Ruth Gleicher and I are working together to reinvigorate her AP Biology “Dunes” project by turning her students into producers, authors, and film makers. Ruth’s plan is to assign her class the task of creating a digital story to explain ecological succession, after a field trip to the Indiana Dunes. Here is a PDF of her original assignment: 0821_001
In this previous post, I’ve explained the challenge before us. Now, onto my recommendations for Ruth on the digital tools. Here is an email that I sent to Ruth this week:
So, what we want to do is to reinvigorate the “brochure project” that you used to assign by using new media tools so that your students will be able to create and share digital stories. But, as we discussed, you want to think through the instructional plan before we jump to discussion of tools.
You mentioned that you were interested in formative assessment for your students, so regardless of what method you (or they) choose to create their succession project, I would suggest requiring them to storyboard their story first. Storyboards are paper plans for the eventual project – a roadmap of the story they plan to tell. The great thing about storyboards is that it forces the producer (your student) to grapple deeply with the concepts before they get caught up in the fun and zeal of the technology. They make sure (and you can see) that they understand the biology behind the story and they have a firm grip on their plan, before they invest in the creation.
Here’s a great site that explains what a storyboard is and why it’s important to do. Here’s a site that will send you a free pack of storyboard templates. And here’s a web-based set of printable storyboards. And here’s another.
The other thing to keep in mind with these participatory media tools is the “participation” part. By posting their stories online, it’s a tremendous opportunity to share, do peer review, and get others to comment on the students’ work. That is what you sometimes here referred to as “the network effect”. Get people talking – get them to share, reference each other, build on each other’s stories. If they feel that they have an audience, that there are other people listening/watching, the quality of the work, the amount of time they invest (and, of course, what they get out of it!), will increase.
So, onto the tools…
Video: Home-made videos can be very powerful. And with video cameras being so cheap these days, it’s relatively easy for students to produce their own videos. You can buy a Flip video camera for ~ $90. Armed with their camera, your students could go out and shoot some footage at the Dunes then, using some simple editing software, create a movie to tell the succession story.
VoiceThread: This is a free web tool that allows students to create a narrated “slideshow”. So, it’s their voice, talking through the images (which are jpgs they upload). In addition to creating a nice, visually-based story, others can go into the created VoiceThread, after its posted, and add their own comments, so that the story continues…
Podcasting: I’m a big fan of podcasting (reminiscent of radio…). What I like about it is that it’s relatively simple and low tech. You just use an ipod or any of a number of cheap digital audio recorders. Record an interview with an expert or a student talking through story, timeline, or a series of images. You can leave it there, with just the recording (up on a web site or on iTunes, for anyone to listen or download), or you can play with the audio recording to enhance it. To do that, you import the podcast into an editing tool (Garageband on the mac, Audacity on the PC) and then add images or video clips to the audio.
Present.me: Another free web tool. With this one you can create fully recorded sessions, with slides (PPTs). One stop shopping here – you get the video of the presenter, their voice, and the images.
Blogging: Blogs are great tools for reflection and growing community. You could set up a class blog or individual student blogs. Or you could do a combination of both, where the individual student blogs all roll up (and feed into) a class or “mother blog”. Students write about their experiences, the photos the data – they tell the succession story in installments. The key is to get them to read and comment on each other’s posts. You could also line up some outside content experts (or other teachers, NABT friends) to comment on the students’ posts. That’ll really fire them up!
Comic Books: A fun way to tell a story that seems to appeal to kids. There are a number of programs to do this that are very easy to use and allow for a tremendous amount of creativity. For instance, Comic Life (a Mac program) is one I use frequently. It’s all drag and drop – dead easy – and your output can be jpgs or PDFs, so easy to share what you’ve created. Here’s a web-based comic creation site, Pixton, that I’ve used before with good results.
Issuu: This one allows you to create and publish a “storybook” online. This would be great for anyone who had in mind creating a digital children’s book, to tell their story. You can upload images, documents, whatever and then build it into a magazine-like narrative. In the final product, the reader flips the pages online as they work their way through. Very nice output and its easy to use this one, they could structure it so that their drawing was on the left-facing page and the photo of the same thing was on the right and then explain how the two are related.
Animoto: allows you to create a sort of “music video”. Photos (that you upload) that dissolve and spin, using special effects, played to music that you choose. You can insert a sort of narrative into it by adding images with short lines of text. I’ve seen some really high impactanimotos, like this one on the light reactions.
Include Drawings: You mentioned that you’d like to their hand-rendered drawings in the final product. If you have access to a scanner, they could scan them in and include those drawings as jpg. Easy. So, basically, with any of these programs, the idea is to make sure that all of their assets are jpgs (whether they are photos or scans) and just upload those into the application of choice. You can use Skitch (for Mac) or SnagIt (for PC, but that one’s not free) to add illustrations, doodles, and annotations to your uploaded images or screen captures.
Google Maps and Google Earth: Images and/or footage from these tools could be nicely incorporated into the student projects. Done simply, they could use Google maps or Google Earth images (screen shots, uploaded as jpgs). At a more complex level, they could create a Google Earth movie (a screencast) that zooms in on the dunes location, giving relational information or they could create a kmz file (an overlay) that zooms the viewer from place to place in a predetermined way. There are a number of tools that allow you to do screen casts of the action on your screen – my favorite is Screencast-o-matic. And speaking of screencasts, students could use a tool like Eyejot to record a short, talking head video using the web cam on your computer.
What do you think of these?