Unleash Students’ Inner Writer with Storybird

I don’t know about you but for me, writing is hard. Nothing is more stressful than staring at that blank page waiting for the words in my head to organize themselves enough for me to write them down. I bet you have a few students who feel the same way. Storybird is a beautiful website that you can use to inspire your students to write and not fear the blank page. It is actually more than a writing website. It is a writing community where your students (and you) can read and write visual stories and poems.

The Art of Creative Writing

Storybird Artful storytelling (2)Writing with Storybird starts with amazing artwork. Writers select artwork from the huge Storybird art library and use that piece of art as the inspiration for their story or poem. The artwork becomes the inspiration for your story or poem. Artwork is a great way to inspire your writers to create stories.

Using the art as their guide, students can write a picture book, a longform book or chapter, or create a poem using an interface that reminds me of magnetic poetry.

Writing, Challenges, and Courses

Storybird has more than just amazing art to help unlock your student’s writing potential. Students can participate in a variety of community challenges that help give them some direction to their creative writing. For example, in the What in the World? challenge, students select an image from artist Julius Tan’s collection of wild and wacky scenes. Then they write about this new world. What do they see, hear, or smell? Then end challenge is to create a three-page picture book about this new place. There are over 20 challenges for writers of all levels. Select one that helps to build your students’ use of dialog or an advanced challenge to push their skills. Browse the challenges on the Challenge page. Storybird Guides

If you are looking for more targeted skill building you and your students can take one of the many writing courses available. Courses are multi-lesson, self-paced experiences created by writing experts. For example, you can learn all about writing fantasy from best selling author, Shannon Messenger.  If you are not up for a full course, you can also explore the How-to-Guides.

If you are looking for more inspiration, browse the community library and read books and poems created by other community members.

Writing Gamified

One of the coolest features of Storybird is the gamified elements. It will only get your students writing, it will keep them writing through badges and crowns (the in-system rewards). As your students write every day or complete challenges, they earn crowns. With crowns, they can unlock access to the courses and How-to-Guides. If you are writing too you can also earn badges and crowns.

Teacher Resources

Storybird includes resources for teachers including classroom management tools. With the educator tools, you can set up multiple classes, build a class roster, assign challenges, grade assignments, and give student feedback. Students join your class using a passcode. Their completed work is submitted into the class library where you can review it, grade it, and give feedback. storybird-review.png

Looking for a new idea for a fundraiser? Storyboard has you covered for that too. Your students can create their own books and then parents can log in and order hard or soft cover copies of the book, or stationary or artwork featuring their poems. Your class raises money from each sale. If you ask me it beats the heck out of cookie dough or wrapping paper, am I right? Read more here.

Pricing

Initial sign up is free. The way I understand it, you can access all of the features listed above with the free account. Some features, such as courses or guides might just take time to access as you build up crowns to unlock the features. However, for faster access, you can become a community member. A month by month membership will cost you $8.99 a month. Or, sign up for a year at a time and the monthly rate drops to $4.99. You can read all about membership benefits on their benefits page.

Whether you are a teacher who is looking for a way to get your students writing or a young aspiring author looking for that extra kick of motivation, check out Storybird. To bring you a little inspiration, I will leave you with my own poem. Happy writing!

Poetry by Kbrynteson on Storybird (1)
My amazing poetry.

 

Save the World While You Learn to Code: Dystopia 2153

Who doesn’t love a good dystopian graphic novel? I know I sure do. Give me an online one that also teaches coding and you just made my day. Dystopia 2153, is exactly that. A web-based graphic novel where you solve coding puzzles as you move through the story. Dystopia 2153 was created by TEACH Magazine. I explored the free version – Chapter one of Episode One.

In the Not Too Distant Future

Dystopia 2153 is set in the year 2153 after our world has fallen and is now run by tyrannical robots. The story focuses on orphans making a daring escape from Rathouse Orphanage.

Chapter 1 of Dystopia 2153 - Our world is broken.
Chapter 1 of Dystopia 2153 – Our world is broken.

You begin by reading the graphic novel, which is dark and beautifully illustrated. I also like the ambient music that helps you get into the story. As you flip through the pages you learn about humanity’s downfall and the rise of the machines we created. Then fast forward to Lance. Orphaned from the fall and living in Rathouse Orphanage with others like him.

An Advanced challenge from Chapter 1.
An Advanced challenge from Chapter 1.

Lance works in the garbage dump. For your first set of challenges, you use basic coding skills to help him take the shortcut through the halls to the dump. For the challenges, you use Blocky code to move Lance through the mazes. Your robotic squirrel friend, Chiclet, gives you hints and help along the way.

There are 10 challenges in the first set. They start with simple move codes and progress to include loops and variables. It took me a minute to solve the 10th level.

My Thoughts

I really enjoyed the free chapter. The story is intriguing, the artwork is wonderful, and the challenges were, well, challenging. Dystopia 2153 is intended for middle school students. I think that is a fitting age.

I like the mix of story and puzzles that progressively get harder as you move through the story. The narrative gives purpose to the puzzle challenges. You are not just doing puzzles to learn how to code, you are solving the puzzles to advance the narrative. They are connected to the plot points of the story. I feel that increases students motivation to advance.

Currently, there are two episodes available with a third on the way. You can preview the first chapter of Episode one for free by creating an account. To continue reading and playing, you can purchase the home edition, which includes Episode 1, 2, and 3 for $24.99. The price of a new hardcover book. For teachers, you can purchase a classroom edition, which gives you one-year access to all three episodes for 30 students, for $124.99. It also includes additional classroom resources. However, it looks like, as I am writing this, they are running a sale. Home edition is now $12.49 and Classroom edition is $49.99. Go to their pricing page for more information and get yours at this great price! You can even purchase hard copies of Episode one if you prefer an IRL version. Buy that on Amazon.

In the Classroom

Along with teaching students to code, based on the first chapter, there are a lot of other STEAM concepts you can pull out of the story. Such as robotics, AI, and automation, the ethics of technology, environmental issues, politics, and the future of our planet. You could build other activities around the story in addition to having your students learn to code within the story. You could also use it to build their visual literacy skills as they analyze the story visuals.

Dystopia 2153 is a very interesting way to engage students in storytelling and coding. The story seems like it is a good one and the coding puzzles are pretty cool. Go to the website, create a free account and read chapter one for yourself. Like me, you will want to get the rest, just because you want to know how the story ends.

 

Book Creator for Google Chrome

Book CreatorBook Creator has been around for a very long time. I almost didn’t write about it because for many teachers it is not new. However, it is one of those tools you need to rediscover now and then.

Overview

With Book Creator, you can create interactive books using your iPad or your Chrome device. For this post, we’ll look mainly at the Chrome version.

Get started with the app for free but, like most ed tech tools, the free version is limited. With the free version, you get one library where you can create 40 books. Not a bad way to get started but if you are using it with your students, you will run out of space quickly. There are different pricing levels starting at $60 per year and going up from there. The right choice for you depends on how many books you expect to create each year. Learn more about the pricing packages on their website.

The Chrome apps works in your browser. (Note, this is a Chrome app so it will not work in any of your other browsers.) As a teacher, you can sign in using your Google or Office credentials or your email. Students can also use their Google or Office email or have them sign in via QR code.

Key Features

If you are new to Book Creator or have not used this tool in a while, here are some of the key features that make this great epublishing tool for you and your students.

  • Shared Libraries – As you build your library, you can invite others to share the space, read your books and create books with you. You can also join other’s libraries. With one of the upgraded paid accounts, you can also add a co-teacher.
  • Integrate Media – One of the best things about ebooks is that they are not just text and images. Book Creator lets you seamlessly add multimedia such as video and web links, Google maps, and audio. According to the Book Creator blog, the tool now even allows you to embed Adobe Spark videos and web pages. For me, this is exciting news. I am a huge Adobe Spark fan. Read my pasts post about Spark Post and Video. Combining these two tools means you and your students can create some beautiful books.
  • Read ebooks – The viewing tools are amazing. Flip through the pages in full-screen mode. Read it on your own or have the Read to Me feature read the book to you. Great feature for your newer readers.
  • Share and Publish – The ebooks you and your students create can be downloaded and shared or published online and made available through bookcreator.com.
ebook
A layout view of my book.
  • Teacher Resources – There is a great set of resources available to help you get started. The Teacher Resource page has tips, tricks, and classroom ideas. Because this tool has been around for so long, there is a robust set of resources and support out there to help you make the most of this tool. Also, follow their blog and social media for more fun ideas.

Empower Your Students

Book Creator is an easy to use tool to get your students writing and creating media. There are so many ways to use Book Creator in the classroom. From students publishing their own stories to creating visual lab reports, to making multimedia class anthologies. The list goes on and on. If you are new to Book Creator, create a free account and get started. If you haven’t used Book Creator in a while, rediscover it and explore what you and your students can create.

 

Make your classroom eLibrary Epic! – Epic! Books for Kids

This post goes out to all you bibliophiles out there who can’t seem to get enough books for your classroom. Epic! is a digital library with, according to the website, “over 25,000 books, videos, quizzes, and more!”

Build Your eLibraryEpic

Anyone can create an account and start reading some of today’s most popular picture books and early reader chapter books.

For parents, the first 30-days is free. After that, it is $7.99 a month – which includes no ads and no in-app purchases.

For educators and librarians, registration is free. This comes with a whole host of great resources.

Epic! for Educators and Librarians

I was so impressed by all the resources available for educators and librarians on Epic! Here’s a quick rundown of my favorites.

  • Class management tools – Educators can invite their students to their elibrary using a class code, copy/paste in a class roster or import a roster from Google Classroom. From your class roster, you can assign books and quizzes and share information with your student’s families. Your class roster also lets you monitor student progress on assignments and quizzes.
  • Curated Library – You can build your own custom collections by exploring the entire library. You can share your collections with the educator community or browse through collections from other community members. I have already started building my Unicorn collection. Not only do they have some of the newest titles, I  even found one of my own childhood favorites – Morgan and Me. The Serendipity Book by Stephen Cosgrove. Yay!
  • Vast Collection of Media – Epic! is not only books. You can also find videos, audiobooks, and read-aloud books.
  • Integrated assessments – You can create quizzes right in the books to check for student comprehension. Go to your dashboard to see how your students did on their quizzes.

    Epic! Resources for educators.
    Epic! Resources for educators.
  • Resources – I am most impressed by the resources available for educators. Everything you need to get started is included right there on the website, including a Quick-Start Guide, full guidebook,  a parent letter, a Back-to-School presentation, lesson plans, classroom decorations, and (my personal favorite) the Readerpillar! Look at how cute it is. Your students will love reading and adding to the Readerpillar.

If you have a classroom and struggle to keep your class library up to date with new books or you want to create collections based on the ever-changing interests of your students, then Epic! is the eLibrary for you. Head over to Epic! to create an account and start building your Readerpillar today!

Epic! might just be what you need to help cure your book addition. Ok, not really, we know that that can’t be cured. Just go read.

Doodlers and Daydreamers: STEM Read Podcast Ep 6

The STEM Read Podcast Episode 6: Doodlers and Daydreamers. Talking creativity with Dr. Rhonda Robinson and Tom Lichtenheld.

We’ve all seen those kids. Off in the corner of the room. Staring out the window. Drawing in their notebooks instead of taking notes. We know those kids. Heck, maybe you were one of those kids. The Doodlers and the Daydreamers. The creative spirits who, with the right encouragement and support, might someday change the world.

Doodles
A peek at some of my doodle masterpieces.

In this episode of STEM Read Podcast, Gillian (@gkingcargile) and I talk to two of our favorite doodlers and daydreamers, Dr. Rhonda Robinson and author/illustrator Tom Lichtenheld.

This was a fun episode. Not only did we get to talk to two amazing people about fun topics like visual literacy, creativity, perseverance, and collaboration, we recorded in Tom’s studio surrounded by art, books, and inspiration. And there were cookies there to boot. It was amazing!

Head over to the STEM Read Podcast page to give the episode a listen and check out the show notes. We have links to all of the books we discussed, information on visual literacy, and pics from the studio.

You can find the STEM Read Podcast on iTunes or on our home page on Northern Public Radio. Check out past episodes and subscribe to make sure you don’t miss new episodes. Also, check out all our resources over on stemread.com.

Want to learn more about teaching visual literacy and creativity in the classroom? Check out these past posts,  Friday Five: Build Visual Literacy Skills and Five Tips for Unleashing Your Creative Self in 2018.

 

 

STEM Read Podcast Episode 5

My reflections on STEM Read Podcast Episode 5. The one with all the swearing. Warning: Strong language.

The Rise of WHAT?!?

The fifth episode of the STEM Read Podcast posted on December 22nd. It has taken me a long time to write about it, not because I have nothing to say but because of WHAT I said.

In this episode, The Rise of F%@kwe discuss (you guessed it) swearing. We have a very colorful conversation with linguist Melissa Wright about why we swear,  the role it plays in culture, and how words became taboo. This is followed by an interview with M.C. Atwood (a.k.a Megan Atwood), author of the YA novel The Devils You KnowIn that interview we talk about how language, especially that of the foul variety, is used as a part of character development as well as how it helps us, the reader, form a connection with our fictional friends.

I found each of our discussions fascinating and informational. (I know, I am a bit biased. I always find myself fascinating.) I learned a lot from both of our guests. It has even prompted me to do more reading on the subject. However, I have to admit, I was (and still am) a bit nervous sharing this one.

Me and My Big Mouth

Anyone who knows me IRL, knows that I am not a stranger to the occasional F-bomb or perfectly place curse. In fact, my use of prolific profanity is directly proportional to my level of comfort with you. In other words…I swears if I like you.

If that is the case, why is this episode giving me pause and causing me anxiety? I think it goes back to the idea of context. We have different norms for different situations. It also might have to do with the different ways language is connected to our different identities. The STEM Read Podcast is connected to my professional identity. Non professional me swears like a drunken pirate. Professional me does not usually use such “unprofessional” vernacular. Professional me usually keeps it, well, professional. For me, this podcast pushed me outside of my professional comfort zone. Even though I know what we discussed was intellectually intriguing, professional me is saying, “But you said F%@k. A lot.”

It was a show about swearing. What the f%@k was I supposed to say?

Listen Anyway

Language is fun. How we use it. How it changes from culture to culture. How it shifts from decade to decade. It’s fun to talk about language. In fact, as I was writing this post, a colleague stepped into my office and we had a 15 minute conversation about swearing. Imagine the conversations you can have with your students around language when you use books like Feed by M.T. Anderson or The Martian by Andy Weir. In Feed, the language serves a key purpose in the story. When you dig deeper into the language choice, you see that in many ways, the book is all about language and the impact technology has on how we communicate. The language used in the book is an excellent starting point for a conversation about the language we use and why we use it.

So, if you are easily offended by the occasional obscenity or two, or ten, you might want to skip this episode. Or at the very least, don’t listen to it around your children. (My 18 and 19 year-old kids..er…young adults, were in the car when I played it for my husband. Yes, it was a bit uncomfortable.) But, don’t let the extra expletives prevent you from queuing it up, giving it a listen, and having a discussion.

As I said in the show. “Don’t let the use of strong language stop you from selecting a book with a strong message.” The same holds true for a podcast.

Follow the link to listen to Episode 5: The Rise of F%@k. And check out the show notes for more info on our guests, resources, and other fun stuff.

Also – do us a solid and leave us a review. Pretty f%@king please. 🙂

STEM Read Podcast – Episode 2

In case you missed it, episode 2 of the STEM Read Podcast dropped last week.

In this episode, we ask the question “What if?” with Hugo award-winning editor,  co-producer and editor of Uncanny Magazine, and all around cool person, Lynne M. Thomas and amazing author Aaron Starmer. Gillian and I did our best to not go completely crazy fangirl over Aaron. We are both huge fans of his work so it was cool to peek behind the curtain and see what goes on in his writing brain.

This was a fun episode. Not only did we get to talk to two amazing people, we also got to talk about unicorns. It’s always a good day when you can spend your time talking about unicorns. Am I right?

Unicorn
All About Unicorns

Special shout out to my Independent Study teacher, Dodie Merritt. She was that one teacher who allowed me and so many others, to ask what if and follow my curiosity. For me, her program taught me how to learn. She was doing project-based learning before it was cool. I still have the unicorn book that I created back in 4th grade as well as my book from 1st and 5th grade. You could say her program was life-changing. In my 1st grade book, I wrote about another student in the program who was building a telegraph. That telegraph kid is now my husband of over 20 years. Further proof that curiosity leads to amazing things.

So, take a few minutes and give this episode a listen.  Hopefully, we’ll spark some ideas for how you can inspire your students to embrace their curiosity and ask “What if?” Who knows where the question will take them.

Follow this link to STEM Read Podcast Episode 2. Don’t forget to explore the show notes for resources and fun stuff.

Summer Reading List

This summer my goal is to make more time to read. So far, so good. Here is what I’m reading (or finished reading) this summer.

Finished

Shusterman

  • Challenger Deep & Scythe – Neal Shusterman – Both of these books were fantastic. So very different but both amazing reads. In Challenge Deep, you follow Caden into the abyss of a psychotic break. This deeply moving books gives you a window into his mind as his reality and fantasy worlds intertwine. Scythe takes place in a world where disease, war, hunger, suffering, and natural death no longer exist. Humankind enjoys the benefits of immortality. However, to keep population growth under control, people must be gleaned every year. This is the job of the Scythes. Two young apprentices reluctantly learn the art of killing and experience the complicated life of a Scythe. Learn more about both of these books and many others on Neal Shusterman’s website – Storyman.com

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  • Launch: Using Design Thinking to Boost Creativity and Bring Out the Maker in Every Student, John Spencer and A.J. Juliani – I cannot say enough about this book. There is so much good stuff in here. Authors Spencer and Juliani walk you through their take on design thinking, the Launch Cycle. They provide practical advice and examples of how to encourage your students’ curiosity and get them asking questions, collaborating on ideas, and developing solutions to problems. I spend a lot of time teaching the engineering design cycle to both teachers and students. I’ve started incorporating many of the tips and concepts from Spencer and Juliani. I highly recommend this book. It would make a great book study for a district. Also explore their website (thelaunchcycle.com) for loads of ideas, lesson plans and freebies or follow them on twitter (@spencerideas and @ajjuliani).

In Progress

  • Born, Jeff VanderMeer – A Giant flying murderous bear, a girl, her ever-changing, child-like, talking sea-anemone-like friend, a boy, his swimming pool lab teeming with bio tech, and general destruction. Just a little story about friendship and survival. I’m about half-way through and loving it.

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  • The Innovator’s Mindset: Empowering Learning, Unleash Talent, and Lead a Culture of Creativity, George Couros – I meant to read this as part of the Innovator’s Mindset MOOC that kicked off a couple months ago. I joined the Facebook group, subscribed to the e-newsletter, and was pleasantly surprised that I already had the book in my Kindle library. However, life had other plans. So, I have follow the community posts for a while (they are very active and informative) but have not had a chance read the book or participate in the online community (aside from lurking). I finally have a chance to read and I’m just getting started with this book. Based on what I’m seeing posted on social media and what I’ve read so far – I have high hopes. Check out the Facebook group and follow George Couros on Twitter (@gcouros) to get a taste of The Innovator’s Mindset. 

In My Stack

I have an ambitious “must-read” list. Especially if I want to get them read before the end of summer. So, this might become my fall reading list.

  • Setting the Standard for Project Based Learning, John Larmer, John Mergendoller and Suzie Boss – The ins and outs of creating, implementing and assessing high-quality Project Based Learning (PBL) activities. Brought to you by the Buck Institute for Education (bie.org)
  • The Little Prince, Antonie de Saint-Expery – Because I need a little whimsy and childhood nostalgia.
  • Lumberjanes Vol 1 and Nimona, Noelle Stevenson – You might know her as comic artist and illustrator, Gingerhaze. My daughter has followed her and read her webcomic for several years. I’ve heard very good things about her comics. It’s about time I read them for myself.
  • Tomorrowland: Our Journey from Science Fiction to Science Fact, Steven Kolter – My daughter is currently reading this one and loves it. An exploration into how the incredible technology from science fiction has become the possible technology of today.
  • Feed (Re-read), M.T. Anderson – Read this one about five years ago. Hard to believe that it is over 15 years old. It is time to re-read to see what new things I can find.

What’s on your summer reading list? I’d love to hear what you are reading. I’m always looking for suggestions.