Thursday, December 31, 2009

NYE

Just a small post to say Happy New Year to readers of this blog!

I will be blog post free for a few weeks in the new year as we'll be heading off to live under canvas in the national forests of Tasmania for a while.

Have a wonderful NYE, and if you're on holidays, enjoy the break!

Kind Regards

Martin Jorgensen

See you in 2010!

Friday, December 18, 2009

Where are you going?

Last year I spoke to several classes of year 12 students about careers, theirs and mine. I've been reflecting on the discussions we had as I explore some new opportunities for next year.

Some of the students I spoke to had no idea where they were going. Some had a plan, a path they had laid out ahead of them, or that had been laid out for them. A number of them asked questions about goals and areas of employment they had heard about that seemed perhaps intangible and unreal. Many were looking for reaffirmation that their intentions were justified, that the goals they were setting might bring them the lives they hoped for.

It's often the case, that simply pursuing the things we love doing will lead us to the greatest success in our lives, and often the greatest fulfillment. But it's hard to convey this without sounding like Dr Phil.

So I told them a story about the beginnings of my career.

I told them about my year 7 English teacher refusing to mark my work due to my atrocious handwriting. That to resolve this problem, I taught myself to type using an early Apple PC and in the process, built my confidence with computers. I learnt to appreciate that making mistakes was OK when working with computers, and that knowledge served me over and over in later years. I told them that those quick typing fingers also helped me all through my career, and still help me.

I told them about my parents reading me books by the armful as a child, my father making up a new story each night at the end of the bed. I told them about the english teacher that inspired me in year 10, and how a love of stories had helped me meet my wife while studying professional writing and changed my life.

I told them about my hating school, but discovering a love of learning when I left. That my love of story, my fascination with computers and addiction to learning would eventually inspire a career teaching professional development, ICT and English. That I developed a passion for digital narrative that gives me a great deal of pleasure.

Sometimes it's hard to see the threads that will pull us through life. Often it can be the seemingly inconsequential events that will shape the direction we take. This doesn't mean we have no control, it just means that we have to take our passions a little more seriously, whether we make careers out of them or not.

Sometimes a career we love can materialise unexpectedly. The trick, is to see opportunity when it manifests itself. The way to do that is to simply follow your instincts, and to do the things you love as well as you can.

For me, story, computers, learning and teaching are the strong threads that have drawn me through life to this point. I'm taking it on faith that they will continue to help me build a career, and a life that I love.

Where are your passions taking you?

Sunday, December 13, 2009

Introducing ...

Executive Summary: Story starters = bad. 10 great ways to engage creative writing.

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One of the my favorite rants is on the subject of story starters. Now don't get me wrong, I've witnessed some inspired ways of introducing a story prompt that guide a young writer toward a particular result.

In most cases however (IMHO) ... this just doesn't happen. Story starters like 'Imagine you're in a forest' or 'It all started when' ... are too often whipped out to fill a creative writing pocket in the day.

Writing this way does produce results. You will for example, obtain a markable product at the end of the lesson. For those students that might struggle, it can be a quick way of guiding them to produce a result, but ahhhh .... this is the root of the problem

Starting your writers off with a story starter, however brief, will frame your expectations for your students. It directs for them how you would prefer they be creative, it gives them a narrow channel to follow.

Can you guide creativity so directly? Can you draw a path in the sand for it to follow? Authors use multiple strategies in their approaches to writing a book. Some begin the process with some loose structure, some simply head off in a direction with inspiration as their guide.

Most try different approaches, and discover what works best for them, for that particular novel. There are many alternatives to approaching creative writing in and out of the classroom that don't necessitate you providing the first line.

Don't forget that it's important not to prescribe the form of creative approach students take, a poem, a list, a story ... all forms are valid. One form may inspire another. Trust that your students will find their voice in their own way. The less suggestions you provide, the more inspired the results will be.

So here, for better or worse, are my suggestions. A list of ten alternatives to creative writing in the classroom:

  1. Use props! Creativity is something you have to head out and hunt down sometimes. Take the class outside, ask them to find a rock, small leaf ... something from the garden that doesn't wriggle ... and bring it back inside. Now, 'focus on your find, zoom in and write about it'. Write 'zoom in' in large letters on the board. How students interpret this is up to them. Trust that your students will find their own insights. If you need to provide further guidance, read out some examples of students that have already started. If you start the exercise with 'now zoom in, imagine you're looking through a microscope ... etc' ... well, you may as well put a story starter on the board. Remember this is an exercise to inspire THEIR creative approach! Finished? Now 'zoom out'. Don't frame your expectations any more clearly than that.
  2. Many authors read in order to inspire their own writing. It's not cheating, but it IS something that can surprise young adults, who may not realise professional writers often read to inspire their own work. It's can be particularly valid approach when working with voice. Read to your students from something they haven't heard before, with a distinctive voice if possible. Ask your students to produce some writing that emulates that voice.
  3. Read a picture book, and then ask students to produce a piece of writing inspired by that book. This won't work with a book about Spot the dog ... choose a challenging text, like FOX by Margaret Wild and Ron Brooks.
  4. Ask students to choose a character from your picture book and write about them. This is a wonderful way to lead into discussions about characters and their needs and wants. With a picture book, you'll only have a few characters to select from ... and as a follow on task you can also discuss the needs and wants of each of them in the story.
  5. Economic writing is something I'd strongly encourage. Start with 30 word stories, then 15, then 6 word stories. An extension of this task can be to ask students to write out their small six word stories on a small object just big enough to accommodate the words like a small stone.
  6. Writing about an unreliable memory is a way of approaching personal experience with some degree of safety ... be careful when explaining this concept or you'll find half the stories written mirror your example.
  7. Words associated with a particular sporting pastime can be fascinating. Have students turn to the racing, rugby or soccer section in the paper, and take unfamiliar words associated with that sport and use them in a creative piece.
  8. Take a simple story familiar with all students, like Cinderella, and have them retell it in their own fashion. This is a wonderful way of introducing archetypes in stories.
  9. As an extension of task 8, have students change the chronology of a story familiar to all of them in their retelling. This is an activity that may be best suited to slightly more confident young writers. It is however, a wonderful way of exploring structure.
  10. Including a physical element in the telling of a story or poem can be an exciting way of exploring writing in a classroom. Have students cut the words they want from newspapers for a poem or short story. You'll find the way students approach this activity can be varied and fascinating ... like all storytelling!
You'll find numerous other ideas for creative writing approaches on the Breaking Writers Block resource on Lightning Bug.

One last note ... there are always students in the class that struggle with the creative writing process. Here are a couple of sure fire ways to help them find inspiration:

  • Simply relieving a student of the expectation that they need to finish the piece of writing can be an enormous release for them. This is good advice for all your young writers if need be! Starting the writing process off with an remark that you are looking for good examples of writing, not the person that completes their work first.
  • Rather than focussing on the story, encourage them to start with a character - ask them to describe the character, tell them they might base it on a family member, or a conglomeration of friends and family members' behaviors and traits. Once they have accomplished that, it's a wonderful place to talk about the needs and wants of that character ... and it's from these discussions that a story can be uncovered.
  • Ask your students to consider what sort of writer they are, what sorts of stories they find inspiring, what they are reading. Ask them to attempt to emulate that writing style.
Finally, make sure you are reading examples of different approaches taken in the classroom during the writing process. Yes this is something most good teachers will do, yes it's an obvious suggestion ... but it's important. Those students that don't read regularly need to hear as many examples of creative approaches to a story as possible.

Ok ... rant over.

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

Up to their necks in it

I was angered today to see an article published by the Fairfax newspaper group about a father choking his child treated with such careless disregard.

The article carried a headline of 'Up to his neck in it: dad chokes girl over Twilight movie', an obvious reference to vampires.

Stories are powerful, and to be able to tell a good story is a life skill that can help you no matter what your vocation is likely to be.

It's important that young adults see the power a story can have when used effectively and constructively. We need to be able to show our young adults moral role models in the media, and Fairfax is evidently lacking in this regard.

Violence against children is not a thing to be joked about, it's not a subject to be treated carelessly. Violence against children is never appropriate, and our young adults need to see this.

It's important that this sort of story is represented in the media, just as issues of politics and religion and all manner of other behaviours and beliefs are explored in a public forum.

It's also important that these sorts of stories are treated with a respect for the diverse readership and for those directly involved.

Perhaps I'm over reacting? Perhaps a crass joke about a man committing an act of violence against his child is something to be joked about? Disgusting.




Saturday, December 5, 2009

The story of stuff

I recently started helping my mother go through some of my late fathers belongings. It's a slow process, because it is a lifetime of acquisition we are sifting through.

There are some people that approach the belongings left after the death of a relative with a roll of garbage bags and a truck for the furniture ... and I can understand that. There is something cathartic about cleaning away old clothes and keeping only a few precious items for remembrance.

I've been discovering however, that real value can be in the smallest things, often seemingly inconsequential objects. Each week, my mother and I select a drawer or a cupboard and sort through it. In a dresser this week, we found a plastic jar full of coins and badges, paperclips and an odd assortment of other small items.

I was about to disregard much of it, when my mother took up a cuff link, and reminded me of the time years ago when Dad had made them. We were approaching Christmas with very little to spend on friends and family, and so my Dad bought a piece of copper the size of a dinner plate from a friend. He cut the copper, and made a dozen pairs of cuff links to give as presents.

Cuff links, a coat, a pair of shoes a coffee mug, there are so many objects in our lives we invest with stories. Sometimes it is because the object represents a moment in time, a bookmark for that place in our lives, when or why it was given.

Monetary value has no bearing on the weight of the story contained in an object. We hand down items of all shapes and sizes through our families and in our communities that represent stories.

Sporting cups with a list of names long forgotten still resonate for us, their layers of stories may only be remembered by a few, but we all feel the weight of collective memories in these objects.

A family bible, regardless of our own attachments and connections, have an inherited value because of the reverence with which they are often treated and kept. They are totoms representing the stories of our family, community and culture.

Flags are another, weighted heavily with story and significance, they may carry a smaller story of ownership but they will always reflect a vast store of community values and memory.

My Dad collected, he loved garage sales and markets, loved fixing the objects he found and I think, loved the stories that came with them. He loved people and the stories they told, and this was perhaps a large part of his motivation for collecting things of often not immediately apparent value. Much to the horror of my Mother I might add.

Dad always asked about the objects he bought, wanted their stories, needed to understand their value for the people he bought them from. It was one of the reasons he loved making things with his hands ... he then had a story to hold within him and to tell others. A story about time spent, and the care he had taken, and perhaps, the value it could represent for others.

Some items we have uncovered in my fathers large collection of things only had value to him, and held stories we have forgotten or that he never told us ... some of them include:

A Braille clock
A delicately constructed aeroplane made from whisper thin balsa wood
A collection of beautiful wooden handles - for what sort of tool, we have no idea
An old solitaire board, lovingly restored
A Danish made pistol less than an inch long, with a tiny container full of bullets and a ram rod

Thursday, November 26, 2009

CYL report findings ...

I attended the Inky Awards today which are, to quote the Inside a Dog website, an 'award in Australia that relfects what teenagers want to read. The Inkys are international awards for teenage literature'.

As an added bonus at the end of the ceremony, which was great fun, the CYL (Centre for Youth Literature) 'Keeping Young Australians Reading' report was released early for those attending.

The report is commissioned by the State Library of Victoria, and provides a snapshot of the reading landscape for 10 to 19 year olds. It looks at the factors inhibiting reading in this age group, and it also applauds those things we're getting right. It also takes into account findings from other youth surveys conducted at the same time which offer further insight into readers in this age bracket.

Mission Australia findings for example, resulting from a survey they conduct of 45k young people each year on their 'interests, attitudes and concerns', were taken into account.

For anyone involved in young adult literacy, the CYL report makes for fascinating reading.

I've outlined below, some of my own observations, some of the things I found particularly interesting. This is not to say that there aren't many more nuggets of interest to be found in the report. These are just the things that jumped out at me. I'd encourage you to seek out a copy of your own when it's released next week.

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  • CYL believe that there should be at least five books read each term by students in this age bracket. The benefits of this increase in reading in school are wide ranging and significant. Apart from the expected literacy and intellectual benefits, there are evident advantages in positive social outcomes and personal wellbeing.

  • Reading is becoming more socially acceptable in this age bracket. I found this particularly interesting ... Harry Potter certainly had a place to play in this, but the new slew of vampire books and movies are also drawing in many young readers.

  • 10 - 13 year olds that are not reading for pleasure are less likely to read for pleasure as adults. This is for neurological reasons. During puberty, the new cells and connections made in the brain made by those that are reading form the basis for their engagement later in life. These connections are not formed, or are shed by those that are either not reading during these years, or that stop reading during this time of physiological and neurological change.

  • More than one in five young adults between the ages of 11 and 19 are concerned about ... 'body image, drugs, family conflict, suicide, personal safety, bullying, emotional abuse, physical or sexual abuse, alcohol and copying with stress.' We KNOW young adults are facing these areas of conflict in their lives, what's encouraging is that there is evidence that reading allows young adults to engage with and find a way to work through concerns they may have about these issues.

  • There continues to be a substantial gulf in reading accomplishments between those young adults of indigenous and very remote communities and other students, particularly those in metropolitan Australia. Apparently. This particular part of the report I struggled with. I'm not an expert on this subject by any means. I do know however that indigenous Australians have a rich history of oral storytelling, and wonder how significantly this was taken into account. As nation we are still failing our indigenous people in ways both baffling and disheartening. Perhaps one of the reasons is that their accomplishments are still not understood? How on earth can you compare a young regional indigenous Australian's oral storytelling knowledge to the reading behaviours of 'other students' (their term)??

  • Graphic novels are experiencing a rise in popularity, amongst literacy professionals as well as young adults! I'm a big fan of the opportunities that graphic novels offer us in the classroom. It's encouraging to see them on the rise!

This just a small selection of areas covered in the report that I found particularly interesting. Of course there were mentions of subjects such as the rise of an e-book culture, migrant reading behaviours, economic factors and many others.

As I stated earlier, I'd encourage you to head out and get a copy when it becomes available next week.

Saturday, November 21, 2009

Our reality

One of the way in which to turn a story in an unexpected direction ... is to have your protagonists sense of social reality challenged.

There are countless things in our daily lives that only truly exist, because we consider, as a society, that they do exist. Marriage is one, money is another. These things exist because we want them to, and we allow our lives to be governed by them.

There are other considerations that we have that are common, but not universal. If I consider the streets are safe at night because of past experience, and common knowledge in the area, then I may believe it.

When those things that are hallmarks of what is 'normal' are challenged, the results can be unpredictable, and affect notions up to that point in the novel that we have taken for granted.

This can be most dramatic when it occurs unexpectedly. I've been witness to a murder? My sense of mortality / religion / safety on the streets is threatened. All of a sudden, I am dealing with a new reality, a world in which the predictable has become alien and unknown.

The reason this device works so well, is that it's something we as an audience, all fear. We hold on to these commonalities, the social realities that maintain our sense of the world. When they are challenged, it's frightening ... and exciting!

Sunday, November 15, 2009

Something New

Over the last few years I've met numerous teachers that had amazing classroom management, that were creative and inspiring ... and had not as yet, incorporated technology into their classrooms.

This bothered me. Being the evangelist that I am, I've converted a few along the way, but always struggled to find a good general resource to offer them. So over the last month I've been working on a project in my spare time that does just that. A gentle introduction into the different ways technology can help in the classroom.

I've made it as approachable as I can, with a selection of some of the better online tools available that I'm aware of. For the most part, these tools are free to use and are browser based, so no downloads required.

Building Community in the Classroom.

I'd love your feedback, and if you have them, some more classroom examples as they are a little light on in some places.

Sunday, November 8, 2009

300 Words

An amazing collection of 300 word stories published in the St Petersburg Times in 2004 made me consider what makes a good story today, and how we assess young adult writing.

If you're looking at criteria for assessment, there are many aspects of a narrative you might include in your rubric. You might focus on a mix of structure and narrative flow. You might look at voice, or a sense of presence in the novel. You may decide commend stories with a well defined story arc. Did they foreshadow effectively? Was there a suitable resolution? The list of considerations is endless.

It is a single characteristic however, that can establish a story as one worthy of credit ... character is often as far as you need to look. A well defined character drives the story. A character we care about and can empathise with, one that is a contradiction of emotions and desires just as we are.

A narrative with a strong, well defined character is essential to a story. When the author knows their subject so well that they 'know the change in their pockets', what makes them, drives them, what they yearn for and truly need. When their characters are so real we can reach out and touch them, then this is something worthy of attention.

The problem is of course, establishing a character rubric, a list of check boxes to determine success or failure is flawed. You can't easily assess the success of a story in this way. The only way to know a good one when you read it is to have a point of comparison ... which is why I'm off early to bed with a book.

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

Updates to the Media Library

I've updated the Media Library with some new tools. Some you will have seen before, others are new kids on the block, great new in-browser tools for creating online.

If you have a suggestions of how to improve this resource I'd love to hear from you!

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Finding Focus

Presentation Zen posted recently about emptiness and space and the way they can emphasise a focal point. It's an interesting read, and there are obvious parallels to building a story online.

When you teach story, there are many ways to approach it. You can talk about structure and story arcs, character needs and wants. You can give students a catalogue of tools they'll need to build an engaging story ... however ... one way in which you can teach the 'art' of writing, is by exploring juxtaposition with them. This is particularly true in digital narratives, where the way in which you arrange your text and images, video and audio together can have a profound impact on your audience.

When you strip away the peripheral, and focus on what is important, your story becomes stronger. Not only that, but you give your audience credit for having an imagination of their own. When you try to fill in all the blanks for them, when there's no mystery, your audience becomes bored.

When you leave space for their imaginings, your story becomes stronger because your audience is investing something of themselves in the narrative. It becomes their story too.

Less is more. I like it.

Sunday, October 18, 2009

Is that a narrative in your pocket

There are a dizzying array of apps available for the iPhone, and I've recently been looking at those that allow you to build narrative or create images for digital stories.

Typedrawing: It is essentially, a way of creating concrete poetry on your phone. You determine the text, and then create a picture with that text using your finger to 'paint' on screen. It's simple and creative storytelling in a digital form at its best. Take a look at a selection of images submitted by Typedrawing enthusiasts.

Toy Camera: The Toy Camera app, was inspired by a cheap Japanese camera produced in the 60's. Cheap plastic bodies and even cheaper plastic lenses were used in production. Often the cameras were given away during promotions. The cheap construction however, often resulted in some quite abstract effects. The cameras became sought after items, and were used by professional photographers to obtain award winning images

With the Toy Camera app, you get a random effect with each photo inspired by the original camera, often with surprising results. There is something of a narrative in using this application. Use Toy Camera, and you'll often end up seeing your subject in an entirely unexpected way. A succession of pictures may well tell a story you hadn't intended. The random aspect of this app is it's most significant advantage, many users swear by it.

Take a look at what @eglantinescake did with hers recently.

iMotion: This app allows you make stop motion movies on your iPhone. This is such a simple concept, but produces powerful results. Recently updated, you'll find this app is addictive and great fun. You can produce short, 20 frame movies, or go for something much longer. The controls are simple and intuitive.

Cool FX: A versatile image editing application, with numerous filters and options. While there are dozens of image editing apps, some free (like the Photoshop app), most don't have the range of tools that Cool FX offers. There are a few notable effects missing like tiltcam, but plenty to keep you fully occupied if image manipulation is your thing.

Hitchcock: This app is a little on the pricey side, at just over $20 AUD ... but it's an amazing storyboarding tool. Take a photo, insert direction and cutout images in position, crop and shape and produce a fast storyboard with shots from your actual location. Some small film buffs swear by it.

Animoto: If you haven't had the pleasure of being introduced to this app, you're in for a treat. Take a succession of images, choose your musical accompaniment, and Animoto will stitch together a professional video with smooth transitions that move in time to the music you've chosen. Oh, and it's free!

This list could be endless ... there are so many apps out there, and this is just a small selection of those that caught my eye. If you've seen an app worth considering, do share it via a note in the comments.

Friday, October 9, 2009

A story

My Dad died this week, and so he is all that has been on my mind.

I've been thinking about his stories, and there are so many. And thinking about mine. It's a strange time, surreal. Every moment feels profound and empty, and everyone speaks to you in clich├ęs.

If I was watching the movie of my life, it would be a sombre part, with appropriate music, or would it? Sure I've felt sad, but there are no rulebooks for these periods in our lives, and I've felt joy more than anything else. It's caught me a little by surprise.

Joy at his determination and strength. Joy that he made a good life, and at the end of it was surrounded by so many people that love him. A good measure of a life well lived I think.

So I wanted to tell you a story, because in our culture sharing stories is what keeps us alive, even after we die. It does more than tell us what to be wary of, or what to seek out. Stories remind us why we live, and good ones remind us what to live for.

When I was in my teens, Dad would take us kayaking on the Goulburn river in winter. It's a river in Victoria Australia, fed from melting snow in the hills. The water is cold, freezing, but in winter the water is high on the bank, and it makes for great paddling.

On this particular day I'd been paddling all day with Dad, and a dozen other club members. We were exhausted, cold and wet as it had been raining a little through the day. When we reached the last bend, Dad was amongst a number of other boats to reach the side first. I hung back, and waited, wanting space and a rest.

I'm not sure what it was that made me overturn. The water was moving, but not rough at all. It was deep however, and when I went in, it was shockingly cold. My legs had been wedged into the sides of a short, low volume, one man kayak and they cramped up the instant they touched the water. My hands were so stiff and store from the days paddling I couldn't make a fist. And I started to drown, just like that. Ten feet from the bank.

I managed somehow to reach the surface, and I remember taking a breath, and seeing Dad's face. It wasn't panicked, he was running when I saw him, and the look in his eyes stayed with me, I've never forgotten it. There was nothing stopping him. I suppose you could call it determination, but it wouldn't do it justice.

He dived in and reached me, and in a tangle of arms and legs we made it to the shore. Even in my early teens I was taller than Dad, and I think I almost drowned HIM on the way back to the bank a few times!

We were finally both sitting exhausted, wet through, freezing on the bank. I remember looking up at him, about to ask about going home or something, and being struck by this incredible sense of pride, and a realisation that he was kind of a hero to me at that moment.

Now if I told you we had this perfect father son relationship after that I'd be lying. I still had the rest of my teens to get through, and he wasn't getting out of it that easily!

Still, that moment, it's amazing to me. Memories like that, are precious and powerful for kids in their teens. When you can look at your Dad like that, know he's your hero, you can overcome anything. It helped me cope with some of the uncertainty of my adolescence, it helped me grow up.

And when I had children of my own, and remembered that look on his face as I floundered in the water ... well I never really understood the determination in his eyes on that day until then.

Monday, September 21, 2009

The Secret Cubby House

Looking for something new and fun to do with the 5/6 class I had this last 6 weeks, I built a unit around designing a cubby house (also I'm informed, known as a Wendy house).

My intention was that the project should be predominantly math based, and that I would build more in complexity over time. Each student would need to design a cubby of their choice.

Everything was trundling along nicely, when I noticed something interesting. Each cubby had a story. Most were subtle, but many had annotations or possessions included in the design that suggested an occupant, that often wasn't necessarily the designer.

As the complexity in the project increased over the weeks ... first a cross section, then a list of materials ... those with a narrative proceeded a little faster than those based purely on design.

It reinforced something I have seen time and time again.

A project that offers the framework for a narrative, regardless of the subject, can develop a strong momentum in the classroom. Story is a powerful motivator, and can fuel engagement.

The question that I didn't have answered, is how the project results may have differed if I had directed the narrative for the cubby project. For example, if I'd instructed the class to build a cubby for a particular occupant.

It might have been a motivating factor, and who lived inside it was a consideration that we all agreed was important as the project progressed. In the same way however, that I've witnessed story starters squash creative responses in students engaged in creative writing ... I suspect too much direction in the narrative may well have dampened enthusiasm.

Students have their own stories to tell, in each project, in each assignment. It can be a powerful motivator ... and math sheets or forced creative instructions don't allow for that expression.

Friday, September 11, 2009

Storybird Resource added to TDN

There's a new teaching page resource for Storybird. It's new, it's shiny. Check it out now.

Saturday, September 5, 2009

Storybird ... what's not to love?

I saw this little video recently, about a new bike that folds up and runs on a battery. There's this wonderful bit of promotional footage where our hero, with freedom in his heart, races through the city. Frustrated guy stuck in traffic, and tired girl at the bus stop watch in surprise as he scoots past them, to arrive unruffled at his destination.

'Gosh, how is he going to link this to writing a story?' I hear you ask.
Well I AM going to link this little metaphor to story writing, so just sit back and listen ok?

Anyway ... there's the guy, speeding through the city with freedom in his heart (I like that bit) and the wind in his hair ... and he passes all these people by (So here it is, the jump from metaphor to my thoughts on writing... ready?).

I often feel like bike guy when working with story writing and technology. That girl at the bus stop? One of those people yet to discover how wonderful teaching with technology can be. In my experience, those yet to grasp the nettle and try using tech in their classrooms are concerned about how to implement it. Technology may scare them, their students mastery of it certainly might, and they hesitate, and perhaps they avoid it altogether.

The wonderful thing about using technology in the classroom is that it doesn't have to be challenging, or complicated ... and an easy way to put a toe in the water (another metaphor, I know, I'll have to stop) ... is to use an application like Pim Pam Pum, a wonderful site for building stories online.



When you find a new tool to explore narrative with students it's like finding gold! A new way for them to discover story, structure, build character, it's wonderful. Enter Storybird, a newly released application (in beta as of today) for building stories online.

Sure it's been done before, sure there are comic book builders and a dozen other tools that can be engaging and fun to use ... but Storybird has an edge. Firstly it's so simple to use, so simple you'll be an expert in minutes ... which is wonderful because that means you can focus on building stories rather than figuring out how to find the menu.

While it lacks the benefits of teaching juxtaposition as easily as a tool like Pim Pam Pum, it has plenty to offer. For a start, the illustrations you can use are wonderful, and if you were teaching theme, or voice, it's a perfect vehicle for that discussion in the classroom.

Choose an illustrator, add pages the story, then fill in the story. It's that easy.

While I can easily imagine students using this at a primary level, don't dismiss it for secondary students, and yes I mean up to year 12 students. Why? Because teaching economy in language is a valuable thing for writers of any age, and the perfect vehicle for it is a picture book.

Just because it's a picture book doesn't mean you have to explore elementary themes either. Just take a wander through Fox, the CBC winner for 2001.


A page on TDN will be created in the next week or so dedicated to this wonderful site ... and I'd encourage you to take a look over it with your students.

So what are you waiting for?! Visit Storybird and Find Your Story!

Thursday, September 3, 2009

The New Learning

Clive Thompson recently wrote about Andrea Lunsford and her study of young adult writing. Her research has revealed that young adults are writing more than ever ... she believes we are in fact in the midst of a 'literacy revolution, the likes of which we haven't seen since Greek civilisation'. It's a refreshing read, and an exciting taste of what is yet to come.

Friday, August 28, 2009

Brainstorms and butchers paper



Have you ever built a story with your entire class?

Finding a method that allows you to build a narrative together, with equal participation and consensus can be tricky to say the least. So why bother? Why try to build a story together when it's much easier to simply direct your class to create their stories individually?

Well, when you build a story as a class, something wonderful happens. Your students develop a personal investment in the SAME story, and you can harness that engagement in a variety of ways. You can talk about what's working, and what's not, you can explore structure with an example your students are absorbed in because it's their story.

But before we explore how you might approach it, lets talk about working together, because it's an important part of collaborative story building.

We know that we work together to resolve a problem, the strength of a collective approach can be powerful. The knowledge of the crowd can in fact, be greater than the smartest individual in that crowd.

Recent analysis reveals however that brainstorming ideas with your students with butchers paper or on a white board can be a great way to stall the creative thinking you were hoping to harness.

To avoid this, your best bet is to approach your brainstorming online. Creative collaboration online helps remove the barriers of perceived inadequacy that may be present in your students. It allows participants to build consensus in a way that's less threatening and is a more immediate way of collating ideas. Suggestions put forward are more likely to be judged on their merits. Brainstorming online also allows for many ideas to be presented at once.

So how do you approach it? How do you build a story as a class, together, all at once, at the same time, online ... and not have it end in complete disaster and confusion?

First, you need a place to build your story. You need a resource that will allow the entire class to watch the story grow together. You also need it to be a collaborative space, so that students all have the opportunity to update it if necessary.

With a forum, your story will be posted one piece at a time, which is great, except the story will read from the bottom up ... backwards! A shared space like Google Docs has issues with logins and how to share the space. Etherpad is perhaps one of the better options available. It's a space that accommodates many users, has the features you need for simple editing, and it's quick to setup.

Now for the process ... you'll want to talk about what is distinctive about short stories. Fewer characters, set the scene quickly, getting into the action quickly etc.

Now have each students each write an initial paragraph to the story in a Word docuement or text editor. Read out as many as you can, and then using Polleverywhere, have the students vote on the one they think is the best beginning. You want to encourage the students to judge the contenders on what makes the best short story beginning, the one that meets the criteria you discussed at the start of the class. Ensure the polling is projected on the overhead display so that the class can watch the results come in.

Students LOVE this. If you've never used this voting site before, you're in for a treat. Results appear live on screen as the votes are cast. The process takes only a moment, but the room will be captivated until the results are in!

Now, talk about why this is the best beginning, and what comes next. Have we met our hero? Who are they and what do they need/want? Most importantly, talk about the fact that students will need to continue the story using the same voice as the author of the first piece of the story.

While students go on to write the next section of the story, clear the voting results in your Polleverywhere survey, ready for the next vote.

Oh, and remember our brainstorming dilema earlier? Etherpad has a wonderful chat feature to the right of the work space that allows students (and you) to engage in a backchannel discussion about the story. My strong suggestion is to stipulate that this space requires formal language to suggest things to consider in the next section of the story. This helps keep the discussion focussed, and reduces 'chatter'.

This is just one approach to a collaborative story building exercise with students, but it's one of the best I've come up with so far. In my experience it works exceptionally well ... and the students love it!

If you've not used the tools I mentioned in this post, I suggest you explore them with the class first to give everyone the experience of using them. Having said that, I've taught students using this approach that had never seen these applications before, with good results, so it's not a necessity.

Oh, and if you haven't had the pleasure of wandering through the pages of 'The Wisdom of Crowds', Surowiecki's book (exploring the strength of a collective approach) is both approachable and fascinating.

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Because we're driven to it ...

Recent studies reveal that we give because it is innate. Altruism it turns out, is something that we're born with, a biological imperative to lesser or greater degree in all of us. When we write in any medium, you might also conclude that we are driven to share our stories. This part of us that is driven to give, must surely influence our sharing stories.

Of course when we tell a story there is ego involved, as well as a wish to entertain and enlighten. We tell stories to benefit our tribe warning of pitfalls, guiding by stories of example. People write for many reasons, but at the root of what drives us to share our stories is ... well ... sharing.

It's just another reason I see digital storytelling as enduring, an inevitable tide that is gradually coming in. Telling stories and needing to hear them is something that's innate within all of us, and the medium is now changing. Not all at once mind you, but slowly, over time, how we tell a story is undergoing a revolution.

Saturday, August 15, 2009

When context is king

I've been watching Steven Pinker talk about language and thought, and he's a man that takes language seriously. I've never come across a person that could discuss verbs with such fervour, or a such length ... except perhaps for my English teacher in year 10.

So why did I find this interesting, and how does it relate to digital storytelling forms in particular? First, let's observe the fact that we live with a fixed series of constructions that govern our language, and we use them for the most part, unconsciously. Our sentences are, largely, framed around verbs for example.

Steven talks about this framework, about how we're strongly influenced by our preconceptions in language, his work explores how we can have an unconscious understanding of what people mean by using language in a particular way. For example, using the phrase 'Let's get it on' would most commonly be interpreted as something other than looking for a light switch.

Preconceptions like these are largely at our discretion when we're reading a novel, we make decisions about what we think something means based on our experience, but also based on the context in the story. Observing how language is interpreted, how one word or phrase influences another is the art of the author.

When we want young writers to observe language more closely, there are a number of ways it can be done. One way can be to have them build smaller and smaller stories. 2 paragraphs becomes 1, becomes 20 words, becomes 10, and then 6 word stories. This forces the writer to hone their language, and closely consider the relationships between each word, and as a whole.

With digital storytelling however, closer attention is a necessity. There are additional influences on the reader more diverse and potentially beyond our control that may ultimately be the undoing of our story for the reader. For example, where I refer to a 6 word story website earlier. The page I have linked to is completely beyond my control in so far as the stories presented at that website are changing constantly. If you were to read something objectionable on that site, and then return to this post, it may adversely influence your reading of what I have written.

With digital storytelling, there are potentially so many influences on our reading of the text, that once we are aware of this, we are forced to adopt a more closely observational style of writing. We must remain alert to how these external influences may affect the reading of our work. Context becomes king, in a way that it does not with static text offline, and I find this fascinating, because context is one of the few ways in which the art of writing is teachable. You can teach context, in the same way that you can guide a new photographer to develop an eye for their art.

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

The gegoraphy of our stories, and David Lynch

This series of short interviews was commissioned by David Lynch. He sent a team across America, on a 20,000 km road trip. The team interviews everyday people, hundreds of them, about their hopes and dreams, what scares and inspires them. It's worth a look, and you'll find some of the stories gripping.

I tried to identify, as I watched, why that was. Was it simply that some problems are universal? Probably. Each of our stories is far less unique than we'd like to think, and yet we are so individual and fascinatingly different that it defies belief. The answers to questions from the interviewers are honest and revealing, and the stories released thus far resonate long after watching.

The focus on geography also caught my interest. The interactive map that shows the path that the Lynch team is taking, the links and pictures on the route you can select to discover more. So many of our stories explore location in a very real sense now. So many applications are available now that map the geography of our lives. Whether it's using Google Maps to place a national news item in an online newspaper, or an iPhone location reference displayed to tell anyone that will listen where we are, as we tweet what we're doing.

Hearing voices and reading stories from a 'real' location helps the stories feel real, and we want real, we want startling honest evidence that these stories are true. 'In the olden days' as daughter calls my past, when we wrote letters instead of emails, location was the sending address on the envelope, the origin of the postage stamp and the postal stamp.

Many of our stories online are however, not marked, and drift in the ether. Spam messages with no evident origin or owner, stories that could have been posted from home, or on a trip interstate in the car. Perhaps the increasing focus on the geography of our stories is because we fear this feeling of our stories being adrift.

When we see where the story has been made, it feels like a tangible thing, not something we've read online. When we see where something happened, we can imagine the terrain of the event, map out how we might have experienced it. When we know where it was, it feels a little closer, we feel a little closer, to the people involved, to those telling the story. In the end, being a little closer is what so many of our stories online are all about.

Sunday, August 9, 2009

Finding some perspective!

Finding perspective can be a difficult thing when you're writing. Often, you're so close to what you're doing that it's hard to take a step back, particularly if you need to resolve a problem.

Sometimes it can help to visually collect your thoughts, and today I came across a wonderful list of graphic organisers at Freeology that helps you do just that. The organisers are as you would expect, clearly labelled, to help you find just the right one for you or your students to approach a problem.

Of course, using an online alternative like Thinkature will save trees, and you have the option of collaborating on your problem with a group. If however, you're like me, and tend to do all your writing online, using a pencil and paper can help you look at things in a different way.

It may also help to take your printed graphic organiser and pencil to the kitchen table to nut out your problem. A change of scenery can also do wonders.

Thursday, August 6, 2009

Samorost

One of the aspects of digital narrative that I find so absorbing is that it is a form of storytelling still only in its infancy. Each new form that emerges is fascinatingly unique, and yet like any visual artists former work, you can often glimpse influences of earlier styles.

When I first came across Samorost years ago, I was at once struck by how different it was to many of the other animated games available at that time.

An enveloping atmosphere reminded me of the Myst series, but with an entirely unique approach. Designer Jakub Dvorsky describes his games as 'something between an animated story and a regular game.' Built in Flash, the first installment was released free, and such was the attention that it received, that a sequel was released, equally absorbing and fascinating.

Samerost, and its sequel Samerost2 are both games by Amanita Design, a Czech independent game development studio founded in 2003. Their work has a wonderful lingering narrative style that draws you in. Both Samerost games are filled with richly detailed and absorbing sketchbook drawings, enhanced by simple but effectively surreal animation and effects, and a story thread that tugs you gently along. The score for both games distinctively dreamy, adding a moody and memorable atmosphere to the games.

Samorost is not what I would call, strongly driven by character. The problems faced in the story are simple, the character Gnome's story arc is elementary and yet the narrative resonates because of the numerous background stories that were imagined for the series by Jakub. These were stories created by Jakub purely to develop Gnome's character, to make him more fully realised.

There is a saying, that you should know the characters in your story well enough to know the change in their pockets.
Though Gnome appears to be a simple character, he was fully realised for Jakub, and as a result, for his audience.

Machinarium is the third in the series, due for imminent release, and it promises to be something different again. While the first two releases were a gentle story driven by the reader, solving simple puzzles and following the adventures of our hero Gnome, Machinarium has more action and 'game' aspects.



I'm really looking forward to the third in this series, and would strongly encourage you to explore the two current releases in this series by Anamita Design. You can also follow the work of this innovative design company by subscribing to their blog.

Sunday, August 2, 2009

Rushing through the process

I spent the afternoon with my daughters at the Museum today. There were queues at the door which was heartening to see, until I got inside. Yes there were many parents allowing their children to take the lead. There were just as many however, that were frantically pushing their children from exhibit to exhibit, caught up in making sure they 'saw everything' and got their money's worth. I watched some children literally pulled away from exhibits they were absorbed in to get to the next thing ... and it made me wonder what on earth those parents were doing there.

When young adults are actively seeking out knowledge, it's something you have to slow down and enjoy. You can't rush them through the process to get the ribbon at the end.

It made me think about the many stories I wrote when I was young that ended with 'and then the world blew up'. I always rushed the ending because we were often busied along to finish our creative endeavours in an allotted time.

Imagining an entire narrative arc when you're in grade four could be a little challenging at times, but was far worse for working to a deadline. Ending the world (and my story) in one quick sentence at the end meant I never had to contemplate where my story was going, I could just enjoy the writing process.

Stressing that students don't have to come up with an ending, or finish in an allocated time can go a long way to settling them down to actually enjoying the writing process! It might also give the four students at the back of the room that often struggle with creative writing tasks, the breathing room to settle into the activity.

Of course, guiding the writing task with a particular purpose is another way to approach this. Simply have them focus on one aspect of their story, building atmosphere or character for example, with an understanding that finishing is not the purpose of the exercise.

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Image from www.sxc.hu


I recently read a journal article entitled 'Empathy in the time of Technology: how storytelling is the key to empathy'

It was a revealing read, and I'd encourage you to explore it, but it also reminded me of something that occurred earlier in the year, so let me backtrack for a moment.

You may remember some time ago when I turned everything upside down on Facebook, literally. I turned my photos, all my text, anything within my power, upside down. I posted status updates for some weeks upside down as well.

At first, people in my circle of friends thought it was funny, a number of them sent messages asking how I'd done it ... but after a while, the joke seemed to wear off. First one, then several more contacted me asking when things were going to return to normal.

Comments followed in response to my upside down status updates with offhand remarks about the fact that they tired of it and would I stop? Please? Then I received a more vitriolic message from a friend for whom it had obviously gone too far.

It was a small social experiment, and I'll admit, unlikely to tell us anything profound, but I was eager to see just how important social media was to the people around me.

That some were put out, insulted even, that I was poking fun at what was for them an important part of their social agenda. Many were defensive about 'seeing the joke', and were obviously unsettled by my actions, and this brings me to my point. Social media affects many of us to a degree we're often not ready to admit.

Sites like Facebook have come upon us so quickly, with such incredible growth, that it's hard find perspective, hard to appreciate how dominating this influence has become, particularly on the minds of our young adults.

If you subscribe to PJ Manney's thoughts on empathy and social media, and I do, then storytelling and reading are perhaps the most potent tools in our arsenal to combat failing empathy in young adults addicted to social media.

I'd also argue that story building using digital media tools and other web2 applications, is equally important. Storytelling with digital media encourages the author to see applications like Facebook, and their involvement with it, more objectively. It provides a disconnect that's often lacking.

Encouragingly, recent studies suggest that those young adults spending most time than their peers, are also more likely to read more prolifically for pleasure than their peers. I choose to see this as an encouraging sign that we can't live without empathy, that it is such an integral part of who we are that we will over time, seek out those things that will restore the balance. I'm just hoping that will happen sooner rather than later, and that through digital storytelling, we might be able to speed things up a little.



Monday, July 20, 2009

Story Starters

I hated story starters when I was at school ... something many teachers still seem to roll out as a creative writing exercise. While I'll admit that some educators do take unique approaches to using story starters, for the most part they end up producing repetitive narratives that have been stalled before they began.

One simple alternative you can use to awaken a creative voice in young writers is to present them with a selection of inspiring images. Erin Tyners work reminded me of this when I came across her work today, her photographs cry out with stories that needs to be told.



There is something evocative and consuming about her small creations. They would be wonderful for inspiring discussions about character or story in the classroom.



Erin has a wonderful Flickr photo stream I'd recommend you visit, and you can purchase a selection of her images on her website if you're interested.

Friday, July 17, 2009

Stories to be told

It is said that there are a finite number of stories to be told, and that we simply retell them in our own fashion through each generation. We follow the heroes journey, we traverse the same narrative arcs, we relish the peril and conflict before achievement of a goal. We like to think we're making a unique contribution when we write, and we are, despite the myriad of familiar reappearances. Each author is unique in their perspective and style.

Each individual reader also accepts their own interpretation of events. Different aspects of the story are more or less important, different lessons are learnt or ignored based on the myriad of influences in a readers life.

Terrible Yellow Eyes offers a graphic reminder of this interpretation I think, where we are given the opportunity to see how contributors to this collection have been influenced by this famous story in so many fascinating ways.

I'd encourage you to look through these images reflecting on what aspect of Where the Wild Things Are perhaps most guided the artist. Was it conflict or friendship? Fear of the unknown? Or perhaps something more difficult to define?
Something new from Shaun Tan is always welcome .. even if it is something small.

Tuesday, July 7, 2009

Exploring the new iPhone 3gs has been an obsession lately, particularly with regard to how it can be used to tell stories in the classroom. Of course the new video features with on the fly editing are wonderful. No the video quality isn't HD, but it's certainly YouTube worthy and quite suitable for storytelling projects you might be involved with in the classroom.

I've also been diving into the apps available as well with renewed vigour, and today was pleasantly surprised.

TypeDrawing is a small app built for the iPhone. It is essentially, a way of creating concrete poetry on your phone. At a cost of $1.19 AUD it's a bargain. You determine the text, and then create a picture with that text using your finger to 'paint' on screen. It's simple and creative storytelling in a digital form at its best. And the things I love about it most, it's accessible and great fun - here's hoping it may attract more people to digital storytelling!

You can find out more on the developers site, and there's even a lively Flickr group dedicated to TypeDrawing art. Worth a look

Just for the record, I'm not associated with TypeDrawing in any way.

You may have noticed, that the TDN blog space has been a little sparse lately. This is partly due to my being away for a while, and partly due to my new obsessive compulsive use of Twitter. Apologies, normal transmission will resume soon.

Saturday, June 6, 2009

Exploring the world of Jonathan Harris is an absorbing experience. His Universe project allows us to navigate common threads of experience drawn from data mining on the web ... threads that tell us what our new mythologies might be.

Jonathan s work attempts to capture for us, not simply the mood or aspirations of the world online, but to draw out our commonalities. His work reveals the many ways in which we are more alike than think.
I am always amazed at how many variations there can be in the method in which you can tell a story using digital media. The Whale Hunt is wonderful example. Despite it being a linear narrative, the reader is encouraged to explore at multiple points in the storyline. I really enjoyed looking through it, and encourage you to take a look too!

Friday, June 5, 2009

Positive Stories is an initiative developed by the Australian National Council on Drugs (ANCD). It's a site full of stories of insight and hope, and I'd encourage you to spend some time there. Some of the stories are raw and unpolished, some accomplished and a few even poetic.

Saturday, May 30, 2009

I noted in a recent post by Brian Crosby that he has had to move to less laptops in his classroom ... 1:1 no longer. It got me thinking about how digital storytelling can often be collaborative process in the classroom, and not always by choice.

There are many ways in which you can build stories with a class where the contributions are collaborative. It's certainly a valuable approach where you are storyboarding, or wanting to allocate clear roles and responsibilities to members of a group.

It can however, make your end product somewhat more difficult to assess if you're trying to determine individual contributions. Hearing the stories of individual voices can also be important. It can be particularly important where you're looking to hear from those students that find it more comfortable to express themselves emotionally online.

There are a number of ways to ensure that students are all getting a turn contributing individually when there are demands on the resources. Here's just a few.

- Taking turns to contribute to a group story. This can be a wonderful way of getting the entire class involved, but ensuring that you get individual contributions. TDN has an outline for one approach to this, but I've also used Polleverywhere with the class to vote up story snippets with great success.

- Twin narratives. Get students to pair up and take turns writing alternating narrative arcs. Two voices ensures you're hearing from each student clearly. This is particularly effective in a journal format, where responses are being exchanged in the story. For example, pen friends (an old term I know) exchanging emails.

- I've found using online mind mapping tools to write stories a fascinating way to explore story building, as well as revealing a students predisposition for structure. Have one student relay story story elements, and the other build the structure. Linear patterns, star shapes, seemingly disorganised webs and complicated structural creations, you'll find all these and more when you build stories in this way. You'll also find that these stories often seem to denote learning styles ... but I'll let you explore that for yourselves.

Having limited resources available can be challenging when building stories online, particularly if you're looking to see what each student has to contribute. It's possible though, and more than that, you'll find that it will push you to explore more varied forms of storytelling in your classroom.

Thursday, May 28, 2009

Take some time to explore the digital stories at the NYTimes ... the ongoing series of stories titled 'One in Eight Million' is a wonderful initiative. This is an amazing collection of personal profiles. None are longer than a few minutes, but all that I've seen so far are powerful.

Find some quiet time, and a hot cup of something, and enjoy!

Monday, May 25, 2009

Some wonderful graphic novel resources. This site even boasts a teacher section with presentations and more that you can use in your classroom.

Saturday, May 16, 2009

Story building using Twitter!
Incidentally, Meanjin is a wonderful publication for those of you unfamiliar with it.

Thursday, May 14, 2009

There are a myriad of ways to gain the attention of a class, and whether yours is a gesture, a question or (hopefully not) raising the volume ... the real question is, what sort of attention do you have? Take a look over a recent post about The Psychology of Attention on Psyblog. It's an eye opener :-)

Monday, April 27, 2009

I'm a big fan of Stixy ... but recently came across Wallwisher which offers a solid alternative. Both are great noticeboard apps ... essentially, you can put up pictures and text (and docs with Stixy) ... and have them displayed on a 'wall' ... accessible to your audience via a simple url.

I've found these tools useful if I'm presenting, and want a simple static reminder for my audience to refer to after the show is over. A list of URL's they might have missed noting down for example. It's quick to setup or make changes and simple to navigate.

In the classroom, they're great for mid to late primary students perhaps using the web for the first time. I've also used them for simple storyboarding with students.

Stixy has more features and enables you upload documents, larger images, and allows you to manipulate font sizes, styles and more. I find the Stixy menu can be fiddly, and their html link tool can be a little hit and miss (though Stixy assure me that this will be resolved in future bug fixes).

Wallwisher on the other hand may be light on features, but has the edge on usability, with straightforward tools and menus ... and it allows RSS feeds for changes to the wall if you leave it open for comments which is pretty handy!

Sunday, April 26, 2009

Though I've been aware of, and a huge fan of Wordle for a while now, I'd not come across Tag Cloud before ... a straightforward alternative. While very similar to Wordle, it has a few distinct differences.

The most significant of these is that it presents, in simple language, the criteria for adjusting word frequency, and tools for adjusting the results - all on the front page. Wordle is great, and my tool of choice particularly because you can manipulate fonts and text sizes, shape etc. Tag Cloud has an attractive simplicity however ... oh, and it also offers html code to copy your cloud to ... well ... wherever you like.
I've updated the Teaching Method resources with an entry for Penzu. This wonderful little application is, like all Digital Narrative resources, browser based and easy to use.

Penzu is essentially a diary online, as private or public as you wish. Its features are intuitive and the UI well designed. Not only that, but using a diary regularly will improve your writing, is a great format for storytelling ... and according to Penzu ... may even help you live longer?!

Diary writing is also great for exploring an existing class text (like the class novel), wonderful for developing a writing habbit and a fantastic way of introducing perspective to students. You can also include images, allowing you to explore juxtaposition with students.

The site does require registration, but only when you are ready to save your first entry. This means you can get started with a class quickly, and have them writing in minutes if you wish. The downside is that you'll need to maintain a list of passwords and usernames ... but this seems to be part of life in the modern age :-)

Thursday, April 23, 2009

Lifesnaps is a unique approach to the concept of photo sharing online. There are dozens ... and dozens ... of online photo repositories, and Lifesnaps even says in its introduction that they are 'similar to popular photo sharing sites like Flickr and Picasa.' ... in fact, you can fairly easily move pictures from both these services over to Lifesnaps.

They stands appart from the competition however because of they use timelines to organise your pictures. Great idea. The site help features are text heavy which is never a good sign, but the UI was fairly straight forward to use ... though it took me longer than it should to find out how to upload my pictures. The concept however is strong, and it will be one to watch as they further refine their service.

It's story building possabilities are evident ... with linear storylines and perhaps images with embedded text. Looking forward to digging into Lifesnaps a little further.

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Tumbarumba - a Firefox extension that hides stories in your daily searches!

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

I've been building up the Media Library. New to the list is Write With. Not as simple to use as Etherpad, but worth a look. Great for comparing revisions and has a cool deadline feature.

Monday, April 20, 2009

Just found Wridea, a wonderful little app for organising your thoughts. It's much like Loose Stitch which I've previously posted about. These tools are ALSO wonderful for mapping out a story. They enable collaboration ... and are perfect for classroom use. The only drawback of both tools, is that they require registration. While that's not a huge impediment ... registration neccesarily involves passwords and usernames (lost and found).
For reasons of perpetual stickyiness ... I am posting about Many Eyes.

Stickyness, for those that are not aware of the expression, is what web developers refer to when a website keeps its visitors on a page for longer, or keeps them coming back. Many Eyes has had me back a number of times to delve into their data sets, and look through the many variations of data visualisation that they have on display.

I love that the developers built this tool not only 'to enable a new social kind of data analysis' ... but 'to encourage sharing and conversation around visualizations' ... to start conversations, to encourage stories and debate. Principles I heartily endorse.

Sunday, April 19, 2009

This year, ISTE is putting on a contest for educators to submit videos that tell stories of student or educational transformation through technology.

All eligible submissions will be featured on ISTE’s new video portal and will be entered into monthly drawings for prizes such as mini notebooks, ipods, flip cameras, and ISTE books. The grand prize will be selected by the live audience at the Member Welcome and Conference Overview on Sunday afternoon and will win an all-expense paid trip to NECC 2010 in Denver!

Saturday, April 11, 2009

The Australian Publishing industry needs your support.

'Limiting territorial copyright to 12 months would be very destructive. [It] would destroy the investment security that allows Australian publishers to invest in and develop Australian authors, illustrators and editors'

If want to show your support against the current proposed changes ... you can do so here. I'd encourage you to sign your name to the petition. Cultural erosion is not a thing to be taken lightly.

Friday, April 3, 2009

When I was eight, my aunt returned from traveling through Asia with a bag of slides. She came over one night and put on a slide show for us, accompanied by a tape she had recorded as she walked through the streets of remote parts of some amazing countries.

Sounds filled our lounge room of streetside sellers, car horns and busses and poeple chattering in languages foreign to me. Arresting images were brought to life with these sounds, and I still remember the sense of wonder that was created in me.

Jonas Bendiksens digital story exploring urban slums reminded me of that night. It's a compelling exploration of fragments of urban slum living. It's fascinating, beautiful and heart breaking all at once. The images are stunning, the people resilient and their stories absorbing.

I strongly suggest taking a look inside this impressive digital story.

Thursday, April 2, 2009

In my rapidly growing toolkit of must have applications for building stories, and general classroom usefulness ... Loose Stitch becoming a bit of a favorite. It allows you to quickly and easily create an outline for ... well ... anything really.

Of course, in my humble opinion, it's best use is for drafting story outlines, but I'm hardly biased ... well ... maybe just a little.

One of its best features is that it allows collaboration. Now there are many tools that have emerged over the last year or two built for collaborative work, but few that have the simplicity and usefulness of Loose Stitch when it comes to outlines.

Oh, and it's free, that's also a pretty good feature :-)

Wednesday, April 1, 2009

Prezi is going live, and that's exciting. I've been playing with it for a few months now while it remained locked in closed Beta, and it's a wonderfully fresh approach to displaying information. Simply put, it's like a free flowing slide show application, but rather than moving steadily through a series of slides, you flip and twist around a large display, hopping from preloaded video to text to zoom into an image, then onto a web link.

The Prezi release is " April 5, at 04:00 am New York time, 01:00 am Los Angeles time, 10:00 am CET" and I'd suggest you take it for a trial run upon it's release.

My only concern is what restrictions will be in place when Prezi moves out of Beta and into a live "trial' mode. The release notes report that users will be able to "do 3 more Prezi displays before you will have to choose between a free or two paid licenses.". I presume that means you will only be able to build 3 free Prezi displays that are saved at any one time, or pay for a subscription? We'll have to wait and see.

Tuesday, March 31, 2009

When last year, Facebook decided to change the prefix on the status bar for it's 65 million users, it got me thinking. They had previously only allowed 'Martin is ...' for the status area, and for most users that was fine. 'Martin is snowboarding' or 'Martin is having a coffee' etc. For a minority however, it wasn't enough, and so the 'is' was removed after much badgering to allow more freedom in this status field for Facebook users.

It got me thinking about the way in which web applications, or the businesses behind them, direct our experience online, particularly the social online experiences of young adults.

One of my greatest concerns in this brave new digital age we're accelerating through, is that young adults will for the most part, simply accept and allow online tools, particularly social media websites, to direct their experience. That their socialisation will be subtly guided by the businesses that own the platforms on which they are playing.

I'm concerned that young adults won't question sources of content, why information is presented in a particular way, or how their own data is used by businesses behind the web tools we're becoming reliant on.

I'm not suggesting a conspiracy, but that young adults need to be equipped to question the online environments they are exploring and spending their time in.

One of the best ways to help students to explore the features of a web application and to teach them to use it for their own purposes rather than those it was designed for, is to encourage them to create stories.

Building creative narratives with Facebook and digital image editing websites, chat services and collaborative tools like Google Docs helps students to be more objective. It shows them that these tools can be used for purposes other than those they were built for. It encourages them to question why these online applications are designed and built the way they are.

When young adults build stories using web media, when they subvert the original purpose of these online applications to be creative - they take control.

The Digital Narrative was built with this purpose, to encourage educators to guide young adults toward taking control of their experiences online.

Monday, March 30, 2009

Building web pages for classroom use is a wonderful way to keep resources and your expectations for assessment (amongst other things) at your students fingertips. Webnode is a fully featured website builder I came across recently. It's free, with a relatively straightforward UI.

If you're looking for something simpler however, with less features, but a shorter learning curve, Stixy is likely to be what you're after. I've posted about Stixy before, and remain impressed. Simple to set up, it's perfect for presenting information quickly for an audience needing ongoing access.

These web building resources are also good for students that wish to present material online. Stixy is simple enough for late primary students.
Xtranormal is a wonderful little website that allows you to build an animated story quickly and easily. This story building tool is great fun for students exploring storyboarding and narrative, and a useful way of working with an existing class text.

Sunday, March 29, 2009

My wife's blog featured a lovely digital narrative today. Thought I'd share it with you. And who is that gorgeous little girl in the picture?

Thursday, March 19, 2009

I attended the Setting the Scene exhibition yesterday, and was wowed. The exhibit contains set tools from some remarkable movies, as well as other physical representations of space. Though the exhibit doesn't contain many actual set pieces, what it does have are a number of the models and numerous drawings used to draft the spaces films would emerge in.

I found particularly interesting, the notion of blending spaces. For example, in Australia, virtual spaces were created to blend the real with the unreal, to smooth over the fault lines between location spaces and sets at the studio.

The exhibit was interesting for another reason, the notion of spaces in writing, the way digital narratives are informed by the spaces in which we explore them. Digital stories are influenced by the spaces in which they are screened (personal or private etc). They are influenced by the static and animated recordings of spaces shown in the story. They also are explored in spaces described through narration, remembrances and imaginings.

There are also the degrees of influence spaces represent in a digital story: private and public, virtual and staged, places of transition or power, labyrinthine spaces. All these spaces may be inhabited, and are often as evocative as the characters in story themselves. These spaces can be instigators of change and conflict in story, and through this are a significant consideration in narrative structure as they directly inform character.

The exhibit is on at ACMI in Melbourne, Australia for those interested in attending.

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Wander over to Jeff Utecht's blog The Thinking Stick and read his latest blog post. It explores the idea of teaching writing in this new era, where young writers are immersed in multiple forms of media.

The post mentions the notion of audience, and that young adults now have a broader understanding of who they are writing for. Young adults are more likely to understand their audience in a way that they never have before. Social media particularly is engineering a revolution in the way that young adults consider who they are directing their writing toward.

It's my belief that through this broader understanding of audience, we will witness a generation of young adults with a deeper sense of community, and a stronger appreciation for how their writing impacts on the world around them.

Saturday, March 14, 2009

As part of a current course of study, I'm engaging in some digital artwork online in order to better understand how to teach creatively. Art is not something I'd say I excel at, but I have strong theme driving my engagement with this task, so it will be interesting to see what the end results are like.

The brief is simply to build a personal creative project, and reflect on the results. Feel free to build me up, or tear me down based on the results so far :-)

Art Journey

Saturday, February 28, 2009

The website Morgue File sounds ominous, but as the site author explains, the term " is popular in the newspaper business to describe the file that holds past issues flats. Although the term has been used by illustrators, comic book artist, designers and teachers as well."

In this case, it's the name of a wonderful little website chock full of free stock images. There are a number of these sites out there, but most have a blend of free and licensed stock which make them more difficult to use in the classroom. This presents a problem if you are concerned about copyright issues as you build your digital stories.

Of course, the best option by far is to create your own images ... gaining a greater sense of ownership over the piece your creating ... but that's not always possible or practical. Morgue File offers a nice clean UI, and a good source of high resolution stock ... and did I mention it's free?
Watch David Merrill's work, and be amazed. The possibilities for storytelling and learning are enormous.