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Storytelling for Impact

A few months ago, I started a free online course offered through National Geographic Education aimed at equipping teachers with the knowledge, resources, and confidence to use digital storytelling in the classroom. Anyone who knows me knows I'm a sucker for free PD, especially when it involves playing with digital media that can be used to support the students and teachers I serve. Plus, who doesn't love National Geographic and the opportunity to get a behind-the-scenes look at the creative process of photojournalists, audio producers, and documentary filmmakers?


The first one I enrolled in was Storytelling for Impact: Photography, a self-paced course that guides educators through the process of visualizing and communicating powerful stories that inspire action through photography, and then how to apply this to our work with students. I'm not much of a photographer, but I do love it as a medium for storytelling, especially with younger students and emerging language learners. Plus, we know there are so many rich learning opportunities embedded in visual literacy; critical and creative thinking, interpreting, analyzing, evaluating, and the list goes on.

The course is organized into modules that define and scaffold photographic properties as well as storytelling as an educational tool. Along the way there are small assignments and short quizzes that build on these modules and then a final assignment where you're challenged to apply your newfound knowledge and skills. In the end, you're asked to consider how this could be applied to your classroom practice, and offer up feedback to fellow participants in the assignment gallery. It had all the elements of a great online course and I couldn't recommend it enough.

This course coincided with a Grade 4 unit on human migration stories, a natural fit and perfect opportunity to share my learning with the teaching team and their students. We scheduled a time for me to come into each class, give a minilesson on photography as storytelling and generate some ideas for how this could apply to their unit of inquiry. I chose to show them a set of photos from Chalie Hamilton James, a NatGeo photographer specializing in conservation, anthropology, and natural history. As expected, the students were totally engaged and eager to share their observations and questions with each other. Groups of students took turns 'reading' the images I'd selected, sharing their inferences and wonderings. Then, I walked them through the process of generating titles and captions to match photos as a way to prime their thinking about the journalistic side of photography. After doing a couple of these as modeling with the whole class, students worked in their groups to practice this process. We wrapped up by having these small groups share out to the rest of their classmates. It was EXCELLENT.


I was so excited and inspired after my first course and the work I'd done with the fourth graders that I decided to sign up for the next one about audio. storytelling. To say I'm a novice with audio production and editing would be generous. I've really only ever been a podcast listener, but I knew just from that experience that it absolutely has the power to be transformative and educational. And really, that was enough to convince me to give it a shot.

Much like the first course, it was organized into short modules that provided a wealth of information, resources and insights for educators looking to take a toe-dip into the audio storytelling ocean. The more I dug into the links and resources provided, the more application I saw to my work with teachers and students, and once again, I was excited to share it out as soon as possible.

Fortunately, Grade 4 was still in their human migration unit and were open to another new way for the students to share out their learning. It also gave me a great opportunity to make a sample episode for them that I could submit as my final assignment in the online course. Win win! So, I set out to find someone to interview about their migration story, not a difficult feat when you work in an international school abroad. At the lunch table with my colleagues, I mentioned this task and my good friend, Licia offered to be my ginea pig for the project. But instead of sharing her own migration story, she shared her father's and it was incredible.

After putting it together (more on the technical side of that process in another post), I scheduled another lesson with the fourth graders where I presented my episode and we dissected its properties and impact. This lesson was also great, but a bit limiting in that many of the students are English language learners and the content wasn't as accessible to them as I'd hoped. But hey, that's another lesson learned, right?

Here's the episode I created as a work sample in case you want to listen or share in your own context. As always, helpful feedback is appreciated!


You know I didn't just stop after the first two courses! But really, of all these creative digital storytelling methods, this is the one I feel I've mastered most. Now, that's not to say there's nothing for me to learn, but I didn't feel the same urgency and excitement as I did with the others. In fact, I waited until summer to start it because the end of the school year was BANANAS (more on that in another post- I guess I have a lot of posts to work on!), so I haven't yet completed it but I'm working on it.

Like the other courses, this one is set up into short modules that explain the why and how of using video as a vehicle for powerful storytelling in the classroom. I haven't made it to the final assignment yet, but I did treat myself to a couple of new toys that I can experiment with as I take it on. Plus, I'll be traveling to Beijing and Xi'an with a couple of colleague friends next week, so I think it's the perfect opportunity to apply my new skills! Stay tuned for more.

What about you, have you taken any fun online PD recently that you'd recommend? If so, I'd love to hear about it, and for those of you looking for ways to bring digital storytelling into the classroom, you should check out these NatGeo courses, they're fantastic.

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