A Demonstration of Creative Pandemic-Fueled Learning

Type: Article
Topics: District & School Operations, School Administrator Magazine, Technology & AI

May 01, 2021

No one could have predicted the state of learning during the period of COVID-19. Nor could anyone have predicted the amount of time we would spend in that state of learning.

What also can’t be predicted are the unintended positive consequences that shift the thinking of teachers and students alike and how the imagination and creativity of students can impact our practice moving forward.

Philip Wakeman
Philip Wakeman (left), an instructional coach, and Matt Arledge, a 5th-grade teacher at Clear Creek Elementary School in Shelbyville, Ky., observe students extend their skills through their portfolio demonstrations. PHOTO COURTESY OF SHELBY COUNTY, KY., PUBLIC SCHOOLS

What became clear to Matt Arledge, a 5th-grade teacher at Clear Creek Elementary School in Shelbyville, Ky., was that ignoring the situation would be doing a disservice to his students. There are moments we plan for and hope for, but amazing things can happen organically when we lift the ceiling off what we are asking students to do.

In March 2020, students were deep into informational reading and writing. Soon, one topic would dominate the minds of students and teachers alike ... the coronavirus pandemic. Rather than push through a typical end-of-unit project, why not address what was on every student’s mind? “This is a huge moment in their lives,“ Arledge said. “Why would we not take this opportunity to make this an experience we talk about and learn from?”

Personal Motivation

From this thought came a research project culminating in students creating an autobiographical account of their experiences and emotions as the pandemic and lockdowns were just beginning.

While the project started with research to build background knowledge, things really took a turn for students when they got to choose their direction of interest and pursue a driving question. Fifth-grader Jessica focused on a question she was struggling with: Can self-isolation make people feel more connected?

She missed school, her classmates, her teachers and the daily interactions they brought. Having the freedom to choose and address a personally meaningful question allowed her feelings to be acknowledged while pushing her to understand the reason behind the challenges in her life.

Normally, a project of this nature would have ended in a slideshow presentation, poster or essay sharing the journey. The Time Capsule project enabled Jessica to express these feelings and demonstrate her learning in a way that was personal and not limited to a format. 

Jessica decided to create video journals, consisting of amazing anecdotes of what was going on in her mind and at her home. Within these, she chose to write, direct and star in plays acting out concepts such as the toilet paper rush. She then chose to teach herself how to animate to help people understand ideas like social distancing. She recorded her own intro and outro music. Finally, she filmed and edited her video journals because that’s how she wanted to present her knowledge. Student. Writer. Musician. Producer. Actor. Editor. Publisher.

Lasting Impact

For Arledge, the project forced him to step back and let students choose how they would demonstrate their learning. This was a lesson that will continue to impact his teaching going forward.

For Jessica, the project allowed her to unleash her emotions and experiences in a demonstration of creativity and learning that wouldn’t have been found in an essay or slide show. Mastery of standards were evident, but learning that had purpose and meaning for Jessica resulted in the creation of a product she can look back on not only with pride in her work, but also as a reflection on one of the most consequential events in her life thus far.

PHILIP WAKEMAN is the instructional coach at Clear Creek Elementary School in Shelbyville, Ky.

Matt Arledge contributed to this article.


Philip Wakeman

Instructional Coach

Clear Creek Elementary School (Ky.)