Little Bird Tales
Finding digital tools for social studies in the elementary classroom, especially in the early grades, can be a bit difficult. Little Bird Tales is a helpful tool in making social studies come alive for young students through its simplicity and marriage of visuals and sounds—and for teachers . . . it's free!
Registering with Little Bird Tales (LBT) is quick and easy; the focus on small learners means that privacy concerns are respected: the site contains no ads, merchandising, or external links, and only requires a valid email to sign-up. LBT also offers a teacher account, which is accessible via an email request (teachers should provide the same email used to sign-up). Before working with students, teachers should be aware of the technical specifications, such as supporting browsers, image file size, and storage capacity—the FAQ page addresses these points fairly well.
Once an account is activated, creating a digital tale is fairly simple. Click on "create a new tale" to construct the tale cover. Users can either draw an image—using the built-in art pad—or upload a saved image (note: minimum image size is 600x420 px). Add a title, submit author information, and a record an audio introduction to finalize the tale cover. Users should also test microphone quality for volume and clarity before proceeding with new pages.
Each subsequent page follows the same procedure, and the size of the final project is only limited by the tale box capacity in your account. The main difference from the cover page is that students can enter text for their product—an ideal feature that reinforces reading and writing, while providing students a "script" for their sound recording. Page order can be easily rearranged at any time by dragging each page into the desired order in the sidebar found on the right.
Users can resume editing their tales by logging back in, selecting "My Tales," and clicking on the notepad icon. Other icons on the "My Tales" screen include a play option (to see the video in progress), an email icon to share the video, and a trash icon to delete the tale project.
Once the video tale is completed, users proceed to step three in order to share the tale via email—regardless of whether users choose to keep the video private or make it public. Users who choose to make the video public can do so by clicking on the account homepage (house icon) and selecting "public" under the cover page image (note: Little Bird Tales moderates all videos before they become public).
It is highly recommended that teachers create a "test-run" project ahead of time before working with students. In addition, it might serve well to have students prepare all images and script beforehand. Users can create their own artwork using the built-in drawing pad, but teachers may need access to a scanner to create image files of original student artwork on paper (note: images and scans should be saved in .jpg, .png or .gif).
The strength of Little Bird Tales is the ability for children to tell stories that can be autobiographical (my life, my community, my school, my family), biographical (U.S. presidents, world history figures), or related to other aspects of the early grades social studies curriculum such as the environment, economics, civic ideals, or global communities. Little Bird Tales works well because it captures the imagination, creativity, and voice of the child in a free and easy to use platform.
Public Tales on the LBT site include a civics project on American symbols, a story on "daddies", a tale on regional history, a silent tale on global cultures and clothing using beautiful imagery, and an inspirational video by a young runner.
Middle school and high school students can also benefit from LBT, as evidenced on a video dealing with homelessness in America.
In our experience in working with a 1st-grader, the initial day of trying out LBT was a learning curve for her but she caught on quickly. With simple guidance, she was able to do all the work (although uploading images needed more hands-on assistance.) By the half-way point, she was typing, recording her voice, saving her work, and moving on to the next slide. Fatigue did settle in after a while, so preparing all materials and images beforehand helped her. She also discovered LBT's ability to rearrange pictures in any order—a useful benefit whenever she changed her mind after previewing the video. The student found the playback of the recording useful and empowering; immediately recording a passage again helped her get the video "just right." It took her about 2-3 hours in total to finish the project.
Keeping this one experience in mind, it might be best for teachers to first try LBT by having each student create one or two slides for a class video. For example, in a 50-states project, each student could easily adopt one or two states and create a few slides which would allow the entire U.S. to be included in a video project. This model could likewise work for U.S. presidents, famous American citizens, local communities, or other topics with a large number of elements. Such an introductory approach serves teachers and students alike. Children can become familiar with technology in a limited way by creating only a few slides. For their part, educators can invest limited curriculum time for a collective project, before expanding a video project to a more extensive one for individual students.