My fondest memories of school are of the occasions on which I made stuff. When I think about what other aspects of my learning I enjoyed most, I always come back to the basic principle of creativity. Getting me involved in creative tasks that result in tangible outcomes was one of the ways my teachers ensured that I remained engaged and enjoyed the process of learning.
Working on a model of the solar system was a sure way of getting me to remember the planets (9 in those days) and our place in the universe. I was never naturally good at maths or physics, but making tracks and ramps down which to throw ball bearings gave me a much better understanding of Newtonian physics than any number of equations you might want to throw at me.
Technology today gives us the tools and the possibility to enjoy making stuff and exercise our pupil’s creativity in new ways: Now you can make stuff virtually as well as actually.
My classes and I exploit these new possibilities by regularly embarking on projects which require exercising creative skills and, in so doing, going far beyond the confines of the curriculum.
Web applications are fun for both teachers and students, but often both teachers and students can become too preoccupied with the tool itself and forget what its purpose ought to be: to support teaching and learning. Here’s a little guide to using three fantastic web applications successfully and effectively.
In fact, time wasting and lack of academic rigour are two criticism often levelled at the use of web applications in the classroom. However, just like any other tool, when used appropriately, these web applications will soon prove their worth to you and your students as an effective learning tool and I am certain they will become an essential part of your schemes of work.
Whilst the tool may change the principles remain the same. Let’s look at how to plan a series of lessons before we look at each of the tools in more detail, but first a note of caution:
Not a magic bullet
I use web applications regularly. Regularly does not mean so often that your class gets bored of them. To me regularly means once or twice every half term – roughly 6 weeks. I also vary the web application so that any single class uses a variety of tools throughout the academic year. In my experience, overusing any of the tools below may lead to your students quickly becoming weary of any particular tool, as the novelty factor wears off and their interest and engagement wanes. In order to stop the tool itself becoming an obstacle to successful learning, how you plan and deliver the series of lessons leading up to actually using the tool is therefore essential.
Approximately once every half term I will plan a series of lessons culminating in the use of one of these web applications. I generally follow this pattern:
Teachers can set up accounts for their pupils and organise them into classes, the work pupils produce is then shared among the members of the class and, crucially, it can now be published for the whole world to see.
But it wasn’t always thus. Storybird, in order to ensure content was kept to safe and appropriate standards, only allowed the publishing of Storybirds books that had been written in English. Therefore Storybird’s appeal for foreign language teachers was limited, as their stories and their pupils’ stories could not be made public.
However, in an exemplary display of engagement with customers, Storybird listened to foreign language teachers who were calling – on social networks like Twitter and in blogs like this one – for the ability to moderate their own pupils’ work and changed their policies so that teachers could moderate and publish their pupils’ stories.
Storybird is a fantastic tool that allows your and your pupils to make wonderful and engaging story books… so long as they are in English.
I’ve been using Storybird with my pupils for a little while now but, thus far, have not felt I could really recommend Storybird to other teachers of foreign languages because Storybird refuses to accept work produced in any language other than English. This means that you cannot embed your Storybirds or share them with other people. Sadly, as of today, this is still their policy.
I have been in touch with the makers of Storybird about this situation and, to their credit, they have always answered my questions and tried to address my concerns, although, I have to say, not always satisfactorily.
Storybird insists that all story books should be cleared by Storybird staff prior to publishing to ensure a safe environment for children. This is a very laudable aim but, in my view, an impractical one. Since teachers and parents are encouraged to use Storybird with their students and their children, why not pass on to them the responsibility of moderating the Storybird books the children produce?