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Guest blog: Balancing creativity with academic test preparation

We all know that we're educating our young people in an age of high stakes testing. We all know that different students learn in different ways. We all know that a good teacher fosters a balance between academics and creativity.

Teacher effectiveness and school success are evaluated through the critical lens of standardized test results. These tests are designed to measure learning. Our students are all tested the same way, even though they don't learn the same way.

Addressing a diversity of learning styles remains a priority, as teachers attempt to design classroom activities that reach every student in every desk. Recognizing multiple intelligences allows differentiation for individuals that learn at different paces or through different methodologies.

Regardless of learning differences, students remember their creations, what they make and what they can show others. I'd like to share a couple of my favorite creative Social Studies classroom activities, both low-tech and high-tech.

First, here's a low-tech idea. My students like to flex their artistic muscles and one of my favorite activities is making pop-up books. With a simple or a fancy template, a pop-up book can serve as the end product of a research project or summarize a completed chapter of reading. An individual, a partnership or a small group can create a three dimensional collage with their own artwork, photographs from magazines or computer images. A three dimensional pop-up book becomes a keepsake.

Now, here's a high-tech idea. Check out My students love ToonDoo! My students learned to make cartoon characters much faster than I did. A recent class project was to choose and explain an environmental challenge, adding factual information and suggesting ways we can act to solve the challenge. Examples of topics that students chose were habitat destruction, water pollution and recycling.

Both the tangible pop-up book and the on-screen cartoon book can be kept by students and shown to others. Fun projects of this type encourage students to retain main ideas and expand their vocabularies. They remember the content covered in a creative project of this type and proofread more carefully, so they're proud of their product. When test time comes around, they've internalized both important content and essential skills.

-Sally High