After weeks of hard work and steady progress we have finally reached the peak of StoryTeller Mountain. I think it is fair to say that the journey has provided the students and myself with an exciting classroom adventure; an adventure which shows no sign of stopping.
As I sit at the top of StoryTeller Mountain, looking out across the foothills, woodlands and peaks that make up the world of Educationia, I can just make out the COETAIL path I have cut through the Earth to get here. At some points it looks so worn that you would think there had been nothing there before. At other points, the path is almost completely overgrown so that you can barely see the original path.
Sitting here, watching the children in my class getting ready to set out on another adventure, I think back to the journey I have been undertaken to reach this point and I am reminded of the reasons why the COETAIL path looks the way it does.
The well-worn path
I have trodden some parts bare due to the continual visits I have made over the previous year and a bit. Two such areas include the Visual Literacy Lowlands and the awe-inspiring Gamification Canyon! Likewise, there are other areas where I have walked only the once and have never really thought about returning to; one such place is the Valley of Connectivism Learning Theory.
Regardless of where I have been and how long I have spent there though, one thing is absolutely certain, I have learned more about education, digital Literacy, pedagogy and technological integration in the previous year and a bit than I have in the previous eight years of my teaching career.
The Final Project
And so to my final project for the COETAIL course. I have included two separate videos based on the digital/video storytelling unit I wanted to trial with the children in my class. I hope that they make sense to you! Also please feel free to send me any feedback you have regarding the videos and/or the unit quality/content.
Today we started our climb up the monumental Storyteller Mountain. The children had been equipped with ipads, copies of the ‘legends of the lake’ myth books and organized into groups of four to better help each other with the initial climb. The base of the mountain was relatively easy to traverse as the groups began to experiment and investigate with different storyTelling methods.
The groups generally took quite a long time to work their way through the first three pages of the ‘Enchanted Lake’ myth with some groups needing to be reminded about group collaboration, changing camera angles and suitable voice/character expression; however, I am glad to say that all of the groups successfully made it to the base camp at iMovie editing point.
After a suitably good night’s sleep we continued our journey up the iMovie editing point of the mountain. A few of the trekkers were very experienced with the ipad App ‘iMovie’ and were asked to help those trekkers who had little experience with the application. Initial problems were generally resolved within the groups themselves (however, these issues sometimes required us to discuss them as a whole class). I have included some of the issues encountered on the hike from the base camp at iMovie editing point:
Speaker volume issues – the person speaking was often too quiet so the volume of the audio section of the movie needed to be increased.
Arranging the videos in the correct order was difficult to begin with. The groups eventually realised that they could move the different videos within the iMovie timeline by keeping their finger pressed down on the chosen section of video and sliding it to another position on the timeline.
Overall, the first part of the mountain climb had gone well but I could already see that things were going to get much trickier as we moved closer to the peak.
First video completed by one of the groups. The filming and editing was completed by the group but the titles and music were added by me.
We began the third part of the climb today with the students split into pairs. This time they were asked to retell the whole story of ‘The Enchanted lake’ as opposed to just the first three pages. It was clear from a very early stage that this was going to be a long climb for many of the students.
The filming was much easier but it also became apparent that the climbers were definitely going to suffer from angle sickness – by this, I mean that the students were only really changing between one or two different camera shots. This undoubtedly made the storyTelling videos less engaging and appealing to the audience.
Another issue which seemed to hinder the students was background noise. This was to be expected with so many groups working in such a small, confined area. We tried to spread the groups out as much as we could but it was difficult to stop the background noise from affecting the final edits.
As the evening wore on it was clear that most of the groups had made it to the second base camp at iMovie editing ridge. After we had gathered round the campfire, we talked about some of the features the pairs might want to include when they were editing their movies. Here were a few of the features we discussed:
Including some sound effects and titles – a limited introduction to this topic so it won’t become the focus of their videos.
Reviewing cropping, splitting and duplicating individual video sections.
Choosing and managing the transitions in an appropriate way.
Possible reshooting of sections which weren’t up to standard.
This video was filmed, edited and produced entirely by the two boys featured in the video. The video was then exported and uploaded to my YouTube channel.
Well the next parts of the climb should prove to be the easiest; however, they may also prove to be the most difficult for those children who struggle with role-play, drama and the application iMovie. This is the part where the children will be doing everything independently (with the exception of the videoing part – which will be done by another member of the class). My major concerns with this section of the climb are based on three factors which the children have already struggled with.
Using varied camera angles to bring the story to life and engage the reader. I am thinking it would probably be better to have the children change their camera angle for every sentence of their chosen paragraph.
Making sure they remember their lines and look directly at the ipad’s camera lense. I am hoping they will make the decision to re-shoot any scene they feel isn’t good enough for their final cut.
Ensuring their voices are loud enough and interesting enough to engage the reader. This factor should be less of an issue as they know they can edit the recording’s sound to ensure the volume level is not too quiet or too loud.
In order to help the students with the final trek to the summit, I have created my own storyTelling video based on one of the children’s introductory paragraphs. The students will be able to access this iMovie any time they need to as I will send a link to their email accounts. I will also include another link to our class blog where the students can find their previous storyTelling imovie (if they don’t have a video then they can always check other student’s videos for ideas and improvements).
I hope that these tweaks and adjustments will provide the students with enough impetus to take them all the way to the summit. I have included a few extras which I hope the students might want to include in their final videos i.e. an opening title scene with sound track, images in between each video to give the storyTelling more purpose and credits to thank those involved in the movie making process.
To end with I include two quotes from mountaineering legend Edmund Hillary which I feel accurately capture the feeling of our journey to the summit of StoryTelling Mountain.
It is not the mountain we conquer but ourselves
People do not decide to become extraordinary.They decide to accomplish extraordinary things
As is so often the case with many things in life, not everything you plan for becomes reality. As a teacher, you work towards a weekly set of plans that focus on key areas of the curriculum – something which I have always believed, and still believe for the most part, to be the right approach to maintaining high teaching and learning standards! Personally, I need organization! I am somebody who likes the idea of planning ahead and knowing exactly what is being taught and when it needs to be taught. Throughout my relatively young life in education, I think it is fair to say that I have come to rely heavily on this framework of structure and rigidity.
Then, the last two years came along and…
Oh how things changed! Nowadays, I find myself becoming more appreciative of having a balance between flexibility and structure. Take the final project for my COETAIL course as an example of this. The original idea for my final project was to revamp and upgrade a science unit on Magnetism that allowed me to incorporate many of the different ideas and concepts that we had used throughout our time on the COETAIL course.
However, for a variety of reasons including time constraints, lack of originality, other science units needing to be taught first and an upcoming school inspection I have decided against using this unit as my COETAIL coup de grace. Instead I have gone for a completely new digital literacy unit that isn’t being taught by anyone else in my year group but is something I strongly believe needs to be shared with the children.
So my brand new final project will be based on (start the drum roll)… STORY TELLING! Now you may well ask “Why?” and “That’s not original considering we have a COETAIL course four unit based on this very same subject!”
And you would be correct! However, my answer to you would also include the following reasons for my choice:
I recently heard a fellow COETAILer (who is based at our school) talk about the students at our school lacking storytelling skills.
I am really keen to encourage the students at our school to become more adept at creating, making and editing iMovie videos.
However, none of these are the main reason for my change of heart; the actual reason I have decided to change direction is because I started something and I liked it so much I thought I would use it as a final project.
The Organic Tale of a slightly Anal Teacher
Once upon a time a thirty-something, slightly overweight teacher decided that the children in his class would really benefit from having more time to mess around with the ipad App ‘iMovie’. After taking some time to ponder this issue, the rigid and slightly anal educator hit upon an idea that might just work. He would combine the student’s current English unit on quest myths with the ipad App ‘iMovie’ to create a storytelling unit that would provide the students with the perfect platform for retelling their own stories. And so after many days of pondering a plan was formed and this was what it looked like…
Don’t worry – No storytelling, dialogue, poetry, digital mime or other bizarre writing styles in this post! No. Today I bring you an exciting new unit plan (well at least I think it is exciting) that I have altered and tweaked. ‘Altered’ and ‘tweaked’ are two highly apt terms when it comes to writing about this particular plan. This is perhaps due to the fact that this unit was already changed in a major way, by my excellent Year Three colleagues and I, last year!
What I have done, with the plan, is to try and make it more collaborative; with a heavier focus on digital connectivity and Zen presentation.
Questions to be answered:
Why do you think this unit is a good possibility for your Course 5 project?
Primarily because this unit offers great opportunities for the students to connect and collaborate with each other in a way that uses many of the learning theories encountered in the COETAIL course.
What are some of your concerns about redesigning this unit?
My biggest concern is with the final part of the unit where the students have to present their results and conclusions to the audience. If I am honest, I’m still not sure that the Zen Presentation style is the best method for the students to present their results to an audience. Also, I am still unsure about the exact nature of the audience the students will present to i.e. Do I want a live audience focus or would a digital audience focus be better for this unit?
What shifts in pedagogy will this new unit require from you?
The biggest shift in pedagogy will be the home learning element. I will have to be very clear about this aspect of the collaborative learning process. I’m still not sure exactly how this part will work i.e. Should I make the home collaboration and connectivity a compulsory part of their learning or should I leave it up to the students to decide how much they want to engage with this aspect of the learning?
What skills and/or attitudes will this new unit require from your students?
The students will need to actively work in a team/group; they will have to demonstrate their ability to connect and work with each other (to a greater or lesser degree) outside the classroom. Also, those students who are taking the research option are going to have to learn an entirely new method for investigating scientific questions.
Although we aren’t actually due to teach this unit until the second half of the spring term, I am really looking forward to seeing what the children’s attitudes will be like when it comes to mixing up independent work, collaborative work, connected learning and Zen presentation – A marvellously magnetic mixture of learning methods…
And so I near the end of a second course on the COETAIL journey.
It is fair to say that this project provided me the greatest test I had faced on the COETAIL course so far; yet it also has to be said that it has provided me with the greatest reward – the finalised RUA that my group created. Another major difference which has made this project so tricky, and also so rewarding, is the group element i.e. having to work with other COETAIL students online to create something new.
A Big Thank You!
Firstly, I have to say a big ‘thanks’ to the other members of my team who I worked alongside for their incredible dilligence, hard work and creativity. Some of their ideas and thoughts were quite brilliant and allowed me to take more of a bystander’s role within the project. Now when I say bystander, what I actually mean is ‘less-involved participant’.
Less Involved Participant
Being a ‘less-involved participant’ is not something I openly embrace, but for me it is and has been a difficult mould to break out of; this is one of the reasons why I found this project so difficult to get to grips with. There are also a number of other reasons why I found this type of project much more difficult to complete than other projects I have been given on the COETAIL course.
Another major reason has to be the globally collaborative aspect. Jeff Utecht outlined a number of the reasons why global collaboration is a frustrating and difficult thing to achieve in his recent blog post. My own reasons also include many of the same ideas that Jeff wrote about in his post; other reasons that I could also include would be ‘not wanting to dominate the group’ or ‘Are my ideas actually any good?’
Ultimately though, I actually think that everyone has to have a role within any group activity and I genuinely feel that where there is a/are leader(s) there should also be a follower or followers. After all-one can’t exist without the other.
So I assumed my role within the group as we began our online correspondance. I soon realised that working in a group to achieve a centralised goal was a powerful tool when it worked as smoothly as it seemed to for our group of intrepid RUA pioneers.
The activity itself was an excellent way of uniting different teachers from different schools with different backgrounds. Using the RUA also helped to give us an achievable target that would give something back to our schools, colleagues and the online educational community. I have included our completed RUA below. Please take a look:
The purpose of the RUA
The purpose of the RUA is to provide the three schools involved (as well as any other schools interested) with an easy-to-use and child friendly primary/elementary school RUA. The RUA should also be easy for teachers, parents and children to understand and use in both their online life at school and at home.
The Top Ten!
Finally, this is my Top Ten (not in any particular order) of what I particularly liked and learned about the experience of being an online collaborator in a group of pioneering educators:
Using a Google Doc to centralise our thoughts and ideas for the RUA was a great way to have a central repository for our thoughts and ideas.
Shared email conversations brought a better understanding of what needed to be done.
Teeth? Hmmm…how do you make this topic interesting to children? As far as I am aware, the most interesting thing about teeth for children is the tooth fairy! So let’s be frank, the topic is dry – really dry! When we sat down, as a year group, to discuss this topic there was a definite feeling of apathy and very little enthusiasm from anybody to teach the topic. After studying our plan for the unit, it seemed like the plan included a series of lessons where we showed the children various PowerPoints related to teeth. We would then discuss these PowerPoints together in class and the lesson would finish with the children completing a series of worksheets (after all we need something for the books).
As I walked out of the meeting with an inner sense of dread at the thought of having to teach such an uninspiring set of lessons, I suddenly realised that I had the perfect opportunity to create something completely diiferent. I could create a new plan for the topic that would really allow the children to lead their learning. The new unit plan would combine collaboration, networking and group research into a project driven by the student’s own desires to ask questions they wanted to find the answers to. The plan would also provide the children with an opportunity to build on previous work that they had already done using search engines and Prezi.
Conclusions at this moment!
At this moment, we are currently halfway through session 5. The process has certainly been an interesting experience for both myself and the students. The first thing I would say is that the students have enjoyed the process and that they have developed a more thorough understanding of teeth and their importance to the body.
With regards to their ability to collaborate and work in teams, I would say that this is still very much a work in progress. Something that was particularly interesting was the fact that the initial use of Prezi to collaborate really seemed to excite them. However, what was also quite revealing, was they way this excitement soon turned to frustration as Prezi kept slowing down and losing connection. It was also interesting to see the feelings of frustration that some of the students had when other members of the group accidentally or intentionally changed their work on the different slides they had been working on.
Overall, I would definitely say that using the backwards approach of starting with an initial question was a success. This idea of having an initial question also led to the students creating some really excellent follow-up questions that they wanted to find the answers to. It was nice to see that these questions were well thought-out and displayed their growing ability to use HOTS to move beyond the initial questions and ideas they had been given.
However, although their follow-up questions were excellent, the student’s ability to get the best answers to their questions by researching them online was not as good as I thought it would be. In the future, I am definitely going to make more time to talk to the students about the questions we need to ask to find the best answers when carrying out research online.
So, where are we now?
Well I would say that the unit, up to this point, has been a success. However there is no doubt that this unit plan will need to be tweaked and modified for it to truly give the students an opportunity to become more collaborative, more connected and more integrated with their learning!
One Extra Thought!
Now at our school we don’t have a 1:1 electronic device program for any year group except Year Six; and they use iPads. One of the many new details that I have become more aware of, as I have begun to experiment with different programs and Apps, is the fact that students should have exposure to different hardware i.e. the students should be comfortable using tablets, laptops, chromebooks or desktops. Ultimately, this is a good thing as it allows the children to become more versatile in the choices they are making when deciding on the format or design a project should take. I really wanted the students in my class to see that a tablet device could work alongside a laptop when it came to using programs like Blendspace or Prezi. However, I also wanted them to become more aware of the fact that there are differences between these devices. I really wanted them to think about the program or application they would be using and then make decisions about the type of device they were going to use.
So, what were the results of using laptops and iPads on the same project?
Well, towards the end of sessions three and four, I realised that they had started to make decisions about their preferred choice of device. One of the choices they made clear to me was that they were much happier using the Laptops when using Prezi. They explained to me that it was easier to collaborate online when using Prezi on a laptop as they could see exactly what the other people in their group were doing. However, they were also quick to mention that the iPads were often easier to use as they were more familiar; this meant that they felt more comfortable when they were working on their iPads in an individual capacity.