Imagine | Dream | Create

How do we inspire our students to be creators of content? How do we spark their imagination and their creativity? How do we empower them to take control of their own learning? One possibility is digital storytelling. To become better digital storytelling, I joined the Santa Clara County Office of Education’s digital storytelling certificate program.

The kick-off event was held at the Walt Disney Family Museum. I’d never been to the museum before and what first struck me was fabulous location of the museum –it’s located in the San Francisco Presidio with a fabulous view of the Golden Gate Bridge. The museum was founded by Walt’s daughter and is full of family and company history.


We started the day with an animation icebreaker where the Walt Disney Family Museum staff led us through the creation of a “story” using iStopMotion with everyone participating. It was a lot of fun and opened up some possibilities for future student productions. I especially like the ability to have things disappear.


making the movie

The movie (I apologize but I missed the first couple of minutes of the recording)

Hack the Museum

Then the real work began. We were tasked to find an object in the galleries that inspired or interested us. I was assigned to the 1930s gallery and so went forth to be inspired. The first thing I noted in the room was the switch from black and white to color. The gallery was all about the senses—first color and then sound. As I walked around the gallery, the song playing (“Who’s afraid of the big bad wolf? Big bad wolf, Big bad wolf”) caused the people around me to instantly hum or sing along. It was amazing how that snippet of song immediately brought back memories. Without even seeing the display, I knew exactly what film it was and what was happening (though I had no idea that it had been produced in the 1930s—wow). I decided that this would be my “object,” my inspiration.

Once I found the object that inspired me, it was time to co-opt the inspiration of the object and make it my own. To think about what personal connection was triggered and then to use that personal connection to write a story (since of course this was a digital storytelling class).

To help us brainstorm, we were given a graphic organizer with a space to draw the object (I drew, poorly, a scene from the movie with notes), a space to think of three possible titles for our story, and then space to draw out the beginning, middle, and end.

The question of course is how to integrate universal themes and story elements into powerful narrative? I find that when I have to tell the beginning, middle, and end of a made-up story, it becomes a “bed to bed” story like my first graders used to write– I got up, did some things, and then went to bed. There is no compelling narrative. Nothing exciting happens. No one is exited to read my story.

My story inspired by the song lyrics was that kind of story. So, there was boy who was afraid of everything (background: no color, no music) who dreams of a wolf (with the music “who’s a afraid” playing), the boy defeats the wolf in the dream, and then the next day, he is inspired to not be afraid anymore (and the background has color and music). Boring.

Luckily, Matthew Luhn was there to help spice up our storytelling. He is a Pixar story artist and has a fascinating story (unsurprisingly) about his journey to get there.

matt better

His topic though was to teach us how to tell good stories—because if you don’t have a good story, it doesn’t matter how fabulous the illustrations are or how fancy your movie-making equipment is. A good story made on an iPhone is better than a movie-house production that has a bad story.

So a good story has to have a story structure and characters. It is impactful, personal, and memorable. (Personal means that people are able to relate to it and/or it conveys universal truths.)

There is the controlling idea (the mission or vision of the story), which you should be able to say as a one-sentence elevator pitch. These one-sentence story pitches include the setting and how the main character changes over time. Luhn advises to keep the story simple. He stated, “Great movies are simple but not simplistic.”

Thus, it should only tell one story (it might have an A plot or a B plot but shouldn’t have more).

The story structure includes a story spine. If you can take your story and put it through a story spine, then you know you have all the elements of a good story.

His story spine included the following:

Once upon a time…

And everyday…

Until one day…

Because of that…

Because of that…

Because of that…

Until finally…

And since that day…

After we practiced making up stories using the story spine, Jeff Schmidt reviewed some of the tools you can use to create digital stories, and then we were off to create our own digital storyboards to practice.

In groups, we shared our earlier ideas from the gallery-walk and decided on one idea to plot out. Using the desktop version of iStopMotion and a camera attached to a computer, we created digital storyboards. My group created a movie about when Walt Disney first came to Hollywood.

(Sorry about the quality–I recorded with an ipad while it was playing on a computer)

How might we use digital story telling to inspire students? With tablets, student can use the camera and an app to record clips and/or animation to create a story. Students can use computers to record themselves or add voice to still photos. Even with one computer or one tablet, students can be given an opportunity to use their imagination and to create a story that is uniquely their own.

Our next opportunity to explore digital storytelling will be through graphic novels—I can’t wait!

About Jessica Lura

I am the director of teaching and learning at public K-8 charter school in Northern California. I work to integrate technology and hands-on learning into the classroom. I develop and lead professional development for my school, helping teachers develop project-based learning and design thinking units, integrate technology and digital citizenship in the classroom, and create opportunities for real world interactions and projects. For my efforts, I was named Santa Clara County's Office of Education Charter School Teacher of Year for 2013 and a 2014 Comcast All-Star Teacher. I am also a Google Certified Innovator
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