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.