Collaborative Research: Measuring and Enhancing Scientific Creative Thinking for STEM Education and Research: Classroom-Aligned Assessment and Network Neuroscience-Based Mechanisms

Project: Research project

Project Details


This collaborative award to research teams at Pennsylvania State University, Georgetown University, and Johns Hopkins University will focus on creative thinking in STEM education and research. Creative thinking is critical for success in STEM fields, which often require generating novel hypotheses, flexibly connecting diverse information, and envisioning solutions to ill-defined problems. Creative innovation is a valuable attribute of the U.S. workforce in the global economy, and the ability to maximize the nation's creative potential is projected to become even more essential for opportunity as creativity emerges as the human ability least achievable by artificial intelligence. The increasing value of creative thinking for STEM coincides with new applications of neuroscience methods that have the potential to predict, and perhaps even to enhance, creativity. Yet creativity is an under-researched contributor to STEM success. Indeed, there is not currently a measure of scientific creative thinking that educators can use to reliably determine what works (and what does not) in STEM education to foster creative thinking. This project will bring together a research team that represents an uncommon bridging of neuroscience and classroom-focused expertise. They will work with middle school and university educators to develop a new measure of scientific creative thinking and to use new neuroscientific tools to test whether a brain network that predicts an individual's general capacity for creative thinking can also predict their ability to think creatively with scientific content beyond what can be explained by their baseline cognitive ability. By testing whether neural data add value to traditional academic measures in predicting students' future creative thinking and STEM performance, this project will inform timely debates on the value of neuroscience for education. This work will also bridge the laboratory and the classroom in novel ways by longitudinally measuring change in brain network strength associated with of real-world STEM learning. By providing foundational knowledge on the nature and measurement of scientific creative thinking, the project will inform educational efforts to promote creative thinking in the classroom. This project will have additional impacts for broadening participation in STEM Fields by working with teachers of minority student populations underrepresented in STEM fields to optimize classroom usability for a test of scientific creative thinking. The project is funded by the EHR Core Research (ECR) program, which supports work that advances the fundamental research literature on STEM learning. The project directly fits the intent of ECR to facilitate the development, refinement, and testing of new education research, measurement, and evaluation methodologies.

This project aims to provide foundational knowledge on the cognitive and neural basis of scientific creative thinking. To this end, we will collaborate with educators to develop and psychometrically validate a new test of scientific creative thinking, assessing students' ability to generate novel hypotheses, research questions, and experimental designs. We will also leverage developments in the network neuroscience of domain-general creativity, including the recent discovery of a specific network of brain regions in which functional connectivity strength can predict an individual's creative performance. Specifically, the project will 1) construct a new assessment of scientific creative thinking, incorporating classroom-usability (working with STEM teachers in urban Baltimore) and expanded psychometric scale development, and 2) use functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) to extend our recent findings on the functional brain networks that support domain-general creativity to identify neural overlap/distinctness between domain-general and scientific creativity, and longitudinally to test whether strength of neural networks adds value to standard academic measures (e.g., grades) in predicting future creative thinking and STEM performance. This study will also provide the first large-scale analysis of cognitive and affective traits that support scientific creative thinking in STEM undergraduates, as well as preliminary data on whether network neuroscience methods developed in the lab can be used to measure neural strengthening of creative thinking ability through real-world STEM learning.

This award reflects NSF's statutory mission and has been deemed worthy of support through evaluation using the Foundation's intellectual merit and broader impacts review criteria.

Effective start/end date9/1/198/31/23


  • National Science Foundation: $553,385.00


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