Archive for February, 2007

22nd February
written by Tom Banaszewski

One of the best parts of having been an elementary teacher for many years is that you’re forced to read, re-read, discuss and recommend dozens of young adult chapter books for students. There are so many classic books that I push on my students each year. When the whole language literacy movement swept through schools, schools placed the emphasis on quality literature and bought classroom sets of Newbery Awards winners like Where the Red Fern Grows, A Wrinkle in Time, The Lion the Witch and the Wardrobe. Unfortunately, teachers and schools struggled to find a balance between appreciating quality literature and having an approach in place that ensured students were becoming better readers. While it’s true that students that love to read become better readers than those that hate to read, it’s not a sound pedagogical approach to helping strengthen students’ literacy skills.

(*Note: the movie is not as fantasy-filled as the trailer leads you to believe)

Enter the movie versions of classic children’s lit. It’s not a new idea. I can’t get the image of the low budget version of The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe out of my head that came out in the early 90s, I think. It was more like a high school play. I’ve been watching closely the expanding monopoly Walden Media has on this market. In particular I’ve been looking at their websites to see what they offer for expanding the themes of the book. While I’m sure their main goal has been to drive viewers to the theatre, they’ve done little to capitalize on the web environment for hooking people into the story. I’ve been prototyping environments that allow the user (web/CD/DVD/PSP viewer) to continue exploring the themes of the story. With the movie versions of these classic stories, we now have new possibilities that take advantage of the booming you-shoot-you-edit-youtube generation.

Bridge to Terebithia, like most classic stories, represents timeless themes such as true friendship, bullies, family strife, and loss. As I watched the film, the digital storytelling teacher in me saw the possibilities for taking clips of the film and challenging students to shoot their own version of the same scene. For example, there’s a part where the father tells his son "to get his head out of the clouds" and help out more around the house instead of drawing pictures all the time. Students could shoot their version of this scene that addresses the "loner" theme, which is something that speaks to a lot students. As students are given opportunities to re-cut the story they’re being challenged to not only deepen their comprehension of the material they’re making important personal connections to the story, in addition to expanding their media literacy skills. Again, this is nothing new. Teachers have always challenged students to rewrite parts of a story as a way to deepen their comprehension. But with the new digital tools available to students it’s much more meaningful to shoot, edit and publish your video to where others can see your take on the story.

The current educational buzzword/phrase I hear most often is "21st Century skills." I must have used it fifty times in my thesis. My students spend an average of 8 to 10 hours a week online instant messaging, updating their myspace page, working on a GarageBand tune. They have a set of skills that can easily be applied to what they read. The classrooms of the future will hopefully have students still enjoying the classics, only then they will answering what does what I just read mean to me and how I can respond to it in a meaningful way. How can I use the wide range of tools available to me, both digital and non-digital, to communicate that information effectively?

I’ll test this you-read-you-shoot-you-edit-youtube idea out with a few students in the next few months. I’ll probably use Hoot or Because of Winn Dixie.

Here’s an example of how students can extend the connections they make while reading:

21st February
written by Tom Banaszewski

Scaffolding idea #2. Now that I have created a script for a digital
story on Thomas Jefferson (see previous post), I thought it would be helpful to break that
down to illustrate the questions that I answered in creating the script. These could be used for any type of digital story on a historical person.

  • What idea or event connected to this person stands out most to you? [Words of Declaration of Independence]
  • How does this person’s life (ideas, accomplishments, etc) influence your life today? [War in Iraq, Holy Wars near and far]
  • What do people overlook about this person’s life? Is it important? [Contradictions; democracy is an experiment; its success rests on the citizen]
  • How does this person’s life help you understand an idea or historical event in greater detail or from a different perspective? [These words were radical for that time and set the course of history to follow]

other scaffolding idea was to gather images for a digital story on Ben
Franklin, but as I started to do that it became clear that you really
need to know what you want to say before gathering images to tell a
story about a person. It may work for other types of stories, but I
found that when you have a dozen portrait style pictures that’s not
really going to help you write a script. It will help with the later
stages of producing the story. If I were telling a digital story about
the attack on Pearl Harbor that’s different. You’d have maps, graphic
images of the aftermath, FDR’s reaction. With a historical person like
Ben Franklin, it might be harder. I can still do it. He was involved in
so many things. I wonder why he never ran for president. Was he too old
by the time we needed someone with his wisdom and experience?

15th February
written by Tom Banaszewski

In an effort to finally integrate some ideas I started developing for my thesis on effective digital storytelling, I’m creating and posting short activities that will help students acquire the essential skills that are part of writing and producing an effective digital story. We’ve been studying the Declaration of Independence. I thought that by providing the script, usually the hardest part of creating a digital story, and then asking students to find/create images that match it they’d find success in their first digital story experience. Later, I’ll reverse the process and only provide images and ask them to develop the script. I’ll probably use George Washington or Ben Franklin, maybe Alexander Hamilton.

I haven’t dabbled much in the curriculum content-focused side of DS. This will provide some valuable data on how reliable DS is at challenging students to apply what they’ve learned about a topic. Too often, students are assigned a topic and multimedia production project then are expected to "uncover" the curricular objectives during the project. This isn’t explicitly stated for them, but it’s often what teachers have in mind.

Activity #1


We hold these truths to be self-evident: that all
men are created equal; that they are endowed by their Creator with
certain inalienable rights; that among these are life, liberty, and the
pursuit of happiness.

In the short history of the United States, these are considered some of the most important words ever penned to paper.

years after he helped write the Declaration of Independence, Thomas
Jefferson continued to champion these revolutionary ideas.

his last letter, written ten days before both he and John Adams died,
Jefferson wrote to a friend that he hoped the Declaration would serve
as a "signal of the blessings of self-government to an ever evolving

I wonder if he would be surprised by how his young nation grew up to help spread democracy to so many parts of the world. 

Of the contagious chant of "Revolution" that toppled so many governments.

Would he be proud of our forced efforts to bring self-government to the Middle East?

Could he have imagined a world where the pursuit of happiness held such diverse meanings to so many people?

Where freedom of religion pitted nation…

…and neighbor against one another?

Liberty and the pursuit of happiness have always been at the expense of others.

3000 American troops and 60,000 Iraqi civilians have died in the effort
to bring "life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness" to the land where
civilization began.

The contradictions tied to these famous
words are as ripe today as they were when Jefferson proclaimed equality
for all while prospering from and protecting the institution of

It would take another two centuries before equality
for all in the United States was written into the Constitution.
President Johnson conceded that we could no longer maintain the
hypocrisy of celebrating the famous phrases of the Founding Fathers
while denying their benefits to so many and finally gave teeth to the
Civil Rights Act.

I try to remind myself that this
country is still very young; that this experiment in democracy is still
being tested; that a nation founded on a few radical words can alter
the course of history.

Thomas Jefferson did not proclaim to
have all the answers to the challenges of sustaining an effective
democracy. He set the compass of the country pointing in a direction
that empowered the individual states to dictate future courses of

In the recent state elections, the people exercised
their power and swung control of the Congress back to the Democrats.
Regardless of your political views, this is a good thing. Democracy
still works.

The next presidential election marks an historic
opportunity. With Hillary Clinton and Barak Obama running for
president, our country has evolved to the moment when we will test
those deeply charged words of "we hold these truths to be self-evident:
that all men are created equal."

Will it be finally be self-evident?

That a successful democracy depends on the true and accurate representation of

ALL its citizens.