Wednesday, May 29, 2013

Great App from Disney

I recently downloaded the Story app from Disney, and I have to say that I really like it. Basically, the app takes the photos and videos from your iPhone camera roll and turns them into mini virtual scrapbooks based on your events. Here is an example of a Story I created from our Memorial Day photos and videos:

This does involve a slight change in my workflow, as it relies on using the photos from my camera roll instead of from my photo albums. Typically, I don't save photos in my camera roll, but I do sync photo albums from iPhoto. Hopefully, the ability to create stories from albums will come with later updates to the app.

In the meantime, I could definitely see this being a great tool for the classroom. Simply shoot pictures and videos each day, and then you can create a log of each day's learning. Photos can easily be cropped inside of the program, and you can add captions as well. Then, you can share the digital scrapbook on Facebook or via email. From there, you get a link to a unique webpage URL that can be shared and that includes a button for getting the scrapbook's embed code. I could see using the embed code to share special events via a class blog or website. The best part is that this app is free!

Tuesday, May 21, 2013

Teacher Creativity Skill: Shoot and Edit Video

In 1993, I was given the opportunity to visit a video production studio on the campus of Indiana University as part of a class I was taking for my computer endorsement on my teaching license. I really had two takeaways that day: 1. I was surprised at how easy it was to edit video so that there would be professional elements such as picture-in-picture, transitions, and lower-thirds (those identifying bits of text that appear at the bottom of a screen). And 2. I also realized that unless I was going to teach a communications course, I was unlikely to have the equipment or software to take advantage of these tools in the classroom.

It wasn't until a few years ago that I came to think differently. With the rise of inexpensive video cameras and the availability of simple and inexpensive editing tools and apps, (not to mention the democratic publishing power of sites like YouTube, TeacherTube, Vimeo and SchoolTube), I now see that video production is well-within the grasp of teachers and students. While the learning curve for truly mastering video editing is somewhat steep, anyone can accomplish the basic techniques of shooting, editing and publishing videos with relative ease.

Why do I want to know this?

Shooting and editing video is an excellent set of skills to develop for your classroom and students. Having confidence with shooting, editing and sharing video makes sharing the great things that are going on in your classes a breeze. You can also flip your classroom, by creating support lessons for student to view as needed.

More importantly, teaching kids to shoot video well empowers them to tell their stories and show their learning with impact and style. Video projects develop important skills such as collaboration, problem-solving, communication, creativity, and design. Video projects are also a form of active learning. Finally, video artifacts of learning have a longer shelf-life than, say, dioramas or poster collages, and can be more easily shared beyond the classroom.

Where to Begin

Start by learning some basic techniques of shooting good video. I've already written a recent post in which I explore some of the lessons I've learned in the last few years. I learned these techniques through trial and error, asking questions of colleagues who have experience editing video, and by searching online for tutorials. Here are a few other basic resources that I would recommend:

Vimeo Video 101: Shooting Basics
Magisto Video Shooting Tips
Stanford University: Shooting Better Video
Dr. Wes Leggett: Shooting Video Basics
Monkeysee: Basic Video Production Tips

A piece of advice that you will see over and over again is to plan your video ahead of time. A good way to do this is to storyboard your video, planning the action and framing the shot for each segment of the video. While this isn't always possible (when shooting on the fly, for example), it is a good practice to be in.

One other tip to help prevent a mistake I often see with amateur video is to always make sure that you are shooting the video with your camera positioned in landscape, rather than portrait position. Folks who are shooting with their phones often make this mistake. The result is video that plays sideways when published. A good way to remember this is to imagine the video frame of your TV which is in the landscape position. That's where your video is headed, right?

Keep in mind, the best way to learn how to shoot video is to shoot a lot of video, make a lot of mistakes, and learn from them.

What kind of camera do I need?

Honestly, if you have a smart phone that shoots video, you might want to start there. Many of today's phones include a pretty solid camera. You can also buy inexpensive digital video cameras that are very portable and relatively inexpensive such as the Sony Bloggie and the Kodak PlayFull. Look for cameras that shoot in HD for a better result. Of course, camcorders and other video cameras come in all types and range from the simple to the complex. Before you buy, you will want to better understand the various features. Here is a good article from Digital Trends and a good video from Vimeo to get you started.

So I've shot my video, now what?

A lot of people never get past the act of shooting video, which is a shame because they don't go on to edit and share the video with others. They are limited to playing the video from the camera instead of producing a video that can be proudly shared via social media, burnt to a disc, or published on a video sharing site.

The first step beyond shooting the video is getting the video files into a video editor. Simple editors such as Movie Maker for PCs or iMovie for Apple can be a great place to start. These simple tools can help take basic video to an impressive new level. Another video editing tool that I like really well is Camtasia from TechSmith. I find that the interface is easy to understand, and the tool set is very complete. There are also a great number of video-editing web tools and apps that are both inexpensive and feature-rich. If you find that you want to grow beyond the basics, you can look at any number of programs for video editing all the way up to Premiere and Final Cut Pro (the tools the big boys use).

When learning to edit video the first thing to keep in mind is that there is a difference between your "project file" and your "product file." When you bring video into an editor, you will create a new project that can be worked on and saved multiple times. That project is not your video. You will need to publish or share your video as a product. The product file is static in form and cannot be changed. Thus, if you don't like the product, you need to scrap it, return to the project, edit it some more, and then publish or share the project again as a new product. It took me a bit to get my brain around that, so I'm sharing it here.

Learning to edit video is a pretty deep ocean, but you don't need to learn everything at once. There are plenty of good tutorials on the Internet for any video editor you want to use. I've included a few of them here, but a Google search for video editing tutorials will result in many more:

The DIY Video Editor
MonkeySee: Basic Video Editing
Vimeo Video 101: Editing
Vimeo Glossary of Basic Video Terms
Vimeo Video School: Editing
iMovie Basics
Apple iMovie Tutorials
Getting Started with Windows Movie Maker

The key is to learn as you go. You only need to know how to do what you want to do at the moment.

Share with the World

Once you have a video that you like, you can move the video from project to product in a number of ways. Each editor is different, but generally you can choose to export your video to a video file format such as .flv, .m4v, .mov, etc. To start, I would recommend using the default file type that the editor you are using recommends. Making changes can trip an amateur up. Some editors allow you to upload the product directly to YouTube or Vimeo or to a social media outlet like Facebook. If you have an account with one of those communities, it's nice to have that option.

Once you've exported the movie to a file, you can share that file in any number of ways. You can post the video to a blog or website, burn the file to disc or DVD using a product like iDVD or Windows Movie Maker, or publish to a video sharing site like YouTube. The quality of the video will affect the size of the video file and may limit your ability to share it in certain locations, but overall, assuming a manageable size, you should be able to share your work and the students' work with the world, creating an authentic audience experience that your students will appreciate.

Your Task

Given how easy it is to dive into video production these days, we all can add this to our repertoire to enhance learning. The creativity it takes to create compelling video is a skill worth developing. In the future, more and more communication will have a video element, so developing these skills in our students is important. I hope you will explore this type of learning with your students and share the results with me.

Monday, May 13, 2013

Lessons from WDW #8: Building

“You can design and create, and build the most wonderful place in the world. But it takes people to make the dream a reality.” - Walt Disney

It's well-established that I am a big Disney fan. Our family goes annually, and often we try to make the trip more than once in a year. I know lots of folks who understand this, and I also know lots who have trouble understanding what the possible appeal could be to go to the same place every year. But to me, we aren't returning to the same place every year. The remarkable team of Imagineers, cast members, animators, and Dream Builders are constantly imagining new ways to entertain and inspire their guests. The classic rides evolve or are retired, and new rides grow-up around them. New experiences are developed, and new characters make their appearance. More importantly, because there are experiences designed for all types of guests, and because the members of our family grow up through different stages, some experiences become a focus at certain times in our lives.

"You don't build it for yourself. You know what the people want and you build it for them." —Walt Disney

Our most recent trip took place over Spring Break, and while the park was as crowded as I've ever seen it, the experience was as rewarding as always, with so many new things to experience. A short list of firsts for our family included new details on the Pirates of the Caribbean ride, the all-new Fantasyland (featuring The Little Mermaid ride, Belle's castle and village, Rapunzel's tower and village, and so much more), a new quest-based game in Adventureland, an amazing lunch at the new Be Our Guest restaurant, the meet and greet Fairytale Garden experience where we met Brave's Merida, meals at Citrico's and the Beach Club resort, EPCOT's Flower and Garden Festival, accommodations at Pop Century Resort, and an amazing visit to Bibbity Bobbity Boutique. All of these experiences were brand new or new variations on old favorites. 

Yes, we still enjoyed the rides and experiences that we always look forward to retuning to, and that is part of what I love about Walt Disney World as well. But to say that returning to Disney equals doing the same thing each year is just not true.

"My fun is working on a project and solving the problems." —Walt Disney

All over the parks, you can see signs of Walt Disney World's continuous evolution. Literally, signs (like the one to the left). Each sign includes a quote from Walt Disney that speaks to the Disney culture's insistence on persistent creation. To me, that signifies a team that understands that everyday is a different day that offers new opportunities and requires a fresh approach to designing experiences for both new guests and returning guests. This passion for creating the best possible experience for the folks who are visiting today, instead of just maintaining what worked for last year's visitors represents a thriving team culture that is unlikely to lose relevance over time.

“We keep moving forward, opening new doors, and doing new things, because we’re curious and curiosity keeps leading us down new paths.” -- Walt Disney

So my lesson for education, here, is that we must always be focused on the future, so that we can anticipate and serve the needs of today's students. We must be willing to see that some of our classic lessons no longer work and should be retired, while the ones we keep can always use a new twist. We must collectively build meaningful experiences for our learners through teamwork and a commitment to a shared culture of excellence. We must constantly be looking for the thing that needs to be built and joyfully work together to build that experience because we know it will serve today's learners better than what we've built in the past.

When I think about my own experiences with schools, I'm often forced to admit that they are not places that easily embrace change and renewal as the work to be done. The things we build are often intentionally built to exist year after year. They worked for last year's class, and they'll work just fine for this year's kids as well. In this way, much of education has become calcified into a reflection of the fresh thinking that happened decades ago. 

"The fun is in always building something. After it's built, you play with it awhile and then you're through. You see, we never do the same thing twice around here. We're always opening up new doors." —Walt Disney

But when I walk into a classroom or building where the culture affirms change and growth, I can feel the excitement in the air. I know that those places won't look the same next year as they do this year, but they will be just as engaging and exciting. Those teachers and administrators are Dream Builders in the same tradition as Walt Disney. So, as we look ahead to summer, and the opportunity to design and plan for next year's learners, I hope that we all will be inspired to create learning experiences and environments that will matter to the kids we serve. I hope we will all come to work, excited to be part of a team whose purpose is to enhance wonder and make learning personally powerful. And I hope that we will promote the joy of learning, while we let go of the pieces that no longer fit.

Wednesday, May 8, 2013

Teacher Creativity Skill: Shoot and Edit Photos

The Way it Was

Remember when getting good photos as an amateur was difficult? You'd buy a camera, load the film, shoot the pictures (probably over the course of weeks or months), then take the film to be developed, wait a few days (or more), then return to pick them up, hoping that a few of them turned out. Some did, some didn't. Very few of us took pictures often enough to get better at the process, and the delayed feedback of weeks to months often meant that we couldn't even remember what we were trying to capture in the first place. I was once told that the difference between an amateur and professional photographer was about 300 pictures, suggesting that professional photographers got their great results by simply trying the same shot lots of different ways. I, like most, couldn't afford to be professional.

The Way it Is

Thanks to the ubiquity of good quality digital cameras (most of our phones qualify these days), the line between amateur and professional photographer is blurring. Now I can shoot the same photo over and over with slight variations at no cost to me. Not only that, but I can now control the post-production of the photo with countless editing tools that allow me to tweak or dramatically change a photo so that it looks exactly the way I want. Just look at the popularity of Instagram, and you'll see my point.

What does this mean to me as an educator? Tons! First off, I don't need to spend hours trying to find the right photo to enhance my projects through a Google Image search. This was never a good practice to begin with. While I might find a photo that I like, chances are that I don't have permission to use that image. Also, that image was likely created to serve a purpose different from my own, leaving me with images that are too large (and eat up too much memory) or too small (and pixelate when I try to make them bigger). Now I can shoot and edit my own image, leaving me with an image that fits my purpose exactly and that is legal for me to use.

To be fair, there are still times when an image search will be a more efficient use of my time, but thanks to the generosity of other amateur photographers, I can at least now search for images with Creative Commons licensing via websites like

Another reason that I should learn more about shooting and editing photos is that I always have the tools I need to document the learning that is going on in my classroom on the fly. I can shoot a picture, edit it, and share it in dozens of ways in seconds. I can post new pictures to my class blog daily with little effort, and I can enhance my teaching portfolio over time with compelling evidence of success.

Also, with a little more effort, I can edit photos so that they include text, arrows, and highlighted elements to be used to demonstrate concepts. I can even make my photos interactive using ThingLink, so that they become rich learning objects.

Most importantly, I can teach my students to do the same, so that they are never limited by the photos they can search for on the Internet. I can expect that my students are using images to demonstrate understanding, to enhance communication, and to express their own world views.

What Do I Need to Know

To do all of this well, of course, I need to know a few things about photography to help me on my way. Here are a few simple rules to keep in mind when shooting photos (some of this comes directly from another post of mine):

1. Remember the Rule of Thirds

Photographers refer to the "rule of thirds" to describe the points in an image that are the most vital and where one should place the action or subject of the shot. Imagine the grid to the right superimposed over an image. The red intersections of the lines are the points at which the important parts of the image should reside. You can see this in action when you look at professional photos in a magazine or when you watch television or movies.

Here is an example:

2. Think About Light

This is an easy mistake to make, but also an easy problem to avoid. Where the light sources are coming from will affect the quality of the shot. The most important thing for amateurs to avoid is backlighting a shot. A backlit shot is one in which the primary light in the shot is behind the subject of the shot. This creates a situation in which the subject is in shadow and cannot be seen clearly. The way to avoid this is to make sure that you have more light on the subject from behind the camera, and to avoid shooting directly toward a powerful light source like a window, the sun, or a bank of bright lights. If you need to shoot into a light source, one option is to use your flash even in the daytime to make sure your subject isn't in shadow. To be fair, back lighting can be used to create positive effects as well. Here is a photo I took this year:

You can also choose not to use a flash in dark spaces or at night so that you don't nullify the effects of lights that would be drowned out by the flash. Just make sure that you hold the camera very still and that your subject holds very still. Here is an example that a friend of mine took:

3. Think About the Background/Foreground

It's easy to get so focused on the subject of the picture, that you forget about what is going on in the background and foreground. This is important to consider. In a photo, if there is action in the background, it can distract the audience from what is happening in the foreground. Also, a better shot can often be created by just taking the time to think about what the "whole picture" includes. Are there items in the shot that could be avoided or removed? Is there a better background nearby that could enhance the shot. Think about what appears (or doesn't appear) in the background of a political ad.

Or think about the photo creepers that appear in the background of your vacation photos. It's better to think ahead to create a great shot, than to try to fix the distraction in editing later.

I have a great photo of my daughter playing in the ocean, but in the background behind her is another person whom I don't know and whom I wish wasn't there. I can Photoshop that person out, but it would have been better to have been conscious of the other person from the beginning.

4. Hold Still!

Nothing ruins a photo  faster than unnecessary camera movement. The best thing to do when you want to have a really professional result is to use a tripod or monopod to stabilize the camera. Even when taking "on the fly" shots, you want to stabilize your shot by using a stationary object to lean against or by using your body to hold the camera as still as possible.

5. Get the Shot You Want

There is a reason you see directors calling "cut" and then having the clicker slam down for a "Take 2." The first shot wasn't what the director wanted. By shooting until you get a perfect photo, you end up with the product you want. Remember the difference between an amateur photographer and a professional photographer is about 300 photos. I recommend that you start with an idea of what you want, take the time to get everything set up correctly, and then shoot the photo over again until you have what you imagined in the first place or something even better.

In addition to taking the time to direct your shot, make sure that you choose your focus. Many digital cameras will auto focus, but that often means that you are leaving it up to the camera to decide what the subject of the photo is. Learn how to reset your focus. With cameras, it often only requires a half-click of the shutter button. With smart phone cameras, you can often just tap the area you want in focus before you shoot the image:

6. If You Don't Get the Shot You Want, Fix it in an Editor

Most cameras today come with simple editing software that will enable you to make a world of difference with your photos. From cropping the photo, to adjusting the light, to adding filters for a special effect, most editors are versatile enough to make an average photo look great. There are also a plethora of great web 2.0 photo editors that are free and easy to learn. If you get good at those, consider purchasing a high-end photo editing package like Adobe Photoshop. You may find a new avocation to be passionate about.

7. Be Courageous and Experimental

I'm convinced that one of the things that keeps us from taking great photos is a self-conscious concern that we will do it wrong. Now that shooting photos is cheap and easy, there really is no cost that should be holding us back from trying to get a great photo. If we try and fail, it's no big deal. We can try another day. At least if we experiment, we will learn lessons that will inform our attempts in the future. If you find yourself hesitating to learn how to shoot and edit photos, begin by setting yourself a daily photo challenge. Over time, you won't think twice about doing something crazy like my very talented photographer friend, Leslie Fisher, shown here risking a very expensive camera to try to get the photo below:

8. Change Your Perspective

Along with that, take the time to switch up your perspective. There are lots of ways to do this. For example, shoot from a lower perspective or from up high. Shoot from up close or from farther away. Shoot in landscape, in portrait, or at an angle. Yes, many of these effects can be reproduced in editing, but some cannot be. You can't zoom out once you've shot something zoomed in, for example. There are many reasons to change your perspective. On a basic level, getting on the same eye-level of a subject can often make a picture feel more personal (so parents, crouch down to take that shot of your toddler!).

At the same time, by changing your perspective, you are less likely to get the shot that everyone else gets. Sometimes, it's as simple as turning around or looking at your subject from a non-traditional angle. Your picture will stand out because you took the time to look for a new point of view.

9. Learn What You Need as You Need It

A lot of folks shy away from things like photography because they believe that the amount of learning needed to be good at a craft is just too monumental to tackle. It's true that really amazing photographers know a whole lot that you don't know about photography, but they also know a whole lot that you don't need to know in order to take the pictures you want. Thanks to the Internet, a simple YouTube search for tutorials will typically provide ample instruction for any learner wanting to, say, place a person's head on another person's body. Until you need to do that, just know that you can learn it when you need it. That said, here are few resources to get you started:

Learn Photography: A Comprehensive Beginner’s Guide
Cambridge in Colour Photo Editing Tutorials
Digital Photography School
ePhotozine Techniques Page
Geoff Lawrence Photography Tips and Tutorials
PhotoShop Basic Tutorials
62 Photo Editing Tutorials
Web Tools for Teachers: Photo Editing

10. Think of Yourself as a Photographer

Basically, I mean develop the habits of mind that photographers have. For one thing, they always have a camera with them so they can capture the magic when it happens. Second, they actively look at the world for opportunities to capture the sights and stories that reflect a moment, a mood, or a subject. They are engaged with their environment so that they can take advantage of visual opportunities that may not happen again. Third, they take lots of photos everyday, and fourth, they think about the photos that they take. They learn how to repeat what they like and avoid what they don't like. They also learn to apply techniques they learn to new situations.  Fifth, they know that photos are never finished. They can be edited and re-edited to serve new purposes and tell new stories. Finally, photographers challenge themselves to grow in their creativity and skill. They know there will always be something new that they can learn to make the next photo better.

Your Task

So here's the point. There is no reason in the world why you and your students shouldn't be taking and editing photos as part of your day to day work. Students will need these skills in order to be effective communicators in life, and giving them the opportunity to express themselves through images ought to be just as natural as giving them the opportunity to express themselves in writing. The same is true for teachers. The ability to be comfortable working with images will only empower us to raise the quality of our own work to new levels. I hope you will give this a shot, and feel free to share the results with me!

photo credit: unleashingmephotography via photopin cc

photo credit: jgarber via photopin cc

photo credit: borman818 via photopin cc

photo credit: Yuxuan.fishy.Wang via photopin cc

Monday, May 6, 2013

Looking Forward to a Summer of eLearning

Educators know that we don't "take summers off." Our summers are filled with professional learning and preparation for our next group of learners. I love how optimistic my fellow educators are as they look forward to a new year, a clean slate, a new opportunity to make learning better for kids. So even though we have a few more weeks left in this year that will include all kinds of extra work and messed-up schedules, and even though we are in the throws of the foolishness that is state testing, I know that more than a few of my colleagues are already imagining the joyous work that will take place from June through August. They are registering for summer classes, planning trips to places where they will buy supplies for their classrooms, and purchasing the books for their summer reading projects. And here in Indiana, they are registering for summer eLearning conferences.

It's kind of cool that our Department of Education has created this opportunity for educators. They call it the Summer of eLearning, a series of 17 conferences that spans the state and that takes place all summer long. Because they've offered grants to the schools and districts that host these events, the cost to attend them is affordable for teachers, and those teachers are signing up. Imagine that. Teachers from all over the state making plans to use their "time off" to collaborate, connect and learn. That's pretty cool. You can learn all about the Summer of eLearning at the IDOE eLearning website. I hope you will consider attending one or more of these great events if you have the time and can make the trip.

I'm planning on attending five of the conferences myself, including our district's eRevolution Conference on July 10 and 11. This will be the 5th Annual eRevolution, and we've been planning this event since last August. Last year we drew more than 900 attendees from more than 90 school districts, universities, and other organizations from as far away as Texas. We anticipate doing the same this year, and we have so many great things to offer our attendees. The following are just a few highlights:

Learning Strands and Sessions
The eRevolution conference offers more than 200 concurrent sessions, workshops, special sessions and panel discussions organized around 5 Learning strands: Leadership in the Digital Age, Innovative Learning Models, 21st Century Standards and Skills, ActivTeaching, and Building your Digital Toolbox. We have sessions for every level of learner and every area of interest represented in our offerings.

Keynotes and Featured Speakers

The eRevolution boasts an impressive lineup of keynotes and featured speakers including Adam Bellow, Yong Zhao, Eric Sheninger, Leslie Fisher, and Meg Ormiston, as well as other EdTech leaders from across the state and nation. At the same time, we have dozens of sessions led by talented classroom and school leaders who can speak directly to the experiences of teachers and administrators.

Leadership 2.0 Experience
This year, we’ve added an experience tailored specifically for building and district-level administrators that begins on Wednesday, July 10th with a special 2-hour Leadership 2.0 session, facilitated by Eric Sheninger. Then, the Leadership strand will join the rest of the conference for the Keynote by Adam Bellow, followed by lunch and a special Connected Educator Panel, featuring Eric Sheninger, Adam Bellow, and Meg Ormiston, moderated by Michelle Green, eLearning Development Specialist with the Indiana Department of Education.  Day 1 of the Leadership 2.0 experience will conclude with a selection of additional sessions focused on the needs of Digital Age administrators. Additionally, we have several Leadership sessions scheduled throughout the day on Thursday, July 11.

Serious Play!
Several features of the eRevolution are designed to emphasize collaboration and exploration, including our Technology Playground, Digital Detox Zone, Digital Sandbox, and Learning Commons. Further, we’ve loaded the schedule with App and Web Tool shootouts, Tweet-ups, Giveaways and more!

High Value and Affordability
One of our goals is to always provide a conference that is affordable and offers high value to educators. This year, we’ve managed to keep the cost down to only $50 for the entire 2-day experience that includes continental breakfast and catered lunch both days, access to all conference events, and 14 Indiana Professional Growth Points. Also, our close proximity to Louisville (1.5 hours), Nashville (2 hours), St. Louis (3 hours) and Indianapolis (3 hours) means that you can save on travel costs as well. Our passion for quality and affordability pays off. 99% of respondents to last year’s post conference survey indicated that they would recommend the EVSC eRevolution Conference to a colleague, and 97% rated the conference as having good or very high value. Additionally, last year’s conference was nominated for a Leadership Evansville Award in the category of Education. Finally, the eRevolution was selected as one of this year’s Summer of eLearning conferences by the Indiana Department of Education.

I didn't really plan to write a promotional piece, but we are very proud of the eRevolution, and we would welcome your participation. You can register at our website.

Even if you can't participate in the Summer of eLearning, I hope that if you are an educator, you will enjoy your own time to learn and prepare. And if you aren't an educator, I hope that it comes as no surprise to you that a teacher's work is a year-round commitment, even if the students won't be back until August.

photo credit: cmcgough via photopin cc

Thursday, May 2, 2013

The Creativity Deficit

We’re all a little happier when we are engaged in a project that calls upon our imagination and creativity. There is something about the open-ended nature of this kind of learning that feeds the soul as well as the mind. This happens, in part, because a creative project isn’t pre-defined for us. Instead, it calls upon us to do the defining. Creative projects aren’t answer-driven, they’re question-driven. They aren’t standardized, they’re personalized.

Unfortunately, this type of learning is often the exception instead of the rule when it comes to formal education. As a result, students are rarely asked to practice skills that are vitally important to success in today’s world. As Sir Ken Robinson puts it, schools are killing creativity.

At the same time, the tools for creative expression have never been so affordable and pervasive. More and more children are entering our hallways with the means to shoot and edit photos and videos; compose, practice, record and edit music; create, manipulate and mash-up digital media; develop and deliver narratives; and share all of these with the world.

Furthermore, students have instant access to a buffet of digital content that speaks directly to their interests and suggests even more content to them based on their online behaviors and presence. The world is now built in such a way, that our students have the ability to design and select and create the world they want to experience.

It’s little wonder that school can feel so artificial to so many. Much of formal schooling is driven by a need to ensure a consistency of experience rather than a diversity of experience, to define learning as a result to be achieved rather than a process to be experienced, and to measure learners against a template rather than viewing them as unique.

Teachers, of course, live in the midst of this contradiction. They know that each learner is different. Each child has his own time-table for growth. Each student has her own set of talents, struggles, interests, and passions. Teachers know that developing the complex skills of communication and problem-solving are more important than memorizing the discrete content that can be measured on a test. Yet teachers are also held accountable for how successfully students demonstrate mastery of discrete knowledge that has often been plotted out in standardized units of study and delivered through a rigid curriculum that is highly time-dependent. Daily, teachers are forced to make a devil’s compromise between the needs of their learners and the needs of the system in which they work.

Over time, not only are students’ creative muscles atrophied, the teachers’ are as well. Creativity is the side dish that is served as an afterthought. Filmmaking is done after the worksheets are completed, not in place of them. Photo editing is taught in elective classes or not at all. Service projects are reserved for extracurricular organizations. The percentage of classroom time given to learning and developing creative skills is shrinking, and as that time becomes less of a teacher’s day, creative activities become less and less likely to be selected out of the teacher’s toolbox.

We all need to look for more opportunities to bring creativity to our work. This begins with learning to harness the creative tools that people are using in their daily lives for the task of learning. Below are a few ways that all of us can use digital tools to bring creativity and imagination to the learning process:

  1. Record and Edit Audio.
  2. Design and Communicate Visually.
  3. Create Digital Learning Spaces.

Over the next few months, I plan to focus on each of these ideas in individual posts on this blog. I will link them here as they are completed.

While I hope that teachers will challenge themselves to do these things as learners, I hope even more fervently that they will insist that their students do them as part of the joyous work of learning. The creative activity should often be the first strategy out of the toolbox. But getting there from where we are will take time, imagination, and lots of creativity.

photo credit: via photopin cc
photo credit: PraveenbenK via photopin cc