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.