Digital Storytelling

3rd April
written by admin

If you’ve been on a great trip recently and have photographs or video of that trip, you could create a short video haiku poem about a part of the trip that says much more than “I went to this awesome place. It was super fun!”  

Using the 5-7-5 syllable haiku format, create a poem that captures something about the trip that the photograph or video CAN’T easily show. Try to avoid summarizing your trip experience. Instead, focus on a particular moment of the trip that stands out to you.






1st December
written by admin

1000 W0RDS by `yuumei on deviantART

A student shared this powerful story with me (thanks,LuYi). Deviant Art. Not really deviant. I often think about how students who are fans of sites like these see themselves as deviants or those who deviate from the norm. That’s a healthy thing for teens. Perfect connection to our recent reading of The Giver. Jonas wanted a world where you could express yourself in powerful ways, such as those illustrated by yuumei’s art.


24th October
written by admin

Time to finally update my digital storytelling work. I wrote Digital Storytelling Finds Its Place in the Classroom over ten years ago. It’s still one of the top ranked articles on using digital storytelling in the classroom. Back then I was teaching 4th Grade in Lexington, MA and we had just two iMacs in our classroom. Now, I find myself teaching 8th Grade Language Arts in MacBook 1:1 middle school and feel pretty good about having helped students and teachers create close to 500 digital stories on a few different continents. I tried as best as I could to collect samples along the way, but that didn’t work out so well.

Finally, I’ve sat down and put together a site with about a dozen of them featured on it. More importantly, I’m sitting down to write a follow-up to that article first published in 2002. What have I learned about what works in digital storytelling in the classroom and what do I recommend that teachers avoid? I remain convinced that digital storytelling is a memorable experience for students, far more engaging than the traditional essay or personal narrative. However, I started down the digital storytelling path because I wanted to find out if technology could help my students become better writers. The jury is still out on that one. But what remains clear is that our primary concern as educators should be teaching what exactly makes an effective story – before and after digital media elements are applied.

Here is the presentation (Keynote file) I gave recently at an Apple Education event at Concordia International School.

30th November
written by admin

Once Upon a Time Card Game

I ran across this card game years ago in the US. You can imagine my surprise to find it on the busy streets of Shanghai, complete with Chinese translations for the English words on the cards. I’ve tried a variety of storytelling and improv games to spark student interest in storytelling. This one has been the most successful.

It’s a simple idea. A set of cards representing five basic story elements: Character, Place, Event, Aspect, Item. You hold five to ten cards in your hand depending on how many players are in the game. The goal is to be the first person to complete your story goal, which is a card drawn at the beginning of the game that says something like “The spell was broken and the king returned to rule the kingdom.” You play your cards one at a time as you tell your story. Other players can interrupt you with one of their cards if it fits in the story. When the students were just figuring the game out, I suggested they leave the special interrupt cards out of the game that allow a player to interrupt at anytime.

When a player won the game by completing their story goal using the cards in their hand, the students enjoyed continuing the story with an alternate ending. This allowed everyone to play their hand. The game makes a great warm-up to class, but groups larger than five break down quickly. I was surprised by how well students could create a fairy tale, particularly for many of my non-native English speakers. Even the quietest of my students were telling stories with the aid of these cards.

We just finished the novel The Giver. I’m wondering if we create a set of cards that match the Characters, Places, Events, Items and Aspects of the story will it help students discuss the story more effectively. We’ll see. I noticed on that they’re now selling a blank set of cards for you to create your own story cards. While the fairy tales are fun, I’d like to see a more modern set of characters, places and events that would help students flesh out an idea for a short story.

Story Spine App

I’m sure it won’t be long before the Once Upon a Time card game becomes an iPad app. I’ll buy it when once it hits the store. If you’re looking for a quick story template tool. Story Spine is one of many tools students can use to either retell a book they’ve recently read or to create a story of their own.

You don’t really need an iPhone/iPad version of this. I print this out on A4 paper and laminate it to use in the classroom.

12th November
written by admin

Is it worth it? When teaching students how to create an effective digital story, the emphasis is often on making sure they have some sort of essential question that is answered by the end of the story. When this is missing, we often just have an anecdote or narrated slideshow.

I just completed a digital story project with my 8th graders. Something still bugs me. Is it worth all of the time and effort required to create an effective digital story. One thing is for certain. I believe that the author and audience remember the digital story more than they remember the traditional written essay. You be the judge. Here are links to two student digital stories from our first term study of family heritage.


Caught Between Two Worlds










Where do I belong?

8th May
written by Tom Banaszewski
With the rise of electronic entertainment, we are seeing games reach a very prominent status in everyday life. Modern culture is increasingly dominated by electronics, and the new games that electronics have made possible are compelling creations that suck away huge amounts of time. At such a time of adjustment, it’s a good idea to go back to the roots of games, and think about why they exist in every human culture, why children of all ages play them, and what important role they play in the development of our brains. – From Raph Koster’s Theory of Fun

I’ve been to a lot of conferences. And most of them are often disappointing because the presenters are not effective public speakers or the workshop sessions do not really match the description in the conference program. This conference was different. I left inspired to teach with games and with a long list of valuable resources. More importantly, I left with important ideas to share with colleagues and not just a laundry list of links to add to my delicious account. The research around the role of electronic games in learning continues to expand. MIT, Harvard, Stanford, Carnegie Mellon, Georgia Tech (GO JACKETS!) Indiana and Wisconsin Universities all recognize that computer games can add to our explorations of determining what works in our classrooms. What’s often misunderstood by many parents and teachers is that there’s a HUGE difference between the games Grand Theft Auto, Call of Duty and games such as Civilization, Animal Crossing, Little Big Planet and MYST.

The WOW STUFF: Carnegie Mellon Professor Jesse Schell’s talk. Create situations for students that demand SHARING of ideas, talents, skill-sets. Replace grading system with an Experience Point system. Similar to how video games are structured, students earn points and level-up by completing assignments and tasks. No gray area for how you’re doing in the class.

Gaming Literacy. Ewen McIntosh’s talk. Gaming is its own literacy, part of the New Media literacies. There is a growing chasm between schools that continue the entrenched model of teaching to the test and those that recognize a need to spend more time clarifying what does it mean to be literate in the Digital Age.

Games that support writing development. As an English teacher and digital storytelling facilitator, I’m interested in the grammar of not only quality literature, but also that cross-section between literature, movies and now games. What literacies do we develop by interacting with a game version of a classic novel? By deconstructing a movie, graphic novel or game version of the Odyssey? By creating our own version or a choose your own adventure game version? Tim Rylands has been touring the UK schools showing teachers and students how to use the classic game MYST to spark creative writing as well many other a few other games-based writing projects. There’s a lot potential in the using the Choose Your Own Adventure story model for engaging reluctant writers. I plan to test out a few ideas where students create interactive fiction/CYOA stories using either iWeb, Wikispaces or an online tool that allows you to then make your story available via the iTunes store to be played/read on the iTouch/Phone/Pad.

Scotland’s Consolarium. Maybe because it’s much smaller compared to the UK and US that this country is able to convince so many of their schools that games-based learning is effective practice. The Consolarium site documents clearly the work they’ve accomplished and makes it accessible to all teachers via their national intranet. Spend a few minutes checking out their Sharing Practice section and you’ll get a sense of what “games-based learning” means in a classroom context. Ollie Bray and Derek Robertson were excellent representatives and speakers on the work of the Consolarium. Be sure to invite them to your next edu-tech conference!

Games and Simulations. We’ve come a long way since Oregon Trail, Math Blasters and Carmen San Diego. Or have we? Tom Snyder Productions was the pioneer in the US in this field. The Decisions, Decisions series is still one of the most effective pieces of educational technology software I’ve used in my nearly twenty years of teaching. But they are no longer in business. In their place are companies like that allow free access to their web-based simulations or “serious games” in hopes you’ll hire them to develop a simulation for your company, school or learning need.

TOOLS for making your own games. It keeps getting easier, but that doesn’t mean students are making better games. The same principle applies to Powerpoint presentations, digital stories, podcasts, short films – kids need plenty of practice to proficiently produce anything that makes sense. In addition to programming /game-making tools like Scratch and Alice, you can now use the game engines Unity or Platinum Sandbox. The XBox even has an easy tool for making games – Kodu. Looking forward to testing that out. 2DIY is another set of game-making tools. The Nintendo DS now has a Do It Yourself game-maker called WarioWare.

There’s much more to review here, but for me it was the ideas that I took away that are most important to share. Two of them resonated with me: James Huggins of Made in Me reminded us that too often the emphasis is on the relationship of the child to the software instead of encouraging the child’s relationship with the natural world. His Land of Me game provided an engaging story development tool that then provides items the child can print out that encourages play based on what was created in the game.

The second idea, more an observation of schools’ resistance to adopting practices that clearly work for children, was related to Dorothy Heathcote’s drama in education legacy. For close to fifty years, her work has engaged children in nearly all environments. She’s proven that drama is a powerful tool for helping students achieve meaningful learning, yet drama in education is still only included in 25% of our schools – maybe less. In twenty-five years, will this be the same attitude of games-based learning?

And now the games.

  • Farmville – Facebook game that raised over $1 million for Haiti earth quake repairs (yes, there is some controversy too).
  • Little Big Planet – PS3 game that has over 2 million user-generated levels from people all over the world
  • UK Channel 4 History Games – Trafalgar Origins, Bow Street Runner and 1066 are web-based
  • Routes to Better Science – Great set of games and even better mystery to unravel using your science clues
  • Nintendo DS Games being used in schools – Dr Kawashima’s Brain Training, Professor Layton

A few other reviews of the conference from other attendees: Dawn Hallybone , Ben Betts

Check Teach Me This for more games-based learning resources.

14th April
written by Tom Banaszewski
The iPad. Will it change the way we read or will it be just another clumsy approach to the “interactive book” idea? Take a look at how Alice in Wonderland will be read on the iPad.

What do you think? Add your thoughts in the comments.

22nd February
written by Tom Banaszewski

GarageBand makes creating a soundtrack for a movie very easy. Try this quick exercise to get familiar with GarageBand.

1. Download this video clip .

2. Open GarageBand and Create a New Project, select Loops.

3. Drag the video clip into the GarageBand project (if you get an error message, just ignore it).

4. Use GarageBand’s many sound loops and effects to create the soundtrack for the video clip.

8th February
written by Tom Banaszewski

Download and add these stories to your iTunes Library.

22nd January
written by Tom Banaszewski

Download this zip file to add a stunning set of images to your iPhoto library. These can be used for writing prompts, enhancing a Keynote presentation or as starting points for discussion of a world event or location.


Download this zip file for a set of step-by-step tutorials to improve your iLife 09 skills.

Easy-Add transitions to text and other objects.pdf
Novice-VoiceOver GarageBand.pdf
Easy-Magic Move Keynote.pdf
Novice-Animate 3D chart Keynote.pdf
Novice-Digital Storytelling-with-Garageband-and-Keynote