Thursday, May 31, 2012

Thesis Statements made easy, Day #6--Top 10 Writing Apps

Every year, thesis statements were a battle in my classroom. It seemed that students learned a new type of thesis statement each year. Some teachers were strict about its placement while others weren't. How you want to critique thesis statements is up to your school district, but every student should understand and practice what is behind a thesis statement--narrowing down a topic and delivering a road map for readers. Not only does this help navigate readers, it helps the writer stay on task as they can return to the thesis statement at any point. The apps featured today are not specific to any one way of teaching thesis statements. However, they all aim to help students create a writing road map.

A great starting point is to review the 6 traits of writing for elementary students at Edina Public Schools.

  • The Magic Tree House: helps improve student writing by narrowing in on ideas (prelim to thesis statements)
  • Funbrain: a site full of writing games to introduce important idea concepts to children
  • I Know That!: has countless writing activities for elementary students
  • BrainPop Jr.: their writing section is one of the bests for elementary students and topic/thesis statements. Unfortunately, there is a subscription price. 

All of the content in these sites can be adapted to fit younger audiences as well.

Stay tuned for helpful citation sites, tools and apps! 

Wednesday, May 30, 2012

Showing vs. Telling, Day #5--Top 10 Writing Apps

To show or to tell, that is the question. I have written this comment countless times on student papers, eager to put words down on a page. The mark of a good writer is not their ability to tell the reader what is happening, but to show the reader, evoking the reader's emotions and allowing the reader to connect to the story. Technology or no technology, this is a very important aspect of the writing process--transforming a written piece into one that shows. Practice, practice, practice is the key. However, sometimes, students need additional examples to prompt them to show rather than tell. Check out the resources below that assist in adding "showing" elements.

Where to start?

  • Try using ReadWriteThink's Comic Book Primer to get students into the habit of showing rather than telling. 

For the more advanced writers, Purdue OWL offers links to action verbs and help with a variety of writing types--including adding in "showing" elements. 

Meanwhile, others offer activities to use with your students in constructing "showing" elements. 

All of these activities can be used in unison with paper images or electronic images. Using appropriate searching techniques (see last month's searching series), students can find information and images to describe. 

Then, there is always the graphic organizer staple. By properly using graphic organizers and brainstorm sites (like in Day #2), students can divide up their thoughts into the senses. This enables them to more easily show readers a story. 

Stay tuned to Thesis help! 

Tuesday, May 29, 2012

Dictionaries, vocab builders galore, Day #4--Top 10 Writing Apps

In addition to deciding upon topics and brainstorming topics, improving vocabulary is an important part of writing. In my English classes, I taught vocab within context clues. So, if we were reading a novel, students would learn the words within the context. However, writing can also be used to improve vocabulary--within context.

Some great resources are listed below:


  • Lingro: Though this Website is mainly for translating all of the text on a Webpage and defining each translated word, it is still useful for giving definitions of a student's writing that he/she typed--it's a great proofreader. 
  • Merriam-Webster: This one goes without saying. The online version is more easily used by students as this is the format they are familiar with. 
  • Word Hippo: A translator/dictionary 
  • Your Dictionary: Build your own dictionary

Vocab builders:

  • Word-curious: This allows you to build your own glossary lists. Students can use this to build lists from what they write. 
  • Vocabahead: This one helps improve SAT vocab.
  • Got Brainy: This features different words with their definitions.

Sentence builders:

  • WordItOut: Transform text into word clouds
  • Wordia: Play games with sentences
Stay tuned for information on how to incorporate show v. tell in your writing!

Friday, May 25, 2012

Tools to help you generate writing ideas, Day #3--10 great writing apps

This day should have probably preceded the one before it, so you may return to this one.

Part of the brainstorming process is figuring out how to present a topic, but the other portion is figuring out the topic. And, this is what my students struggled with the most. Many would say, "well, I don't know what to write so I'm not going to." If you think about it, how often do you postpone doing something because starting the task is too intimidating? This is the same problem students face when beginning the writing process. In fact, this is probably the most difficult step.

So, what are some tools that can help students generate ideas? Try some of these in addition to the standard:


  • Photographs
  • Surroundings
  • Newspapers
  • Found items

Standard 2.0:

  • Stumbleupon: This site generates random pages. These pages can be filtered by topic as to help students narrow down a broad interest they have. Just be sure they enter with a goal in order to avoid getting lost in the maze.
  • TDB Special Projects Generator: This generates random three-word phrases that can help spur ideas and thoughts. 
  • Random Quotations: Quotations are a great way to generate writing ideas. This site provides random quotations each day to provide students with writing topics. 
  • Wikipedia Random Page: Yes, this is Wikipedia. However, it's Wikipedia with a twist. Each time you press Alt+Shift+X, you'll have a new random Wikipedia page. Once again, these pages can give students topics to ponder. For instance, when I clicked on the link, I was directed to a page on Podocarpus milanjianus--a species of conifer. This can generate topics on plants or even plant locales. 
  • Google's Photo of the Day on iGoogle: This takes the traditional use of photographs to a new level.
  • Random Photo Browser: This gives you a random assortment of photos each day. 
Of course, there are always question prompts and other tools to generate writing ideas online. However, these call upon the unique collaboration ability of the Web. 

Stay tuned for more building vocabulary and sentence structure with Web 2.0 tools. 

Thursday, May 24, 2012

Brainstorming apps make writing easy, Day #2--Top 10 Writing Apps

Brainstorming is the first phase in the writing process so I'll showcase brainstorming apps first. As I move through the writing process, I'll showcase the other apps through the final steps of publishing and sharing. There are tools for every stage in the writing process!

A couple of months ago, I featured Wridea, Wallwisher, and Lino on my blog, all of which are great brainstorming tools for students and teachers. In fact, you can even compose and showcase your writings through Wridea and Lino.

And, those are just the beginning to some great brainstorming apps for students of a variety of ages:

  • site: Allows you to create your own bubble maps and share them with others. You can embed them, export them, and collaborate on them with others. 
  • Mind 42: This is another mind mapping software (free). Once again, you can share, collaborate with others, export the maps, and embed them into a Web interface. This tool allows for a lot of customization. 
  • Mind Meister: In addition to Mind 42's abilities, you can integrate a Skype video into the map. You can also import maps. However, you are limited to 6 free maps.
  • Mindomo: Like the others, this tool can share, collaborate, export, and import. And, it is far more detailed. You can also add it on as an extension to your Google Apps for Education account so everyone at your district can use it. 
  • Gliffy: Like Mindomo, it is also available through Google Apps

Stay tuned for writing tools featuring the following: dictionaries, vocabulary builders, sentence construction, adding descriptive details, peer-review, and publishing/sharing. 

Wednesday, May 23, 2012

Top 10 apps for writing--Day #1

Writing is no longer limited to paper and pencil activities. Rather, with Web 2.0 tools and a variety of new software, writing speaks to a much larger audience.

There are apps for:

  • brainstorming
  • the writing process
  • collaborating
  • and many more
Unlike in a typical paper classroom, the variety of writing applications allow teachers to connect with other classrooms and collect writing samples electronically. This also lends itself to electronic portfolios, blogging, Websites, and other online media. 

And, writing does not stop with the traditional formal and information writing types (narrative, research, compare and contrast, etc.). Rather, it extends to the movie medium, the arts, and any other medium that mimics the process. For instance, when making a movie, students need the traditional writing elements: subject, plot, action, climax, resolution, transitions, and more. However, the medium in which they present it is different. 

Over the next ten days, learn what apps are out there for assisting students and educators through the entire writing process--from brainstorming and storyboards to collaborating and publishing!

Tuesday, May 22, 2012

Digital storytelling in a nutshell wrap-up, Day #10

Digital storytelling moves beyond traditional storytelling and personal narratives and combines the art of storytelling with a new medium, capable of reaching and impacting mass amounts of people instantaneously. Through the use of soundtracks, voice, images, and the digital medium, digital storytelling evokes a response and calls to action its audience. Its intent is to create an active audience--not one merely sitting and taking in the story. Digital stories are brief and avoid extras that divert from the true message. However, they speak from the heart and are filled with personal emotions.

According to the Center for Digital Storytelling, there are seven essential elements that are needed in a digital story:

  1. Point of view
  2. Dramatic question
  3. Emotional content
  4. The gift of your voice
  5. The power of the soundtrack
  6. Economizing
  7. Pacing
Taking all seven elements into consideration, it is important to brainstorm thoroughly. You can find some helpful sites to aide in your brainstorming here:
You will need to brainstorm the following (each is noted with a link to sites where you can find the resources):
As you brainstorm, you will need to consider how each element relates to the theme/message. Then, it is time to put the brainstorming into the form of a storyboard. You can find storyboards in a variety of sites, but it is important to look for ones that are specific to digital storytelling. And, as you brainstorm and find resources to fit the elements, be sure you abide all rules of copyright and fair use. These sites contain some helpful advice:

  • The University of Maryland University College has a good write-up on fair-use and other copyright information. 
  • This write-up on stock photos also contains valuable copyright information
  • Kathy Schrock has a set of guidelines on copyright and fair use. 
  • This presentation by Amy Hopkins provides a good overview of copyright and fair use as well. 
Upon completing the brainstorming process and developing a storyboard, it is time to decide which software best suits your digital story. Below are some tutorials to the five best digital story-friendly software on the Web (in my opinion):
Remember that your digital story should last less than 2-3 minutes (ideally 1-2 minutes in length); therefore, it is important to use images, voice, music, and text to convey the story. Each must be able to stand their own. 

And, finally, you can find some great examples to share with your fellow educators and students at the sites below:
Now, it's time to begin integrating digital storytelling into your curriculum! It's not only another form of writing, it is a means of expression and personal growth. And, through the digital medium, a story can be shared with millions of people instantaneously. 

            Monday, May 21, 2012

            The elements of a great digital story, Day #9--Digital Storytelling in a nutshell

            The last piece to the project is deciding upon what makes a great digital story. This will determine how you put together your story.

            According to the author of DigiTales, there are six elements to an effective digital story:

            1. Living in your story--share YOUR story through your heart, personal feelings, and emotions
            2. Unfolding lessons learned--express a personal meaning or link to how the story affected your life
            3. Developing creative tension--use tension to develop twists and hook the reader
            4. Economizing the story told--find the shortest path to the message/point made
            5. Showing not telling--use vivid/intense details to show a story rather than tell (heart vs. head)
            6. Developing craftsmanship--use technology in creative ways
            Meanwhile, the Center for Digital Storytelling has seven elements that are essential to good digital storytelling. The list is simple to DigiTales' list. David Jakes adapted the list into a helpful chart for educators and students. 
            1. Point of view
            2. Dramatic question
            3. Emotional content
            4. The gift of your voice
            5. The power of the soundtrack
            6. Economizing
            7. Pacing
            The digital story is similar to a personal narrative, but it uses technology and the art of storytelling to create a story that shares a powerful message. Any rubric created should incorporate these elements as these are what make a digital story distinct from other writing forms. 

            If you are looking for a digital storytelling unit already constructed that can be adapted for your use, check out ePals Digital Storytelling Project. This is a project where schools from across the globe can participate. 

            If you're looking for some good examples of digital stories, consult these sites:
            Stay tuned for a wrap-up of digital storytelling tomorrow--the best of the best.

            Friday, May 18, 2012

            Getting started with video-editing software, Day #8--Digital Storytelling in a nutshell

            Once you decide upon which software best suits your needs, it is important to familiarize yourself with the particular software/tool. After you are familiar with the inner workings of the program, you can begin to lay out your materials. Stay tuned for the next post where I will present several examples of quality digital stories and how to best combine all elements--images, voice, music, text, transitions, etc.

            Below are a few tutorials that provide useful insight into the inner workings of each software:

            1. Movie Maker (not the Vista and Windows 7 versions) tutorial from Atomic Learning:; tutorial from the University of Texas (Hook 'em!):
            2. Animoto tutorial from Animoto itself:
            3. Photostory tutorial from David Jakes: and a handout from David Jakes:
            4. iMovie tutorial from the University of Texas School of Information: and tutorials from Apple:
            5. Premiere tutorial from the Knight Digital Media Center at UC Berkeley:

            All of the above tutorials are detailed and provide a helpful overview of the top five digital storytelling software programs. Stay tuned for the best in digital storytelling examples. 

            Thursday, May 17, 2012

            Choosing your software, Day #7--Digital Storytelling in a nutshell

            When you have finished the brainstorming process--perhaps the most important part of the journey--it is important to select a movie-making software that best suits your storytelling goals. In my Creative Writing classes (since we did not have access to iMovie or Premiere), we used Microsoft's free version--Movie Maker. It allows students to do more substantial editing than some of the free online programs. However, it is not as technical as Premiere.

            Below is a write-up on the common types of movie-making software along with their best purposes.

            1. Movie Maker--it is a standard software in any version of Windows. Windows Vista and beyond use Movie Maker Live, which gives users the ability to instantly share the video via YouTube or other social networks. It allows users to add in one video track, images, text, and one audio track (but cannot override the video track audio). You can shorten or extend video and audio clips as well. It also gives a decently large amount of transitions and effects to choose from. The file is saved as a Movie Maker File and therefore, needs to be "finished as" a Windows Media Player File. The drawbacks are that the program often freezes. It is very important to save all files associated with the project in one places as well since objects are not copied and pasted, but imported. Therefore, if you inserted a picture into your movie while at home and did not save it to your flash drive, you would not see that picture when you opened up the movie at school. This is an important step for students to master. It also is rather limiting in text direction and textual effects. 
            2. Photo Story 3--this is available for free download from Microsoft. It is very similar to Movie Maker since it is created by the same company. However, it is much simpler, but doesn't freeze as much. It does not allow for the editing that Movie Maker does, but it is great for students looking to complete a movie in less time. Extensive projects work best through Movie Maker, but minor projects are great for Photo Story. It is also a great editor for younger students. 
            3. Animoto--if you use this, it is best to get the education account so you can have more videos and give student accounts. Animoto does not allow for extensive editing. Rather, it is more of a fancy slideshow. However, it is great for putting together quick movies and for getting used to the movie-making process. It also allows you to avoid the headache of programs freezing. The concept is simple: you can choose a theme or make your own, choose photos or text for the given number of slides, and select an audio file to accompany the video. I would use this in younger grades who are just beginning to learn about digital storytelling.
            4. iMovie-- I will not go into much depth on this one since it is a Mac product and not available to educators at my district. However, I find it superior to Movie Maker and much easier to use.  
            5. Premiere--I will not go into much depth on this one since it is costly and not available to most educators. If you are looking to create movies ready for production, this is the product of choice.
            There are plenty of other sites that allow you to create short movies, but I have not found those to be as applicable. These are the best for digital stories. Stay tuned for a walk-through of how to use the editors. 

            Wednesday, May 16, 2012

            Animating your digital story, Day #5--Digital Storytelling in a nutshell

            In addition to images, theme music, and audio recordings of the storyteller's voice, video and animation are important aspects of a digital story. Just as you need to develop sensory maps for images and audio, you should also develop a sensory map for video. The inclusion of video should be saved for showcasing specific examples or messages that the storyteller can only best convey through video. Therefore, I save video for last. However, my students often wanted to go to video first.

            It is important to develop a story with audio and images first so a video is not used to substitute the storyteller's ideas. This is often the case when students search for video first. Therefore, it should be a final step in the brainstorming process.

            To review, details should be brainstormed and added to the storyboard in the following format:
            1. images
            2. audio
            3. video
            4. text

            Text should be used to enhance concepts already present. For instance, a student of mine created a digital story over her mom's battle with breast cancer. The only text she used was the word pink and it was used to emphasize the symbol of breast cancer. It was a concept she wanted her audience to remember. Therefore, text should be the final step in the brainstorming process. Students should ask themselves--what thoughts or concepts do I want to stick with the audience? These are the words that should be present on the screen.

            Just like images, text can convey emotions. Font selection, color, and placement all carry with them emotional weight. Hence, the text brainstorming process should not end at: what words should I add to each scene? Rather, it should extend to: what emotions do I want to convey with this text and what concepts do I want to emphasize with the audience?

            The following are resources students can use to find videos and text that abide by Creative Commons licenses:

            Stay tuned for four days of how to put the story together! 

            Tuesday, May 15, 2012

            Mixing audio for digital stories, Day #4--Digital Storytelling in a nutshell

            After creating a sensory map and connecting images to themes and messages, it is time to find and create audio to coincide with the story. Audio is a general term for:

            • Voiceovers
            • Mix tracks
            • Background/theme music
            An effective digital story will have a combination of the storyteller's voice, creative arrays of music, and theme music. Each type will connect to a different piece of the story. Therefore, it is, once again, important that students develop detailed sensory maps. In doing so, students will be able to brainstorm which portions of the story need the storyteller's voice and which portions need theme music. 

            You can record your voice on any audio editor with the use of a headset or microphone (most laptops have built-in ones now). Be sure the room is quiet and free of distractions. Low-quality microphones may pick up a lot of background noise, which is hard to edit out. 

            So, what do you use to blend the audio recordings and theme music together?
            You can always build audio in Movie Maker or iMovie, but it doesn't give you an actual audio track/Podcast. By creating it in Audacity or Myna, you can perfect the audio, an important part of any story. This also allows students to communicate through yet another medium--sound. In doing so, students will learn about the power of voice and the power of theme music. 

            So, where do you find theme music?
            I try to have my students avoid using songs under copyright. I find that is is important to have them build their own audio so they become the storytellers. Plus, students can develop their own words and sounds that best convey their message. Just as with images, it is important to follow all rules of copyright and Fair Use (see yesterday's post). The three links above all have sounds that are free to use for public purposes. However, they are not for commercial use. 

            Building audio can almost become a stand-alone unit. Students become storytellers in their own right--using their voice to convey the most important words and emotions and using theme music to set a tone. Audio should be a substantial portion of an digital storytelling unit. Audio should blend with the text on the screen. Each should speak to a different sense and emotion. For instance, the text may say "friendship" while the storyteller speaks of a friend he had as a child in Africa. Then, there may be a series of images of that friendship that is paired with theme music. If they picture can tell the story, let it. However, if the storyteller can tell it, let him/her. 

            Though it is helpful to create audio after finding images, audio should not be inserted into any movie/digital story until the end or else it will cause technical difficulties. It helps my students to put the audio on a storyboard and calculate the amount of time each section should take. Audio is very time-specific. 

            Stay tuned for capturing and adding video. And, then, for how to put it all together. 

            Monday, May 14, 2012

            Grabbing images for digital stories, Day #3--Digital Storytelling in a nutshell

            After brainstorming topics for a digital story and creating a storyboard, the next best step is to begin grabbing images. When I taught digital storytelling to my students, this task proved most difficult as I found students did not understand how to correctly acknowledge images.

            To teach image pairing, it is helpful to have students build sensory maps that connect each emotion/message in the storyboard to one of the senses (sight, sound, touch, taste, feel). This allows students to begin thinking of images that may coincide with specific scenes. This is an important step in the brainstorming process that should not be skipped.

            Once the appropriate sensory map is complete, students can begin searching for or creating images that match the sensory description. However, it is best to first explain where to find images, how to find them, and how to acknowledge images.

            How image licensing works: 

            • There are several types of licenses students should look for when searching:
              • Public Domain photos (not under license) 
              • Creative Commons
              • Fair use
            • Creative Commons licenses are the ideal license because they are flexible and speak to both the user and the owner. Essentially, they allow the owner to build a license that can still allow viewers to copy and share. And, it is all done within the boundaries of traditional copyright. Creative Commons license are perfect for 21st ideals of collaboration and thought. 
              • Attribution: others can share, copy, distribute your work if they give credit in the way you specify
              • Share alike: Others can distribute derivatives of your work if they maintain the same license on their work
              • Non commercial: Other can copy, share, distribute your works and their derivatives if it is for non commercial purposes
              • No derivatives: Others can only quote your work verbatim--no derivatives 
            • The University of Maryland University College has a good write-up on fair-use and other copyright information. 
            • This write-up on stock photos also contains valuable copyright information
            • Kathy Schrock has a set of guidelines on copyright and fair use. 
            • This presentation by Amy Hopkins provides a good overview of copyright and fair use as well. 

            Where to search for images:

            How to find images (correct keywords):

            • When available, always use the advanced search options in search engines. This is where you can specify what type of licenses you want to search under. Google does not default to searching Creative Commons licenses, but you can change that under advanced search.
            • Just like in the previous series on searching and evaluating, keywords are essential--start with a search question and narrow it down to a keyword. 

            How to acknowledge images: 

            • The Purdue OWL offers details on MLA and APA styles as they pertain to images. 

            The Kathy Schrock Tech Quest also provides valuable copyright/image links. 

            Pairing emotions and messages with images is just the beginning of creating an effective digital story. Be sure to spend careful time on each step in the process. 

            Friday, May 11, 2012

            Brainstorming 101, Day #2--Digital storytelling

            Knowing the basics of digital storytelling is important, but so to is knowing how to effectively brainstorm topics and ideas. Since digital storytelling is about sharing an experience and trying to establish emotional connections between people, topics should inspire change. However, they must do so in less than 2-3 minutes. And, they must convey the story through the storyteller's voice, emotion-evoking images, carefully placed words, and a sound theme that corresponds to the story's message. Therefore, there is a lot to brainstorm and it is often challenging for students to figure out where to begin and how to construct their thoughts. So, I've compiled some helpful resources to use with your students when beginning the digital storytelling brainstorming process.

            To begin, students need to think of what story they want to tell. A great way to do this is through a cluster map of some sort. The following are great tools for constructing cluster maps.

            Then, students need to brainstorm the images, voice, sound scheme, videos, and text that correspond with the story. With the online walls/brainstorming maps, students can reorganize their maps to brainstorm the other components. The following are useful tools for searching the other components.

            To find more Creative Commons media, consult this article on 30 forms of media.

            Now, students need to put the story into an order through a storyboard. It's also time to think about transitions and layout.

            Later, students can return and figure out the placement of images, transitions, etc. Stay tuned on in depth looks at each of the digital storytelling elements and the hows of bringing them together. 

            Thursday, May 10, 2012

            What is digital storytelling?, Day #1--Digital Storytelling in the classroom

            Digital storytelling is just as vital a topic as the oral tradition. And, it is just as important as traditional writing. However, it has a more modern spin on it. In fact, when I taught 11th grade English, I taught my students to use multiple media to write because writing is not limited to one medium--like paper. In one unit, we started by using the writing process to draft a polished Where I'm From Poem. However, we did not stop with just one medium; we applied the same writing process to creating a digital story/movie with the Where I'm From. By the end of the unit, students experience writing in two different media and had the opportunity to share their histories with a group larger than just their class. And, though the movie were not authentic digital stories, they enabled students to secure a foundation for when we did dive into digital storytelling.

            The most difficult of digital storytelling is its definition and instilling it in students and educators. I like to call it the "PowerPoint effect." teachers and students are, by now, very familiar with PowerPoint and are used to its method of presentation. And, though PowerPoint is a very useful tool and is a great starting point in some of the younger grades, it is not the medium to use when digital storytelling because it yields itself to a lecture format. Digital storytelling is an emotional experience that an author shares in order to reach groups of people through a common bond. It is by no means a lecture or a presentation. Therefore, the "PowerPoint effect" is the first hurdle to jump over.

            The second obstacle is understand the essence of digital storytelling and its goal--to create positive change. Think of digital storytelling as a personal narrative. People see, hear, and perceive the world in a variety of methods--digital storytelling allows authors to create a personal narrative in a way that elaborates on all of these senses. It is also built upon the principal of listening to learn. The medium allows people to listen deeply and share in another's personal journey/emotions. And, technology also allows for creativity.

            Once students and educators can move beyond the "PowerPoint effect" and instill a framework built upon listening, sharing, creativity, and personal growth, digital storytelling can take off.

            So, what are the requirements of a true digital story?

            • Well, a digital story must contain these six elements
            • It should be a foundation for sharing.
            • It should evoke a lesson or prompt action
            • It should involve multiple media--pictures, video, audio recording, music, transitions and more.
            • You should have your voice in it.
            • Keep it short--less than 3 minutes (and ideally 1-2 minutes)
            • Include some type of rhythm as if you were telling this story in person
            • Keep in mind the general rules of storytelling.

            Stay tuned on the hows of information gathering and making a story. In the meantime, check out this article published in Educase on "the 7 things you should know about digital storytelling."

            Techsoup also has a good overview on the digital storytelling process

            Now, it's time to start brainstorming your topics--what is important to you?

            Wednesday, May 9, 2012

            Digital storytelling in 10 days

            The oral tradition is alive in well in a variety of forms. When I taught English, I showed my students examples of the oral tradition (history passed down through generations) in quilt-making, camp fires, recipes, and more. However, I could argue that digital storytelling is also a form of the oral tradition. Through digital storytelling, people can continue to pass down stories to future generations. If applied to making movies in the classroom, digital storytelling then becomes something grander than a classroom production--it is a chance to place a time stamp on a generation. It gives students the opportunity to pass down their stories in a medium unique to their generation.

            Digital storytelling is similar in concept to storytelling as it has been for years. However, its presentation is different. And, with the power of Web 2.0 authorship, its audience base is different. Before, a story had to travel directly from one person to the next, over many years. Now, a digital story can be uploaded and shared with mass amounts of users. Hence, the story of one person is instantly transmitted to hundreds, if not thousands, of people. In this sense, digital storytelling, combined with the power of Web 2.0 authorship, is more powerful than any classroom project. It has the power to bring to life the stories of a group or individual.

            Digital storytelling and digital stories do, however, have slightly different definitions even though they will be used somewhat interchangeably. ISTE has a helpful wiki on the distinction between the two forms. The art of digital storytelling means to tell stories with the use of computer-based tools. Digital storytelling "shares the story through the heart not the head" says the author of the ISTE wiki, Bernajean Porter. However, digital stories are just an author talking. Storytelling involves emotion and allowing readers to make their own emotional connections--therein lies the difference between stories and storytelling.

            Over the next ten days, I will provide resources on the oral tradition, digital storytelling, and how the two are linked.

            To begin, check out these great sites for exploring digital storytelling:

            Now, it's time to get started exploring ideas for your storytelling experience!

            Tuesday, May 8, 2012

            The essentials of information literacy, Day #10--Searching and Evaluating like a Pro

            To wrap up the best resources for information literacy, it is best to return to the beginning and walk through the appropriate sequence in searching and evaluating sources.

            This is a process that must initially be taught, but should eventually be ingrained in all students and educators. And, it should not be limited to just English/research classes. Rather, it should be a constant force in all classes. When beginning any unit that asks students and educators to use sources/information, this process should be followed. And, sometimes, it is for activities as simple as building a model of the Empire State building in math class (you would have to research the structure of the Empire State building, and find information on the mathematical principals behind it). Hence, students and educators are required to find information daily. And, that information should be subject to a solid searching and evaluation process.

            To begin, students and facilitators should:

            1. Have a topic (whether it is building a model of the Empire State building or researching the origins of the Holocaust)
            2. Build search/research questions from the topic
            3. From the questions, create keywords for searching
            4. Learn how search engines work
            5. Learn the different ways of searching (including Boolean searching, advanced search features, and filters)
            6. Choose the most appropriate search engine/master source to search
            7. Try out all keywords in the search engine/master source
            8. Save all search engine results for keywords that yield links that answer the initial search questions
            9. Begin the evaluation process with the saved search results
              1. Find the author--are they reputable?
              2. Find the date--is it recent?
              3. Find the source--who published it?
              4. Does it have a bias?
              5. Is it well cited?
              6. Who links to it?
              7. Does it all add up?
            10. If it all adds up, you can use the source and begin your citations and notes.
            The rule of thumb for finding any information outside of a scholarly journal/book/encyclopedia is that the source should be as good or better than the academic articles. 

            For help searching and learning about searching, consult these sites:

            For help evaluating and learning about evaluating, consult these sites:
            For general information on digital/information literacy, consult these sites:

            Searching and evaluating are part of the 21st century skill--critical thinking. They are essential to success and must be taught within all disciplines. They are skills we use daily, but are often incompetent at. Let's great a generation of critical thinkers.

            Stay turned for the 10 days of digital storytelling...

            Monday, May 7, 2012

            Evaluation in a nutshell, Day #9--Searching and Evaluating like a Pro

            The bottom line is that students must be taught how to think critically. We have pushed this skill before, but not in the context of the Web. State standards usually include critical thinking, but is their definition broad enough? Do we need to shift the focus from teaching content to teaching skills/performance standards? If content continues to change as rapidly as it is, perhaps a skill is the best option.

            So, what skills do 21st century students need to be successful?

            The Partnership for 21st Century Skills provides a framework for 21st century learning. The skills include:

            • Creativity and Innovation
            • Critical Thinking and Problem Solving
            • Communication
            • Collaboration
            All of these skills are not linked to a particular content. Rather, they prepare students for a society where the power of authorship is at their fingertips, billions and trillions of bits of information fill their learning space, students at all ends of the globe are communicating within common spaces, and where change is just part of the day. 

            Being able to effectively evaluate a Website is part of being able to think critically. However, it must be combined with other skills in order to reach the complete 21st century package. So, what does evaluation include?

            UCLA provides a handy Web evaluation criteria chart that lists the important factors in any evaluation:
            • Content
            • Source and date
            • Structure
            When using any source, it is important to run through each of these factors. 
            • Audience?
            • Purpose?
            • Is it recent?
            • Author?
            • Owner of site?
            • What links to the site?
            • Is it organized?
            • Is advertising permitted?
            New Mexico State provides an additional set of criteria:
            • Authority
            • Accuracy
            • Objectivity
            • Currency
            • Coverage
            The same five set of criteria is also provided by Cornell University

            The Media Awareness Network uses the 5Ws (and H) to showcase Web evaluation:
            • Who is the source?
            • What am I getting?
            • When was it created?
            • Where am I?
            • Why am I there?
            • How can I distinguish quality information from junk?
            Together, these criteria make up evaluation in a nutshell. Evaluation and critical thinking are about asking questions. 

            Stay tuned for a wrap-up of the best classroom resources for teaching searching and evaluation. Remember, these skills should not be taught as a means to the end, but as their own entity, blended within every content area. 

            Thursday, May 3, 2012

            Are you digitally literate?, Day #8--Searching and Evaluating like a Pro

            Being able to search and evaluate information like a pro is just part of being digitally literate. Digital and information literacy is a broader topic that needs to be include in school curricula. We measure countries by their number of literate citizens; however, does that literacy encompass digital literacy?

            According to Merriam-Webster, the definition of literacy is:
            • educated, cultured
            • able to read and write
            • versed in literature or creative writing
            • lucid, polished <a literate essay>
            • having knowledge or competence <computer-literate> <politically literate>
            Being able to read and write, be lucid and polished, be educated and cultured, and have competence means being able to perform in all media--not just print. A literate person is educated and cultured because they have a skill set that surpasses just one medium. They can apply those skills to multiple media and contexts. And, that is part of digital literacy.

            So, are you digitally literate? Should we judge on students' success not just on their ability to read and write in print, but to read, write, and ANALYZE/EVALUATE in multiple media? 

            Microsoft offers a detailed curriculum on digital literacy that should be incorporated into the larger curriculum--and not just in one subject (like English where it seems to be the only place literacy is enforced). On their digital literacy site, they offer a basic, standard, and advanced curriculum for free. The standard curriculum is offered in Office 2010, Office 2007 and Office 2003. 

            Meanwhile, Commonsense Media provides resources on information/digital literacy by grade level and subject. It's just a matter of selecting your grade level and subject. These resources are also open-source and available for download. 

   allows educators to search for specific topics within digital literacy. For each topic searched, there are a multitude of resources available for free download. 

            These three sites should be a staple in any school as they provide a wealth of free resources and curricula for teachers and students. 

            Searching and evaluating sources are part of being literate. Now that students turn to the Web for searching and evaluating, we must teach digital responsibility and broaden our definition of literacy to include non-print media. 

            Wednesday, May 2, 2012

            Evaluating a Web source checklist, Day #7--Searching and Evaluating like a Pro

            After creating search questions, defining keywords, picking out the best search engine, and sorting through a list of sites you think will provide you with the necessary information, it is time to begin evaluating each source by a standard checklist.

            The ability to evaluate and think critically about the information in front of us is one of the most important skills today. It is not knowing a specific content, but knowing a particular skill/performance standard. And, this skill will always be a necessary skill. Each day, we are forced to think critically about the world around us, whether it's deciding to buy a particular pair of shoes, find a plumber, or do research for a class.

            It is important to have a mental evaluation checklist. In the beginning, students may need a cheat sheet, but the criteria chart should become second nature.

            UC Berkeley has a wealth of great information on Web/source evaluation. Though they fit secondary students, the information is sound and can be adapted to fit younger audiences.

            This page from UC Berkeley contains the how-tos of Web evaluation.
            Johns Hopkins University also has a Library Guide on the criteria to consider when evaluating a Web source.
            And, UC Berkeley has another page dedicated to an evaluation checklist that can be distributed to students.
            If you're looking for a quick and easy way to show a Web evaluation checklist to your elementary students, this peag has some great resources.
            The ALSC has a page on the ABC's of Website evaluation that may also be adapted for elementary students.

            The common thread is incorporating criteria for Website evaluation. It should be a critical step included in all disciplines. And, it is a performance standard tested on all state tests. So, why not apply it to a world students face each day?

            Tuesday, May 1, 2012

            Assessing your searching abilities, Day #6--Searching and Evaluating like a Pro

            Searching like a pro is a multi-step process. And, in order to effectively evaluate searching abilities, searching needs to be assessed just as other objectives are.

            To search like a pro, you must:

            1. Step 1: Create search questions based on your topic
            2. Step 2: Develop search keywords from your search questions
            3. Step 3: Try out the different search words and decide which ones yield the best results
            4. Step 4: In order to decide which ones yield the best results, you must ask the search questions again and see if the results answer the questions (also included is finding the best search engine for your topic)
            5. Then, you must move on to evaluating the results you have chosen to use
            In order to learn this process, students need to be assessed over each of the searching steps. This will ensure that they master the process. If students master the process, they will be able to think critically about the world around them. It won't be a matter of luck that they found the correct source. 

            So, how do you measure whether or not students "get" each of the steps? Try some of these assessments and activities for teaching and assessing each of the four steps. 

            Step 1:

            Step 2:

            Step 3:

            Step 4
            UC Berkeley has a useful five-step guide to searching as well. Kathy Schrock's Information Literacy Primer is also a good resource to use when trying to search and evaluate like a pro. 

            As a reminder (courtesy UC Berkeley), it is important to understand how search engines work before using one: 

            How do Search Engines Work?
            Search engines do not really search the World Wide Web directly. Each one searches a database of web pages that it has harvested and cached. When you use a search engine, you are always searching a somewhat stale copy of the real web page. When you click on links provided in a search engine's search results, you retrieve the current version of the page.
            Search engine databases are selected and built by computer robot programs called spiders. These "crawl" the web, finding pages for potential inclusion by following the links in the pages they already have in their database. They cannot use imagination or enter terms in search boxes that they find on the web.
            If a web page is never linked from any other page, search engine spiders cannot find it. The only way a brand new page can get into a search engine is for other pages to link to it, or for a human to submit its URL for inclusion. All major search engines offer ways to do this.
            After spiders find pages, they pass them on to another computer program for "indexing." This program identifies the text, links, and other content in the page and stores it in the search engine database's files so that the database can be searched by keyword and whatever more advanced approaches are offered, and the page will be found if your search matches its content.
            Many web pages are excluded from most search engines by policy. The contents of most of the searchable databases mounted on the web, such as library catalogs and article databases, are excluded because search engine spiders cannot access them. All this material is referred to as the "Invisible Web" -- what you don't see in search engine results.