Monday, January 21, 2013

Using Toontastic to Build Social Emotional Skills

In spring of 2012, I was contacted by developmental and cognitive psychologist Alicia Chang from Toontastic to ask if my class would participate in a Toontastic research study. I had filled out a contact request on Toontastic's blog, wanting for my students to meet innovators and talk about their experience using the wonderful storytelling comic app Toontastic. Little did I know that my students would be part of an important study in creativity.  I asked my administration for permission and felt a bit torn by other responsibilities that kept me busy. How would I even find the time to do this?

It was quite a busy time of year, wrapping up tests and squeezing in those last bits of curriculum, but I knew that I should still carve out some time to participate. I had only wanted a one-time hour visit, but here was Toontastic's request:
  1. Students would need to use Toontastic on three separate occasions: 30-40 minute periods working with the same partners. During the third session, Andy Russell and Alicia Chang would come and observe their use as well as give a talk on innovation.
  2. Students could use any prompt that I gave them
  3. Parents would of course need to sign a consent. The consent part turned out to be easy, as all of my students' parents were in favor of their students getting excited about connecting with successful innovators building quality apps! 
  4. Students would upload their completed cartoons with numbers associated to their team and session numbers so that researchers would know during which session a cartoon was created. They were going to study how students' use of the app changed with more exposure and experience. 
I decided that my story prompt would relate to social and emotional learning, since I was always trying to squeeze in more opportunities for students to learn and practice better communication skills, build empathy and perspective taking, and resolve conflicts effectively. 

The task: Students were directed to compose Toontastic cartoons/stories about conflicts that happened on the playground or anywhere at school. They needed to follow the story arc provided in the app, (pictured below) using the stages and music to enhance their narration of the story.

They worked in pairs and trios (chosen by me) to devise their stories: choosing the scene, main characters, setup, conflict, challenge, resolution and more. Collaborating on these stories was indeed a practice of utilizing effective communication skills and taking turns being the leader and director!

The result: Students reported that they really enjoyed working together to develop these stories. They devised conflicts about excluding and including peers, arguing about fairness on the playing field, and resolving everyday issues on the playground. Of course there is no scientific way to measure how this impacted their "real" conflicts, but I can say that it gave them practice in analyzing precursors to conflict and how they build into bigger events before they resolve them.  As you can see from Toontastic's charts below, students definitely showed a higher level of engagement, a deeper exploration of complex emotion, and an increase in descriptive language over the course of the sessions.

You can read the detailed results of the study here.

Charts property of Toontastic

Here is a video of my students in action from this article:
Andy and Alicia finally came to my class to observe session 3. Andy even taught my students to prototype on paper! You can read about this fabulous experience here.

You can also view my students'  "toons' on our Toontastic channel.

Toontastic, as you can see, is an engaging tool where students can develop stories, explore interpersonal conflicts and solutions, and work with peers to collaborate creatively! 


Tracy Watanabe said...

Hi Joan,

What an innovative and fabulous way to learn and grow with Toontastic.

I am preparing to train teachers the basics of the iPad and integrating them. Toontastic seems like a great app to be introduced to them. I typically like to try the apps with students before suggesting to others, and haven't had a chance to with Toontastic... Do you have any tips to pass along to my teachers? How did you introduce it to your class? How did you allow them to reflect on what they created?

Kind regards,

Joan Young said...

Hi Tracy,

Thanks so much for commenting and asking these questions.

Toontastic is one of those apps that really doesn't require much training as it lays out the steps for the student ( and the teacher!)
I would recommend that your teachers play with the app and create a few samples of their own so they can reinforce the importance of each stage of the story arc.
My students had not really been exposed to the app except maybe in the library where they had played on rainy day recess, etc. Toontastic wanted them to be "new" users to really see how their use increased over time.
I am sad to say ( and a bit embarrassed) that we didn't really formally reflect on the process as we would normally do. We watched the videos together but it was the very end of the school year and time was very limited. Looking back, it would be nice to have them give each other more formal feedback, maybe through a wallwisher or some other way of collecting comments. I might even have them blog about their creation or do screencast about the process.
Hope this helps!
Thanks again,

Tracy Watanabe said...

Hi Joan,

Thank you for the tips! I've linked to this post from my post. Once again, I appreciate your time and your sharing!

Kind regards,