How this teacher uses story coding to spark creativity and collaboration

Combining coding with literacy offers a wide range of benefits for students across all subject areas

When coding merges with storytelling, you have story coding, in which students use computational skills and design thinking as they demonstrate creativity across core curricular areas.

During an ISTELive 22 virtual session, computer science, robotics, and design thinking educator Paige Besthoff demonstrated how story coding–combining storytelling and coding–helps students develop critical skills.

Story coding involves using computer programming to retell stories–students might summarize a story, write original stories, or use programming to create alternative endings to well-known stories. Teachers can use story coding to bring history, science, world languages, ELA, and even math into their lessons.

Teachers can incorporate story coding into almost any subject area, and computer science concepts help students develop important lifelong skills–such as collaboration, communication, and perseverance–even if they don’t pursue computer science or STEM subjects in college or as a career path.

In fact, using computer science concepts in story coding encourages students to build computational thinking skills through the use of sequences, logic, variables, events, and more. Students also use real-time and creative collaboration as they generate their stories and tackle challenges during that process.

“My students are able to learn about computer science, but in a fun way. Doing it in a cross-curricular manner [means] teachers who aren’t computer science teachers can incorporate it without having to add an additional subject into what they teach,” Besthoff said.

Among the biggest benefits to story coding? In Besthoff’s opinion, it’s how creative students have become.

“One of the main reasons I like story coding so much is that it lets my students become really creative–especially my female students,” Besthoff said. “They don’t always see themselves as programmers, computer scientists, or coders, as much as I stress people in history like Ada Lovelace, the first female programmer. Many of us, when we think about programmers, we think about men, so I want to make sure all my students know it’s available to all of them.”

Combining literacy with coding also helps student populations that may struggle with language, such as ELLs.

How does digital storytelling fit into computer science?

  • Encourages creativity
  • Gives all students a new way to communicate
  • Gives students who have a hard time writing a way to express themselves
  • Turns tech-savvy students into co-teachers
  • Boosts learning confidence
  • Creates a peer-centered learning environments
  • Helps ALL students advance
  • Creates a powerful exchange of information

Besthoff recommends story coding applications such as Scratch, Google’s CS First, Code.org’s Sprite Lab, Tynker, and Elementari.

Using Code.org’s Sprite Lab, an elementary school student created a digital story about battles in the American Revolution, in which users clicked specific buttons to see and learn more about soldiers. Through Scratch, a student shared a story about their summer vacation and prompted viewers to click through in an illustrated tour of a visit to a family farm.

Besthoff recommends assigning roles to students when they create a digital story in a group:

  1. Illustrator: Responsible for layout, design, and drawing the storyboard; chooses which sprites, backgrounds, sounds to use
  2. Writer: Writes the text that will be incorporated in the program, what the sprites will say, print blocks, and sprite behaviors
  3. Programmer: Responsible for entering the code in the program–this student will use the created storyboard to input the blocks in the code
  4. Debugger: Responsible for checking all spelling, making sure the code works, and ensuring the event timing makes sense
  5. Sound designer: Coordinates the voiceovers–this role can be combined with another role, or can be separate if groups are large enough
Laura Ascione
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