Review by Andrea Meyers, Common Sense Education | Updated October 2018

StoryMapJS

Pro-oriented storytelling and mapping tool has classroom potential

Subjects & skills
Subjects
  • Social Studies

Skills
  • Communication & Collaboration
  • Creativity
Grades This grade range is based on learning appropriateness and doesn't take into account privacy. It's determined by Common Sense Education, not the product's publisher.
7–12
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Pros: Web-based, easy-to-use, and works with Google logins.

Cons: It'll take time to learn since there aren't enough tutorials to help.

Bottom Line: Getting comfortable with StoryMapJS will require some focus, but students who take the time will gain a new perspective on digital storytelling.

A great StoryMapJS project will begin first with a solid story that needs reimagining -- whether its fiction or nonfiction. Teachers can have students reinterpret existing stories they've written, or write something original with StoryMapJS. Either way, it'll be helpful to have students work first with pen and paper, or something like Google Slides, to sketch out how the story will be told over a series of slides. Having a fully fleshed out plan with all the elements they'll need will make it much easier for students to build their StoryMap. Once students have the basic sketch, have them continue to or start working in a slideshow program or word processor to start creating their script for each slide with headlines, story text, locations, online images or videos, captions, and credits. Once their draft is done, it'll be time to transition to StoryMapJS and focus on the technical aspects of putting it all together. Since there's not much help or tutorialization, teachers will want to offer some guidance beforehand. 

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StoryMapJS is a web-based digital tool for designing stories that make significant use of maps. It was designed for journalists but can be adapted for classroom use. In terms of project possibilities, students could create journeys, travel guides, historical fiction, nonfiction, news stories -- pretty much anything that relies on or benefits from maps. Creating a story is kind of like a hybrid of a slideshow and an interactive map. Students string together a series of slides where they can add text and then link map locations, images, and video to support the story. 

The StoryMapJS basic web interface can be used to create professional-looking products. Users with JSON coding skills and access to a web server can go beyond the basics and completely customize StoryMaps, or can even create visual tours of very large pixel-dense images known as "gigapixels." This could make a great challenge project for highly motivated students.

StoryMapJS requires a Google account for each user to work with the online editor. You'll probably need to get parental permission and may need to get permission from your school, depending on their rules about educational technology privacy and students publishing online.

StoryMapJS offers a free option for tackling some of the digital publishing standards in Common Core ELA or other state standards. The ability to embed and link other information and display it in a unique way will magnify students' writing, offering them a platform to showcase their thoughts and present them in ways that challenge themselves and others. StoryMapJS projects also require students to stretch their writing and organization skills through effective use of descriptions, precise language and vocabulary, appropriate style and tone, and strong character development. The focus on geography, location, and place also allows for myriad opportunities to get students thinking locally, regionally, and globally, telling stories, doing research, and presenting information that has cultural and social relevance. With that said, some of the more interesting applications of StoryMapJS require coding skills students and teachers are unlikely to have and technical requirements that are probably out of reach. There's also not much onboarding for new users, so teachers will need to make up for that and help students realize their visions.

Overall Rating

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

Though there's a bit of a learning curve, students and teachers will enjoy creating digital stories with strong geographical connections.

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

It's a novel tool for journalists and storytellers to use maps to tell digital stories. It'll help students show the connections between locations and events in both fiction and nonfiction writing.

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

Support is somewhat basic. There are no tutorials available, but there's a list of FAQs and tips for new users. If you have a problem, you can try the support forum or submit a tech support request.


Common Sense Reviewer
Andrea Meyers Instructional Facilitator of Technology

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