Fire up your Innovation Engines! A book review and a reflection

Innovation Engine ChezVivian1

Can Creativity be Taught?

I’m taking an online graduate course in Creativity offered by the State University of Buffalo (SUNY) for my M.S. degree (two more courses to go!).  This is the same university that many Coetail students are doing their M.S. through.  The Course is CRS 530 “Creative Teaching and Learning in Formal & Informal Settings”.

After a bit of “blip”, I’m back at my M.S. studies with this course.  I really didn’t know what to expect when signing up for this course.  I’ve read many articles about the need to teach creativity and nurture a spirit of innovation in students.  I had listened to Ken Robinson’s TEDtalk “Do Schools Kill Creativity? during my early days in my Coetail studies.  There seemed to be a lot passionate talk all over the internet, but little real practical information on how to exactly teach students to be more creative.  By inference, I figured there really wasn’t a way—–short of inviting students to throw paint at a wall 😉

I must say that I really LOVE this course and what I’m learning.  “Yes, Virginia (Vivian), you CAN teach Creativity!”

The core of the course teaches the Torrance Incubation Model of Creative Teaching and Learning (TIM).  The name of it sounds a bit strange and academic (It was developed ~1970s) and made me wonder, initially, if I could ever relate to this model.  DON’T let the name put you off!  It’s a really approachable, practical, inspiring, and INGENIOUS model of how to teach creativity skills (yes skills to be creative exist!) at the same time as teaching your subject content!  On top of that, the model forces a teacher, while planning, to think outside of the box and to up the creativity in her delivery of the content.  Intrigued?  Consider taking the course…

Book Review Assignment

One of the assignments in the course is to pick a book on educational creativity, read it, and do a review of the book.  There are many creative ways suggested to do the “review” but in the end I’ve opted to do an “old-fashioned” book review because there is little that is “old fashioned” about this book.  The best way to tell people about the innovative features of this book is a direct article about it.  Et voilà!

The book I’ve chosen to read and review is illustrated at the top of this blogpost.  It is “Innovation Engine” (Enhanced Ebook edition) by Tina Seelig.

Enhanced Ebook Features

I usually prefer paper books, but in the interest of time, I had to buy the Kindle version and this one had “enhanced” features that make it unlike any other ebook I’ve ever read.  If you’re interested in reading this book, I would recommend the ebook edition for the enhanced features.  The most valuable enhanced feature of the book were the embedded videos.

Embedded videos of the author lecturing

Embedded videos of the author lecturing

Tina Seelig is Professor of Practice in the Department of Management Science and Engineering at Stanford University.  She has many online video lectures about her work on creativity.   Her creativity model is the Innovation Engine:

Tina Seelig's Innovation Engine

Tina Seelig’s Innovation Engine


I first became acquainted with  Tina Seelig’s Innovation Engine by watching her lecture:

The Six Characteristics of Truly Creative People



(Click the above to be taken to the Youtube.)

I watched the video while I was cleaning out and organizing the basement storage room.  It’s a chore that is terribly boring and I often put on a youtube lecture or documentary to get me through boring, tedious chores.

I’ve watched many lectures but for some reason, this lecture really stood out for me.  She said something that really resonated with me:

Knowledge is the toolbox of our imaginations

It was refreshing to me to hear someone praise “knowledge” because it’s become almost politically-incorrect to suggest that children need to learn and memorize content.  We’ve become so “inquiry-minded” and process-oriented that knowledge is seldom talked about anymore.  So, creativity doesn’t mean having no standards, throwing paint against the way, and “anything goes”.   It requires knowledge and if it requires knowledge then we can have objective standards for creativity.  It can be assessed and improved upon.

Watching the video and learning about her Innovation Engine inspired me to pick this book for my “book report”.

It was interesting to see bits of her videos embedded throughout the book.  It was another way of interacting with content and text.  Instead of just reading, I could watch videos which reinforced and expanded upon what I was reading, and vice versa.

So, if you enjoy her video, you will enjoy the experience of the Ebook.  Her video explains with a lot of images and photos etc. and this compliments the text of the book; but, the text of the book adds many more details that she couldn’t get into via video.

Other Enhanced Features

Besides embedded videos of relevant snippets from her videos, there are a lot of other enhanced features in the Ebook that add much more to the reading experience.  (These features may be available to all Kindle books.) Instead of writing about them, I’ve screenshot pictures and the captions should explain it all.

Innovation Engine ChezVivian 11

Look up words in Wikipedia

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Look up words in a dictionary

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Translate the text. Useful if you teach in an bilingual environment!


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Highlight quotes to tweet out

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See what other people have highlighted and highlight things that stand out for you

Make flashcards of quotes you've highlighted

Make flashcards of quotes you’ve highlighted

Review the book on Amazon. See other books by the same author

Review the book on Amazon. Read other reviews.  See other books by the same author


Technology does really “redefine” education.  (See the SAMR model for Educational Technology.) “Redefinition” means the technology allows for tasks that were previously impossible or inconceivable.  Through these enhanced features found in the Ebook edition of her book, reading has become a more interactive experience, with potential to interact with the public.  This is Redefinition of a book.

Relevancy to Teachers of Creativity

Since this is a book review, I can’t really explain Tina Seelig’s Innovation in detail (or you wouldn’t be tempted to read the book!).  I’ll give a brief overview of her model and then I’ll make some comments about the application of her Innovation Engine to teaching students to be creative.

Tina Seelig's Innovation Engine

Tina Seelig’s Innovation Engine

Tina Seelig’s Innovation Engine consists of six factors that impact on one’s creativity.  Three parts are internal factors and three are external factors. The definitions are Tina Seelig’s words.  I have put in italics my own words.

Internal Factors for Innovation (Creativity):

  • Knowledge: Knowledge is the toolbox for your imagination 
  • Imagination: Imagination is the catalyst for the transformation of knowledge to ideas
  • Attitude: Attitude is the spark that gets the process going

External Factors for Innovation (Creativity):

  • Habitat: Habitat is the environment (people, physical space)
  • Resources: Money, People, Natural Resources, Processes in Place, the Community where we draw upon for ideas
  • Culture: Beliefs that infuse the entire organization i.e. beliefs about failure, risk-taking, experimentation. The “background music” that tells you how to feel, how we think, how we act during the creative process etc.

Everything is interwoven

The internal factors are connected to the external factors.  All the factors depend upon each other and affect each other;  thus the model appears as an interwoven ribbon

  • Our habitats are external manifestations of our imaginations
  • The more knowledge we have, the more resources we have for our imagination. Vice versa is also true:  The more types of resources we have in our environment, the more knowledge we have about something
  • Our internal attitudes help create the culture of the environment that we learn in


Firing the Innovation Engine in the School Classroom

Tina Seelig’s focus for this book and her Innovation Engine is business entrepreneurship.  Still, her video lecture which is the basis for her book, says that these are  “Six Characteristics of Truly Creative People”.  This implies that the Innovation Engine isn’t just to help people become the next Steve Jobs billionaire entrepreneur.  It’s about how to cultivate creativity, (which leads to the invention of Innovative products).

Personal Application

This is how I see the parts of her Innovation Engine speaking to me as a school teacher and how I see connections between her Innovation Engine and the TIM Model of Creative Teaching and Learning:

  • Knowledge: Knowledge is the toolbox for your imagination 

As a teacher, I would consciously make sure that students are excited about the knowledge and content they are interacting with.  This will make sure that as much knowledge as possible “sticks”.  Since we all work within confines of curriculum, and don’t always have that much choice over the content; then we can use the TIM model to activate engagement as much as we can: TIM Model: Give Purpose and Motivation. This means being purposeful about giving students a purpose and a motivation to engage with the content.  In PYP terms, that would be the “Provocation”.  In the PYP, the provocation starts at the beginning of a topic (the start of the inquiry cycle).  For TIM, it would tell us that every lesson needs to have a provocation at the start.  All of it is to make sure that students are motivated to engage with the lesson, hopefully retaining more than if their engagement was taken for granted.

  • Imagination: Imagination is the catalyst for the transformation of knowledge to ideas

I would see my job as a teacher to address this part of the Innovation Engine is to give “room” for students to use their imaginations.  As adults, we love seeing our students use their imaginations but we don’t often plan for it.  We look at it as a delightful extra by-product of their learning, if possible.  We’re so focussed on the learning objectives that we don’t allow much time or room for their imaginations to go beyond the expected outcomes: TIM Model: Be Original-move away from the obvious. The TIM model is a methodology to plan for activating students’ imaginations.

  • Attitude: Attitude is the spark that gets the process going

My attitude as a teacher needs to be one of expecting students to go beyond the obvious and making that the culture of my classroom.  All the TIM Creativity skills need to be consciously embedded and exercised throughout the school year, until they become a permanent part of the toolbox that students use in their learning and something they leave my classroom with and use for the rest of their lives.

  • Habitat: Habitat is the environment (people, physical space)

As teachers, we can decorate and assemble our classrooms to promote creativity.  Chairs on wheels encourages students to collaborate and cross-pollinate ideas.  Littering our environment with books invites students to discover ideas, content, knowledge, topics etc. by serendipity.  (As a music teacher, that would mean “littering the environment” with a wide variety of music, musical time periods, music genres etc.).   The idea of a Makerspace is founded on the idea that littering children’s environments with physical materials and tools to “make” will encourage them to make!  Teachers can certainly do more thinking outside of the box as to how their classroom habitat is assembled for learning and can they do better to set it up for more creativity?

  • Culture: Beliefs that infuse the entire organization i.e. beliefs about failure, risk-taking, experimentation. The “background music” that tells you how to feel, how we think, how we act during the creative process etc.

I can hope that my attitude and my students’ attitudes will eventually seep out to affect the whole culture of the school.  There’s also the opportunity to develop a culture about creativity through mentoring other teachers in the school.  @BevansJoel (Coetailer and classmate in this SUNY course) introduced me to Pineapple Charts which is a method of professional development that is low-key and low maintenance but has a potential of being a huge impact because it is low-key and low maintenance; it stands a fighting-chance of being a sustainable long-term tool in a school.

I think it’s important to make conscious what a school’s culture is about failure, risk-taking, experimentation, creativity etc.   Spend formal time assessing it and then addressing impediments, as part of the School Development Plan.  Make it a part of the School Development Plan to nurture a school culture that prioritizes creativity.

  • ResourcesMoney, People, Natural Resources, Processes in Place, the Community where we draw upon for ideas

If creativity is a priority for a school, then we’ll resource it to make it happen.  As I mentioned at the top of the blogpost, most people don’t believe it is possible to teach creativity or they have mistaken beliefs about what creativity really is.  A school is an academic environment and administration and parents respond to studies and credible information.  Giving a workshop about the Torrance Incubation Model to colleagues on Professional Development Day and to parents  (Using the Torrance Incubation Model to Assist Parents in Developing Creativity in their Children) will encourage the school to prioritize resourcing the school to develop creativity.

Torrance Incubation Model for Creative Teaching & Learning

Torrance Incubation Model for Creative Teaching & Learning

TIM Creativity Skills

TIM Creativity Skills


In summary,  the book, “Innovation Engine” (Enhanced Ebook edition) by Tina Seelig augments her youtube lecture with more detailed examples to illustrate each part of her Innovation Engine.   Viewers can obtain the core of her message via the video and I don’t feel they would miss much by not reading the book.  However, the ebook does have innovative features that a paper book does not have (including embedded snippets of relevant parts of her video within the book).  If you enjoyed her video and the little nuggets of inspiration  and want to own it in one neat package and experience an interactive reading experience, then this ebook is worth considering.  It isn’t very expensive ($6.99 US for the Kindle edition, at the time of this blog being published).

Tina Seelig’s Innovation Engine makes us aware of six important factors that impact our ability to be creative.  Reading the book allows us to scaffold our internal and external factors for creativity, but you still need specific, practical guidance on how to execute your lesson plans.  This is where the TIM model fits in.

To get the most out of this book, I would suggest that you study or take a course in the TIM model afterwards.  The two models are both really ingenious and they complement each other!

3.5 stars




About Vivian

Vivian @ChezVivian is a Canadian-born Chinese, currently living in Switzerland. She has also lived in Hong Kong and Indonesia. She holds a M.S. (focus: Educational Technology Integration), B.Ed and a B.A. and graduate studies in Kodály and Orff music pedagogy. She is an elementary school classroom generalist, but has also taught as a music specialist, ESL/EAL and also in Learning Support. Most of her teaching career was in International Schools in Hong Kong. She is excited about the IBPYP and the possibilities of using technology to Inquire. Recently, she has been looking at the opportunities that computer programming gives to put #TECHXture back into the hands of children. In other words, technology need not be just about looking at screens. It can be about building things with our hands; and computer programming levels-up what children can do with the things they build---encouraging higher thinking skills. She is a Coetail Post-graduate Certificate grad ('13-'14), a former Coetail Coach and one of the co-founders of #CoetailChat. Her blog home curates her assignments for Coetail and her M.S. graduate studies about Educational Technology integration and anything else educationally-related that she feels inspired to write about. Her twitter tagline sums it up: "Mom to 4, Mentor, Educator, Musician (in that order)".
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