Exploring Micro Fiction and Visual Stories

Here we are, another NaNoWriMo and I still have not penned the next great American Novel. Every year I think, “This is my year! I will write that book that has been bouncing around in my brain! I’ve got this!” Then December comes around and I realized that I did not have it and the story has again gone untold. Sigh.

Yes, I know that I can write any month of the year. It does not have to be a November thing. But, there is a hashtag. So… #NaNoWriMo

This year however, I have discovered a type of fiction that seem much more my speed. Micro Fiction!

Several years ago I started writing little mini one or two sentence stories. But I didn’t think of them as stories. Just short little musings. I was inspired by one of my favorite artists, Brian Andreas of Story People. I discovered his quirky art twenty five years ago on a business trip to Decorah, IA. (If you have never been to Decorah, go. Go now. I’ll wait.) There was something about his whimsical, child-like drawings and the simple statements that really spoke to me. I loved his messages and was inspired to start writing some of my own. They were silly and sappy but I would post them to social media anyway. It was fun. I mentioned this fun hobby (Is it a hobby? I don’t know.) to a writer friend of mine and she said, “Oh, you write micro fiction!” Micro fiction. What is that? My interest was piqued.

Science tells us that most of our memories, even the ones we hold most dear, are false. They are nothing more than stories constructed by our brains using bits and pieces of fact mixed with ideas from our imagination. But when I remember you I smile so I have decided that I like the way my brain thinks.

K.A. Brynteson

I started doing some research. It is a thing and apparently very popular. From the two sentence horror stories to six word summaries to (let’s be honest here) the social media posts we write with a 144 character limit. We all write micro fiction from time to time.

As I’ve had fun writing more, I’ve been look for ways to connect this type of writing into the classroom. I know that there are many students out there who love to write but find longer works a bit overwhelming. Shorter stories, 100 – 500 words or less, can be an accessible alternative. Accessible, but not easy. The constraint of few words helps you be creative in your word choice. You have to flex your writing muscles. Each word is necessary. They kind of remind me of some of the activities I do in my visual literacy class with images such as my Tell a Story with 5 pictures or my Photo a Week photography prompt. They both focus on constructing a story with either your visual vocabulary or a few well selected images.

Because of this connection, I have started taking the mini stories and turning them into a visual posts, adding a layer of visual literacy into the activity. For the examples I’ve shared in the post, I used Adobe Spark. If you read my blog at all, you know that this is one of my most favorite tools. I use Adobe Spark tools all the time for digital storytelling. I found it was a fast way to take the text and create a visual representation. I experiment with fonts and colors and shapes until I have a composition that I feel compliments the message of the passage. This would be a very simple activity to do in the classroom. Have students write their own micro stories and then us their design skills to turn them into posts or even posters for the classroom.

Here are a few more examples.

Ok, I admit that I am starting to creep into Jack Handy’s deep thought territory, it is still a fun challenge to see if I can take an idea and turn it into a mini story. No, they are not all good. I know that. They are not up to the level of Story People by any means but it is fun. I have also found that I go back and edit them often. Especially when I turn them into a visual post. I play around with the word choice to see if I can say the same thing with fewer words or in different ways. It feels more like playing with words than actually writing a story.

I’m sure that there are students out there that might feel the same way. Micro fiction could be a way to turn even your most reluctant writer into an author, a couple words at a time. Give it a try and see what they create.

If you want to learn more about using Micro-Fiction in the classroom, here are some lessons and blogs to check out.

Happy mini-writing!

Beautiful Web Pages Made Easy With Adobe Spark Page

This is not the first time I have written about Adobe Spark. For last year’s 30 tools in 30 days, I reviewed both Spark Post and Spark Video. You can read my review of Post and Video by following the links. However, I did not review the final tool in this suite – Spark Page.

Visual Portfolios and Digital Stories

Adobe Spark Page gives you the same simple tools you find in Post and Video. In a short time, you can create visually stunning web pages. Like Post and Video, Spark Page’s main focus is on the images. There are several tools to help you create a page that highlights your images.

Here are a couple of examples of pages made using Adobe Page.

The first I created for the STEM Read Podcast to display pictures we took while recording an episode with author/illustrator Tom Lichtenheld and Dr. Rhonda Robinson. (Here is a link to the episode if you would like to give it a listen.) The second is a sample of my photography and the third is my daughter’s art portfolio.

You can see from the examples that the pages you create are more than just static web pages. There are some nice scrolling and image display features. Want to see more, check out their inspiration gallery.

Key Features

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Adobe Spark Page – Easy Editing

Adobe page has a ton of features that make this an easy tool for building a visual web page.

  • Formatted blocks – You build your web page in blocks. You can select the type of block you want and then add your images, text, video, or buttons.
  • Embed videos – You can add videos easily to your site. Create videos with Spark video and then add them to your page. with a simple click.
  • Upload images from anywhere – Not only can you upload images from your computer, Spark Pages also connects to Lightbox, Dropbox, Google Photos, and Google Drive. If you don’t have your own images, you can search through Adobe’s bank of stock images.
  • Apply Themes – Change the look and feel of your page by applying different themes. If you have a paid account, you can set up a custom theme using your brand management settings.
  • Free – Just like the other Spark tools, Page is free. However, you can upgrade to the premium account if you want to manage the look and feel of your brand and remove any Adobe branding. Read more about the pricing on their Pricing Page.
  • Adobe Hosting – Adobe hosts all of the pages you create using page. You do not need an external host.
  • Sharing – When you publish your page, you get a shareable link. You can also share your page through Facebook, Twitter, Google Classroom, or email.
  • Link updating – If you update or modify your page, you can update the link to push out the changes. No new URL needed.

In the Classroom

All of the Adobe Apps are wonderful tools for the classroom. With Spark Page, your students can create amazing visual stories that look like they have years of training. Here are just a few ideas for how to use this with your students.

  • Art portfolios – As you can see from the example above, Page is a fantastic tool for creating visual portfolios. I like the combination of text and images that allows your artists to write captions and artist’s statements about their work.
  • Informational web page – Instead of having them write a research report, have them put together an information page about a topic they researched.
  • Visual resume – Have students create a visual about me page. Focus on different audiences. What would a professional page look like versus a personal page? This is also a good time to talk about what you should and should not share online.
  • Science journal – Create a science journal that documents an inquiry project through text and image.
  • Reflective journal – In my visual literacy class, I do a Photo A Week challenge. Having my students create a reflection journal using their images would be a great way to capture their learning.
  • Digital Stories – Whether your students are creating works of fiction or non-fiction narratives, have them tell their story through building a page.
  • Class magazine – Turn your students into journalists and have them create a class magazine. Assing different content sections to different teams and let them work together to publish a magazine. Create multiple pages and pull them together into a Google site or other website tool.

There are so many other ways you could use Spark Page in your classroom. You could even create your own visual resume to highlight some of your own professional wins.

If you do not have a free account yet, go sign up for one today and start playing with the amazing set of tools!

30 Tools in 30 Days: Day 21 StoryCorps

Day 21: StoryCorps

I discovered StoryCorps about five years ago while wandering through the Chicago Cultural Center. I was with an old friend and we both stopped to examine the small recording booth, intrigued by its warm lights and cozy interior. “I have stories to tell,” He said to me with a sigh. Then asked, “Do you have some stories?” I smiled, “Of course I have stories, ” I replied. Then we both shrugged, walked away, and began weaving our tales.

Part of me wishes we stepped into that booth and recorded our conversation. We were childhood friends who drifted apart long ago and just reconnected as adults. There were so many questions we had for each other. So many shared memories that we each remembered differently. A lifetime of separate experiences to share. As we laughed through the back and forth of the memories, 30 years fell away and we became those two kids once again. Its been years now since we have spoken, but I still remember that day of reconnecting through our stories. I wish I could listen to it again. Connecting us in unexpected ways – that is the power of conversation.

We all have stories to tell and StoryCorps has spent over 15 years helping people capture their stories through intimate conversations in a small recording booth. Their mission is to not only capture our stories but to help us build connections through the art of conversation and interviews.

Our mission is to preserve and share humanity’s stories in order to build connections between people and create a more just and compassionate world.

To learn more about StoryCorps, watch this video from founder, Dave Isay.

As Thanksgiving approaches and we gather with friends and family to eat food and watch football, StoryCorps is kicking off their annual Great Thanksgiving Listen. StoryCorps encourages us all to take a moment, turn off the TV, turn on the audio recorder, and ask each other questions. They have created an excellent toolkit to help us break down the generational barriers and learn more about each other. They have also created an excellent standards-aligned toolkit for educators.

For an extra challenge, the StoryCorps team suggests taking your recordings and creating a digital story, using Adobe Spark Video. (Learn more about Adobe Spark Video from yesterday’s post.) Using visual storytelling elements such as old photographs, documents, quotes, and current pictures, you can create an amazing keepsake from your interview.

StoryCorps is not only asking us to record these moments but to share them to create an archive of our collective history. You can visit their site to browse through the interview archive.

Technolgy has made recording these precious moments so easy. There are free apps and digital recording tools that allow us to record our interviews with a touch of a button. Not sure what tool to use. Here is a list of apps and recording tools to help you participate in the Great Thanksgiving Listen.

As you make your Thanksgiving plans, think about adding some time for capturing stories. Personally, I think about all the family members I used to spend Thanksgiving with who are now gone. I wish I had taken the time to record their stories not only for me but so that my kids could listen and get to know them and the life they lived. StoryCorps says it best.

Listen. Honor. Share.

Happy listening!

30 Tools in 30 Days: Day 20 Adobe Spark Video

Day 20: Adobe Spark Video

A few weeks back I wrote a post singing the praises of Adobe Spark Post (read it here). Today’s tool is Post’s big sister – Adobe Spark Video.

Adobe Spark Video is my go-to tool for creating amazing videos quickly. What I love about this tool is that the technology does not get in the way of the creation process. Many of the video tools out there can be intimidating to new users. The complexity of working with multiple tracks and advanced editing tools may be a barrier to those who are new to video creation and editing. Adobe Spark Video, on the other hand, makes video creation incredibly easy and accessible to even our youngest learners.

You start with your title, then select the template that best fits the story you want to tell. Are you telling a Hero’s Journey or are you teaching a new concept? There is a template that fits your needs. Each template provides guidance on the different elements for each type of story. You could use these templates to create storyboards for your students to help them plan their story. A good video starts with good planning!

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Select your story template.

The creation screen looks more like you are creating a slideshow instead of a video. For some, that should make video creation more approachable. Each slide (or story element) can be customized with text, icons, photos, video, music, and narration. You control the content and the layout. Choose a theme to set the overall look and feel of your video. To add content, you can use your own media or search for openly licensed media through Adobe Spark. To add narration, you simply press the microphone button on each slide and talk. The narration will be added to that element. To me, this is reminiscent of  Microsoft PhotoStory.

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Creation screen.

For those of you who are control freaks, not judging, just saying, you might be a bit frustrated by the limited amount of customization. There is limited control over font style and element layout. You can select from the menu of choices but there is not a whole lot of customization past that. For advanced users that may be a negative. However, for those new to moviemaking, I feel the limited choices are a plus. Often I have seen the creation process stall because there are too many options.

AdobeSpark4
Pick a theme and start creating.

Adobe Spark Video is free but you need an Adobe ID or you can use your Facebook or Google login. As I mentioned in the Spark Post post, Adobe has created an excellent guide to answer your questions about using Adobe Spark tools with students. You can find the guide here. Videos are saved in the Adobe cloud but can also be downloaded and saved locally.

Here is a list of ways you could use Adobe Spark Video in the classroom.

  • Fact-based fiction: Students create a video based on their own creative story, However, facts and research are used to create believable settings and characters.
  • Historical figure “autobiography”: Pick a historical icon and tell their story.
  • Personal reflection: Students tell their own stories with their own voice and visuals.
  • Teaching video: Students create an instructional video using step by step verbal instructions in conjuntion with good process images.
  • Wordless stories: (My favorite) Students create a visual story with no words or narration. Only images and music.
  • Student News: Use Spark Video to create a weekly news program
  • Product Commerical: Sell an existing product or one dreamed up by your students.

There are many more ideas you could add to this list.

In short, this is an awesome video creation tool. It works on your desktop or on an iOS device. Still hoping for an Android version soon. I am in love with this tool. Its simplicity is its strength.

Are you using Adobe Spark Video in your classroom? I’d love to hear about it in the comments!

30 Tools in 30 Days: Day 4 Adobe Express (formally Spark Post)

Updated on 9/15/2022 – Adobe Spark has become Adobe Express. Find it here – https://www.adobe.com/express/

Day 4 Adobe Spark Post

If you have been on any form of social media today, chances are you have seen them. Those inspirational quotes set on an ethereal photo background. Chances are you might have even shared one. It’s OK. I don’t judge. How would you like to make your very own?

Magic between the busy
Photo Quote created using Adobe Spark Post. Photo credit, Kristin Brynteson (me!)

I’ve been having a lot of fun creating my own picture quotes using Adobe Spark‘s Post app. Adobe Spark is a free suite of visual storytelling tools from Adobe. The web-based version has three tools for creating and sharing posts, videos, and web pages. On iOS devices, each feature is a separate app. I’m going to focus on Post for now. We’ll look at the other two apps in a later post.

Adobe Spark Post makes creating visually appealing graphics quick and easy. A username and password are necessary to use this app. You can log-in with an Adobe ID, Google login, your Facebook credentials or create a new account using your email address. Personally, I use my Adobe ID so it seamlessly connects to my Adobe Creative Cloud.

All of my featured images on this blog have been created using Adobe Spark Post. to get started, you first write your quote. From there, Spark assembles an initial image that includes text formatting and a background image. Let me step you through a creation. We’ll edit the image above and change things up a bit.

Once you enter your favorite quote, the visual fun begins. Using the Design tab, you can select a pre-created design that best fits the feel of your quote. Use the design as is or continue to make it your own using the other tabs.

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Select from a variety of design styles. Us as is or as a place to start customizing.

The Layout tab lets you change the size and shape of your graphic. It also gives you the ability to create multi-image graphics.

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Use the Layout tab to change the size of your image. Chose from popular presets.

Change the color scheme of your design using the Palette tab. You can randomly assign colors to different elements of your graphic and customize the color scheme by selecting your own colors.

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Change your color scheme.

Adobe Spark will initially select a background image from a library of openly licensed images. You can change the image to a different stock photo or use one of your own masterpieces for complete creative control. I love that all the images and graphics used in Adobe Spark are openly licensed. If you are using this with students, it is the perfect time to have that conversation about copyrighted images and being a good digital citizen. Read this blog post about copyright and digital citizenship from Common Sense Media.

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Change the background image using openly licensed images or your own.

There are also many options customizing text. From different fonts to shape overlays – good luck not spending at least an hour making your text look just right.

Text Tab
Edit Text using the Text menu.

There are additional customization tools that can help you create beautiful graphics that are completely tweetable! Projects are autosaved and you can go back and edit a project at any time.

Speaking of tweeting, when you are done with your image, you can share it through your favorite social media channels or download it to use elsewhere. Like on your blog.  Adobe also has a public user gallery. You choose if your image is discoverable through their gallery or turn of the option and keep your images private.

In the Classroom

There are so many ways you can use Spark Post in your classroom. All of the customization features make it the perfect tool for building visual literacy skills. As students adjust the look of their graphic, talk with them about how those visual changes impact the overall message. The background image, font style, and color choices are all part of what their graphic says to a viewer. Have them play around with different elements to change the meaning of their text.

Here are a few additional ideas for how to use Post with your students.

  • Create visual poetry
  • Two sentence visual horror stories
  • Create a visual quote that reflects who they are (personal mottos)
  • Create visual quotes from a book they are reading that fits the mood of the character
  • Motivational posters
  • Posters of vocabulary words

The list is only limited by your imagination. Since the final products can be downloaded as images, you can import them into a video app (such as Adobe Spark Video) to create movies or music videos. Or print the images and hang them around your classroom. Again, the possibilities are endless.

If you are using Post with students, be sure to take a look at the Guide for Educators. Adobe does a nice job walking you some best practices for using this with students of all ages. When I use any of the tools from this suite in the classroom I approach it in one of two ways depending on my learners. If they already have Google accounts, we use those. This gives each learner their own project space. If I am doing a quick workshop, I use one login. I’ve created an account for this purpose. Everyone uses that login and works within the same project gallery. This has advantages and disadvantages. On the plus side, you can access all of the projects with one log-in. On the downside, the students can access all of the projects. This can be good but could also be bad if you have a mischievous student.

There are a couple other negatives (that is really a harsh word for a such a solid app). Becuase it autosaves, it is easy to over edit an existing design. There is not a revert function that I have found. Since I am usually demoing how this app works, I have gone into completed projects and ruined them by showcasing editing features and losing my original design. Granted, if I have already downloaded the graphic, it still lives on.

The final negative is that as of right now, there is no Android app. Only the web-based tool and the three iOS apps. Since all of my work tablets are Android, that makes me sad. However, there may be hope. Last I heard, Adobe is working on apps for us Android users. Yay! Hurry up, please!! 🙂

Despite the few negatives, I love Adobe Spark Post more than I can say. It has so many uses. With Post, anyone can create amazing graphics that will make their viral quote photo dreams come true.

Have you created graphics using Adobe Spark Post? Share them in the comments!