Adobe Spark Elevates Creative Learning for Students in Roanoke County, Virginia

Photo by Chuck Lionberger, Roanoke County Public Schools.

In addition to my role at Adobe, I am an educator. I have gone through the struggle that many educators face: wanting to use the technology available in my classroom to enhance learning, but running into a host of issues. I struggle to find time to learn apps myself, or to find class time to teach students how to use them. I see how asking students to create digital media motivates them and builds important skills, but I’m at the mercy of the technology working from the moment they log in to the moment they submit their assignment.

And, I’m not alone. Recently, Adobe released new research about the importance of teaching creative problem-solving skills to help students better prepare for the future workforce. The study found that creative problem solving will be a critical skill in tomorrow’s workplace, and that we are not yet doing a good enough job of teaching those skills to our students. Some of the biggest barriers that teachers and policymakers identified were a lack of access to appropriate tools and technologies, and the time required to teach students how to use creative apps.

We designed Adobe Spark for Education, a free set of creative storytelling apps that runs in any web browser, with the intention of solving these challenges, and providing teachers with the perfect way to incorporate digital creativity into the classroom. It supports single sign-on so students can use their existing school ID to log in, and includes premium features (that normally cost $120/year) for free.

Roanoke County Public Schools (RCPS) in Virginia gave Spark for Education a try this past school year, and the results were beyond what I could have imagined. Their journey started with teachers from the district coming across Spark and trying it themselves. Within minutes of using Spark, teachers at RCPS were thinking of what this could do for their students and were asking how quickly they could have it in their classroom.

RCPS is a district that deeply understands the importance of technology, and their small but dedicated IT team provides devices and accounts to every student in many of their schools. They wanted to integrate Spark for Education with all of the systems they had in place – for example, using single sign-on with their existing school logins – and were able to successfully do just that, deploying to all of the 15,000+ students and teachers in the district in a matter of weeks (and in the middle of the school year!).

Teachers at RCPS place an emphasis on developing the 4Cs – creativity, collaboration, communication and critical thinking. Only days after Spark was available, they were incorporating it into their curriculum to better achieve those outcomes, letting students quickly and easily create beautiful graphics, web stories, and videos. For example, in Paige Mitchem’s 6th grade English class, students used Spark to create tourism commercials for foreign countries, as a way to learn more about them. Paige knew that they were meeting the required Standards of Learning for her class, but the students didn’t think about that – they were entirely motivated by the act of creation.

Paige’s way of incorporating a creative project into her lesson plan by using Adobe Spark was awesome. We talked to the Instructional Technology Resource Teachers who serve teachers across elementary, middle and high school and found out that Paige is not alone; teachers across every subject and in every grade level are integrating Spark into their curriculum. Even in science or math, communicating knowledge in an engaging way and being able to tell a story with the data are important skills to build, and lead to greater focus and learning. Sharing knowledge between educators is so important and that’s why Adobe offers a free platform, the Education Exchange, where we can access free courses taught by other educators, and share teaching materials and curriculum. There are classes and curriculum centered around Spark and tailored for K-12 available now, and we’re adding more all the time.

In my job at Adobe I’m fortunate to be a guest in a lot of classrooms, and I find that while almost every 4th grader is excited to dive in and try creating something, a lot of 11th graders are not. Somewhere along the way, students become less comfortable with taking risks, more afraid of failure, and more convinced that they are either creative or they’re not. One of the things I love most about Spark is that, even in a 40-minute class, anyone can make something that they are proud to share. My hope is that with Spark in the hands of thoughtful and caring teachers, we can build creative confidence at a young age, and students can use that confidence to design new solutions to the challenges that they will face in the future.

I urge you to be part of this change. If you have never used Spark, go try it out for yourself. If you’re ready to use it in your classroom and begin the transformation that is happening at Roanoke County and many other school districts across the globe, follow the steps on the Spark for Education website to get Spark for Education for free.