Digital Tools Make for Creative Students
This is both a follow up to my creative fluency lesson from a few weeks ago and an introduction to some new digital tools we’ve been using this week to translate our written ideas into the visual through websites and movies.
First of all, let me just say that as we progressed through the written portion of the utopia assignment, more and more students started to take ownership and come to me with their own ideas of how they could add creativity. One student (usually quiet and reluctant to participate) asked if instead of writing a journal entry as the assignment asked, he could write a series of twitter posts showing what a day in the life of a community member was like. He made the very valid argument that nowadays, people don’t write in journals or diaries, they share their lives in 120 character soundbites posted live throughout the day. This was exactly the kind of creativity and initiative I was hoping for. Other students helped illustrate the kind of thought process I was hoping a creative assignment would solicit. One student, struggling to write the rules for his community, realized that if he wanted to allow his people to be completely free, they could end up doing something dangerous. This led to a discussion of what are different kinds of freedom (freedom from or freedom to)and how do we balance limitations and freedoms in a society. Another student later in the week, while trying to write her declaration of independence, commented that the founding fathers of the US had a really hard job because she was tempted to just make herself dictator but realized she couldn’t do that if she really said she believed in equality. These represent the kind of “aha!” moments that I love to watch my students experience, especially when it doesn’t come from me preaching at them.
The next step in our Creative Fluency project was to add some technology. We did this in a couple of ways: First, using a very easy to navigate website designer at www.weebly.com, my freshmen English students began creating websites to showcase the utopias they wrote about earlier. The goals here were to not only get them to showcase their ideas through a different media, but also learn how to problem solve as they encounter the kinds of challenges (How do I make this look like that? How do I get X to do Y? Why won’t this work!?) that every new digital tool they every attempt to try the first time will present them. Through weebly, students were able to create blogs and community forums to show what life is like for the members of their utopia and how they interact, they can show what their community would look like by creating photo albums (using photos found on www.creativecommons.org–another lesson in copyright laws thrown in just for fun!), and add other pages that detailed community rules and how the community got started.
Then, just to add a little spice to the assignment, we also created movies using the moviemaker at www.xtranormal.com. Again, this is another very user friendly site that allows kids to choose a variety of animated characters, voices, camera angles, gestures, settings, and sound effects to create a monologue or a dialogue. Students had the option of taking their written journal entries and transforming them into video diaries, or take their written transcript of a townhall meeting and translate into a dialogue between two “actors”. These movies are then published to youtube and posted on their weebly website to enhance the reality of their utopias.
As we were working on this, another student told me about Minecraft and how he could create a 3D image of what his utopia looked like, take a video of it, and place it on his website. Another student wanted to act out a video, post it to Youtube, and download that to his website. Other students went above and beyond by creating national anthems for their utopia or welcome videos inviting new members to take a tour and meet the founder. Keep in mind, none of my students knew how to use weebly or xtranormal before we started. In fact, I would argue that I have a good number of students who struggle with simple copy and paste commands and don’t know basic terms like “browser” and “desktop”. But those that did know helped their struggling classmates, I learned from them just as they learned from me and others, and in the end all of us walked away with more skills than we started with. That to me is the beauty of trying new digital tools with my students. Yes, there were plenty of places to trip along the way, but the best lessons come through the journey itself (detours and all), not just upon arrival at an end destination.