Tuesday, April 15, 2008

Digital Storytelling

There are a number of programs out there to assist with digital storytelling. The ones I've used are Photostory3, Storytelling Alice and Voicethread. Each has their specific purpose, but overall I think I'm a bit partial to Alice.

First I would like to spew a little background on my views of discourse in the classroom. Discourse is one of the most powerful learning tools that I know of.

Roger Schank, in Tell me a Story, explains that stories are what make a memory memorable; stories give life to past experiences. We are not simply memorizing a list of facts, we are connecting with the big picture. It is far easier to relay information in a meaningful way by providing explanations for the information, in the form of stories, than it is to relay a stream of facts. By doing so, we allow the recipient of the information to form connections on multiple levels. Portions of the story heard by the recipient of the information are linked to single frames of stories they already know -- similar to how words are interconnected in a crossword puzzle. Unimportant details of the story are forgotten leaving traces of the story connected to other known stories.

By examining these memory traces, not only does it allow us to recall story elements from stories (without replaying the entire story), it also assists us to predict event outcomes and merge stories together. Stories are merged when it becomes impractical to remember a series of similar stories. In this case, the basic idea of the story is converted into a script, which can be applied to the situation at hand.

Therefore, stories are important at a variety of levels from relaying thoughts through solidifying the information. So how do we apply this in the educational world, and in particular within a digital environment. That's where the digital storytelling programs come into play.

With Storytelling Alice, the story's author places the characters, story elements and props, into a frame. The author then instructs the characters on what to do in order to tell the story. This allows the author to break the story into small manageable pieces; pieces which are important to how the story unfolds. Take for example the story of how to solve a multiplication problem. One character explaining or demonstrating a method for solving it requires the author to understand each step and be able to explain it.

Listen to the podcast here

Tuesday, February 12, 2008

Our First Podcast

At my school we teach in 2-teacher teams or pods. This week we gathered together as a pod and listened to some podcasts (Radio WillowWeb and DownsFM). We talked about what we thought we could do as a team of about 50. This started with some topics that we thought we would be able to do -- remember, every goal must be achievable! We had the white board covered with ideas. From there we pared it down to a few easily doable things. The students did a fantastic job of recognizing hierarchies and categories. From there we broken into groups, with each group picking one of the topics. The students then began making lists of talking points and spinning that into paragraphs. This continued the next day with the groups deciding who would say what and practicing. From there we recorded using a mic attached to my laptop. You can listen to our first podcast here.

After we presented our podcast to the principal the pod discussed what it was we did, what we liked about it, etc. One of the students pointed out it was like our writing poster (Six Traits + 1). Interesting observation. Another student then commented, "Hey, this is like doing work! I'm not sure I like this anymore." It was kind of a surprising comment for me to hear, but with 5th grade nothing should surprise me.

However, what a great discussion happened next! We talked about how what we do in school is exactly what is done outside in the real world. Math is used to balance checkbooks, calculate tips and in almost every job we could come up with. Even people who don't like to write have to write as part of their jobs.

I wish every lesson could have gone like this!

My 21st Century Classroom podcast

Friday, January 18, 2008

Protecting the Student

The problem I am struggling with is how to allow the student to be able to have some global recognition, but way of blogs, pod/vod-casting, digital story telling, etc. while still allowing them to remain anonymous. It's not only a concern of mine, it is a big concern of their parents as well.

I see a few different problems that need to be solved. In some cases, the parents simply aren't familiar with some of the technologies that I want to introduce so there needs to be some training for them so they aren't acting out of unfounded fear. There is also the real problem of allowing the students to be online and post from the classroom, and the expectation of what they do at home with it as well.

I know I'll be holding some seminars with the parents to show them the tools, particularly some of the ones that I think they would have fun with at home (such as Storytelling Alice) but also some of the benefits of using the tools. Along with that, I will talk with them about how the students may use these tools at home.

The solution I've come up with for the anonymity situation is to have the students create identities for themselves. These alter-egos would be characters that they create, complete with nicknames, avatars, hobbies and a general backstory. Each time they are online, they will assume that identity. For example, one of my students designed an avatar that has a donut as the face, that character's name is D. Nut.

Some of this came out of the "DownsFM" podcast, I'm taking what they have for DJ names and tweeking it slightly. Although, their first venture will be a podcast, so I may just keep the "DJ" in front of it for now.

Thursday, January 10, 2008

My Philosophy

I think that every teacher needs to have a philosophy on technology integration into their classroom. Everything a teacher does is based on their own philosophy, whether it is using projects, a focus on writing, based in peer-to-peer discourse, or utilizing technology.

If your use of technology is simply because it is listed in the school goals, your outcome will be different than someone who uses the same technology as a teaching aid; and their outcome will be different than one who uses it as an added assessment tool. To illustrate, let me pose an example that doesn’t use modern technology.
Two identical classrooms are working on a small research project on biomes, one chooses deserts while another grasslands. Each student must mention 5 animals and 5 plants that can be found in their biome. Likewise, they must talk about the physical features of their biome. In one classroom, the teacher asks the students to write 2-3 paragraphs. In the second classroom the students can present it however they want. When it is time for the presentations, what do you think the difference will be? Let’s take it a step further: during the presentations, one class has the students go to the front of the room to present their project. The other class has the students go to the front and answer questions about their biome. Which class is likely to have the students read their project and which is more likely to have the students use their project as a reference and state their answer based on their knowledge?

It is similar with technology. While integrating technology by allowing the students to use a word processor instead of producing a handwritten paper is valuable, it isn’t likely to increase their learning. Technology can outright replace, or it can become an addition. It can do something for the student, or the student can do something using the technology.