Inspiring and Imagining Through Project-Based Learning

stacie IsenbergThis article was written by Stacie Isenberg. Stacie Isenberg, formerly a secondary math and business education teacher, is the technology integration coach for Blairsville-Saltsburg School District, located in Western Pennsylvania.  Stacie is a Google Certified Teacher, a Keystones Technology Integrator, and serves as a member of the district’s Apple Distinguished Program team. She has presented at district, county, and statewide professional development conferences and has participated in advisory panels for national and international educational technology corporations.


Everyone has a story to tell. In our small school district, over a dozen teachers and 200 students participated in a project-based learning activity that allowed students to become self-published authors. With the help of Shutterfly Photo Story for Classrooms, an iPad app that applies 21st century learning, collaboration, and problem-solving techniques, our school was able to improve literacy while meeting the standards of Common Core.

As a former educator and now K-12 technology integration coach at Blairsville-Saltsburg School District in rural western Pennsylvania, I assist teachers and students with the successful use of technology to support the curriculum. Our district supports approximately 1,600 students in grades PreK-12 across two locations. These two communities are very similar in size and the population they serve; with more than half our students receiving free and reduced lunch.

To best educate students, our district has dedicated itself to implementing technology that benefits all elementary, middle and high school students. Our elementary school has a cart-based iPad model and our high school uses a 1:1 iPad program. Our middle school students have access to both Chromebooks and iPads, with versions of interactive whiteboards.

As part of a statewide initiative to improve literacy, our district searched for ways to adopt technology in support of both our curriculum and the Common Core, which is how I was first introduced to the Shutterfly Photo Story for Classrooms iPad app in December 2014. Leveraging the technology we had in place, about a dozen teachers across a number of grades agreed to implement the app in their classroom.

With Shutterfly Photo Story for Classrooms, students can easily arrange a book with text, images, drawings, and voice recordings. When completed, students can share the digital version of their creation with others, or opt to have it published. The app is a perfect fit for our elementary to high school students as it supports our district goal of improving literacy rates.

Creativity began to shine as students used Shutterfly Photo Story for Classrooms app to add visuals to words to clarify their ideas, thoughts, and feelings. The voice-recording feature taught students how to read with sufficient accuracy and fluency. Some used the storyboard templates and planning guides to write narratives to develop real or imagined experiences. Students could write abut topics they were interested in across a number of disciplines. Almost instantly, teachers noticed improvements in reading, writing, speaking, and listening skills, and the opportunities for students to expand their imagination became endless.

There are countless examples of exceptional projects by teachers who leveraged Shutterfly Photo Story for Classrooms. A personal favorite comes from high school algebra teacher, Trisha Kaylor. Using a flipped classroom instructional model to implement project-based learning, she asked her students to create a story that incorporated a sequence of math problems. Students picked a topic they were passionate about such as sports, dancing and pets to tell a narrative that took the reader on an adventure. Along the way, students encountered situations where the only way out was by solving an algebra problem.

As a former educator, I know first-hand the challenges of incorporating writing into a subject like math. As our district strives to boost literacy skills across the board, it was important to show students they could use writing in every subject, including math. I also enjoyed how students’ writing let me see a small glimpse into their world. After reading their books, I could understand students better as people. I saw teachers reach outside their comfort zone numerous times to bring fresh ideas to the classroom, which improved their ability to connect with students—ultimately making learning more meaningful.

Overall, based on responses from students, the level of enjoyment and engagement was exceptionally high. Students of all ages reported how much they appreciated the opportunity to be creative, and shared how happy they were to see their published book. Thanks to Shutterfly Photo Story for Classrooms, our students had an outlet where they could thrive both personally and academically. Together, we created an organic learning opportunity fueled by creativity and collaboration that couldn’t be replicated in any other way.