Week Eight: Mini Projects–To do or not to do

Galileo Falling Objects

Telling stories digitally is nothing new, every Powerpoint presentation endured by professionals the globe over witnesses a digital story or transfer of information via slide presentation.  Telling digital stories well is a different thing altogether.  The difference, as with all things requiring skill is in how the chosen medium is wielded.  We have all been to briefings where slides were crammed with words to the point of testing even the keenest of eyes and the presenter unimaginatively read every word, verbatim, from the slide.  Each time I endured this particular type of torture it occurred to me one of the two of them, the slides or the briefer, was unnecessary.  The briefer generally got my vote.  Each time I screamed silently, please just email me the slides next time and spare me the time and pain of listening to you read them.  And the presenter just rambled on, turning the thumbscrews ever tighter…  Conversely, and unfortunately rarely, we sometimes enjoy the privilege of hearing a speaking virtuoso.  Her slides are few and present only enough information to make the point and make it stick. The speaker, the storyteller, weaves her words together and draws us ever deeper into the topic, she grasps and holds our attention, she conveys information and it sticks in our brains forever.  I once worked, for a four star general who hated PowerPoint in its most common form.  When making slides for him they were few and very simple, each containing just a few words, perhaps a title or major concept.  In his case he got his thousand words through pictures.  The pictures served as visual reminders of the points he wanted to make.  Forty-five minutes later the crowd walked out of the room entertained and informed.

Note the complex slide in the background

Last week we read about a speaker named Larry Lessig whose slides are very simple slides with pictures or short phrases creating pithy, terse visual reminders of his point while he talked to that point.  His presentations are interesting and clean.  If you did not listen to his presentation, it is well worth watching at least two minutes of his presentation to see how cleverly he makes his points with the simplest of slides (http://www.ted.com/talks/larry_lessig_says_the_law_is_strangling_creativity.html).  The point being, in the proper hands even the common slide as a means of digital storytelling becomes an effective tool for communication and education.

This week we were asked to explore five digital tools for telling stories.  I prefer the term, communicating ideas.  The five include creating a digital story with multimedia, tell a story with comics, use text maps to distill and analyze text, create podcasts; and create talking avatars to enhance learning.

Create a Digital Story with Multimedia.  This I can do at a basic level with my eyes closed.  I spent most of my professional lifetime with Mr. Gates’ PowerPoint technology.  I realize Dr. Coffman calls us to aspire to greater heights than mere words on a PowerPoint slide.  So do our students.  But there are ways, across all content areas, to tell stories by using PowerPoint alone or PowerPoint with pictures.  By way of example, my practicum teacher posts his lectures on line.  I looked at his slide on falling objects and thought, how lame.  Until I saw how he used it.  He projected a simple line diagram of a ramp with tick marks at increasing distances from the end.  He then used the SmartBoard to write in the missing information showing his students how Galileo conducted his experiment on falling objects to discover the very important t2 relationship associated with an objects acceleration due to gravity.  He took a stick figure diagram and demonstrated Galileo’s discovery in a very clear and effective way.  And it did not take a lot of time or effort.  So digital storytelling does not need to be complicated or require loads of technology or digital know-how, it merely requires a teacher using digits intelligently and meaningfully.

Comics.  The following example is not one where a teacher created a comic for use as a teaching tool, but where an educational website used many of the elements of Dr. Coffman’s lesson to create an interactive tool for teaching physics.  In this case, the digital story is told using professional, but simple animation.  The page uses several of the elements addressed in Dr. Coffman’s lesson 8—a comic book feel, cartoon figures, digital storytelling, a mumbling (not talking) avatar, simple animation and humor—to teach students about Newton’s Laws of Motion (http://science.discovery.com/games-and-interactives/newtons-laws-of-motion-interactive.htm retrieved October 19, 2013).  I already used this web page in my EDCI 501 Lesson Plan on Newton’s Laws of Motion.  It will be a useful, interesting and fun way for students to grasp Newton’s laws.

Text Maps.  Thursday night in class I selected the Gettysburg Address to create my word cloud.  Lincoln’s speech was short but Lincoln used repeating themes to show the importance of the the battle.  He spoke about maintaining the dedication of our founding fathers to principles of equality, dedicating the hallowed ground of the Battle to its victors, dedicating the country and its people to the unfinished task of preserving the union to prevent it from “vanishing from this earth.”  The Wordle did an excellent job of selecting and emphasizing the major themes prominently.  The Wordle chose the following words as key:   dedicated, nation, devotion, people, conceived, dead.  This is an important tool as a jumping off point for a discussion on the Address as well as the monumental importance of the battle, its outcomes and where the country would go following it.  It has applications in science, English and history.

Gettysburg Address Wordle

Podcasts.  My kids hold their entire world at their fingertips.  In their handhelds they hold a library of music, phone numbers, music, documents, a camera and the ability to access their friends and the internet at any time of day.  Why shouldn’t teachers leverage that kind of access to the extent they can?  A short podcast is a useful way to summarize a lesson, review a homework assignment, convey any lesson not reliant upon the visual.  A great example comes from my practicum observance of team teaching.  There was no need for visual information, the entire class period entailed reading A. Miller’s the Crucible and discussing its symbolic meaning.  Say a student contracted Mononucleosis and could not come to school for several weeks.  A teacher need simply set up a microphone in the classroom and record the lesson for the sick student to listen to at home.  The teacher could also record the lesson on video and upload it to YouTube (my physics mentor does this for each class) which is a podcast on steroids.  The nice thing about the audio podcast is it can be listened to anywhere, which is helpful for the student who is spending two weeks in Europe for her Grossmuti’s 100th birthday celebration.

Voki Screen Shot FranklinAvatars.  For this lesson I created two talking avatars to introduce units on electricity and focal distance Example Voki Avatar–Ben Franklin.  I am not sold on this for use in a physics classroom but it might be very useful for getting students to summarize concepts concisely by having them make their own two minute talking avatar presentations.

Role in My Classroom.  As far as my use of these technologies, I will certainly find use of the Wordle.  It will be very useful for physics concepts and certainly vocabulary.  While I do not see me making comic books for use in physics, I definitely see applications, particularly of borrowed cartoons such as the web page on Newton’s Laws of Motion, above.  Additionally, my college textbook on Relativity used caricatures and comics to help explain the difficult concepts of frame of reference and relativity.  So, in the hands of a professional company cartoons and animation can enhance and add to lessons, even if borrowed from others.  Which in the “Quality” Air Force we called “benchmarking”!

Digital storytelling has an important role in education.  I see all sorts of applications for English, Literature, Social Studies, Earth Science, Biology.  While it may be more difficult to use digital storytelling in physics, as discussed above, one does not have to get complicated and one does not necessarily have to create the stories from scratch, they may already exist for your use.  Bottom line:  I will use PowerPoint, I will use a SmartBoard and I will definitely use the concept of digital storytelling in my classroom from Wordles to racing apples.  I also see great value in the super-podcast called YouTube.




L. Lessing (2012).  From TED website, retrieved on October 20, 2013 from http://www.ted.com/talks/larry_lessig_says_the_law_is_strangling_creativity.html.

J. Zimmer (2013).  Gettysburg Address analysis from MannerofSpeaking.org and retrieved October 20, 2013, from http://mannerofspeaking.org/2010/11/19/the-gettysburg-address-an-analysis/ .


  1. amysnyder says:

    Some how I hadn’t made the connection of being able to draw on a power point. I am pretty proficient at making them and that adds a useful dimension I hadn’t thought of. I wish I could see that in action.

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