When consulting with schools on their blended learning programs I’m looking at a variety of ways that technology can be used effectively for learning. This means looking at assessments, independent work, group work, pedagogical practices and more. One of my primary beliefs is that students should drive their own learning. They should be demonstrating (using whatever tool necessary) that they understand a concept they have learned.
Generally, this involves students making a presentation using Google Slides or similar tool to present their understanding. That’s a great first building block of student creativity, but sometimes it ends there. Students go from class to class knowing that the main expectation is to create a slideshow around something. There are so many other ways for students to demonstrate their learning if we just give them the choice. I though I might list a few that I’ve shared over the years with teachers looking for alternative creativity tools other than Google Slides. Most of these are free with a paid component to unlock further features.
One of my go to tools for the last decade or so is Book Creator (https://bookcreator.com). It’s great on any device and really is a blank canvas. History teachers can use it as a way for students to retell history in a graphic novel format. Math teachers can have students write their own story problems and then have other students solve them. Just today, the team at Book Creator released several new features including a way to give comments/feedback in multiple mediums (audio, gif, video, etc).
Speaking of reflection and feedback, the digital portfolio tool known as bulb (https://bulbapp.com) is a great way to capture creative and longitudinal growth. There are both app and web-based versions of the platform and students get up to 10 “collections” for free to capture their learning process. The great thing about this particular portfolio tool is that the students can take it with them when they leave our K12 institution!
If you are looking for a quick way for students to sketch out some ideas on a digital whiteboard, look no further than Autodraw.com. Choose from one of three canvas types and then let the kids create! Drawing on a mousepad of a non-touchscreen device can be tricky, but with the special “magic pencil” tool, the AI within the platform can predict what object you were trying to draw. This tool also now comes integrated within the drawing portion of Book Creator mentioned above.
There are already many different blogs and articles out there about how to use the incredible online creation tool known as Canva (https://canva.com). This tool is used for creating beautifully crafted newsletters to posters for the classroom. Students can use it in a variety of ways to share the information they learned. Two templates I particularly enjoy are the meme and infographic templates. Both are visually based and present information in a way that is different than a slide show. There are many free templates on the site, but if you pay for the pro version you unlock many more options for student creativity.
This fun little virtual reality tool can be done completely digitally or even analog if you print out the free grid sheets they offer on the Panoform website. The premise is that students can create their own 3D virtual room and fill it with any information they want to convey. A great hack for this is to upload an extremely wide slide from your presentation tool of choice (think 600X3000 or more in width) and then the slide becomes 360 degree virtual reality. The analog version could even be printed on large poster paper so that students can load it full of tidbits of information on whatever topic they want. If you have a cardboard VR headset, you can even switch it to VR mode to check it out in finer detail.
If your students are like my kids, they live in Minecraft world. The gaming platform (https://education.minecraft.net/) can be used for a lot more than just Steve searching out for Creepers. It’s a great platform to represent things in scale. I worked with a 3rd grade teacher that had her students recreate the Egyptian pyramids to scale in Minecraft as part of a math/history lesson. During one of my keynotes I share an example of a student using Minecraft instead of slides to demonstrate the components of an ancient Roman bath house.
Why not program a virtual world to demonstrate what you are learning? With CospacesEDU (https://www.cospaces.io/edu/) students can build their own worlds using augmented or virtual reality. CoSpaces takes that virtual world experience to the next level as students can use drag and drop coding to make the avatars move and interact. This isn’t for every student, but I have seen students that are into coding really lean into this type of project to show off their stuff. They can even make an interactive game for others to play!
Speaking of programming, you could actually bring interactive programming and storytelling out of the virtual world and into physical reality with Trashbots (https://www.trashbots.co/). Trashbots offers a low-cost STEAM alternative to those traditional educational robotics platforms. It’s web-based coding and use of recycled items can create unique ways for students to tell their story and share what they learned through the mind of a robot.
Powtoon (https://powtoon.com) offers up a simple web interface for creating animated videos on just about any topic. Have students recreate their science lab safety video or maybe recreate a moment in history. What started as a simple cartoon platform now comes fully loaded with several backgrounds and avatars to create engaging animations that students could use to demonstrate just about anything in their imagination.
Stop Motion Studio
Animation can also be used in a physical form with stop motion videos. There are many different programs out there on the market for this, but I lean towards Stop Motion Studio (https://www.cateater.com/). It is a paid program (one-time cost of $9.99), but the wide array of features (like putting different mouths on lego people) and tools (like green screen integration) make it much more powerful than just taking 100’s of pictures with your camera. This tool comes with a built-in video editor making it easy to erase mistakes in capturing the physical objects. One creative use of this that I’ve seen in middle school science is demonstrating the digestive cycle using stop motion. The end is a little gross but the kids learned a lot!
Unlike many of the tools mentioned here, Thinglink (https://thinglink.com) no longer has a free option except a 30-day trial. However, I still enjoy this tool as a way for students to create interactive displays with various “hotspots” placed over an image. These hotspots can expand to reveal audio, video, text, or additional media to dive deeper into the topic. Think of it like a massive bulletin board loaded with Post-it notes of information ready to be revealed. Explain significant events along a timeline or the parts of the cell in greater detail than a research paper or slide show.
The app formerly known as Adobe Spark is now a powerhouse creative tool that is a free part of Adobe’s K12 Education suite. You can use the platform (much like Canva) to create large scale infographics and posters as well as presentation slides. The newly renovated Adobe Express (https://www.adobe.com/education/express/) now comes with video editing features and even templates to create your own website. Check out their template library and massive community for more ideas on how to integrate this versatile tool in your classroom. I particularly like their Instagram templates for older students.
As much as this post is about options other than Google slides for students, I do like Google’s easy-to-use webpage creation platform. Google Sites (https://sites.google.com/) offers a drag-n-drop interface on any mobile device and is free for all schools that use GSuite. Students can create interactive websites about just about any topic but I particularly like the idea of making a “faux” player card of an historical figure. For other examples, check out this list of 101 examples of Google Sites for educators.
I remember when the original Prezi (https://prezi.com/) came out over a decade ago. Almost every conference I went to had these amazing presentations where you could zoom in and out of different parts of an infinite space. One downside is that if you move from topic to topic too quickly, your audience might get motion sickness. The new and improved Prezi Video now features an overlay feature that lets students create “news report” type videos. While this feature is advertised for teacher use, it could easily be used as a way for students to explain a concept via video.
So far, every tool discussed on this blog has had some sort of visual component. But there are more than visual ways to present your information. Using a tool like Soundtrap (https://www.soundtrap.com/edu), students can create a spoken word poem, a podcast, or recreate a story scene using only their voices and sound effects. One district I work with uses the student-led podcast as a different way for the community to learn about school news other than a traditional newsletter.
This is not a new tool, just a renamed one. Flip is the the video messaging tool formerly known as FlipGrid (https://my.flipgrid.com/). While the name change takes some getting used to, the tool itself is still a free platform for educators and students to create their own video reflections, exit tickets, or even trace out the solution to a problem. The upgraded platform comes packed with more backgrounds, stickers, and other overlays and they have several online events showcasing uses of their platform and even NBA superstar Stephen Curry.
One of the first tools we ever purchased during our 1:1 program was Explain Everything (https://explaineverything.com/). Quite simply, it is an easy-to-use whiteboarding tool that allows kids to explain their thinking. However, this tool is much more than a whiteboarding tool. You can add in videos, images, PDFs and annotate while recording your lesson. Teachers utilizing a flipped classroom model find this particular tool very valuable as it also has a built in video and audio editor. Turn on collaborate mode to have students work together in brainstorming their next product or have them record their findings to a particular equation.
The first time I ever learned about Buncee (https://www.edu.buncee.com/), librarian guru Shannon Miller was showing me a variety of different ways students could use the platform. Described as a “creation and presentation tool for students and educators to create interactive classroom content” it’s kind of a combination of slide show software and interactive whiteboard software. Their ideaslab comes with a lot of pre-made lessons made by other educators, but I like the potential of using it as a student output tool.
All of the above tools are great alternatives for the traditional slide show presentation using Google slides. We often find as adults that we are most comfortable with tools we know and use regularly. Students are much the same way. The next time you have project or product for them to create, give them a list of alternative choices for how they want to demonstrate their learning. And if they are seemingly always choosing Google slides “because it’s the easiest” then challenge them by saying Google slides is no longer an option. They might struggle a bit learning something new, but in the end they’ll have gained knowledge about a new tool and empowerment in making their own choices.