Assessing Creative Problem Solving

Through CEP 811,  I have become very aware of the disconnect that exists between the way we traditionally do “school” in our country and the direction the world is heading. In the video interview “Grading with Games,” James Paul Gee addresses this disconnect, saying that the “current model of schooling [memorizing facts, etc.] will not be [an] economically profitable form of schooling” in the future. He also states that “if [students] are going to survive in a developed country, outside of low level service work, they’re going to have to have innovation and creativity” (Edutopia, 2010). I know I want to do everything I can to ensure that my students are well prepared to reach their full potential in this world.

As an educator my job is not just about teaching content, but teaching life skills, such as how to work with others, be flexible, take responsibility, and be a leader. Enter project based learning and creative problem solving. Project based learning “is a dynamic approach to teaching in which students explore real world problems and challenges. With this type of active and engaged learning, students are inspired to obtain a deeper knowledge of the subjects they’re studying.” Some key elements of project based learning are questioning, inquiry and critical thinking (Edutopia, Project based learning, 2015). Project based learning is very similar to the constructivism framework, which defines learning as “the product of play, experimentation and authentic inquiry.” The constructionism framework takes that one step further as “learning by constructing knowledge through the act of making something shareable” (Halverson & Sheridan, 2014, 497-498; emphasis added). Designing educational experiences based on these principles and goals for student learning requires a much different way of thinking than the traditional method of teaching and learning. Therefore, assessments of student learning must also change.

In a project based, creative problem solving learning environment, assessments are done much differently. In my classes, I envision that there would be multiple assessments for a given topic or learning experience. For example, students would be assigned their task or presented with a problem/issue that requires them to come up with a solution. These tasks would vary between individual and group projects, depending on the content and learning goals. Student work would be assessed in various ways; formative assessments would be done as students worked on their tasks and the final product would be their summative assessment. These are the types of assessments I envision:

  • Informal meetings with groups or individual students to discuss their progress and address any questions, concerns or misunderstandings. These would be informal assessments to inform my instruction and help me  determine how to proceed as I facilitate their learning and progress.
  • Students submit regular updates on their progress toward their goals and their individual contributions to the project. Again, these are informal assessments designed to catch any misconceptions or possibly group members that are not doing their share of the work, and therefore not mastering the content.
  • Informal presentations of their work to other groups, or to me, to demonstrate their progress and indicate the direction that they are headed with their projects.
  • Day to day assessments done quickly by circling the classroom and having conversations with students.
  • Content “checkpoints” – to determine student progress toward content mastery. Could be quizzes, something in writing, a mini demo or presentation, etc.
  • There would be the final product, which would be graded according to a rubric designed specifically for each topic/unit/project. Students would be given this rubric at the start of the project so that they know what the expectations are.
  • Self-evaluation, to address the following: the knowledge that they gained as a result of the project (possibly some specific content questions to respond to, depending on the topic) as well as how they grew personally as a result of the project. What was their role in the group? Did they take responsibility and show leadership? Were they flexible and adaptable to the needs of their group? Did they do their fair share of the work? I believe this self evaluation is an important component to helping students recognize their personal growth and achievements, as well as areas they may still need to work on.

In terms of HOW I would assess student work in a creative problem solving environment, rubrics would be a huge asset. In his blog post entitled “On assessing for creativity: yes, you can and yes, you should,” Grant Wiggins discusses assessing student creativity and even provides a rubric for doing so. Some of the key words in this rubric are clever, imaginative, engaging, vivid, compelling, powerful, style, novel, and unique (Wiggins, 2012). I would present students with these terms and incorporate them into our project rubrics to encourage students to think outside the box. In addition to creativity and innovation, they would be assessed based on the following criteria:

  • Whether or not they met the qualifications of the project
  • How realistic and/or useful their solution/product is
  • Content mastery, as demonstrated in their final project/solution
  • Whether their product/solution is SHAREABLE and ADAPTABLE. Can others access and use it? Is it realistic? Is it adaptable to different situations/users?

The share-ability component is what boosts student learning/mastery to the next level. They have to know their content and final product so well that they can demonstrate how it might be shared and used by others. This gives their work a true purpose and connects it to real life in a deeper and more meaningful way.

The aim of creative problem solving is to contextualize content and make it realistic, interesting and applicable to the real world. It is more challenging to assess students in a creative problem solving environment than on a multiple choice test, but this is the way that the world is moving and assessment design and strategies need to evolve as well. If we do not adjust our ideas of what constitutes a learning experience, our students will become the consumers, not the makers.


Edutopia. (20 July 2010). James Paul Gee on Grading with games. [Video File].

Edutopia. (2015). Project based learning.

Halverson, E. & Sheridan, K. (2014). The maker movement in education. Harvard Education Review, 84:4, 495-504.

Wiggins, Grant. (2012). Creative [Electronic file]. Retrieved from:

Wiggins, Grant. (2012, February 3). On assessing for creativity: yes you can, and yes you should [Web log post]. Retrieved from:



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