Posts Tagged creativity
This post is part of a series about the Building Blocks for Personalized Learning. When teachers nurture the building block of Creativity for every student, they provide greater opportunities for personalized learning. Just as we expect every student to make academic progress in our schools and classrooms, the digital age requires that every individual utilize creativity to develop innovative solutions to problems and to generate unique products that demonstrate what they have learned.
Strategies for Nurturing Creativity
Celebrate Diversity – Because of different backgrounds and experiences, students, come to school with varying strengths and challenges. Teachers should welcome the variety of innovations and ideas that are fostered when creativity is purposefully encouraged within the personalized learning environment. This diversity strengthens the learning community as students learn more about the content, each other, their teacher, and themselves. The search for correct answers, in a misguided effort to prepare for standardized tests, can be detrimental to creative expression. Similarly, when teachers provide students with a specific set of directions, essentially a recipe, for completing an assigned project, they can also limit creativity, and this practice can result in a roomful of identical products – but may not result in any real learning. The only documented learning happening in those environments is a student’s ability to follow the instructions, which causes the design of the same product. Determining how to evaluate diverse activities and products can be challenging; therefore, teachers should collaborate with their students to design open-ended rubrics that focus more on the creative process and their developing skills.
Design a Makerspace – Many schools are designing makerspaces to facilitate the development of the skills and processes involved in creativity. At Ramsey Jr High School in Fort Smith, AR, the media center has been reimagined as a makerspace; they refer to it as their “Tinker Space.” The school has provided the students with a variety of craft supplies; 3D printers; engaging open-ended games; and resources that foster imagination. There are spaces for individual exploration and group collaboration. It has become a popular destination throughout the school day. In addition to providing a central makerspace in a school building, consider that every classroom could be a makerspace. Brainstorm what types of products could be generated in different subject areas. This influx of creativity and the freedom to create helps children demonstrate understanding of what they have learned about a concept by empowering them to utilize their personal strengths and abilities.
Integrate Technology – The use of technology can encourage new ways for students to be creative. Either with their own devices in a BYOT environment or with school-provided technology tools, students can create new ways to show what they know. For example, they can utilize the camera on a smartphone to demonstrate their learning in original ways. They could record a new way to solve a math problem; produce a modern adaptation of a work of literature; reenact a historical event; or capture a live science experiment. There are endless possibilities for learning with videos and photos. The important thing to remember is to have the students construct and own the different ways that they show their learning. Many schools are also using 3D printers in order for students to design and create new products. This process can help them develop their capabilities in math and science while also creating a new art form. Here are some suggestions for accessing a 3D printer in case you don’t have access to one at your school – How to Make 3D Printed Stuff without Owning a 3D Printer.
Ensure Access to Resources – It’s more difficult for students to be creative in classrooms where the access to the necessary materials is totally controlled by the teacher. The resources have to be available when students need to use them. This access applies to technology devices as well as to the supplies needed to create original products, such as paper, manipulatives, art supplies, and scientific equipment. Of course, this access should be negotiated by the teacher and students as part of the process of developing a learning community. It can be helpful to have specific times when students are encouraged to explore their own creative pursuits. This movement is often referred to as Genius Hour. One goal for this time is to provide students with an opportunity to explore topics they find interesting and to be self-directed in that exploration. Ideally, this active exploration can eventually to extend into all aspects of the curriculum and the learning environment.
Provide Adequate Time – Time is a necessary aspect of the creative process in personalized learning. Beginning with the initial stages of a project, students need time to brainstorm in order to generate new ideas and to develop a process for creating their products. Then students need the time to work collaboratively on those innovations. Students may need feedback at this point about next steps including alternative strategies and solutions. Teachers can offer this feedback without determining the exact steps students should follow by asking guiding questions that expose students to new possibilities. After students create their products, they also need time to reflect and to make any necessary changes to the process or product. Finally, students need a way to share their work with others by publishing or displaying what they have created. All of the above stages, help to personalize learning as students determine their own effective strategies. This process assists them as they approach new learning tasks involving creativity.
It can be challenging for teachers to provide the necessary time, access, and resources for creativity to flourish in their classrooms. They will need to determine how to integrate academic content and learning standards in order facilitate creative learning opportunities. Another way that teachers can nurture creativity is by being a good role model for their students. When teachers are enthusiastic innovators and inventors, they are showing their students that they value creativity. This modeling reveals the personal side of the teacher and helps in turn to personalize learning for students.
Almost two years ago, I wrote an article for eSchool News entitled, “The Advantages of the BYOT Classroom.” At the time, I was the Coordinator of Instructional Technology for Forsyth County Schools in Georgia, and the advantages that I listed were the qualities that I had observed in classrooms that effectively utilized Bring Your Own Technology (BYOT) to transform teaching and learning opportunities with students’ personal technology tools.
Now, I’m collaborating with several schools and districts around the country that are beginning to implement Personalized Learning to better connect students with engaging academic content; to facilitate the development of digital age skills; and to utilize technology to provide access to anytime, anywhere learning. These benefits occur as districts, schools, and teachers recognize that students have unique strengths, needs, and interests that must be considered within the design of instruction. The methods for addressing student individuality may differ, but they include the same hallmarks of the BYOT classroom. In the illustration above, I refer to these as building blocks, as they collectively construct a firm foundation for personalized learning.
Within each of the blog posts linked below, I focused on the concepts included within the illustration of the building blocks to highlight why they are essential, foundational components for personalizing learning. I also included strategies or described necessary qualities for encouraging the development of each building block within your own personalized learning implementation plan.
Building Blocks for Personalized Learning Blog Posts
- Critical Thinking
A Note from Tim: Forsyth County Schools in Georgia is beginning its sixth year in implementing Bring Your Own Technology (BYOT). In this post, Instructional Technology Specialist at South Forsyth High School, Carla Youmans, shares her experiences of facilitating BYOT in the SFHS Media and Instructional Technology Center.
Many school systems and businesses have started to permit students and employees to use their own computer devices within school or at work. It saves money, allows for a certain level of comfort, and ensures that more individuals have the capabilities of working digitally. Many people refer to 21st Century Learning in a BYOT/BYOD environment. Perhaps we should begin saying BYOT/BYOD in a digital, personalized learning environment. Our educational system, parents, and society expect high rigor for and from all students. Since more students are taking AP or IB courses than ever before, more students must be capable of high performing work. Therefore, in a BYOT/BYOD digital learning environment we must create a space where students learn and develop skills that set them apart from each other (creativity, problem-solving, innovation, etc).
Steps in the Process
We follow five simple steps in our Media and Instructional Technology Center. The first step is to read. We want students to read for information — to understand, to question, and to infer. As they read, the next step is to collect valid, accurate and reliable information. Many students immediately want to create a new product; however, they have no data or research to support the reasoning for the new product. So, once they have read and collected information, we want them to critically think — What have I learned? What more do I want to know? What can I share? What do others know? How could we together build something greater? This is where the fourth and fifth steps come in: to collaborate and to create.
When we can help students understand this process and follow it then we believe we have pushed them out of their comfort zone where great things can happen.
Empowering Students to Drive the Learning
Encouraging teachers to use BYOT/BYOD in our digital learning environment is best achieved through a project-based learning approach. We teach with a “use what you have to show what you know” mentality that empowers students to drive their assessment by encouraging student choice and student voice in as much of the projects as possible. What does this really mean? It means: possibly having 30 totally different projects submitted by 30 different students to assess the same exact standard. WOW! What a shift from the much discussed “differentiated” classroom to a “personalized” classroom. Imagine all of the students in your classroom learning the way that is best for them? AMAZING!
Transforming the classroom may be scary for some teachers. First of all, teachers are known for writing great directions that explain “exactly” how they want a project to be completed. When we give students packets of directions to create a project, we take away all of the problem-solving, creativity, and innovative pieces that they may add. Secondly, high-achieving students who typically receive a 99 on an assignment and ask “why didn’t I get a 100?” may be caught off guard when they “use what they have to show what they know.” Our current system has molded them to be step-by-step direction followers rather than inquisitive problem solvers and creators.
We never stop learning. Surprise yourself and your students. Allow them to create their own assessments and watch your project based BYOT/BYOD turn into a phenomenal student-centered digital learning environment.
A Note from Tim: Forsyth County Schools in Georgia is beginning its sixth year in implementing Bring Your Own Technology (BYOT). The first year was spent on developing the infrastructure, and the last four years have focused on piloting the initiative, developing personal and professional capacity, and eventually spreading the practice of encouraging students to learn with their personal technology tools throughout the district. In this post, fourth grade teacher, Brooke Hagler, shares her experiences of facilitating BYOT within the framework of the Thinkers Keys.
When I began the journey of implementing Bring Your Own Technology (BYOT) in my classroom, I wanted to make sure it had a positive impact on student learning, rather than just for presenting information or playing games. Don’t get me wrong these aspects of BYOT do have their time and place in a classroom. I just did not want them to be the only ways my students used their technology. With the potential of technology for engaging students and preparing them for the future, I wanted to make my students truly think beyond what our culture tells them is possible. This capacity creates the future adults who test, question, and invent for the next generations to come.
In order to create deep thinkers in my classroom, I use a resource called the Thinkers Keys developed by Tony Ryan. The keys are twenty strategies that can be used to help students think critically and creatively. As you learn how to implement each key it becomes very clear that they are an easy resource to use in all areas of learning. You can find more about the Thinkers Keys and Tony Ryan at his website.
The Thinkers Keys with BYOT
I began to integrate the Thinkers Keys by introducing the students to one key at a time as it fit into the curriculum. I modeled the key with students by using Socrative or join.me. The students participated and collaborated using BYOT, school technology resources, whiteboards, or paper. By using Socrative and join.me, I was able to model a key for the class as a whole group or in a small group and receive instant feedback about who understood the content we were studying at a deeper level. Another reason I used these websites is because the person answering could be anonymous to the other viewers, so the students who would never answer before felt free to take risks and give answers.
Once students became familiar with the key I incorporated it as one of their centers with any content. They could choose how they to turn something in. They often chose to use technology to complete the assignment and either printed out their work or emailed it to me. Not all of the keys involve writing down answers; however, sometimes students had to build models and then used their devices to take pictures to explain what they built. Other keys encouraged students to conduct research, and students would use kid friendly websites on their technology tools to find more information. After conducting research, students created presentations. I did not limit the students’ choices about how they chose to show what they had learned, and they often chose to use ActivInspire, PowerPoint, Prezi, or Wixie. My rule for presentations was as long as students knew how to use the technology and could meet all requirements of the rubric for the assignment, then they were encouraged to create with whatever medium they liked.
Thinking Differently with Thinkers Keys
Here are some Thinkers Keys that I used regularly in my classroom. I used the Consequence Key during our class meeting time and with our ecosystem unit. During our class meeting time, we discussed possible scenarios and the students had to respond with their own consequences. For example, I asked them how bullying affects everyone when a student picks on someone on the bus. They continued giving consequences until they saw that not just the bully and bullied student are the only ones affected. Then, I carried this same thinking into our ecosystem unit. After students learned about different ecosystems, they used BYOT and school technology resources to go to Discovery Education for science explorations and virtual experiments. They were asked to explore what consequences population growth and decline have on a desert environment. Once they viewed the explorations, they presented their group’s findings. Then the group completed a virtual lab and predicted what the consequences for a fish population would be by placing a hiking trail, parking lot, or playground around a pond. The students wrote a lab report at the end of their experiment that explained if their findings agreed or disagreed with their prediction. The simple fact that students understood that consequences can have a ripple effect could them academically and also socially.
Another key that I implemented was the Question Key. It caused students to think backwards through a process, which I found out for my fourth grade students was not easy. I used this key in all content areas, but I liked using it the most in math. It let me know quickly if students truly understood a concept or if they just went through the motions of completing the math process. I gave the students an answer like seven thousand, three hundred forty-eight and asked them to write five problems that reached this answer. To make it more challenging, I set guidelines. They had to have at least one addition, subtraction, multiplication, and division problem. Three of the problems had to be written as a word problem. And finally one problem had to have multiple steps to get to that answer. In the beginning, this assignment blew my students away, but with repeated modeling and practice they were able to write and solve word problems more easily by the end of the year. Not only could they solve math problems with more ease, they were using their ability to think backwards in all academic areas. To think backwards through a process is a hard but valuable skill that we, as adults, take for granted, but it can be taught to students and then they will have that skill for life.
The keys can be taught in isolation, like above. However, they are ultimately designed to get students to work with them in connected sequences. I do not recommend beginning with sequencing the keys until you as a teacher have a full understanding of what each key is designed to do. When students use the keys in sequence, they are designed to help them solve problems, analyze, etc. I have been working with the Thinkers Keys for two years now, and this past year was the first year that I used the keys in a sequence. Here is the first rubric I created and used this year with sequencing the keys. It was a very powerful learning experience for my students and me, and I still have much to learn and experiment with this step myself.
The Thinkers Keys allow you as a teacher to tweak them and make them useful for your classroom. Just stay true to what they ask the students to do so that they keep their power. I could go on forever about how powerful the keys in combination with technology are as learning tools. They don’t just help the students learn the content in the classroom. They help them prepare for life in our competitive society. They prepare them to be our future leaders and thinkers of the digital age.
The Partnership for 21st Century Skills identified 4 critical areas of learning for students that include creativity, critical thinking, communication and collaboration. In Forsyth County Schools, we’ve been working hard with parents, teachers and students to embrace learning with student-owned technologies; something we call Bring Your Own Technology (BYOT). What we know for sure is that BYOT is really more like Bring Your Own Learning because we’ve discovered that it is NOT about the technology – it IS about the learning.
The video, Above and Beyond, by Peter H. Reynolds and produced for the Partnership for 21st Century Skills, is a wonderful illustration of what is possible when students are given the freedom to personalize the learning experience for themselves.
As you watch the video, you might consider the following questions:
- What happens when designers of learning recognize that students are always volunteers in learning?
- How can designers of learning create a “kit” and still allow students the freedom to produce individualized results?
- In a world where we feel pressured to cover everything within a given time frame, how do we schedule innovation and deeper learning?
- How do we honor each child’s strengths and still nurture collaboration?
- How would the meaning of the story change if Maya and Charlie were to lose the race?
We have spent a great deal of time watching BYOT unfold its wings in the classrooms around our district. And we’ve seen so many great strategies that support the 4 C’s of creativity, critical thinking, communication and collaboration. These strategies are ageless and cross all content areas. We teach them in our professional learning sessions and coach teachers to consider these as they begin to incorporate BYOT themselves:
- Backchanneling while watching a video: In this way the teacher is able to foster collaboration and communication by having students answer questions and post observations as the video proceeds.
- Take a picture or create an image which demonstrates understanding of a concept: This is a powerful way to encourage creativity as well as critical thinking. A variation on this strategy is having students annotate on the image using an app on their device.
- Arrive at consensus and submit one answer per pair: It’s not necessary for every student to have a device. In fact it’s preferable that students are forced to collaborate on their thinking and agree on the answer that will be submitted via a student response system like Socrative. This strategy enhances critical thinking as well as collaboration.
- Sharing tools for learning: There is a magical thing that occurs when BYOT is first introduced in a class. If a teacher encourages students to share their devices with each other while talking about the ways in which the apps and device can be used to support learning, the great ideas flow and student excitement about learning blossoms. And meanwhile students are thinking critically, collaborating, communicating and getting creative.
- Demonstrating how to do something: We’ve seen some fantastic examples of critical thinking where students are using screen sharing apps to demonstrate how to solve math problems. We’ve even seen some examples where students have to incorporate a mistake into the problem and show why that mistake is incorrect and how to fix it – requiring some creativity to communicate as well.
- Turning a standard into a driving question: When teachers gain some comfort with implementing BYOT and have begun to give up some of the control in the classroom, this strategy works very well. The teacher will share a particular standard with students and together they will write a question that is compelling, asks “so what” and results in a product that useful and beneficial beyond the classroom. This strategy definitely addresses all of the 4 C’s in the process!
- Finding a new way to show what you know: Another great strategy to use once students have become comfortable in the BYOT classroom is to ask them to demonstrate their learning in an innovative way. Students cannot repeat any of the previously used strategies as a way to represent learning. Students are forced to think critically about ways that they can demonstrate their mastery and to do so creatively.
- Building a community bank of ways to show what you know: The teacher has to utilize the ingenuity and critical thinking of the students in the classroom for instructional and technical support. By suggesting ways to learn with their technology tools, students begin to own their learning. Teachers can posts these ideas throughout the classroom or online in a wiki, so students can use them as creative resources and communicate with each other for additional expertise.
Implementing the above strategies can strengthen the learning community of the classroom. The real transformation begins to occur as teachers realize that they can and should learn alongside their students to explore new ways to utilize personal technology. Not only do students strengthen their digital age skills, but they also feel more connected to each other, their teachers, and their learning. As shown in Above and Beyond, our students will one day truly take flight, and hopefully their experiences today will successfully pilot them in their different directions.
I recently participated in the Family Online Safety Institute’s (FOSI) Annual Conference in Washington, DC. My 13 year old son was fortunately able to go along for the trip, and as a history buff, he was eager to tour the notable sites in DC. I arrived the day before the conference and was able to explore the city with him and my wife. We took the DC Metro, and he immediately searched for a possible app for his iPhone to make navigation easier. He discovered that there were several mobile apps for that purpose, and he decided on DC Rider. With that app, he was able to see the arrival times of the different trains and to compare possible routes for each trip. He owned this whole adventure, and I found myself following his lead as he directed us along the path to each destination. Sometimes he selected some clever and creative ways for us to arrive at a site, when I might have chosen the direct route, but the journey became as essential to him as the final, planned location.
Later I reflected on this experience through the lens of the Bring Your Own Technology (BYOT) classroom. It is necessary for teachers to know when to make suggestions in order to guide students, but it is often more essential to understand when to get out of the way and encourage students to lead. Students usually know more about their own technology than their teachers, and with BYOT they can use these tools to access all of the information that exists in the world. They can explore authentic problems and discover creative solutions and design innovative products. It is fine to have a destination in mind, but there really is no end of the line in the process of learning, and teachers and students should enjoy exploring all of the alternative paths along the way.
Finally, I realized the next day, as I had to navigate the DC Metro without my son’s assistance, that I had become dependent on his leadership and skills. I floundered for a little bit until I was able to orient myself. I decided that next time I would try a little harder to learn from and with him as he used his technology instead of just being a passive observer and follower. Then we could both be learning from the journey with BYOT!
I have sometimes heard the misconception that before a school begins implementing Bring Your Own Technology (BYOT), students need to be trained in the acceptable use of technology that has been predetermined by the district; however, many of the digital age skills that students are developing as they use their devices at school occur just in time as they are needed in the course of the process of learning. Just in time learning entails that as a specialized strategy is necessary to solve a problem or share a solution, then that skill is learned and utilized in a relevant way within the context of the work. There are several just in time skills that students begin to acquire within the BYOT classroom.
Just in Time Digital Citizenship
We have all heard of students making mistakes with technology or using it inappropriately, often with devastating consequences. Many of these issues occur because students are self-taught or peer-taught in how they should use their devices without the just in time guidance of a teacher. When students are empowered to bring their personal technology devices to school to assume more control of their learning, they can be coached in responsible ways to use technology. Students in the BYOT classroom, have the advantage of learning how to use their devices for instructional purposes with the facilitation of their teachers. Students continually practice and refine digital citizenship in the BYOT classroom as they learn with each other through the use of the same technology devices that they use at home. Skills in netiquette, the appropriate ways to communicate with others online, as well as strategies for ensuring Internet safety, can be encouraged by the teacher within the BYOT learning community.
Just in Time Technical Troubleshooting
As devices and applications continue to change, there is no one consistent method for resolving technical issues. Technical troubleshooting and instruction must occur just in time in the BYOT classroom according to the pertinent needs of the situation. Teachers and students learn how to use new technology tools and programs while they are being utilized, and students often provide the technical training for their peers and their teachers. Since students are utilizing different devices for instruction, they will have to become proficient with the technical aspects of their own tools and usually become recognized for their particular areas of expertise. In this way, students and teachers can develop critical problem-solving strategies for working and learning within a digital world.
Just in Time Collaboration
Learning how to work with others to achieve a common purpose is essential to the BYOT classroom because students are bringing different devices to school, and those devices have different capabilities. The students also possess different knowledge, abilities, and interests, therefore, they have to pool their resources and intellect and negotiate responsibilities for the learning. Groups need to be dynamic and fluid as students work together and with their teacher to share information and make decisions. Many Web 2.0 sites can be used to develop online collaborative spaces, including Edmodo and Wikispaces. Just in time collaboration can occur synchronously or asynchronously and capitalizes on the potential strengths of everyone in the learning community.
Just in Time Critical Thinking
Critical thinking with BYOT involves being able to distinguish among conflicting information and facts as students conduct research with their personal devices. Recognizing propaganda and determining the accuracy of content are other essential critical thinking abilities required by the digital age. Students need to develop the capacity to use reason as they formulate opinions based on what they already know and on what they have learned from their classmates and in online searches. Students learning how to make these decisions just in time can be nurtured by the classroom teacher through modeling, practicing, reflecting, and questioning. A great tool for posing questions to students is Socrative. It works across multiple devices and incorporates various types of questions, and teachers can easily create follow up questions to responses that students have texted and shared with the rest of the class.
Just in Time Communication
In the traditional classroom, communication is often one-way – directed from the teacher and toward the student. In the BYOT classroom, there is a potential shift in communication as students use their devices to discuss content they are learning with others, set goals for themselves, and share new concepts. This communication happens just in time as the students are encouraged to communicate, whenever and wherever, as a function and expression of learning. The lines of communication are now multi-directional and extend beyond the classroom as students can web conference through Skype with other students in classrooms around the globe. They can instantaneously publish their ideas by blogging using Edublogs or through other blogging tools. Blogs can become a lasting portfolio of student work, and this process of authorship helps students to develop an authentic and beneficial digital footprint.
Just in Time Creativity
With the abundance of free and inexpensive applications for mobile devices, students are able to develop new skills in creativity. In the BYOT classroom, teachers can help foster creativity as students utilize their personal technology tools to invent and design original products. These inventions are often constructed just in time as solutions to problems or for students to illustrate what they have learned in imaginative new ways. In this manner, students aspire to become producers of content that they find relevant rather than solely being consumers of static information that has been predetermined as meaningful for students. With netbooks and laptops, students can download the free, open source, program Audacity to develop podcasts and recordings, or they can record straight to their handheld devices. Students can also use the camera tools on their devices to take photographs and easily turn these photos into new creations with the use of iPhoneography apps (my favorite is Pixlr-o-matic). VoiceThread is a web tool (with an app for mobile devices) that can enable multiple users to upload their original photos and comment on them collaboratively.
One more note… Just in Time
By the way, just in time professional learning opportunities also emerge for teachers in the BYOT classroom as they learn alongside their students and discover new interests, skills, and strengths in the use of personal technology for instruction.