Fostering Creativity in Math and Science

Professors Mika Munakata and Ashuwin Vaidya teach creativity to STEM students.Professors Mika Munakata and Ashuwin Vaidya teach creativity to STEM students.

Few people realize STEM fields are as inherently creative as the arts and other disciplines. Mathematical sciences professors Mika Munakata and Ashuwin Vaidya hope to correct this misperception through a National Science Foundation-funded project called Engaged Learning through Creativity in Mathematics and Science.

“For this project, the biggest hurdle is learning to think about STEM subjects as being creative,” says Munakata. “Math isn’t just about finding the right answer.”

By opening students’ minds to the connections between math and science and other disciplines, the team will encourage them to explore the world in new ways.

“We are taking a thematic approach to understanding our world and are developing different modules to adapt and use in class,” says Munakata. “It’s all about the process. We want students to be able to identify a problem — whether it is practical or whimsical — and then solve it creatively. We want them to get out of their comfort skills zone to be able to move forward and to pursue anything.”

“It’s all about the process. We want students to be able to identify a problem – whether it is practical or whimsical – and then solve it creatively.”  –Mika Munakata

Vaidya will kick off the three-year project by teaching a Gen Ed math course in the spring to non–math majors. Next fall, Vaidya and Munakata will co-teach a Student Experience course. By the project’s second year, they will recruit a group of about 30 Creativity Math Scholars, who will collaborate in interdisciplinary teams.

Mentored by faculty in different fields, the students will pose and explore complex problems through creative means. Workshop and visiting speaker events will provide insights into new ways of thinking and promote collaborations.

Professor Mika Munakata lecturing in classroom full of students.

The professors are also partnering with Bergen Community College as well as area high schools. “We want to put creativity at the center of the education process from early on,” explains Vaidya. “Our hope is to create a network of science and math educators who are open to new ideas and different approaches — from middle school through college.”