Digital Storytelling

For my Writing in the 21st Century class, one of our most recent projects was to tackle using digital storytelling to tell a story. I chose to write (or in this case, speak) about my hometown of Waxhaw because of the personal connection I have with it. I am thankful for the formative years that I spent in this small town and the person it made me today.

We were asked to submit a brief justification about our piece; mine is as follows:

“I chose to focus my digital story around something very personal to me – my hometown. Examining the question “What is it that makes my hometown significant to me?” allowed me to revisit several fond memories while bridging emotional content and my own point of view. I chose this topic because I can’t separate myself from it – it’s something that is a part of who I was and who I am as well. Though not grounded in content, I believe this would be a personal way to introduce digital storytelling into my classroom as an example of personal connection. The components of using my own photos, coupled with my voice telling the story allows for students to see the personal connections come to life. Students would be able to see that technology can be used beyond anonymity, but for sharing personal vignettes as well.

I used the newest version of iMovie to compose my digital story, which proved to be an adventure. My older computer had difficulty working with the new software, and I encountered several technical difficulties along the way. I don’t think that iMovie is a good fit for students in an elementary classroom setting, as there are several tricks and intricacies to make it work. I would use this application for middle school or high school students.

Overall, I enjoyed this experience despite the challenges along the way. Digital storytelling is a chance to share your story with the world – and I’m glad I was encouraged to share my own.”

Though I dislike the sound of my voice in any sort of audio recording, this project has caused me to see the potential benefits of using digital storytelling. As a teacher, I think that digital storytelling is a great way to connect with your students and allow them to share their stories as well. As I teach third grade, I would like to move towards using more kid-friendly ways of creating digital stories to share, as this may encourage some of my more reluctant writers to come out of their shells.

This project prompted me to consider “Where am I now?” in terms of teaching writing – I’ll admit that this was a challenge for me as I tend to be a more traditional / sequential writer. Grappling with a digital story allowed me to see that there are other avenues for students and teachers alike to explore. This has inspired me to consider using other means besides just pencil and paper for students to share their stories.

If you choose to watch the video, feel free to offer feedback – I’m always open to suggestions or comments!

Game On [Follow Up]

After creating a game on this weekend, I was excited to share my learning with my students. Miraculously, I found a small chunk of time (10 minutes or so) at the very end of the day when I was able to pull aside one student who had had a particularly great day during class. I explained to him that I too was going to school, in a sense, to be a better teacher, and that for one of my assignments I had been allowed to create a game.

I was nervous pulling up the website, wondering what this sweet student, D, would think of the game that I had struggled with so much a few days before. While we waited for the page to load, I asked him some questions about his previous experience with gaming.

Me: Do you play games when you get home from school? What kind of games do you like?

D: Yeah, I play SonicDash and Minecraft mostly. Minecraft is my favorite.

Me: Like, Sonic the Hedgehog? I used to play that!

D: Cool, I didn’t know they had games then… (cue me feeling OLD…)

After the game loaded, I allowed him to explore through the training level, taking notes as he played. I made sure to not give him too much direction; I wanted him to be able to explore the nuances of the game on his own. I noticed immediately that D was able to ‘pick up’ on the movements and direction of the game – it took me several tries to master movement while he effortlessly switched between the arrow keys and the mouse. I was also pleased to see that D read the pop-up directions carefully, making sure to pay attention and wait until the entire message had scrolled.

D carefully played through each of the three levels, pausing only here and there to ask clarifying questions. At the end of the game, I studied his 9-year-old face, eagerly looking for some sort of positive indication. I prompted D with a few questions to see some of the things he liked and disliked – his feedback was definitely interesting. Below is a short list of likes and dislikes, detailing the specifics of D’s thoughts.

Likes (+)

  • Puzzles were fun, I liked solving them
  • I like that you got to learn how to play along the way
  • The maze was cool

Changes (~)

  • I don’t like that you have to look down on your person, I want to change the perspective
  • I wish you got to use more weapons or switch them out

Overall, my experience with sharing my game was a largely positive one. I was pretty proud that D deemed my game “cool,” and enjoyed seeing someone else play what I had worked so hard to create. If you’ve created a game for this class, I would definitely encourage you to share it with your kiddos – I almost didn’t, but I’m so glad I did!

Game On

One of the optional challenges for my gamification class that I have been meaning to get to is the “Help, I’m Trapped in a VIdeo Game!” quest – the challenge was to create a game using the platform and grapple with the intricacies of game creation. After creating, we are encouraged to share the game with our students, write about our experiences, etc.


For my “Where Am I Now?” post this week, I would like to focus on my experience with using Sploder to create my game, “aMAZEing Problem Solving” (check it out here if you’re interested in playing!). Prior to this experience, I had never created a game before – or, at least not one online – so this was a definite learning experience for me.

Starting off, there are several different options for game platforms you can choose. Sploder does a nice job allowing you to choose basic options and then customize them to make them your own. I ended up choosing the maze style one, as I wanted to explore something a bit different from the more traditional video game style. Growing up, logic puzzles were always a great interest of mine, so I wanted to see if I could incorporate them within my own ‘game.’ Admittedly, I also chose a logic-based game because I assumed that if I had previously had success with logic, this would come more naturally to me.


Initially, I’ll admit that I was incredibly frustrated with the building aspect. Though Sploder has done a nice job providing a tutorial and information about how to build the level, I still found myself, as many of my students do, rushing through the directions and trying to figure it out by myself.

This did not go well.

Realizing the error of my ways, I went back to the drawing board, rereading the directions and trying to be purposeful about the information I was providing. Soon, I had successfully designed Level 1 as a training level to introduce players to the game. I really appreciated the aspect of being able to add messages throughout the game, though I do wish they were a bit more prevalent – they are in pop-up style, but only at the bottom of the screen, so missing them is a definite possibility.

During the building process, I peppered my maze with logic puzzles – sequencing, numbers, etc. for the players to solve. Feeling confident about the way Level 1 was looking, I decided to test the level, logic puzzles and all. I quickly picked up on the keyboard controls and movement but, upon encountering a logic puzzle, was given a large dose of humility. I ignored the directions given, and tried to breeze through by just plugging in numbers I thought made sense. After several failed attempts and mounting embarrassment, I was feeling something like:


Eventually, I got the hang of the logic puzzles and set out to build Levels 2 and 3. Having experienced the success of building a first level, my second undertaking of constructing Levels 2 and 3 went much more smoothly. I added hidden power-ups and even incorporated a “boss” enemy to beat at the end of Level 3*

Overall, this was a great learning experience for me as a creator of a game. I definitely feel a sense of accomplishment at having created something that I could potentially use with my students. Ironically, I think one of the things my game emphasizes is the importance of reading directions closely, as many of the tips and tricks are nestled in the message boards themselves. Moving forward, I’m hopeful to find some time this week to ‘beta test’ this game with my kids and see what they think. Many of the students in my third grade class are ‘gamers’ and may take to the game naturally. If I do decide to go through with that, i’ll be sure to share my experience and let you know how it goes.

Until then, I’m off to play one more round of “aMAZEing Problem Solving” as a brain break before I delve into more lesson planning for the week.

Game On!

* We won’t talk about how many times I died before I beat the boss of my own game…

Nonfiction Narrative

For my Content Area Literacy course, one of the optional challenges was to write a non-fiction narrative based solely off one picture. I selected a picture that one of the other people in my cohort posted and decided to compare and contrast a typical school day for me in 5th grade and a typical school day for a similarly aged student in India. The websites I used are translated at the bottom and I was able to include some Hindi with the help of Google Translate. Enjoy!


Brrrrrrt Brrrrrrrt Brrrrrrrt.

The sound of my alarm clock jolts me from the depths of sleep, bringing me back to my little pink room. I roll over to look at the clock – 7:02 by this point – and take a moment to wake up. Downstairs, I hear my mother in the kitchen, bustling in and out of the pantry packing my lunch. I make a mental note to request a PB&J sandwich cut down the middle for tomorrow. Still in bed, I run through what the day will bring – Mr. Henley, my science teacher, hinted there would be a quiz today; I still am not convinced that in 5th grade we should have to start “practicing” what middle school quizzes will be like. Sighing, I push my covers back and reluctantly slide out of bed.

“Yoshita… Yoshita, Yaha jagane ke li e samaya hai. It is time to wake up.”

My mother’s soft voice floats through my dreams, coaxing my awake. “Time for school,” my mahr says gently, brushing a loose strand of hair back from my face. I groan, pulling the sheets up to my chin, tired from the long week of school already. Today is Thursday, which means we must spend the morning practicing our English nouns again. The sound of the mosque’s morning call to prayer interrupts my thoughts, and I head down the short hallway to the bathroom.

After wrangling my hair into my signature ponytail, I grab my backpack and head downstairs. I sit down at the kitchen table and pour milk over my Cinnamon Toast Crunch (Mom leaves the milk in a separate cup for me so it doesn’t get soggy). I hope I’m as smart as she is when I grow up. I enjoy the sounds of my house in the morning, hearing the sink run in my parents’ bathroom – Mom getting ready – and the rhythmic tapping of the keyboard in the office – Dad responding to email. After breakfast, and after teeth are brushed, it’s straight to the garage – Mom’s driving carpool this morning.

The bathtub is already filled for me as I head into the bathroom, thin curls of steam rising from the warm water. The small room smells faintly of candana, the sandalwood paste my parents use each morning. I ease into the warm water and scrub my skin clean, tinged with red dirt from the afternoon before. After I towel off and dress, I find a shiny red apple and a tall glass of milk set out for me by my schoolbag. I kiss my mahr on the cheek, gulp the milk in three swallows, and slip the apple into my bag for later, heading out the door to the bus stop.

Brrrrrrrrring! Thankfully, I’m settled in my desk by the time the tardy bell rings. Christina shoots me a look from across the room, motioning towards the front where our homeroom teacher, Ms. Lamarre, is writing on the board. QUIZ IN MR. HENLEY’S CLASS she neatly prints, with a smiley face added for good measure. I dig around in my desk for my flash cards.

I can’t seem to sit still during assembly this morning; the morning prayers seem even longer than usual. I’m still restless during Social Studies, barely managing to write down everything my teacher is saying. Thankfully, I’m able to relax during our art class – we’re working on making slender vases out of mitti, dark brown clay our teacher has brought in especially for my class. A warm breeze floats in through the open windows and I’m able to shape my vase without it leaning to one side.

By the time lunch rolls around, I’m regretting my request for tuna salad today. I reluctantly unpack my lunchbox and scope out what everyone else at my table is eating. The cafeteria is serving pizza again – the third time this week – a fact that, on the way to school today, further encouraged Mom to list all the reasons why eating a lunch from home is both nutritious and delicious. When Maddie plops down next to me with a large slice of pepperoni pizza, my stance that pizza is more delicious than tuna salad is confirmed.

During lunch, the cafeteria is serving my favorite, chloe bhatura, deep fried bread with tomato sauce. I sit with my friends and catch up on the latest gossip – Riya, another girl in Year 5 like me, convinced her mother to buy her a bright pink sari at the market last week. Though a lot of people wear bright colors, at school we are expected to wear our school colors as part of our vardi, or uniform. Riya put on her pink sari on the way to school last week, and was promptly sent home to change. People haven’t stopped talking about it since then – maybe that was Riya’s plan all along.

This afternoon, right before we head home for the day, our specialty class is library. We file into the media center and sit ‘criss cross applesauce’ as Mrs. Bowling, the librarian, requests. We get to check out new books this week, and I have my eye on the latest Harry Potter book. I hope it’s available to be checked out. I also hope the third book is as good as the first two.

After the bell rings, we run out into the heat, dust flying around our feet. Today feels especially hot, and I quickly pull my dupatta over my hair to protect the top of my head. I hear someone call my name and turn to see my best friend Vani running toward me, her long braid streaming behind her. We decide that today should be a treat day, and head towards one of the stalls that sells ice cream down the street.

By the time I get home, it’s almost 3:30. I grab a snack of saltine crackers and peanut butter and sit down at the kitchen table to do my homework. I struggle through my math homework first – will I ever understand fractions? – and rush to get to my reading log. Though Ms. Lamarre only asks that we read 100 minutes each week, I’m hoping to set a personal record this week of 550 minutes.

Vanilla ice cream has dripped down the front of my favorite kurta by the time I get home. Sheepishly, I slip by my mother and go to change clothes and wash up. By this time, the heat of the day is in full force, so I settle down for an afternoon of homework inside. The heat is so thick and permeating that I end up falling asleep watching my favorite TV show afterwards.

Later that evening, Dad and Mom make hot dogs and chili – one of my favorites. The tater tots almost make up for the fact that I had to eat tuna salad for lunch today. Almost. During dinner, my family talks about our days and what we did, I share what I learned at school today, and Mom and Dad swap stories about the happenings of the day. After dinner, it’s my job to clear the table and load the dishwasher before heading upstairs to get ready for bed. “Goodnight, I love you,” I say to my parents and head off to brush my teeth and go to sleep. Today was a regular day. Today was a good day.

For dinner, we eat we have shahi-paneer, a delicious mix of cottage cheese, rice, peas, and bread. We sit together during the meal and talk about our days and what we did, I share what I learned at school today, and Mom and Dad swap stories about the happenings of the day. After dinner, it’s my job to clear the table and wash dishes before heading to get ready for bed. “Subha ratri, mujhase tumase pyara hai,” I say to my parents and head off to brush my teeth and go to sleep. Today was a regular day. Today was a good day.


Challenges and Quests and the Leaderboard, Oh My!

This week, I wrote a guest post for my professor’s blog, Confessions of a Bored Academic. I wanted to post the original post here as well for my regular readers – enjoy!

Coming into this fall semester, I was excited to hear that we would be trying something new in my Content Area Literacy course – the concept of gamification. Leigh, bursting with excitement, began sending us emails and teasers in July, hinting how things would be different and alluding to the fact that this course would be game-based in nature, branching out from our previous content courses. Similar to our last course, she based most of our information on a wiki page for us to peruse, which she emailed out over the summer. I would come to find out that reading through the wiki felt somewhat like a mini-adventure of twists and turns in its own rite – most of the time, the information was exactly what you expected – course schedule, guidelines, etc., but that there was an unexpected nugget every now and then. I remember clicking through the pages and happening across a sentence mid-paragraph that advised me to email Leigh before class to let me know I had discovered this bit of information. This particular instance hooked my interest and caught my attention, motivating me to comb more carefully through the pages.


Since our class has started, it has been interesting to see the paths people have chosen and the challenges people have taken on over the past few weeks. Everyone in our cohort chose to take on the “Navigator” path, allowing for more flexibility and freedom in terms of deadlines and assignments. Speaking as a full time teacher, I was thrilled this was an option as full time teaching is, well, full time. Taking the “Navigator” route allows for independence and personal pacing, as opposed to a strictly traditional route, which is more limiting and stringent with regards to due dates. Both paths allow for similar experiences – the further into the ‘game’ we’ve journeyed, the more I realize that it is what you make it.


For me personally, it has been a huge adjustment with school starting back, juggling my school responsibilities and grad school at the same time. I have truly appreciated the flexibility of the Navigator route and do not regret selecting this ‘path.’ I appreciate the wide variety of assignments, challenges, and quest options, and feel as though there is a great deal of variety and opportunity. Many of the texts and articles we have read thus far break the mold of any grad school class I have taken previously, and I enjoy getting to see a breadth of topics. Though I feel many of the specific texts may be more suited to a middle or secondary classroom, there are certainly practices and ideas I can take with me into my 3rd grade classroom as well.


If I reflect on the structure of the course, one of the things that I have a love/hate relationship with is the Leaderboard component. On the wiki, one of the pages shows a Leaderboard of points and levels, designating which person has achieved a certain number of points – experience points or achievement points, given for completing different tasks. Leigh asked us all at the beginning of the course to select an avatar to use as an anonymous code name to help conceal our identity. While the Leaderboard only lists avatar names, I struggle with the feeling of, well, complete inadequacy when checking the Leaderboard, criticizing myself for not having as many points as my peers. I certainly understand that it seems juvenile to complain about not begin a certain position on the Leaderboard, but I want to be transparent with my experience.

As the class has progressed, I’ve found that, with my personality, the Leaderboard has become more of a stressor than a motivator. For those reading along, you may be thinking the solution is to simply complete the challenges and/or quests to earn the points, thus assisting in reaching a higher position on the Leaderboard. While this makes perfect sense, and is indeed something I plan to do, the Navigator path I have chosen means that different people are moving at different paces. Essentially, though no one is moving at any one ‘wrong’ pace, it is difficult for me to feel as though I’m doing a good job when compared to others who are moving at a faster pace This particular feeling has led to a great deal of personal reflection as well, causing me to consider how I would handle this with my own students if I were to introduce a gaming element to my classroom.

Though I’ve reached my own conclusions about the Leaderboard conundrum, I’m interested to hear how you would use it – or any other forms of gamification – to motivate and encourage all of your students. Regardless of age – elementary, middle, or secondary – I’m curious as to what gamification would look like in your classroom and how you would plan to reach your students. If you have a minute, take time to share what your ideal solution to increasing student motivation for ALL students would be, with or without a Leaderboard.