Friday, July 24, 2015

Start with a balloon

I have been looking forward to finally picking an assignment from the Web Assignments Bank at ds106. There are a lot of cool digital tools/programs listed - it's worth taking a look at all of them! This week I decided to take a look at Grant Potter's assignment, which was to use Twine to create an interactive story.

Twine allows you to build a story whose pages are programmed so that the story is not linear. The interactions can be as simple as links which will take you somewhere else in the story. They can be as complicated as JavaScript programming that, based on your decisions, carries out various actions in the context of a game. You can use Twine online, or you can download Twine into your machine and work locally (which is my preference).

Each page of your story is called a passage, and passages become connected through links. Twine creates a storyboard as you go which looks like this:

Passages can contain text, images, and audio and video files. Passages use a special script to create links and other programming. Here is what one of my passages looks like:

Twine can handle different scripting languages, including HTML and JavaScript. You can build a simple story just using links, or you can jump into the programming, as I did, which has a bit of a learning curve. When you are done building your story, you can export it as an HTML file which can be viewed by any browser. I hosted my HTML file in Google Drive, and then embedded it into my blog in the window below. You can access and download the file itself here, or you can play with it in the window below.

A consistent theme for me throughout this course has been the teaching of physics as a story. Twine seemed like a perfect tool for doing this, and worth the climb up that learning curve. It helped that I have experience with scripting languages like JavaScript. For this assignment, I kept it short and simple, just to test out some of the functionality. Since rockets and space have figured in many of my assignments, I created an introduction to rockets using the simplest rocket; a balloon. The most difficult part was trying to understand how to have interactions that weren't simple yes/no or right/wrong interactions. It's so easy with science to fall into right/wrong thinking. Incorrect answers by students need to be taken seriously - sometimes there's a germ of truth in the incorrectness that needs to be brought out. An incorrect answer may have correct thinking underlying it, and that needs to be acknowledged. Incorrect answers are always opportunities to explore further.

I decided to think of three students, or kinds of students: the "spacey" one who is a dreamer and a bit inattentive; the "fast" student who is impatient and tries to anticipate what's coming next without fully digesting what has come before; and the "straight" student who follows the directions and usually has correct answers but is afraid to take leaps. My storyboard had decision points that corresponded to each of these student types. No one of the decisions was "wrong," and following any of the three threads brought different rewards. Overall I kept the tone and voice as "story," rather than just explanation.

This sample above is just an introduction. I could easily see adding design elements like fonts and colors, diagrams and images, animated GIF's and sound. I could also continue the story from air-filled balloons to air-launched rockets. I left a hint in the story - see if you can find it.


  1. I am learning physics with you!
    Also, I was asking others only yesterday about Twine! I knew I had used it in the past but cold not remember the name.
    It was your title on Twitter 'start with a balloon' that attracted my attention. 'Incorrect answers are opportunities to explore further.' If only more of us understood that when we teach. Seems to me your students are pretty lucky!

    1. Thanks Mariana! Isn't physics fun as story? Even equations are stories - I tell my students that equations are just sentences written in code.