Fifty years ago, Albert Einstein warned ‘Imagination is more important than knowledge.’ The ability to solve problems by thinking creatively is more important than knowing how they were solved in the past. Now, in today’s connected classroom, creativity has become the newest transformative tool, the buzzword that indicates a curriculum is on the cutting edge, that teachers are delivering their best to students and differentiating for varied needs.
Art and music have long been considered the doorway to creative thinking. Here are three suggestions that will help you across that threshhold painlessly, even if you aren’t an artist.
I teach technology, so I asked Lawrence Auble, a musician friend I’ve known for years, what he uses for tutoring. His recommendation: Smart Music. It’s one of the 2014 category award winners by School and Band Orchestra magazine and the industry standard for teaching band, string, and vocal of all ages and all skill levels. The app gives subscribers unlimited access to SmartMusic’s extensive library of over 50 method books, nearly 50,000 skill building exercises, and 22,000+ solo and ensemble titles by major publishers.
Here’s how it works:
- Students sign into class and receive materials tailored to their needs by their teacher.
- As the music appears on the screen, students play or sing along with the background accompaniment.
- SmartMusic provides an immediate assessment.
- When satisfied, students send a recording to their teacher who can assess, score, and build a portfolio to track their progress over time.
It is available on PCs and Macs as well as iPads.
It’s not enough to share information with students. Unless they have an eidetic memory, much of what they see/hear/taste/smell never reaches long term memory. For that, students require study. That includes note-taking and review in a variety of formats to touch the varied approaches to learning.
Here are three apps I find helpful with students. They are flexible, scalable, and as a group, address a variety of learning approaches students use. This includes traditional handwritten notes, collecting multimedia resources, and the ever-popular drill. Which is best for you?
This is as close as you’ll get to pen-and-paper and be digital. No registration required and no ads. The start page is clear, uncluttered, with notes clearly listed. The menu bar is narrow and unobtrusive. Notes are taken on an infinite canvas as though it was a tablet of lined paper. You can add images, text, and audio files. Notes are saved in collections or singly which can then be exported as a PDF or an image.
Take notes with a finger, a stylus, or typed, even annotate PDFs (currently for an additional fee).
Hour of Code, coming up this December 7-13th, is a one-hour introduction to computer science, designed to demystify code and show that anybody can learn the basics. Since it began, over 100 million students have participated worldwide in over forty languages (data from HourofCode.com). So far this year, almost 39,000 teachers are participating across the globe:
As I did last year, I’ll be giving you a complete selection of activities by grade-level with lots of innovative ideas on what will make coding both fun and easy to your students. Here’s a taste–something you can start in November to get students ready for more:
IFTTT allows users to create recipes to automate functions, such as receiving an email or text when the weather changes or being notified when you forget something at the house. It uses a simple statement that will turn all the social media mavens into engineers—IF THIS THEN THAT.
Whether you teach science or PE, there are hundreds of apps to help you do it better. The response to this tidal wave of information has been confusion. As each teacher downloads their favorites, students spend as much time learning the app as applying it academically.
There’s a move afoot to pick five that are cross-curricular, train faculty, and then use them throughout the school year. This is the way it used to be when MS Office ruled the computer and everyone understood it. If this is your school, here are three apps to start the school year:
When looking for an app to curate classroom reading, consider these requirements:
- works well with your current LMS
- includes a wide variety of reading formats
- displays books quickly, allowing you to open multiple books, add annotations, and take notes
- displays class textbooks
Lots of apps do the first three; none the last. Why? Many class texts use formats that only display on the publisher website. What became apparent as I researched was that GoodReader was one of several considered Best in Class because of its broad-based ability to read, manage, organize, access, and annotate a wide variety of file formats. Where it has long been considered a leader in reading and annotating PDFs, new releases accommodate almost any type of file including .docx, mp3, jpeg, ppt, xlx, audio, and videos. With its tabbed interface, users can open multiple documents and click through them as needed.
Any child knows that a picture communicates differently than text. It’s not just quicker, it shares more detail more effectively. In seconds, our brain grasps a wide selection of data from the picture’s color, layout, design and draws conclusions. To do that with text requires lots of words, re-reading, extreme concentration, and scratching the head.
It’s no surprise research indicates the majority of students learn better if they see information. This includes graphic organizers, diagrams, mind maps, outlines–even pictures and art work.
Here are five image apps. One (or more) of these will be perfect for your classroom:
1.8 million users have created over 15 million designs using Canva’s one million+ design templates (including font schemes, stock photographs, backgrounds, and illustrations–some free/some fee) to create cards, fliers, posters, newsletters, infographics, and more. Drag and drop project parts to personalize the design (see my Canva-created poster below). Edit photos using preset filters or advanced photo editing tools like brightness, contrast, saturation, tint, and blur. Save as a high-quality image or a printable PDF. Canva provides lots of graphic design video tutorials for even the most basic skill level. These are great for mature elementary age, Middle School, and High School students, as well as teachers.
Canva for education features 17+ lesson plans from some of the leaders in tech-in-ed. You can even sign in through Google Apps for Education. Canva not only works on iPads, but desktops and laptops.
‘Close reading’ entered the teacher’s lexicon with this Common Core literacy anchor standard:
Read closely to determine what the text says explicitly and to make logical inferences from it; cite specific textual evidence when writing or speaking to support conclusions drawn from the text.
Dr. Doug Fischer defines close reading this way:
Close reading is a careful and purposeful re-reading of the text.
If you’re looking for a longer definition, the Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Career (PARCC) defines it this way:
Close, analytic reading stresses engaging with a text of sufficient complexity directly and examining meaning thoroughly and methodically, encouraging students to read and reread deliberately. Directing student attention on the text itself empowers students to understand the central ideas and key supporting details. It also enables students to reflect on the meanings of individual words and sentences; the order in which sentences unfold; and the development of ideas over the course of the text, which ultimately leads students to arrive at an understanding of the text as a whole. (PARCC, 2011, p. 7)
…and explains its importance:
A significant body of research links the close reading of complex text—whether the student is a struggling reader or advanced—to significant gains in reading proficiency and finds close reading to be a key component of college and career readiness. (Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers, 2011, p. 7)
It’s not just getting kids to read that’s important; it’s getting them to read with understanding and memory that matters. This is not instinctual. Students need to be taught how to read complex texts.
Every teacher I know juggles an exhausting teaching schedule with parent conferences, administrative tasks, and specialized student needs. They take work home evenings and weekends and often are forced to choose between family and job when it comes to allocating a finite quantity of time over what surely seems to be infinite needs.
The teachers I know are also positive thinkers. They always start the new school year with a promise to be more organized, work more efficiently, use available tools to complete tasks faster, and prioritize needs.
There’s a problem, though: Where does one start? Scholastic offers a list of one hundred tips, but most require set up time (yikes!)–and worse, non-existent classroom real estate–before they can be used. For my short list, I looked for:
- a net savings of time
- a way to quickly accomplish common tasks
- easy access from digital devices that teachers commonly carry
- simplicity, so even when my mind is somewhere else (like on the child across the room or the admin peeking in my door), it performs flawlessly
Here are three that meet all of these qualifications:
Waze is a free navigation app for GPS-equipped smartphones that bills itself as ‘the largest community-based traffic and navigation app’. It includes spoken turn-by-turn directions and the ability to search for destinations by address, category, place name, or landmark. Thanks to its over fifty million users, Waze gives you real-time crowd sourced reports about which highway is jammed, the location of accidents, where to find the cheapest gas, and when your friends are arriving at the same destination as you. You can even send an ‘I’m on my way!’ comment to whoever needs to know with a click.
Coding has become the poster child for a tech-infused classroom. Over 15 million kids participated in Hour of Code this past December. So many teachers took students to Code.org’s curriculum offerings, the website crashed.
So what is ‘coding’? According to the Urban Dictionary, it’s another word for ‘programming’ which means:
The art of turning caffeine into Error Messages
Let’s go to Webster’s definition instead:
The act or job of creating computer programs
Not much better. To techies, ‘programming’ or ‘coding’ is
a series of symbols, used synonymously as text and grouped to imply or prompt the multimedia in the games and programs that happen on computers, websites, and mobile apps.
This complicated definition is why–historically–programming, IT, and Computer Science have been of interest only to the geekiest of kids. But there are good reasons why kids should like this activity. According to Computer Science Education Week:
Apps are out of control. When you think you have just the right one for your classroom, a better/faster/snazzier version pops up. Often for free. It’s not like a decade ago when every teachers’ favorite tech tools were MS Office, KidPix, Reader Rabbit, and the internet. Apps changed all that. Suddenly, the list exploded to include names like Voki, Tellagami, Wordle, ScreenChomp, Evernote and scores more that are weekly pushed aside by a new generation.
So before I unfold my favorites, here are guidelines to what I expected, culled from top education sites like Edutopia, Google Education, Educational Technology, and EdWeek:
- free or small fee
- support the ‘4 C’s’–creativity, critical thinking, communication, collaboration
- offer compelling content (although this is subjective; ‘compelling’ varies teacher-to-teacher and student-to-student)
- are not distracting or overwhelming in colors, music, or activity
- offer levels that become increasingly more difficult, providing differentiation for student needs
- stand the test of time
- positive parent reports
- few ads–and those that are there do not take up a significant portion of the screen
- intuitive to use with a short learning curve, encourage independence
- easily applied to a variety of educational environments
- doesn’t collect personal information other than user credentials or data required to operate the app
- rated ‘for everyone’ or ‘low maturity’
- no in-app purchases or billing
Based on these criteria, here are my top five:
A teacher friend is already stressed–and the year is only half over. Her school is putting together digital portfolios for every student which will include representative work monthly in each subject. That means posters, math papers, art projects, tests, summatives must be scanned into the server and filed in each student’s digital portfolio. Not so bad if there are enough scanners and computers to get it done. Which there aren’t. My friend has to wait in line, squeeze this work into breaks, or stay late or come early to try to get her portion of the work done.
One $2.99 iPad/iPHone/Android app would take care of the problem. It’s called TurboScan. Using the iPad (or Smartphone) camera, you take one-three pictures of a single- or multi-page document, tweak it so it’s the way you want it, email it to wherever you need it or save it to the camera roll and transfer it that way. Instead of hours, she’d be done in minutes.
Here’s what you do. Open the app. Select either SureScan for documents or Camera for a picture (top of next image):
Follow the directions:
After the first picture, the app prompts you to attach more pages or click ‘done’. When you’re done, the app helps you adjust it for quality, then you send it out as an text message, email:
I will say, the word ‘scan’ is somewhat misleading. The app has two options: 1) take a picture that is saved to the camera roll, or 2) take three pictures of a document and the app merges them as a mash-up. Once the image is settled, you select lightness for ease of reading and decide where to publish it. Admittedly, the result isn’t as good as my flatbed scanner, but it’s always good enough. I’ve used it for legal documents like W9s and contractual agreements (with a signature) without a problem.
How to use it in your classroom:
Even without the requirement for digital portfolios, this is a useful app for teachers. Consider how much classwork is still done with pencil and paper–tests, posters, reports, pop quizzes. Simply scan these in, store them in the student digital portfolio, and never again worry about losing them. Think of the art teacher: Scan pictures of student work directly to the computer where it’s easily accessed by any stakeholder and preserved for eternity. Kind of a digital refrigerator.
Good idea: Assign this task to students. Make it their responsibility to scan their work into their digital portfolio with the class iPad. They’ll think that’s fun while you’d see it as hours added to your day.
One change I would make: While TurboScan is easy to learn, getting an authentic-looking image takes some effort and maybe a few retakes. I’d like an auto-focus widget, similar to what cameras have because no one can hold a camera steady for more than a nanosecond.
Overall: TurboScan is a huge plus in every classroom. It turns any student work into a digital document (even audio recordings), which means it can be available online, in class blogs and websites, or emailed and texted to stakeholders.
More classroom management apps:
Jacqui Murray has been teaching K-8 technology for 15 years. She is the editor/author of dozens of tech ed resources including a K-8 technology curriculum, K-8 keyboard curriculum, K-8 Digital Citizenship curriculum, and dozens of books on how to integrate technology into education. She is webmaster for six blogs, CSG Master Teacher, an Amazon Vine Voice book reviewer, Editorial Review Board member for Journal for Computing Teachers, CAEP reviewer, CSTA presentation reviewer, freelance journalist on tech ed topics, a tech ed columnist for Examiner.com, and a weekly contributor to TeachHUB. You can find her resources at Structured Learning.