One of his students created a 12-minute video tutorial comparing the views of Adam Smith and Karl Marx. Now, this was a particularly shy student, as Shawn recounts—and when students were demonstrating their projects and her video was about to play in front of the class, she conveniently went to the bathroom. She returned to a round of applause.

Shawn has a YouTube channel, and he likes to provide his students with an option to publish to an authentic audience. When Shawn’s student opted to post this particular video on YouTube, it garnered several hits. The student was so excited that she asked her teacher, “Can I work on this project some more? I’d like to improve my video.” (How many students typically ask, “Can I write another essay?”)

This student’s goal was to be the most popular resource on Adam Smith and Karl Marx on the web. And if you Google these industrial philosophers, you’ll find her video shows up in the top three search results—besting Wikipedia and the Library of Congress, among other sources.

Can you imagine the pride and motivation she feels in having this audience? Here, we have a student who’s so engaged in the process that she actually asks her teacher if she could work longer on her project. Here is a shy student whose voice isn’t always heard in the classroom, and yet she is able to shine by unleashing her creativity.

2. They connect learners.

Great teachers not only empower their students through creativity; they also connect their students to other audiences, giving their students a platform for putting their knowledge to use in a way that helps others.

Kristen Paino is a New York teacher who has helped develop a Global Book Series that includes books authored by educators and students from around the world.  Kristen solicits participants via Twitter and using the BookCreator app, they compile two-page creations in which students describe their school and their community. So far, there are a total of three books published in the iTunes Store.

By creating these global books, Kristen wants to demonstrate how classrooms around the world can come together to publish something unique and creative and learn from each other at the same time. One fascinating aspect of the project is that it has redefined the teaching of geography. As students hear from their peers in other parts of the world, they start to ask questions, like: Where’s Russia? Where’s Mexico? How do those countries compare to mine?

What was often a passive, teacher-centric process in which students memorize places and rote facts has been transformed into an inquiry-based process, where the students are asking the questions and driving the geographical exploration. Now, students want to look at a map; they want to learn more about these places.

(Next page: Lessons that stick with students)