Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Digital storytelling with StoryKit

StoryKit is a free app for both the iPod and iPad that allows the reader to create digital stories. When I first downloaded it, I didn't get the point right away and thought it was just another, not very good, ereader because it comes with three books included on its bookshelf. Once I figured out that it is intended to create books as much as to read them, it suddenly became a LOT more interesting!

The first time I used it with students was with a group of 1st graders. They created a book for me on paper first and only once that was finished did we start the process of transferring the book to the iPods. For their books (about animals) the students had drawn pictures. As I already had a large collection of animal photos on my computer, I loaded the relevant ones onto the iPods for the kids to use in their StoryKit books. For the next project I did with StoryKit, my second graders were writing personal narratives and in this case I scanned their hand-drawn images and loaded them onto the iPods. Students can also draw pictures directly in StoryKit, though the quality (certainly on an iPod as opposed to an iPad) tends to be not as good as images kids draw on paper.

All the students VERY quickly got the hang of navigating their way through StoryKit. It was good to see them being critical of their audio recordings, and choosing to re-record and re-record (without any prompting from me) until they were happy with what they heard. Without exception, as soon as they had finished, they wanted to share their stories. They went back to their regular classroom teacher and wanted the whole class to see their story, and they went home and showed their parents the story from my website. In all my years of teaching, I have rarely seen such enthusiasm from students for sharing their writing!

Here is a YouTube video on using StoryKit on an iPad. The creator comments at the end that when she uploads her finished stories to the StoryKit website the sound does not work. I have not found that to be the case.

Here is a sample photo story educator and technology advocate Wes Fryer put together using StoryKit about visiting China. Wes embedded it into his blog page. Here it is on the StoryKit website.

Here is a podcast (over an hour long) that you can download that details a University of Maryland research project using Story Kit to enable families to create digital stories. It includes some good ideas on ways you can use the software.

Things to be aware of about using StoryKit:
  • there are definitely some logistics involved in getting images onto the iPods for the students. If you have newer iPods with built-in cameras, (I don't), I suppose you could take photos of the students' hand-drawn images. I run them through the photocopier/scanner which then emails them to me. (As fast as a making a regular photocopy, and much faster than using a 'regular' scanner!) 
  • Depending on your tolerance for background noise in the finished product, it may be difficult to find a quiet enough area in school for the audio recording.
  • You can add more than one audio clip to each page.
  • When students are recording their stories, it is definitely helpful if they have a written version that is not on the iPod to read from because the recording window hides the page where a student may have entered text.
  • Typing is still a new skill for most younger kids and can go very slowly. I will admit that, given the luxury of very small groups of students, I have had students type one or two pages in their story and I have helped them finish up.
  • The text box can be moved up and down the page, and you can 'pinch' or 'stretch' the text box to resize it somewhat. 
  • The spelling/auto-correct feature on the iPods can be helpful, but can also be incredibly frustrating when it repeatedly 'miscorrects' a word.
  • If you use the paint tools, make sure not to paint where your text will be. Even if you enter the text first, you will not be able to see it while you are painting. 
  • The shared projects are hosted on the website.  There is no way to directly upload a finished story to another website (though of course you can link to the project at There is no way to download or save the finished projects to share in any way other than through the website or on the iPod. Compare this to an iMovie which can not only be uploaded to a website but also saved as a DVD. Should the website ever shut down, all the projects published online will vanish :-( On the other hand, free access to the site means that if students create stories on an iPod at home, they have a way to share it without having to have their own website.
  • The iPod you create the story on has to be set up to send email so that the story can be shared. 
Finally, if you use StoryKit, you can let the developers know what you think of it right here.

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