What digital tools can primary school students use to feel empowered in the learning process and that allows students to express their creativity in authentic ways?
In my last module for my winter course EDTC 6102, my cohort members and I had the opportunity to develop an inquiry question around ISTE Standard 6 or Standard 7. I decided to focus my research on ISTE Standard 6: Creative Communicator because I am interested in learning about creative ways to empower and support younger learners in expressing themselves. My experience both as an educator and a digital education leader has primarily been with working with upper elementary (3rd-5th grade) school students. A colleague of mine recently approached me with a collaboration opportunity between my 4/5 class and his K/1 class. This project will have 4/5 students supporting their K/1 buddies in creating informational videos to teach their viewers about different National Parks. With my inquiry question for this module, I wanted to explore empowering, creative digital media tools for some of our youngest learners, with this project serving as the catalyst.
In researching various digital tools for primary school educators to use with their students, I came across several different ways to promote creativity in the learning process. In thinking about all the ways that this could be explored, I really wanted to focus on empowering students to be a part of the learning process and was done in a way that allowed them to express their creativity in authentic ways. While there are many methods by which engage students in creative communication, I’ve outlined four ways educators working with younger learners can empower their students to take on an active, creative role in the learning process.
Four Ways to Promote Creative Communication
Podcasts can be an incredible way to spark creativity, promote curiosity, connect with a larger audience, and amplify one’s voice. Why wouldn’t we want our students to explore these avenues of imagination and expression? As Paula Diaz (2020) explains, “Podcasting offers an empowering way for students—even young ones—to express their ideas and connect with the world. It gives them opportunities to interview people, explain how to do something, teach on a topic, and many other possibilities” (n.p.). Thinking about how students, especially younger learners, might be able to engage in podcasting and what resources are available to make this successful and effective, can all feel overwhelming. So where to begin?
The first step is to get inspired! Take some time to brainstorm ideas with your students, listen to a variety of examples, and analyze a few episodes. If your students are looking for inspiration for podcasting ideas, But Why: A Podcast for Curious Kids, Brains On!, Goodnight Stories for Rebel Girls, and Story Pirates are wonderful places to get inspired and are all available on your preferred podcast app. Next, it is important to find the right podcasting tool for your students to use in editing and publishing their podcast episodes. In this compiled list from Common Sense Education, they offer an overview of several different podcasting tools for teachers to use with their students. While different podcasting apps might be more successful for certain grade levels, the digital tools that I would recommend for educators to use with primary school students to create their own podcasts would be Anchor or GarageBand. These digital tools not only work to empower students in sharing their voice but also puts them at the center of the creation process. This allows educators to take a step back and facilitate this process, but leaves all of the digital engineering necessary for recording and producing a podcast in the hands of the students. Additionally, Anchor serves as a platform to both produce and distribute podcasts, making this a seamless and efficient process for students and teachers.
Digital storytelling is a powerful way for learners to engage in literacy by using reading, writing, and digital creation tools to create and publish their own stories. When digital storytelling, it may be helpful for younger learners to brainstorm their ideas or begin drafting their story on paper, and then moving it to a digital storytelling application. However, for reluctant writers, it might ease some of the stress of the phases of writing by starting with illustrations and voice recordings and then adding text to the story afterward. The wonderful thing about digital storytelling with students is the multiple points of entry to meet the learning needs of all your students. Initially, students may write their story and sketch illustrations, taking pictures of both and uploading them onto a digital storytelling platform to add narration. As your students grow in confidence with these tools, they’ll want to explore typing their stories and collecting images that connect with their stories. Edutopia also has a helpful article to help educators start thinking more about How to Use Digital Storytelling in Your Classroom. So what tools are there for creating digital storytelling projects with younger learners?
For educators in primary grades, there are several digital storytelling platforms that are efficient and user-friendly for their students. Here are some fantastic digital tools that are supported on Apple and Android products:
- Shadow Puppet Edu (Apple)
- Book Creator (Apple and Google Play)
- Toontastic (Apple and Google Play)
- ChatterPix (Apple)
- Stop Motion Studio (Apple)
These digital storytelling tools range from creating 2D narrated illustrations on Shadow Puppet Edu, Book Creator, and ChatterPix, to animating 3D stories on platforms like Toontastic and Stop Motion Studio. If students are wanting to try out different illustration options many of these platforms also offer that opportunity, but Doodle Buddy is a free iPad application and allows for endless creativity and imagination for students to explore.
As I mentioned at the beginning of this post, the catalyst for my inquiry question stemmed from a collaboration opportunity with a colleague of mine and his K/1 class. For this project, my 4/5 students are going to support their K/1 buddies in creating informational videos to teach their viewers about different National Parks. My colleague was looking for what digital tools would be best for making student-created videos using a green screen. In doing some extensive research of both free and paid applications for iPads, to me, there was one green-screen application that stood out amongst the rest for K/1 students to have full autonomy in the creative process, and that was Green Screen by Do Ink. While this is a paid application, which certainly can be a financial barrier, Do Ink offers simplicity and ease of use, allowing for all components of student-created videos to be done on one application. For younger learners, the ultimate goal is empowering them to be engaged throughout the learning process, and Do Ink excels in that area. If educators who teach primary grades are looking for a free alternative for Apple products, iMovie would be a free and useful application to explore. While iMovie is free, it can take some practice and scaffolding for younger learners to become familiar with this platform’s design tools. For educators of younger learners who are using devices that support Google Play, WeVideo provides a wonderful alternative. With WeVideo, students can have the program do most of the video editing process for them, or choose to do that work manually and have more control over the creative elements.
Here are some other digital tools to check out, that allow students to create videos and showcase their creativity and imagination:
Another powerful digital tool for primary school educators to use to help their students express their creativity in an authentic way is through blogging. Blogging is a way, like podcasting, for students to amplify their voice as a communicator. As students explore blogging, they are able to engage in an authentic way with a real audience, helping them connect to their classroom community and beyond. Creating student blogs also allows for digital archives and portfolios to be collected, allowing students and their teachers to look back at the growth they’ve made throughout the year. For young learners, a digital communication tool like blogging helps to build and practice literacy skills and support reluctant writers. Many blogging platforms offer immersive reader options to students, allowing them to listen to blog posts as they follow along. Additionally, blogging provides practice in digital citizenship where students showcase digital literacy skills, receive feedback from their peers, a communicate in a safe, supportive online learning community. So what blogging platforms are best for educators to use with primary school students?
Kidblog provides a free, easy to use platform for younger learners or educators who are new to blogging. This blog supports a large class or grade band size (up to 50 students) and part of this platform’s mission is to provide safe student publishing. As Bright Hub Education (2019) explains, “Based on a simplified WordPress interface, Kidblog is about as user-friendly as you are likely to find. Blogs are private by default so that they can only be read by the teacher and other classmates” (n.p.). Another great option for blogging with younger students is Edublogs. While Edublogs might be a little more advanced for some grades, it allows for student autonomy in customization for almost all of its design elements. This platform has both free and paid options, as well as the privacy control to choose to make blogs private or public. Edublogs has an extensive network of bloggers and provides a wonderful opportunity for students to connect globally. Weebly is another creative digital tool for student blogging, and it does well to walk the user through all the steps of the design process when creating a blog. This blogging platform can also support a large number of students (40), and its web creation allows for students to get creative when blogging. This digital tool does rely on the educator to do more work facilitating blog creation than on some other platforms and does not as easily transfer offer content from other web tools to use on blogging projects. Lastly, Blogger is Google’s blogging platform, which makes this an especially user-friendly blogging option if your students already have Google accounts. When using this blogging platform with students, it is really important to turn on the SafeSearch filter on Google. This will provide a safe blogging space for kids to create and engage with others. Whichever digital tool you might decide to use to have your students blog, it is important to recognize the benefit and empowerment this type of creative communication can provide your students.
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