Making Projects Fun with Apps
by Marianne Jones
Apps and tablets are buzzwords in classrooms. Using technology is something teachers all around the world are encouraged to do but it makes teachers nervous, especially as it tests some people’s digital literacy skills and adds an extra layer to planning lessons. For some it just doesn’t add enough value to try or they have tried and it hasn’t worked well, for various reasons.
I’ve used technology in the classroom for many years and in the last couple have focused on doing short projects with young learners and teens, and classroom tasks using different apps. It has allowed me to further focus the lessons on students. So where do you start? And how to I embed an app in my lesson? Should I use it the whole lesson? These are the types of questions that teachers start to ask.
I’m going to share how I have run projects in my classes. I’ve done projects with students that have lasted between 3-6 hours. All project lessons are driven by a leading question. This is usually something that connects to the wider world but must also be achievable for students. It can’t be too far outside of normal or you risk students losing interest and not being able to complete the project to a satisfactory level. I will take you through the stages I go through when I teach project classes. This process also make planning easier and should show how the role of the teacher changes.
There are a few things you need to decide on when planning the lesson. The main parts you plan are the steps at the beginning.
- What is the leading question? To come up with this, I look at the topics being covered in lessons and what is happening in local/national newspapers. It is really important for the topic to connect to the real world and inspire students. For example, research about a plant used in medicine and why it is so important. I would also make a demo example to show students (and it allows me to check it is achievable).
- What do I want them to produce? A presentation? Is that standing at the board or using different apps to produce different presentation content? This is where the apps become important – they have to work on different platforms and mostly be free (unless the school is willing to pay).
- What apps can I use that will get students engaged, are easy to use, and allow students to become content creators? There are a few I use a lot to build up digital literacy skills and are functionally easy to use, such as Pic Collage and Explain Everything. These are also device neutral (meaning the work on Android and Apple devices, and now Windows desktops). Explain Everything has a trial version – Show Me is a free alternative.
- Where can I send students to do research? This is the part that takes a little time but it is very important not to just send students out on the internet to find information on a topic. I used www.kiddle.com, which is a child friendly search engine by Google. This search engine gives you results that are appropriate for young children. The next task is to look through 2-3 sites and grade them for language and how accessible/appropriate it is for students.
In the classroom
Having 6 hours of class time for a project can be daunting for teachers, either having too much time to fill or over scaffolding the tasks for students that leads to a lack of creative freedom. Projects are about using all the English they have, expressing themselves in their own style, and having fun! My project lessons generally have the same lesson scaffold (below). These can also be done in about 3 hours.
Step 1 – Guess the topic!
To start, generate some interest with an activity to get students thinking about the topic of the project (as you do a lesson), keeping a record of good language and vocabulary heard (usually on the board), and giving students a mini task where they begin to collect ideas, e.g. listing animals they think are endangered and writing notes on what they know about them.
Step 2 – Thinking time!
Here the students are given a question page to complete. This worksheet will have questions to prompt ideas and begin to guide students to what they want to present about, e.g. picking an endangered animal to talk about. At this point I would guide students to the websites I had checked for them to get more information about one animal.
Step 3 – Let’s make a plan!
Give students a plan that splits up the order of who speaks first, what the presentation is going to show, and notes for students to practice with. This can take time and that’s okay. The main role of the teacher here is check language is correct, make corrections, and push/aid students that need it.
Step 4 – Bring in the tablets!
This is where the students get to create the presentation on an app and bring the presentation to life! Time here should also be limited or students can spend hours on being creative. I like to use two different apps here. I usually give 10-15 minutes. You only need to show students basic things that they need to complete the task. You don’t need to show them everything the app can do!
In this app students make a poster about the endangered animal. They can add images, coloured text and stickers (some are free and others are paid). This is then saved to the tablet as an image.
Step 5 – Time to practice!
Give students time to use their notes and practise what they are going to say. It is here that students record in the audio for each slide. Before giving out the tablets, I would quickly run through some key features of the app, e.g. how to add an image etc. This step takes time. I usually give students 20minutes to record what they want to say (you will see that students will re-record the audio a few times until they think it is perfect – this is normal and part of the learning experience). Explain Everything In this app you can make a presentation, like PowerPoint, and insert the poster you made in Pic Collage. This app also lets you add more slides, video, images, text, draw, and record in what you want to say on each slide. This is then saved as a video to multiple cloud storage account, such as Google Drive and Dropbox.
Step 6 – How did we do?
Share or save all the videos and watch them as a class. While watching each other’s presentations, the students should be writing feedback comments for each other. I generally use 2 stars and a smiley face (2 positive comments and a constructive one).
In these six steps, the students have researched a leading question and presented on it. All the information, visuals and specific topic of it was chosen by the students. They have become content creators! They have created a video that can be shared with other students if they want to. As no students are in the actual videos, child safety isn’t an issue. The teacher’s role is as a facilitator – there to motivate, guide, correct and encourage!
I’ve found when I do projects like this the students are engaged and creative, even quieter students participate. The projects themselves also differentiate by nature, as students will produce what they can and that’s great! This example also encourages app-smashing, where content made in one app is used in another.
An alternative to using Explain Everything, if you’re feeling adventurous, is Green Screen by Do Ink http://www.doink.com/ (but only on iPads and not free). This app allows for layering video with the poster image in the background and students can talk about the poster (pointing to it) at the same time. Just don’t forget to record the video in front of a green background.
Author’s Bio: Marianne Jones is a teacher trainer and curriculum developer currently working in Vietnam. She has worked in Asia, Europe, and the Middle East over the last 12 years. Her specialism is the practical use of educational technology and sharing ideas with teachers. She has presented on this in Dubai, Cambodia, and Malaysia. She is also an Apple Distinguished Educator.