Using Multiple Tools for Content Creation in the Classroom

We’re wrapping up the 2022-2023 school year, and several teachers in my district are continuing their journeys into deeper learning.

Rather than freaking out and focusing on end-of-year testing that means nothing (you know I’m right), I’m working with several 8th-grade classes on worthwhile projects.

One class is designing tourism resources for Bardstown. If you’re not familiar, the tourism industry is HUGE in this area thanks to two things: history and bourbon. Kentucky tourists spent $5.9 billion in 2020, and many of those dollars can be traced to bourbon tourism.

Students are working in groups to create materials for different tourist destinations in Bardstown. They got to choose the location, the format for their materials, and how they will ultimately present them.

Let’s connect this work back to the 4 Shifts and how we’re using it to foster deeper learning in classrooms:

Deeper Thinking and Learning

  • Students are researching famous local places. Some of them are taking tours after school hours, conducting interviews, and doing independent research
  • Students are discussing what information needs to be included in their information. What should be in a brochure? What do we need to mention in a video?

Authentic Work

  • Students are using design tools that are used in the real world to create and publish their work: Canva, YouTube, CapCut, etc.
  • Could these projects be used as part of a tourism promotion? Perhaps. This work will likely be a “first draft” of a potential business or tourism department collaboration.

Student Agency & Personalization

  • Students chose the format and tools.
  • Students chose the topic

Technology Infusion

  • Any technology usage is secondary to the research and information presented. Technology is merely the tool conveying the message, not the message itself.

I could go on, but I’ll save a further discussion for the project completion. Suffice it to say the kids are very interested in these projects and what they are learning about their hometown.

Student working on a brochure for a local restaurant
Student work on a brochure for a local restaurant

I came in to assist in the combination of technology with content. Students are creating on different platforms and need to tie the information together. Several have made videos that we’ve uploaded to YouTube. We created QR codes and added them to the brochures. We’ve used royalty-free music for the videos. Some students even used AI (yep) to help write the script before recording voiceovers.

My point for sharing this work is this: diving into deeper learning can be fun for you and your students. Will some resist? Yes. Will some still find ways to disengage and not really accomplish anything? Yes.

But it’s all part of the adventure of learning. For them, and for us.



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Wishful Thinking Disguised as Professional Development

This is the pattern in way too many schools. This isn’t the poor coach’s fault. This is a failure of leadership. It’s wishful thinking disguised as professional development, and it’s yet another example of a school that’s going through the motions instead of engaging in meaningful, long-term, thoughtful improvement. These wasted opportunities in schools just make me sad…

Scott McLeod

My friend Scott is talking about a forum post about a coach offering a PD session on “anything you like” for one hour.

Which is, of course, pointless.

I have been given roughly an hour for PD on January 4th to work with teachers on anything that I’d like. I rotate between 7 sites pre-k to 12th grade, but I will be working with 4th grade-12th grade teachers on this date. My boss mostly likes for me to introduce new tools to teachers during these opportunities. We have been focusing on Canva the last few months while we try to transition back to students creating work rather than the teacher worksheets, etc., that we used a lot of during the pandemic.

All of that to say, what would you use this time for? Should I show teachers how to be better organized with Google Keep/Tasks, find a free new tool for them to use in the classroom? Do you have any free project based EdTech tools that you love?

Scott’s reply:

Just wanted to say how sorry I am that you only are given 1 hour (a whole 60 minutes!) to do this important work. You and your educators deserve more systemic and strategic supports and investment than this. 😢 I’m tempted to say that, with this little time, it really doesn’t matter what you do because the likelihood of it being impactful is fairly low?

Good luck.

Sadly, this is the state of much professional development in our schools. And it’s not just a theme of instructional technology PD. We see this when schools roll out new curricula, as well. One day of learning is all teachers need to implement new programs, right?

This was the theme of my Tuesday newsletter this week, specifically on rethinking PD.

We can’t afford to think about PD like this anymore.

Thinking about Lesson Redesign for Deeper Learning

There’s a project that I’ve wanted to begin for a few years. I thought I’d have the chance during my first year as a full-time digital learning coach, but then COVID happened, and things went off the rails.

Now, my project is running. I’m working with a group of teachers in my district; the Future Shift Fellowship. The teachers represent grade levels from K-12 and several different content areas. Our focus is on redesigning lessons to create deeper learning experiences for students.

In case you weren’t aware, this process isn’t easy. But, with the right outlook and tools to help, we’re making some headway on this journey.

The Right Tool for Framing Conversations

We’re using the wonderful 4 Shifts Protocol as our guiding light during all our conversations. If you’re not familiar with this protocol, here’s an overview:

The 4 Shifts Protocol is a questioning protocol that focuses on redesigning lessons in four areas: deeper thinking & learning, authentic work, student agency & personalization, and technology infusion.

It’s a simple tool to begin using, but it opens the door to much deeper conversations about what we ask students to do and how those tasks align with meaningful work in settings beyond the classroom.

purple and black computer keyboard
Photo by Syed Ali on Unsplash

Before this week’s meeting, I asked the fellows to read through the 4 Shifts handbook to guide our discussions. From the group, here are some of the thoughts they shared and their takeaways from the book:

The 4 Shifts Takeaways

My fellows know that one of my rallying cries about any change we undertake in our classrooms is to “embrace the suck.” It’s a military term used by trainers to get their trainees to understand that you must lean into being uncomfortable and push through difficulties. I use it to encourage teachers and students to keep going despite whatever difficulty they face with technology usage, rethinking lessons, or anything that “sucks” about change in education.

The fellows agreed that this book and protocol give them some support and encouragement to embrace the suck. And to know that things won’t always suck.

Next, they realized that lesson redesign will look different for different people because of the protocol’s flexibility. The 4 Shifts protocol respects teachers as professionals and masters of their craft. There is no dictation to use certain tools or methods in any of the shifts, merely yes/no/maybe questions to start conversations about how to change. It’s up to each teacher to determine how to best change each no to a yes.

people sitting down near table with assorted laptop computers
Photo by Marvin Meyer on Unsplash

One fellow brought up how, when used properly, infusing technology into lessons can give students greater control over their learning. Good technology integration should provide students with greater agency and provide them with opportunities to present their work to an authentic audience and setting. Thinking about lesson redesign with deeper learning in mind makes this possible.

It Doesn’t Have to Be Hard

We talked about our overachiever desire to do something spectacular with our students. If we’re going to redesign a lesson, we thought, we need to do something that’s never been done before and end the lesson or unit with some impressive technology project to show off to as many people as possible.

Of course, that’s not the point of this process. And the redesign doesn’t have to be difficult to implement or require huge changes to lead to deeper learning. Even small tweaks to your existing lessons can open new doors for students. Changing one small part of your lesson can give students a greater opportunity to think more deeply or, if appropriate, lead them down the path of becoming creators of content rather than consumers.

Ultimately, our goal in lesson redesign is moving students from inert learning to active learning, getting away from simple test prep to acquiring knowledge that sets them up for success in the world beyond our school walls.

What Happens Next

Our journey is just beginning with this fellowship. We’re starting small to spread this work across our school district. We will learn much along the way, and I’ll be sharing our work with all of you as we go. It’s an adventure for us and, we hope, for our students, too.

Change does not happen quickly, especially in education. However, our students are worth whatever changes we can make to help them be successful and live the life of their dreams, whatever that may be. The struggle is worth it because our kids are worth it.


Thanks for reading. This site and all the work shared here are completely reader-supported. The best way to support it is to check out my recommendations or subscribe to my weekly newsletter.