Marsalis compares jazz improvisation to cruisin’ through town in a beautiful car.


Ignite Interest in Learning

Have you ever asked a student to write about a topic of their interest only to get back a paper about the recent hot topic, news item, or fashionable cause?  Have you been asked to tell a bit about yourself only to find yourself giving generic information that could be true of anyone? 

 ImageA student’s true areas of interest are closely tied to strong emotions and memories.  Assignments that draw upon personal interests tap into a student’s motivation and sense of self, thereby enabling meaningful and lasting learning.  At the same time, many students avoid these areas and choose to write about something that has little meaning for them. 

Indeed, many students hear the word “interest” and think into the future, considering who they will – or should – become.

True interests are those that students have discovered and pursued on their own.  For example: sports, music, dance, hobbies, languages, and social activities.  As many teachers know, it is often difficult to convince students to talk about these loves. 

As teachers, we can help students to tie their areas of interest into their academics:

  • Use student and parent conferences to identify areas of interest and brainstorm assignment topics.
  • Have students compose resumes, and create assignments based on their experiences.
  • Ask students to provide a rationale for their topic choices, linking them to an activity they are involved in or a goal they hope to achieve.

Of course, one-on-one work affords many opportunities to draw upon student interests.  However, these interests can also be recognized in a classroom.  It only takes one meaningful assignment to help draw students into their schoolwork!

Art and Science Merge

Arts advocates are always looking for ways in which the arts inform more “practical” fields, such as the sciences.  One convergence between these two areas was back in the year 1928, when Sir Alexander Fleming discovered penicillin.


Fleming’s now-famous “accidental discovery” of penicillin was the result of the growth of mold on one of his influenza experiments.  Fleming realized that the mold actually halted the growth of the influenza, leading to the development of penicillin, research furthered by Howard Flory and Ernst Chain.

As the story goes, Fleming was known for being a bit of a slob around the office.  He didn’t clean up his messes, and these messes lead to his groundbreaking discovery.  However, looking at things a different way, you could give him another name.  Sir Alexander Fleming was an artist.

Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi is an expert on the creative process (most famous for his concept of “flow.”)  For him, the creative process begins with preparation, in which the artist brings together ideas, tools, inspirations.  Then, he lets them sit for a while, a process Csikszentmihalyi calls incubation.  Then, inspiration strikes, seemingly out of the blue!

This process is borne out in the life of the artist: we all know the story of the writer or painter who strolls the streets for days, trying to summon the inspiration to complete a work.  What Csikszentmihalyi suggests, however, is that this is not writer’s block or lack of inspiration, but rather the artist’s process.  

Perhaps, in the same way, Sir Alexander Fleming was not merely a lucky slob, but a creative artist of science.  He operated by intuition, leaving the flu virus out in the open for reasons even he had yet to discover.  




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