Review by Mary Beth Hertz, Common Sense Education | Updated May 2014

Meridian Stories

Unique challenges for great learning; site could offer more support

Subjects & skills
Skills
  • Communication & Collaboration
  • Creativity

Subjects
  • English Language Arts
Grades This grade range is a recommendation by Common Sense Education and not the developer/publisher.
7-12
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Pros: Students can flex their digital-creation muscles as they explore core subject-area content.

Cons: Given the cost, a clearer picture of the program could help engage more participants.

Bottom Line: As a fun opportunity for students to showcase their learning in creative ways, the site could offer more direction and incentives to participate.

The process of registering and competing in the greater Meridian Stories challenges isn't completely intuitive on the site. However, the challenges themselves are fairly straightforward; teachers and students could certainly conduct them on their own. Teachers in the challenge subject areas (Math, Science, History, and Language Arts) could readily incorporate the ideas here into their existing units, or create new units based around the ideas and materials here. Completing a Challenge could be a culminating project for a unit; students could present their work within their local school community

As registration operates on a per-school structure, multiple teachers within a building can participate. This is an opportunity for collaboration and competition across grade levels as well. Teachers could share ideas and tips for incorporating the challenges into their classes. Teachers may also want to collaborate on solving any device-access issues, as the challenges often require audiovisual equipment (and computer editing software) that not all schools have access to.

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Meridian Stories is geared toward engaging kids in 21st-century-skills-based challenges that enrich academic learning. These challenges each relate to a core academic skill -- teams of students use their digital storytelling skills to respond. For each challenge, the site offers specific learning outcomes and detailed information relating to curricular connections. Teachers can use the provided scoring rubrics to help guide students through their projects. Each challenge also comes with resources for creating media projects in both text and video form, with experts offering tips. 

Upon visiting the site, users can see current challenges and their due dates, register their class or school, or view tips on creating a variety of multimedia projects. The website also features winning videos from past years. The process for participating in the challenges is somewhat unclear, aside from registering and completing them independently. Registration fees are $250 per school (with 300-450 students), though it isn't clear where these fees go -- the prizes for winning teams are digital badges, not a cash prize.

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Meridian Stories' aim in developing kids' 21st-century skills is laudable -- the program has a lot of potential to engage students in meaningful lifelong learning. However, the site itself leaves some questions unanswered, and could offer better organization in its platform for students, teachers, and schools. What's missing here is a way for classrooms to connect and share ideas through the site. One might expect a more active online community of teachers and students, connecting and sharing ideas, but it isn't here. On top of this, a clearer, more concise description about the program's aims might help more people get involved. At present, it's hard to tell how many schools are participating.

Nevertheless, the challenges here could make for some solid project-based learning. As each one is tied to subject-specific themes and national standards, they provide a solid framework for learning; teachers get curricular ideas and rubrics for assessment. In going with this, it would be nice to see the example videos on the site do a better job of showing that deep learning actually occurred. Teacher or student testimonials could help give a clearer picture of this. Also, the digital badging here is intriguing, as it's tied to Mozilla's Open Badge system, though it isn't clear if this badging system is up and running yet.

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Overall Rating

Engagement Is the product stimulating, entertaining, and engrossing? Will kids want to return?

The challenges are sure to engage students as they develop skills in 21st-century learning and digital literacy. The site itself could offer a clearer picture of what the program and competition can offer to students and teachers.

Pedagogy Is learning content seamlessly baked-in, and do kids build conceptual understanding? Is the product adaptable and empowering? Will skills transfer?

The intersection of both academic and experiential learning offers great potential for students to learn in a deep way. At present, the site could offer more evidence to support the degree to which students are learning.

Support Does the product take into account learners of varying abilities, skill levels, and learning styles? Does it address both struggling and advanced students?

There are a lot of text- and video-based tips for digital and multimedia creation, but there isn't an obvious way to contact the organizers for help, nor is there an active online community for support.


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Mary Beth Hertz Classroom teacher

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