Tell me your story: Andersen students use tech to tell stories of Croixdale residents

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A group of sixth-graders wound their way through piles of snow and dodged patches of ice as they walked from Andersen Elementary to Croixdale senior living in Bayport Feb. 24. They were on a mission.
What was that mission? To uncover and share a fraction of the wealth of stories and knowledge that lives in the minds of residents at Croixdale.

Thanks to a teacher’s initiative and technology grants from the nonprofit Partnership Plan, the students are capturing and recording some of that treasure for the ages. It’s called the “living history project.”
Starting Feb. 24, groups of students began interviewing Croixdale residents about their lives and writing their biographies as electronic books, complete with photos and video. Along the way, the students are gaining a plethora of skills and building relationships with an older generation.

Sixth-grade language arts and social studies teacher Anna Wilcek started the program when she came to the district three years ago.

“I’d heard about a project that was done that was similar to this in my hometown, where my sixth-grade teacher started doing this after I left,” Wilcek said.

When she realized the students from Andersen Elementary could simply walk up the block to access the knowledge of residents at Croixdale, Wilcek knew she wanted to do the project. So she wrote a grant proposal for the Partnership Plan, a community organization that supports innovative learning for students of Stillwater Area Public Schools.

With the grant, Wilcek was able to purchase Flip Video Cameras for her class. Thanks to training from the school district, she also learned to use iBooks Author software so she could help the students make their own e-books that tell residents’ stories.

“I have learned just as much as the students,” she said.

This year her classroom received iPads through another grant from the Partnership Plan, which makes taking notes and sharing video even easier.

Each team of about three to four students gets an iPad and works with a resident volunteer from Croixdale. Each team meets with their volunteer three times to ask questions, take notes, capture pictures, record video and share the finished product.

“It’s been a real positive thing for our residents,” said Mary Jo Ducklow, Croixdale’s recreation and volunteer director. “They enjoy the students.”

Wilcek said the students enjoy the relationships as well.

“They get so fired up,” she said. “I think they know how important these stories are, and so they treat the stories and the information with care. … They learn a lot from the residents. The residents have wonderful messages about life and their experiences that really make a positive impact on the kids. … More than the creation of an iBook, it’s the relationships that are formed through these projects.”

Parent volunteer Carol Baierl, of Bayport, who helped with the project two years ago and is helping again, agreed.
“It’s incredible for (students) to hear their stories of about having no electricity (and the old way of life),” she said. “I mostly like to see the younger generation have an appreciation for the older generation, and it’s clear that it goes both ways.”

Between meetings with residents, students work as a group and share notes, video and writing through accounts in the “cloud,” which means the information is stored off-site by a third party and can be downloaded by any device with access to the account.

Wilcek said students are learning to use technology both to collaborate and to create. Not only are they learning technology skills, but those skills are being integrated into Wilcek’s subject matter as a language arts and social studies teacher.

“It’s learning how to listen carefully, how to take key information and organize it in a way that is going to make a good story, and also learning how to write in such a way that they are honoring the residents and all the wonderful history they share with the kids,” she said.

The final products are shared on Wilcek’s website. Students will also show residents the final e-books on the iPads, as well as give them a printed copy.

“(Residents are) really interested in seeing how these stories come to life in that iBook format,” Wilcek said. “ I think they enjoy just getting to use the iPad and to see how the pages of the e-book move, and for them to see how the kids have taken the video and clipped it to match up stories.”

Contact Jonathan Young at [email protected]