How to tell your PBL story

Cornwall students think global, build local, share both

real world project-based learningLast year the most amazing thing happened: my students at the Cornwall School designed and built a playground. They dreamed, planned, proposed, revised, fundraised — deep breath — organized, built and managed.

But then they taught themselves how to share their story: with social media, and with a whole world of educators, so that other students might have the same experience.

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Machinima: using video games for storytelling

Be an X-Box Hero (with stars in your eyes)*

machinima in the classroomMeet machinima. The word’s a portmanteau of “machine” and “cinema”. It’s a unique form of storytelling that appears in video games, and students creating or mixing clips of video games to create new stories. And for educators, it presents a fabulous opportunity to channel students’ love of video games into producing personally relevant artifacts that demonstrate learning.

Machinima film festival, anyone?

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Beyond the audience of one

Why digital composition matters

why digital composition mattersI’d like you to think back to your days as a student. What kinds of writing did you do? Who read it? What made it important to you? And what made it important to the world?

If you’re like most people, you’re probably drawing a blank right now. Some of today’s students, though, can clearly articulate just how and why their writing is important. And we don’t mean writing as you might imagine, but rather digital composition:  digital stories, digital portfolios, documentary films, and of course, podcasts. For each of these, there is a real audience, one beyond the more typical audience of one, the teacher.

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How to app-smash Aurasma with Chatterpix

Give book characters a voice in reviews

How to app-smash Aurasma with Chatterpix A great way to bring book covers to life with augmented reality is through the AR app Aurasma. But for some students who are shy about actually appearing in videos for book reviews or trailers can app-smash the Chatterpix app to give voice to their favorite characters from books.

It’s a great way for students to think about elements of storytelling such as point-of-view, summation, showing vs. telling

Besides, it’s just fun!

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Making the most of twitter in your classroom

making the most of twitter in your classroomTwitter’s not just a great way to build your PLN as an educator, it’s also a powerful tool to connect students with the world around them in very unique ways. But how can you make those connections authentic learning experiences?

Let’s look at making the most of twitter in your classroom.

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The power of transmedia storytelling

The power of transmedia storytellingaka The Bear Trap Story

When was the last time you saw your district superintendent leap over a bear trap?

No, school board meetings don’t count; that’s standard and part of the price of admission. But last week, 3rd grade students at Richmond Elementary School got to see Chittenden East Supervisory Union superintendent John Alberghini (that’s him over there in the tweet to the left), along with his sisters Debbie and Gina, brave an old and rusty bear trap left in the woods.

Now, I wasn’t there for the storytelling, but thanks to Tonya Darby’s tweet, I was alerted to what I think we can all agree were some epic shenanigans in the name of learning.

Then came the podcast.

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Chatterpix in the classroom

A new iOS app to blab about — literally!

Chatterpix is a free iOS app that allows you to put tiny mouths on your photos and give them silly voices. I am not making any of this up. Here’s one of a crab explaining facts about crustaceans:

Cool things about Chatterpix:

  1. Easy to use: choose a photo, draw a line for the mouth and record the message. Boom! Done.
  2. You don’t need to create an account to use it
  3. It’s free
  4. You’re limited to 30 seconds of audio, thus focusing students on the essential elements of storytelling.

There are so many ways you could use this in an educational setting:

  • have students animate a favorite photo of themselves with messages for a virtual exhibition — great for students with social anxiety issues around presenting;
  • record the morning school announcements;
  • create a map of a country and give each state it’s own voice;
  • have students record bios of famous historical figures (HT Matt Bergman)

“Bios” could actually be recorded for just about anything that will hold still long enough: moss, trees, VW Vanagons, abacuses, graham crackers, more moss, just of a different kind. There’s something about the ability to give silly voices (along with glasses, top hats, scarves and electric guitars) to items and get into the storytelling groove that’s incredibly appealing.

In fact, I can pretty much guarantee that if I’d gotten to write dialogues for animated chemistry molecules, I’d’ve passed Chem on the first try:

As an educator, you could also record yourself giving instructions for a lesson; modeling that bio of a famous historical figure; create a map of a significant place in a book your class is reading and APP-SMASH: photos + Chatterpix + other photos + Thinglink = APP-SMASH! YES!

Or you could just record dogs talking about which strand they’re taking at this year’s Code Camp:

What could you do with Chatterpix and your students?

Think outside the app: 3 outstanding examples of app-smashing


Despite sounding like a weird potato-fruit dish, app-smashing gets your students thinking less about apps and more about tasks. Hopefully with a minimum of actual smashing.

App-smashing is when you give students a specific assignment that can best be solved using more than one app. iPads4Teachers has a fantastic overview of app-smashing here.


Sounds good, but I need examples

You got ’em!

1. Video cards

Sylvia Duckworth, an elementary grades French teacher in Canada, created Mother’s Day video cards by taking screenshots with HaikuDeck, then importing those into iMovie to add voice and music. The result, you’ll agree, is simply smashing*!


2. Cultural anthropology

A group of students at the Cabot School in Vermont tackled a cultural anthropology project by using iPhones to record audio interviews they did with community members, editing the audio in GarageBand, then embedding the results in a map with Thinglink. Smash!


3. Show your work: demonstrate your solution to the problem

Susan Hennessey put together the above video as part of an assignment for the MOOC Creativity: Music to My Ears. She writes:

We were tasked with picking a problem, brainstorming 100 possible solutions for how music could help solve it (on a shared Google doc) and then selecting 2 or 3 to create a novel solution.  We were given 1-minute to present the problem and solution.  Since we were working with middle level students, we wanted to defer to what they liked about the 100 possibilities.  The two profiled by the Tellagamis are the top two selected.

Google Docs + Tellagamis + iMovie. A novel approach to the assignment, which, after all, is what app-smashing is all about.


What are some ways you’ve used app-smashing in your classroom?



*I’m actually obligated by law to make that pun at least once during this blogpost. True story.

Want to try out interactive fiction and games?

Want to try out writing interactive fiction and games with your students? Here are three tools that make it easy to get started.

In order of ease of use: YouTube

"Choose What Happens Next" is a series of videos that focus on digital citizenship choices for students. You navigate them like Choose Your Own Adventure books.

“Choose What Happens Next” is a series of videos that focus on digital citizenship choices for students. You navigate them like Choose Your Own Adventure books.

YouTube’s recently beefed up their suite of online editing tools (including a bank of royalty-free audio clips) and made them simpler to use. By embedding text-based links in video, you can tell an interactive video-based story.

YouTube Pros:

  • editing tools easy to use
  • doesn’t require a ton of writing, so caters to visual storytellers

YouTube Cons:

  • doesn’t require a ton of writing
  • YouTube may be blocked at your school (but that’s a WHOLE other blogpost)


Next up: StoryNexus

StoryNexus made a big splash when it was introduced via the way-too-addictive speculative steampunk game Fallen London. Players navigate through a virtual, text-based world in a Choose-Your-Own-Adventure manner, but with choose-a-card activities that interject an element of chance into the proceedings.

Winterstrike is a post-apocalyptic game of chance, built on the StoryNexus platform.

StoryNexus Pros:

  • Easy and compelling to get really into world-building
  • Lots of students already on there with games; peers, feedback, ideas
  • Library of GoogleDocs manuals and crowd-sourced how-to’s
  • Easy to add images and audio to text
  • Lots and lots of writing to do, boosts world-building

StoryNexus Cons:

  • Students need to sign up for accounts
  • Hard to build a game in one class period
  • Lots and lots of writing to do


And then there’s Twine

(“Do it for the Twine! I ain’t gonna do–“)


Ashton Raze's Twine game,"Don't Read the Comments", combining digital citizenship with Twin Peaks references.

Ashton Raze’s Twine game,”Don’t Read the Comments”, combining digital citizenship with Twin Peaks references.

Twine‘s a challenging little piece of software that takes a step closer to computer programming logic while you build your games. It’s a stellar introduction to the concept of global vs. local variables, for instance*.

Twine games are browser-based, which means you can practice your HTML and CSS skills while you sort out what kind of tea the yeti usually drinks. Yes, I made that game**. It was not entirely easy but the things that were complicated didn’t make me tear my hair out. They were fun to figure out, and as a fan of interactive fiction, I enjoy the pace of the finished product.

 Twine Pros:

  • The ability to embed videos, images and audio make this a truly multimedia storytelling platform
  • Lets students bone up on HTML and CSS while they write

Twine Cons:

  • Steeper learning curve than the other two

Here are some lovely related links for you to disappear down the rabbithole of your choice:

Do you:

Let the games… begin!



*If that sentence didn’t make sense to you, get in touch. Let’s get you a seat at this summer’s Code Camp.

**And yes, it’s not finished, because I also have to write many fine blog posts each week, such as this one. You will cope.

Why is everyone doin’ it for the Vine?


Vine is a tool where users can craft looping six-second videos for sharing globally, and other users can up-vote them, follow favored Vine-creators (some of whom have one million+ followers) and comment. It’s available for the Android, iOS and Windows platforms, and despite the nominal age-17 requirement for the platform, it’s more than likely that students in your class are more than likely Vining.

And what they’re making are awesome. Here’s why:

1. Authentic student voice

Want to know what students really think about school? Get on Vine and follow the #school hashtag.






They aren’t Vining for a grade or for any school project. This is what students really think about school. It’s not always pretty, and it’s definitely not always complimentary towards the schools in question, but what it is is startlingly honest.

And 2., this is a really fascinating digital storytelling medium.



Think about all the skills that come into play in figuring out how to tell a story in six seconds.



But it’s not just students who are using Vine.

At Orchard School in South Burlington, librarian/rock-star Donna McDonald is using Vine with her students to create a series of six-second book reviews to share for the #MockCaldecott awards. First of all, they’re epic, and second, they’re each only six seconds long, so you can easily justify watching every last one. Such as this one:


And this:


(Seriously, just go follow @OrchardVT on twitter. They share fantastic work and those #MockCaldecott Vines are this close >< to becoming their own meme.)

All of which brings up two questions: Do you Vine? And do you know what your students are Vining?