A few weeks ago, I saw a post on an educational blog (probably Free Tech 4 Teachers) about StoryBricks, an online program that allows users to create their own MMOs. If you are a gamer--or, in my case, married to one--then you already know what an MMO is. If not, then allow me to explain: an MMO is a Massive Multiplayer Online game. Basically, it is a game played online by multiple players at once; the players' characters are able to interact with one another to make the story really come to life. Think World of Warcraft or Guild Wars. Now, I might not be the die-hard gamer that several of my friends and family members are (yes, even my mom is a gamer) but this definitely caught my attention!
With the buzz around gaming in education, and the push for increased computer science (STEM) in schools, I was curious to check out this new option. One of the most intriguing aspects of StoryBricks is that users don't simply play the game; they build the game using basic concept of computer programming. Once I signed in and began playing around, the interface really reminded me of Scratch. Scratch is a "computer programming language learning environment" created by MIT, which has been used in schools to introduce youngsters to the concepts behind computer programming. StoryBricks, on the other hand, seems to be aimed at an older demographic. I predict that this will be used mostly in middle school and high school classrooms. As many students in this age group are already playing MMOs, introducing the complexities of computer programming through this format is sure to spark some students' interests.
I'm not a computer science teacher, so my first thought was "That's great, but how can I use this in my English classroom?" The first idea that came to mind was using StoryBricks as a digital storytelling tool; I could have students create their own interactive myths or legends. I also notice that the commands that are used to build the stories really enforce logical thinking (if-then statements, for example). I also thought about the revision process that students would undergo in order to get their stories to turn out well. In short, there are many reasons why StoryBrick would make a good edition to the English classroom. If nothing else, pose it as a challenge to the uninterested student who hates homework but loves computers; have him* work on a story during his "free time" and see where it takes him.
Below, I have embedded a brief screenshot of myself experimenting with StoryBricks. It's best viewed if you imagine some incredibly suspenseful, adventurous music as you watch...
*or her, because computer superstars come in all shapes and sizes
For a long time, I have always thought that it would be fun for both myself and for my students to incorporate a lesson on astronomy with my mythology unit, showing the constellations behind the myths. I thought of those night lights that project stars onto the ceiling, or the glow-in-the-dark stick-on stars that you can attach to your walls. With Stellarium, I think I have finally found what I have been looking for all along. Stellarium is a completely free download that turns your computer into the night sky. Of course, this would be especially fun if you could project the sky onto your classroom ceiling, but a white board or wall of any type would work just fine. I love the ability to add outlines or artwork of the constellations (for my purposes). If you feel like doing some actual field research out in nature, you can choose "night mode" to reduce the strain on your eyes when alternately viewing your laptop and the sky. Below I'm embedding a screencast of myself playing around with the features of Stellarium.
Also, while you're at it, listen to some excellent celestial-appropriate music by Kevin McLeod. You can hear more of his royalty-free music HERE.
Dr. Jessica Pilgreen, Ed.D.