Karen Kliegman wants her students at Searingtown School, in Albertson, New York, to view themselves as docents -- knowledgeable guides who can lead their class along the route of a famous seventeenth-century explorer. And she has found the technology to make this possible.
She assigns each of her fourth-grade students an explorer to research -- Columbus, Magellan, Ponce de Leon, or one of their questing contemporaries. After gathering facts, students locate images of the explorer or draw their own. They then create a vodcast, or video podcast, about the explorer's journey using Photo Story, a free program from Microsoft that allows users to upload digital pictures and add narration and background music. Students then log on to digital-mapping programs such as Google Maps or CommunityWalk, with which they can trace their explorers' journeys, inserting markers on the map route that link to their videos' profiles.
Confused? Don't be. (Though being amazed and delighted is just fine.) Web 2.0 programs such as Photo Story, Google Maps, and CommunityWalk are simple to use and educator friendly -- even for those wary of technology. The collaborative environment of the Web is especially conducive to creating place-based digital-storytelling projects, such as the one done by Kliegman's students. These projects can teach kids about such subjects as social studies or literature using digital tools -- maps and timelines, for instance -- that will develop a relationship between narrative and history, time and place.
For the past two years, Kliegman, a library media specialist, has been using Web 2.0 tools to create group projects with her fourth and fifth graders. "The great thing about most of these tools is that they remove the obstacle of having to be a geek to do these kinds of projects," she says. "It's very, very easy."
In fact, the students often catch on more quickly than their teacher. "You show them it one time, and they can do it," Kliegman observes. Many of these programs are free, and you usually need just a computer with high-speed Internet access and a microphone.
Kliegman notes, "Technology is cool," which will come as no surprise to anyone under eighteen. So when teachers assign students a digital place-based-learning project, the kids quickly become engaged. But there's more than the cool factor. Explains Kliegman, "It used to be that you wrote a report, handed it in to the teacher, and maybe shared it with the class. Now, you're showing it to the world. The audience is global."
Digital place-based-learning projects also change the way students learn geography. "It used to be all about memorizing where the mountains and deserts are, and nothing about learning how to navigate maps," recalls Brenda Dyck, a Canadian-based middle school teacher and editor of MidLink magazine. Dyck runs workshops for teachers on how to best integrate technology into their curriculum. "Digital-mapping capabilities develop these special skills for students who don't have a natural sense of direction," she reports. (This page on her school's Web sites features some of her class projects.)
History as Their Stories
Digital place-based storytelling can be self-generating, and it encourages ongoing creativity. Teachers can have their class create a map detailing each student's immigration history. Using a digital voice recorder, students can interview relatives who immigrated to the United States from other countries. They then upload a photo of their Italian father or Somalian grandmother and link it to the audio recording of that family member speaking about coming to this country, learning the language, and starting a new life.
Then, using a digital-mapping program such as CommunityWalk, the students can link the recordings to a marker on the map that shows where that family member was born. Once students understand the many levels of presenting stories, the ripple effect can take over.
"It's always amazing to see what teachers manage to do with these Web 2.0 tools," Dyck says. "The possibilities are endless."
Tamar Snyder is a writer in New York City who specializes in education, personal finance, and careers.