George Lucas Educational Foundation

Marking Time: Back to the Future on Web 2.0

An amazing new tech tool kit lets kids make history their story.
By Tamar Snyder
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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."

Quick Studies

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.

Comments (5) Sign in or register to comment Follow Subscribe to comments via RSS

A. Gordon's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

I'm downloading PhotoStory right now, but anyone who likes PhotoStory might like to look at VoiceThread (at which creates a similar multimedia product. It's web-based, and after a $10 registration fee, you become part of a K-12 network that shares VoiceThreads. I've been using it a lot with students. It has some great features (like being able to add drawings on top of images, using video clips as well as still images, easy embedding on websites, and letting users upload audio files instead of having to use an unedited clip.) But it looks like Photostory will let me save as a .wmv file, which I can't do with VoiceThread. I think I may be able to upload my .wmv file to VoiceThread, and embed it easily in a website. Cool!

Paul  Luke's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

Photostory .wmv files can only be viewed on computers with Window Media Player 10 + and not on Macs. Any conversion to mp4 will work best on the web - so please think this one through first.

Anonymous's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

You can use windwos movie maker to put out a different formatt of .wmv for the photostories it can then be posted to the web and viewed on the mac. Takes more time, but it is easy enough to do it you have a large population of mac users.

Ima H's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

Hi guys, just to suggest on Paul's post re playing Windows Media Videos on a Mac, there are two options:

1. Flip4Mac -- a free CODEC (dun let the word scare you away, its actually quite easy to install) that lets you play WMV from Quicktime or any other app plays videos.

2. VLC Player -- if you just want a Mac app that will play any format of audio/video (including DivX and Xvid files), without the hassle of installing and managing CODECs.. here's VLC player.

Remember, Google is your friend, and both apps are perfectly good :)


Mark's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

Google have just announced a new tool/format called Google place that may be a more detailed alternative to students when they are doing work relating to towns and cities. It may take some time before they get around to doint the North Pole and other explorers venues.

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