Libraries as Cultivators of Creativity: There's an App for That!
I am not an artist. But when I created this blog, I knew I wanted an avatar that would come to be synonymous with "Library Girl." I figured, if I was going to don a virtual super hero persona, I would, at minimum, need a cartoon character version of my self who, if not able to leap tall buildings in a single bound, would at least sport a cape.
So... I started hitting up my artsy friends. Alas, none of them were interested in creating a comic ME for which I could pay them exactly nothing. Go figure. Which left me with nothing to do but rely upon my own skills. Let me repeat: I am not an artist.
I am, however, a librarian.
And soon I'd discovered Mii creator, where I cobbled together a reasonable facsimile of myself, which I then popped into Microsoft Paint where I added red glasses, a cape and a pile of books. And, boom! Just like that, library girl was born.
Now, several years later, I'm still very fond of her. Lately, however, I've been feeling as though it's time for a change. Which brings me back to the fact that although I am not an artist, I am a librarian - which means I'm an explorer, a risk taker, a mistake maker, a leaner and an evolver.
Qualities, I imagine, many artists would use to describe themselves as well. Qualities that I fear aren't cultivated as lovingly or as frequently as they should be at school.
In my experience, too often, school is about finding answers instead of asking questions. It's about coloring inside the lines instead of creating new boundaries. It's about finding the right answer instead of learning from mistakes.
Which is a sad thing. But also an understandable one. I was a classroom teacher for a long time before I became a citizen of libraryland, and I understand the pressure of showing measurable, quantifiable growth each year - pressure that leaves little time for things that aren't going to be "on the test." And while as a librarian, I still feel that pressure and I'm still deeply invested in student achievement, I also recognize the opportunity and obligation to make the library a place where kids can discover, create, share and grow - a place where mistakes make learning possible. A place where kids can take risks and be all the better for it.
Whether it's in our physical spaces or the depth of our instruction, the library should be a spot where kids use its resources to make new stuff. As Joyce Valenza says, "the library should be more like a kitchen than a grocery store." It's not a place for kids to simply fill their carts and leave. It's a place where they should be using the resources in the library to concoct whatever they can imagine.
All of which leads me back to the purpose of this post, which is to share some of my favorite APPs to help spark student creativity. If you're lucky to have access to mobile devices in your library, these would make some great additions to your APP collection. And if you don't have such access, they are worth exploring anyway - to consider what they provide students with the opportunity to do and then to think about how you can provide students with those same opportunities with or without a gadget.
Note: all of these apps are for iPad (though they likely have android counterparts). And not all are free. They are not listed in any particular order.
What is it? Felt Board allows kids to create characters and stories using a really simple, but beautiful, interface. There's a wide variety of characters and settings to encourage creativity and imaginative play. Fine motor skills and hand-eye coordination are also honed while dragging, placing and pinching objects to scale. There's all sorts of shapes, numbers, colors and settings for kids to manipulate and discover while sharing their stories.
How can I use it? I love this app as a way for kids to communicate an idea or create and share their own narratives. I would use it in station/center work to allow kids to recreate the ending to a story given an "imagine if this had happened" twist. I might also use it to let kids create book reviews, recreate a moment from history or to talk about a traumatic event in a safe environment.
Difficulty Level: 1.5 Super Easy
What is it? Draw Quest is a fun collaborative APP that centers around daily drawing challenges for which there are no "right or wrong answers." Every day a new challenge, or "quest," is issued and the fun comes when kids have the opportunity to collaborate and share. Kids can star their favorite challenges and watch instant replays of other drawings. It's meaningful for kids to see how others tackle the exact same challenge. For example, one daily challenge might be "draw what you want to be when you grow up." Not only do kids get to see how their classmates answer that question, but they can, through the replays, watch all the lines that were erased and redrawn before the "quest" is finished.
How can I use it? I would use it as part of a creation station or maker space, allowing kids to finish a challenge and view a few others. Then I might have students write or record a reflection on what they learned about their classmates or themselves from the challenge. I might also just let kids do it for fun. (I know! Heresy!)
Difficulty Level: 2 Easy
What is it? Art Set is just exactly what it sounds like: an absolutely beautiful virtual art set that puts a plethora of mediums at kids finger tips as they create just about anything they can imagine. It's like having an entire art studio at your disposal where kids can create using chalk, pastels, countless paints and brushes plus fun stuff like stickers and glitter. If they can dream it, they can make it.
How can I use it? I would use Art Set in the same way I would use any visual arts component of a lesson. Whether pulling out the descriptive passages of a text to illustrate the author's words or using art to make sense of figurative language like mood or tone, this APP could be used to help students bring their thoughts to life. Difficulty Level: 3.5 Medium - Challenging
What is it? Let's Create! Pottery HD is an amazing APP that allows users to shape, decorate and share gorgeous and ornate clay vessels and pots. Seriously, the products are absolutely beautiful. The interface is easy to use and, if activated, the creations can be shared and ranked on the Let's Create website where artists share the story of their work, earn badges and other artists can comment on and rate their work.
How can I use it? I would love to use this APP with students studying ancient Egypt or Native American/Aboriginal cultures. What fun to talk about how ancient artisans created pottery that conveyed very specific messages through its shape and decorations and how that pottery was especially meaningful when created specifically for a person's burial and journey to the afterlife. After learning about various Egyptians, from the very wealthy and powerful to the very poor and even enslaved, I would have kids create pottery to be placed in their burial chamber. What messages would they want to convey and how would they do it? Difficulty Level: 2 Easy
What is it? Sock Puppets is a super fun APP that allows kids to create their own puppet shows. The interface is easy to use, kids get to choose their puppets, can record their own narrations and then save/share the products for playback later.
How can I use it? Sock Puppet shows could be used for book reviews, to tell the story of a field trip, to explain the steps in a science experiment, to explain an event from history, etc. It's a great way to get kids communicating and collaborating! The finished products can also be uploaded to You Tube, embedded on a web-page or shared with parents/grandparents.
Difficulty Level: 1 Super Easy!
What is it? Comic Life is the APP version of the web tool that lets students create super fun comics with just a few easy drags and drops. There are a number of preset styles, or kids can start from scratch - either way, the process of creating gorgeous comic strips is super easy. And once finished, the products can be saved and shared.
How can I use it? I would use comic life to help kids explain complex math problems, create propaganda from various points of view during a specific time in history or share their own stories. Back in the day, I used to do a project with kids who were reading The Grapes of Wrath in which I would ask them to create 2 advertisements - one that depicted the idilic life in the west that the "Okies" were hoping to find once they got to California and then one that depicted the reality they found once they go there. I would love to go back in time and let kids recreate these assignments using a tool like Comic Life! Difficulty Level: 1.5 Way Easy!
What is it? Art Studio is very similar to Art Set (see above): it's a full suite of drawing tools that allow kids (or adults) craft custom drawings. However, Art Studio is not quite as complex, offers fewer options (though there's still plenty to choose from!) but is a little easier for the non artists among us.
How can I use it? If you've made it all the way to the bottom of this post, you may be wondering what in the world my blathering about the Library Girl avatar at the beginning had to do with the price of rice in China. Well, I started this post by admitting that I am not an artist. And yet, I created Library Girl Redux using the APP Art Studio.
She's not perfect (much like her creator) and I may find that I want to go back to her predecessor at some point. However, given the freedom to experiment, the right tools (Art Studio is my personal favorite drawing APP. I just find it easy to use.), the knowledge that it's okay to make mistakes and the ability to start over (and over and over), I was able to create something I'm okay with sharing - which, for a self described non artist, is really saying something!
In the end, although it may sound cliche to say, the product is not what's important, nor are the tools you use to get there, it really is the process that matters. Providing kids (and adults) with the freedom to imagine what something could be like, the tools to try to bring those wonderings to life and a safe place where, not only is it okay to stumble, but there's also someone there to help you back onto your feet, is crucial and all too rare - both in school and in life.
As librarians, we have an opportunity and an obligation to create spaces and instruction that cultivate our students' creativity. Our spaces, our flexibility and our skills make the library the perfect place to turn kids loose: to give them the chance to imagine, explore, create and share. Along the way, they'll make mistakes and plenty of messes, but that's how we all learn. We may not all have access to the APPs I've shared in this post, but we've all got access to something far more important: kids. All of whom are eager and ready to get started!