Changing the World One Story at a Time.

Seize the Day

Digital storytelling is simply storytelling.

According to Robert McKee,

Storytelling is the most powerful way to put ideas into the world today.

 Simon Sinek says,

“Stories are attempts to share our values and beliefs. Storytelling is worthwhile when it tells what we stand for.”

Before diving into the digital part of digital storytelling, it is absolutely essential that we step back and reflect on who we are as storytellers.

What stories do I have inside of me?

The stories that I share let others know what I stand for and my stories have power to put ideas into our world. 

From Storyteller to Writer

I have never considered myself a writer. I don’t like writing. I never liked having to write stories when I was in school. But I do like to talk and I love to share stories. 

I often tell stories of what it was like to grow up with parents who are deaf.

I tell the story of how when I was 18, God completely changed my life.

I tell the story of giving birth to a child with Down Syndrome.

I tell the story of what it was like to live for ten years in a dusty village in southern Kyrgyzstan. 

These stories remind me of my roots and what I value and give me a way to share these values with others around me. 

This week, as I researched the various digital tools that third graders could use for planning and publishing their writing, I realized that what I really want to improve as a teacher is my own ability to tell a good story and learn how to help my students tell their stories well. I am more interested in helping them develop the craft of writing. Digital tools are most effective when they enable the students to be inspired and share out their stories to a wider audience.

Alan Levine has created an amazing wiki called 50+ Web Ways to Tell a Story that has everything and anything you might need to get started with digital storytelling. I came across this wiki last year when I made my first attempt to lead a digital storytelling after school activity using iMovie and the DoInk Green screen App. (Thanks to Michelle Mathias and Frank Hua for their inspiration at the Vietnam Tech Conference 2016)

The following is my first attempt ever to make any kind of digital story. It was made with just an iPhone, a piece of green cloth hung in my room and my son. I used it to give students an idea of what they would be attempting so I needed to complete the whole thing in less than 5 hours. 


I needed a simple way to help students plan out their story idea. I discovered the Story Spine method recommended by Pixar that I have continued to use with my students. It goes like this…

  • Once upon a time… Sets the story in time, place, and introduces us to the central character.
  • And every day… This describes the “pre-story” life of the character, it sets the stage for what will change.
  • Until one day… Sometimes called the “inciting event” that changes that everyday world.
  • And because of this… The beginning of the unexpected path, the start of a journey.
  • And because of this… This series of events are all connected, one leads to another. Use as many as you need.
  • And because of this…
  • Until finally… This is where all the action leads to its major moment, a big event. It may not be what the character expected, but it does change their life.
  • And ever since that day... This is the “so what?” The life lesson of the story, what all of those events teachers the character (and us) about life.

Right now we are working on writing adapted fairy tales. This is one of the units of study from the Lucy Calkins Third Grade Writing Workshop. I use the story spine to help the students plan their story. They also spend some time sketching out their scenes and storytelling each scene to a partner before they begin to write. I find that if they have a strong plan and they take time to act out their story, they write stronger stories. For third graders, publishing stories in digital form takes longer so we don’t always use digital tools but when we do, here are my two favorite ways:

    1. Google Presentation + Screencastify

One more student example

2. Storybird

I like to use Storybird when students need some inspiration for writing. 

For now, my main focus is to become a better storyteller and teach each my students the craft of storytelling so they can be storytellers who change the world one story at a time. 

Please share…how do you teach storytelling and what are  your favorite digital storytelling tools for elementary aged students?





Presentation: Zen Style

This week we are talking about how to zen up our presentations based on the well known book Zen Presentation by Garr Reynolds.

Here is a great short video that summarizes the points in his book: 

YouTube Preview Image

This is my original presentation. It is what I presented to parents at the beginning of the school year. The original purpose was simply to give the parents information about our class, but after learning more about the Zen Presentation principles, I realize that what I really want is for my parents to come away from our time together with one core message: I care about your child and I will do my best to help your child grow.


Rethinking the Message and Design

I started with taking some for reflection.

What is the story I want to tell? What is my core message?

I have experience and am qualified. I care about your child. I am committed to helping your child develop strong roots and healthy fruit. When their children leave my class I want them to be students who pursue personal excellence, active global citizens,  and ethical decision-makers.

What is the one thing I want them to remember when they walk away?

I want them to feel they can trust me.

Next, I planned my presentation offline.

Kim Cofino in her post, Less is More: Making your Presentations Zen-tastic!  has a great step by step guide to follow with tons of very practical ideas. What is Good Presentation Design?  by Garr Reynolds is also very helpful.

I started with the suggestion to brainstorm offline and break my story into three parts. I then broke three parts into separate parts and thought about images I could use for each slide.

new doc 2017-02-11 13.07.18_1

This was my first sketch. I plan use post-it notes and lay out the design idea for each slide. 

Then, I worked on a few slides to see what I could come up with. Here is what it looks like now. This is only the first part of three parts. 

Next steps…

  • Plan stories to tell. I usually tell the story of when my son, who has Down Syndrome, was born and how I determined to do everything I could to help him learn. I like to share about his life now. He is an active 20 year old who now goes to Shepherd’s College and has many friends. This is how I communicate empathy. I know what it’s like to be a parent who wants the best for her child.  I also hope to share a few stories that will help parents visualize how their child will be learning in our class. 
  • Include a video or two. I should be thinking about that at the beginning of the year. I can plan exactly what I want to show them. For example, show a clip of me teaching a mini lesson for Reading workshop or genius hour footage.
  • Screencast my presentation for parents who can’t attend. It would be great if I could include subtitles on my screencast for parents who are learning English and might have a hard time following along. I have no idea how to do that so if anyone knows, let me know.
  • Prepare a handout. I am planning to remove all the slides that explain the curriculum we teach and just include that in a handout and put hyperlinks to the different resources on a slide at the end of the presentation that parents can refer to later when I share it with them.
  • Include minimal text, enough so that if parents don’t understand what I say on that slide they will at least catch that message. Some of my parents don’t speak English, so I want to do what I can to help them understand. 

So that’s it for now. Let me know if you have any ideas for improving my presentation.




Image: Joining the Community by Susanne Nilsson CC BY-SA 2.0 Flickr

We’ve been on a school break but on Monday I get to step into my international classroom and do what I do everyday: train little hearts and minds to be proactive, positive, wise and compassionate human being. Most days I take these things for granted but now more than ever I’m realizing how important these skills are.

Here are the things we work on in third grade every single day:

  • Listen when someone else is speaking and ask clarifying questions when you don’t understand.
  • Be assertive when you perceive that you or someone else has been wronged and use words to solve your problem.
  • Remember empathy towards those who are different or need help. Empathy is trying to understand the other person’s perspective by asking questions, putting yourself in their shoes and choosing to lift them up rather than tear them down.
  • THINK before you speak (or write…or comment)
    • T-is it True?
    • H-is it Helpful?
    • I-is it Inspiring?
    • N-is it Necessary?
    • K-is it Kind?
  •  Admit when you are wrong and ask forgiveness.
  • Forgive those who have wronged you.
  • When you are angry, take a time out to breathe, calm down and then come back to solve the problem.
  • Stay focused and on task!

These are reminders for myself.





Writers Live With Their Eyes Opened to the World Around Them

Flickr Image “Trash collection and transportation” by Tri Nguyen CC 2.0

Who is in this photo?

What are they doing? Why?

What else do you notice in the photo?

What message might the photographer be trying to communicate?

How do you know that?

These are some of the questions we will discuss when I use this photo to introduce my students to our third grade opinion writing unit called “Changing the World: Persuasive Speeches, Petitions, and Editorials,” by Lucy Calkins (The Teachers College Reading and Writing Project).

One of the enduring understandings I hope to impress on my students is that…

Writers live with their eyes open to the world around them, imagine how it could be different and persuade others to think, feel and do something differently.

One strategy for generating ideas for this type of writing is for students to look around their world and make a list of problems they see around them or people who are under-appreciated.

This means that while they are going about their everyday life, they can pause and notice what is going on around them. Instead of complaining about these wrongs or injustices, they can ask, “Is there something that we can do differently to improve the situation and how can we persuade others to join us?” 

When beginning any writing unit, we usually produce one piece together as a class. This piece is the model that I teach from. This photo will be used to introduce our class persuasive essay entitled “Community workers who keep our streets clean deserve our appreciation.”

Here are two ways I hope to use still images to help students “open their eyes to the world around them.”

Curate a collection of images of our community for students to study

In small groups, students will study images of our city created by other photographers who share their work in online spaces like Flickr or Pixabay in order to prompt thinking about issues in our community.

According to ISTE’s Media Literacy in the K-12 Classroom by Frank W. Baker 

Visual Literacy=Reading Pictures

Students can be taught the skill of “reading” pictures. They can observe a photo and understand that the photographer made choices about framing, angle, use of light, composition, and focus in order to communicate a message. With practice students can be taught to read those messages.

A very practical way to teach students how to read photos is by using a simple photo analysis worksheet such as the one provided by the National Archives here.

  • Students study the photo for 2 minutes and get an overall impression.
  • They write down a list of people, actions, and things they see in the image.
  • They write down three things they can infer from the image.
  • They write down two or three questions and think about where they could find the answers to those questions.

Have students take their own photos of things they notice and want to change in their community

Another way that students can generate ideas for their persuasive writing is by going on a photo walk through the community to open their eyes to things they wish were different or people they wish were more appreciated. Students can use their own devices (phones, cameras, iPads) or a class set of devices to capture these moments and reflect on them later.

Courtney Slaznik at Click it Up a Notch offers some great suggestions for teaching kids skills they need to take interesting photos. Skills such as using the rule of thirds, filling the frame, and using negative space can significantly improve their photos.

These simple lessons can be taught in a short time and the students can try to create 3-5 images that demonstrate each skill.

I haven’t taught this unit yet, but yesterday one of my students just happened to share some of his photos from around his neighborhood. These will be a perfect way to introduce the other students to the way we can use photography to capture moments around our community.

Let me know if you have any other suggestions for teaching young students to “read” images or if you have any resources for teaching photography skills to 6-10 year olds.