Tag Archives: voicethread

Bringing Stories to Life – Digitally!

ds tools

Last week, I spent the majority of my #etmooc time trying new digital storytelling tools (GIFs, Flip Books, Visual Poetry5 Card Flickr) and posting about my explorations and learnings. This week, I wanted to hold off testing more tools (PopcornMaker, Inklewriter & Stop Motion are high on my list!) so I could take time to reflect on the concept of digital storytelling and consider the value of it in the classroom.

Over the past few years, as I’ve learned of new tools and experimented with ways to engage children and adult learners in digital storytelling, I have been impressed with the depth of expression I have seen. Digital storytelling seems to break down barriers (e.g., fears, time concerns, language) that often prevent people from engaging in tech use. Once people see how easy a tool like Voicethread or Storybird can be to use, they are excited to tell their own stories and to collaborate with others in creating.

I think our motivation for connectedness and the inherently personal nature of stories is why I find digital storytelling so powerful. Everyone has a story to tell and I love providing my students and teachers with tools to bring those stories to life.

Last week, when I was experimenting with different tools, I was caught up in the excitement and natural engagement that comes from active learning and discovery and the knowledge that I had the power to create and share something with the world. It’s empowering to have that “I can do this” moment and to be able to add a new tool to your toolbox, one that is fun to use and allows you to convey a story in just the right way (whether that’s through visuals, audio, text, or some combination).  I want all of my students to have those moments and realize that there is a large array of tools they can use to share their stories and they don’t all have to choose the same one.

As I thought about my explorations last week, I realized that another important factor motivating me to create and share was the knowledge that I was part of a community that was listening. I had an authentic audience that was waiting for stories just like mine and I was able to visit that community at any point to ask questions, find support, and learn from the stories everyone else was telling. I want to reflect more on the how valuable it is for our students to know they have an online community who is listening to them and willing to read their work and hear their stories. How can we cultivate that community for and with them? Certainly sites like Edmodo and hashtags like #Comments4Kids help but how can we ensure that our students aren’t sending meaningful projects and stories out into a silent and empty online space?

The benefits of incorporating digital storytelling in the classroom seem clear to me:

  • Learn how to communicate/tell stories through different media (e.g., video, dictation, writing, pictures)
  • Examine the value of different types of stories and storytelling methods (e.g., poetry, short stories, six word stories, picture stories)
  • Build an understanding of technology as a tool to create and tell stories
  • Provide opportunities for students to collaborate on stories
  • Explore the ability to tell the same story in a variety of ways
  • Identify ways that culture and context can affect a story and ways of telling a story
  • Practice creating stories to teach an idea or new concept to others
  • Gain comfort using, mixing, and re-mixing content and digital tools to create stories

I’m sure there are more but these seem like some of the core skills and understandings that can be acquired by incorporating digital storytelling in the classroom. They connect with the 21st Century Skills of communication and collaboration, creativity and innovation, and critical thinking. These are also skills that will be valuable as students grow older and need to tell stories on college applications or to their employers. When you pitch a new product or propose a new scientific investigation, aren’t you telling a story? The more I think about it, the more invaluable (digital) storytelling seems to become given how much of our lives we spend telling stories, in one form or another.

With that in mind, I want to re-examine my own curriculum and consider how digital stories are already being incorporated and if there are more/better ways to integrate them into our classrooms. We have already created a number of digital stories this year but I want to keep pushing myself and my students’ to continue discovering, experimenting with, creating, and sharing digital stories. How are you using digital storytelling in education? 

Elmo Loves You - A Valentine Digital Story

A Digital Valentine Story

Image Credit: Sesame Street

Misadventures in Connected Learning … But That’s Not All!

Before the second week of #etmooc “Connected Learning” slips away, I wanted to write a post reflecting a bit on the prompt: “Is it possible for our classrooms to support this kind of (connected) learning? If so, how?

cc licensed ( BY NC SA ) flickr photo shared by dennisar

I definitely think that our classrooms can support connected learning and that technology can make the “how” much easier and more feasible to facilitate that learning. To me, connected learning involves engaging students in real-world applications of skills and knowledge. One way to do this is by asking students to try and solve problems that people face everyday, such as concerns with the environment (Inspiration from GOOD.is) or building prototypes to help the elderly more easily navigate outdoors (see the FIRST Jr. Robotics Challenge).

I also view connected learning as a motivation to teach my students tools that can empower and enable them to be change agents. With these tools, students can build meaningful connections across different mediums, connections that not only facilitate learning but establish relationships. This means introducing ideas of digital citizenship and cyber safety at very young ages so students can begin using tools that they will likely continue to use as they grow older instead of tools that they will quickly grow out of (e.g., teaching 2nd graders how to conduct safe and effective Google searches versus restricting them to KidRex and allowing kindergarten students to tweet with other kindergarten students in class).

But most importantly, in my opinion, connected learning translates into global connections and collaborations for all students and teachers.

With modern technologies like Skype, Voicethread, Google Translate, Twitter and other (a)synchronous tools, it can be simple and free to connect students, even if their time zones never overlap or they speak different languages. There is no longer a need for expensive web conferencing technologies and with web 2.0 tools, students don’t have to wait weeks for a reply from students in another country. Therefore, it seems to me that we should be scaffolding and encouraging global connections in every classroom, starting with our youngest students. These connections can blossom into meaningful relationships where students can share experiences and learn together about the cultures, perspectives, and knowledge of each community. That feels like true connected learning.

The Global Classroom Project Logo

So what does that look like in the classroom? At my school, I have slowly been working to build some of these local and global connections so students can engage in more connected learning. While we have had some success, we have definitely had a few misadventures as well.

We tried signing up for an Elementary Mystery Skype project created by some  educators who had seen it done with older grades. Three of my teachers signed up, willing to take the risk and do something they had never done before, but although all three were paired with another teacher, none of them heard a response back about setting a date to actually Skype. After following many inspiring #kinderchat teachers, I talked with a kindergarten teacher at my school about having her class join Twitter. We sat down and discussed how it could work, we wrote up a detailed letter to parents, we planned how to introduce it to the students but since their initial Twitter “launch” the class hasn’t been able to get other classes to tweet back. I think the kids are beginning to feel like tweeting means sending a message on the computer and never hearing back. Whether it’s been via Skype, Twitter, or even email, we have found that making that connection with another teacher and class can be much harder than getting the technology or other preparations in order.

1st Graders Excited to Skype with a class in Canada

1st Graders Excited to Skype with a class in Canada

Luckily, we also have some success stories to share. Thanks to the Global Classroom Project database, I was able to connect our Spanish teacher with a class in Spain so her students could Skype in English and Spanish. While moderating a #globalclassroom chat, I connected with another educator who wanted her students to be able to share their experiences of a Quaker meeting. This led to two of our fourth grade classes Skyping with their fourth grade and discussing their religious practices, as well as the similarities and differences in their schools. Comparing lunches and “specials” was a big highlight. Through Twitter, I was also able to set up a Skype session between a Canadian class and one of our first grade classes – our students were shocked to see all of their snow! And in a few weeks, we have a session scheduled with NASA for our youngest students, who are studying space, to hear about “Humans in Space,” one of the offerings in their Digital Learning Network.

So, while the actual “how” of connected learning can certainly be a challenge, I think it is doable. My students have been able to use a range of web 2.0 tools that have enabled them to develop deeper relationships within their individual classes, between their class and other classes at the school, and between our school and other schools. They are becoming more comfortable with the idea of leaving messages through various platforms and receiving comments and messages back from parents or other students after a pause (which can be tough to understand when you’re only 5 or 6). Teachers are beginning to consider ways we can connect with other students and classes in other parts of the world to enrich their units of study and make different topics and concepts more concrete while also more making them more complex. I hope that with time, patience, and perseverance  our connections will continue to grow and with it, the connected learning that we are all able to share.