Media Literacy and the Art of Storytelling, Ep. 01

This Spring I joined a group of 20+ educators from around Alaska for COVID-19 Podcasting & Digital Storytelling: Culturally Responsive and Social Emotional Best Practices, a virtual professional learning course offered by See Stories. I’ve been exploring the technical aspects of creating podcasts and telling stories, with an eye towards supporting teens as creators, as well as how to engage youth with social emotional learning. The course has provided a great opportunity to learn from other educators/learners and excellent instructors as well as a “moment” to reflect on what I consider valuable aspects of my work with youth and families in the public library.

I have been thinking about audio and oral storytelling more over the last year as I developed and hosted Radio Storytime in response to the COVID-19 pandemic. Families and whole communities have a rich tradition of oral storytelling in Alaska and discussions within the course included how to foster those culturally important skills among youth. Podcasts and other digital storytelling platforms can offer opportunities for teens to be both the creator (storyteller, director, interviewer) and consumer (listener, reader, viewer), unlike what they might experience with other formats, books for example, where the roles are more static.

The beauty of podcasting and digital storytelling with teens, and this course’s focus in particular, is that it supports the key principles behind creative learning, grounds media literacy in social emotional learning and cultural identity, and gives youth tools and platforms to express their own ideas in meaningful ways, all ideas I think a lot about. The ultimate goal of the course is to incorporate podcasting into our work with teens, but for now each of us is learning the skills we’ll share with teens by creating our own podcasts. I have loved the time to explore how podcasts are made and the excuse to have deeper conversations about media literacy and youth, both of which this course offered me.

For my first foray into podcasting, I interviewed women with different perspectives of media literacy, learning and youth. Here is the first episode of my multi-part podcasting experiment in which I talk with friend and colleague Lisa Guernsey who is the director of the Teaching, Learning, & Tech program and senior advisor to the Early & Elementary Education Policy program at New America. From her role in national conversations about learning in a connected world, Lisa has a bird’s eye view of media literacy and youth.

I would love your feedback! Add to the comments below or feel free to email me.

Media Literacy and the Art of Storytelling: Episode 01 with Lisa Guernsey


Little Makers

Just about a year ago, my library closed the building because of the COVID-19 pandemic. To commemorate the unprecedented time, here is the story of a program I codesigned with a colleague at a local early childhood organization to support families in our community from a distance. There have been a lot of tears, frustration, and even anger during the last year, but this program has been a triumph. It represents the many community partnerships I’ve been part of in the past year – with both organizations and individuals – and reflects the library’s place in a web of organizations and institutions that support families.

The virtual Little Makers program for 3-6 year olds premiered in the Fall of 2020 as an experiment and we will be hosting our third iteration of it, Little Makers Spring Edition, in the coming weeks. Families were and are eager for learning experiences hosted by our two organizations and we are happy to connect with families.

Our shared goals for the program:

  • support early learning
  • introduce key media literacy and computational thinking concepts and skills
  • foster family engagement
  • maintain and even grow families’ relationship with the library and the community partner


Zoom was the obvious choice for our needs, especially considering our weather here in Alaska between September and May. When we launched the idea of a virtual Little Makers on Zoom, enough time had passed during the hunker down period that many families were well-versed in using Zoom, or at least familiar with the idea of using videoconferencing for everyday meetups. Families joined with laptops, tablets and cell phones.

Little Makers Materials Kit


Before the series of meetups began, registered families picked up a kit of materials funded by our Friends group and other Foundation support. I applied what I had learned from my summer experiment with Activity to Go! kits and included almost everything a family would need for the program – supplies and supporting information – organized and labeled for each of the four weeks. We didn’t assume families had glue sticks, for example. This way families could pull out a bag just before each week and be ready to go. For example, one week in the Winter session, we read Big Bed for Little Snow by Grace Lin. We then made a comfortable bed for Little Snow- one that wouldn’t burst – from materials including a paper plate, white and blue tissue paper, a coffee filter, pom poms, feathers, tape, and a tape measure. Some kids decided the bed was for a stuffy they had at home and found the tape measure especially useful for making sure the bed was the right size.

Information about how to make the virtual experience a successful learning experience was included in the supporting information, as well as details about the books we would share and prompts for making. (The image above shows what materials were included in each families’ kit for the Winter session). In the event that a family missed a week, or needed to leave early for whatever reason, families could make at home with the information and supplies provided.

Making a bed that won’t burst for Little Snow


The routine for each of the four meetups in each session looked very similar so kids and families knew what to expect. We met for 30 min each week which was just the right amount of time. Kids were engaged and excited for the next week.

Welcome (2-3 minutes): We provided tech reminders as families entered the meetup from the waiting room including “Change your screen name to your child(ren)’s name” so we can call kids by name and “Before Claudia begins reading, we’ll ask you to mute your audio so everyone can concentrate on the story.” (This reduced at least some of the distractions we all experience.)

We also made time for hellos, calling kids by name and introduced ourselves to make sure everyone knew our names.

Opening song (1 minute): “If You’re Ready for a Story” (This is the same song I sing on my weekly Radio Storytime program.)

Story (10-12 minutes): Each week I read one picture book and included one early learning, computational thinking or media literacy tip for grownups. As I read, I asked questions that kids could answer with a thumbs up, a nod or head shake, or a smile. These questions took into consideration the Zoom platform and the need to have audio muted for this portion of the program, but encourage engagement. I also asked questions with slightly longer pauses than you might expect, leaving space for caregivers to repeat the question at home and discuss with their little makers or siblings could talk about together. This was done in a way that didn’t disrupt the flow of the story.

Note on reading stories on Zoom: During the first meetup, I tried sharing a story using an iPad as a document camera connected separately to the meetup. For those on a mobile device, it was hard for them to see both my face and the book pages. With all of the different device types, different comfort levels with Zoom, and some people having updated versions of Zoom and some not, it worked more smoothly to share the book on my computer only with the pages close up to the camera while I read the text and then moving my face into the view when I was asking questions about the story, observing the illustrations, etc.

Making time (10-12 minutes): This part of the program was similar to the second half of preschool storytime in the library before the pandemic. The activity aims to help the little makers explore ideas in the book we shared, practice vocabulary that might be new to them as they play with the materials, and express their creativity. We invited grownups to turn on their video if it was off, change their Zoom view to gallery and turn on audio so we could all see and talk with each other for the remainder of the program. We then invited little makers to open their bag of materials as we announced the week’s creative prompt. The prompt presented a “problem” and families used the provided materials to make something that helped solve that problem. One week it was a bed for Little Snow. During a later week we used ingredients similar to those found in the book Fry Bread: A Native American Family Story by Kevin Noble Maillard and Juana Martinez-Neal to make edible, no-bake playdough. Some of the materials from one week’s bag could be incorporated into another week’s making. This models repurposing and encourages creativity in problem solving.

Regardless of the activity, we encouraged families to incorporate materials they had at home into the project. To get their creative juices flowing from the start, we played games like a color scavenger hunt in the first meetup (find something yellow like the colors of both Claudia and Red’s sweaters) or bring a stuffy to storytime today (and then make a fort or den for them in the activity portion of the meetup).

We also made sure to notice when families were doing something a little different and asked what they were up to and helped make connections to our activity if applicable. For example, while some of us were making fort prototypes with craft supplies after reading The Little Red Fort by Brenda Maier and Sonia Sanchez, one family made a fort out of couch cushions. The whole group talked about the fort as the family gave us a video tour and then we discussed where else we could build a fort – in the snow! We asked questions that encouraged the makers to tell us the fort’s story.

We anticipated that families would continue making beyond the time together on Zoom. We invited families to post pictures of their projects on a Padlet. Families could connect with each other and with us through the posts on the program specific Padlet. We talked about the images during the following meetup. These photos were not shared on social media and the program was not recorded.

Closing (2-3 minutes): At the end of the meetup, we invited little makers to share and talk about what they were creating and what they might do next.

General Thoughts

We slowed down the pace of reading, asking questions and talking with families. What might be a normal pace for adults talking with others on Zoom or how we might talk in person, isn’t the same in this type of program. We keep in mind that families had different internet connection speeds which cause delays in what they see and hear, kids need a little time to get used to what they were seeing on the screen and young children often process and respond to information more slowly than adults.

We talk about the technology, the parts of the book, and the maker materials so that kids learn the names of things and what they can do. This is an important part of media literacy.

Fifteen families have registered for each session we’ve offered, the maximum we set. Within each session there has been lots of variation in terms of who registered and almost all registered families have participated in every week. The number of families is determined by the funds we have for materials and a good size for the Zoom meetup. This group size allows us to have conversations with individual families within the allotted time.

We encouraged caregivers to play alongside their children and most households had a child or children attend alongside a grownup. But not in every case. And in some households, the caregiver never appeared in the screen. The prompts we designed took into consideration that an adult might not be right there.

It was very helpful to have two people on hand to share the facilitation roles and the tech troubleshooting, even if we were partners codesigning a program. While I am sharing the book, my partner was answering questions, welcoming families form the Zoom waiting room if they were late and noticing if something was amiss. While she was introducing the maker activity, I was doing the same.

When we read Bee-Bim Bop! by Linda Sue Park in the first session, the families “programmed” the Claudia robot to make Bee Bim Bop with the felt pieces in the kit as my partner retold the story.

Two Lessons We Live by in This Program

  • If something isn’t working as well as we’d hoped, we change it.
  • We keep it as simple as we can while being creative.

Radio Storytime

After the Associated Press published a story about my Radio Storytime, I’ve had several librarians ask me what it looks like. After 6 weeks of hosting the program on KBBI AM 890, our public radio station, I’ve found something that works for my community and is low impact on radio station staff who welcomed me into their system.

And to any publishers reading this,

Thank you for helping me provide storytime. Families (and grownups without kids) love and need it. The calls from kids, videos of at-home dance breaks between stories, and emails all tell the program’s success.

Please extend your gracious read aloud permissions at least through the summer. Families are going to be stuck when school, and the formal support of teachers, pauses for the year. Remote library programs like storytimes, whether via radio, internet, and even phone, will be a bright spot in all this chaotic darkness.

Please also specifically include audio, not just virtual video, storytimes in your permissions. Live storytimes led by librarians on public radio stations have the ability to reach library families with limited or no internet access. The digital divide is getting WWWIIIIDDDDDDEEEEERRRR and young children need the early literacy support and community connection storytime can offer NOW MORE THAN EVER.


I’m going to be honest here. This weekly, hour long family storytime takes me several hours to prepare. As many of you are experiencing, tasks I used to be able to do with little effort are now taking more time, new tools and skills, and a whole lot of learning. I’m not even cutting out felt pieces or prepping art supplies! For me its worth it, but it’s not a program I can take lightly.

Remember: kids can’t see you!

What I need to prep each week:

  • 3 engaging books whose text carries the story without the help of images and, when read aloud, last about 7-10 minutes. (Consider publishers’ read aloud permissions and fair use as it applies to storytime during the COVID-19 pandemic.)
  • Questions or prompts to get the audience thinking about each story. (Think dialogic reading without the actual response.)
  • 6-7 recorded songs, with times, for the movement breaks in-between stories, the beginning and end of the program, and for filler if books are shorter than expected or not many kids call-in. (I can play recorded music because of the radio’s license.)
  • Transitions for between all segments to set up the story or introduce specific actions for the movement breaks.
  • Prompts to engage kids during the call-in portion (talking on the radio is strange, even if kids recognize my voice).
  • Library updates.

Remember: the fundamentals of an engaging storytime translate to radio. You’ve got this!

The Key Parts of Radio Storytime
I try to script out what I am going to say much more than I would for an in-person storytime. My time slot is one hour and the program has to start and end at a specific time. I can’t start late or go over. I make sure the combination of books and music can fill about 40-50 minutes. No audience to make conversation with takes getting used to so I practice books, transitions, etc. a lot more than I would face to face.

Opening Music (changes every week), 2-3 minutes 

Intro: Welcome the audience. Say hello to radio station staff if they are on air with you. Thank the station. Introduce the storytime plan and if there is a theme. I keep it real by talking about how I am feeling or what’s going on that week in the community weather or health wise. (Channel Ella Jenkins or Fred Rogers.)

If You’re Ready for a Story (unknown)
If You’re Ready for a Story bend (to touch your toes) and stretch (like a sea star).
If You’re Ready for a Story bend and stretch.
If You’re Ready for a Story, If You’re Ready for a Story,
If You’re Ready for a Story, bend and stretch. 
(Note about singing on the radio: I am not a good singer. This is the only “song” I sing. Kids know it from storytime so I keep going for it. I prefer to to leave all of the other singing to the recorded artists.)

Transition: Let’s read! Find a comfortable spot where you can hear the radio. Snuggle up with a grown up, a brother or sister, a stuffy or even your pet. I love to read with my dog. 

Book 1: Chrysanthemum by Kevin Henkes (thanked the publisher, HarperCollins)
Chrysanthemum is the tale of a girl mouse who feels perfect in every way until she faces ridicule for her unusual name. Can you say Chrysanthemum? Do you know what a chrysanthemum is? 

Transition: Yesterday’s rain made me think about our first dance break song. The ants in this song are marching to a beat made with all sorts of percussion. Can you find something to be a drum? Maybe a pot from the kitchen and a wooden spoon? Or your clap your hands together? I like to slap my hands on the tops of my legs to keep this beat as a march dance around. If there are a few of you at home, march and play your impromptu instruments in a line around the house. Don’t forget to march squatting low to the ground like the ants do! The singers will tell you when.

Dance Break: “The Ants Go Marching” by Rhythm Child (3:30) 

Book 2: The New Small Person by Lauren Child (Candlewick Press)
This is Elmore’s story. He is an only child who finds himself with a new small person in the house. And he doesn’t like it. Or does he? 

Transition: That was a long story so let’s do the hokey pokey! Grab anyone at home and form a circle or pretend you’re with us in the station. We’re going to dance with different parts of our body called out by the singers in this blues version of a classic.

Dance Break: “Hokey Pokey” by Mr. Eric & Mr. Michael (2:23) 

Book 3: Pout-Pout Fish by Deborah Diesen and Dan Hanna (Farrar Strauss Giroux) This is a very popular book about a fish who is so sad and frowns all the time. His sea friends do all they can to turn that frown upside down into a smile. Get ready for some fun rhyming words!I am reading this book on an iPad and I checked it from the Alaska Digital Library with my library card. 

Transition: While we get ready for the call in part of the show, it’s time for some twisting! This is a new, acoustic version of an old song that involves twisting your body. To do the twist you turn your hips one direction while at the same time turning your shoulders in the opposite direction. 

Dance Break: “Twist and Shout” by Rob Newhouse (2:20)

Call in: What’s your name and Where are you calling from?what do you see out your window right now? 

Library Updates: If you want to remember the book titles I shared today you can visit the library’s website and look for the Radio Storytime page. You can find the song titles there also or check out the HPL Storytime on KBBI playlist on Spotify.

Extra music: “Freestyle Groove #1” by Rhythm Child (3:06), “Jamboree” by The Okee Dokee Brothers (2:24)  

Closing Song: “Goodbye, Goodbye” by Joanie Leeds (2:00)

Miscellaneous notes:

  • I am the only children’s services librarian at my library. I lead storytime, am planning the summer program, manage collection development for kids and teens (physical and digital) and other duties as assigned. I’m comfortable trying something new with a learning curve and multiple iterations, like this.
  • My program airs at 10am on Thursdays, similar to one of the in-library storytimes I typically offer. I physically go to the station right now, but I will do the program from home, if need be. I m in the station with one other staff person. (I live only a short driving distance from the station and we take the necessary health precautions while I am there.)
  • This program is only available live. It is not recorded for future listening.
  • Right now is a great time to collaborate with library staff, community partners, etc. for many reasons; in case you get sick, to share resources, reach more families, etc. We have had a good relationship with the radio station for a long time, so we jumped at the chance to join forces for storytime.
  • The radio station needs the book and song information for their records (radio license.) I email it to them before every storytime. I also post the same information on the library’s Radio Storytime webpage and on the Spotify playlist (songs). Families have asked for the info ahead of time so they can follow along with the paper book if they have it at home.
  • The station can give me stats on live-streaming, but not information on how many people are listening to the show on radio. Consider how you will determine storytime is a success. How will your library, and the radio station, measure the program’s impact?

ALSC has a forthcoming guide to virtual storytimes which has some of my general considerations for audio only storytimes. The sections are being release one at a time and should be available in its entirety soon.

What questions do you have? Post them in the comments and I’ll add to this post as needed.

#StayingHome: Library Life and the Pandemic

How are you?

It’s been almost three weeks since our library closed to the public and two since I, and most of my coworkers, started working from home. It seems like a lifetime, I won’t lie. We’ve all been thrown for a loop.

It’s hard to keep ourselves safe, take care of our families, wonder about unemployment, and think about supporting our communities, an integral part of public library work; all at the same time.

COVID-19 cases are just starting to pop up in Alaska, but sadly three Alaskans have already died as a result of the virus (as of 3/27/20). With a statewide population of about 737,500, and only 1,500 general hospital beds, keeping the number of people who get ill low is essential. Local and state officials continue to issue more restrictive health mandates as they use the latest research and data to prevent widespread sickness. My rural community, like many across the country, is served by a small hospital with limited resources to treat large groups of sick people. Fingers crossed that social distancing and these mandates will successfully limit the local effects of the pandemic. My heart goes out to those of you in communities that have been dealing with widespread illness and death already.

NOT Business As Usual

Since the library closure, first for a week and then until further notice, four of my coworkers have been recruited to work with the City’s Emergency Operations Center. For now they are helping with public information, IT, research and safety recommendations. The rest of us are identifying priorities and long term strategies for supporting our community outside of the library building.

We are not circulating any physical library materials right now in order to discourage groups of people gathering at the library and limit the sharing of materials that might carry the coronavirus. The library building, and what’s inside, are an important space for so many in Homer. Shutting down for an unknown period of time has made us look hard at key services we offer and how we can continue to be supportive in the near future; even without a building. It also makes us worry about our neighbors with no internet access, no home and no community.

During the last couple of weeks I’ve paused to a- get a handle on how long we are going to be closed (still uncertain, but for awhile), b- finish up reports and other paperwork and c-think intentionally about how to support families going forward. What does my community need and can I offer? My library, my community, my knowledge and my resources are not the same as yours might be. Let’s all do our best and get through this, ok?

My priorities include:

Connect – Maintain, and even strengthen, relationships with families and individuals in a time of social distancing. How do we help families connect with the library’s resources, make more high quality digital resources available, and use our resources to create conversation with youth and families? How do we help families (some for the first time) access basic services like food and shelter?

Learn – Schools are closed here at least until May 1. The school year in Homer ends on May 20 normally, so I don’t anticipate kids going back to school. Many teachers are working beyond overtime to provide engaging activities for kids and teens. How can we compliment what the schools are doing to support youth and families? What learning gaps can the library fill? Which learning experiences can we amplify (Mo Willems’ daily drawing sessions, or the WideOPENSchool, for example)? What services, like storytime, can we continue at a distance and what new opportunities can we create? What can we learn from each other and other libraries?

Collaborate – Our community of about 12,000 (including the service area) includes many organizations that support its overall health and vibrancy. As we find our footing, how can we continue to develop the strong partnerships and practice social distancing? How can we work with libraries around the state to share good ideas and be more effective?

Inform – The library and my coworkers are working hard to share accurate information about COVID-19 and its local impact. What does that mean in a community with varied access to the Internet and an unending amount of news and information, what I refer to as “noise”?

Advocate – Especially in times of hardship, what does advocacy look like? When we are having trouble focusing on anything beyond our own difficult reality, how do we look outwards? Do we buy food or other items from local businesses, donate to a regional food pantry, or speak up about national issues like digital inequity when learning is completely online? (My answer is yes to all of the above, if you can.)

These goals are not new, but how we meet them now just looks a bit different. Since we are trying out new kinds of programs and adding new resources or services with less staff, we are adding slowly and intentionally. It’s a marathon they say. I’ve never run a marathon, but I get the idea.

This is media mentorship on a grand scale. As usual, there are a lot more questions than answers.


Many librarians have taken their storytime, a foundational program in many libraries, to Facebook or YouTube. I agree that programs like storytime provide families social and emotional support in addition to learning experiences. So, I got to thinking. My singing voice was not meant for the internet so I decided to go old school.

With broadband access spotty in my community, I needed a way to provide equitable access to early literacy and the storytime experience. Instead of live video, I am partnering with our local public radio station, KBBI AM 890, to bring storytime to the air waves that reach far and wide here in Homer. Those with internet can stream the program and those without can tune in on the good old radio, still a key public service in rural Alaska.

One radio staff person and I will be in the station during the program, unless the situation changes and I have to start recording from home. I have an hour, so I’ll share some stories geared for a broad audience, create dance breaks between stories with recorded music from some of my favorite artists, and then chat with kids during a call-in at the end of the program. I love experiments and trying new things, so fingers crossed!

To prepare, I have been reading through books I either grabbed on my way out of the library before we closed, had in my home library, or are available on our digital library. The books I will share are not necessarily the ones I typically read in storytime at the library. Context matters! The stories won’t have the pictures to amplify the story’s ideas, so the text will be the star of the show.

Thankfully publishers have been generous with their permissions for educators and librarians to share a wide array of books during read alouds right now. Many of them are very supportive of the virtual storytimes happening across the Internet, so I contacted a few to clarify that my experience was included. (They said yes!)

The library’s StoryWalk is back (early)! Each month, a new picture book will grace the library’s walking trail. Families can practice social distancing while they support literacy and enjoy outdoor activity. (The pages are posted at least 6 feet apart because of the trail’s design.)

We’re working on other programming to replace the learning experiences that we typically offered kids after school and adults using, you guessed it, Zoom, and other platforms. An ASL Club, a coding club, a literary meet up and more are in the works. We’re figuring out how to keep stats, which audiences we will target when, etc. Summer programming, pandemic style, is still in the brain dump stage though. (You should see my bullet journal. It’s a mess.) More on that soon.

Library’s Digital Resources

Ebooks, digital audiobooks, games, digital magazines are in hot demand now. The plethora of free content is also at an all time high. In order to make the library’s digital resources more visible and highlight, or curate, some of the high quality digital learning platforms that are temporarily free and the virtual read alouds and art activities hosted by children’s media creators, I have been given editing powers for the youth sections of my library’s website. I’ll continue to write social media posts on behalf of the library about youth media, but the website editing is a new task for me.

I’ve spent the last few days adding content, slightly reorganizing the content and making it clearer how to access new resources, especially those with temporary access, while we’re closed. We’ve set up methods for getting a library card virtually, made it easy to reach staff at home, updated the event calendar, added more than 100 titles/copies for kids to the digital library (the entire juvenile fiction budget for 2020), shared key links with educators and families, and more. This doesn’t even include the official COVID-19 information being added almost daily by my coworkers.

What if…

In the midst of all this, as a staff we have also needed to be wise about succession planning. What happens if a staff member is sick or needs to care for a family member or worse? Who takes over their projects or tasks? How does one person know the status of a project or task that needs to be done? For starters, we articulated actual succession plans, particularly for the director and those responsible for particular departments, before we left the library. We’ve also instituted daily Zoom staff meetings (Monday – Friday) and turned to Basecamp to keep us organized. We’ve always planned for an earthquake or tsunami, not a pandemic, so we are all being creative, intentional (there is that word again), and articulate about what’s next. It’s a team effort.

With all the in-person conferences and workshops in the near future canceled, I’ve been adding a few virtual projects and meetups to my calendar. I look forward to learning from and collaborating with new colleagues. We’re all in this together. What’s in store for you and your library?


Storytelling, Writing and Computational Thinking

Happy New Year!

2019 was a busy year. I found myself knee-deep in new ideas, exciting projects, the day-to-day of working with kids and their families at the library. As I look back, one of my favorite threads winding through all of it, was digital storytelling and making opportunities for kids and their families to write their own stories using a variety of media, including digital.

Digital Storytelling for Young Children & Their Grownups

In the Spring, five families with children ages 6-8 spent a Saturday morning at the library practicing early computational thinking* skills while creating stories together with ScratchJr. The relaxed and conversation-rich program provided an opportunity for young children and their grownups to learn basic coding together. After a brief introduction to what CT is and how to use the pre-reader friendly, block programming in ScratchJr, each family worked on one computer, co-designing characters, selecting backdrops, experimenting, writing brief dialogue, and animating their short narratives. The low pressure program introduced kids and adults to a new kind of learning media and revealed the expanding array of tools and kinds of learning experiences families can use to support their children’s literacy skills. Families continue to craft stories using ScratchJr. at home or on the library’s iPad digital learning station.

Based on the success of this program, in 2020 I will be offering a 6-week series on computational thinking for preschoolers and their families.

ScratchJr. on the library’s iPad Digital Learning Station. The station includes two headsets and two seats to encourage Joint Media Engagement and ScratchJr. tip cards to help new digital storytellers get started.

From Scratch Coding Camp

This past summer, I lead a 5-day digital storytelling camp for a dozen kids ages 9-12 with the help of Karmen, a community member. Inspired by CS First‘s coding curriculum and Scratch, we gave these authors, illustrators, directors, playwrights, programmers, and voice actors the tools they needed to create animated stories that were funny, complex, and completely unique. We had so much fun creating and learning together. Kids played with story design, character development, dialogue, and genre. The low pressure setting aloud them to apply what they knew about writing, in new ways, to stories that were personally meaningful. They brainstormed, discussed their ideas, storyboarded, explored the technical features of Scratch that would help them animate their stories, and experimented. Mistakes happened, kids got stuck, Karmen and I had to change activity plans daily, but we each applied computational thinking skills and dispositions to the process and found success!

As part of planning, Karmen and I created a paper storyboarding tool (on the right) to help campers plan and organize their stories in Scratch. A paper iteration of different scenes we included in our collaborative demo story is found on the left.

My favorite part of the camp was the successful collaboration displayed in a variety of ways. Collaborating happened side-by-side – one story created by two kids working together over the 5 days on a single computer, by multiple kids on separate computers expanding and altering stories in stages using Scratch’s remixing feature, and as part of real time revisions kids helped Karmen and I make to the story we created for demo purposes and expanded over the length of the camp. On the last day, each creator confidently presented their story to an audience of campers and families who asked thoughtful questions about their process.

Problem solving

FanFic for Teens

While I was working with this younger storytellers, a coworker was meeting with older aspiring FanFic writers who were using computational thinking to crafting new iterations of popular stories they love like the Harry Potter stories. This slightly more traditional writing program incorporated some of the same computational thinking skills – decomposition, algorithm design, pattens recognition – as digital storytelling.

Programming Projected Animations

In October, I attended the Connected Learning Summit in Irvine, CA and one of the personal highlights of the conference was getting the chance to play, in a learning kind of way, with other librarians and educators. The Scratch team co-led a “Playful Projections and Programming‘ session that invited us to create interactive animations using Scratch. It was refreshing to team up and design something just for fun. We weren’t figuring out a lesson plan for a program or class. We were just learning.

While I didn’t go to the session with a library program in mind, I immediately integrated the idea into a regular maker program I host. With a couple of projectors, a few computers, paper, a whiteboard, tape and some markers, kids programmed animations that filled the walls of our meeting room and invited curious onlookers to stop in.

One group expanded and modified the animations I originally created as a demo for the day’s activity (the underwater scene above made with digital fish and paper seaweed) and others worked on brand new animations, including the one below of a basketball player shooting hoops over a unicorn. (The basketball player and ball are digital, the hoop is drawn on a whiteboard and the unicorn is digital enhanced with markers on the whiteboard.)

While this program used coding in Scratch, I never taught coding formally to these kids. I presented the problem – to create an animation using both digital and physical parts – and gave them the tools to solve the problem. Some worked on their own while others worked in pairs. Kids identified what they were trying to do and others, myself or other kids, helped them figure out how to accomplish their goal.

CSEd Week Community Partnership

There are still few opportunities for kids of all ages in our community to dive deep into programming as part of their developing literacy skills. Several of us are developing partnerships to expand the kinds of learning experiences where kids and families can try programming as a tool for self-expression. The most recent one came about during CSEd Week in December. I teamed up with a local elementary school librarian and two of her fellow teachers to introduce digital storytelling to 4th and 5th graders using CS First’s Everyday Hero coding curriculum. The three part project involved brainstorming as a class about what makes a hero, traditional writing activities in class, and animating their heroes while learning some basic coding concepts using Scratch with me.

I lead 5th graders at West Homer Elementary through basic Scratch tasks as they learn how to animate the everyday hero they wrote about in class.

One of the goals of this project included increasing access to both computational thinking and basic coding skills for kids and educators. I also wanted kids who had gained some coding experience at the library to see how coding might be used in other parts of their life, in this case school, and have new avenues for creating reflective, relevant stories. The project was brief, but it was a successful first step towards future partnerships.

A teen near-peer mentor supports two 4th graders creating a program to animate a digital version of the everyday hero they wrote about in class.

In fact, the pilot project has led to a next iteration planned for Spring 2020. We are currently co-designing a combined oral and digital storytelling unit that will take place over multiple days and allow for more exposure to coding with Scratch and computational thinking skills.

*Find out more about computational thinking by searching this site with the computational thinking tag. A team of us are also coauthoring a white paper with the PLA Family Engagement Task Force in 2020 about computational thinking with young children and their families at the library. Sign up for my blog mailing list to hear about the paper release.