Digital Storytelling

Storytelling has been around for a long time as entertainment, sharing history, teaching lessons, and providing ideas. This form of communication gives us a chance to creatively share ourselves.

Two Language Arts teachers, Joe Z.and Jenn L., asked me to compile a list of digital storytelling resources and rather than deliver it in a Google Doc or other form, I decided to make a blog post and share my findings.

Snapguide
I am approaching this post from an Internet, everyone can get it point of view. This looks really good but was disappointed it was only iOS as an app.

Simplebooklet
I came across this app in the Chrome Web Store awhile ago. What I loved about this site is that it is free, I can log in with Google, create a wide variety of digital formats, and extend its use by advanced content. There are quite a few ways to publish your booklet once you are done. A downside is the free account has ads, and it will set you back $60 a year to upgrade.

GoAnimate
I know this popular and it is no wonder! There is so much you can do with a free account. The idea is that you are making a movie by using characters, sound, a timeline, and props. By combining all of these in unique ways, the movies you make are creative, fun, serious, sad, or suspenseful. You can choose pre-made characters or make your own. A plus for me is that you can get education pricing based on the number and kids and teachers in the school. A drawback are too many choices and there tends to be a learning curve. Students of mine created movies this year and loved it! I highly recommend it!

Flipsnack
Flipsnack is a part of a larger set of online webware all ending with the word “snack.” This particular snacktool lets anyone create a digital book by uploading a PDF. Anyone creates their entire book in some other desktop publishing software, save it as a PDF, and upload and FlipSnack does the rest. A drawback is your FlipSnack book looks exactly how it was designed, so there is no editing. Because it is an online book, there are no links to click or interactive content. I had students use this last year and they really liked it.

Storify
This is one of my favorites!! Storify means to make something into a story and in this case, you use search for web information right in Storify. You can search Twitter, Instagram, Facebook, Google, and others. The query returns tweets, images, and text and you drop this onto the story. All elements in the story are draggable so you can reorder what you want where you want it, and you can add text underneath whatever story element you want. Once saved, you can share it with others, others can favorite your story, or it can be embedded. A downside is that it might be a bit difficult to search for some things if you don’t know what you are looking for. Stories can get quite long depending on how much you want. I have created five of these so far and enjoy the experience.

Pixton
Pixton is a great comic maker that is full featured allowing control of all characters, their movements, color, background, and speech. You can demo for 30 days which is cool, but the big downside is that you are forced to buy it for at least 2 months. Doesn’t seem like a big thing, but what if you don’t use it regularly for two months. There are “just as good as” out there for free.

Animoto
Animoto is a video from pictures and music you put together using one of their video styles. What is really cool about this is that video will react based on the music you have chosen. If the song is upbeat it the Animoto will be more intense, while a slower song makes is more subdued. The great thing is that you can create unlimited 30 second videos for free. Think about it like this: This is like creating unlimited Super Bowl half-time commercials for free. An apparent downside is loss of control and you have to use their video styles.

Extranormal
Extranormal is a great way to have kids publish digital stories. Like many of the other listed here, this webware allows you to choose from a variety of sets and characters. What is different about this is choosing what actors voices sound like, how you get them to react to various things, and other background sounds. There is a free account for this too, or teachers can pay $10 per month. The downside is that the voices sound robotic.

Mural.ly
Mural.ly is based on a simple concept – making murals. I think just be my new favorite webware that has all kinds of features for customizing it just how you want it. These aren’t simple murals though, these are murals that are purposed for different needs. Make a mural for a vacation, brainstorming session, or project planning. The canvas is big with lots of space. Pictures and video can be pulled in. Stickers and notes can be added. At the end you can create frames to sequence your project if you like to create slideshow. Since this is pretty new, I am sure there are some downsides but I can’t see one right now. If anyone notes one, please let me know.

Glogster
Glogster has been around for a bit of time now and allows for free expression for a person. There are two accounts. One is free but public and the other is .edu and is subscription based. You are creating an online poster that uses text, stickers, titles, images, and video to create what you want. .Edu is good because teachers can create classes and share students. When Glogs are done, they can be reviewed by the teacher, rated, commented on, and added to a portfolio if desired. One downside is .edu costs money, and there is a bit of a learning curve involved to making a well designed poster.

dvolver
Dvolver is storytelling made easy and totally free. Picture your scene, character, and movie set. Type what you want the characters to say, watch it, and send it to someone. If you send it to yourself, you get an embed code you can put just about anywhere on the web. A downside I see is that some of the characters aren’t exactly school appropriate.

Storybird
As storybird says it, “Storybird reverses the process of visual storytelling by starting with the image and “unlocking” the story inside. Choose an artist or a theme, get inspired, and start writing.” Accounts are free. A very different way of telling stories from the other resources here.

This is another amazing storytelling site. My first ZimmermanTwins movie called “Zimmering” was easy to make. This is a great choice for storytelling. One downside is no control over how the characters look and how they act.

My StoryMaker
Another great storytelling site. I played with the characters, setting, items, and goal and found it easy to use. After saving the movie, I had some difficulty finding the movie.

More digital storytelling tools for educators.

My Diigo Bookmarks (weekly)

Posted from Diigo. The rest of my favorite links are here.

Some students prefer paper

I am almost always engaged in some sort of thought about education and technology picking my way through the nuances of going about connecting strong education practices with effective technology integration. Strong education practices may be known as best practices in education. Strong practices include classroom inquiry, open-ended questions, formative measures, authentic summative measures, and homework that matters. Without effective teaching practices, infusing technology becomes a toy rather than a tool. Technology should be the tool and tools should be used often, and when teachers integrate technology often, students see it as the preferred method of gaining access to the “sum of human knowledge” (Will Richardson) and portraying their understanding of content digitally. Now, not all students will want to use digital means to display what they have learned and transformed their understanding.

Recently I taught tech in an 8th grade science classroom and, going into it, my honest thought was that every kid would want to use the netbooks available to them. As I circled the classroom several times I noticed students who preferred paper over netbook. I was intrigued by this and asked why paper was preferred. Perhaps it is a tactile thing? Whatever the reason, every student has a preference while learning, and I had to stop myself from saying the netbooks had to be used. Upon stopping myself, and reflecting on my need to use technology, I respected the student who chose his or her preferred learning style. How does this relate to the opening sentence of this blog post? Effective technology integration is respecting the student who still chooses to use paper and pencil despite the clear technological advantage. Effective integration is planning for students who choose a different path.

One thing I do know is that students are more engaged in learning through technology. How might students react if we took away their tech to learn?

Content before cool stuff

I began class yesterday by asking the kids what they felt was really cool to do in technology class. This question was prompted by an email from one of my students. In the email the student asked if he could create a video game using software received from a camp he attended this summer. So, to begin class yesterday, I asked this student if he wouldn’t mind sharing his idea with the class about creating a video game. Post student explanation, the entire class wanted to make a game and I was totally cool with it! Before they can make the game, I had to explain how I view learning.

I view learning as having two essential tools and the two are dependent upon one another. The first tool is content. Content cannot be ignored or pushed to the side. Without content, or what is being taught, getting to the product can’t happen. Teaching content doesn’t have to be boring. Boring is standing in front of the class with the teacher talking, students listening and taking notes. One method of contextual learning that I am a big fan of is Project Based Learning (PBL). The Buck Institute for Education says this:

In Project Based Learning (PBL), students go through an extended process of inquiry in response to a complex question, problem, or challenge. Rigorous projects help students learn key academic content and practice 21st Century Skills (such as collaboration, communication & critical thinking).

Before I move on, another good resource for PBL is edutopia. You will find resources to help plan for and implement project based learning. The other tool a student needs are the products to demonstrate learning. The products are the cool part of what I do because kids can get online and create some really cool stuff, but they can’t create the product without the content, so the two are married.

Techie validation

I met with a group of teachers this morning who signed up to be on the building technology committee. Past meetings in this circle focused on the conversations of the district technology team which, from what I experienced, delved into kinds of tech, policy and such. This isn’t to say the conversation wasn’t good, but it left me wanting more.

I know lead the building tech committee and as the leader I have to have a very clear vision of where the school will head with technology. The building principal has given me leeway to make decisions and do as I need to. A good leader has to have a vision first and I envision a school where staff and students have a netbook that allows them full time access to resources, but I also see the pedagogy changing dramatically as learning moves away from rote teaching practices to flexible practices that allow and expect kids to make meaning of what they are reading within the digital learning landscape. This kind of shift is radical because it asks teachers to completely change how they teach and how they approach learning. Learning should be understood as kids learning and their own learning. This said, technology will play a prominent roll because it is the knife that will carve out this new way of teaching and learning leaving behind outdated practices that rely solely on the teacher being the focal point of education to the teacher as being facilitator.

I had a striking conversation with a colleague about this very topic. Today’s kids are technologically far beyond most teachers. They are social networkers who converse online or through a camera making connections whenever they can and this is NORMAL to them. It is no big deal to use the iPod and Facetime or Skype. It is no big deal to start to make apps and distribute them. Soon, it will be no big deal to exist in a completely different space interacting, learning, responding, working, and socializing with ease. Can educators help kids do this? Will we stand in the way of their learning? How will we respond to this kind of learning? Hmmm, not sure.

What I do know is that what I am teaching kids today will help them tomorrow. Not only am I helping them learning cool, new Web 2.0 technologies, but I am helping them think through how to approach using all of it. There is a constant conversation about the learning process, setting your own expectations, and carrying a relevant conversation orally and digitally. Without the constant chatter, the kids lose focus and it devolves into a mess of “why am I even doing this,” thinking leading to a debased sense of learning and ownership.

So, I am much more than the tech guy. I combine high quality teaching methods with technology to expand what kids are learning and thinking about. It is this method of teaching that helps students to see a computer is much more than gadgets and fun. It really is about learning, problem solving, decision making, and learning how to learn. That last phrase, learning how to learn, is the hardest of all for students. They are so cultured to get everything from the teacher that they do not know how to get it (learning) for themselves.

I have evolved my teaching practices and pedagogy to meet the demands of a digital world where information is easy to access. The shift took some time for me, but I got there.

Play with tech, don’t teach it

I couldn’t agree more with the tweet from Matthew Weld; (@Matthew Weld) district technology coach & elementary computer teacher)! He tweets

I’ve found that kids don’t need to be taught the tool – just that it exists. Many teachers find this unbelievable #1to1techat

He says what I have been thinking for quite some time. In the winter/spring semester at BBHMS I taught computer technology to 6th and 8th graders and noticed they would tune me out if I tried teaching them how to use web technology. The look the class gave me with eyes glazed over was, “Seriously Mr. K, you don’t have to teach us this stuff. We’ll just play with it and figure it out.” Learned it they did and all while messing around with it. This experience gave me a brand new perspective on how kids learn, and not just technology.

Kids today were born into a digital age. While it may not mean much, it does mean the kids are comfortable around technology and are willing to play with it without worrying it will break which is in such contrast to older people who worry about breaking a computer. So, kids play and when they play with the technology they learn more about it because they are problem solving. The problem solving is a matter of how they can get the web-ware (web software) to do what they want it to do. Because computer software and web-ware use similar terms and methods of organization, kids are automatically looking for the modifying action in drop-down menus and icons. This automatic transference makes them potent web-ware learners (Internet in general) which means I have to do very little to teach the tech.

What does this mean for me as a the building tech coach, and am I still valuable to the district as a teacher? YES! My value as a teacher doesn’t diminish in the slightest. I add more value to the kids learning process because I offer knowledge of technology and facilitate the process of learning. Instead of being the focal point of all knowledge, I become the facilitator who helps kids make a jump in their learning broadening their understanding and use of Web 2.0 technology AND how to think about using it. Isn’t this the real point of education? It is helping kids move from one point of thinking to another expanding and deepening process and content. Love it!

Tech snafu

Having a computer has its advantages. I can have kids access information at a moment’s notice to find something worth looking up, or at least something I think is worth looking up, have software pre-installed, and complete needed activities. Would you ever imagine it would be disadvantage?

I had an interesting experience today that, while frustrating, taught me a great deal about helping kids learn with a computer in front of them. First, students don’t see the computer as a gateway to finding unlimited resources and information. I’ll ask a question and a response might be, “Where am I going to find the answer to that?” I might be coy and say inside your head, but it is a striking picture of forgotten ubiquitous technology. I am not saying that a student wouldn’t turn to it to find information at some point. I am saying that it was startling to note how many students need a reminder it is there. Often I over estimate student’s abilities to use a computer and to use it well. I was reminded of this when I was helping 6th graders gain access to the web or help them locate software. Shouldn’t they already know this stuff? Finally, I learned that if I am prepared, which I was prepared for the final class today (I was ready for the previous 3 but tech snafu’s always catch me off guard), that high quality learning takes place, yet to reach that high quality I really had to push the very boxed in thinking students have today in the classroom. As advantageous as computers are, and they really are, there are the disadvantages.