Connect Creative with Critical Thinking to Develop Minds in the Classroom

March 10, 2020

The Developing Minds conference series from the Faculty of Education and Faculty of Arts and Social Sciences combines theory and practice to deliver strategies in critical thinking for BC high school classrooms.

For the third year in a row, the Faculty of Education and co-sponsor, the Faculty of Arts and Social Sciences (FASS) welcomed more than 80 high school teachers, education specialists and researchers to the third Developing Minds conference at Simon Fraser University on February 14, 2020.

Aptly titled, Connect Creative with Critical Thinking in the Classroom, this year’s conference focused on bringing creative thinking and imaginative educational practices into the classroom to build critical thinking skills in high school students. Conference delegates came from the lower mainland and as far afield as interior British Columbia and Vancouver Island. They spent the day learning from creative and critical thinking specialists, seeking answers to questions and putting theory into practice during interactive breakout sessions.

Gary George and his volunteers welcome conference delegates with a drumming ceremony
The Honourable Rob Fleming MLA, Ministor of Education delivers opening remarks

Guests heard opening remarks from Lisa Shapiro, Acting Dean for FASS and a welcoming drumming ceremony from Gary George, Community Relations Officer in the Office for Aboriginal Peoples. The Honourable Rob Fleming MLA, Minister of Education then delivered opening remarks, speaking to the importance of fostering critical thinking skills for democratic literacy in our students as they take their place in an increasingly digital world.

SFU Dean of Education, Susan O’Neil, gave a keynote address about how synergies and silos impact learning. Drawing from her research, O’Neil explored how synergies in critical and creative thinking are fostered through socially engaged arts practices that adopt a transformative activist approach. Using examples from recent projects, she encouraged delegates to move out of silos, showing how students become deeply immersed in critical and creative processes as they focus on issues that interested and matter to them.

Nic Fillion, assistant professor in Philosophy at SFU, spoke to attendees about his experiences bringing Canadian High School Ethics Bowl  to classrooms in BC last year. He not only gave an overview of how Ethics Bowl cultivates critical thinking but also demonstrated it in action. Alongside their teachers, high school students from Sands Secondary and Ideal Mini School took part in a live Ethics Bowl, analyzing and discussing the dilemmas and ethics of vaccination autonomy. It was a spirited event. According to one conference-goer, it provided an insightful look “into how to have critical conversations and dialogue. It was inspirational to see students interacting with their teacher so positively.”

During the afternoon breakout session, delegates also tried an Ethics Bowl themselves and tackled the questions: Should all education be Imaginative Education? If not, when it is most essential to prioritize Imaginative Education?  

Nicolas Fillion and high school students from Sands Secondary and Ideal Mini School take part in an Ethics Bowl demonstration
Kavita Hoonjan and the CIRCE panel put delegates to work during the afternoon panel session
Conference co-organisers, Natalia Gajdamaschko and Catherine Murray hard at work on Kavita's assignment

Faculty of Education professor emeritus, Kieran Egan, gave a powertalk titled “The Role of Imagination and Cognitive Tools in Developing Creative and Critical Thinking.” He demonstrated how our imaginations use cognitive tools to engage with the world from earliest years to maturity. Following this, a panel of educators from the Centre for Imagination in Research Culture & Education (CIRCE) further expanded on the theme with specific practical examples of how cognitive tools shape imaginative teaching practices in ways that develop their students' critical and creative thinking skills.

The co-organisers of the conference FASS Associate Dean Catherine Murray and Education Associate Dean Natalia Gajdamaschko ended the day by encouraging delegates to continue the conversation and join the emerging Developing Minds online community. This innovative and exciting new platform provides users with discussion areas, resources and tools for critical thinking in the classroom. Recent acquisitions include an extensive and downloadable lesson plan developed from the Developing Minds 2019 keynote, Reading the Indigenous Archive from Deanna Reder for teaching English First Peoples 12.

Please join us online to continue the conversation; request an invitation to join here:

Conference proceedings and recordings will be uploaded to the website shortly. If you would like to receive updates and news on Developing Minds 2021, please join our mailing list.



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