Something dawned on me the other day while making dinner. My son was watching PBS Kids as I was cooking in the kitchen (cranberry chicken, quite tasty). Martha Speaks and Word Girl make regular appearances around our house and my son, although he doesn’t understand most of it, does get wrapped up in their episodic exploits. While we were watching these animated creations, I realized something: certain “explanation-creation” apps such as Educreations and Explain Everything follow the same core premise PBS Kids anchors itself to.
- Create drawings and animations that are visually appealing? Check.
- Tell a good story? Check.
- Try to teach somebody something new? Check.
The end results of PBS Kids and using an “explanation-creation” (is there a better term for these?) app maybe vastly different, but the goals are basically the same; try to teach somebody something new in an engaging informative and visually appealing way. So how does this translate to the classroom? Well, it’s more relevant than you might think. Rather than just tell kids to open up an app on their iPads and tell me what you know, why not instead frame it as though they need to tell me a story? Or, teach me something without me realizing that I’m learning. Because that is essentially what a lot of these shows do, and they’re quite good at it. I’ve never been part of a group of TV writers but I imagine that when the creators of these kids shows try to think of new episodes, it is equal parts “how are we going to get kids to learn?” and “how am I going to make it engaging so that they’ll actually want to watch it?”. Oftentimes in education we get bogged down with the former and don’t pay much attention to the latter. We become very transfixed with figuring out how kids are going to show the teacher what they know. Now, that is very important – don’t get me wrong – however, if that is our sole focus in the classroom, that mindset often eliminates creativity for kids. If kids are so content on only explaining what they know then they aren’t accessing different parts of their mind to allow them to be creative.
And kids need that permission. They need to be encouraged to not just show what they know but to show it in a creative way that is engaging to them and to their audience. There are a lot of kids who try to please the teacher and just do the most “academic” work they can for the teacher and in the process they will sacrifice their own creativity. There are also a lot of kids who may not want to do anything because their perception is that the only right answer for a teacher is the one that has a lot of words and looks very rehearsed and looks as though they are writing a college level term paper. But it does not have to be that way. We can assess whether or not students know and understand the things that they need to understand by allowing them to breathe life into a topic they are interested in and creatively changing it to give it meaning for themselves.
So, this is something that I’m going to try to keep in mind as I use iPads in my class more and more and more as a creation tool to help not only with student engagement but to grow a student center of creativity and authorship..