Content Creation Tools and Learning Curves

How do I use this?

During the last few weeks of school my students have been working on their last projects. These projects are student-driven, as students ask a question, conduct research and present their findings to the class.  Through this project I’ve attempted to add a genius hour philosophy to math class.  For the most part students are excited to participate in this learning experience. At the beginning of the process I gave them options in how to present their findings.


Most of my fourth and fifth grade students are presenting their projects using Explain Everything, a poster, Power Point, or iMovie. Even though all of these options were given to grades 3-5, all of my third graders chose one way to showcase their learning. Last year, third and fourth grade students used many different apps and content creation tools to showcase their learning. Each unit had a content creation component and students took full advantage as they explored the different features of the apps/programs. So now these particular students are in fourth and fifth grade and have had the experience of using a variety of presentation tools.

Regardless of the grade level, I allowed students to pick a presentation tool for their projects.  Every single third grade students decided to use Power Point. I don’t feel like this is negative, but it also has me wondering if their reluctancy to try a different tool resides in not understanding its functions. It also has me wondering what happens if students aren’t introduced to the tool? My current third graders haven’t had the opportunity to use other technology presentation tools. I think that’s part of the reason, but not necessarily the entire picture.  What happens if that exposure is limited or doesn’t happen at all?

Giving students options is important, but if they don’t know how to use all of the options then that often reduces choice. In this case, familiarity trumped the intimidation of using something for the very first time.  Now I could have had a brief introduction to each tool and then maybe some would try to use it, but I didn’t try that.

Why this post? I feel like students need to be given the opportunity to use a variety of content creation tools in the classroom.  Not for the sake of using THE tool, but the experiences using the tool often empower students.  Students also become more confident and find different ways to showcase their learning in doing so.  I’ve found certain tools to be valuable in showcasing student learning far beyond a typical bubble test.

Although the technology opens up more doors, I feel like Bill makes a great point by saying, “technology is a tool, not a learning outcome.” At some schools these types of tools are introduced in the media center, at others the introduction depends on the teacher. The tools don’t have to be digital or complex. Even a brief amount of exposure on the functionalities of the tool can go a long way in encouraging students to move outside of their comfort zone and create. Despite being digital natives (I’m not a huge fan of this term), at times, students struggle with being able to adapt a tool to fit their project. Students may know how to use an Ipad for enjoyment, but not so much for editing, creating, re-editing, exporting, sharing, or saving. Being able to use technology tools for a specific purpose is important. Direct exposure to these tools may provide long-term benefit. With everything expected, it’s a bit silly to put the responsibility of this on just one teacher. I feel like a collective effort is needed to provide students with opportunities to explore different content creation tools.

Sidenote: I did have a few third graders ask what these “new” tools were, but they decided to go to Power Point when finding that they’d have to research the tools on their own.

Starting an Elementary Coding Club


Starting a Coding Club
Coding in Elementary School

Last year my classes participated in the Hour of Code.  It was an engaging and unique experience for the students and many of them continued to explore coding throughout the school year.  As the year progressed students started using the app Hopscotch and explored  I thought that an Hour of Code was amazing, but not enough for some students.

So I spoke with two other colleagues and one mentioned that we should probably offer a technology/coding club for the 2014-15 school year. We spoke with our administrator and it was approved as a school club.  At the time we were excited yet a bit anxious because we all knew very little about using code in the classroom.  I have a bit of background in using HTML, but that’s about it.

Over the summer another colleague and I were able to visit the DG58 SAMRi conference in Downer’s Grove. I’m always impressed with the teacher workshops that they put together. While there, I was able to attend a session by James on Coding in the Classroom.  The session had around 30 interested teachers with a variety of experience with coding.  The notes for the session can be found here.  After the session I felt like I had gained a better understanding of how to use the Scratch coding language.

After the workshop I checked out Help Your Kids with Computer Coding and Super Scratch Programming Adventure from the local library.  I found both books be valuable in building an understanding of using Scratch. So I decided to open up a Scratch account and started to explore.  I completed a few lessons within the books above and felt a bit more comfortable with using the program. I was also able to connect with other teachers on Twitter to learn more about the topic.  Mary inspired me to start looking at using Scratch to possible create an introduction game for my students. I especially found Havard’s Creative Computing to be helpful with lesson planning.

During the month of August the team created a digital pamphlet that explained the class to parents of the community.  The team limited the roster to the first 20 students in grades 3-5 that registered.  The pamphlet was distributed with the principal’s digital monthly newsletter. Within the first two days we had approximately 40 students that registered.  My colleagues and I started to think that this was a bigger deal than what we originally thought.  We sent out emails to the parents indicating whether their child will be participating or not.  Based on the demand we may offer a spring session.

Last Wednesday was our first coding club class.  Students participated in an introduction activity where they needed to guide each other to different parts of the classroom using commands that are found in Scratch.  They could only use specific verbs found on notecards. This activity also had the participants get acquainted with each other.  Afterwards students logged into their accounts and started to explore the different aspects of Scratch.  Before leaving the class on the first day students were able to start their first program called escape the dragon.

Going forward, I’m interested to see what is created through this class.  Throughout the class the students will develop their own portfolio of creations that they can share with others.

photo credit: the waving cat via photopin cc

Math Conversations with Tellagami

Using Tellagami in Math Class

Having intentional math conversations in the classroom can play in important role in the learning process.  These conversations involve students explaining their mathematical thinking while working with others to complete tasks.  It’s been a beneficial activity and helps students develop confidence while communicating their thinking.  In addition, I’m finding that students are becoming better at explaining their math reasoning in written form.

A few weeks ago I was reading a comment by Mary about possibly using Tellagami in the classroom.  I’ve used Tellagami for an AR scavenger hunt but haven’t yet put the app in the students’ hands.  After researching this a bit and reviewing a few Tweets related to the topic, I thought that the app might have potential in having students explain their mathematical thinking. I made an examples and present it the class earlier this week. I thought that with a few tweaks the project could help students practice having math conversations, while at the same time provide opportunities to create digital content.

The focus of this project was on math vocabulary. The students would be emphasizing math vocabulary for the current unit and use it in a practical situation. The students and I created a rubric for the project. The students added that the background should be related to the math vocabulary word and a minimum time limit be established.  The class came to consensus and decided to use this rubric going forward.

Students were then given about 15 – 20 minutes to create a background for their Tellagami project.  Students were given the opportunity to use the classroom resources to create a background.  Depending on the math vocabulary, students used whiteboards, base ten blocks, student reference books, geometric shapes, coordinate grids, and other math manipulatives in the classroom for their background. The next step in the process was to create their Gami. This didn’t take long as limited clothing and accessories options exist.  Students then wrote out a draft of what their Gami would communicate.  During the next math session students used their draft to record their own voice or used one provided on the app .  Once finished, students then reviewed the rubric, saved the project to the camera roll and uploaded the project to Showbie.  The next step is to move the projects to YouTube or Vimeo.  Overall, I feel this was time well spent and next week the class will be presenting their projects.


Student Content Creation – Flowboard

Using Flowboard in Math Class
Using Flowboard in Math Class

This year my math students have been creating and publishing math content.  Most of the creation has taken place on iPads through different presentation apps.  While finishing up our math comic strips I came across the app Flowboard.  At the time of this writing Flowboard is a free presentation app that gives users 200mb of space. My first thought was that students could potentially create a project and use Flowboard as the medium.  After experimenting a bit with the platform, I concluded that the class could create a presentation that would include different templates, images, text, videos and links.  I found that the links can be part of the presentation or send the viewer to an external site.  This is huge because students could potentially create a table of contents and the viewer could view parts of the site that they prefer. Or possibly, students could add links to a different Flowboard or external site for more information about a particular topic.

Different options

As I introduced the app, students were given time to get accustomed to the features and create a brief sample.  I used one classroom account for this project and students all entered the account at once.  After everyone had a chance to play and create something, the class looked over the mastery objectives for the next unit.  From the list, students were given an opportunity to pick one objective that would eventually tie into their Flowboard presentation. After all the objectives were chosen, students helped create the rubric.  I gave a baseline and then asked students to add to the rubric.  Some of the suggestions were stellar, others not so much.  The class decided to make a minimum requirement for many of the different criteria. The class eventually came to a consensus and the rubric was set and available for students.  The process of picking topics and creating the rubric took about 40 minutes.

Editable Rubric
Click for Rubric

Looking back, this was time well spent as the expectations seemed to be clear from the beginning.  From there, students were given time to research.  Textbooks, iPads, manipulatives, and computers were all used during this research time period.  I felt like my role was to help guide students towards resources that might be helpful.  Throughout this process and other content creation opportunities, I’m finding that students are taking more initiative in seeking out the resources that are needed.  This independent thinking is encouraged in elementary classrooms. For an elementary classroom this is a big #eduwin.  Students filled out a graphic organizer to compile their thoughts on what the presentation would look like. Students were then given three 30 minute sessions over the next few weeks to create and publish their presentation.  During that time I set up check in times to see the progress of the presentations and ask questions.  I soon found out that my students needed more than the 200mb of space to fit all their projects in one account.  I called up the company and was able to get extra space for my classroom.


45 students used this much space
Around 50 students used this much space to complete their project


Students finished the projects and uploaded their link to the app Showbie.  From Showbie I’m able to add the links directly to the student eportfolio sites. After students finish they are scheduled to present their presentation to the class.  I also embed the presentation online for parents of the community to see.  This is a brief sample that I created to show students.  The student projects are MUCH better since they all picked different templates, added their own pictures/videos, and added links to complete their presentations.


Student Content Creators: Math Comics

Math and Comics

One of my classroom themes this year involves having students create digital content.  Sticking with that theme, I’ve been exploring different avenues in which students can create digital content that can be shared with authentic audiences.  Throughout the year my students have created different presentations with a variety of apps and have shared them with their parents and the world.  I find that students become much more engaged and empowered when given a chance to create.

Our latest project involves math comics.  I continue to find benefits of using comics in the math classroom.  After using them to introduce a variety of concepts this year, I came across the Strip Design app.  I thought that this app might be helpful to introduce and expand student understanding of content area specific vocabulary.  Students would also have an opportunity to create digital content by completing this project.  Specifically, I thought that students could create a math comic strip starring themselves.  At the beginning of the math unit in late February, students were given a list of key math vocabulary words.  Students  were given an opportunity to choose a specific vocabulary word from the unit.  Students were asked to create a comic strip starring themselves and a classmate showcasing an understanding of the vocabulary word.  As a class, we created a rubric which allowed students opportunities to showcase their understanding and share it with others.

Click for Excel Template
Click for rubric template

Students took pictures of themselves and created a script and scenario.  Students checked in on their progress after each session.  I had a brief conference with each student during the project and they filled out the rubric above to make sure that they met the guidelines. After completion, the student comic strips were uploaded to Showbie and eventually placed in their portfolio pages.  Next week the class will be sharing our math comics with other grade levels in the school.

Student Content Creators – Explain Everything

Student Content Creators

Student content creation is an emphasis this school year.  In an effort to make this happen, I’m purposefully incorporating digital student content creation opportunities in my classes.  Specifically, students are given a choice in being able to show mastery of a particular math concept through a presentation.  These projects are student created with different types of presentation apps.

For example … to begin our latest math unit on pre-algebra, students were gathered together and I previewed the different math concepts that were going to be part of the unit.  I used the mastery objectives for this.  Students chose to be an “expert” for a particular concept within the unit.  The concept that the student chose will be presented to the class in the future.  The term “expert” was something I didn’t consider while preparing the project.  It’s interesting because I’m finding that students often speak up when we arrive at a particular lesson that they’re “experts” in.

The class and I then developed a rubric for the project.  


You can find an editable sample rubric here.  Students then started to research their particular concept and began compiling resources.  Students used their journal, different online sites, manipulatives, whiteboards, and other resources to research information about their topic. Students were then given time to explore the app and become more familiar with some of the features.  Since they were already familiar with Educreations, students were able to adjust to the learning curve of using Explain Everything.  There are many of features in Explain Everything and it took a good amount of time to explore them all.  Students worked on their presentations about twice per week for about three weeks.  Students then presented their projects to the class near the end of the unit.  



Right now the class is building a repertoire of technology tools that have the potential to be used later in the school year.  At some point I’m going to ask the students to pick their own tool to show mastery.  I continue to find that student content creation brings out a student ownership piece.  That ownership piece can be powerful.


%d bloggers like this: