My grade 6 technology class just recently completed a very ambitious project in which they used Audacity and our class set of 7 eeepcs to record, edit and add effects to stories written in English class. In my opinion their final stories are fantastic and they all worked incredibly hard to not only complete all the tasks assigned, but to problem solve and trouble shoot all of the unexpected challenges that arose due to the complex nature of this project. I have a long list of “things I would do differently next time”, but in general I found the following framework gave them enough structure and training while also allowing them lots of creative freedom.
I decided that before starting my students needed to know the difference between a Radio Story and a Written Story. As a class we listened to a great Twilight Zone Story and discussed how it was different than a written story. We agreed that dialogue, sound effects and music were all important.
They then needed to know how to:
- Record each part of their story as different tracks in Audacity. In particular I needed them to understand that they didn’t need to record their story in a linear fashion and that each section should be a seperate track.
- Find and download royalty free music and sound effects from the internet and import these effects into Audacity.
- Use the editing tools in Audacity to tidy up audio and insert effects.
To practice these skills we recorded a version of the Lion and Mouse story as a class. I then took the raw recording and mixed up the tracks before saving it to our shared server along with some pre-selected music and sound effects. The student’s investigation task was to re-order the tracks,take out all pauses, level the audio, and import the music and sound effects. Those that finished early used some of my favourite free sound sites to find extra music and sound effects. Finally they all had to export their story as a .wav file.
All my students had written English Stories so their first task was to look at all the stories their group members had written and decide on which story would make the best radio play. A big factor here was which story had the most dialogue. We learned last year that a story that is mostly a descriptive narrative makes for a fairly unimaginative radio story.
To plan the recordings I assigned the following tasks:
- Open a copy of the story you want to record in Word. Double space and change the margins so there is lots of room for notes. Print a copy for each member of your group.
- As a group decide on which parts of the story you will record in one sitting and indicate this on your scripts. Next year I am going to have them break the story up into the same number of sections as they have group members and assign each group member to be the Project Manager for their section. As Project Manager they will have the resposibility for organising roles and responsibilities, making sure files are named and organised properly and backed up on our server.
- Brainstorm sound effects that would be good as either background to each scene or to emphasize a particular event. Make notes in your scripts.
- Split up the work of finding music and sound effects and start searching for all the audio files you will need.
During this stage each group was given an eeepc with Audacity on it and a set of our Logitech recording headphones and they all went off to find a quiet place to record their stories. This was the stage at which difficulties started to arise. Instead of being able to circulate and check in that each group was on track and offering suggestions I was constantly helping the students troubleshoot technical issues. I think the way around this next time would be to have each group do a training recording with me before sending them off on their own. The bonus of these difficulties is that my students learned a lot about troubleshooting technical and file management issues.
Once the raw recordings were finished each group member was responsible for editing and adding effects to a different part of the Audacity project (this was their individual mark). These different parts were then all imported into one Audacity project and exported as a .wav file for me to assess.
This was a really challenging project and there were times that I told myself `never again`, but after listening to the great work my students produced and reflecting on all the unexpected learning outcomes that came out of this experience I am committed to doing it again next year. The lesson learned for me is that when embarking on ambitious technology projects with youger students it is VITALLY IMPORTANT to have thought through all the possible technical hurdles so that they can focus on the creativity and not get sidetracked by the technology.