Tag Archives: digital storytelling

Student Documentaries in History Class

Every year, I have my students make documentaries (or digital stories) in class. If you would like to see my previous exploration into the realm of digital storytelling, you can check out those posts here.  I regularly revise the assignment and, coming to my new school Ransom Everglades, was excited to try it with a new crop of students in a fresh environment. As always, I was blown away by the work that my students produced!

Whenever I present this lesson for students, I do it in several phases. First, I always do a video that shows them my expectations in terms of presentation and research. This year, I decided it was time to upgrade my video and did a new one about the treacherous general, Benedict Arnold. You can see my sample video below:

While well produced videos are always nice to look at, I emphasize to my students that the primary objective of this project is research, synthesis, and developing a formal argument. The big change that I made this year (after receiving some meaningful input from a colleague) was that instead of allowing students to choose more “Biographic” or “Information Based” topics, I provided them prompts that required more analysis and research. For example, “How did George Washington receive his reputation for honesty?” or “What role did old world conflicts play in the Revolutionary War?” I was hoping that this would encourage students to do more in-depth, critical research.

Framing the Project

Like all projects I give to students, I break this assignment up into chunks. First, I establish the parameters of my project.

  • You must fully address the prompt.
  • Videos are a minimum of 2 minutes and a maximum of 4 minutes (excluding a “works cited” credits page).
  • All citation must be in Chicago Manual of Style (this is the Social Studies Department’s official citation format for research papers, I like consistency).
  • Due dates for each step are firm.

Picking a Topic:

I give my students a list of acceptable topics but I also encourage them to choose a subject on their own that interests them. We do our first day in the library so that students can do some preliminary research on the content before deciding what they want to do. I do not allow them to change topics once they have committed – so I advise them to choose carefully!

Research, Research, Research!

The most important aspect of this project is the research. I do require my students to use a minimum of two books (or sections of books) as well as

Courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

Courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

one academic journal. I also allow and even encourage them to use online resources, however I require that if they do they must apply the CRAAP Test. Not only is it a catchy name (my students never forget it), but it is also a sophisticated tool developed by California State University at Chico to help researchers (students, teachers, professors, lay-individuals) to assess content (with an eye to online material).

Another component in this is finding appropriate images, videos, or music for you overall product. As such, Digital Literacy (how to appropriately incorporate, cite, and use online content – this includes addressing issues of copyright), is a primary component in this assignment. I address this in my article, “How to Find License Free Content for School Projects.”

Outlining the Project

Example of a Storyboard

Example of a Storyboard

Just as you don’t sit right down and write a research paper without first drafting an outline, you should not craft a video without outlining it. As this has an image component, I require students to do a Storyboard. This is simply an image based outline. You can use any tool that you would like to do this. I personally just use PowerPoint.

This step helps them to organize how they will relate their information as well as arrange their images in the overall project. Just as the final research paper should not be identical to the first outline, it’s acceptable (even expected) that students move around, add, or remove images as the product evolves. I require that students turn this in early on, before they start actually building their project.

Writing it Out!

There is an important writing component to this project. Students must write out a “script” of what the narrator or actors will say in their project. This is the second required assignment in the process (after their storyboard has been approved).

I simply have students do this in essay form, but I do know that other educators want them to write it out as a formal script. This is where I emphasize that spelling, grammar, and punctuation do in fact count towards their final grade!

Assembling the Video

Courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

Courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

This is a time intensive component of the project and I strongly encourage students to not wait until the night before to do this. Some of them listen, but a few have learned some hard lessons about waiting until the last minute. Remind them that unexpected issues can and do arise, they need time to address them! I’m very available after school the day before the project is due (if they have a problem). I am less available at 3:00 am the morning of…

In terms of video making software, I am very flexible. They can use any platform that they would like, the most popular are: iMovie (for Mac and iOS), MovieMaker, Adobe Premiere, and the YouTube Video Editor. My colleagues often ask if I teach the students how to use the software. The answer is – no. They learn as they use. Video editor software today is highly intuitive and easy to learn. I do offer help if they run into an issue, but I give them a check list to try before they come to see me:

  • Google your problem
  • Search “How To’s” on YouTube
  • Read the instructions of the software that you’re using – they all have a “Help” section or a “How To”
  • Ask a classmate or a parent for help

Creative problem solving is an important skill for students to learn and this project provides numerous opportunities for them to do just that!

Publication and Presentation

The last component of this project is that the students publish their work in order for us to view it as a class. Your publication methods will vary based on age group, school policies, and student access to material. At my school, students cannot access YouTube. However, we do have Google Apps for Education. I have my students upload their final videos to Google Drive and then embed the link on our class blog. However, you may have students play it from their own device or share on a class youtube channel. This is an important step as peer review is key in academic inquiry.

My students’ final projects were amazing. Here is a very small selection:

As you can see, they did some excellent work here! If you would like, you can download my Documentary Instructions and my Documentary Rubric. Just please provide proper citation if you use it!

Potential Pitfalls

While this is an excellent projects, there are a few potential pitfalls to keep in mind.

  • Students do not have equal access to resources and equipment. To compensate for this, I like to provide ample in class time to build the project.
  • Do not grade the bells and whistles, focus on content. It’s easy to be blown away by a flashy project even if the content is mediocre. This is where I find a rubric handy.
  • You may want to reach out to parents to avoid concern about a “tech” project (especially in a Social Studies or English Class). I wrote an article, “How to Gain Parent Buy-In for Classroom Technology Integration.”

Overall, have fun and learn as you go!

First Day of ISTE as a Newby…

Today was the end of the first full day at ISTE. If you’ve never heard of or been to ISTE, it’s the annual conference for Ed Tech Educators around the world. Nearly 20,000 educators plus vendors, presenters, and keynote speakers. I presented my Ignite talk on Digital Storytelling, spoke to other educators, heard some inspiring talks, saw some amazing demonstrations, and took in more information than I can ever hope to process.

So, what was the most important thing that I learned on my first day at ISTE? Unequivocally this: wear comfortable shoes. Seriously, so much walking, talking, up and down stairs, to the next exhibit, to the next great talk, the exhibitor fair… I quickly regretted my choice of wedges. Yes they looked great with my dress but tomorrow, it’s all flats!

What’s the second most important thing that I learned? Educators around the world are passionate, innovative, and inspiring. I’ve truly been inspired by what other teachers around the globes are doing, the passion they have for their craft, and the sense of camaraderie that comes with working in this field. Today, I heard a group of IT professionals discuss the challenges and successes of implementing wireless access across schools, saw students discuss their achievements in the classroom, heard about the interesting world of MOOCs, and heard my colleagues like Don Orth and Douglas Kiang highlight their passions and achievements their institutions. At the end of the night, I’m in my hotel room and can hardly process it all… and I can’t wait to start again tomorrow!

ISTE Ignite Presentation: Digital Storytelling

This morning, I will be giving my Ignite presentation at the 2013 ISTE Conference. The title of my talk is: “Using Digital Storytelling to Ignite Passion, Challenge the Driven, Foster Creativity, & Tap into the Brilliance of those who Learn Differently.” As Ignite talks are only five minutes long, I will not be getting into the nuts and bolts of student projects. Rather, I will be focusing on the impact of powerful, multi-media projects on student learning as a whole. If you attended my talk (or are just interested in Digital Storytelling in general), here is some information on the Digital Storytelling project that I do with my students.

Digital Storytelling is best defined as: “multimedia movies that combine photographs, video, animation, sound, music, text, and often a narrative voice. Digital stories may be used as an expressive medium within the classroom to integrate subject matter with extant knowledge and skills from across the curriculum.” (Courtesy of Wikipedia). In my classroom, we just Digital Stories to relate research topics and projects.

This is a one week project that students work on both during class as well as outside of the classroom. I have written about my experiences with student projects several times. See my posts:

“The Learning Institute Project: Digital Storytelling”

My First Attempt at Employing Digital Storytelling in the Classroom

Digital Story Project

Digital Storytelling in the Classroom

This is one of my favorite projects to do with students as it incorporates not only traditional research, but the use of imagery, audio, and ties it all together with a creative element. My students always wow me with their final products. Not only does it teach students traditional research skills, but new, 21st century research skills including issues of copyright and fair use. I highlight how students are instructed to find imagery in my article, “How to Find License Free Images for School Projects.”

Students may use any video editing services they like for the project. Generally, I recommend iMovie (if they are Mac Users) and Movie Maker (if they use a PC).

Below, find the instruction sheet that I hand out to students. This includes step-by-step instructions (this is a processual assignment) as well as some great troubleshooting guides:

Screen Shot 2012-12-07 at 10.34.21 AM

Screen Shot 2012-12-07 at 10.34.31 AMYou may download a copy of the Instructions here: Digital Story Instructions (please cite me if you reproduce this).

Additionally, I distribute to students the rubric that I will use for assessment:

Screen Shot 2012-12-07 at 10.37.12 AMYou may also download a copy of the rubric here: Digital Storytelling Rubric. Please cite me if you use or reproduce.

Overall, the projects have been hugely successful. Here are some great examples of student work:

ISTE Ignite Talk: Using Digital Storytelling

Logo-igniteOn Monday at the 2013 ISTE Conference, I will be giving an Ignite talk entitled: “Using Digital Storytelling to Ignite Passion, Challenge the Driven, Foster Creativity, & Tap into the Brilliance of those who Learn Differently.”

If you’re unfamiliar with the format of Ignite talks, they are 5 minutes long, 20 slides, and 15 seconds a slide. No extensions, no pauses, no backsies! I’ll admit, I’m a little nervous.

I, along with dozens of other presenters, will be giving our five minute talks on Monday, June 24 8:30-10:00am in Ballroom C-1.

I hope you will join us!

Digital Story Project

Every semester, I have my students do a Digital Story project. If you are unfamiliar with digital stories, think of them as small films with clear objectives and instructions. If you would like to read more about my journeys in Digital Storytelling, see my earlier articles: “My First Attempt at Digital Storytelling” and “Digital Storytelling in the Classroom.”

Every time that I assign this project, my students never cease to amaze me (and themselves). Their work is innovative, creative, and dynamic. They produce excellent pieces of work and, even when they struggle, often feel like they have produced something of merit.

If you would like some background on the project, here is the instruction hand-out:

Screen Shot 2012-12-07 at 10.34.21 AM

Screen Shot 2012-12-07 at 10.34.31 AM

You may also download a PDF version of the instructions here: Digital Story Instructions. I grant access to all educators to use and/or modify this content so long as they credit me.

I also distribute to students a copy of the rubric, so they know exactly how their work will be graded.

Screen Shot 2012-12-07 at 10.37.12 AM

You may download a PDF version of this rubric here: Digital Storytelling Rubric

While all of the students produced amazing work, I only have the space to highlight a few examples.

This one is an edited live action! Very cool!!

This is one of my favorite student projects to assign. They get so creative and the product is so enjoyable. What I find most important is that it highlights many important skills that they need to learn:

  • Adaption of new tools and technology
  • Creativity
  • Problem solving
  • Collaboration
  • Time management

This is in addition to the traditional skills they must employ:

  • Research
  • Writing
  • Planning

We will be doing this project again in the Spring. Now that they are “experienced,” I can’t wait to see what they produce!

Digital Storytelling in the Classroom

Every semester, I assign my students a Digital Storytelling project. The first time around, the students always find it a challenge. This is often the first time they have put together a research project of this calibre using a creative medium. They push themselves, meet challenges, and ultimately find themselves with a brilliant product that they are proud to display. This year, we rolled them out once again. For your review, I am attaching the lesson plan as well as the grading rubric:

Download the instruction sheet in PDF form here: Digital Story Instructions (I grant permission for instructors to use this material for educational purposes so long as they cite me).

Digital Storytelling Rubric can be downloaded in PDF form here: Digital Storytelling Rubric

As always, the students wowed me with their productions. Here are a few samples:

A few key elements that I changed this year was a strong emphasis on Copyright Licenses, especially highlighting the use of Creative Commons Licensed Content. I highlighted this endeavor in a recent article: “How to Find License-Free Content for use in the Classroom.”

If you would like to compare this project with previous versions, see: “My First Attempt at Employing Digital Storytelling in the Classroom.”

My Second Attempt at Digital Storytelling in the Classroom

I played with digital storytelling in the classroom first semester and it went so well, I decided to do it again this semester as a project grade. To see my first experiment, see my previous post: “My First Attempt at Employing Digital Storytelling in the Classroom.” I followed along similarly to my first attempt but made a few minor adjustments. For example:

  • Students were given a list of potential topics (a person, an event, etc) and had to sign up for one, no two students could present on the same topic.
  • I modified my grading rubric.
  • I emailed the parents in advance to let them know we would be working on this project.

Overall, yet again, the students amazed me with their dedication and hard work. As per usual, we had a few technical difficulties (but far fewer this time than the last). I was also excited to see students helping one another to resolve their problems. Students who really struggled with the technology last semester seemed to be the ones most excelled this time around. I did this project for both my Ancient History and US History classes, so I will include some examples for each.

Here were the instructions for my Freshmen Ancient History Class:

And here are the instructions for the Civil War Project (pretty similar)

The students were also given a copy of the grading rubric in advance:

The students did a great job. Here are some great examples:

After the students finished their projects, we watched them in class. I also included questions from all of their projects on the next quiz. As a small extra-credit opportunity, they were encouraged to comment on their classmates’ videos.