Story Jumper

Story Jumper is a website on which you can create illustrated story books.


How it works & Features

With story jumper, the stories are very easy to create. The interface is simple and user-friendly. To create a story, you just need to click on the page you want to edit, and you choose whatever you want from the menu on the left. You can choose settings, characters, props, face expressions and many other things among a large selection. If you want, you can also choose from your own pictures on your computer, or from Flickr. You can move, rotate and resize your props however you want them on your page. You can also add text, in different fonts, colors and text box styles.  You can copy pages already done, and you can also interchange the page order as you wish. It is as simple as this to create a story. Here is a screen capture of the interface, with 2 pages from my own story.

Storyjumper_interface

The website offers many features. There is a Teacher’s Guide that helps you navigate through the site and explains every steps in details. There is also a video tutorial to help you with the steps in a more visual way.

There is also a worksheet that can be used by the teachers. This worksheet can be printed and handed out to the students, prior their visit to the computer lab. It has some guidelines to help students prepare and create their story.

There is an online bank of storybooks made by people using the website all over the world. These can be used to get inspiration, to use as examples, or simply to read interesting stories. There is also a translation feature. Any book can be translated in over 40 languages (Like Spanish, French, Hebrew, Chinese, and more.)

Teachers and students log in in different places. The teacher logs in as a teacher. He has to mention which school he works at, and must create a class, and add the students, in order to create them a session. The teacher can have more than one classroom, and every time the teacher adds a student, it creates a funny username like “funnygoat53”. The teacher also has the ability to see all of the students’ books, either finished or in progress. He can comment them and see the evolution. The teacher can also share the class collection, for the students to be able to see their peer’s work.

The students cannot create their own account. They have to log in on a school in particular. They absolutely need to be part of a classroom in which the teacher created a session for them. This is a security question. Once the teacher has created an account for the student, the student needs his/her parents’ authorisation to open his session outside of school. During class, the teacher activates a timer that allows students to log in on their session.

According to these two reviews, one from graphite education reviews, and one from Teachers first, Story Jumper works for a wide age range. Students can create a story according to their own level.

Pricing options

The website is totally free to use. The pricing options are for when you want to print out your work. If you are ok with reading your stories online, this is also completely free. There is a free printable version, except that there is a logo that appears on all pf the pages. If you want, you can buy the digital downloads version at 1.95$, which allows you to print it as many times as you want, with a higher quality. There is the paperback version that costs 12,95$, and the hardcover, which is 24,95$. There is a 10% discount that can be offered to teachers who print more than 15 copies.


Story Jumper for ESL teachers

Story Jumper is a great tool for English teachers. In fact, I had the chance to attend a conference given by Mark Miller, which was destined to all of the English teachers of a Québec schoolboard, about this particular tool. There are many ways to use this website in a teaching context. Here are a few:

  • Teachers can garnish their English books library by printing out copies of stories, either created by the students, or by the teacher himself/herself. If the books are created by the teacher, the teacher can construct his teaching around the books. Let’s say that he/she invents a character, and this character will be the class’ mascot throughout the year. The students will be very eager to read the adventures that happen to him, or even write new ones about him too. Also, the teacher can include whatever vocabulary or grammar forms he wishes his students to encounter and work on. It is a great way to find stories that are just the right level for where the students are at.
  • Writing productions can be hard and sometimes are a source of discouragement for some students. Using Story Jumper can be a great tool to motivate them. If the students know that when they are finished writing their texts, the group will go to the lab and put their stories on the computer, they will see it as a reward. Their goal will be to create a nice story on the internet, so they will be more motivated to write it in the first place.
  • Story Jumper can also be used as an ongoing project that lasts through the whole school year. Students may be allowed to log on their account and continue their story whenever they finish the class activities early. Or, they can be given a few minutes at the end of some classes to work on it. Teachers can also assign a schedule for every student to get one period on the class computer.
  • Story Jumper can be used as a team creative writing tool. For instance, the teacher can start a story and share it with his students. The students could be asked to complete the story, keeping the characters, setting and core idea of the beginning, but adding their own turn of events, as they imagine it.
  • When projects are finished, the teacher can choose to present them to the classroom using a Smart Board. This way is free and every student get to see their peers’ work. Teacher could also decide to print all of the books. Either to keep them in his library, and therefore have the students be proud to leave their mark in the school library. The other alternative, which is a little pricier, is to have the student’s stories printed into a hard cover book that they keep as a memory. Either way, the students get to be published, and that is a really rewarding accomplishment.

My personal opinion

As a future teacher, I was very happy do discover this tool, because I am pretty sure that I will use it with my future students. I think that it is really easy to use for the students, teachers and parents. It can motivate the children for writing tasks, by making them more fun and interactive. The only thing that is disappointing is the level of security measures that avoid children to freely work on their projects outside of school. Apart than that, everything is positive about the tool. I myself had a great time, and got to feel like a kid, when I experimented on the tool, creating my illustrated story on pirates and sea creatures at the conference! I recommend it to everyone!

Trello

Trello is a free internet tool to organize and manage projects of all kinds. It takes the form of a notice-board with various moveable post-its of reminders, lists, pictures, etc.

Features and how it works

Trello is very flexible on how you want to represent your work, in order to suit which kind of projects you are working on, what kind of processes it requires and with whom you want to work. First of all, you can create many different boards. The easiest way would be to create one board for every project you are working on. You can change the visibility of every board to private, available to members of your team, or public. You can create organizations (lists of members) so you do not have to write all of the names you want to add every time you create a new board. For instance, suppose you create a new project intended to be done with the same group of 8 person as the last time, in one click, you can add everyone from one organization and there you go! You just saved 16 clicks and a few minutes. You can also promote other members of your organization to be administrators of the board as well. Like that, they can add cards and lists to the board.

The most used way to organize your board is in 3 columns: “To do” “In progress” “Done”. You are also free to add a penultimate column which would be named “To revise” before switching it to the “Done” column.

You can add as many cards as you want and drag them from column to column, according to what you are working on at the moment, what is done and what still needs to be done. The cards are the moveable “post-its” if you want.

When you click on a card, it opens up and you can add further details to the task at hand. You can describe the task, attach pictures and files (For example the word document that is in progress for the task), hyperlinks, checklists, etc. You can also add a due date and a time, so it shows directly on the card when you have the full view of the board, as a reminder.

It is also possible to tag one or more members of your team onto a card to indicate that they are in charge of that part.

On the cards, there is always an activity log, where team members can add comments. It can be useful for questions regarding the task, or simply to indicate to your team what you have done. In the comments, you can identify a member by using @username. The person who is mentioned in a commentary will receive a notification by e-mail or pop-up on his portable device, depending of his/her settings.

There is a color-coded label system. You can pre-set your labels for the project with your teammates. Every time you add a new card, you assign the associated label. When you take a look at you board, you have an idea of what kind of tasks they are, without having to open every card. The color-coded labels is simply to help organize the labels, and it can be used in so many different ways. For instance, the colors could be associated with names of team members, or with priorities ranks, or types of tasks at hand, etc.

You also have the power-ups in the menu. The power-ups are the Calendar, the Voting and the Card Aging features. When you enable the Calendar feature, Trello reorganizes all of your cards into a calendar, according to the due dates you have. The Voting feature enables members to vote on cards, for example to decide which one should be the priority or else. The Card Aging gives you an idea on the activity done across time. When nobody works on a card for a long time, the card will visibly “age” (become transparent, or become yellow and cracked like old parchment).

What is really interesting with Trello, is that every activity on the board leaves traces so you keep track of who is working on the project, when, and where everything is going. When a team member drags the task he is working on to the “in progress column”, he is certain that the job will not be done twice, because his team members automatically see the notification in real time. The other team members will also notice that someone has been working on something, since every time you change something or drag a card from one place to another, everything appears in the activity log, naming the user and at what time it was done.

When you have questions about Trello, you can visit the Trello Resources page, which helps you with tips, forums and tutorials. Trello is in constant development to improve and add features for the users. You can actually see the web developers’ own public Trello Board to see what they are working on at the moment, and you can vote for different known issues you wish they ameliorate.

trello

Trello is available on the web, or as applications for iOS, Android and windows 8. Essentially, you have access to it from anywhere, anytime.

 

Trello can be very useful in many different ways:

 

Personal task management

Trello is also used worldwide as a personal task management system. Forbes magazine is known for its reliable and solid publications related to the business world. Tim Maurer, a contributor wrote an article about Trello, saying that he personally uses it and believes that it is the best organisation tool.

Aside from business, Trello can be used for personal projects. For example, someone could use is for a house renovation project. Use different colored labels for tasks by the painter, the plumber, or else. Julie Matkin, a blogger on creativity and productivity says:

“I can’t help but think this could be the productivity tool that suits my visual brain best…”

Trello for teachers

Trello can be used for personal planning of course materials, activities to prepare, homework due dates, appointments, course plan, group progress report, etc. But it can also be used to share tasks and lists with colleagues for different events, collective tasks, in the case of substitute teachers, and many more.

 

Beth Holland, in a Teachers’ technology blog, talks about the benefits of Trello for teachers. For her, it is important:

  • to access her to-do list from anywhere at any-time.
  • Some of her items need due dates and some other don’t.
  • She sometimes need to work off internet.
  • She sometimes need to share tasks with other teachers.

All these reasons led her to exclusively use Trello as an agenda.

Teachers can keep track of students’ projects

When a teacher assigns a big team project over a long period of time, Trello is an effective way of keeping track of the students’ work. Students could be required to use Trello for the duration of their project, and be asked to share their board with the teacher. By visiting every team’s board, the teacher can make sure that the students are in the right direction, by looking at which kind of tasks and to do lists they have. The teacher can also keep track of their progress. For instance, if the due date is coming and the teacher notices that nothing is yet in the “done” column, it would be necessary to remind the students to get to work. It can be pertinent also to check the amount of work done by each student. Is the work divided equally? Is each student participating in an adequate fashion?

My personal opinion

I have never used Trello for school projects before. A friend from another BAC told me about how he uses it for team work and how great it is. I was seduced at the first glance. I created an account, and I used the Trello Resources section to understand how it works. It is easy to use, and well organised. You are free to choose how you want to organize your columns and lists, so you can customize everything. I believe it is a great tool, and I will probably use it for the rest of my studies, but I will probably even keep the tool when the time comes for me to manage my English classrooms as a teacher. Teachers need to be well organized and I believe Trello is a great solution.  There is also the fact that English teachers are sometimes in charge of many different groups at many different levels. It must be hard sometimes to keep track of what has been done in the last classes, what is still in progress, and where you are going to do next. By creating a board for each group you have, you drag your tasks progressively and you easily keep track.

Web Search Engines

In this post, I will elaborate on a concept that I believe everyone who has ever touched a computer is familiar with… I am talking about web search engines. These engines are used in order to find information on the World Wide Web on any given subject. The most known are Google (of course!), Bing and Yahoo!.

How they work

How the search engines work is a very complex procedure, but here is a simplified way of understanding how it is done. Most of the search engines are similarly constructed, but I have based my research on Google, since it is the one that is used the most in the entire world. First, a “robot” navigates the web by following links from page to page. The World Wide Web is constantly changing and expanding, so the search (which is called crawling) is infinite. Then, the “robot” gathers information. He analyses the pages and sorts them by subjects, into an enormous database, which is over 100 petabytes (100 million gigabytes)! When a user writes what he wants to search in the search box, the complicated algorithms come into play. Before searching, Google (a.k.a. the different algorithms) verifies if he is on the same page with what you are looking for. For example, he corrects or suggests the right spelling, he autocompletes what you start to write, he looks for synonyms that could be pertinent, etc. Then, Google extracts the most relevant documents from the Database mentioned previously (which is called The Index). The algorithms rank the results according to different factors like the page quality, the popularity of the websites, how recent the pages are, your location, your language, how often the words you typed appear in the article, etc. For example, imagine you wrote part of a sentence in the search box. Google will rank in priority the links in which all of the words appear in the same order and next to each other. The pages that have the words, but only scattered everywhere in the page will also be extracted, but not in the higher ranks. If you only wrote a keyword, the pages in which this keyword is repeated the most often will be ranked first. All of this procedure happens in 1/8th of a second!

 

Assets

Before the internet was so common and advanced, the only way to gather information for projects and assignments was to search in a library. The process was very long and hard. First you had to leave the comfort of your home to go to the library. Then, find the right key words in order to find books or periodicals that were listed relevant to your subject. Then, you had to find these books scattered in the tremendous amount of book aisles. After finding the books, you had to actually read big parts of the books to find out if the sources could be relevant and where in the books could you use a passage that was related to the topic.  Now, thanks to the proximity and accessibility to computers and internet, and thanks to the algorithms used by the engines, researching is much easier and especially faster than traditional library research.

What is very effective, is that search engines have access to the content of the sources. It is not the case for traditional library search, where the books are listed under certain keywords, the content is not necessarily always relevant to the exact subject that you are looking for. The more keywords you put in the search box, the more the engine narrows down the results for you. That way, you do not need to read over a thousand pages before finding something interesting and relevant to your subject.

Pitfalls

  • As much as useful and fast they can be, web search engines have many disadvantages. For one thing, the information found through the engines is not necessarily true. Internet is a vast technology, and anyone from anywhere can write anything they want on sites or blogs. For instance, let’s take Wikipedia. Wikipedia is a nice tool when you want to get some information about a subject you are unfamiliar with. For the most part, useful information can be found on that site, but it is important to remember that it is people like you and me who can modify or add facts. If you believe you know something pertinent on a subject, you just edit the article and bam! It is there for everyone to see. This is just one example of site which could give mistaken information, therefore, you have to be very attentive to the reliability of the sources you use.
  • Another problem with the web search engines is the bias of the titles that come out. A study from Stanford University states that these engines are not neutral. In fact, they manipulate the results that come out by favoring certain kinds of websites. There are also advertising strategies from companies that pay in order to position their sites higher in the lists. Some other big companies are able to modify their pages to fit in the algorithms used by the search engines, so that their site will be a result more often than it really should.

 

My opinion about Search Engines for ESL classroom purposes

I believe that search engines can be very useful for students. It allows them to save time, but it can also trigger their curiosity and expand their knowledge over various new subjects. In fact, English teachers can give projects on either given subjects, or leave the subject to the student’s choice. The students will inevitably have to search info on the net. From browsing from links to links, they are bound to discover facts that they did not know about. If they are curious, they can always look further and further to learn more about subjects that interest them. Because they do not have to search for hours in the library, it can be a source of motivation for lower achievers, who dislike schools in general (Books!!) and are more attracted to technology.

However, I believe that it is very important to teach how to quote appropriately and cite the sources (i.e. where the ideas come from). Plagiarism is a big problem and it is very easy to copy and paste information that says exactly what you want to say. It is very important for the teacher to explain that even if you paraphrase, you have to cite your references. It is very easy to be a victim of plagiarism, even if you did not want to.

Other tools offered by web search engines that comes in handy for ESL classes are the translators. (Google translator and Bing translator). It can be a very fast and useful tool to translate words you do not know in the other language. Still, students need to be careful, because those translators do not replace dictionaries. These tools do not always provide the definitions of words. Sometimes, what you wish to translate does not mean the exact same thing that you want to convey. There are also the speaker pronunciation and the vocal recognition features that are interesting. The voice recognition allows you to record the word you heard. If the translator recognises the word (good pronunciation), it will then be translated. Also, when you ask for a new word in your new language, you can click on the speaker icon so an automated voice pronounces the word aloud. This is a great way to practice and correct your accent, and localize the stress patterns of the language.

The web search engines are great tools for teachers as well. They can quickly access to blogs or websites from other teachers of the same discipline from all around the world. They can discuss in forums or discover new ideas of activities or materials used.