Wednesday, September 17, 2008

Digital Story Telling for the Digital Age

One of the challenges from our Headmaster, as I may have mentioned before, is to prepare our students for the 21st century. Mostly, I am trying to get them past the eighth grade. One might think that I would just stick to the classics: make them digest and vomit back novels that they hate, write essays that are only more tedious to grade than to write, and do my best to help them hate their own language and heritage. Well, it's a good thing that I teach in a private school where George Bush and his No-Child-Left-Unpunished brigade can't get to me.

For millions of years (or only a little over 5ooo according to Governor Palin) humans have told stories to other humans. Only five minutes ago I told a story to my wife about how I proposed. Over time all of these stories change, from Gilgemesh the King to the fact that I forgot to mention that I proposed over camp tomato soup and grilled cheese sandwiches. In my class, my students are working on telling their stories; only they are using the technology and the medium of the 21st century as opposed to the camp fires of yore.

This project started out as a neat idea I picked up at technology conference. A nifty way to get students to become more engaged in the writing process. They use found, created, personal, or staged images to tell a story that lasts about 2 minutes. The software is free (Photo Story 3) and the main ideas come from a non-profit called The Center for Digital Storytelling. I have a few days of mandatory computer lab time with the 8th grade English class; which was scheduled by our IT person whilst she goes on vacation. This is actually very, very flattering because she told me I am the one person she knows can leave in the lab and she will never be missed. So put all this together and what do you get?

So far, a great experience. Basically, I discovered that I am tricking them into engaging in the ever elusive "writing process." Because they are not going to write an essay, which, academically, is the equivalent of a hen laying an egg, they can't "fake it." Come on: you know who you are - the ones who wait until the night before, smash it out, hit spell check, print it, and turn it in. Now they have to actually brainstorm, discuss with peers the better and worst parts, and then revise their story. If I say I don't get it, they look at me like a bug; but if their classmate says they don't get it, they start scribbling away and trying to make it more clear. I am, in effect, using peer pressure to against them.

Tonight they are story boarding their ideas and generating a list of images they will need. Already, I have heard the "oohs" and "ahhs;" seen the light bulbs go off; got that warm feeling of pulling off a real lesson that will yield real results.

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