This was my second year of teaching technology to 2nd, 3rd, and 4th graders. I love my job. The return engagement gave me a chance to set new goals. Among them were to give my students opportunities to express their creative natures. What I found was that giving them the freedom to create was not enough. My students, while young, have already begun to play The Game.
You know The Game. The one in which you figure out what your teacher wants so you can give it to him and make him happy. The problem is when the teacher (in this case, me) tries to encourage freedom by answering questions like, “What program do I use?” with answers like, “Which one do you want to use?” students who are adept at The Game become frustrated; they know the questions to ask but are not getting answers they can use.
My “Game” players had honed their skills in their short careers, allowing them to complete assignments quickly and move on to other, allegedly more appealing, activities. I don’t want to say that they were not meeting expectations, but few went beyond those expectations to show ingenuity, creative design, or unique interpretations. To be fair, as implied above, these qualities are not always encouraged.
My first job was to expose them to another way of looking at an assignment. I had to break away from the recipe method where everyone produces a replica of the teacher example. My solution was to emphasize process over product, to recognize those who found hidden features and applied them to their project. It took time to end The Game in my class, but it was only the first hurdle.
The next, more daunting hurdle, was feeding the hunger I had created. In my second year, students began to seek out that freedom, but many mastered the basic skills of presentations and grew bored. They began to revert to a “finish quickly to move on” practice. I needed to provide two key elements: challenges and tools. I had to stay two steps ahead of them.
The Challenges (AKA assignments): present tasks with various paths to completion, allow and encourage individual flair, expose students to new tools.
The Tools: apps, websites, and extensions — especially those that allow open-ended creation, used to construct a tangible representation of student learning.
There is a lot of software out there. Some good; some not as good. It’s a great problem for us to have, having to sort through so many ideas to find the ones that best meet student needs. GoAnimate for Schools has proven to be both a favorite in my class and versatile enough to be used in a variety of ways.
The creation process in GoAnimate for Schools is flexible and allows for nonlinear development. This appeals to my students as they emphasize differing attributes of the project due to personal preference and task goals.
By providing my students with challenges that value inventive solutions and modeling engaging tools, my approach has helped creativity flourish. Giving students freedom to be creative was only the first step they needed. Encouragement and great tools to get them to the finish line.
Croswell-Lexington Elementary Technology