App smashing is an exciting and engaging way to meet students where they live: in the digital environments that are front-and-center in their lives and hold them captive throughout their daily routines.
Fe Cowan, a ninth-grade teacher, incorporates app smashing into his class projects and activities. Cowan, an educator for over 28 years, teaches world geography at Palmetto High School in the Anderson School District in Williamstown, South Carolina, near Greenville. It’s a high-poverty district, but even without a lavish budget, Palmetto High ensures that every student has access to one-on-one technology in the classroom.
The school’s commitment to technology gives Cowan the flexibility to create assignments that promote creativity, collaboration critical thinking and communication—21st-century skills that students must acquire to thrive in the real world.
Explains Cowan: “I try to ground their activities in key life lessons, and so I tell my students that the creative skills they’re learning are something that might earn them money, too. Knowing how to develop videos with music or develop fliers are skills that are desirable in the real world.”
Even Cowan’s most apprehensive students warm quickly to the app-smashing process because they’re already comfortable working and communicating across their devices.
App smashing is best defined as taking two or more apps and combining them together to create content that would not otherwise have been possible.
It mimics the concept of building, whereby users create and save a project in the first app, and then open the saved image in the second app to add features that the first app doesn’t offer.
App smashing simplifies learning because it eliminates the need for a different app for each subject or project.
Each year as part of their World Geography studies, Cowan’s ninth-graders create a restaurant in another part of the world. The assignment involves developing flyers, menus, commercials and other materials to promote their “restaurants.” The district was using the Apple platform at the time, and so Microsoft applications such as Word, PowerPoint and iMovie were the compatible programs. Unfortunately, the platform did not allow collaboration among the students.
When the district transitioned to Chromebooks earlier this year, Cowan discovered the WeVideo and Soundtrap for Chromebook apps, which allow the students to work in groups and collaborate on their projects. WeVideo, a cloud-based video editing software, and Soundtrap, an online music and recording studio, lets the kids add music to their videos, satisfying Cowan’s goal to enhance their learning with yet another layer of innovation.
Cowan didn’t want them to feel the added pressure of adding music, so he offered that element as extra credit. Many students took him up on the offer.
Says Cowan: “The results were impressive. Many students jumped right in. Some created music that was so good that I wasn’t sure if they made it on their own or pulled it off a video. Fortunately, they did it all themselves.”
He says he’d always wanted the students to add music to their commercials, but the tools weren’t available until now. The next class project imagined the students in Europe, attending two different concerts with two different artists, and finding tourist sites they wanted to visit. They earned extra credit by adding music and narration.
Here are five additional benefits Cowan discovered using app smashing:
1. Collaboration through engagement. The students realized they had an obligation to something bigger than themselves, and were more apt to contribute when peers were involved.
2. Increased self-esteem. They took extreme pride in their work, knowing that they’d used multiple tools to take a meaningful project from concept to reality.
3. Fewer behavioral issues. The kids stayed interested and engaged. No boredom, no behavioral problems.
4. Enhanced technology. Students navigated tools that are relevant to their futures, advancing them from technology users to technology creators.
5. Improved 21st-century skills. App smashing promotes project-based and discovery learning, problem solving, critical thinking, creativity and other real-world aptitudes.
Teachers, too, benefit from app smashing. It eliminates the need for a different app for each subject or project, and gives educators the chance collect a core set of apps that cover multiple topic areas and smash those with more specialized apps. Cowan notes that it’s important to trust your students here: They are app-savvy and can introduce you to app-smashing opportunities that would not have presented themselves otherwise. It takes blended learning to the next level.