If we assume that students come to school with things in and on their mind, funds of knowledge, then it becomes our job to connect the curriculum to what they know already. This is the creative part of teaching--coming up with new ways to do this, as the needs and interests of students shift.

The basic rule is this: any part of the curriculum can be connected to any interest or experience that students have. While this rule may not be strictly 100% true, it is true enough that we should make a concerted effort.

This doesn't mean that every kid will be working on something different at every moment in the classroom. And it doesn't mean we should ditch our math books. It does mean that across the course of a week of school, every student's interest will surface in one way or another to keep kids engaged.

The human being has a grand capacity for doing repetitious, boring things--just watch someone play a video game. So, practicing math facts or memorizing spelling words or doing any of those other drill-type tasks will not be a problem if a student can count on having at least one experience a week that acknowledges his or her importance in the classroom.

How do we figure out the connections between interests and the curriculum? One exercise is to practice associative thinking. On this page are links to random word generators and other sources of creativity. If you take two random words, through the process of association you can get from one to another. That means building a chain of thoughts from one word to another. If you web a word--write down everything you think of when you hear the word--you will also be doing associative thinking.

Most people at this point claim they are not creative. But you don't have to be creative to think in an associative manner and also there are many aspects of creativity that can be learned. Associative thinking is a foundation for creativity.

If you are not sure how to do this, do the exercise with kids and they will help you. You'll be surprised what you can find next to a word. Stick with it for more time than is comfortable because the most creative ideas happen when you are scraping the bottom of the barrel of every day knowledge. If I do a brainstorming with a class, such as for an opera I help students write every summer, we end up with thirty to fifty possibilities. If you are webbing a word, spend ten minutes on it and try to get twenty associations with it, even if they are weird. The weird ones are the best--I promise you. But you won't believe me until you try it.
I remember one time standing in front of a classroom and asking the pre-service teachers for a concept to web. I told them I wanted something specific and small, so they gave me "peanut butter and jelly sandwich." From this I was to derive a whole curriculum.
My heart sank down to my toes because I had never had students challenge me this way before, and I didn't want to back down on the concept of any idea to any curriculum. But all of a sudden, I started thinking about peanut butter, which led in a not so large leap of the imagination, to George Washington Carver. There's a lot of science curriculum in what Carver did and a lot of social studies in the conditions under which he did it. There's also the manufacturing process of peanut butter and the nutrition it contains which can be fodder for the curriculum. Take apart the bread in like manner (flour, yeast, etc.) and you have similar possible connections. And that's without addressing jelly--a whole other world. Put it all together--better yet, bake the bread, blend peanuts into peanut butter, and boil the jelly so kids eat a peanut butter sandwich they created themselves, and you have an unforgettable classroom experience rich with lots of learning.

How would this work in a classroom?

The easiest place to begin is with literacy. We want students to read and write, and to a certain extent it doesn't matter what they read and write about, as long as they are practicing their skills. In fact, when they read and write about something important to themselves, then their reading and writing will be of a better quality.