March 7, 2016
Mission Vision is a newsletter providing an in-depth look at how students and their families experience Sycamore Valley Academy. This publication highlights the organization's mission statement and looks at how the mission is put into practice at SVA.

In each volume, Mission Vision examines one phrase of the Sycamore Valley Academy mission statement. This third volume in the series considers the role of "curiosity, creativity, and talents" in our learning environment. 

The mission of Sycamore Valley Academy is to provide a rich, meaningful education in a nurturing environment, where students are continually challenged and their natural curiosity, creativity, and talents can thrive. Sycamore Valley Academy is a 
collaborative community of educators and families working together to help our students grow into virtuous, courageous, and intelligent citizens, equipped with a love of learning and a love of life, and eager to contribute to a better world.

Skills for Tomorrow

The field of education has moved increasingly toward standardization over the last half century. Emphasis has been focused on the value of hard academic skills (The 3 R's -reading, writing, and arithmetic) and hard data; scores on standardized tests becoming the sole measurement of success with the ultimate goal being to attain grade level proficiency in core subjects. Curiosity, creativity, and talent are devalued in a system which emphasizes sameness and "teaches to the test" and excellence is overlooked. Today, a necessary change is rising in the education system. In response to the skills sought by both colleges and employers in the 21st century, education is beginning to move away from the standardized industrial model of the last century. The focus instead is shifting toward acknowledging and embracing the differences in individuals and developing soft skills (The 4 C's -critical thinking, communication, collaboration, and creativity) necessary to be successful in our global society. Sycamore Valley Academy was founded with these skills clearly articulated as learning goals. We are preparing our students to succeed in the 21st century by nurturing their curiosity and creativity, and letting their individual talents shine.

Our school is driving change in the way children are educated in our local community. By removing the limitations imposed by a one-size-fits-all approach, differentiated instruction acknowledges variation among individuals and provides opportunities for each student to demonstrate their talent and attain their personal best. Inquiry-based instructional practices nurture curiosity and provide students with the framework needed to develop creative thinking skills and habits of mind. We'll look at curiosity and creativity here. 


Humans are born curious, with a natural drive to learn. Nurturing that
curiosity is one of the most important ways to help a child become a lifelong learner. Curiosity cultivates an active mind, counteracts boredom, encourages self-sufficiency, inspires persistence, and sets kids up for long-term success. Ultimately, curiosity is a tool which enables children to solve their own problems and is the foundation for creativity. At SVA, inquiry-based instruction provides a learning environment where curiosity can grow. Open-ended questions and tasks, novelty and variety, and student voice in what and how they learn all serve to nurture curiosity in learners and a lifetime of love for learning.  Teachers plan lessons carefully to preserve natural curiosity and incite even more! 

Creativity is deliberately nurtured through our instructional approach, enrichment curriculum, and the use of creative thinking tools which are explicitly taught.  Our inquiry-based instructional model and rigorous Project Based Learning (PBL) units are excellent practices for teaching how to think creatively. Through the inquiry process, students learn to question everything, challenge their own assumptions, and keep an open mind as they explore new ideas. Students learn to think creatively about possibilities, and begin to make connections between people, places, and things. Critical reflection on ideas generated and outcomes attained are a regular part of the SVA learning experience too; students continue to think creatively after completing their work to evaluate what possibilities might exist if changes are made. 
SVA teachers use tools developed for gifted education to teach creative thinking to all students. The four principles of creative thinking - fluency, flexibility, originality, and elaboration- are used to guide creativity lessons in the classroom. Students do quick exercises in creative thinking, using multiple perspectives to be flexible in their thinking, practicing generating original ideas or using existing ideas in an original way, and adding details or captions to an image. Students also use SCAMPER, an acronym of seven creative thinking techniques: Substitute, Combine, Adapt, Modify, Put to another use, Eliminate, and Rearrange.  Students use the techniques to spark thinking. As an exercise, students will systematically apply SCAMPER to an everyday object and see just how creative they can be. 
Thinking about Creativity

If your thoughts turn immediately to music and art when we talk about creativity, it's time for you to start thinking creatively about creativity. Check out the ideas about creativity in the table below. 

Thinking About Creativity Then and Now
Outdated Ideas
Modern Ideas
Creativity is innate, you're either born with it or not.
The mind is plastic; it grows and changes throughout life. Creativity can be learned by anyone at any age.
Creativity is an isolated, individual act.
Teamwork and collaboration are the foundation of creativity.  Creativity stems from social process.
Creativity is related only to the arts.
Creative thought is infused in every subject. Making connections across disciplines is creativity.
Creativity is a means of self expression.
Using empathy/multiple perspectives to ponder a topic, is creative thinking.
Creativity has no structure, it's almost metaphysical.
Concrete process can be taught, learned, and applied to produce creative thought.  Critical thinking and problem solving are based in creative thought.

How do you think about creativity? 

Student talents, academic and otherwise, are valued and nurtured at SVA. Our accelerated academic program provides a learning environment that is thoughtfully designed to support the development of the gifted and talented student. Multi-age classrooms using differentiated instruction provide opportunities for students to be challenged by their peers. Emphasis on the development of habits of mind in our learners stems from the belief that, regardless of whether talents are innate or learned, excellence is achieved through effort and deliberate practice. Assessment at SVA is adaptive, meaning that students are presented with test questions which increase in difficulty based on student responses, allowing students to demonstrate the limits of their ability, rather than simply show proficiency at their grade level. Our enrichment program includes opportunities for students to experience a broad range of subjects, further exercising creative thinking skills and the ability to make connections across subjects. Students are encouraged to follow what interests them and bring their own ideas to fruition in an authentic and meaningful way. 
Preparing today's children for a future that is largely unknown is a significant challenge for educators. More than ever before, the picture of the social and economic future our children will enter is unclear. What we do know for certain is: The Industrial Age is behind us and the industrial model of education that values standardization must be left behind us as well. Challenging old ideas about education, student learning, and creativity will serve our students well. We must nurture the curiosity that will drive a lifelong love of learning; we must teach creative thinking skills necessary to solve problems, whatever the problems may be; and we must help develop individual talent through habits of mind while guiding each student to achieve their personal best. 
Sycamore Valley Academy | 559.622.3236 | [email protected]
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