Incorporating open-ended creation tools. 

GUEST COLUMN | by Monica Burns

CREDIT ASCD Monica Burns Tasks before Apps.jpgSearching for the perfect app is more than substituting a set of virtual flashcards for the index cards students are used to holding in their hands. Yes, there are clear benefits to having a digital tool like this – access to an endless number of vocabulary words, the ability to hear a word read aloud, or see a picture pop off a screen definitely transforms this experience. But let’s move away from these type of tools for a moment, to highlight the power of open-ended creation tools.

An open-ended creation tool doesn’t have set instructions to follow or levels to win. It gives students the space to make a product that demonstrates their understanding. A math tutorial to show how to solve a word problem, an e-book that documents the process of a science experiment or a movie that brings a personal narrative to life, are all examples of open-ended creation tools in action. In my forthcoming book Tasks Before Apps: Designing Rigorous Learning in a Tech-Rich Classroom I dive into the idea behind the importance of giving students a space to create.

Creation in the Classroom

When students are given the opportunity to create a product they can dive deeper into a topic, think critically about how to present this information, and design something to share with an audience. First grade students might snap a collection of images on a neighborhood walk as they explore different roles in their community. When students return to their classroom they might share one tablet and record their voice to add an explanation to each page.

When students are given the opportunity to create a product they can dive deeper into a topic, think critically about how to present this information, and design something to share with an audience.

Alternatively, a group of high school students might visit a waste management plant as they explore topics related to environmental stewardship. Using a video creation tool they might create a set of public service announcements that support a city council campaign and are shared on the town’s website. The possibilities are endless when we have tools that give students a space to capture images, movie, and voice and support it with text and music.

Spotlight Open-Ended Creation Tools

In the examples above, there is no magic app or website to make these learning experiences come to life. Educators can thoughtfully choose how to structure these type of tasks so students can either choose their own open-ended creation tool or work with one introduced by their teacher. The tools spotlighted below provide a blank canvas for students where a teacher can be their guide through the creation process.

Book Creator is a Chrome-browser friendly tool also available as an iPad app. With this tool students can create eBooks that include video, voice recording, text and images. If students capture their own photos they can add them to the page, or they can search and add pictures to go along with their text.

Spark Page is a web-browser friendly tool and iOS app students can use to create a website. It has a drag and drop format making it easy for students to get started without any prior web design experience. A website created with Spark Page can incorporate a variety of media and is easily sharable.

Explain Everything is a screencasting tool available on multiple platforms that students can use to create videos and tutorials. Similar to what students might be familiar with from Khan Academy, this tool can be used to give students a space to explain their thinking as they solve a math problem. Explain Everything gives users lots of easy export options so students can share their videos in a handful of different places.

As you design learning activities this school year, leverage the power of open-ended creation tools. Although providing structure and support is essential, giving students the space to create is empowering for children of any age!

Monica Burns, Ed.D., is a former one-to-one classroom teacher, founder of ClassTechTips.com and author of Tasks Before Apps: Designing Rigorous Learning in a Tech-Rich Classroom to be published by ASCD in October 2017.