Sunday 6 January 2013

The Backpack Classroom Part 1

I want to try to tell you all the story of the Backpack Classroom. This is part one. I am going to need several attempts to tell this story. The Backpack Classroom was an initiative led by me to teach storytelling on iPads at the Tambunan Village in North Sumatra. I intend to publish an iBook on the whole project later. This blog will act as a place to get my thoughts organized for that iBook.

I am married to a Batak. His family comes from North Sumatra and we have been to visit our village several times. Our village is very remote. It takes about 8 hours (if there is no traffic) to drive there from Medan. Villages in Sumatra are quite small. There are about 40 houses in this village. Some houses are new and some are the traditional ones with the big curved roofs that look like boats.

This time we visited our village we had a new goal. I have been wanting for some time to do some storytelling workshops with the local children. I loaded up my backpack with 5 iPads (3 iPad 2s, an iPad 1 and an iPad Mini) along with an iPad camera kit, a DSLR and my Macbook Air. I wasn't sure if I would be able to do much teaching as it is school holidays, but I was hoping that I could run some informal workshops.

The night we arrived the word passed around and to my delight our house soon filled up with children from Kindergarten to Grade 9. I am fortunate to have wonderful children of my own who were able to act as mentors. That night we pulled out the 5 iPads and introduced the village to interactive stories on the iPad. The kids were amazed and loved to read the stories that I had loaded that were all written by my students in Jakarta.

I tried my best to explain that these stories had been written by children and published to the iBookstore. Then I pulled out Kayla's book 'The Skeletal System' that had been printed up, they finally understood that these books were actually books. Everyone wanted to write a story - but then came the tricky part - the kids had to come up with their own stories.

I knew that my best strategy is to lead by example so I decided to make a story about the house next door. This house is a traditional house. I decided to make a simple story about the four grand daughters of the house. Here is the cover of the book.

I will have to finish this post later. I need to put the final touches on this book and upload it to the iBookstore.


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  3. I found your post from a tweet by Wesley Fryer. What a great project you have going here! I am very curious to see how the stories come out. Will they be translated to English?


  4. Hi William, the books are all English-Batak bi-lingual. This was done to make them more accessible for an international audience. My children did the translations.

  5. what application did you use in creating the book?

  6. I used Book Creator for iPad to create all the books with the children.

  7. Hello my name is Autumn, Im an education major at SUNY Geneseo. In class we have been incorporating the use of iPads and digital literacy apps such as iBooks and other digital children's books into our field visits in classrooms. I beleive the use of technology can be a positive influence in (and out of) the classroom, through its greater accesssibility and ability to be transported technolgy (such as iPads) are fostering the opprotunities for literacy and learnign for those who may not have ever had the opprotunity before. For example, The Backpack Classroom, brings stories to children who may have never gotten the chance to explore a book before. Children love stories, espeacilly ones in which they can make connections to their lives -- whether it is with the characters, setting, or experience within the book. Through the use of the iPad, and iBooks application you were able to create a connection for your students with the house next door, creating a new sense of wonder for learning and reading! Thank you for sharing your stories and experiences with us!