Monday, June 22, 2015

Storytime with StoryKit

Sometimes the simplest apps can make the most powerful lessons.

A few weeks ago, I was brainstorming a lesson with a 7th grade Life Science teacher at my school. She had a unit on symbiosis coming up and she wanted to assess the students in a new way. We bounced around a lot of ideas: green screens, music videos, cartooning sites but what we landed on was StoryKit. StoryKit is a free app from the folks at the International Children's Digital Library (which is a great resource in itself if you aren't already familiar with it!).

StoryKit lets you create a digital book. For images, you can draw your own, import from the web or use your camera roll. You can simply add text with a text box. You can arrange and format the images and text as you like. A great feature of StoryKit is that you can add audio. Just click and record yourself reading the story out loud. You can even record word by word or sentence by sentence! This was just what we were looking for, a tool that let's the students' creativity shine without too many features or distractions in the creation. And... and.... what if we planned on reading the stories to an 2nd grade class at a nearby elementary school?

My job was to introduce the tool which was easy because StoryKit is so intuitive. I just walked the kids through the features and made a silly story as a sample. Students literally had no technical questions or problems. If there weren't sure how to do something, they quickly figured it out or asked a friend. It was seamless.

Their stories were fantastic. The teacher assigned a symbiotic relationship to each group of students. The task for the group was to write a children's story that told a story about that relationship. She made a model first to show them and reinforced Language Arts skills by using the same story graph that their Language Arts teacher had used with them earlier. Kids came up with adorable ideas and clever plot twists to demonstrate what they knew about symbiosis. And the best stories would go in person to an elementary school to read to a class. Here are a couple of my favorites:

Sloth and Algae Reunite
Lola and Charlie
Sandy and Randy's Adventure: Lost at Sea

I might have loved these stories, but the 2nd graders loved them even more. We had a great morning where the 7th graders first had to explain the four types of symbiotic relationships in 2nd grade terms (smiley faces did the trick) and then read their stories in small groups. The 2nd graders learned so much - they could identify the type of relationship in every story. And the 7th graders learned so much - how to explain what they know in a compelling, interesting and memorable way.

What I learned from this lesson:

  1. The simplest apps are often the best
  2. Having a real audience for school work results in better school work
  3. Asking students to explain what they know in simple terms demonstrates whether they know or understand an idea
  4. 7th graders are their best selves for 2nd graders
  5. Kids learn when we tell and share stories
And guess what app the 2nd graders asked to use next time they could use iPads?

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