This February, Interactive Story Adventures took first graders from three diverse Pittsburgh schools on a three-week journey to build understanding and connections. In the Shared Story Adventures program, first graders from Pittsburgh’s Miller African-Centered Academy, Hillel Academy of Pittsburgh, and the Environmental Charter School (ECS) were brought together to share stories about their favorite places.

According to Dr. Lippman, the founder of Interactive Story Adventures, the Shared Story Adventures program was designed to provide children with formative experiences interacting with individuals they would not have met otherwise. “The community event was included in the program to create a bridge between school and community life. Research suggests this is one way to create robust learning.”

Student interacting with the Isa puppetStudent interacting with the Isa puppet

 The adventure began in classrooms where students at each school met their first puppet friend, Isa. Interactive Story Adventure’s educators introduced the program and asked students to locate their favorite spots in their classroom.

ISA’s puppet modeling story creationISA’s puppet modeling story creation

 The students also got to see their classrooms in a whole new way thanks to the GigaPan. What’s a GigaPan? Well, I found out it’s much more than a funny name. The GigaPan robot took hundreds of pictures of each room. The GigaPan software automatically combined the pictures into a 360-degree panoramic photo. Students in each participating classroom were presented with a printed GigaPan image of their classroom and they used sticky notes to mark their favorite spots on the photo. This provided a great visual map of their daily world.

Student marking his favorite spot on the GigaPan imageStudent marking his favorite spot on the GigaPan image

With their favorite classroom spot in mind, students got an introduction to writing story introductions. Students were then introduced to Dr. Senso, a puppet character in ISA’s adventure world. Dr. Senso has trouble writing the beginning of her story, so the students helped her by learning writing techniques that they could share with her. Through using hooks, they learned how to grab the reader’s attention.

The middle of one student’s storyThe middle of one student’s story

Throughout the rest of the first week, students continued their adventure by learning how to write the middle and end to their stories. Isa’s puppet friends, Sir Klomp the eccentric frog and Mr. Maxilla the gorilla also needed guidance writing their stories. Sir Klomp wasn’t quite sure how to write the middle of his story and Mr. Maxilla needed help completing his story. Helping the puppets and giving them suggestions taught the students how they could keep their own stories moving.

Student writing his storyStudent writing his story

Once they completed their stories, students practiced telling their story with their peers so they could video record them for their new friends from other schools. Students also practiced active listening by coming up with one thing they wondered and one thing they liked about the videotaped stories of their new friends.

making a video storymaking a video of a story

At the next stage of the program, students and their new friends from other schools met face-to-face via video conference. Students shared their thoughts about each other’s stories.   They asked each other questions ranging from “Where is your school?” to “What does ECS stand for?” It was exciting to hear their conversations about their teachers and favorite things.

Videoconference between studentsVideoconference between students

After spending over a week writing and learning about each other’s favorite spots in the classroom, the students were ready to write another story—this time about their favorite spot in the community. When they met in Google Hangouts for the second time, some of their initial shyness had faded, and they were excited to learn that some of their favorite places were the same!

Families from different schools at the community eventFamilies from different schools at the community event

At the end of the program, the Shared Story Adventures culminated in a community event generously hosted by the Kingsley Association. Students and families from all three schools met in person and engaged in improv activities and collaborative story creation. These activities allowed the families and students to engage with each other and promoted parent-child interaction. Connected by the Shared Story Adventures, people who had begun the night as virtual strangers had now made connections. One parent from ECS commented that the event had a “terrific feeling – [it was] great to be out with others sharing laughs and stories.”

Improv comedy at the community eventImprov comedy at the community event

The Shared Story Adventures program was paid for by generous donations from The Lippman Group at Merrill Lynch and The Kingsley Association. Carnegie Mellon University’s CREATE Lab provided a GigaPan for use in this project.