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Powerful digital storytelling with StoryMap JS

We know that we need to incorporate more literacy into our instruction. And embedding geography is a no brainer. And we’re told that our kids need to be using a variety of media tools. But we often struggle to find ways to integrate all of this stuff into lessons and units.

I ran across a new tool this morning that I think might be able to help. Called StoryMap JS, the tool provides a quick and easy way for you and students to develop visually appealing geo-based narratives. StoryMap JS was developed by the Knight Lab at Northwestern University. And while I haven’t had a ton of time to play it, it looks like a powerful addition to your teaching tool kit.

To start, head over to the StoryMap JS site. Feel free to browse through the examples, especially the Manifest Destiny storymap on the front page. You’ll get the chance to see all of the different types of media that you and your students are able to embed into your maps.

The concept is pretty basic. You create a cover slide and then as many additional slides as you want. For each slide, you have the option of embedding a wide variety of web-based media types from YouTube videos to SoundCloud audio clips to photos, Tweets, Vines, Wikipedia articles, and websites.  If it has a link, chances are you’ll be able to embed it on your StoryMap. Perfect for sharing primary sources. You also have the option of uploading your own images.

To start, click the Create button in the top left hand corner. You’ll be asked to log in with your Google account. Not quite sure why but yes, this does seem like the only way to create an account. So if you and your kids don’t have Google accounts, mmm . . . you’ll need to go and sign up for the Google.

Once you’re in, you’ll get the option to create a New storymap. Start by editing the story options by clicking the button in the top left. I especially like the ability to change the look of the map. My favorite? Watercolor.

storymap options

Once you’ve set up your overall map options, you are asked to edit your cover slide. Give your storymap a title and edit the different options. Each slide can be titled, captioned, credited, and annotated.

storymap editing

Continue adding and editing slides until your story is finished. Save and publish changes along the way. You then have the option of sharing a direct link or embedding the finished map on any compatible website.

Easy peasy. There’s also a handy YouTube video to walk you through the process if you get stuck.

I created a quick four slide storymap that you can view here. It’s not rocket surgery – I went back and forth editing the slides as I played with the tool but it wasn’t more than 20-30 minutes to throw that together. It would have gone even faster if I had done some prep work ahead of time.

I do have one bone to pick with the KnightLab folks (besides the single Google login option). It seems impossible to go back to the front page of the StoryMap site from the editing screen. The only options is to go back to My Maps. So getting to the Help screen or other examples is impossible unless you open another tab. But otherwise a very cool tool.

My suggestions?

  • Have kids storyboard their narrative before they get on the site. How many slides? What will be on the slides?
  • They need to curate their resources. What photos, videos, multi-media will they use? Where will they find those sources? Make sure to require proper documentation of sources.
  • They need to write the specific text that belongs to each slide.
  • Create their StoryMap.
  • Share it with you or post to a class wiki or website.

Let us know how it goes and what suggestions you have.


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