Merging digital age tech projects with the reality of low-tech classrooms and fixed scheduling can be frustrating. Many classrooms in our building have at most one computer students can access, and computer lab time is limited. These time and hardware limitations, combined with the overwhelming technology choices constantly being introduced, equal stress for many educators.
One solution is to have students create a collaborative 3D storytelling experience over a period of time during library instruction. At my school, third through fifth grade library classes are 50 minutes long and the teacher remains with the class. This allows me as the school media specialist to work with the classroom teacher to stretch limited resources so all can succeed.
Inspired by the media-remixing work of USC Professor Henry Jenkins and NJCU professor Christopher Shamburg of NJCU, the 3D storytelling format brings together students' words, existing images and sound effects. To bring out maximum creativity and remove barriers to entry, students learn to remix existing stories, images and sounds to create a new product. They are also taught to appreciate the original content throughout the creative process.
For example, a student group using an image from Diary of a Wimpy Kid originally tried telling me what happens in the actual book by Jeff Kenney. After they explored what happens in the book before and after that scene, the story started to change. Students sketched ideas, downloaded sound effects, made their own sounds and had fun with the writing process.
But enough introduction — what do students learn?
1. Every story has multiple entry points.
Each student group and individual team member can enter the story in a different manner. Some see words on a page, while others see storylines in art and others still hear a story through dialogue and sound effects. Classrooms with students who have limited vocabularies may opt to draw stories first, while highly verbal students can map out a story through words.
Collaboration and mixed groups support approaching a story through multiple points of entry and provide the teacher with a single project regardless of how students choose to interface with the material. This allows students to come to the story in whatever manner is most comfortable.
2. Re-mixing or creating fan fiction can empower a student.
All writers face the fear of a blank piece of paper at times. 3D storytelling offers students a selection of images they can use to spark an idea. We use familiar images that range from Captain Underpants and Batman to unknown art by Degas and Kandinsky. The familiarity of the character inspires some to take their knowledge of the character and create a new story. Other students are drawn to shapes and colors within the relatively unknown pieces of art.
3. Fluency is a learned craft.
Storytelling demands emotion and delivery. This format requires students to not only develop a story but practice delivering it to engage an audience. Working in small groups allows them to build rapport with their partners and practice fluency in a setting where all members have a role and a responsibility. This might include reading narration, dialogue in a scene or even making a custom sound effect.
4. Technology can enhance creativity.
Teachers and students alike can be easily overwhelmed with the multitude options technology provides. Students can create digital stories using simple tools, such as a digital camera or iPad, a computer, and presentation software like PowerPoint or Google Presentation. The story remains the main focus, while the technology plays a supporting role.
5. We have an ethical responsibility when using images and sounds.
It is so easy to find images and sounds online that students can overlook the importance of respecting ownership. A collaborative 3D storytelling project allows a teacher to actively engage in fair use discussions about images, words and sounds.
Here's an example of a 3D storytelling project in action:
Jennifer Latimer is the school media specialist at Clinton Elementary in Maplewood, New Jersey, and contributing author of the ISTE book Teaching Literacy in the Digital Age. Check out her blog and connect with her on Twitter via @jenlatimer.