Curiosity, Creativity and Collaboration with STEAM: Inspiring Our Students | Harbord & Khan | 5 Min Read

March 16, 2023

“You can’t just give someone a creativity injection. You have to create an environment for curiosity and a way to encourage people and get the best out of them”

Sir Ken Robinson (2013)

As far back as 2010, the OECD said that creativity drives forward human culture and society. Engaging in creative thinking can improve metacognition, inter- and intra-personal interactions, and problem-solving, as well as promote identity development, academic achievement, and career success (PISA innovation assessment team, 2022). 

When we talk about creativity and creative thinking, one of the problems many teachers encounter is how to assess these areas and if they can do so. Many teachers are fed up with the factory style education of content, traditional standardized tests, and their validation; however, they face the challenge of measuring learning outcomes for creative thinking. A promising initiative developed in 2022 by the Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA) is the Creative Thinking Assessment which measures how well students generate, evaluate, and improve ideas that develop into original and effective solutions, “advances in knowledge and impactful expressions of imagination.” In our current climate, changes in policy are frequently data- and evidence-driven. As a result, PISA believes that testing for creative thinking will generate data from over 60 countries and provide schools with an alternative to traditional testing strategies. In assessing creative thinking, PISA hopes it can encourage a wider debate on the importance of supporting the development of creative thinking, as well as encourage positive changes in education policies and pedagogy around the world. Pisa data will provide policymakers with valid reliable and actionable measurement tools and can support evidence-based decisions. 

Interdisciplinary Learning & Innovative Thinking

Supporting our students’ creative thinking and creating an environment for curiosity requires us to challenge our own ways of thinking. As educators, it is important for us to be creative thinkers ourselves, so we can design innovative projects and create a supportive learning environment for our students’ creative thinking. Then we can inspire our students to be curious about content that they don’t initially find inspiring, for example, thinking about thinking skills.

In our teaching experience, we found that collaborative, interdisciplinary STEAM projects with authentic problems meant students could make unique connections that confronted traditional ways of thinking. As educators, if we really want to work in an interdisciplinary way, we can draw on ideas from the world around us: for example, the Bio-Inspired Textiles (BIT) project is an exciting example of interdisciplinary creative thinking combining biology, materials science, and textile design disciplines. ​It uses the concept of Bio-inspired design (also known as biomimetics and biomimicry) as “an approach to design in which natural processes inform solutions to human problems” (Kapsali & Hall, 2021). Founded by Prof. Veronika Kapsali and Dr. Cathryn Anneka Hall, the innovative aspect of this approach is finding solutions to questions by focusing on structures in Biology and nature as opposed to developing material through human engineering. As a result, we pique our students’ curiosity about thinking skills by aligning them with Bio-Inspired textile design.

Continuing with this case, Kapsali and Hall classify 8 structures in Bio-inspired textile design: Suture, helical, overlapping, cellular, layered, gradient, texture, and fibrous. These structures align with the type of collaborative learning that boosts creative thinking.  (Kapsali & Hall, 2021).


Another example of creative thinking to inspire our students is the use of origami in space design for CubeSats. For instance, NASA uses the traditional craft of origami for innovative space design, which is known as technical origami. It began with Akira Yoshizawa, the grandfather of origami, who created a standardized folding notation using geometry. Yoshizawa inspired others to adopt an interdisciplinary approach combining mathematics, physics, quantum mechanics, and origami. In 1985, Japan’s National Space Development Agency launched its first space origami satellite called the Space Flyer Unit, which was powered by solar panels that folded compactly. The design for the space origami was developed by Koryo Miura using a fold called the miura-ori. American physicist Robert J. Lang, also inspired by Akira Yoshizawa, is recognized as one of the leading mathematical theorists of origami who developed ways to algorithmetize the design process for origami. Lang’s interest in origami began as a child and continued throughout his life alongside his work as an engineer and researcher at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory, and SDL, Inc (Wulf, 2019).

Lang is a real-life example of how one person applied knowledge and skills from one domain and transferred that understanding to a completely different area—he is a true interdisciplinary thinker. Who would have thought that the traditional Japanese craft of origami would illustrate the power of creative transformation and be the avenue of expansive technical innovation in space design? Lang insightfully shares that “Once we have studied and understood the way paper folds and unfolds, we can apply those patterns to things that are very different from paper” and “[w]henever an engineer creates something that opens and closes in a controlled way, they can make use of origami” (Base Camp Math, 2021).

NASA and other space agencies are using origami to create logistical and engineering solutions for space. Maybe your students would like to try to make a starshade. For hands-on learning, NASA has a vast array of educational resources for students to explore. Both Bio-Inspired Textiles and NASA embrace innovation and change on vastly different scales. In education, we also need to pursue an environment that feeds exploration and creativity. Teachers hope to inspire learners and create a learning environment that sparks curiosity so that their students can be innovative thinkers who create and develop new ideas through exploration and innovation. Sir Ken Robinson’s quote at the beginning of this essay raises questions about how we can create an environment of curiosity and get the best out of people. It is worth considering not only how we can support our students and get the best out of them, but out of ourselves as well.


Base Camp Math. (2021). Robert Lang’s Engineered Origami. Base Camp Math. Retrieved March 2, 2023, from

​​Garcia, X. (2017, March 17). Tessellation and Miura folds. Science Friday. Retrieved March 8, 2023, from

Greicius, T., & Hartono, N. (Eds.). (2015, January 26). Technical origami. Jet Propulsion Laboratory NASA. Retrieved March 2, 2023.

Jacobson, M. (Ed.). (2021, March). Origami inspires small satellite antenna technology A multidisciplinary team engineers a small, light, low-cost deployable antenna for nano- and micro-satellite communications. Aerospace Manufacturing and Design. Retrieved March 2, 2023.

Kapsali, V., & Hall, C. A. (2021). Resources [What is bio-inspired textiles?]. Bioinspiredtextiles. Retrieved March 2, 2023.

PISA innovation assessment team (Ed.). (2023). PISA 2022 creative thinking [Thinking outside the box]. Retrieved March 2, 2023.

Robinson, K. (2023). Introducing: The Creative Revolution. Sir Ken Robinson. Retrieved March 2, 2023.

Wulf, S. (2019, February 25). Origami in space.

You may also be interested in reading more articles written by Harbord & Khan for Intrepid Ed News. Visit Harbord & Khan’s website.

Harbord and Khan

Meredith Harbord EdD and Sara Riaz Khan are global educators who use ethical dilemmas to enrich and transform curriculum. Their student centric approach is driven by an ethical model and innovative tools that support critical thinking and creativity. Meredith and Sara’s collaboration as Design teachers at ABA Oman International School in Muscat, focused on sustainability, ethical design and global mindedness and inspired them to establish Harbord & Khan Educational Consultants. They develop units of work based on real world issues to engage and challenge students for diverse curriculums (IB, PBL, Common Core and Australian) and are available for professional development and to create programs to meet the specific needs of your school. Meredith and Sara have authored two teacher curriculum books ‘Interdisciplinary Thinking for Schools: Ethical Dilemmas MYP 1, 2 & 3’ and ‘Interdisciplinary Thinking for Schools: Ethical Dilemmas MYP 4 & 5’ (2020). Website:

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