Digital Story Telling to Demonstrate Understanding

Image courtesy of CC
Image courtesy of CC
Walking out of my daughters soccer practice this Saturday morning, I spied inside the auditorium where approximately 70 students were taking the SAT. Teachers bemoan standardized tests, but I will confess, they have their perks. They're quick and easy to standardize (which is inherent in their name) as there is no teacher bias, partial credit and no-retaking or resubmission. In short, they say: "Tell me what you know". The SAT is designed to show a student's academic understanding at one point and the results are not divulged to the school or disaggregated to learn from the student population what skills they are strong or weak in.

I've felt good for doing well on tests, but the elation was from "beating the system" through telling the teacher merely what they wanted to hear.


A colleague of mine and I were musing last week that "test taking skills" is the proverbial "can" that gets kicked down the road in education. Why do students take tests in elementary-to get them ready for middle school testing. And why should we teach good test taking skills in middle school-because the middle school years are practice for high school and we want students to have those skills on arrival so their GPA is unblemished. Of course, high school is a college preparatory platform, and so on and so forth. Still, I don't recall a single test that I've enjoyed or remembered fondly. Never I have looked back in my life and felt like a good test score was a huge accomplishment which demonstrated my learning in a way that gave me pride. I've felt good for doing well on tests, but the elation was from "beating the system" through telling the teacher merely what they wanted to hear. It is in effect a blunt tool that shows understanding but doesn't give any opportunity to teach others. So many of our students are feeling testing burnout these days and many US teachers spend their time teaching to tests to keep their school's open, funded and keep themselves employed.

A revolution is brewing. Teachers are doing some great things with creative media and as we increasingly connect with other teachers through professional learning networks, we're able to get ideas to how we can show understanding in many ways that may in turn, teach others. Although we're in this new era of using content creation in education, we are finding varying degrees of mastery and in-depth content knowledge or skills. If students are merely reading a slide from information that they have copied and pasted, have they learned anything? Also, for projects that span several periods, who is to say they're not getting help from a parent, older brother or tutor? Such questions make the case for traditional testing discourage reform efforts.    

Image courtesy of CC
Image courtesy of CC
My Digital Story-Chemistry
If you've been following my posts lately about digital media I've been learning that "less is more" to make a better presentation. This forces the presenter to not rely on reading text, but rather synthesizing information in a way that shows understanding of a topic. Rather than have my students take a test at the end of our unit, I've decided to use a digital story explaining their depth of knowledge which will be a much more authentic way not only to show their learning, but teach others about the properties of specific elements. My rubric category will focus on the following:
  1. Atomic Structure: Atom structure such as number of protons, electrons, and neutrons.
  2. Periodic Table: Atomic number, commonalities that an element has with its group. Reactivity and density, physical and chemical properties and common uses that we use this element for.
  3. Bonding: How does this element bond with others?
Although the digital story design elements are important to a good presentation, I may use the rubric when the students present just to give feedback on one another's stylistic elements when they present. With each student (or working in groups of 2) they'll each present on an element to teach the class and we'll have a presentation celebration as our last day of the unit. I've done enough formative assessments through group labs, quizzes and summative labs like the one below for them to demonstrate lab skills and content knowledge and so far the data on their learning has been impressive.


Enter Puppetpals
50+ 2.0 Tools to help you tell a story helped me storyboard this first. Dr. Anne Bamford talks at great length on how visual stories can help us retain information that is longer lasting. However, I do disagree with her point that teachers do not need to be experts in media creation. If we are going to suggest tools to use to make and send a message, we had better know what we are talking about so we can provide technical support to students that need it. A few years ago, I offered scratch animation as a possibility for a differentiated product extension on various astrological phenomenon such as orbiting, moon phases and seasons. Because I didn't know how to use scratch animation well, I was a poor resource and could not help. For our digital story on the elements, I wanted to create one exemplar for which the students could see and also so I could anticipate and troubleshoot problems, not to mention plan realistic steps using the project based learning model.

By becoming a maker myself, I could anticipate and troubleshoot problems, not to mention plan realistic steps using the project based learning model.



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