fourth and fifth graders may never say so, but the Place Project was all
about storytelling. At the beginning of the school year, students answered
a survey about writing that asked, "Are you a writer?" Sixty percent responded
yes. After the Place Project, they responded to the same survey. "Are you
a writer?" Ninety-nine percent said yes. Nothing is foolproof, but I have
yet to find anything as motivating and influential on students' self-expression
as helping them tell stories about an important place. The added dimension
of video provided a meeting place for these students and their creativity.
Online Extra •
Managing the iMovie-Infused
recently spent over an hour scouring the Web for iMovie teacher tips for
a class I am teaching for my colleagues. Dozens of iMovie tip sites provided
excellent tutorials and sample iMovies, but not one took the role of the
teacher in mind. As with many technology workshops, the focus is on learning
the software, but what is running through most teachers’ minds is how to
teach with the software or how will it look in their classroom. I have
used the iMovie program for over 2 years with fourth and fifth graders.
Whether you have only one computer or a 20-plus computer lab (Count your
blessings if you do!), the following suggestions should keep your projects
from becoming your entire curriculum.
• Record voice-overs
on a digital camcorder, import them into the student’s iMovie, then extract
the audio from the video clips.
• When students
are scanning images, be sure they each have a folder into which they can
save the scans.
• Use the buddy
system. It makes the most sense when students are new to a piece of software.
They can answer each other’s questions, coach each other, and provide important
feedback regarding editing choices.
• Introduce iMovie
to the students by creating a simple iMovie about someone related to your
social studies curriculum, such as Martin Luther King Jr.
here to view movie]
Shortcut to Quick Voice-overs
While the iMovie program
has an easy interface for recording your voice, voice-overs are the most
time-consuming part of an iMovie project. Even in a computer lab setting,
only one student can record at a time. Otherwise, the “background noise”
can be overwhelming. In a classroom, everyone must be quiet while a student
musters the courage to speak into the computer’s microphone. As much as
the kids enjoying hearing “Quiet on the set,” it is not always feasible
to make the entire class work around one iMovie project. You need time
for recording voice because 9-year-olds and adults alike make plenty of
public speaking mistakes. Capturing a student’s voice is the real power
behind using digital storytelling in the classroom. It is the most critical
part of any iMovie project. If you are familiar with importing video clips
into iMovie, try this shortcut to simplify the voice-over process.
Step 1. Ask a parent
volunteer who’s comfortable using a digital camcorder to tape students
reading aloud their scripts.
Step 2. Find a quiet
closet or hallway for taping. Set the camcorder on a tripod. Leave the
lens cap on and record students reading their scripts in three to four
sentence chunks, stopping and starting the camcorder after each chunk.
Do not rewind if a student makes a mistake. Keep recording until the entire
script is recorded. While one student is being recorded, have the next
student listening or rehearsing his script.
Step 3. Connect the
digital camcorder to the computer with the Firewire cable. Open the student’s
iMovie. Import the video footage. You do not need to stop and start the
importing. You should see only black, empty video clips. Delete any clips
you know are mistakes.
Step 4. Drag and
drop the clips onto the video track.
Select all of the clips
by holding down the shift key and clicking once on each blank clip. Under
the Advanced menu at the top of the screen select Extract Audio. After
a few minutes you will see the voice-over green bars under the video clips.
Deselect by clicking anywhere
inside the viewing screen. Now select all of the video clips again and
delete them. Be careful not to select the voice-over bars. If you accidentally
delete them, select Undo under the Edit menu at the top of the screen and
click on each of the bars to deselect them. You should be left with just
the green voice-over bars for students to arrange according to their accompanying
The students are still responsible
for aligning their script with their images. I spent about 2 hours total
importing and extracting the clips. It may seem like overstepping the boundary
of maintaining student ownership of the project, but if 2 hours of my time
saves 6 months of class time, then the advantage is obvious.
The Joys of Digital Video
The moment my principal
told me my classroom would soon include an iMac DV with the sleek, novice
video editing program, iMovie, I gleefully began plotting the many ways
I would integrate it into my fourth grade classroom. A few months earlier,
I had attended a weekend boot camp in nonlinear video editing at the Center
for Digital Storytelling in Berkeley, California. I was eager to put iMovie
to the test to see if fourth graders could meet its learning curve and
tap its much-touted tools for self-expression and media production. The
students had no problem figuring out the iMovie drag-and-drop interface.
Though we only had one iMovie-capable computer and it took several months,
each student created an amazing digital story about a special place. That
was 2 years ago, and I have been standing tall on the iMovie bandwagon,
giving my testimony to the interested and skeptical that media creation
has a vital place in today’s classrooms.
student captured it best: "This year I have learned that places are not
just physical matter but emotional places in peoples' hearts. iMovie has
made all my thoughts and feelings come alive in an awesome movie." The
project confirmed my belief that everyone has a story about a place that
is important to her or him, and that by using multimedia to develop and
share those stories, we strengthen our understanding of our communities.
As Barbara Ueland wrote in her book If You Want to Write, "Everyone is
talented, original, and has something important to say," and that certainly
holds true about an important place.
the first time in my teaching career, not one student wrinkled a brow and
declared, "I don't have anything to write about!" I stood in awe of their
response to my asking them to write about places where they felt comfortable,
safe, or happy places where they could just be themselves. Their responses
represented the customary places—bedrooms to backyards to ball fields—and
intangible places like their imagination. Fifty percent of the battle of
student writing was won. They were committed to a topic.
the second half of what to say and how to say it required an outline, a
variety of pre-writing activities, and iMovie, the novice video-editing
program from Apple.
Step by Step,
the Journey Begins
I could expect them to write a story that had a clear beginning, middle,
and end, students needed preparation. I directed them to orally answer
questions from an outline with a partner. The outline prompted students
to introduce their place by telling where it was, what it looked like,
and why it was important. The body of the story needed to answer several
is your earliest memory of your place?
are your feelings when you are there?
difference does your place make in your life?
do you see in your place that no one else sees?
there students moved to visually representing their place by drawing, painting,
creating a collage, or using KidPix on the computer to uncover more details
about each place. I have found that asking students to select one image
that best represents her or his place provides an anchor for the story
and helps anyone coaching the story along to elicit more information from
upper elementary students are expected to write compositions that traditionally
contain at least four five-sentence paragraphs, the place stories were
ready to move into the production phase when the outline questions were
answered in sufficient detail. Due to many constraints (computer memory
and the amount of time required to record voice into the computer), digital
stories need to be restricted to approximately 3 minutes in length. Requiring
students to include a hook to their introductions helped avoid the pitfall
of creating merely a simple slide show.
story writing did not end when students had a clear beginning, middle,
and end, or when they were ready to begin using the scanner or digital
camcorder. Peer coaching occurred throughout the production phase. Without
prompting from me, students asked to see each other's place stories throughout
the production and editing phases. Every student was genuinely interested
in all of the student places and offered helpful suggestions on how to
improve hooks or conclusions. Each time I heard a student ask, "What's
your place?" it reinforced the positive impact of the project on the classroom
students to write about an important place requires trust. All must value
each other's ideas and support the belief that hearing place stories from
everyone benefits the entire class. Using a story-coaching approach I learned
from storyteller Doug Lipman, I got the students to share in a way that
quickly instilled a positive classroom environment and empowered student
voices. When an author/teller shared her story, she received appreciations,
then suggestions from the class, and finally had a chance to ask the audience
any questions about her piece. The teller did not defend or explain during
appreciations or suggestions. I have used this approach for all types of
sharing, but found it particularly effective in helping students see themselves
as authors with a purpose and an audience for writing that was greater
than the immediate classroom.
a story about an important place involves many risks for students. The
teacher needs to take those same risks by sharing a place story of his
own. I shared with them how I saw the classroom as a place where I always
felt at home and showed them pictures I had drawn to help convey some of
the feelings about my place. I used the digital story I created about my
place in the classroom to help students practice the story-coaching model.
a class, we discussed the effectiveness of my hook, the images I selected,
the tone of my voice, and the music that accompanied the story. Every wise
teacher knows it's important to create a model of what you expect the students
to complete. It is paramount in the case of using digital storytelling
in the classroom. By doing so, you will learn more about time horizons,
modifying expectations, and avoiding painful technical difficulties than
I could ever hope to share with you in this article. You will also see
how you are teaching storytelling and not just how to use the iMovie program.
a digital story as a class is also a valuable way to introduce the iMovie
fundamentals. We developed a digital story on Dr. Martin Luther King to
celebrate his life that was not only powerful but unique, in that we created
it collectively. I strongly recommend starting with a class story, not
necessarily about place. It will spark student interest in digital storytelling
and provide several opportunities to model the basic skills of the iMovie
view Dr. Martin Luther King iMovie
27MB — Click icon at left to get QuickTime]
Gearing Up for the
first year I introduced the Place Project I had two iMac DVs, a PowerPC
with a UMAX Vista scanner, and handful of Macintosh Performas in my classroom.
There were 24 students, meaning 24 stories had to be produced. It took
6 months, but every student completed his digital place story. This past
year, I still had 24 students, but I also had an entire computer lab of
iMac DVs ... and it still took 6 months. Two computers or 20, students
needed to share their computer skills. Students were eager to assist their
peers and would also seize any opportunity to ask a classmate to share
her or his place story. Despite the remarkable citizenship among the students,
the project required an extraordinary amount of flexibility in how I organized
class time. Often students were not workingon the same task, so I could
rotate them on the computers.
Technology . . . and the Learning
teacher must surrender a great deal of control in embarking on digital
storytelling with students. Part of what makes writing/storytelling/movie-making
with technology so rewarding for students is that they are in the director's
chair. Writing the story, illustrating and collecting images, and selecting
music to match the feeling of the place could all be completed in a month
and a half. So, what takes so long to scan images into the computer, record
your voice, and edit it on the computer? Individually, a student could
create a digital story in a week, but managing an entire class of digital
storytellers presents a difficult pacing problem. Students will progress
through selecting images, scanning, importing them into the computer, recording
their voices, and adding transitions and text at varying rates. Timetables
and due dates were not effective because some students needed more time
to learn how to navigate the iMovie program.
you create your model digital place story, you will see that students need
to learn two major iMovie skills: how to bring images, music, and voice
into the computer (importing) and how to sequence them according to their
story (drag and drop). There are many features about the program that students
figure out on their own. I spent very little time teaching direct iMovie
skills. Students felt more like authors/producers when they were deciding
what music to use or how to transition from one image to the next.
Place Project brings each student's voice into the limelight. Voice recording
is the single most time-consuming part of the project. A 3-minute script
could take an hour or a week to record, depending on the student's confidence
in his/her voice. It is always worth the extra time. Nothing compares to
the power of the student's spoken word. Because you can only have one student
record at a time, this creates a class management nightmare. I had five
students in the computer lab at a time and ran it like anair traffic controller,
ensuring that another student was ready to record as soon as one had finished
a take. Parent volunteers were essential in the computer lab at this time
to assist students with routine questions.
iMovie to create digital stories does not require a digital camcorder.
Most students used photographs and images that they drew by hand or on
the computer. Students stored their iMovie project folders on the hard
drives of the lab computers and returned to work on the same computer each
session. All of the computers were connected to a network server, which
made importing scanned images easier. Students who had scanners at home
were willing to take home images for their classmates' stories and have
their parents scan them. They then e-mailed them back to me or sent them
back on a disk. (A logistical note: Be certain to instruct students on
how to determine where and in what format scanned images are being saved/stored
by the scanner software. Students squandered a lot of time by not paying
attention to or understanding these details. I tried to model for them
how to trouble shoot situations when glitches arose, and they learned how
important patience really was when working with technology.)
vital to note, of course, that the technology was always secondary to the
storytelling. Scanning photographsand hand-drawn images into the computer,
using a digital camcorder, importing music, recording voices, and composing
and editing their stories using Apple's iMovie program comprised a technological
process that enabled students to develop and share a clear, structured,
effective story. Technology's place in the classroom has always challenged
teachers to maximize their time and resources while proving its worth.
The Place Project demonstrated how technology can be instrumental in the
perennial student struggle to find voice, confidence, and structure in