The Herald-Times

BLOOMINGTON, Ind. (AP) _ What would happen if your cat ran away and ended up in a haunted house? That’s the question Edgewood Intermediate School third-graders have been pondering lately.

In Christine Harrison’s class, students are taking a new approach to writing by building stories of lost cats and haunted houses with Legos.

“The goal is to get kids excited about writing. Usually when I mention writing projects, I get collective groans,” Harrison said.

For Harrison, using the Legos is a way to harness the creativity students already exhibit when they’re playing. “I have kids that love Legos, and they already are telling stories and creating scenes,” she said.

In Harrison’s classroom, kids choose from a tray of colorful pieces shaped like trees and bats, along with tiny yellow people who will play the parts of characters in their stories. The students work in groups to decide how the cat gets lost and what happens when it wanders into the haunted house.

“We think of a picture in our mind; we build it and see if it fits with the scene. If it does, well, we’ll keep it,” said Luke Musgrave, an 8-year-old student.

The students work together to come up with scenes. Then, they use Story Starter software on a computer to turn their scenes into storyboards, where they add backgrounds, word bubbles and details to their tale.

“You have to save it,” 8-year-old Marilyn Ballard reminds her group.

Her team’s story is about a girl named Jenny who loses her cat in a house known by everyone to be haunted. Once Jenny goes in search of her cat, she discovers the witch in the house is actually a really nice person.

Working together to come up with scenes and learn how to use the Story Starter software has had a positive impact on Harrison’s class.

“I’ve had some table groups that normally, they are very different students, but they are really coming together and being collaborative,” she said.

The Story Starter software for the third-graders was purchased through a $1,200 grant from the Richland-Bean Blossom Community Schools Foundation, and figuring out how to use it to make stories has become a learning process for the whole class.

“It’s really fun to sit there and watch them teach each other and teach me,” Harrison said.

She also likes using the software because it’s getting students used to using the computers to copy and paste, upload content and use a mouse, which are skills they’ll need to master in order to take the online ISTEP test next year.

Her students’ computer abilities are wide-ranging, and giving all her third-graders a try at using the Story Starter software levels the playing field.

Even though Harrison’s teaching them how to write with details and develop a beginning, middle and end, as well as how to use a computer, the students aren’t groaning about writing as they normally would, because they have Legos in their hands.

“Anna, do you think there should be some gold in the forest?” Luke asks his classmate.

“Yes! Maybe behind the tree,” replies Anna Fultz, who is 9 years old.

“It’s very fun,” said classmate Addie Nichols.