Scientists have confirmed what coffee drinkers have always known: coffee stimulates. And it's not just the caffeine and it's not just the sugar. It's the rattle and the hum.
In June of 2013, Anahad O'Connor wrote in The New York Times:
"In a series of experiments that looked at the effects of noise on creative thinking, researchers at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign had participants brainstorm ideas for new products while they were exposed to varying levels of background noise. Their results, published in The Journal of Consumer Research, found that a level of ambient noise typical of a bustling coffee shop or a television playing in a living room, about 70 decibels, enhanced performance compared with the relative quiet of 50 decibels."
However, while background noise is good for creative work, quiet is better for detail work, the same study concluded.
Now I am absolutely NOT going to give the six-year-olds I teach caffeine and sugar. But it's interesting to know that there is value in the rattle and the hum of a busy classroom; that creativity is at home in the inefficiency and unpredictability of a little bit of clatter-bang.
Recently I came across another study that looked at circadian rhythms and problem solving. It concluded that challenges which required insightfulness and creativity were best solved when subjects were not at their intellectual peak; when they were tired and distractible. Why? Because the kind of clear-headed focus that filters out non-essential information is diminished. The willingness to entertain what might at other times seem like irrelevant ideas is expanded. The mind is opened to a wider range of possibilities.
So, it would seem that both noise and fatigue are good for creativity.
In other words -- scientists have confirmed what teachers have always known. That focussed work is best done early in the day and in a quiet environment. That play/centres/provocations are great for later in the day. That art is a great thing to teach on Friday afternoons.