Writer, actor, director: Kids play all parts in riveting storytelling tool
What's It Like?
Toontastic is a digital storytelling tool that teaches kids how to organize and present story ideas through cartoons. It employs a "Story Arc" that contains five sequential scenes to guide story structure (Setup, Conflict, Challenge, Climax, and Resolution). Each scene in the arc drives the story forward, and kids can even change the order of the arc elements. Kids create original cartoon shorts scene by scene in the app's Story Arc. First they choose a setting, characters, and props from templates or their camera roll, or create them with the in-app drawing tool. They animate these items by moving them around the screen while speaking a narrative that's recorded by the iPad's built-in microphone. Last, they add a musical score based on emotions (friendly, happy, surprised, frustrated, sad, or nervous). Each emotion can be scaled up and down for intensity (happy, for instance, can be amped up to joyous and ecstatic).
The animation feature is especially impressive –- it's where kids add motion and narrative to propel their stories forward. Tap the Start Animation button to move characters or props on-screen and to speak a narrative (limit of seven animated characters/props and one recorded narrative per scene). Characters can be scaled and rotated using single and multi-touch gestures. Kids can share their videos online and watch other creations through Toontastic's global online community.
Is It Good for Learning?
You'll find a very engaging tool that teaches skills that can be applied to other story arts like writing, moviemaking, songwriting, storyboarding, and more. Students will be able to use their imagination while learning the essential elements of story structure. The interface is visually and aurally based –- kids use their voices, in-app images, and music to tell stories scene by scene along the arc. There's no text tool for scenes, though; in fact, kids can only add text at the very end when titling their creation.
There's a wide range of things students can do in Toontastic. They create original cartoon shorts, scene by scene, using images for settings, characters, and props (the app refers to the latter two as "Toys"). Kids can also import images from a camera roll, create their own images with the in-app drawing tool, or use the drawing tool to modify images. The app's animation feature empowers kids to set their ideas into motion and give action to their story. Kids can record a spoken narrative or dialogue during the animation process -- just note that only the last "take" of a narrative will be heard in the final version.
How Can Teachers Use It?
The Parent & Teacher Guide outlines the Story Arc. Connect the app with things you're already doing in class to teach about effective storytelling. Ask students to tell simple versions of stories they know well. Encourage young kids to work out real conflicts they're having in class. In the app's online community, ToonTube, you can share students' Toontastic videos and watch other kids' creations.