Talking with U of M

Talking classroom creativity with U of M

Rocket drawing with school supplies on a table next to a headshot of Brad Hokanson
Credit: Getty Image

MINNEAPOLIS/ST. PAUL (03/11/2024) —  From artistic expression to problem-solving, creativity is an essential skill for young learners. It is also one that can be overlooked in traditional education. Research shows measured creativity peaks in fourth grade, but experts agree it is possible to continue developing creative skills into the teen years and beyond. 

Brad Hokanson, a professor in the College of Design, answers questions about prioritizing creativity in schools and at home to help student achievement. 

Q: Why is creativity an important skill to develop?

Hokanson: Creativity is highly correlated with success, more so than raw intelligence. It is the distinguishing factor that sets someone apart from the crowd. It's how you develop and present new ideas, new directions or new thoughts that can advance any field. The larger goal of any university is the development of new knowledge, inventing new solutions and new answers to old problems. It's this ability we need to instill in learners of all ages to find innovative solutions.

Q: How can creativity be built into school curriculums?
Hokanson: School and university curriculums frequently focus on content knowledge, the information at the center of every field, not on the skills needed to advance. This often drives out innovative approaches including the ability to be creative, that is, the ability to develop and examine divergent ideas. Creativity can be addressed across the curriculum but often it gets nudged out by the need to address content. Learners need to consider all sorts of alternatives and select the best one rather than developing a single answer. As I say frequently in my courses, the only wrong answer is one answer. 

Q: How can families nurture creativity?

Hokanson: Families can have a great effect on the development of creativity. What is most important for children — and adults — is a variety of experiences at home, at school and through travel. Encouraging different ideas and exploration is key and can occur through a range of activities such as attending cultural events, spending more time in nature and holding time for creative exploration. We should support this at an early age and continue the practice during formal education. We see this in action on campus in the University's Breakerspace in Walter Library, where students are welcome to draw, make or craft.  

Q: Does screen time hinder creative development? 
Screen time does affect creativity generally, but it varies. How screens involve children can happen in several ways, from passive to active engagement. Television, for example, is a passive experience of simply watching what is presented. Computer use, however, can be more active, and encourage a wide range of creative activities. In the case of small screens often used for texting, you should consider how that is taking the place of another source of creative development: in-person communication. As noted MIT learning researcher Mitch Resnick said: "Would you rather that your children learn to play the piano, or learn to play the stereo?" 

Q: What are you currently working on related to creativity in schools? 
Hokanson: I'm involved with several efforts related to creativity in schools. I currently have a U of M-sponsored massive open online course on creative problem solving which currently enrolls about 248,000 people. One of my doctoral students, Stephanie Heidorn, is developing and testing an after-school curriculum to develop creativity in fourth graders. 

I've also been extending the teaching of creativity to several local high schools through the University's College in the Schools program, where U of M courses are taught in high schools by local teachers trained for the course. It's been extremely successful. This year, four high schools are offering creative problem solving and at least one other is joining next year. Results have been very strong with tested performances that are equivalent to gains in my on-campus classes. The high school students improved their creative capability from about 55% to over 90%. 

Brad Hokanson is a professor of graphic design at the College of Design. His areas of expertise include critical thinking, creativity and innovation. His research focuses on the relationship between creativity and achievement in school children. 

About the College of Design
Located in a major design city and in one of the largest research universities in the U.S., the University of Minnesota's College of Design encompasses a full range of design disciplines — including landscape architecture, architecture, retail merchandising, and the design of interiors, graphics, apparel, and other products. Faculty, students, and staff aim to advance the quality of manufactured objects and our natural, built, and social environments through sustainably resilient, socially responsible, civically engaged, and human-centered design collaborations. Learn more at

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Media Contacts

Amelia Narigon

College of Design, Twin Cities