Q & A with CST Learning Project Finalist: The W.I.N.D Story Project

Unique literacy project connecting students through story-telling and illustration

Q & A with Stephanie Simpson McLellan – The W.I.N.D. Story Project

What is your idea and how will it help children learn?

The W.I.N.D. Story Project (Words Igniting Notional Drawings) engages primary students in classrooms across Canada to use their imagination and create illustrations for the words of a story delivered to them in the form of an old, serialized radio show.

How it Works: Each week, for 8 weeks, an audio portion of a story is uploaded to each class’s private, password-protected webpage.  Students have a listen and are asked to illustrate what they imagine. The first book they drew pictures of, The Christmas Wind, is not yet available in stores, so students had a clean, uninfluenced slate to start from. To showcase their illustrations, little "movies" of their drawings were created.  These movies were then shared with the classes in other provinces along with the actual illustrations being created by the book’s actual illustrator on a shared web site (www.ChristmasWindStoryProject.com). To make it more fun for the kids a set of school/province "trading cards" were developed that each class shared with each of the other along with pen pal letters.

What was the inspiration for your idea?

I initially conceived the idea for this project in fall 2014 as a way to generate excitement for my newest book, The Christmas Wind.  I had the opportunity to present to students on both coasts of Canada; intrigued that I was talking to them about a book that wasn't on shelves yet, some of the students had questions about how the words and pictures came together, the process of getting the book published, etc... When I was done the pre-launch book visits, since I hadn't seen any of the book's illustrations yet (the illustrator, Brooke Kerrigan, was just at the thinking stage), I thought it might be fun for the students to imagine what those pictures might look like.  So, I reached out to the teachers I'd connected with in British Columbia, Labrador and Ontario hoping to engage with the 6 classes again via a digital portal.  

Six soon became 52 classrooms because so many of them wanted to participate in what now was a far bigger learning experience.  By the end, and with the help of The Canadian Children’s Book Centre (CCBC), the project was test piloted for 2 years in 78 classrooms from the Yukon to Newfoundland with over 1,600 primary students who collectively generated nearly 13,000 illustrations across a span of over 7,800 km.

Why do you think your idea is important/what problem does it solve that exists in education?

The answer to most big and small questions is a mere click away, which is marvelous, and also a little troubling, because wonder is the mother of discovery, and discovery is the fuel that takes us to new frontiers. What would happen if our kids lost the wonder gene?

This project is using technology to bring kids back to a time when technology didn't think for you. New brain mapping research identifies twelve regions of the brain that have to come together to enable the complex task of imagining, and teachers across the country are feeding back how important this project is as it helps kids exercise visualization skills that appear to be waning in our digital age.

Physically, art participation actually rewires the brain and allows children to see things from a different perspective, develop creative problem-solving skills and improve motor function.

Learn more about The W.I.N.D Story Project here.