The non-fiction digital storytelling project A stranger in the town (ASITT) is designed as both a resource for teachers to use with students and as a “hook” for professional learning workshops for teachers. It also has a personal context as a means of sharing memories and precious family photographs with extended family.
ASITT has been produced in a digital magazine format using Atavist, exploiting the affordances of technology (Rettberg, 2012) with elements unimaginable in printed text (Jabr, 2013). The platform was selected for the ease of using a range of multimodal elements, simple formatting and elegant design.
My institution, The King David School, is an independent, Jewish K-12 school in Melbourne. In year 6, students undertake a Dorot (generations) project which is an exploration of their family history and Jewish heritage. The unit extends over a whole term, covering aspects of the history and Jewish studies curriculum, and culminates in presentations to family at a celebration breakfast. Although it is a technologically literate school with students bringing their own devices, the presentation of Dorot projects is largely analog.
ASITT is an example of some of the elements of the Dorot project presented as a digital story, taking advantage of technology to use multimodal elements to present information in a different way (Reid, 2013). Reid cites strong evidence that students who create ebooks are more engaged in learning (p. 38), particularly for the potential for their work to be viewed by more than just their teacher.
In the Dorot project students research the migration story of a family member and present it in the form of diary entries, in ASITT the story of A.C. Yandell’s journey from Adelaide to Castlemaine and early days at the diggings is presented as a diary. Students also prepare a world map showing this relative’s home town, eventual destination in Australia, and places stopped along the way – in ASITT the Google application Google My Maps has been used. Google My Maps provide an interactive way to view and engage with information in a geographical context. Being able to zoom into the village where Yandell was born and then zoom out to see the length of his journey to Australia puts the magnitude of the journey into context in a far more relatable way than a static map.
Google My Maps could in itself be used as a digital storytelling platform such is its capacity for adding multimodal layers of information including lines to connect locations, images, video, datasets and more. In the Dorot project the class could collaborate on one My Map document, each adding their own layer, possibly identifying connections between their families, adding to the potential for meaning-making.
Included is explanation about how some of the information was discovered, and links to historical sources to support the students in their research. Explanations have been provided for some unfamiliar terms but not others, leaving open the opportunity for discovery through guidance from the teacher.
In using ASITT with students, teachers could refer to the iPed model (Mills & Levido, 2011): link, challenge, cocreate, share. Using selected aspects and sections as appropriate to the stage of the unit the teacher would support students to find links with their own family stories, challenge them to think about how their story could be portrayed, support them in the co-creation process to use the chosen tools, and then share completed projects with family. Stories provoke us to make connections with our own lives (Lambert, 2010, p.10).
In conjunction with the Dorot project the year 6 teacher could use ASITT as a catalyst for cross-curricular activities also fulfilling Australian Curriculum ICT Capabilities for creating and communicating with ICT. For example, in Literacy it could be used as a springboard for writing for different purposes:
- Rewrite the information from the newspaper report about the wedding in contemporary language and post to a blog.
- Reimagine the story of Dave setting off to be a travelling salesman at the age of four, or use some of David’s memories to create a fictional narrative for younger children. Create illustrations and turn this into a digital picture book.
- Imagine what it would be like growing up in a household of eleven sisters and one brother, either in the 1880’s, the present day or another time period. Present the information as a diary/series of social media posts.
- Use digital tools to create an advertisement for A.C.Yandell’s business.
In Numeracy students could use the linked resource Measuring Worth to explore relative values and the mathematics behind their calculation, while Google My Maps has many applications for the teaching of measurement.
These activities may also be applicable at other year levels.
As a hook for teacher professional learning, the digital story would be shared with teachers prior to them signing up for workshops where the mechanics and potential of tools like Atavist and Google My Maps would be explored.
Jabr, F. (2013). The reading brain in the digital age: The science of paper versus screens. Scientific American. Retrieved from http://www.scientificamerican.com/article/reading-paper-screens/
Lambert, J. (2010). Digital Storytelling Cookbook. Berkley, CA: Center for Digital Storytelling
Mills, K. & Levido, A. (2011). iPed: pedagogy for digital text production. The Reading Teacher, 65(1), 80-91, DOI: 10.1598/RT.65.1.11
Reid, K. (2013). Creating e-books in the classroom. In J. Bales (Ed.), E-books in learning – a beginner’s guide (pp. 37-43). Australia: Australian School Library Association.
Rettberg, J. W. (2012). Electronic literature seen from a distance: the beginnings of a field. Retrieved from http://www.dichtung-digital.org/2012/41/walker-rettberg.htm