Sunday, January 11, 2015

Teacher Creativity Skill: Create Digital Learning Spaces

One of the most useful creativity skills we can develop is the ability to imagine and develop the spaces in which creativity can most easily happen. Great classrooms have always been the fertile earth for creative work, but in the Digital Age, we have the responsibility to adapt to new opportunities and new environments.

Online learning experiences can be both transformative and restrictive. Learning when and how best to use digital environments in the service of learning requires more than just a passing thought. The upside is that digital tools allow us to extend our learning, not just in terms of time, but in terms of capacity and opportunity. We can now create opportunities to collaborate and learn together at any time, and we can bring in great new tools that make new experiences possible.

The downside is that digital environments can feel impersonal and artificial when over-used or when used poorly. Poorly designed spaces can interfere with a student's ability to engage and learn.  The skills and knowledge needed to create useful digital spaces, so that we can take advantage of their creative potential, are topics we have a responsibility to explore.

Where Should We Start?

Teachers are already making great use of many digital learning spaces to support online and blended learning, sometimes out of necessity, and sometimes because they see the potential. If you are just getting started with teaching online there are four areas you might consider for establishing your digital presence and for developing online learning spaces.

Learning Management Systems (LMSs) offer digital spaces that often are structured similarly to physical classrooms. They often have a space for discussions, announcements, assignments, assessments, and resources. Many also feature a calendar and gradebook. There are great free LMSs, and there are very complex LMSs that districts purchase. The advantages of LMSs are that they are built for learning. The disadvantages are that they can often feel institutional and, honestly, a little too dependent on a traditional view of teaching and learning. That said, used well, LMSs are a great space in which to work with students. The field of LMS choices can be pretty overwhelming, and if you are looking for one on your own (as opposed to finding one for a district), your search can be different. Our district uses My Big Campus, and I like it really well. but at the end of the day, your selection will depend on your needs.

Websites, Wikis and Blogs are another great way to create a central online hub for collaborating, information sharing, and building community. My first attempt at establishing an online community with students was through a blog. Honestly, I think it was a great way to interact after the bell, and I liked having a space to put the resources my students needed. The upside to all of these options is that they are super-easy to create, develop and maintain. Many great options are available for free. They also have a lot of resources and extras built around them. The downside is that they are less full featured than LMSs and they tend to be more static in nature. Students can find this boring if you don't find ways to create engagement. If you are just starting out, I would recommend that you look at Weebly and Blogger as good beginner spaces that offer ease of use, functionality, and nice visual design.

Social Media offers a group of very useful (and free) tools for creating community. I know teachers who use Instagram, Facebook, Twitter, and Google+ to great effect with students. The challenges with social media can be related to district policy toward social media, student access (especially based on age), and the un-gated nature of social media. Using social media with students well requires a bit more learning, but can also provide great rewards. Some of the advantages are that social media is built around community and collaboration, social media is fluid and more organic in its nature, and people are already there which makes sharing with parents easier in some cases. If you are considering social media platforms, I really like Google+ Communities and Facebook Groups for collaboration. For information and resource sharing and for backchannel discussions, Twitter is a fantastic tool.

Other Digital Tools include texting tools like Remind and Celly, Backchanneling tools like Today's Meet, classroom interaction tools like Plickers, NearPod, Kahoot and Infuse Learning, and classroom management tools like ClassDojo and ClassCraft. Each of these tools adds another layer of digital interaction that can enhance online and blended learning.

I would also be remiss if I didn't include in this list Google Apps for Education. The collaborative tools provided there are increasingly becoming indispensable to the teachers who are leading the way in terms of designing meaningful and engaging online learning experiences. While these tools are more loosely connected than the tools in, say, an LMS, together they represent a nearly complete set of classroom tools that can easily be integrated with other online spaces.

Advice for Teaching in Digital Spaces

I certainly don't want to offer this as a complete list, but the following represent some observations I've made while working with successful online teachers:
  1. Establish Your Norms-  Just as in physical spaces, it is important to lay out your expectations for how folks will conduct themselves in digital spaces. This helps students feel more secure about participating, and it helps to avoid misconduct. 
  2. Ask For Feedback Early and Often- Asking students what they like about the digital space, what they don't like, what is missing, and what is unnecessary will help to make the experience better for everyone. I used to ask kids these questions as we tried new things with our blog. Their responses were always helpful.
  3. Keep The Space Fresh- Kids will click everything you put in front of them once. After that, they're less likely to return unless there is something new to see. Adding new content and removing unneeded content regularly will keep them checking in more often.
  4. It Doesn't All Have To Be Business-  As with physical spaces, bringing your own personality helps to make the space feel more friendly and accessible. It also helps to build community. I used to post discussion topics that didn't have an academic goal, but that would invite engagement (e.g. "Who would win in a fight- Sylvia Plath or Ernest Hemingway?"). I also shared information like "What's on my iPod," and invited students to do the same.
  5. Be Visually Consistent- When giving students assignments that I needed them to respond to, I always used the same format, text colors, and images for like-things. All discussion topics might have a picture of a microphone, for example. That way at first glance students can identify information that requires a response.
  6. Set Clear Deadlines- In asynchronous digital worlds, time can be a bit wibbly-wobbly. If I say something is due on a certain date, do I mean by midnight? The nice thing is that interactions on blogs, on social media, or in LMSs tend to be timestamped, so knowing when something was turned in is pretty easy to establish.
  7. Keep Organized- In digital spaces it is just as important as in physical spaces to keep your materials organized for everyone involved. Having a space for assignment sheets is good. Having folders with all materials related to a unit is even better.
  8. Be Flexible- While building your digital space, you will run into all kinds of new stumbling blocks. What if a kid's Internet went out last night? What if a website you shared last semester is suddenly blocked this semester? What if your Twitter feed gets hacked? Having a flexible attitude helps when things go wrong.
  9. Remember That Not Everyone is Techie and Kids Need to be Taught How to Learn in Digital Environments- Teaching in a digital environment can mean also teaching how to use a digital environment. A kid's failure to chime in on a discussion thread may have more to do with user-error than it does with not having anything to add. Be sure to follow-up often with kids when they aren't contributing online. This also means that teaching Digital Citizenship is an ongoing and essential part of learning.
  10. Take Full Advantage of the Digital Space- If all you do is the same type of work that you could have done in the physical world, you are missing an opportunity. Technology has given us the opportunity to have kids experience and do amazing things with people from all over the world. A digital learning space can enable collaboration, communication, critical thinking, and creativity.
For more advice on teaching in digital spaces, check out these links:

Our Task

With new technologies come new practices. While much of what makes great teaching and learning translates from one environment to the next, we also need to be prepared to adjust our methods to take advantage of new opportunities. Today, teaching without some form of online presence seems incomplete even if the work we are doing in the physical classroom is rich. 

Of course, becoming comfortable with designing creative digital spaces isn't just about how we teach. It is about learning the skills that we want to pass on to our students. They will soon enter a world in which navigating, working in, and even creating their own digital worlds will be as important as mastering their physical work environments. Learning these skills together now will ensure that they can apply them wisely in the future.

Teacher Creativity Skill: Design and Convey Information Visually

I’ll never forget the first time that I saw another teacher add clip art to a handout for students. Suddenly, my purely text-based handouts seemed lame and inaccessible. There is no doubt that we have come a long way in terms of our ability to enhance our materials for all types of learners. Today, it is a simple process to add visuals to our materials (as well as audio, video, and animations). Multimedia literacy has become more and more important in life, and it is increasingly important in the classroom. And just as clip art once put my text-only handouts to shame, there are now digital tools that enable us to step up our game beyond the free clip art that we find on the web.

Also, helping students develop the skills to effectively communicate their ideas and to create compelling well-designed visuals that empower creative expression is becoming more and more important as we prepare students for a world in which these skills matter. 

When Can We Practice the Skills in the Classroom?

Visual design and communication skills are relevant in a wide range of classroom experiences. Anytime a student wants to share information visually, express themselves through images and video, or persuade others through lasting graphical images, these skills are in play. Here are just a few specific examples:
  • Designing slideshows for presentations.
  • Designing infographics for research projects.
  • Creating graphics for papers, storytelling, blogs and websites.
  • Selecting, creating, and editing images for social media and online projects.
  • Creating videos as classroom projects.
  • Designing posters, flyers, business cards, and . 
  • Designing interactive images and timelines for learning. 

Some Specific Tools of Note

Knowing which tools to use when developing these skills in the classroom is important. There are hundreds of Visualization Tools, Video Tools, Photo Tools, Drawing Tools and Presentation Tools to choose from. Here are just a few of my favorites:

Aurasma- Aurasma is a great way to share information by layering it onto existing images. You pair a trigger image with a video, picture, web address, or 3D object, and users view the object through the Aurasma program

Autodesk Homestyler- Autodesk Homestyler is a really cool tool for creating detailed graphical floor plans. Which can then be viewed in 3D. This takes the diorama and model project to an amazing new level.

Canva- Canva is an amazing graphic design tool for creating great images that stand out. Canva works in layers, offers plenty of free resources, allows for uploads, and is easy to share.

Photofunia- Photofunia is a quick and fun way to add interesting context to your photos or to convey a short message in unique or unexpected ways. 

Piktochart- Piktochart is a fantastic Infographic creation tool that has many of the same powerful features as Canva. You can select from many great free resources, you can upload your own resources, and you can easily share.

Pixlr- Another Autodesk product, Pixlr is actually a family of tools that enable some very impressive photo editing and design. The best part is that there is a tool for every skill level. 

Prezi-  Prezi is still a favorite when it comes to creating compelling visual presentations. 

Recite This- Recite This is a great tool for turning a quote into an eye-catching image. Finished images are easy to share in a variety of ways.

Smore- Smore is a useful newsletter design tool. It is easy to use and offers slick looking templates and resources. It's easy to share in multiple ways. 

ThingLink- ThingLink allow the user to create interactive images that can be filled with buttons that link to online content. ThingLinks can then be embedded in online projects, taking visuals to a whole new level.

Learning Design

Of course, having design tools and knowing how to put them to good use are two different things. It's important to also learn and teach the fundamentals of design. Here are a few resources to get you started:

Our Task

I often find with students that they are so overwhelmed with possibility, that they over-design their images, presentations, flyers, etc. They may have great content, but it gets lost in the poor quality of their design. It is no longer okay to simply teach students to write to convey messages. Because of the nature of media today, we have to teach them to design communication using multimedia. We have to show them how to effectively use the elements of design and the hyperlinked nature of the Internet to share what they know and to express themselves creatively. 

In order to do this, we have to learn these skills alongside our students. We have to model the skills and design lessons that nurture them. Our task is to take our own creativity to the next level and learn to communicate effectively in the Digital Age.

Saturday, January 10, 2015

Teacher Creativity Skill: Record and Edit Audio

An often overlooked skill when it comes to creating with multimedia is that of recording and editing audio. Yet, this was one of my first learning curves when I started bringing more technology into my classroom. I had the opportunity, thanks to a great group of folks in my district (the EVSC ICATS), to participate in a project called the Pod Academy. We were provided with an iPod, access to and training on GarageBand (an Apple iLife recording studio), and the challenge to create educational podcasts. We hosted the podcasts on our district website, and as I recall, the process of getting the finalized projects online was quite an ordeal.

I had students create podcasts of essays they wrote titled "Something Worth Saying." The students wrote and edited the essays, then recorded themselves reading the essays, edited the recordings, mixed them with background music, and published them to the website. It seemed simple enough, but the first time I tried it, the week-long project took a couple of months (on and off) to complete.

You might think that I would have given up, but the project itself had some amazing rewards. I can say hands-down that I had a better completion-rate, engagement level, and effort-level from my students. The essays were truly amazing, and the best part is that for the first time in 10 years as an English teacher, I had a student ask me, "Can you help me with this sentence?" We were definitely going to do this again.

And we did the next semester. And then for each semester after that. And over time, of course, I learned a thing or two about how to edit audio and how to pass that on to my kids. The technology improved as well, so that sharing with the world became easier. As a result, the podcasting project that took several months the first time, returned to the week-long project I had originally imagined, and new projects became possible once I had learned the skills.

Since then, I've become one of the ICATS, and I return over and over to the lessons I learned as I explore more ways to use technology in the service of learning.

What Does This Have to Do with Creativity?

Our creativity is best harnessed when we engage all of our senses. Focusing on and developing our skills with a single sense can often inspire us with new ideas. Additionally, increasing our ability to control the individual pieces of our projects makes new and more complex projects possible.

A Few Reasons to Learn to Record and Edit Audio

  1. Audio has a profound ability to enhance a project and to set tone and mood.  There's a reason that television and movies and video games rely so heavily on sound. There's also a reason why we still listen to the radio and download podcasts. Great audio can paint a picture that doesn't require visual input. 
  2. Bad audio can ruin a project. A great video with terrible audio is unwatchable. Learning to capture good audio can be the difference between a professional and an amateurish product. 
  3. There are a lot of projects that can benefit from a basic understanding of audio editing, including: Videos, Podcasts, Enhanced Podcasts, Music Composition, Audio Interviews, Radio Shows, Lip-Sync Projects, and Book Trailers,
  4. The use of all media is governed by copyright law. While it is often possible to find audio that is licensed under Creative Commons, creating your own audio guarantees that the audio in your projects will be unique and won't require giving credit. 
  5. When you create your own audio, you can often get exactly what you want instead of searching for something that kind-of fits your needs. 

Where to Start

Much like learning video or photo skills, learning to record and edit audio is a pretty big ocean. It's best to start out with some basics and then learn more as you go. There are many programs from simple recording tools to high-end studio mixing tools that you can learn, but I would start with a tool that lets you capture live audio (through a microphone), upload audio, split and trim audio tracks, control the levels of individual tracks, and layer tracks together and publish them as a file (.mp3, .wav, etc.).

For Apple-users (including iDevices), I don't think you can have a better starting place than GarageBand. It comes free with OSX and iOS, it naturally works with iTunes and iMovie, it has all of the basic features listed above, and it comes with some useful (and legal to use) files. You can also create instrumental tracks using loops or create your own. Honestly, GarageBand is still my go-to editor, even though I have access to higher-end programs like Adobe Audition.

For PC users, a great place to start is Audacity. Audacity has all of the basic features listed above, and it is relatively easy to learn. It is also free which is definitely a plus. There are other free editor downloads as well, and there are a host of good audio-editing web tools and broadcasting web tools to explore.

For Android devices, take a look at Audio Editor for Android as a starting point. 

If you are looking to create music, there are thousands of good apps for both Android and iOS that can create particular sounds. Look for apps that allow you to record your sounds and share them as .mp3's. Two of my favorites are ThumbJam for iOS and PocketBand for Android.

What Equipment Do I Need

Again, there is a wide range of equipment from inexpensive and simple to expensive and complicated. Generally, I encourage folks to start simple, but to still pay for as much quality as you can. Obviously, if you are working with students and need multiple pieces of equipment, then economy can be a factor. Here are some basics:
  • A quiet space to record.  This is free but can be hard to find, especially in a school and with a large class. Still, if you can find a large and quiet space where kids can spread out, like a media center, that will help.
  • A recording device (computer or mobile device). Obviously you need the tool that will capture the sound. If you are using computers, make sure they have sound cards.
  • A microphone. While the internal mics in computers and mobile devices are getting better and better, a good microphone can really improve the quality of a recorded voice. If you are recording a single voice, a decent USB or Bluetooth microphone headset is a good investment. I tend to like Logitech's offerings in this area, but there are others that are good as well. If you are recording groups of people, then consider the ATR 2100 USB mic. If you want to add a mic to a tablet, I'd consider the iRig mic.
  • Headphones for Editing. Okay, if you get a USB microphone headset, you are set. And, of course, earbuds are a fine solution. However, the deeper you get into this, the more a good (and comfortable) set of headphones will matter to you. Regardless, if you are going to have many people editing at the same time, have them BYO-Headphones.

What Do I Need to Know to Start?

Here are a few general thoughts as you begin:
  • Pay attention to your space. Often there are noises that you don't hear until you hear them in the recording. Give a listen ahead of time, and see if you can eliminate some of these.
  • Anticipate possible audio interruptions. I always had to remind my kids to stop recording as the time for daily announcements came near. Schools are filled with interruptions from bells to alarms, to calls from the office. They won't all be avoidable, but some can be anticipated.
  • Test your audio before you begin EVERY TIME. Audio is a funny thing, and something as simple as long hair rubbing against a lapel mic can ruin an entire interview. Better to do a minute long test to eliminate problems, rather than scrap 5 minutes worth of audio.
  • When recording voice, have students slow down and speak at a normal level, just as they would if giving a speech. Kids tend to speed up and quiet down when recording.
  • You don't have to be perfect. A lot can be done in editing. If you mess up. Simply stop, pause, and begin where you left off. Also, understand that some mess-ups are part of natural speaking and don't need to be edited out at all.
  • When recording multiple instruments and/or voices, a little bit of distance can be a good thing. Look for the sweet-spot in the room, to get the best blend before beginning.
  • Pay attention to your levels. Most programs show you in real time how loud the input audio is as you record. Ideally, your levels will all spike before they get into the red zone. 
  • Be aware that the project is not the product. The file you are working in as you edit is changeable at any time. However, in order to share the final product (which isn't going to change) you need to export the file into a new file format.
Beyond that, learning to record and edit takes practice and as-needed advice. Here are a few places to get some support:

Learning GarageBand:

Learning Audacity:

Recording Tips

Editing Tips

Our Task

By working to develop our own skills in capturing, editing, and utilizing audio, we become more familiar with this medium of expression and can better use it to tell our stories and affect our world through creative expression. When we learn these skills, we become comfortable sharing them with our students, and our students are entering a world where effective creative expression is in more and more demand.

Monday, December 8, 2014

Resources for Learning Windows Live Movie Maker and Creating Book Trailers

I'm working with a group of students on creating Book Trailers with Windows Live Movie Maker. This is a really easy video editor to learn, but it is always useful to have a few resources to refer to. The links below will take you to the resources I've found useful in learning the program:

Bullitt Schools Movie Maker Cheat Sheet PDF

INTERACT Movie Maker Cheat Sheat PDF

Windows Live Movie Maker Tutorial PDF

Windows Live Movie Maker for Dummies Resource

Windows Live Video Tutorial YouTube Playlist

With some of our computers we ran into problems with working with subtitles in Movie Maker, so I also shared the following webtools that allow for video creation that can include audio files, photos, video and text. Each has it's plusses and minuses, but all can be used to create a good book trailer:




The tools below are also useful for doing these types of projects, though they don't match the needs of this particular project:





There are other great tools as well for video editing, digital storytelling and for presentation creation that might be worth a look.

Also, since the kids are using photos and music, here are are some resources for finding images and audio that are legal to use through Creative Commons Licensing:

How to Be a Good Citizen in a Connected World

A Teacher's Guide to Image Copyright

Annotated List of Free Media Resources

Free Music Archive

Creative Commons Search

Tuesday, December 2, 2014

25+ Free #EdTech Ideas for Recognizing, Thanking, or Giving a Gift to Teachers

I'm working with a group of amazing eLeader kids and their sponsors, and each month we are challenging the teams to do something different with technology in their schools. Since this month includes the holidays and the season of giving, we invited our students to find ways to share digital gifts with their teachers. That got me thinking. How would I meet that challenge. Here are a few ideas I came up with:

  1. Make a Tellagami thank-you.
  2. Make a ThingLink that links to various free gifts, discounts, etc.
  3. Make an online eCard with a tool like JibJab.
  4. Make a tribute video using Magisto or Animoto.
  5. Design your own card using Canva or a poster using Smore.
  6. Make a class slideshow with Slidely.
  7. Create a teacher tribute infographic with Piktochart.
  8. Create and record a song with GarageBand or other audio editing tools.
  9. Light up a teacher's social media with positive messages.
  10. Create a photo collage using BeFunky or a photo message using Photofunia.
  11. Create an original work of art using one of many online art tools.
  12. Send a virtual bouquet of flowers.
  13. Write and publish a tribute poem or thank-you letter on the class website or on a site like Quozio.
  14. Design and gift a set of teacher avatars in different styles.
  15. Organize a Gift Exchange with Elfster.
  16. Create a Free Online Cookbook for your teacher.
  17. Write and publish an open letter in Google Docs or on a blog to politicians praising your teacher(s) and share it to them via social media (#MyTeacherRocks). 
  18. Create a What I Learned From _____________ book, poem, story and publish it online using a website like FlipSnack
  19. Schedule a series of emails, Instagram posts or tweets with uplifting messages to be delivered over a period of time.
  20. Create a YouTube Playlist of videos that will uplift a teacher.
  21. Create a YouTube Playlist that features a teacher's favorite music (or music you think they would like).
  22. Build a monument to your teacher in Minecraft, take a screenshot, and share it with them (not exactly free unless you are already there).
  23. Create a Wordle with all of the qualities you love about the teacher or their class.
  24. Create a Pinterest Board of things that will inspire your teacher.
  25. Create a VoiceThread about your teacher and invite your classmates to leave their own personal thank-you to the teacher.
  26. Create and give teacher badges using a tool like Credly
  27. Create a 12 Days of Tech share on a blog or website, and share each day's link with your teacher (props to @mrg_3 for that idea).
  28. Code your own animated holiday card with Scratch.
I'd love to know what other ideas you might add to this list. Please share your thoughts in the comments below. Cheers!

Thursday, September 11, 2014

Lessons from WDW #10: Engage the Senses

It's no secret that I tend to view the world and our profession through Mickey-shaped glasses. This is, after all, #10 in a series of posts about how the Disney culture might translate into education. So I know you won't be shocked to hear that I've been reflecting lately on a recent trip I took with my family to Walt Disney World.

Splash Mountain

Engaging the Senses

What struck me most profoundly this go around was how completely the Disney folks engage a visitor's senses. All of them. Continuously.

If our experience of the world is affected by our 5 senses, then our experience of WDWorld is affected by them even more so.

Here are a few examples that jump to mind from my last trip:


Festival of the Lion King
Every sight line in a Disney Park flows from one colorful and well-groomed vista to the next.

The positive visual messages are ubiquitous.

There are so many playful visual details (yes, including hidden Mickeys).

The use of light, especially at night is part of what makes attractions like the Main Street Electrical Parade and IllumiNations so popular.


Dancing to the Music
The sounds of a ride are as essential as the sights, from the scream that launches Haunted Mansion to the sound of crashing waves at the end of Maelstrom.

Music underscores every experience, from park open to the fireworks at the end.

The language of Disney makes interaction with cast members stand out. I love it every time a cast member calls my daughter, "Princess."


Crazy Good Dessert at California Grill
Of course, there are the classics that everyone references, Turkey Legs and Dole Whips.

My favorites are the exceptional flavors that can be found when you have a Disney sit-down meal. One of the best meals I have ever eaten was at the California Grill.


Skunk: Journey Into Imagination
The different smells that escape the restaurants are memorable, but the use of smell in the rides is even more impressive:

People actually applaud after Soarin', and I know a big part of that is the experience of smelling the orange groves and forest.

Another favorite is the smell of fresh baked apple pie during Mickey's Philharmagic.


Spinning on the Tea Cups
If you haven't experienced Stitch's Great Escape, there is a great moment when it feels like Stitch is bouncing on your seat.

During Mickey's Philharmagic, there are several moments when the audience feels water splash on their face.

Visitors can experience the G forces associated with space flight when they ride Mission: Space.

Messing with the Senses

Expedition Everest Backwards
These are just a few examples, but what is even more impressive to me is how Disney messes with one's senses to create unique experiences.

Dark rides like Space Mountain can make the sensations of movement even more dramatic.

By hitting people with unpleasant smells, Disney can create unexpected (and comedic) effects in rides like Journey Into Imagination.

By switching rapidly from between speeds, rides like the 7 Dwarves Mine Train, Tower of Terror, or Expedition Everest can enhance the feeling of motion.

So what does this all mean for your classroom?

Our senses are deeply connected to our memory, our mood, and our engagement. By thoughtfully maximizing our use of sensory input, we can affect how our students experience our lessons and our environment. We can boost moods, set tone, underscore ideas, and increase interest in our curriculum. In other words, we can bring our lessons to life.

When I think back to some of my most significant learning events and my most successful teaching moments, it's easy to identify the care taken to engage the senses. Whether teachers dim lights to set mood, or integrate food to create community, or play music to explore culture, each time we tap into the senses, we create the opportunity for deeper engagement.

Our Challenge

Every moment we have with our students counts. We know that we are in constant competition for their focus and engagement. Getting them through the door isn't enough. We have to give them experiences that are memorable and that reach them at levels deeper than the intellectual level. To paraphrase the adage:

 The way to our students' emotions is through their senses.

I have no doubt that Disney's success in creating memories and engaging visitors is due in large part to their focus on purposefully designing experiences that engage the whole guest.

In a single attraction, all of a guest's senses are invited to participate in the experience. How often is this true of a daily lesson? How actively do we plan and prepare to interact with students through their 5 senses?

When we design learning experiences, we can choose to ask ourselves these questions:

  1. How does my classroom engage students' 5 senses?
  2. What mood or tone would I like to set, and what sensory experiences can help me do that?
  3. What opportunities does my subject/topic offer for sensory extension or engagement?
  4. What resources can I connect to and bring into my classroom that will create a sensory experience?
  5. How can I use color, light, image, video, and written language to reinforce meaning?
  6. How can I use smell to reinforce meaning or to set mood?
  7. How can I use volume, music, spoken language, sound effects, and silence to reinforce meaning?
  8. How can I use texture, movement, air flow, temperature, weight, and shape to reinforce meaning?
  9. How can I use food and its various flavors, cultural connections, and emotional connections to reinforce meaning or to build community?
  10. In what ways are the experiences I create having a negative sensory response with individual students?
I suspect that adding this to our approach to lesson design would yield greater engagement, bring more joy to the classroom, and increase the chances that our students will remember the work we did together.

Monday, July 7, 2014

Teacher Creativity Skill: Express Yourself

Express Yourself

What is the point of creativity if it's not to express ourselves? Each of us has a unique perspective on the world, and it's our creativity that allows us to share that perspective with others. As we develop creatively, we find more success accurately communicating how we experience the world to others.

Not only do we see the world from a unique perspective, we also are gifted in unique ways and have unique interests that drive how we choose to express ourselves. Some of us prefer to express ourselves through music, others through language, and still others through images, video, or other media.

Saying what we have to say in the way that we want to say it so that we can make an impact on others' lives is really what creative expression is all about, and when we are working in this way, it's almost a given that we will find our work engaging, even when we find ourselves getting frustrated over our inability to use our creative talents to accurately give voice to our ideas.

Creativity is a learned set of skills that come with practice, and we all have the opportunity in our lives to hone our abilities to harness creativity for the purpose of self-expression. Luckily, today, we have more opportunities than ever to not only find the tools that fit our particular styles of self-expression, but to also use that creativity to reach an even wider audience.

We are living in a world built for expression.

Thanks to the Internet and digital media, we have hundreds of free tools to enable creative expression. If we prefer to write music, there are tools for that. If we want to create and edit videos, there are plenty of tools for that. If we prefer to draw, there are great digital art tools to help us realize our vision.

Beyond that, the social nature of the Internet has given rise to whole communities dedicated to particular forms of self-expression. The popularity of YouTube, Flickr, and blogging services like Blogger and Wordpress speaks to how willingly people will share their creativity with the world. Websites like Pinterest invite people to explore ideas and find new pathways to creative expression. Other websites like Etsy actually give people a platform for turning their creativity into a livelyhood.

Our ability to self-publish means that we can reach an audience that was not possible even a few years ago. And when our creative expressions strike a chord with other, it is now possible for our efforts to go viral, reaching an audience beyond even our own imaginations, thanks to social media.

We can even use digital shorthand to leave windows into our creative life with QR codes and Augmented Reality tools like Aurasma.

Our Challenge

Given all the tools we have at our disposal to create and share our creativity with others, we should all feel empowered to build the skills that we need to express ourselves to the world. As educators, we should not take this abundance of opportunity for granted.  Just because we have the tools in our toolbox, does not mean that we are visiting the workshop as often as we should. We need to take every opportunity to develop our creative voices so that we feel comfortable encouraging our students to do the same.