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Vital Signs with Dr. Sanjay Gupta

Singapore's Education System Profiled; Habits of Creative People Assessed; Measurements of Creativity Examined. Aired 2:30-3p ET

Aired December 05, 2015 - 14:30   ET


[14:30:11] DR. SANJAY GUPTA, CNN CHIEF MEDICAL CORRESPONDENT: Education is the foundation for our future, and our future quite frankly depends on it.

Welcome to "Vital Signs." I'm Dr. Sanjay Gupta.

Seven of the top ten smartest places in the world according to the PISA, that's the Program for International Student Assessment, are located in Asia. The smartest country is Singapore.

So what are they doing right there? And what can the rest of us around the globe learn from that?

You wouldn't know by looking at it -- stuffed animals, colorful books, lots of toys, but this is the bedroom of Aidan Na, one of the smartest kids in the world.

AIDAN NA: This one is key.

ALLEN NA, AIDAN'S FATHER: We realized that he's kind of gifted at a very early age. I would say maybe about eight months.

AIDAN NA: This one is G.

ALLEN NA: He seems to be drawn to numbers and shapes and colors. He was able to recognize the alphabet right about eight months old.

GUPTA: His I.Q. was first tested at age three. It was 142, making him a three-year-old genius. Now raising a kid that smart can be daunting.

ALLEN NA: There is a mismatch between the intelligence development as well as his psychological development. So there might be conflict and there may be issues with him not being able to express his emotions appropriately at that age.

GUPTA: So far it seems Aidan expresses himself just fine. He acts and looks, well, his age, five years old. But watch what happens when you give him a math problem.

AIDAN NA: You need to move all of these like this. You need to move all of these.

GUPTA: It's a logic game. AIDAN NA: I'm five years old, five years old. This is very easy for


ALLEN NA: Children with higher intelligence quotient tend to be very competitive. So in dealing with your daily activities we try to really focus on the process rather than the outcome.

GUPTA: Aidan has something else going for him as well. He lives in what the international community agrees is the smartest country in the world, Singapore.

MARC TUCKER, NATIONAL CENTER FOR EDUCATION IN THE ECONOMY: Singapore is a fascinating case. They had no skills, they had nothing. And now today they are one of the best performing economies in the entire world. They did it largely with education and training.

GUPTA: Marc Tucker is with the National Center for Education in the Economy. He has another simple explanation as to what makes Singapore tops in education, the teachers.

TUCKER: They made an absolutely key decision. They decided to source their teachers only from kids who came out of high schools with A levels.

GUPTA: To see the impact of the highest level teachers we tagged along as sleepy-eyed Aidan arrives at Pat's schoolhouse. We wanted to see what a world class education looks and feels like.

DIANA ONG, PRINCIPAL, PAT'S SCHOOLHOUSE: I think the first years of the child's life is very important. So when you have a very confident child, that child's confidence will carry him through primary school. Not only do you want a child who is smart, right, but you also want a child who is resilient.

GUPTA: In Singapore, whether you're born a genius or not, education is inescapable. It is everywhere all the time. In addition to his regular intensive schooling, the learning math lab is expected for Aidan every Friday night.

[14:35:00] ONG: We just try to give him like something that is more advanced, worksheets. I think he just knows that, so they try to teach him during the classes.

GUPTA: Starting in the 1970s Singapore's economic needs shifted. Before they used to have a low cost, low skill labor market, but were quickly moving toward high tech, white collar jobs and the education system needed to follow along. Soon it wasn't just about universal literacy. It was about a world class education for every single child.

ANDREAS SCHLEICHER, ORGANIZATION FOR ECONOMIC COOPERATION AND DEVELOPMENT: What is it that our children need to be successful in tomorrow's economy? One thing that's clear to them is that the world economy no longer rewards people just for what they know. Google knows everything. The world economy rewards people for what they can do with what they know. GUPTA: As simple as that sounds, it's not easy for most places around

the world. One place that is having a lot of success, though, is the Davidson Academy in Reno, Nevada.

When they ask you what is Davidson Academy, how do you describe it?

CONNIE HONG: I would describe it as a safe haven for my daughter and son. Socially and emotionally it's a place where they can feel that they are understood.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Did you check it with your calculator?

GRACE HONG, DAVIDSON ACADEMY: Our students are compelled, and they want to participate and be a part of building something bigger.

GUPTA: Building something bigger and better was exactly what Bob Davidson had in mind when he founded this first of its kind school in 2006. The academy which bears his name is exclusively for children who rank in the top one-tenth of one percent of the smartest kids in the country, that means I.Q. score of 145 or higher.

What do they do differently here versus other schools?

BOB DAVIDSON, DAVIDSON ACADEMY FOUNDER: Most schools traditionally are age-based education. If you're a certain age you're in a certain grade. If you're in a certain grade you get a certain curriculum. We have completely strayed away from that. Every student here has an individual learning plan based on their ability, and to some extent based on their interests.

DARREN RIPLEY, DAVIDSON ACADEMY MATH TEACHER: I think the most important aspect is especially for people who don't deal with gifted on a regular basis is to understand they aren't uniformly gifted. So I might have a kid who is a fantastic at the humanities or a fantastic musician, but they may not be that great at mathematics.

GUPTA: Really knowing your students, doing away with age-based learning, focusing on real world problem solving, and supporting all of it with teachers who get paid really well might just be the radical sort of overhaul the American education system needs.

Funding for educating gifted students is currently just pennies on the dollar compared to funding for special education. Tuition at the Davidson Academy is free, paid for by a large group of philanthropists who believe children, even the smartest children, need to feel challenged in order to learn, and that learning should learn different than what we have been used to for the last 50 years.

The belief that schools are failing to nurture creative skills has grown in recent years. So how creative are you? I'm going to put my own creativity to the test when we come back.


[14:41:53] GUPTA: Ludwig Van Beethoven got up at the crack of dawn and didn't waste any time getting to work. Beethoven's breakfast was coffee which he prepared himself with great care, 60 beans per cup, counting them out one by one for a precise dose.

Maya Angelou was unable to write at home, instead opting for a hotel or motel room. She always kept a dictionary, a Bible, a deck of cards, and a bottle of sherry close by.

MASON CURREY, AUTHOR, "DAILY RITUALS": I felt like so many of these really successful, well-known figures, they organized their lives around their creative projects and often to the detriment of their health or their finances or sometimes their personal relationships. But I think that that ruthlessness about pursuing their creative projects really took them to greater heights.

GUPTA: Author Mason Currey has chronicled the everyday routines of 161 of the world's greatest artists in his book, "Daily Rituals".

A lot of artists seem to prefer mornings, not all of them, and really early, waking up quite early in the morning and forcing themselves to write or do whatever. What do you make of that? What is it about mornings?

CURREY: I think mornings have a couple of obvious advantages. If you put your creative project first in the day then you have less of a chance of being interrupted by something else. If that's literally the first thing you do in the day then it becomes the most important part of your day.

GUPTA: Exercise, swim, bike, run, that seems to be another theme. Not everybody again, but how important did you think exercise was for the artists you profiled?

CURREY: I was struck by walking in the book, how many figures incorporated a long, usually solitary walk into their daily routine. I think there's something about the act of walking that tends to kind of get your brain going, working away at problems you may have in your project.

JAMES KAUFMAN, PROFESSOR OF EDUCATIONAL PSYCHOLOGY, UNIVERSITY OF CONNECTICUT: Creativity is one of those things that everybody feels like they have.

GUPTA: Just like working a muscle when you exercise, University of Connecticut Professor James Kaufman says you can train your brain to become more creative.

How do you teach creativity?

KAUFMAN: One very easy basic way is to ask questions that have more than one solution and to try to get your child or your student to come up with as many of them as they can.

GUPTA: It's called divergent thinking, and today James is going to put mine to the test.

KAUFMAN: And for this task it's called an alternate uses type of task.


KAUFMAN: And where I'm going to ask you to consider an object and to think of all the different possible things that you could use the object for. What I'm going to ask you is how many different uses can you think of for what you can do with this pen?

GUPTA: Well, you can obviously write with it. You could use it to connect two different things together. You can use it as sort of a bridge. You can use it to probe things, push things back, examine.

[14:45:00] You could use the cap to potentially catch things. You could put paper clips or needles or something like that, something sharp inside there. If you could break apart the other part use it as a little toothpick, even to pick locks perhaps. You could use it as a bookmark. You could use it as a ruler, the parts that are straight.

KAUFMAN: It was interesting that your answers were much more functional, much more practical than almost any I've ever heard.

GUPTA: Right.

KAUFMAN: The three ways that this is scored, one is for fluency, and that is how many different ideas did you come up with that were creative? You had 15 different responses, which is notably above average when I do these projects. Most people tend to do 10 or 12.

The biggest thing is creative people are open to experiences. And this could mean they're open to new ideas. They're open to trying new foods, to bungee jumping, meeting new people. It could mean they're open to intellectual debates, to trying some new different type of art. It's a very wide meaning, but that is one of the single most important personality components for a creative person.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Where I'm from its polite to say that that means that you might be interested in me. Hi, I'm Rhonda and I would like to take the apartment.


GUPTA: And taking sensible risks, like getting up in front of a live audience to perform improv.

Genius, creativity, it all comes together in a very unusual place, a tiny stage in downtown Los Angeles.


GUPTA: In the 30 seconds it will take me to finish this introduction you'll have consumed 35 megabytes of data, equivalent to a book of about 17,000 pages.

[14:50:00] Now, if you're also surfing the web at the same time, multitasking, you could add up to 20 percent of that. In fact researchers at the University of California San Diego have calculated that we consume about 74 gigabytes. That's about nine DVD's worth of data every single day. It's amazing we're able to process this and make sense of it. So how do you think straight in the age of information overload?

DANIEL LEVITIN, AUTHOR, "THE ORGANIZED MIND": Information overload refers to the notion that we're trying to take in more than the brain can handle. We used to think, and we thought this, that you could pay attention to five to nine things at a time. We now know that's not true. It's a crazy overestimate. The conscious mind can attend to about three things at once.

GUPTA: Information overload also leads to something we have all experienced, decision fatigue. It's why in nearly every picture Albert Einstein is wearing a gray suit, why Steve Jobs always wore a black turtleneck, and Mark Zuckerberg is almost always sporting his signature gray t-shirt. They didn't want to waste valuable energy making inconsequential decisions about their clothes. Neuroscientist Dan Levitin is the author of "The Organized Mind."

LEVITIN: If you're making a bunch of little decisions like do I read this e-mail now or later, do I file it, forward it, do I have to get more information, do I put it in the spasm folder, that's a handful of decisions right there. And you haven't even done anything meaningful.

GUPTA: Is this as good as we get or do we evolve?

LEVITIN: So one thing that's interesting is when you look at stress, we get stressed out now by having somebody yell at us in the office or by making a mistake or losing a bunch money. These aren't problems that our hunter-gatherer ancestors had. They would get stressed if a lion came to them or a boulder was rolling towards their living quarters, a big thing down the hillside. And that kind of stress provoked the fight or flight response, adrenalin released to get you ready to do something.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Long weekends with dad! Weekends with dad!

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Yes, but your mother cannot know.


GUPTA: There is plenty of stress and adrenalin on stage at the Groundlings Theatre in Los Angeles.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Does the doctor know that you're out here?



This is improv comedy. And there's hardly anything that can make you more vulnerable and tap into your creativity. Many of the greats have come through this stage, Will Farrell, Kristen Wiig, Bill Hartman, Paul Reubens, and Kathy Griffin, just to name a few. Tonight I'm in the audience to watch these creative geniuses in action. UNIDENTIFIED MALE: All I need a household object, like a toaster.

Some object.




UNIDENTIFIED MALE: One word. That's all they get. Here's what Mindy and her partner Alex did with it.



UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: David, who spilt all this blood?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I did. I spilt it.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I clearly put notes on all the blood vials up here to say please don't pick them up and shake them or use them for something other than what we need to use them for.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Why do we keep a fridge and a cabinet full of blood vials, some warm, some cold, and occasionally I'm reaching in for a coconut water and knock some over.

GUPTA: The broom thing, and Mindy and Alex, you guys didn't have any time obviously to talk ahead of time. You were picking up vials of blood.


MINDY STERLING, ACTOR: Yes, I was. I thought something was going to happen with that.

GUPTA: Did you have to question? Did you know where it was going?

ALEX STAGGS, ACTOR: No idea. I was like she might grabbed me a brush down there, so I'm going to be looking for something up here. I thought we could both have brushes. There's no rule list that says we can't both have brushes. I kind of blacked out. I'm not even sure what happened. I think she mentioned blood. I think I said it was mine, and then I don't know, we just kept rolling with it.

GUPTA: You literally went from a broom to Jackson Pollack.


STAGGS: This is a bunch of splatter.

STERLING: Can you tell which blood came from which part of my body?

GUPTA: Even just sitting around back stage after the show I couldn't help but feel surrounded by really fast brains. Is creativity associated with high intelligence?

STERLING: Not as far as Tim goes.


TIM BAGLEY, ACTOR: For most of them, yes. For me it's just a hope and a prayer.

[14:55:00] I don't know. I mean, I feel like there are different kinds of intelligence. And just like when you see Magic Johnson playing basketball or somebody that comes in and can look at a room and say this should go here and that should go there, there's different kinds of intelligence. I don't know how, but we all have figured out how to play and incorporate whether you know about something or not. I've seen Mindy where they say it takes place in Sri Lanka, and she just is committing like she knows exactly what she's doing, and she's never heard that word before.


STERLING: No. No. I had no idea.

ANNIE SERTICH, ACTOR: I think creativity comes from fearlessness. I got like a 400 on my SAT. I mean, not really, but I think it comes from fearlessness, and that's part of what improv teaches you is to be fearless.

GUPTA: Nature versus nurture, it's one of the oldest arguments in the history of psychology. How much of our smarts are innate and how much can we learn? One thing is for sure, there's no telling where our next generation of geniuses will come from or how the definition of genius will change. I will tell you, one of the best pieces of advice I've ever been given, do something that scares you every day. That will keep your mind sharp, your blood pumping, and your horizons expanding.

I'm Dr. Sanjay Gupta. Thanks for watching.