Digitally Yours…

I love stories.  I just finished a good 45 minutes (maybe longer?) of analogue storytelling with my 21 month old daughter – that kid loves a story! (She also can say “iPad” and knows how to find the apps for kids that she likes by herself, much to our chagrin!). But how about in class?  How do I use storytelling of the digital kind?

Last week, I shared the video that I had created for my grade three classes on Coal and Electricity.  I took a written explanation that one of the teachers had created and I set it to photos, icons, and a catchy tune.  It was remarkable to me to see the depth of understanding that arose from simply speaking a story aloud and adding pictures to support the text.This was created using Adobe Voice. I had planned on learning a new tool for the purpose of creating this but time got the best of me so I stuck with what I knew.

With my fourth grade students, we were creating a digital story on the topic of migration after interviewing a friend or family member.  We used Keynote and spent a lot of time looking at transitions, adding a voice-over, and choosing background music (from the totally great site Jamendo which offers CC licensed music).

One of my favorite stories to read as a read-aloud is Wonder by R.J. Palacio.  Her book is magnificent and if you teach grade 4-6 it would be great for your kids.  It is a book that I hope won’t ever be made digital because the print version is just so good. But what I do love, is the amazing work created by a fan of the book to curate the pop-culture that is referenced in the book and to provide a digital companion library of videos, pictures, soundbites and more that are mentioned within each chapter.

Working with EAL students and native English speakers it is important to remember that we don’t all share the same cultural backgrounds.  Some references that seem commonplace to those born or living in NYC (riding the subway) are completely foreign to someone who commutes to school by (bare)foot in rural New Zealand.  This digital companion to the book is so great to share with kids to get everyone on the same page.

I think the thing I have started thinking about more is the idea of embracing different types of media in order to tell a story.  Last week I mentioned the idea of creating instruction cards with links to videos.  This week, I made a set of cards that link to instructional videos explaining ‘how to’ use the app.  These are located for students to scan and find out the information for themselves.  The QR codes take the students to the videos made by the app creators but in the future I would love to see the students creating these stories to share with each other.

Click here to download PDF of all QR codes
Click here to download PDF of all QR codes

Last Friday I led a Teacher Talk at our school on Understanding by Design.  This is a 45 minute time slot in which a teacher is asked to present on the topic of their choosing. I have long been a fan of UbD but wanted to revisit this so picked this as my topic.  While not exactly a ‘story’, I did attempt to tell the story of UbD with an emphasis on the assessment component.  I shared the following slides and these were the only notes that I had.  As I progressed through the slides, the images and few words were all I needed to keep the story going. Digital Storytelling?  Maybe?

Understanding by Design – Created with Haiku Deck, presentation software that inspires

The Learning Technology teacher in our Middle School, Mitch Norris, does some great work with iBooks and his kids.  When creating their stories, Mitch has them use the digital tools to elevate the story beyond what could be done with the printed story. I like this idea.  He encourages them to embed video, use the zoom feature, add sounds and music to enhance the message digitally.

This post has a great series of tips for Digital Storytelling along with a great exemplar of a girl’s struggle with a medical condition at a young age.

I just read John’s post and the point that really resonated with me was the idea that we have to have a story to tell. I think once you know what you want to say, finding the pictures to support your ideas and blending it all together will fall into place.  In this regard, ‘storytelling’ and ‘digital storytelling’ really aren’t that different – they both begin with something worth sharing.


Presentation Zen-ish

Have you read “Ish” by Peter H. Reynolds?  If you have, you will know what I mean when I say that the presentation I am going to share with you is Presentation Zen-ish. Essentially, I think it is better than death by PowerPoint but still has room for improvement on a couple of levels.

First, the presentation.  This is a presentation that I gave in 2012 and 2013 for parents of students in my Grade 5 class, about to embark on the PYP Exhibition. The opening slide was on the screen as they arrived and as I introduced the purpose of the meeting.  The slideshow was then shared and narrated by me, and concluded with audience questions. Take a look:

What works? 
  • Visual images to anchor ideas.  In preparing for this presentation, I shared it with my kids and asked them to tell me what they thought I would say about the Exhibition during each slide.  They were about 95% correct, just based on their understanding and the pictures I had chosen.
  • Clean slides, clear images, no subtitles. I wanted the pictures to speak for themselves without text and I think the omission of words makes the images more memorable.


  • I have become more of a fan of photos over clipart so I would like to change that.
  • I think ‘actual’ photos over stock photos would work better for this kind of presentation. We take so many photos during Exhibition that I am sure I could find some to fit the information we want to share.
  • Citing sources! Yes, I ripped off all of these images with no credit to their creators.  This is the biggest reason for change needed (in my opinion). I feel like a thief every time I share this but I love the image oriented presentation too much to not have it ‘out there’.

Our daughter just started going to Kindergrippe (German daycare) for 3 1/2 days a week.  She loves it and so do we.  As a parent in the “school” system for the first time, I am realizing how desperately I want to connect with my child’s teachers and learn about how I can support her.

If I were shown a slideshow of bullet points in German, I may be able to understand about 5% of what is going on.  If I were shown a slideshow of pictures I think my understanding would rise significantly.  In thinking of my own understanding, I am wondering if having one or two works (Haiku Deck style) wouldn’t help our parents for whom English is not their first language? With that in mind, I think I could summarize the new version:

  • action photos of the exhibition in progress
  • additional stock photos to support ideas being shared
  • citation of all images
  • minimal, discreet captions/headings on slides

This course really has me thinking about how much I use visuals in my classroom. Now in the role of Learning Technology Teacher, much of my ‘presentation’ time is live rather than pre-prepared.  I make screencasts for my students (and teachers) but I think I could definitely work on making sure my directions are visual as well as verbal.

I like the idea of linking instructions to QR codes that lead to oral instructions linked to visuals and that is something I am in the process of working on next.

I found these tips from Haiku Deck really useful: Rockstar Tips for Killer Presentations


Speaking in Pictures

I am working with the third grade at the moment on explanation writing as part of their How the World Works unit of inquiry.  They are looking into energy production and different types of energy.  This is a unit that is often done in primary classrooms – almost every school I have taught in has some kind of electricity or energy unit at some grade level.

In writing explanations about energy production, the teachers chose the use of coal as the way they would model this process. They used a mentor text to show how an explanation is written – an A4 sized piece of writing, divided into six paragraphs which students read and highlighted.

With a high percentage of EAL students, this was a challenging task.  We were looking for ways to integrate technology into the unit and try and make the content more accessible to all students.  I took the piece of writing and used Adobe Voice to turn it into a 3 minute presentation.

If you haven’t used Voice yet, download it and give it a go.  It is brilliant.  The photos are all creative commons licensed (from Flickr, Pixabay etc) and the icons are from The Noun Project (another awesome source for images). The app is free and I have 1st and 2nd graders who will independently grab an iPad and create poems, stories, explanations and reflections using this app.

SIDE NOTE: Voice has recently been updated to include a lot of customization options when it comes to colors and fonts (another important facet of visual communication). It also now includes the ability to download your creations as videos to your iPad for use in other formats.  Previously your only option was to export to a unique web address for Voice presentations and this didn’t give you the option of embedding your video in a Keynote, for example. 

One of the benefits of Voice, is the ability to layer icons over images to show cause and effect or the connection between ideas: Pollution from burning the coal causes increased carbon dioxide in the air which results in global warming.

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Pollution by dbakr (Flickr) Global Warming by Luis Prado (The Noun Project)


The thing that was the coolest part of this for me, was after we played the video and discussed it as a class, we watched it again with the sound off. As the pictures flashed up on the screen, the kids were able to tell the explanation in their own words, guided by the images.  It was so great to see some of the kids who were typically so quiet and unresponsive calling out when they saw an image that resonated with them.  It was also great to see how discussions that led to new (or clarified) understanding evolved from the provocation of a picture:

This image (below) indicated that coal burning power plants needed to be built near water and transportation systems.  I was able to find a picture of a river and bridges/roads and put the power plant icon on top.  When we saw this picture, a big discussion started about the need for both water and roads in order to transport the coal.  This was something that the kids had not really picked up from the written text but the addition of pictures helped to clarify this idea.

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The bow river Calgary by davebloggs007 (Flickr)   Factory by Jamie Carrion (The Noun Project)


Students in this grade level are in the process of writing their own explanations for how energy is produced. When publishing their work with voice they will be looking critically at what they have written and sourcing images and icons that support their message.

I love that ‘thinking in pictures’ is part of our curriculum.  And I love the wealth of apps and sites (like Adobe Voice) that are supporting this development. Three of my favorite for visual literacy are Photos for Class, Haiku Deck, and the Compfight plugin for Edublogs.

Photos for Class is an offshoot of Storyboard That.  I first learned about this site when I completed a six week MOOC on Digital Storytelling at the beginning of the first semester. Photos for Class takes Flickr images that are CC licensed for reuse and when you download them, the image includes an attribution box with the photo details. The box is black with white text and looks pretty good in terms of discreetly and cleanly adding in the appropriate credits.  It is great to use with younger students to teach them about ‘saying thank you’ to the photographer and it is also great to use with older students who know that attribution is required but saves the time of having the students do it themselves. Here is what it looks like:


Haiku Deck also utilizes Flickr images (as well as stock photos that can be purchased) to create stunning presentations.  The space for text on your presentation is limited but after placing text on the slide, the app (iPad or web-based) asks you to identify the most important word on your slide and provides images to represent that word. Again, as with Adobe Voice and Photos for Class, the images are beautiful, high quality and help students to think visually.

A slide with ‘goals’ as the main idea generates the following images which helps the students to develop the idea that multiple images can be representative of the one word.

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This app is a great scaffold when you are first starting to ask students to connect ideas to images.

Compfight for Edublogs is awesome.  The small camera icon situated next to the ‘add media’ button takes you to an integrated Compfight search engine.  When you search for the desired image, you have the choice of small, medium, large and full-sized pictures. Once you make your size selection, the photo is embedded in your blog post with appropriate attribution. We have just started using Edublogs with our 4th graders for personal blogs/portfolios and this is a great way to keep students working within the blog interface while sourcing appropriately licensed and attributed content. This screencast shows how the Compfight plugin works in 33 seconds:
Adding Pictures – Compfight from Munich International School on Vimeo.



Work in Progress

Image Credit


We use Edublogs at our school and all teachers have both a personal blog and a blog for their class work.  This year I shifted from the classroom to the IT Room and with the move came a new blog.  So far, the only change I have made is to the header image. The blog currently looks like this:

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I made the banner on Pages using a muted spectrum of colors but other than that, the blog is pretty much how I inherited it.

The purposes of this blog are:

  • to document student learning in IT on a daily/weekly basis
  • to provide a reference point for students/teachers/parents to locate resources (videos, websites, apps) for units of work
  • to curate information for different grades on different topics

I am not sure that it serves these purposes very well.  Ideally, I would like for it to be much more user-friendly with pictures to support the text.  While I like Edublogs as a blogging platform, I think there are some other tools out there that help to deliver a more aesthetically pleasing look when you are trying to curate information.

One of these tools is SMORE.  I love it.  The themes are varied and interesting and these can be embedded into posts or on pages for an interactive, attractive compilation of sources of information.  Here is an example for a G4 unit of inquiry:

This would replace what is currently in existence, which is a static page with the title of the unit and a list of links with descriptions:

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Not only does the Smore embed look better, I think it is so much more appealing to kids. My next struggle is how to get access to these.  Currently the path to the content looks like this:

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I would like for this to be shorter and include pictures (somehow!).  I also like the idea of getting something in there “Pinterest-style” with links to different resources in the clean, grid system employed by the pinning website:

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Currently, all of our blogs use the Edublogs default theme.  The idea behind this is so that parents who access the blogs will be looking at the same interface and therefore be able to navigate more effectively.

I have just started blogging with our fourth grade classes and by far, the most anticipated part of setting up the student blogs was the time in which they got to sit and sift through the multitude of templates for the theme of their blog.  We talk about the type of impression they want to make on their readers, what impression their blog gives off when you first open it up, and how the fonts and colors add to (or detract from) understanding of the content.  One of their first posts will be to explain how they came to set up their blog and choose the style of it.  They are taking screen shots and writing about why they made the visual choices they did.  I am looking forward to seeing how their style choices evolve as their blogging journey develops.

The other thing I am currently working on is a website for PYP Exhibition.  I put one of these together at my last school as a place for students, teachers, and parents to source all things Exhibition.  The website is called The Passion Project and I made it on Wix

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Visually, I like it but I want to make it more accessible to other teachers who want to collaborate on the project.  I would also want to include weekly overviews and just update the whole thing as I made this 3 years ago so I have a lot more to add and change. I am heading off to an AGIS (Association of German International Schools) conference this coming weekend and am leading a Roundtable discussion on the Exhibition so I want to have something started to share.  I am thinking Google Sites? Something that looks slick and clean but also allows for collaborative input from others around the world.  Any suggestions welcome!

Two of my favorites in terms of presentation ideas and connections with how the brain works are Garr Reynolds and John Medina.   With their powers combined and focusing on three of the 12 Brain Rules, Reynolds sheds some valuable light on how to get the most out of presentations and visual cues that will lead to understanding. These also apply to other forms of visual communication (blogs) and again, are things I want to take into consideration during the makeover process: