is co mpletely divergent and co mplements lo gi c o -
mathematical thinking (Bruner, 1986). There is evidence that
narrative thinking is central to science (Hadzigeorgiou & Ste-
fanich, 2001; Klassen, 2006). As Nobel Prize winner Peter Med-
awar commented, scientists, in building exploratory structures,
are in fact “telling stories which are scrupulously tested to see if
they are stories about real life” (Medawar, 1984: p. 133). Ex-
planatory schemes (i.e., hypotheses, theories) are the result of
both narrative and logico-mathematical thinking, since the latter
checks and tests ideas generated by the former, no matter how
imaginative, against reality and also in relation to what is al-
ready known about reality . This complementary, but at the sam e
time central, role of the imaginative element in science has be en
stressed by Richard Feynman as follows:
The test of all knowledge is experiment. Experiment is the
sole judge of scientific truth”. But what is the source of knowl-
edge? Where do the laws to be tested come from? Experiment,
itself, helps to produce these laws, in the sense that it gives us
hints. But also needed is imagination to create from these hints
the great generalizations—to guess at the wonderful, simple,
but very strange patterns beneath them all, and then to experi-
ment to check again whether we have made the right guess.
(Feynman, 1995: p. 2)
Feynman’s view concurs with that of Holton (1996), who
believes that “logic, experimental skill, and mathematics are
constant guides” but “are by no means adequate to the task of
scientific investigation (p. 78). But Holton (1996) goes further,
in that he distinguishes between three types of imagination, that
is, “three closely related companions that are rarely acknowl-
edged: the visual imagination, the metaphoric imagination, and
the thematic i m a g i nation (p. 78).
Yet imagination is one of those concepts whose importance
cannot be found in scienti fic reports and variou s research pa pe r s.
It can be found though where scientists speak about their life
and about the role of imagination in their work and in other
scientists’ work. Van’t Hoff, for example, in a letter to his fa-
ther, wrote: “The fact is the basis, the foundation. Imagination
the building material, the hypothesis the ground to be tested,
and reality is the building” (Van’t Hoff, 1967: p. 2). Maxwell,
in admiring Faraday’s exceptionally imaginative thought said:
Faraday, in his minds eye, saw lines of force, traversing all
space, where the mathematicians saw centres of force attracti ng
at a distance. Faraday saw a medium where mathematicians s a w
nothing but distance” (McAllister, 1996: p. 54), while Planck
(1933: p. 215) did remark that: “Imaginative vision and faith in
the ultimate success are indispensable. The pure rationalist has
no place here” (meaning “no place” in modern physics).
It is therefore important that the role of imagination in the
creation of scientific knowledge be acknowledged. What Gell-
Mann, a Nobel laureate in physics, has said is certainly impor-
tant: “Rationality is one the many factors governing human
behaviour, and it is by no means always the dominant factor.
(Jenkins, 1996: p. 147). Yet imagination, as the analysis so far
suggests, is a mental ability that should be explicitly l inke d wit h
science, and therefore with science education.
Creativity in Science Education
The answer to the question “what does creativity in science
education mean?” may seem quite straightforward. For one can
readily say that creativity in the context of science education
refers, or should refer, to what the science teacher does (i.e.,
s/he stimulates and encourages creative thinking) and/or to the
opportunities the students have, independently and/or as a result
of what their teacher does, for creative thinking. What is not
straightforward, however, is the extent to which creativity in the
context of the science classroom can or should reflect scientific
creativity. For it sounds reasonable, one might say, that creativ-
ity in the context of science education should reflect, as much
as possible, the notion of scientific creativity. There is a view
that any approach to scientific creativity in the context of school
science should be both “authentic” in scientific research terms
and meaningful and appropriate to the students’ needs and abilities
(Kind & Kind, 2007). However, the idea of “authenticity” may
be misleading.
Although “scientific creativity” should reflect what real sci en-
tists do, the differences between scientists and children as well
as the nature of the tasks encountered by them need to be taken
into account. Children have neither the scientists’ conceptual
framework nor the time to pursue a topic for a long time, unless
of course this has been arranged (i.e., through participation in a
project, that poses no immediate restrictions on time). More-
over the deliberate pursuit of novelty by scientists may be to-
tally absent from students, who may very well do things, in-
cluding scientific inquiry, because they have to. The nature of
the problems scientists encounter is also another issue (i.e., ill-
structured problems admitting multiple solutions) to be ser ious ly
considered. This point I take up further down this section of the
A point also that needs to be made here is that although we
know what real scientists do, we cannot say the same about
what and how they think. Given that there is no “universal
scientific methodology”, scientists can approach and solve the
problems they face in their research in many possible ways (see
Simonton, 2004). Moreover, as Medawar (1979) observes, “Sci-
entists are people of very dissimilar temperaments doing di ffe ren t
things in very different ways” (p. 3). In other words, scientific
creativity emerges from experiences extremely unique to the
individual scientists. Even if some students had conceptual
frameworks si milar to those of scie ntists, the nature of cr e a t iv i ty ,
as an emergent intellectual ability, would make the comparison
between students and scientists unrealistic. All these arguments
make “a ut hent ici ty ” an u nrel ia ble, i f not i nva lid, cr ite rio n w her eb y
one judges scientific creativity in the context of school science.
The issue of “authenticity”, however, becomes more complex
if one considers it the context of scientific inquiry. For there is
also a crucial question: “how authentic can inquiry science be?”
Are students really free to explore or are somehow guided by
their teachers to follow a step-by-step procedure (i.e., collect
and analyze), if not a recipe for inquiry (Asay & Orgill, 2010).
The main flaw with inquiry science, as Kind and Kind (2007)
have observed, is that the freedom and openness existing in real
science is rarely achieved in the everyday reality of the science
Copyright © 2012 SciRe s .
classroom, and, more often than not, teachers inevitably
“frame” student inquiry, by facilitating and providing most of
what is required in the investigation. There is some evidence, as
they report, to argue that scientific inquiry does not offer any
guarantee for fostering students’ scientific creativity. In fact this
evidence suggests that “any claims that “scientific creativity” is
developed through inquiry science are certainly spurious” (Kind
& Kind, 2007: p. 27). Moreover, it is questionable whether the
fact that different groups of students come up with different
ways to answer questions and approach problems (Barrow, 2010)
can be taken as an indication or a criterion whereby one can
judge scientific creativity.
Yet these words of caution do not imply that inquiry science
cannot be creative. Three examples can help illustrate the point
here In a science cl ass a teacher provides the groups of students
with certain materials, like batteries, wires and light bulbs, and
asks them to make the light bulb light. In another classroom
students are asked to make a model of a house and investigate
how illumination (with light coming from the sun) within the
house can increase. And in another classroom students are aske d
to investigate and then come up with an explanation, how sub-
stances like sugar and salt, affect the evaporation rate of the
water in a container. Here one can see three different activities
with the first requiring little imagination and divergent think-
ing—trial and error suffices to get the simple system working,
the second requiring imagination and divergent thinking in
order for students to try possible factors that might affect the
illumination in the house (i.e., the position of windows, the
colour of curtains, the arrangement of furniture), and the third
requiring the creative formation of a theory to explain why
add in g s ubs tances such as salt or sugar to water causes the water
to evaporate more slowly at a given temperature. (Students
wil l h av e t o visualize water mole cules forming bo nds with sugar
or salt molecules, so it will take extra energy to break those
bonds thus slowi ng do wn the evap orati on pr ocess ). Of cour se,
different variables here, like distilled water and tap water, may
be included in the investigation, making the whole process even
more creative (Barrow, 2010). And despite a lack of conclusive
evidence resulting from a critical evaluation of some inquiry
science approaches to scientific creativity, programs that offer
extended opportunities for project work over a longer period
of time, demanding student commitment and ownership, ap-
pear to be more promising as far as the development of crea-
tivity is concerned. Such programs appear to meet “creativity”
criteria to a greater extend than traditional inquiry teaching
(Kind & Kind, 2007).
A word of caution, however, should also be said about art.
True, art is an excellent tool to help students learn science (Ashley,
2011; Merten, 2011). For example, students who make a col-
lage, illustrating the water cycle or the states of water, are he lp ed
to learn science content. Moreover, for some students, such an
activity can be a great stimulus for learning. But this is different
from saying that this activity necessarily helps students de velop
scientific creativity, in the sense that they can successfully ap-
proach activities that “explicitly” encourage divergent/imagina-
tive thinking (e.g., creating an analogy for the water cycle or
the states of water, writing about the daily life of a photon). For
although an art-based science activity requires i maginat ive /di ver-
gent thinking, the differences between “artistic” and “scientific”
creativity need to be seriously considered. The point that is
being made here is that participation in an art activity may in-
spire and motivate students but may not make them use their
creative imagination in order to approach other tasks and activi-
ties, like problem solving and inquiry.
Yet, in talking about two different kinds of creativity, that is,
“artistic” and “scientific” creativity, one should also bear in m i n d
that the two are not so distinguishable (see previous section).
And the fact that this particular activity (i.e., making a collage),
like other art-based activities, can lead to an aest hetic experie nce ,
and hence to a creative moment, involving even an imaginative
leap and a sudden insight, is a point that needs particular atten-
tion (Watts, 2001; Hadzigeorgiou & Fotinos, 2007). If science
is indeed “a holistic enterprise that may be influenced by art,
music, dance, yoga, meditation, imagination, wonder and may
other things” (Lunn & Nobel, 2008: p. 803), then art, through the
possibilities it can provide for aesthetic experiences, should be
considered an excellent avenue to an aesthetic kind under-
standing, which is documented in the literature regarding both
science and science education (Girod, 2007). Jackson’s (1998:
p. 33) argument provides not only a justification of art and sci-
ence connections in the curriculum, but also an answer to the
question regarding how one can induce an aesthetic/transform-
ative understanding of school science:
The arts do more than provide us with fleeting moments of
elation and delight. They expand our horizons. They contribute
meaning and value to future experience. They modify our ways
of perceiving the world, thus leaving us and the world itself
irrevocably changed.
This idea of aesthetic/transformative experience in regard to
scientific creativity is crucial, since it relates directl y to creati v i t y,
namely, to the ability to see things and ideas in novel and unusual
ways (Gardner, 1993a, 1993b, 2010; Sternberg, 2006). The
development of this ability, or at least the effort to foster it, can
be considered an important goal regarding scientific creativity,
and should complement two more (traditional) goals, such as 1)
The generation of multiple ideas (i.e., solutions to problems,
answers to questions), and evaluation of those, which are worth-
while to be pursued further; and 2) Making associations between
semantically remote or seemingly unrelated ideas, events, and
phenomena (Craft, 2001; Sternberg, 2006). It is apparent that
the above three goals concerning creativity in school science are
both compatible with the general notion of creativity (Sternberg,
2006; Gardner, 2010) and scientif ic creativity in particular (K ind
& Kind, 2007; Gardner, 1993b, 1997; Schmidt, 2011; Simonton,
2004), and also realistic in the context of science education, in
the sense that activities aiming to achieve them can be designed
and implemented (Hadzigeorgiou & Fotinos, 2007; see next
The above goals necessitate a distinction between an innova-
tive teaching approach and an approach that provides opportu-
nities for creative thinking. Helping students to think creatively
in the context of school science is certainly very different form
both teaching them creatively (i.e., by implementing an innova-
tive approach) and teaching them about the nature of science, in
order to help them become aware of and appreciate science as a
creative endeavour. It is also helpful, in the sense that a distinc-
tion between learning to be novel in the context of everyday life
is very different from learning to be creative in science (Row-
lands, 2011). It is for these reasons that the distinction between
three frames, namely “creative teaching”, “teaching about crea-
tivity” and “fostering stud ents s cien tific creativity” (Kind & Kind,
2007), is important to consider. Such distinction focuses our
attention on what we really do or on what we really want to do.
The above goals also necessitate a special attention to imag-
Copyright © 2012 SciRe s . 607
ination. There is empirical evidence to support the view the
people who have opportunities to operate in imagined worlds
become more creative. And although the evidence that imaginative
skills in science education are transferable to other areas is not
convincing, there is good reason to believe that “imagination
offers the promise of making scientific creativity more concrete
and helping to identify a potential starting point for further
research” (Kind & Kind, 2007: p. 25). The work done by the
Imaginative Education Research Group (IERG), directed by
Kieran Egan at Simon Fraser University, is promising, at least
as far as the role of imagination in learning is concerned. More
research is certainly needed, especially in regard to creativity
(Kind & Kind, 2007), but, nonetheless, such research needs to
be based upon a theoretical framework, which gives primacy to
Fostering Creativity in the Science Classroom
The discussion thus far begs the question: How can we best
foster students’ scientific creativity? This discussion may have
been illuminating, yet the evidence about the effectiveness of
certain teaching strategies (i.e., imagery/visualization, inquiry
science, integrating art with science) is inconclusive. An analysis,
in fact, of research studies in science education points to the
fact that “creativity in school science is at a much lower level
than is required even to begin approaching an answer” (Kind &
Kind, 2007: p. 2). Moreover, research based on the life stories
of scientists (e.g., Einstein, Maxwell, Faraday, Watts, Feynman)
questions the development of students’ imaginative skills by
formal schooling. For as Shepard (1988) has pointed out, “their
development occurs before, outsi de of or perhaps in spite of s uc h
schoolingapparently through active but largely solitary in-
teraction with physical objects of ones world” (p. 181). All
these make the development of students’ creativity a real chal-
lenge. This challenge becomes even greater if we consider the
fact that creativity is grounded in knowledge, and therefore
science teachers should help students build content knowledge,
but “without killing the creativity” (Boden, 2001: p. 102).
However, the above question can still be answered in the
affirmative, if we consider what we know about creativity in
general, namely, that individuals can become creative through
the confluence of several factors, including the environment
and the challenges it offers (Robinson, 2001; Sternberg, 2006).
Moving beyond the rhetoric, by carefully analysing and re-
flecting on current practices that supposedly help students de-
velop their creativity can be more fruitful than simply following
the trend and adopting and implementing those practices. Even
if one believes that creativity is to a large extent a matter of
innate ability, talent, and capability (Moravcsik, 1981: p. 227),
one can nevertheless acknowledge that “there are many ways in
which science education can locate, foster, encourage, practice ,
and enhance traits, attitudes, and skills in the students so that
whatever creativity the student has, it is more effectively con-
verted into achievements and accomplishments.” (p. 227).
Having already made reference to ideas from the nature of
science that have a bearing on creativity (i.e., the social nature
of science, its aesthetic dimension, the idea of scientific inquiry,
and the role of imagery and imagination in science), and consi-
dering evidence from research on the effect of temporal and
spatial distance on creativity (Shapira & Liberman, 2009), it
goes without saying that a notion of creativity in the context of
school science should certainly take these ideas into account an d
should also be compatible with the general notion of creativity.
A few points that are crucial for designing activities can be
reiterated here.
First, th e foste ring of cre ativi ty pre su ppose s a str ong co nc ept ua l
framework. In other words, science content knowledge is a
prerequisite for thinking and hence a prerequisite for creative
thinking. Students should be as knowledgeable about science
(i.e., content knowledge) as possible.
Second, creativity in science education is about divergent/
imaginative thinking. Encouraging creativity in the context of
school science means encouraging idea generation in a non-
threatening and critique-free environment. This means that, in
order for students to be creative, all ideas need to be heard and
not ridiculed, no matter how crazy the may sound. Di Trocchio
(1997) provides ample evidence that what once thought to be a
crazy idea was finally accepted by the scientific community (i. e. ,
the transmission of electromagnetic waves over long distances,
the splitting of the atom, the general theory of relativity).
Third, imagery and visualization should have a central place
in science curriculum and teaching. As Mathewson (1999) poi nted
out, visual-spatial thinking is an overlooked aspect of science
Fourth, the ideas of “aesthetic experience” and particularly t he
notion of wonder need special attention. An aesthet ic experi e n c e ,
particularly when accompanied by a sense of wonder, increases
the possibilities for deeper engagement in science a nd in s p i rat i on
(Hadzigeorgiou, 2005).
Fifth, thinking about future events and possibilities (i.e., tem-
poral distance) and also about far away events and people (i.e.,
spatial distance) is a strategy that can be incorporated in te a c hi n g
Sixth, (although an argument about whether individual crea-
tivity is superior or inferior to social creativity is hard to defend,
or maybe meaningless in the sense that there is an interplay
between the two) the social nature of science, as has already
been discussed, points to activities that provide students with
opportunities to interact in a social setting, thinking imagina-
tively and divergently. In short, creativity, without completely
excluding individualized activities, should be fostered within a
socio-cultural milieu. This milieu includes both the culture of
scientific inquiry and the culture of the school classroom, and
both cultures can play a role in developing students’ creative
However, a few words about evaluating the results of our
teaching should also be said here. Given that no one can predict
the emergence of creativity—given the nature of creativity, and
scientific creativity in particular as was discussed, there appears
to be a problem. This is not to say that creative thinking cannot
be recognized. On the contrary, we can tell when we see it. The
problem is that, even if one teaches deliberately for creative
thinking, one cannot expect to assess it when one wants to as-
sess it, as a result or consequence of his/her teaching. The p rob-
lem becomes more complicated if one considers the fact that,
regardless of the opportunities students have for creative think-
ing, the testing situation may not provide a reliable means to
assess creativity. For the test itself may be felt as a constraint
on a student’s freedom. And the inauthentic situation in which
it is taken may also be a constraint on his/her ability to thin
creatively. According to the literature, freedom and authentic
situations can be considered, among other factors, preconditions
for creativity, since they both relate to motivation, purpose, ex-
ploration, and confidence (Gardner, 1993b; Mumford, 2003;
Copyright © 2012 SciRe s .
Sternberg, 2006; see also Simonton, 2004).
So the best we, as science educators and science teachers,
can do is to provide an environment that increases the possibili-
ties for creativity to emerge. In the light of what has been dis-
cussed so far, some activities can be considered more appro-
priate for fostering scientific creativity in science education.
Th ose are activities that are more likely 1) To provide opportu-
nities for imaginative/divergent thinking; and 2) To lead to aes-
thetic experiences. These activities are compatible with the
three goals regarding creative thinking in science education (see
previous section). For the achievement of the first two goals
require divergent/imaginative thinking, while the third one, in
addition to such kind of thinking, presupposes a sense of
wonder and aesthetic experiences in general.
Compatible with these goals and what has been thus far ab out
scientific creativity, the following activities, although not a recipe,
have the potential to increase the possibilities for students’
creativity to emerge:
Creative problem solving (e.g., measuring the height of a
building using a barometer or tennis ball, measuring the sur-
face of an irregular shape using a mechanical balance, the
fate of the earth after the total disappearance of the sun,
calculating the density of a proton, of a black hole).
Problem solving in the STS context (e.g., how technology
might affect the environment in the future, how we can pro-
duce electrical power in the future, how we might approach
the sudden invasion of bacteria from space).
Creative writing (e.g., a day in the life of a proton, a day
without gravity).
Creative science inquiry (e.g., investigating possible factors
that might have an effect on the illumination of a room, the
construction of a flashlight from simple materials, ways to
produce electricity for the house in a case of emergency,
ways to heat water in the absence of metal containers).
Creating analogies to understand phenomena and ideas (e.g.,
the phenomenon of resonance, the ideas energy, nuclear fis-
sion and fusion, chemical bonding).
Challenging students to find connections among apparently
unrelated facts and ideas (e.g., what would be a connection
between Newton’s laws, a nurse and a soccer-player? Be-
tween light, electrons and a surgeon? Between a glass of
wine, the age of the universe and the evolution of stars?
Between the sinking of Titanic and hydrogen bonding).
Mystery solving (e.g., detective work in order to explain the
disappearance of something, like a certain volume of liquid,
to find something that is missing, like a beam of light, to
find connection between seemingly unrelated ideas, as in
the case between a thief, the police and the speed of light).
Approaching the teaching and learning of science through
the arts (e.g., using photography and making a collage to
present the results of a study of a topic such as the effect of
modern technology on everyday life, using technologies to
construct scientific models, using drawing to represent a
phenomenon, such as photosynthesis).
Concluding Comments
Whether or not one agrees with the idea that the development
of creativity should be the first most important goal of educa-
tion, is irrelevant when it comes to the notion of scientific crea-
tivity. Given that imagination and creativity are considered cen-
tral to the nature of science, a good science education cannot
help but foster students’ imaginative skills and creativity. If all
learning is a possibility (Brent, Sumara, & Luce-Kapler, 2008;
Hadzigeorgiou, 2005), the development of students’ creative
powers through science learning is a possibility too. Maslow’s
(1968) distinction between “special talent creativene ss” and “s el f-
actualizing creativeness” can provide food for thought for those
who are willing to make school science, not just an adventure,
but a creative endeavour too, so that students’ creative acts will
be both acts of self-expression and acts of self-actualization.
Although “special talent” creativity” has played a catalytic role
in the development of our civilization, in the context of educa-
tion, “self-actualizing” creativity appears to be a much more
realistic notion and also a more fruitful and promising one. Carl
Rogers’ (1961) definition of creativity as “the emergence in
action of a novel relational product growing out of the unique-
ness of the individual on the one hand, and the materials,
events, people or circumstances of his life on the other,” (p.
351), when applied to education, makes the distinction between
the various degrees and/or kinds of creativity (as found in the
literature) unimportant and orients us to the process of whole-
hearted engagement, as the first necessary condition of creativity
(Csikszentmihalyi, 1996). Perhaps, if approached from this
perspective, creativity in school science can open new vistas for
both teachers and students, and can provide an answer to the
perennial problem of students’ engagement in science.
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