Spaces for Innovation

#BMEday Releasing the Possibilities

August 15th, 2011

#BMEday: Releasing the Possibilities

Sometimes things that unexpectedly come our way have the greatest potential to inspire new, exciting learning opportunities for our students. #BMEday (Beginning/Middle/End) is one of those things. I invite you to read this blog post to find out how, within this simple story telling strategy, one might find hidden layers for much more complex, deeper, thought invoked learning.


I quite accidentally stumbled upon #BMEday the other morning, while leisurely reading through my Twitter feed. Posted inside The Yoon Soo Lim Daily, (by @DoremiGirl) I read the headline (via @pammoran) describing #BMEday as a “challenge to capture your life in three images through Instagram”. Interested, I clicked on it and was unexpectedly transported to a blog called Mystery Boxes. The blog creator, Jon Gill, describes Mystery Boxes in this way:

The purpose of ‘MysteryBoxes’ is a convergence of the various online dwellings of me, Jon Gill; quite possibly the web equivalent of crossing the streams..! The term ‘Mystery Box’ is used as defined by JJ Abrams in his 2006 ‘TED’ talk. (embedded for your viewing pleasure at the bottom of this page) Abrams uses the term to describe stories, the ‘twists’ that drive narrative, the tools that inspire us, even our imagination and ultimately the mystery box is, well.. you should probably just watch.”

So, I watched the JJ Abrams video, read some more blog posts and returned to the Beginning/Middle/End post where my adventure had begun. What intrigued me about this particular post was creator Jon Gill’s account of his “obsession with stories”.  Not just stories themselves, but, “the construction and architecture of stories.” Gill states,”There are many definitions of what makes a story but rather than try to ‘define’ what I think a story is I’ve decided to distill everything I’ve written above and distill it down into a creative experiment…” His link to digital photography and “choosing exactly the right image to tell a story in the  moment” was also a really interesting to me. Gill explains, “I may not be telling you the whole story, but it very definitely is a story… and a single image has a mystery element, it fires the imagination and these are elements very close to the heart of my project.”

Reading about Jon Gill’s personal research on storytelling, his interest in Social Media and it’s possibilities, I found my self feeling more and more compelled to participate in his experiment. The experiment, involving Instagram (“because it’s ‘instant’, is closer to the old experience of a Polaroid or 35mm where every image counts”), utilizes three images, a beginning, middle and end for telling one’s own story.

“The day in question may be your lazy day, your birthday, your wedding day! You might be off to Costa, the Co-Op or another continent..! It’s your life I’m interested in, or at least how you want to present your life through Instagram. In three all important images.”

Now, fully understanding the Gill rules of engagement and inspired to try out the App, Instagram, I embarked upon a very unexpected learning adventure…


As I ventured into my day (with Instagram freshly installed on my iPad) set on telling a story, I found myself continuously thinking about the powerful connections between this creative BME storytelling process and learning opportunities co-constructed with learners in classrooms. I kept thinking about the thinking involved in a creative process where an individual or individuals must decide:

  • What is the story I want to tell?
  • Which parts of the story will  best represent what needs to be said;
  • What is to going be left out and why?
  • Whose voice  is being represented or is present? How do we know? Why this particular voice? Whose voice is absent?

I kept seeing and hearing in my minds eye, the interactions and conversations students might have as they work collaboratively together on BME stories, exploring the images they and others have created; rich discourse unfolding as they analyze and attempt to understand the perspectives embodied within a particular picture within someone’s story. Now, that would be thought-filled learning…

An equally important connection to my learning during this #BMEday is the concept  of “just right timing” of feedback. Critical to the successful participation and “buy in” of a student or learner (particularly in the earlier stages of learning or when trying something new), is “just right” feedback– the type of feedback I received in the form of a tweet from Jon, whilst I was struggling to get started.  In that very instant of reading the tweet, I realized the powerful connection of Social Media to the teaching/learning process. I experienced first hand that Tweets (in this case, Jon’s simple reply & mention of being included in Storify) had incredible potential to inspire participation, to offer invitation to continue forward on a learning pathway with added confidence and trust in the experience:

SuperFly: Jon Gill@OnTheSuperFly SuperFly: Jon Gill: @kstef2 you’re part of the story at #Storify Hope you’ll join in!

Karen Steffensen@kstef2 Karen Steffensen: @OnTheSuperFly Thanks for the mention! Thinking about the story I will tell…

SuperFly: Jon Gill@OnTheSuperFly SuperFly: Jon Gill: @kstef2 Maybe it should find you..? Glad you are taking part tho 🙂 #BMEday

Twitter had, yet again, demonstrated to me that it goes far beyond providing juicy tidbits of information that one can choose to explore, curate or ignore. Twitter is actually a remarkable scaffold for ideas, imaginings and wonderings, supported by the inter-connectedness of amazing individuals who come together to take action in the world in so many inspiring ways.

Jon’s experiment had me hooked. It had me connected and it had me thinking. Isn’t this what we want our students in schools to be doing and experience each and everyday? I began to imagine the possible applications of a Beginning/Middle/End project in schools. What might this look like? Who could be involved? In what subject areas? Could it cross over into SKYPE opportunities or VoiceThread involving inspired conversations between multiple learners, in multiple locations around the globe–conversations about about creation of triptychs of images or even thoughts or wonderings about a specific image within a trilogy of images? Oh the possibilities seemed endless…


My three pictures created for #BMEday:

What was the dessert? (What thinking did you use to figure this out?)

Was this dessert meant for a special occasion? (How do you know?)

Was the dessert enjoyed by all? (What makes you think that?)

While guessing the answers to these questions might be fun or perhaps somewhat engaging for some, I contend that this is not the point of the BME activity. Although, having said that, I realize that as I was creating the three images, I found myself asking similar questions in anticipation of what the audience might be thinking as they looked at the image being framed within the iPad camera lens. Therefore, these questions are somewhat important to the process and do underpin the emergence of the story.

The point of the BME day experiment, as I see it, is about uncovering/discovering stories within the stories of life. Through what seems like a simple act of representing the beginning /middle/end of a life event, the BME strategy actually involves much more complex, deeper, thought invoked learning. The real power of this #BMEday is that it involves the Creative Process, which actually gets at the essence of what teaching and learning can and should be about.

What is the real story I was trying to share for #BMEday?  Yesterday, it was simply about making a delicious treat for my loved ones. Today, in thinking more deeply about the photographs, I see the story in a new light. I view the photos as a metaphor for teaching and learning. I see the photographs as being representative of stages of the Creative Process.

The first photograph represents the “minds on” stage of the Creative Process, Challenge and Inspiration, as captured by the question in the photograph: What should I make for dessert? The recipe books in the background suggest the Imagining and Generating stage, the thinking about and considering all of the possibilities for what to make. The Planning and Focusing stage, which occured after the photo was taken, took place while I was reading the various recipes and carefully considering the ingredients available in my pantry and fridge, the timelines required, the equipment needed, and my knowledge of my audience’s (my family’s) preferences. As a metaphor for teaching and learning, this beginning photograph represents the importance of having the end in mind- knowing what you want to be able to do, what skills and knowledge are necessary to accomplish the task at hand.

The second photograph captures the “doing” stage, where all the action and messiness takes place: Exploring and Experimenting, Producing Preliminary Work and Revising and Refining. Throughout these stages, I actively explored cooking techniques while carefully following the steps as outlined in the recipe in order to produce a dessert I had never made before. Tasting and adjusting along the way, I refined and revised some important choices related to the ingredients, utilizing my aesthetic to guide my decisions. In terms of teaching and learning, this “doing and messiness” stage of the Creative Process is where real learning occurs. It is filled with the anticipation of the final product which is gradually emerging before one’s eyes. This is a stage filled with challenge and risk taking because it often involves trying out new techniques in order to complete a task.

The final photograph suggests the last  two stages of the Creative Process- Presenting, Performing, Sharing and Reflecting & Evaluating. In showing the empty plates accompanied by the caption: How was the dessert? Oh if only the plates could talk.., I was suggesting that the dessert was a success based on the feedback (regarding the overall quality of the dessert) I received from my audience. In terms of teaching and learning, this final stage of the Creative Process cannot be done in isolation from the learner. Its power lies in the conversations and interactions with others, elevating ones learning to new levels because it involves sharing beyond oneself.

As I come to the end of this #BMEday reflection, I am thankful for the opportunity to see and experience how Social Media can powerfully transform teaching and learning. Thanks, @OnTheSuperFly (Jon Gill), for putting your experiment out there for others to play, learn, explore, think and just do! Thanks @pammoran for sharing via Twitter that this event was taking place.

And now, my journey begins all over again as I seek ways to take this BME project into my work with teachers and within schools. Wishing you all exciting BME days ahead! Would love to hear all about them.

One comment on “#BMEday Releasing the Possibilities

  1. Pingback: Beginning/Middle/End – A story project via Instagram « MysteryBoxes

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