“What is Apple, after all? Apple is about people who think ‘outside the box,’ people who want to use computers to help them change the world, to help them create things that make a difference, and not just to get a job done.” By Steve Jobs
Guest Post by Fe Cowan from Palmetto High School, Williamston, South Carolina
Being a student in a higher-poverty district doesn’t mean pupils get a compromised education, just as wealthier students aren’t guaranteed success. How to engage students is up to teachers and while lavish budgets are never unwanted, there are many ways we can use ingenuity to give any student a more enriching experience. Of course, this assumes the teacher is also engaged and doesn’t believe classes should only involve pulling pages out of a standard workbook.
I’ve been teaching for 28 years. Currently, I teach world geography to ninth graders at Palmetto High School, which is located in Williamston, South Carolina near Greenville, South Carolina in the piedmont area of Anderson School District 1.. Even though our district is at 49% poverty while Palmetto sits at close to 60% poverty, our district administrators have put us ahead of the curve when it comes to technology. All students from primary to high school have some form of one-to-one technology. As a teacher, I wanted my students to experience the things that kids in a wealthier district would encounter and I’m delighted to say that not only is this currently the case, but my students are actually ahead of other students in some important ways.
I’ve been using “app smashing” with my students, which is a phrase coined by a teacher who found that after using iPads in the classroom for some time, one application never seemed like enough to achieve a satisfactory outcome. In app smashing, two or more apps are used to create content, delivering several positive results like getting more out of the software, improving the teaching experience, increasing student engagement, encouraging collaboration and, best of all, promoting creative thinking.
Get out of the rut….
Effective teaching mandates not being afraid to try something new in the classroom. Many teachers criticize the kids for spending so much of their time on video games and TV, which automatically turns these areas into a negative. This is the wrong attitude because finding a way to reflect student interests prevents boredom in class and can lead to more enlightened learning that will stick with pupils. And there’s the powerful side benefit of reducing or eliminating behavior problems.
Every year that I’ve taught World Geography, I’ve given an assignment in which students create a restaurant located in some other part of the world. Earlier, we used Microsoft apps like PowerPoint and Word to develop flyers and other details and a few years ago when we had iPads, I had students create commercials for their restaurant. Our school/district recently switched to Chromebooks so initially, I was concerned that I wouldn’t have the familiar applications like iMovie that had been working for me on the Apple platform. I need not have worried. After some online searching, I found WeVideo and Soundtrap for the Chromebook. One of the added bonuses of both software was the collaborative aspects that allow students to work together in groups on the same assignment, which wasn’t possible with iMovie. As educators, we are required to teach our students 21st century skills like collaboration.
As a teacher, I’ve long been committed to developing my own materials rather than using workbook sheets so I make everything my students write on in class like a crossword puzzle or something else myself. But I needed a tool to help me fulfill my longtime goal of adding music creation to my restaurant commercial assignment. This is what brought me to use app smashing.
While WeVideo has downloadable music, this didn’t support my educational goal of enhancing their learning and the innovation process. That’s why I chose Soundtrap, which is an online music and recording studio that lets my kids add music to their commercial. For example, when we study Latin America, their commercial is for an imaginary Latin American restaurant and creating Latin-style music could be part of their commercial. Soundtrap is an intuitive, easy-to-use tool but there are still students who resist or are a bit frightened of technology so I made the music part of the assignment an extra-credit project for those interested. The results were impressive. Many students jumped right in and some created music that was so good that I wasn’t sure if they made it on their own or pulled it off a video. Fortunately, they did it all themselves.
Having taught kids in wealthier and poorer districts, it was disheartening for me to see how the wealthier kids I taught were mainly using their electronic devices just for typing while my students in Palmetto are far ahead of them in app smashing – it promotes creativity and collaboration. We have another assignment coming up — we’re in Europe now — in which they’ll pretend they’re going to two concerts by different artists. They have to find tourist sites they’d visit and they can create and add music and some narration for extra credit.
I’ve been taking every opportunity to play with music with my students because along with collaboration, creativity is a 21st century skill that people need. But, I try to ground these activities in key life lessons, so I tell my students that these creative skills they’re learning are something that might earn them money, too. Knowing how to develop videos with music or develop flyers are skills that are desirable in the real world.
Like anyone, kids can be a bit apprehensive when faced with something they’ve never done before, but the process of learning and producing good results is a powerful teaching tool. Whether its app smashing, making a pretend commercial for an overseas restaurant or learning how to collaborate, the journey is enriching.
Unfortunately, some teachers resist learning new things, too, but I believe stepping out of your comfort zone not only prevents boredom for everyone but can create the pride in achievement that gives educators as well as their students a more engaged, happy life.