Friday, November 2, 2012

Digital Storytelling

Pictures are everywhere, they evoke emotion, memories, inspire ideas, and quickly tell a story, and that is what this post is about, telling stories. Digital stories.

Do you remember when families used to invite the neighbors over to watch vacation videos. We would all sit in hard backed chairs, perhaps with a bit of popcorn. Dad would turn down the lights and flip on the movie projector. That bright light would burn the dust and the reels would turn and suddenly your face, happy and smiling, or crying, or laughing, would fill the screen in full color, noise and motion.

Well maybe you don’t remember those days. I don’t either to tell the truth, but the image is still there. We’ve come a long way from that day. The day when film and pictures were taken only during special occasions, only when you wanted to remember this day forever. It made sense then, cameras and film were expensive. Then you had to develop the film. Finally, to show it off meant pulling out picture album, or setting up special equipment.

Boy has the world changed, we have camera phones, instagram, youtube, vimeo and more. the world is awash in digital pictures, vacation videos, even wedding dances. Finding and taking pictures is easy and normal. And as in my dad’s wildest dreams, we can quickly and easily edit those pictures and videos,,,,,, moviemaker, iMovie. And importantly we can add our own audio track to the pictures with,,,,, Finally, we can leave the real world completely and go with animation,,, Finished projects can be anything from, to power point, Prezis, slidshares, google presentations, GoogleLitTrips, Voki, xtranormal, movies, songs, or even live action plays.

All of these programs are free or cheap enough that anyone can use them. They make it so easy that kids younger than 5 can easily take pictures and film video. Then, with a bit of help they can use those images to create their own stories.

So the next time you ask a student to write a story, or a report, think digital. Give them the option of creating a digital story, making a presentation, or just adding some zing to the paper they would normally hand it.

That is the end of the story for most readers. For those who want a more in depth look check out the resources below and continue reading.

A digital story can be a story of course, but it can also be a summary, a presentation, a synthesis, or even a remix. Whatever it is digital stories are an integral part of the common core standards “research and media skills and understandings are embedded throughout the Standards rather than treated in a separate section.”

Why is media literacy so integral to the common core? Simply, because at its core a good digital story is a good story. It may be easy to add flashy graphics and funny sound bites a digital story, but the end result should still be evaluated on substance.

Why are digital stories encouraged? To start it can be very easy to use digital stories (movie clips) to illustrate important elements of a good story. As students learn to add good story elements to their digital stories they will become more familiar with what makes a quality story.

How can digital stories help writing? Think about the last time you listened to a 5 year old tell a story. It takes about 20 minutes because they feel the need to add every single detail, no matter how extraneous. In creative writing the first rule taught is usually show don’t tell. What better way to getting students to show than to require them to find an image that says what they want. A good presentation strives to make it’s point known with as few words as possible.

When creating a digital story it is important to spend a lot of time creating and mapping out the story. Use your favorite story primer and really let your students take some time to think about and flesh out what their story is going to be. In my own work I like to use storyboarding, or mind maps.

When the story is brainstormed then students can decide which format to showcase it best. Will the final product be a book, a presentation, a movie, what? Different formats require different methods of telling the story. Don’t be afraid to have a class discussion, especially the first time, about how the medium can influence the story. I like to tell the story of the Nixon v Kennedy debate. How the radio listeners thought Nixon won, but TV viewers (the majority of people) gave the nod to Kennedy.

Teach students how to find copyright free media and again give them time to search and play around until they have what they need. Make sure they get more media than they think they will need. You can ask them to get two or three pictures for each page or whatever, it is important to collect more than what is necessary.

As students put their story together they should have too much. Emphasize the need to cut the waste. If it helps they can make a DVD extra to go along with the finished product. Let students practice the art of editing down. Let them deliberate and choose between two images. It will strengthen the story and meet more standards along the way.

Finally, present the finished projects, just don’t do them all, especially not in one day. These are digital stories, publish them on your classroom website. Publish the stories and let students vote on which ones should be presented. Anonymous votes by students in class, school wide votes, global voting, this is the internet right, let the voting begin, just monitor the comments to keep them positive.

When it is all said and done students have created a permanent (or not) artifact of their learning. They have basically graded their own stories. They have pushed each other to make higher quality work. And you have finished a unit that has taught students, how to write, elements of style, editing, digital media, and peer review.

Monday, October 8, 2012

The Humble Wiki

The simplest tools are often the most powerful.
Imagine if I tried to explain how to use paper or posters in the classroom. The wiki is the same. It can be individual work, group work, a poster, a bulletin board, and so much more.
A wiki is the same.

The wiki is a web page that is easily editable by anyone who has had the slightest bit of experience in using a computer.

Here is a nice wiki on Universal Design for Learning (UDL)
Notice in the top right corner the small edit button? Click that and see the power.

Suddenly, the webpage is a basic word editor. I can type, add pictures, create hyperlinks, and if I feel adventurous I can add widgets, which is basically content from other webpages. (Just like the Glogster poster found on the UDL page)

To create a wiki for your classroom it is actually pretty easy. If you are in the high school go to Haiku and click the connect tab and choose a wikiproject.

For teachers in other schools it is just a bit more difficult. You need to go to one of the wiki providers Wikispaces, wetpaint, or pbwiki.

All three have special educator sections and all three will allow you to create a page for free. 

For some ideas on the use of wikis in education I point you to my list of wikis in education

Feel free to add your own and check back often to see what is new.

Friday, September 21, 2012

I Am Not A Twit

Some basic resources for effectively using twitter as a teacher.
A wiki to introduce people to twitter. Yes, you can tweet all about your boring breakfast (and worse) but if you would also like to get past that you can.
A wiki specifically for teachers to learn about using twitter in education.

The real question is:

Why would I bother using twitter as a teacher?

It does make one wonder. This Internet time suck used by celebrities and sports stars, how can it possibly be an effective tool for a serious endeavour like teaching?  

That is the beauty of twitter, you make of it what you want or need. Twitter, along with many other similar social media sites (Google +, Facebook, “yes, facebook”, pinterest, scoop it, etc...), has the ability to connect like minded people. Imagine if you will the teachers lounge, except the other teachers don’t know your students. All they can do is respond to questions with best practice advice, what I did in similar situation, what worked for me.

Twitter in this case has suddenly become what they call a Professional Learning Network as described in “The Connected Educator: Learning and Leading in a Digital Age” by Sheryl Nussbaum-Beach and Lani Ritter Hall.
Professional Learning Networks are about individuals gathering information and sharing resources that enhance their personal and professional learning.

That’s great if I want to spend my evenings with teacher talk. Is it possible to be a bit more formal with our professional development?

As a personal learning resource use one of the links up top to find thousands of quality teachers to follow then check in once a day to see if there is anything interesting. Of course going through thousands of tweets is time consuming. We can sort through all of that by getting out daily twitter paper delivered right to our laptop. collects all the links and articles referenced in my twitter stream and  organizes them in a newspaper format based on how often they were tweeted out.

Still that isn’t formal learning. It isn’t professional development.

Social media is about connecting like minded people. Twitter and other media are great places to begin, to get ideas, but they are also great places to meet and connect while working as a more formal group. Below are a list of great weekly teacher meetings held on twitter.

General chates
#ntchat - New teacher chat - learn or mentor -
#edchat - The grandaddy of them all a general education chat -
#cpchat - connected principal chat -
#spedchat - Special Education chat -
#sschat - Social Studies -
#musiced - Music
#scichat  -Science

There are hundreds more find and learn about them here

Spending an hour once a week chatting on twitter doesn’t seem too big of a deal at first, but then again when it becomes a requirement it can be a big deal. Imagine this scenario though: This weeks #mathchat is "Is mathematics more important than numeracy?" this would be a great topic for elementary teachers to discuss. We decide to discuss it as part of our regular professional development in school. 

A professional learning community, again defined by Beach and Hall.
Professional Learning Communities are traditional school-based structures in which staff--both teachers and administrators--learn together with the goal of improving student achievement.
A teacher(s) or principal could participate in the #mathchat (held at noon or 7PM) then during regular team meeting times a discussion could be held. If nobody can make the chat, or even if they did, the archive can be distributed to the team and a discussion can be based on that.

Discussions are held, teaching practices are modified or strengthened, and the school as a whole is improved.

So there you have it, two, of many, ways twitter can and does provide professional development for teachers. There are more, many more ways networking through twitter and social media can be a catalyst for growth in our personal and professional lives. I can directly connect my twitter use to a graduate school program, CPDU opportunities, and and even a few job opportunities. In the end though twiiter is what you make of it, good or bad.

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Thursday, September 6, 2012

Diigo Review

Website – App Review

To skip the information and see my review click here



Grade Level





Finding and saving resources for use in class and personal development
  • Join or create groups based on interest and need

Easily share a list of bookmarks for use in class
Easily create groups for the students in your class

Student and teacher bookmarks
  • Private or public

Easily see how many other people have bookmarked a site and their public notes
Create your own network or groups of peers or students            
  • Share and store resources
  • Learn what and how other teachers are using what they find on the Internet
  • Quickly share to blogs or create an RSS feed of great links with annotations

Lots of great apps for browsers and mobile devices

Age requirements

13 and up, but with educator accounts you can create a class group that allows individual students anonymous accounts monitored by you.


The TOS is mostly about not using Diigo to infringe on other people’s rights.

 Content/Activity Prohibited. 
1.  is patently offensive and promotes racism, bigotry, hatred or physical harm of any kind against any group or individual; 2.  harasses or advocates harassment of another person; 3.  exploits people in a sexual or violent manner; 4.  contains nudity, violence, or offensive subject matter;14.  includes a photograph of another person that you have posted without that person's consent;


Free - with paid option

What I think

The power of Diigo.

Where would I as a teacher use Diigo

  • As a tool for personal use.
  • As a tool for professional use.
  • As a tool for use in the classroom.

For a power internet user like me Diigo is an indispensable tool. Many years ago I used to copy all my bookmarks by hand onto a floppy disk so that when I bought a new computer I wouldn’t have to start over from scratch. Then I learned to sync bookmarks with Firefox and I thought that was great. Still, I had this looooooooooooong list of bookmarks and most of them ended up being dead links.

Then I found Diigo. I imported all of my saved bookmarks and never looked back. Now, anytime I want to save a website I can, from any computer. If I want to find that bookmark I can from any computer. (yes, I’m assuming internet access why else would I be looking for bookmarks)

I know you don’t have over 2,000 bookmarks like me, you don’t need this service. Ah, but it gets better. What’s that you say, “2,000 bookmarks how do you find what you want?” Let me explain.
First the bookmarlet was invented.  I especially like the Chrome boomarlet because everytime I sign into my email it automatically loads, but that is a different story. With the bookmarklet I can quickly add a page into my Diigo bookmarks with tags.

Most pages suggest tags, occasionally I’ll add my own. Then a few months later when I say to myself, “What was that site on children’s math video games?” I’ll just go back to Diigo and search those terms.

Sometimes I have to play with the search terms, mostly because I don’t think about them before I add them. The nice thing is I can go back and add or delete the “tags” as often as I like. Diigo is also nice enough to suggest related tags, based on the other tags that are in the results that came up.

My world has become a world of search. I don’t remember everything I see, instead I take notes of everything. I add descriptions and tags, then later when I need to go back I can usually find what I need.

What is that you are saying, “This is all nice and good for a geek like yourself who spends his life trolling the interweb for resources, but for the rest of us, we still don’t see the purpose.” For that I say Diigo gets even better. I can highlight and take notes right there on the web page, then share those notes with anyone.
I have 4 choices of colors to highlight. I can add a sticky note right to the page. I can choose to make my notes public or private. Then I can share the page with anyone. Check it out here

Wait, it gets even better. I don’t actually spend all of my free time trolling the internet to find educational resources. What I’ve actually done is join some groups in Diigo. There the members of the groups find and share the resources we use with each other.

All those cool looking highlights and notes. They show up in the group.

I’ve used groups not only to find great resources for the classroom, but also as a shared study tool in classes. And that brings us to the final bit of awesomeness for Diigo in education. The educator account.

With an educator account, (free), you can enroll your students into a class group. Students who are doing research online can post their bookmarks and notes to the class group or to sub-groups you set up in the group. Further, for those teachers who have younger students Diigo will automatically set up anonymous students for your class. You can send in a class list and they will create accounts for each student. The best part is the class list can be names or it can simply be user names such as student101. No email account necessary because the accounts are set-up for your class not the students.

Wait, there is more. I’m really trying hard not to blow you away with too much information. For the rest of the cool stuff that you can do with Diigo, free and paid, you just have to go explore the site.
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Friday, August 24, 2012

Review Manga High

Website – App Review


A manga is a Japanese cartoon.


Grade Level

Kindergarten to high school




RTI – Practice - New Skills


Can choose activities or goals by standards


Can choose to use generic students and accounts
Can choose to upload student information – students have personal account to measure growth and collect badges
Can create graphs of student achievement and growth – exportable to excel

Age requirements

13 or permission from parents or school
By submitting any material to the content to the Mangahigh Service, you:
1.            are representing that you are fully entitled to do so;
2.            grant us a non-exclusive, royalty-free, non-terminable licence to copy, modify, distribute, show in public and create derivative works from that material in any form, anywhere; and
3.            authorise us to adapt the relevant material in the course of doing so, and so waive your moral rights to object to any derogatory treatment, or to be identified as the author, of the material in question.
Or basically they can use your pictures or stuff in any way they please as long as they please.


Free for US schools, may include outside advertising.

Other thoughts

When students log in they only show three challenges on first page, at the bottom of the page are secret quests that charge money and it can be difficult to get out the subscription page. (There is no exit or cancel, you must back up)

The analytics are pretty simple.

I think the games are great. For example in a game for younger students, finding sums up to 100, they sometimes asked which expressions equaled 100, of the three expressions sometimes they had one right answer and sometimes there were two.

I rushed through the starting page right away as most students would, but still figured out most of the games. 

If you stop for a second and ask for some help there are some pretty decent help screens, but I don't know how well they would actually teach. 

As we move into the upper grades it seems the math is less of a skill to be learned but a tool needed to solve the game. The math often depends more on visual senses than calculating math. This is a great way to get the need for math without the boredom of actually calculating a lot of math. Though yes there are games will require students to do some calculations. If the students have no idea what they are supposed to do the math help is a great tool for what math they should use, but not very good on how to figure out the game. They should go back to the beginning and figure that out themselves. 

After finishing one challenge there is a wait before they can go on to the next challenge. Students are encouraged to click and join a quest so they don't have to wait. I hate to ask students to buy something during the middle of class.

Screen shots taken from on August 24, 2012.
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