Tag Archives: digital storytelling

Sharing Digital Kits

As many of you know, Digital Storytelling (or rather, Storytelling with Digital Tools) is one of my passions and is a great way for students to reflect on their learning.  Getting the photos you want in the hands of students can be a challenge.


Don’t send students to Google and tell them to find pictures.


Provide your students with collections of images to use for their project.  These are often referred to as Digital Kits.


Our third grade students took a field trip to the museum.  During the trip, teachers, students, and chaperones took photos.  When the class returned, the photos were collected and the best ones were uploaded to a folder in the teacher’s Dropbox account.

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Here’s where the magic happens.  From Dropbox, you can right-click and get a link to that folder containing all your images.  THEN you can turn that link into a QR Code using a simple tool like beautifulqrcodes.com.  Print that QR Code and let students scan it with their iPads.  They now have access to all the images in that folder.

Students were then told to find and save 6 images that they wanted to use to tell their story about their trip to the museum.  Once those images were saved to the camera roll on the iPad, they could use iMovie, 30 Hands, or other storytelling tools to create their story.


Second grade teachers took photos of a science experiment performed in class.  They captured the setup, the experiment itself, and the end results.  Those photos were put in a Dropbox folder and shared with students using a QR Code.

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Students then scanned the code, saved the pictures to the camera roll, and then used those pictures to create a story of their experiment using the 30 Hands app.   They needed to arrange the photos in sequence and record their voice explaining how they set up the experiment, what happened, and what they learned as a result.  Listening to these “video lab reports” teachers were able to get a clear indication of student understanding.


Don’t use dropbox?  You can use Box.com, Google Drive, or another app.  The key is to use something that lets you upload a collection of photos and share them with a link that can be turned into a QR Code.

We also found that many QR Code scanner apps for the iPad use their own built in browsers to open web links.  I found it helpful to go to the settings on these apps and change the default so it automatically opens links in Safari.  This makes it easier for students to save images by just tapping and holding on an image until the “SAVE IMAGE” option pops up.



Old Dog Still Good for a Few Tricks

In 2006 Microsoft released the latest version of PhotoStory3 (version 3.1). If you’re looking for a simple tool for creating digital stories with images and voice, and you’re a Windows user, this still remains an excellent choice.


It’s 2014. Why am I writing about Windows software that hasn’t been updated in 8 years? Because it still works.  And by “works” I mean it still works for student projects better than most, if not all, other storytelling telling tools out there.  Believe me, I’ve looked at dozens of other web 2.0 tools and apps and still have not found one that has convinced me to switch away from PhotoStory because I’ve not yet found one that meets all these requirements:

  1. No student login required
  2. Gives student a place to write narration notes right in the app
  3. Record student voice right in the app
  4. Give student control over image pan & zoom
  5. Create or Add background music
  6. Export as a video file

As my school transitions away from Windows machines toward Chromebooks, iPads, and BYOD I miss the straightforward, step-by-step approach PhotoStory uses for building a story.  iMovie for iPad is an excellent tool and is almost as easy for students to use as PhotoStory, but unless you’re buying a new iPad, it’s not free.  30 Hands has greater simplicity and ease of use, but falls short if I want to control image pan and zoom.

In the Chromebook world, I’ve searched the Chrome Web Store for a PhotoStory replacement, but everything I’ve looked at seems to come up short.  So far, Narrable and Movenote are the ones that come the closest, but I still long for a tool that gives me pan and zoom control for my images and can export as a video file.  Oh sure, there are some amazingly powerful video editing tools like WeVideo, that allow a myriad of transitions, effects, and audio/video channels, but I’m not sure I want my second & third graders logging in with a Google ID and working with all the embedded distractions provided by something this sophisticated.

For now I’ll keep bringing my students to the computer lab to work on PhotoStory 3 projects and continue recommending it to elementary teachers until something better comes along.

Interview an Elf

It’s that most wonderful time of the year. Here at my school it means it’s time to bring out my annual holiday project – Interview an Elf. This is a simple activity that brings lots of laughter and joy to elementary kids.  It’s also easy, and can be completed in less than 30 minutes of computer lab time.  Here’s the recipe for this “holiday classic”.


It’s the week before Christmas and you will be interviewing an elf at Santa’s workshop. You will be the voice for both parts. Record yourself interviewing yourself. Play it back to hear the interview. As you listen, watch the timeline and make note where the elf is speaking.
Highlight the parts where the elf is speaking. Go to EFFECT and select CHANGE PITCH.
Raise the pitch of the elf part. How much you raise it depends on the natural pitch of your voice. Typically you only need to raise it 20-30%.  Listen to the result. If it works, repeat for the rest of the elf parts.

Additional Sweetness:
If you want, you can add sound effects to “sweeten” your interview. I found workshop sounds, sleigh bells, and Santa’s “Ho, Ho, Ho” at Findsounds.com.

Be prepared for lots of laughter in the lab when you try this activity. Kids have a blast creating their interviews. I always allow them some play time to experiment listening to their voice at different pitches – you’ll want some play time too!

For more help using Audacity, check out my wiki with helpful videos explaining how to edit audio and add effects.

Summer Reflections

Many of you start a new school year today. In just a moment students will be arriving, anxiously waiting for the pearls of wisdom you choose to bestow upon them. Like me, many of you are probably wondering how summer went by so fast. It seems so close, yet as you frantically put those finishing touches on your classroom, it also seems infinitely far away. It wasn’t that long ago, I think it was July, that I was in Alaska exploring Denali National Park and cruising the Inside Passage. When I get stressed about everything on my “to-do” list it helps to go back and re-live that adventure. It puts me back in my “happy place”.

Because I consider myself a bit of a techie, I used the trip as an opportunity to dig in and really get familiar with Google Maps. Below is my Alaska Adventure.

View Alaska Adventure in a larger map

Creating a Google Map is a wonderful way to combine stories, pictures, and video from your vacation. I was able to arrange events in order, map my travel route, and place pictures and videos in their proper place on the map. It’s like an interactive travelogue. And sharing my travel story is as simple as copying and pasting a link into an e-mail (or blogpost).

When editing a “story” events can be rearranged by simply dragging them up and down the list on the right side of your screen. Lines can be added to show travel routes. One feature I really liked was Google Maps ability to make lines follow known roads or highways. (I don’t even think you can do this in Google Earth.)

I had no problem adding photos I had posted to my Flickr account. In the “rich text” editor you just click on image button and paste the URL.

Google Maps will also accept some embed code. Using the “Edit HTML” feature, I was able to copy and paste code to embed video clips I posted to YouTube. Since Google owns YouTube it makes sense that this would work. I did not have any luck trying to embed something from Voicethread however. It may take some experimenting to see what it will and will not accept.

As you can imagine there are lots of possibilities for using Google Maps in the classroom. Maps are a great way for students to grasp large amounts of data in a way that isn’t overwhelming. Here’s one that shows recent earthquakes around the world (earthquakes.tafoni.net). Do you think your students could use this information to locate the boundaries of tectonic plates? If your class is looking at current events, the LA Times has one with updated info about the Station Fire.

You can also get students involved in creating Google Maps. In an earlier post I showed a “Breakfast Around the World” map created with data collected from our 3rd graders. Colette Cassinelli created a project she uses with her students called “Postcard Geography“. I can see our 5th grade teachers doing something similar for combining information from students’ state reports. (Colette also has some great Google Map links on her wiki.)

One hurdle you need jump when using maps with students is that Google Maps is not part of Google Apps for Education. So in order for students to edit a map or create their own, they need to register with Google and create their own Google account, or use one created by their teacher. Otherwise the teacher will have to take work submitted by students and post it to Google themselves. (That’s what I’ve done.) Hopefully this is something Google will add to Apps for Ed in the future.

Enjoy playing with Google Maps and if the new school year gets a little overwhelming, take a time out, think back to summer and map your summer memories. I think I ‘m going back and look at some Alaska pictures right now.

The Art of Sound

Remember that guy, Michael Winslow, from the Police Academy movies? The one who made all those strange sounds with his mouth? How many of you have a student like that in your class? As you walk across the room, this is that special child that makes squeaking noises for every step you take, putting his classmates in hysterics. Few things amuse this kid more than the variety of different sounds made by gas escaping from the human body – and he can reproduce any one of them at will. Rather than strangle this child, maybe it would be better to let this unique individual express his talents in a constructive way.

Sound effects are a big part of creating a dramatic audio podcast. They can take your story and give it depth, creating a rich sound picture for your listeners. A good sound effect can create a picture in someone’s mind much easier than it would be to produce that same image on film or video. This is why I like the simple elegance of the audio podcast. You can create a multi-layered soundscape with relatively little effort or resources. No need for expensive equipment, dangerous stunts, or elaborate sets.

Creating sound effects can be fun. Did you know you can mimic the sound of a crackling fire by slowly crinkling a bag of potato chips? Sliding the lid off of a toilet tank sounds just like someone opening an ancient sarcophagus. Rapidly opening and closing an umbrella sounds like a bat flying. And of course any self-respecting Monty Python fan knows that two hollowed out coconut shells are a prefect substitute for a galloping horse.

With all the attention given to student created video I think we should not forget about the power of audio. An audio podcast project can be a great choice if you don’t have a lot of time or resources. Using free software like Audacity you can record your story, add music and sound effects, and export your show as a podcast friendly mp3 file in just a fraction of the time and effort it would take to do the same project as a video production.

To encourage students and teachers at my school to learn to use audio podcasts, I created an online elective course that teaches them about podcasting and how to use Audacity to create their own podcasts and post them on our system. I’ve also taken many elements of that course and posted them online on my wiki so you can share them with your students and faculty too.

Make Your Own Podcast Wiki

Feel free to use these resources and share them with your students and teachers. If you or your students create some great podcasts as a result, please reply with a link so we can all hear what you’ve done.

1000 Words for Father’s Day

They say a picture is worth 1000 words, but sometimes words are not enough to capture the power or summon the emotion present in a photograph. That image becomes even more powerful when you have a connection to the subject of the photo. Those of you who have seen my Digital Storytelling presentation have also heard me mention my ongoing project to scan and archive family photos. So far I’ve digitized over 1400 of them.

What I’ve found fascinating about this project is the incredible detail in many of the oldest pictures. While many of these pictures are quite small, some only an inch or two square, most are contact prints and are incredibly detailed. Scanning and enlarging these prints reveal things one might not notice looking at the original photo.

I found this to be true yesterday as I was looking at one particular photo. The picture above is one of the only photographs of my great grandfather.

According to my grandpa, who will be 97 this month, it was taken in 1914. His father was working at a sheep ranch near Yakima, Washington. He recalls early childhood memories of watching the ranchers drive the sheep down the main street of town. Looking at the photo brings back fond memories of his father.

The original photo was not much bigger than a standard print, but because the photo was so detailed it was quite easy to zoom in and crop it to reveal a portrait of grandpa’s dad. Yesterday when he was handed the enlarged print I was not totally prepared for his reaction.

Grandpa joined the Navy in 1931 and his father passed away while he was stationed in in the Pacific. It’s been many years since he has looked at his father’s face and been able to see his eyes. What took just a few minutes to crop and print turned out to be quite a Father’s Day gift. Why didn’t I do this sooner?

Tide Pool Adventure

Every May our 5th graders take a field trip to the tide pools at Corona Del Mar to learn about marine life. Part of the follow up for that trip includes some sort of assignment about various tide pool animals that reside in our local marine habitat.

This year as part of my effort to promote creativity and digital storytelling, we decided to shake things up a bit. Each child was to select a creature from the tidepools and make a story about that creature. They would give it a name, talk about it’s life in the tidepool, or tell a story about their creature’s little adventure. Stories must be factually accurate and cannot include any plot elements that go beyond the creature’s natural abilities, real life predators, or physical environment. (i.e. No “Sea Slugs in Space” stories.)

The project began with students sketching out their stories in class on a storyboard template. (Storyboard.pdf courtesy of Hall Davidson) Storyboards included the story’s “script” – what the student would say for each image. Next, they began to work on their pictures in the computer lab. Pictures could be drawn in KidPix, created in PowerPoint and exported as a jpeg file, imported from the Internet (properly cited, of course), or any combination of the three.

Finished pictures were imported to PhotoStory3. Students recorded their narration and added music and titles. When the stories were finished, they were exported to a Windows Media file and submitted electronically to their teacher for grading using our school LMS.

Were we crazy to start a project like this with only 8 1/2 days left in the school year? Maybe, but nearly all the kids were able to complete and submit their projects by this morning’s deadline. (School ends this Friday!) They will be sharing them in class this afternoon.

Here is one about Brittle Stars.

This is a story about two crabs that sneak out to do some “TP-ing” with seaweed.

NOTE: Because of the limited time available to complete the assignment, students were limited to three pictures for their stories. But even with that restriction, they were still able to come up with some pretty good projects. Hopefully next year we’ll be able to give them a little more time.

PHOTO CREDIT: Judykay (flickr.com/photos/judykay/290095974)

A Digital Story

Digital Storytelling is a powerful way for your students to express their creativity. It’s more than just a product, it’s also about the process. Let me explain…

My grandfather, Roy Grice (I call him “Grampa”), is 96 years old. Last week I had a unique opportunity to travel with him down to San Diego to see the USS Midway, a retired aircraft carrier, now turned into a floating museum at the Navy Pier in San Diego, CA.

While we explored the ship, it brought back memories of his days in the Navy. Thankfully I was able to record some of his recollections and put them together into the podcast embedded below. While the recording probably has more value to me and my family, it also offers a glimpse into one man’s view of history – as he experienced it.

It’s important to me, that his stories live on after he is gone. With the digital tools available today, recording and sharing those stories is now easier than ever.

While editing this podcast together I must have listened to it more than a dozen times. By going through this process I know I’ll retain much more of what Grampa told me – more than I ever would have just listening to him tell it to me once. Plus, I’ll be able to go back to it as often as I want.

What digital stories could your students share?

Listen to Grandpa’s Story…

Grandpa’s Story

The USS Midway Museum

“Grampa” next to a milling machine in the USS Midway machine shop.
Technical Info:

  • Audio edited using iMovie and exported as a .aif file. (I didn’t have a voice recorder, so I used a camcorder to capture the audio.)
  • Converted to .mp3 using Audacity.