Storybird- a change of mindset

I recently was preparing a workshop for teachers around Universal Design for Learning and student engagement and was doing some research. An article on TKI mentioned Storybird as a vehicle to engage reluctant learners in writing.

Screen Shot 2015-08-17 at 8.51.05 pm


I never like to recommend something without giving it a trial for myself. Fortunately I teach at a local school as well as being a LwDT Facilitator so had some willing learners to help me trial the tool.

I registered myself with a Storybird account and to keep things simple I manually entered the students names into Storybird and then set about changing the passwords that Storybird had assigned students and aligned them with the students’ Google Accounts.

This took a bit of time but paid off with fewer students having to be reminded of what their passwords were.

All of the writing activities we try need to be accessible on a variety of devices as I have Chromebooks, Mac Books and iPads to use and not enough of each to be exclusive. Storybird works well on all of these devices. To access the Storybird website on the iPad I made it into a shortcut on the home screen and on the laptops it was linked from our Moturoa blog.

Once all that was set up I made a practice picture book myself so that I would be one step ahead when we used it in class. In introducing the concept to my boys we said we will trial it for a few weeks and they can give their verdict on it.

We cracked into it. On first reflection I was underwhelmed. The idea is that you get a selection of images to use, select one and then use the images produced by that particular artist. You can search for images from a topic to get you started but my boys wanted to write of motorbikes and rugby and there were no images related to those sorts of topics to choose from. You cannot pick and mix the artist. Once you select one artist you can only use other images that that person has created.

Screen Shot 2015-08-17 at 9.12.36 pm

We pushed on as it was a trial. Although the illustrations were stunning some of the boys were reluctant to pick anything as none appealed. In the end they picked something and used that although it wasn’t a choice that initially engaged them. Few of the images lent themselves easily to building a narrative sequence so some of the boys just wrote  captions for the random images that engaged them.

Some however really engaged with the Storybird concept and managed to relate the images together to do quite a good semblance of a narrative.

After the writing and editing was done the boys pushed SAVE and PUBLISH and I was able to easily publish it with the provided embed code.


To spice things up a bit we also had a competition with voting via the blog to decide which stories we like best.

Please add your vote to the blog side bar to encourage the boys in their writing.

Our verdict

  • Stunning illustrations
  • Easy to use
  • Easy to embed
  • Intuitive interface
  • Works well across all devices
  • Limited mix of images- you have to use one artists’ images and cannot pick and mix
  • Limited range of images related to some of the things the boys wanted to write about
  • Once engaged some boys really involved with the process and showed an interest in working on it at home.
  • You can invite others to work on the stories collaboratively but we never really went down that track.
  • The teacher can leave notes on children’s writing as feedback on the process
  • You can read and reflect on other people’s writing by leaving comments which can be moderated.

As a final reflection I was thrilled when a parent joined in and made another book at home with her child and invited me to collaborate on it with her and she left a comment on the blog post.


Wonderful work and writing. This has opened up a whole new world of e-learning to me and I’m loving it I’ll be back for more!


Let’s Booktrack

If you were anywhere near Twitter over the weekend you would have seen the tweets in a tsunami like wave pouring from the #edchatnz conference held at Hobsonville Point in Auckland. I kept an eye on the Twitter #edchatnz hashtag stream while I was working and the learning session that particularly interested me was that by Craig Wilson sharing the features of Booktrack.

I have had Booktrack Classroom Reader as an iPad app for ages after seeing an interview on the television some years ago when the app first got publicity!

In a nutshell Booktrack layers an ambient soundtrack over a text so that you listen to it as you read and the soundtrack keeps track with the pace of your reading. I remember back to the first book I read – the Selfish Giant. In the book a door opens and I heard that sound of a door opening in the text at exactly the right moment. I was impressed that the sound track matched the reading experience.

I Googled it and found this segment from Seven Sharp more recently in March 2014.

Seven Sharp

I asked participants at the conference via Twitter if someone could Skype me into Craig’s session but no one was able to. Craig, however, picked up on my tweet and offered to show me more via Skype in the following week. This was a perfect solution to finding out more about Booktrack and fill in the gaps of my knowledge of its uses and features- from the expert and just in time for an advanced Google Apps workshop I am leading in a couple of weeks.

The first point to be aware of is the difference between Booktrack Classroom and Book Track Studio and the Booktrack mobile apps.

Booktrack Classroom is for education with a school sign up and the books are for general consumption and safe for students to read and view. A teacher creates an account- adds students who can log in with a password which the teacher can change. This is a fabulous feature as you can make your own version of Single Sign On and have fewer passwords to remember. Craig also suggested making a parent account so parents can log in to read the works that children in the class have made. Books created in Booktrack Classroom cannot be linked to or generally shared without a log in- a walled garden. You don’t have to have made a Booktrack account to read the bookshelf books.

With Booktrack Studio books can be shared via a URL and the content could potentially contain more open content. There is the ability to flag inappropriate material which is a another great feature.

The Booktrack Android and iPad apps are both readers only. If you want to create your own soundtrack you need to do so on a laptop or Chromebook.

As well as the web app I like that it is also a Chrome app linked to your Google Account. Here are the links to all the different ways you can access Booktrack. You can’t say they are limiting access!!

When you first open the app you can read books that others have written as exemplars and just plain engaging books to read. But the creative side of me loves that I can write my own text and create my own soundtrack and publish it to the bookshelf for others to read.

Here is a sample book, The Farmer, the Rooster and the Jewel, that I put together. The workflow that I used was to have a student write a narrative in Google Docs- proof read, get feedback and improve it. I then copied the text into Booktrack and highlighted the text where I want the sounds to be placed. I can then layer from a zillion music, ambient or sound affects to add to the text. When done I publish.

Booktrack Example

I like this process for students as you have to read, re-read and make knowledgeable choices about which sound track or effect best fits with the text. I like also that readers can rate the book and see how many reads they have had.

Booktrack were also able to supply some research that shows how reading with Booktrack promotes reading and improves readability of texts.

Here are few video tutorials of the creation process

Very motivating.

I extend a big thank you to Booktrack and Craig who so willingly and passionately shared the process with me so I can on share it with others.

Here is an example recorded in class.

You can embed your Booktracks into a blog as well. How cool is that.

2012 K-12 Horizon Report

Earlier this year I was asked to participate in the Advisory Board of the Horizon Report. The Horizon Report Advisory Board is a group of leading educators from around the world who pool their knowledge and expertise to try and predict what the trends will be in the educational landscape in the near future out to the next five years.

I was in awe of the other educators asked to participate and humbled that they would value my input.

To gain consensus we suggested trends and then voted on which ones we thought would come to fruition over the time frames suggested.

Key Trends that we identified

  • The abundance of resources and relationships made easily accessible via the Internet is increasingly challenging us to revisit our roles as educators.
  • As the cost of technology drops and schools revise and open up their access policies, it is becoming increasingly common for students to bring their own mobile devices.
  • Education paradigms are shifting to include online learning, hybrid learning and collaborative models.
  • One-to-one computing is spreading to a large number of countries and regions. Providing students constant access to computers and the Internet is an education game-changer.
  • People expect to be able to work, learn, and study whenever and wherever they want to.
  • Technology continues to profoundly affect the way we work, collaborate, communicate and succeed.
  • There is a new emphasis in the classroom on more challenge-based and active learning.

 So here is what we came up with……

 Time-to-Adoption Horizon: One Year or Less

  • Cloud Computing
  • Collaborative Environments
  • Mobiles and Apps
  • Tablet Computing

Time-to-Adoption Horizon: Two to Three Years

  • Digital Identity
  • Game-Based Learning
  • Learning Analytics
  • Personal Learning Environments

 Time-to-Adoption Horizon: Four to Five Years

  • Augmented Reality
  • Natural User Interfaces
  • Semantic Applications
  • Tools for Assessing 21st Century Learning Skills

Embedded below is four minute video that explains it further and a pdf to download that explains each of the terms.


So what do you think? Did we get it right?



Lighting the Kindle Fire

CC licence Brian Sawyer

While at Learning at School CORE Education generously gave me a Kindle Fire to play with for a bit and see what I thought of it for school use. I managed to convince them that I needed to take it home with me to give it a decent run.

So here are my thoughts on the Kindle Fire…


  • On first look- it feels nice. It has a nice to the touch back on it and it’s a good size to hold in one hand. I am not so sure though that, for me that size is right. It was a stretch for me to get my delicate lady hands around it- I’m not sure.
  • As soon as you register the device the books you have already bought on Amazon miraculously appear. I don’t have a Kindle but use the Kindle app on the iPad. I like the sepia type background rather than the black/white background of the ordinary Kindle.
  • When you highlight text in a document it allows you to go straight to Google- I just noticed that the iPad will do the same thing as well as give you a dictionary meaning.
  • I haven’t needed to recharge it yet so I presume the battery lasts a decent amount of time.
  • Once I loaded some music the audio was good and strong and there is a headphone jack.
  • YouTube videos fill the whole screen and play smoothly.
  • As you bring up different books, music, apps or documents they nestle themselves into the OSX ‘cover flow’ look alike menu which is handy if you want to go back to something quickly.
  • It multi-tasks- you can listen to music while you read your book.
  • Once the photos load they look good and will rotate to fill the screen.
  • It’s heavy- in comparison to an ordinary Kindle it is much heavier.
  • Some of the downloaded icons are downright fuzzy- so low resolution that they make my eyes sore.
  • It doesn’t have a camera- even a not so great one like an iPad.
  • It’s not very intuitive- maybe I have been so well trained to the ways of Apple but I found navigating it annoying.
  • As you register the device it gives you a month’s free Premium membership which is useless cos you can’t stream the movies in New Zealand any way. You can watch the trailers which looked to be a good.
  • I wanted to see how it would cope with emailing a pdf to it that I had made. I thought I could just email it to the Kindle that had assigned me an email address but I had to go to the web and authorise the sender (myself) first. I suppose this is good in that you would only get emails from address you pre-approve but in a school setting that could be downright annoying as you would have to individually allow all senders on by one.
  • Once I had the pdf on the Kindle Fire I was disappointed with the reading of it- an ordinary A4 font was too small to read and I had to keep sliding back and forwards across the page to be able to read the text.
  • I tried to play Adobe Flash type games from my class blog and it wouldn’t. It didn’t offer to download a flash player so came to a bit of a dead end on that score.
  • The keyboard is slow to the the touch- I kept waiting for it to catch up.
  • I thought that it might have a USB hole for a camera but as far as I can work out you have to transfer the photos from the camera to your computer with one USB cord and then transfer them to the Kindle with another USB cord. I could soon get sick of that. To get the photos on to the Kindle you drag them into the pictures folder, like you would do onto a USB flash drive.
  • I like to view my photos but to find them you have to work out which of the icons in the cover flow is the Gallery as the Home Menu Bar only has – Newstand, Books, Music, Video, Docs, Apps and Web.
  • I could see there was already a movie in the video folder in a .mov format so I added another- I couldn’t find either of them again- I wonder if the video folder only holds downloaded movies which we can’t get in New Zealand.
  • You can’t buy it in the shops yet but you can buy one on Trade Me for $380NZ.
  • I couldn’t find an airplane mode for reading in flight but I assume there must be one- somewhere. I couldn’t find a way to switch the internet off.
  • I couldn’t see any way to lock the screen – it kept on changing aspect on me which I found irritating.
  • From the look of it you can, with one click, deauthorise everything on it which would be handy when passing it on to someone else.
  • Can you download some kind of Flash player so you can play Flash games?
  • I wonder if you can record audio onto it in some way?
  • I wondering about the Terms of Service for books bought from Amazon for educational use. With Apple you are supposed to buy one copy of an app per device. Is it legal to buy one book and have it readable on multiple devices should a school buy a pod of Kindles?

Thanks CORE for the opportunity to test drive the Kindle but I am happy enough to hand it back.

I wonder what other people think of it but in my opinion I would save up and buy something that did more or stick with an ordinary lightweight Kindle that you can read books on and leave it at that.

BTW I made the movie below with Action Movie on the iPad.