Loosen the Reins and Let Creativity Blossom

Letting go of control of your classroom is scary. Being in charge of 30ish kids is a big responsibility and we, as teachers, don’t want anything to go wrong. However, many amazing things can happen when we give our students choices and the freedom to explore and express their learning in new ways. With a little preparation, students will rise to the occasion and thrive in an environment where the “reins” are loosened ever so slightly.

As a library media specialist and technology coach, I recently worked with Tim Strezo to design a project for his 6th grade Social Studies students where they would be given the freedom to choose the technology tool they wanted to create a product showcasing their knowledge of Ancient Indian civilizations. Students worked in groups in our school’s MakerSpace to make videos using the Green Screen, created Stop-Motion animation films using Play-Doh, Legos, or Dry-Erase marker drawings, acted out scenes, and performed raps, all while immersing themselves in the Social Studies unit content. While the process of relinquishing some control was scary at times, watching students become so engaged they forgot the time made the whole experience worth it. Here is how we approached this project:

Planning
Tim and I met with our Instructional Coach, Erin Christie, to plan and discuss the project logistics. We decided that each student would choose to answer one question about Ancient India that was covered in the unit’s material. In order to put students into groups, Tim created a Google Form for students to take which asked them which question they would like to answer. Students also had to answer which type of medium they would most like to use to create their product; Green Screen, Stop-Motion, Audio Recording, or e-book. Based on how they answered, students were put into groups of 3 or 4 to work on their product.

Making
Before students could start creating their product in the MakerSpace, they had to make a rough draft. For Green Screen and Stop Motion movies this was a script, for audio recordings this was the song
or rap lyrics, and for e-books this was the book draft. Once the draft was approved, students could get to work on their final product.

In order to lessen the chaos of 30 students working in the MakerSpace at a time, we split Tim’s classes in half. Half of the class would work with Tim on new Social Studies material in his classroom, while the other half would work on their Ancient India project in the MakerSpace. Myself and my technology assistant, Julie Fredrickson, would supervise and assist students working in the MakerSpace. Halfway through the class, the groups would switch.
Students had roughly 4 of these class periods (about 2.5 hours) to complete their products. Groups that did not finish on time could arrange to come during lunch or after school to finish. For the most part, students remained engaged and on task throughout the project.

When students were finished with their product, they posted it to their Social Studies Google Classroom.

Reflecting
In order for Mr. Strezo to accurately assess how well each individual group member had mastered the content, he had each student answer their group’s chosen question through a Google Form. Students also had to rate their own performance while making the product as well as rate their groupmates. Students were graded on the Google Form response as well as the finished product.

Recommended Technology Tools
Here are some of the technology tools that our students used, but is by no means a conclusive list. You could create a list with any tools your students are familiar with or allow them to completely pick their own!

  • Green Screen by DoInk An easy to use Green Screen iPad app (costs $2.99).
  • iMovie a basic movie-editing application that comes for free on Apple products. Students can easily export Green Screen movies into iMovie and add music, titles, and voiceovers.
  • Stop Motion Studio is a free Apple and Android app that allows students to turn photos into Stop Motion videos as well as add voice-overs.
  • Garageband is a sound-mixing program available on Apple products where users can mix voice and instrument tracks together.
  • WeVideo is a web-based program and app where you can easily combine photos, video clips, text, and music to make custom videos. A paid subscription allows users to make Green Screen movies.

Try It Out!
You don’t have to launch a project of this scale your first time trying this technique. Start with something small, such as having your students recap a lesson at the end of class. Give students a few technology options and guidelines and see what that they will create…the results may blow you away!

by Megan Flaherty @D60WestviewIMC

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