Professional Learning

California Kids Use — and Teach — Digital Storytelling

Can’t find tech mentors? How about the ones sitting in front of you?

August 3, 2009
Credit: Thomas Reis

Veteran fourth-grade teacher Don Kinslow often hears colleagues say they would use technology if they had the time to get training. At Parkview Elementary School, in Chico, California, he has found a practical solution to this dilemma: He engages students as technology mentors.

Two years ago, his school started participating in Generation YES, a program that encourages teachers to learn about technology with help from knowledgeable students. Kinslow advises Gen YES students, who volunteer for after-school workshops where they become "campus experts" and respond to teacher requests.

With help from Gen YES kids, teachers in grades 3-6 have recently become proficient in the use of digital storytelling. Kinslow first introduced his Gen YES students to a free Microsoft application called Photo Story 3. They quickly became adept at organizing photos and adding text, music, and voice-over narration to create a digital story.

Kinslow then got other teachers interested in the tool by sharing one of his own class projects at a faculty meeting. His demonstration sparked teacher interest, and soon, Gen YES students introduced digital-storytelling techniques to other classrooms.

The idea quickly went viral, with teachers using the software for a variety of purposes. Some created prereading presentations to introduce unfamiliar vocabulary. Others asked students to demonstrate their understanding by creating digital stories.

One of Kinslow's students, for instance, was consistently reluctant to speak in class. For a book report, she narrated a digital story. "Her voice was clear. Her ideas were well organized," Kinslow says. "For some kids, this was the first time they'd ever heard her talk."

Getting the older grades in the school on board with the same tool has helped build a sense of community, Kinslow notes. "It's a simple idea, but it's had huge outcomes."

Gen YES students helped create a digital-storytelling exhibit for the school's open house. Students even went beyond the classroom and used their digital-storytelling skills to document the educational value of a local nature preserve and popular field trip site. Their presentation was the centerpiece for an annual fundraising banquet held by the local nature-preserve organization.

Suzie Boss is coauthor of Reinventing Project-Based Learning: Your Field Guide to Real-World Projects in the Digital Age. She also blogs for

This article is the third of four that describe how schools integrate technology without spending a lot of money. Next, read how an Oklahoma school uses classroom tech tools on a budget.

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