What's Your Story? - Tech Learning

What's Your Story?

Kids use digital storytelling as a dynamic new writing tool.
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from Educators' eZine

Kids use digital storytelling as a dynamic new writing tool.

Imagine a classroom where every kid is excited about her next writing assignment, students come in on their free periods just to show off their science assignments, and math students think polynomials are way cool. Why? These kids have discovered the joy of digital storytelling.

With digital storytelling, students take their own personal narratives on subjects ranging from personal family history to Shakespeare, and turn this narrative into a multimedia experience. They combine music, video, still photos, and their creative voices to produce an original multimedia production. Here's a peek at how you can integrate this approach into a variety of curricula.

Making the Curriculum Connection

Good stories contain essential elements: a good hook; characters/locations/events the audience can identify with; conflicts, resolutions to those conflict, and closure. Stories are narratives that make facts more personal.

Your students can use digital storytelling to tell their stories—and link them to vital curriculum. Here are a few examples:

  • Social studies: Students tell their personal immigration stories using family photos, narrative, and other visual elements that relate to their personal family history.
  • Literature: Students make a movie "trailer" promoting a literary work, like Macbeth.
  • Math: Students make a video to demonstrate polynomials using their friends to form different formulas, like 2x2, 3x3, and so on.
  • Writing: Students write an original poem, then create a video to illustrate the imagery.
  • Science: Students make a video public service announcement about diseases that affect their specific community, like Tay-Sachs or sickle cell anemia.
  • Art: Students make a short documentary about a featured artist.
  • Foreign Language/ESL: Students learn pronunciation and expand vocabulary by working together on an ongoing soap opera featuring dialog in a foreign language.

The Tools You'll Need

There are many low-cost tools that you can use to get started with your digital storytelling projects. You can start with as little as a scanner and digital still camera, and use the free editing tools on your Mac® (iMovie) or PC (Microsoft®s Photo Story for still images; Movie Maker for video). Once you and your students become more comfortable with the format, take a look at these products:

Video Editing Software

  • Final Cut Pro: this video editing software is for those students ready to graduate to picture-in-picture, green screen effects, and more.
  • Adobe Premiere® Elements: Students can assemble videos by rearranging clips with drag-and-drop simplicity, and productions can be burned to DVD, complete with a menu and scene index.
  • Audacity: A free, open source software for recording and editing sounds in Linux, Mac OS X, and other operating systems.
  • Picasa: A free software download from Google, Picasa finds, edits, and shares all the pictures on your PC.
  • GIMP and/or GIMPSHOP: free graphics editor for Mac, Linux, and Windows for image-tinkering.
  • K-Lite Mega Codec Pack: a user-friendly solution for playing all your movie files.
  • VirtualDub: a free video capture/processing utility for 32-bit Windows platforms (95/98/ME/NT4/2000/XP). It lacks the editing power of a general-purpose editor such as Adobe Premiere, but is streamlined for fast linear operations over video.
  • Pinnacle (a division of Avid): Studio version 12 allows users to add titles, transitions, music and special effects like pan-and-zoom.
  • eZeScreen for iMovie PPC: For MacOSX, this plug-in allows users to add a movie over a DV clip and adjust the movie's size and position, as well as create blue/green screen effects.

Other Tools Needed

  • Digital video camera and accessories (Firewire/USB cables)
  • Digital camera
  • Storage media (flash cards, SD discs, CDs/DVDs)
  • CD/DVD duplicator
  • Headphone/microphone headset
  • Scanner

The Downsides

As with all great digital tools, there are some downsides to digital storytelling:

  • Expertise—Even though they're usually willing, teachers and students often lack the know-how to do what they want to do.
  • Time—Planning for, capturing, and editing digital content eats up a lot of time. Some teachers are reluctant to give up instructional time. Digital storytelling products also take time to render and duplicate.
  • Money—Good equipment, hardware with enough memory and processing capabilities, and some software can be costly.
  • Copyright issues—Students, teachers, administrators, and parents almost always want to use some media resources that are off limits.

Convincing the Higher-ups to Pay for it

It's not that hard to get your board, administration, or PTA excited about funding digital storytelling. Just bring in some good examples of the surprising, moving, and original stories your students have told using this medium to sell your message. Let your decision-makers know that with digital storytelling, technology resources purchased by taxpayers do more than sit around and collect dust. The inclusion of digital storytelling into classroom activities helps students acquire the 21st Century skills like research, intellectual property, work ethic, collaboration, and creative problem-solving—not to mention the terrific technology skills students acquire.

Digital storytelling also brings about much-needed reforms in teaching. Educators who have experienced the excitement generated by this approach to learning are much more likely to collaborate with their colleagues and adopt new strategies for helping pupils reach their potential. It's akin to a viral marketing approach for staff development.

Some additional selling points for digital storytelling:

  • Good PR with the community and parents.
  • An increase in the appropriate use of technology-based resources by students and educators.
  • Fewer discipline problems.
  • Increased student engagement.
  • Higher level thinking.
  • Digital artifacts/evidence of learning.
  • Perfect for 1:1 computing programs.

Making it Happen

  1. Decide on the content.
  2. Establish an end date for the project (deadlines drive a lot of what can be done).
  3. Create a video storyboard (could be a number of thumbnail sketches or annotated mockups over Powerpoint or OpenOffice). Students should ask:
  4. Generate a list of audio content (sound effects, music, voice-overs, etc.).
  5. Assign roles and responsibilities to student teams.
  6. After gathering footage, sounds, and images, edit into a narrative that follows the storyboard.
  • What's the story here? What's the untold or ignored story? What's the story that everyone knows and what's the story that behind that?
  • How is this content connected with anything that I really care about?
  • What's the human cost associated with the facts of this matter?
  • How has anything connected with this information made humanity any better or worse?
  • Why is it important to pass this information along to another human being?

Great Sites for Digital Storytelling Ideas

The American Film Institute's program about integrating movie making into any subject area.

Great examples of student and teacher videos from Niles Township High School.

More great student video examples from digital storytelling expert Marco Torres.

A blog about the efficient use of technology in Southeast Georgia's schools; showcases student videos.



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