Above: Ben Widdowson teaches Nursery (2, 3 and 4 year olds) at Dulwich College Suzhou in China and he is excited about building digital literacy skills in his young learners.
When Dulwich College Suzhou (DCSZ) nursery teacher Ben Widdowson learned about a fun digital storytelling tool called Chatterpix, he knew it was something he wanted to use with his young learners.
Ben teaches 2, 3 and 4-year-old children and the students all have iPads and use some devices at home.
“They know how to swipe and do basic things,” says Ben. “I want them to see that we can use technology in active ways, not just for playing passive games, and that they can produce something meaningful. I want them to use the iPads for purposeful learning.”
This is where Chatterpix became a valuable tool for Ben and his students in a recent unit about food. Students learned about fruits and vegetables and the types of foods they eat on a regular basis; as part of the unit, the class went on a field trip to the grocery store. Ben had students take photos of specific fruits and vegetables and, back in the classroom, use Chatterpix to record what they had learned about each one.
Chatterpix is a fun and easy app for iPads and iPhones that allows users to animate photographs. You can take a photo of any item and layer in an audio recording that animates the photo. The user gets to choose where to place a “mouth” so the object can talk, and it’s also possible to add text and other graphic elements.
“Students learned the app quite quickly,” says Ben. “One student mastered the whole app, start to finish, in a really short time and it was great to see him playing with it and discovering all he could do. I’m a big believer that we do something once and then come back to it again and again to learn the skills well and ensure mastery. I had a 2-year-old mastering an app after 20 minutes of playing with it and I wonder what he will be able to do next time.”
Ben had his students practice what they wanted to say about specific fruits and vegetables and then record their stories. Students shared these and listened to them in class, and Ben recounts that everyone had fun and laughed as they learned and shared.
“The parents really enjoyed seeing the videos and were excited that the students were speaking some English,” says Ben. “Most of my students are early language learners and this was the first time some of them said English words out loud for me, which was a big deal.”
Above: screen shots from Chatterpix videos the students made about food. See video links below to watch the students' animations.
The tangible and immediate nature of Chatterpix as a digital storytelling tool also resonated with the young learners, allowing them to understand its purpose and receive feedback right away.
“Seeing the animation really helped them see why they were recording their messages. It was effective; at this age, you need instant feedback and gratification,” reflects Ben.
Ben used Chatterpix in his next unit focused on the story of We’re Going on a Bear Hunt. He read the story to his students and then tasked them with summarizing the story in parts. Students created story maps as a visual aid for recording their summaries, and used Chatterpix to layer those recordings onto illustrations of parts of the story.
“I love teaching nursery students because they come up with these amazing ideas,” smiles Ben. “They have incredible imaginations and when they learn something new, it can become an obsession to keep learning. They’re so passionate!”
Ben came to DCSZ after teaching in the UK for six years. He loves living in Suzhou and participated in the 4-week “Becoming a Digital Storyteller” course with EIM colleagues in February, 2023.
“The best part of the course for me was the core module video each week,” says Ben. “Hearing and seeing examples of digital stories was helpful and that’s what led me to Chatterpix and trying it out.”
You can use Chatterpix for many different synthesis activities in everyday teaching and learning with learners of any age. An elementary art teacher at the International School of Kenya had students animate one of their own pieces of art and was also planning to have students animate portraits of artists to share biographical information based on research.
Marta Lobo Perez, a Spanish teacher at Dulwich College Singapore (DCSG) has used Chatterpix with her middle school Spanish students to animate various photographs with spoken Spanish, as well.
There are so many ways to use this simple app, and the fact that Ben has used it with the youngest EIM learners is exciting and purposeful. Building digital storytelling skills from PreK onwards is an excellent way to develop digital literacy as well as global and digital competencies, and Ben’s story is an excellent example of what is possible at the start of that continuum.
Below: Ben's videos of Nursery students recording their voices using Chatterpix to show the foods they learned about in their food unit, and to re-tell We're Going on a Bear Hunt.
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