Thursday, January 12, 2017

Learning by Creating

Try demonstrating how to do this by writing an essay!
A few months ago, I submitted applications to present at various conferences, and now I am only a few days away from those presentations.  I will be presenting at the Las Vegas Conference featuring Apple Teacher on Adobe Spark (there are still tickets available for the conference, join us, it is sure to be a great event!). The following weekend, I will be presenting at the Las Vegas Summit featuring Google on screenshot and screencasting apps and programs.  I am also hosting a roundtable presentation/discussion on how administrators and teacher leaders can help to bring tech newbies and tech resisters into the fold and advance the cause of using technology in education.  This event is already sold out.  This week, I participated in a Twitter chat that focused on the debate of whether schools and teachers need textbooks and arguments for ditching the textbook, and the conversation has continued in the #ConnectedTL Voxer group.  So what do all of these things have in common?  To me, it relates to the fact that the best way to prove that you have learned something is to demonstrate it through creation.  If you learned how to bake a loaf of bread, you don't take a test or answer worksheet questions, you mix the ingredients and bake the loaf of bread (ok, I admit, that is a really simplistic way of putting it; the point is that you create the bread, you don't answer multiple choice questions and get a loaf of bread on your counter ready to be filled with pastrami and swiss).  

As a classroom teacher, did I use the textbook?  Absolutely!  Did I give assignments and assessments that were not of the creation persuasion?  Yep, sure did!  Was the textbook the basis of everything that I did with my students and did I assess their learning at all times by a standard summative assessment?  By no means whatsoever!  My students did plenty of creating in my class, from historical memes to short videos, from planning an historical dinner party to creating news media stories on events in the nation's history.  Yes, there were assignments consisting of vocabulary words, questions, essay topics, and textbook and other source reading.  I would like to think of myself as a "hybrid textbook ditcher" because while I still used the book (there are a time and a place for textbooks, worksheets, etc.), I created a great deal of content and my students created a ton as well.

I don't believe that textbooks are, in my words in the Twitter chat, "the spawn of Satan".  I think that using the textbook as THE curriculum is problematic, however.   Textbooks are and should be on the decline in our digital world.  Online textbooks are cheaper and more readily available.  When I was still in the classroom, if a principal told me that my textbooks would be taken away, I would have been able to survive.  There are tons of resources, free and paid, available to educators.  I love creating my own content and activities.  It takes time and can be frustrating at times, but in the end, it is so much better for students when you can tailor activities for them, rather than relying on a teacher's edition or a workbook that came with the text.

Here is a short list of some of my (current) favorite programs for creating and getting away from the textbook and worksheet.

Adobe Spark:  When I was in the classroom, this program was known as Adobe Voice (for the video side of the program).  In the spring of 2016, Adobe revamped Voice, renaming it Video, and incorporated two other programs, Page and Post, under the Adobe Spark brand.  This is currently my most favorite program.  If I want to make a short video quickly, Video allows me to incorporate text, pictures, short video clips, art, sound, and voiceovers to make a high-quality video.  Each year, I honor men's health during No Shave November; this year, I documented my beard growth and created a video using Adobe Spark Video.  You can see my video here.

Page allows you to make simple, yet beautiful, web graphics.  You can create pages with images, text, captions, "glideshows", and buttons to outside sites.  For my 5-year-old's 5th birthday in November, we went to Disneyland.  I created a simple, quick, but still stunning, Spark Page documenting our trip to Disneyland.  Check out my creation here.

Lastly, Adobe Spark Post helps you create beautiful graphics for social media posts.  Images, text, and themes can help you to make high-quality graphics reminiscent of the graphic cards, memes, motivational quotes, and other images that make their rounds on Facebook, Twitter, Google+, and other social media platforms.  To promote CUE-NV's Tech Fest on January 28th in Minden, NV (about 45 or so south of Reno, register here!), I created this announcement using Post.

Canva: Canva is similar to Adobe Spark Post in its functions, but it has many more templates and editing features.  Some examples of the templates available in Canva include social media posts, cards, posters, magazine covers, and resumes, so it's not just limited to strictly graphics.  I used Canva to design my business cards.  The process was very easy and I was able to save the files as .pdf to upload to Staples' website for my order.  Check out my designs for the front and back of my business card.
Another graphic I created in Canva.  This song lyric really spoke to me earlier this week,
 essentially telling me that you are going to have struggles, but in the end, you'll be fine
if you just push on through.  

Google Slides
:  If you are reading this, I'm sure that you are a user of Google Slides, if not, Microsoft PowerPoint or Keynote.  Slides is not just a program for putting together a set of slides for a presentation.  So many other things can be done with Google Slides!  You can create storyboards, magazines, social media type posts, and so much more by tweaking the standard settings of Google Slides, such as customizing the page setup, setting backgrounds for slides (either individual or by setting a master slide), and using the insert functions on blank slides to make it completely your own for whatever you may want to do.  My buddy Ryan O'Donnell has graciously shared tons of ideas and templates for creative ways to use Google Slides.  Head over to his website,, and click on the Templates button to get inspired!

Taking a page out of Jon Corippo and Susan Stewart's book (check out their list of great tools here), I want to compile a list of great resources that teachers use.  Please take a moment to complete the form below and add the amazing tools that you use with your students, staff, families, and community.

I will share the results of the form in a later post.  I cannot wait to see what everybody has to share! Until next time... 

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