VoiceThread Update

Okay, I’m really becoming a fan of VoiceThread. In fact I’ll even be including it in a Digital Storytelling workshop I’m presenting later this month. Last week VoiceThread updated it’s site and added a few new features. One big difference is that there are now two versions of VoiceThread – the free version and the Pro version. Those of us who signed up for the free version are now limited to creating only 3 voicethreads with a maximum of 50 slides each. The pro version, which costs $29.95/year, gives you unlimited VoiceThreads and storage and also give you the ability to upload mp3 files for your comments. So pro users can, for example, record, mix, and edit their audio comments using something like Audacity to create more professional sounding presentations.

Here’s the good news. K-12 educators can sign up for a special pro account for free. First you need to register for a free account and login. Next you find and click where it says “Go Pro”. At the bottom of the page will be a link that says “K-12 Educators Click Here”. That will take you to the educator application form.

How is the new VoiceThread site different from the old one? Here’s a look at some of the changes.

When you view a VoiceThread the screen looks a little different.


If you have trouble reading my comments, click the image to make it larger.

When uploading and rearranging pictures they’ve made things a little easier and given you a few more options.


Click image to make it larger.

When you click SHARE to add friends to your VoiceThread account or invite friends to view or edit your presentations, you can now see each friend and their edit rights all on one screen. Note: The button to add new friends is now located at the very bottom of your friends list. It took me a little while to find this.


Click the image to make it larger.

When setting my sharing options, I like to set my VoiceThreads to “Public, no comments”. This allows anyone to see my presentations, but only those people I invite can comment or edit it. Since I generally trust those who I invite, I turn comment moderation off so when my friends comment, their comment is posted immediately. If you are working with students and concerned about privacy issues, you may want to keep your VoiceThread private and turn the moderation on so you can check what your students say before the rest of the class can hear it.

Want to participate in a VoiceThread. I’ve created one for an elementary project called Seasons. I’m looking for students or teachers to post pictures and share what the seasons are like where they live. Please comment or e-mail me if you would like to participate. Click on my profile for my e-mail link. Here is how the project looks so far:

If you can’t view the embedded presentation, here is a link to it at the VoiceThread site: http://voicethread.com/#b10538

Happy storytelling.

Your Pictures Tell A Story

It’s Sunday night and I’m sitting at home watching the new Ken Burns series “The War” on my local PBS station. If you’ve seen Ken Burns work before- like the Civil War series – you know that he is a master of telling a story using still pictures. His combination of pictures and voices, often from the very people in the pictures themselves, not only tell a compelling story but they often reach down and grab you emotionally as well. There’s something about adding a human voice that brings the photos to life.

One great tool for doing this yourself is Microsoft’s Photo Story3, but you’re limited to working on your own project and your own computer. One person, one idea. If you really want your stories to take on a life of their own look at VoiceThread. It adds a unique collaborative element to photos and voices by allowing others to add their own voice comments to your photos or upload their own photos and comments. Imagine the collaborative possibilities!

Here’s how it works. First you go to VoiceThread and register. Your ID is your e-mail address. Next you create a new VoiceThread, give it a title and a description, and even add some tags for searching.

Now you’re ready to start uploading pictures. Pictures can be from your computer or brought in from your Flickr account.


Then it’s time to start adding your voice comments to your pictures. All you need to do is go to “View and Comment” and click the record button to start adding your voice.

Now that you’ve got your thread started, it’s time to share it with others. Click on Share VoiceThread and you can invite others to view and comment on your pictures. Once you invite someone you can grant them edit rights, giving them the ability to upload their own pictures. By default, your VoiceThread is private – only those you invite can see it or comment. You can make it public two different ways. 1) Allowing anyone to view and comment. 2) Anyone can view but only those you invite can comment.
NOTE: If you want to be able to embed your VoiceThread on a blog or web page, it needs to be public.

To try out some of the collaborative capabilities of VoiceThread, I created a test project about the Discovery National Institute I attended this summer. I invited several of my fellow shipmates to participate, asking them to add a picture and share a story from our “Academic Excursion”. Here’s a what the project looks like so far… (If you click on the photo you can zoom in and out.)

If you can’t see the embedded VoiceThread, follow this link:
http://fresh.voicethread.com/#b7495

After some experimenting we discovered that pictures brought in from Flickr seem to work more reliably than those that were uploaded directly. I also noticed that the audio quality varied depending on the microphone and audio settings on different machines, but overall I was quite pleased with how easy it was to create a collaborative project.

If you want to use VoiceThread with your students and don’t want them to have to register with an e-mail address, you can go to Yahoo or HotMail and create a generic class e-mail address that you can use as your VoiceThread ID. Then you can add additional identities for your students to use when commenting on photos. Since VoiceThreads can be private, only those who know the e-mail address and the password will be able to see the students pictures or hear their voices. VoiceThread has posted directions for teachers that explain how to do this.

Would you like to participate in a VoiceThread project? Amy Lundstrom has started one called Landforms Where We Live. Take a look at it and if you’d like to participate, leave me a comment.

Or go ahead a start your own VoiceThread. Here are just a few ideas to get you started:

  • If you teach 5th Grade, perhaps you could try to get students from different states to post a picture and information about their state.
  • Have students scan an old picture of their grandparents and asj them share what happened in that picture – a living history.
  • Younger children may be interested to see what the seasons look like in different parts of the country. Have students upload a picture of what Fall is like in their area and describe the scenery and the weather.

What ideas do you have? Any thoughts or questions, please let me know.

BWAIN (Blog Without an Interesting Name)

Normally I try to come up with some sort of catchy title for my blog posts. For some reason I just blanked on this one. Sorry ’bout that.

To make up for it though, I thought I’d share a few interesting lesson ideas and web resources that I’ve sent out to our teachers during the first two weeks of school. Here goes…

Futures Channel (www.futureschannel.com)
Ever have kids in your science and math classes ask you, “Why do I need to know this stuff?” Here’s your answer. This site has videos of real people using real math and real science in real life! The videos also have printable (PDF) classroom activities.

Math Playground (www.mathplayground.com)
Need an activity for your students in the computer lab? Or would you like to recommend something they could use to practice their math skills at home? This is it. I actually met creator Colleen King, or rather her Second Life alter ego Kristy Flanagan, while chatting at the Bloggers Cafe. (NOTE: Second Lifers should also check out the Math Playground Virtual Math Center on EduIsland II)

HM Technology Resources (hmtech.wikispaces.com)
For those of you using Houghton Mifflin’s Reading series, here’s a site with links to supporting web resources compiled by Eva Wagner.

ReadWrite Think: Student Materials (www.readwritethink.org/student_mat)

This site contains a whole collection of online activities for your students to work on at school or at home. Browse through this rather extensive list and try out a few that look interesting. When you click on the tool, you’ll get a list of grade specific lessons that could be used with it. See how these tools might fit into your Language Arts or Literature curriculum.

Back to School PhotoStory3 Project (web.mac.com/jennifergingerich)
Jennifer Gingerich comes up with yet another one of those “its so simple why didn’t I think of it” ideas. This great project for primary grades can be created using a digital camera and Microsoft’s PhotoStory3 or Apple’s iMovie. I love hearing the kids’ voices on the video.

Now the race is on! Who will be the first to use one of these ideas or resources in their classroom this year? Will it be one of our teachers? Or will it be you? If it’s you, please post a comment and let me know how it went.

The "Secret Society" of Bloggers

For the last few weeks, I’ve been struggling with this question. “How do I get teachers excited about blogging?” Well, I could write a blog that explains how valuable blogs can be as a teaching and learning tool. But then I realized that would be about as effective as handing someone a DVD called “How to play a DVD”. If they could play it, they wouldn’t need to watch it. And if you’re reading a blog about blogging you’re probably already aware of the value. Okay, so blogging about blogging is out. What else can I try?

Can we reach those non-bloggers by blogging? Obviously, no. – Webloge-Ed, January 2007

Essentially there are two kinds of people, those who blog and those who don’t. Happily I’m a member of those who blog, but I’m in the minority. Those who don’t blog, seem to look at those of us who do like we’re members of some secret society. We have this mysterious network and communicate in strange and cryptic ways. Want to see an example of the gap between the do’s and don’ts? Walk into a teacher meeting and tell your colleagues, “I’m sorry I was late. I was tweeting with one of my Second Life friends about a Webinar we had last week and was trying to set up time when we could Skype about it.” I’m guessing you’ll lose most of them after, “Sorry I was late.”

It’s obvious that training is needed. But watch out! While the corporate world can force technology change on it’s employees, trying to do that with experienced, tenured, educators invites disaster. A different approach is needed.

Why do we treat teachers so delicately? Why do we forgive them year after year for not adopting contemporary information and communication tools? Why are we satisfied with small steps? Well, the answer is simple. Teachers are special. They are smart, resourceful, incredibly accomplished, and they work miracles — they make a difference. They influence so many lives and they are revered. It’s clear. How can we treat them with anything but awe and respect… David Warlick, September 3rd, 2007

It looks like a step backward is necessary. How much sense does it make to tell a teacher they should be making a blog when they’re not even reading blogs? Look how I got started. Someone told me about a great blog (Weblogg-ed) and at first I treated it like a web page. Then I began bookmarking interesting blogs and checking them periodically. Later I discovered that I could add live bookmarks to my Firefox toolbar using the RSS link. Now I’m using an aggregator, Google Reader, to keep track of the dozen or so blogs I follow. I was reading blogs for months before I even considered making my own, but it was a process.

So the first step is to get teachers reading blogs. I like to pick pick out a few teachers and start by sending them links to some blogs that might be appeal to their discipline or grade level. The goal is to get them excited and let their enthusiasm generate interest among their colleagues. Here’s a good place to start. (Thanks to Amy Lundstrom for the link.)

If they like one or more of the blogs, I show them how to subscribe to it using RSS. Here’s a great little video clip that explains RSS in plain English.


Once teachers have started taking control of their information using RSS, they’ve reached the first step – they’ve become consumers. They have also taken their first peek into our secret society of bloggers. To get them in the rest of the way, you want to encourage them to start commenting on other people’s blogs and eventually try creating one of their own.

I really like how this graphic explains the 4 C’s of online communities.
Source: Participation Online – The Four C’s

Blogs are just one of many tools available to teachers on the read/write web. To learn more about others, I suggest you check out Jennifer Dorman’s course wiki called Online Connections, a recent Cool Cat Teacher Award winner. Even if you’re not enrolled in the class, the site is a great resource for learning more about for wikis, podcasting, social networking, social bookmarking, and online collaboration.

Pecha Kucha

I’ve seen a lot of bad Power Point. I’ve been through the agony of bulleted lists in which the presenter read exactly what they wrote, or droned on and on and stretched 5 slides to 60 minutes pointless examples and enough tangents to give a calculus teacher a headache.

What I read in David Warlick’s blog today intrigued me. Pecha Kucha is a structured presentation format developed in Japan back in 2003.

Each presenter is allowed 20 images, each shown for 20 seconds each – giving 6 minutes 40 seconds of fame before the next presenter is up. This keeps presentations concise, the interest level up, and gives more people the chance to show. http://www.pecha-kucha.org/

It was originally designed for use by those in the creative fields – art, photography, design, architecture – (see Wikipedia Article) but I believe this type of format could have some useful education applications as well.

What struck me first was the structure. It’s like visual poetry. Remember back in high school when you had to write poems? Some types, like haiku, had a very specific structure that you were forced to follow. I remember struggling to be creative while at the same time, sticking to the rules. I hated it, but it really made me focus. How can I say what I want to say effectively within the parameters I’ve been given?

Pecha Kucha takes that kind of structure and applies it to visual presentations. It forces you to edit what you say so that you are concise and to the point. You also need to make sure you select meaningful visuals – visuals that give impact and emphasis to your words.

Imagine using this format for in-class presentations. Tell your students that their history reports need to be presented in Pecha Kucha format – 20 slides, shown for 20 seconds each. Make a Pecha Kucha describing he fall of the Roman Empire. Make one that shows why we need to recycle, or explains the importance of preserving a local wetland. If 20 slides is too much for the assignment you can, as David Warlick suggests, assign Half Kuchas (10 slides) or Quarter Kuchas (5 slides).

I’d love to hear any Pecha Kucha assignment or project ideas you have.

Free to YouTube

Maybe this has happened to you. You’re online at home and you run across a great video on YouTube. “This would be a great video to show my students!” You exclaim, ignoring for a moment that fact that you are talking to yourself again.

Problem is, you get to school the next morning and discover that your Internet filter blocks YouTube. You sink into depression. That great lesson you were planning is now ruined. “It’s not fair!” You cry.

Stop right there! Before you give up and decide to drown your sorrows in a pint of Ben & Jerry’s, consider this possible solution…

Zamzar to the rescue!

Zamzar is a handy little Web 2.0 tool that converts files and e-mails them to you. You can upload files to Zamzar, select the file format you want it to be, and Zamzar will e-mail you the converted file. But Zamzar also converts online videos!

Every YouTube video has a URL. Copy this URL and go to Zamzar.

Then…

You’ll see a progress bar as the video is uploaded to Zamzar. Then you’ll get a message telling you that once the video is converted it will be sent to your e-mail. A few minutes later, check your e-mail. The message will link you back to Zamzar where you can download a copy of the video to your computer.

Once you have the video downloaded, you can show that file to your class or put it in your Power Point presentations. (Be sure to give proper credit.) Since it is now a file on your computer, you don’t even need to have an Internet connection to view it.

A Digital Story

Digital Storytelling is a powerful way for your students to express their creativity. It’s more than just a product, it’s also about the process. Let me explain…

My grandfather, Roy Grice (I call him “Grampa”), is 96 years old. Last week I had a unique opportunity to travel with him down to San Diego to see the USS Midway, a retired aircraft carrier, now turned into a floating museum at the Navy Pier in San Diego, CA.

While we explored the ship, it brought back memories of his days in the Navy. Thankfully I was able to record some of his recollections and put them together into the podcast embedded below. While the recording probably has more value to me and my family, it also offers a glimpse into one man’s view of history – as he experienced it.

It’s important to me, that his stories live on after he is gone. With the digital tools available today, recording and sharing those stories is now easier than ever.

While editing this podcast together I must have listened to it more than a dozen times. By going through this process I know I’ll retain much more of what Grampa told me – more than I ever would have just listening to him tell it to me once. Plus, I’ll be able to go back to it as often as I want.

What digital stories could your students share?

Listen to Grandpa’s Story…

Grandpa’s Story


The USS Midway Museum


“Grampa” next to a milling machine in the USS Midway machine shop.
Technical Info:

  • Audio edited using iMovie and exported as a .aif file. (I didn’t have a voice recorder, so I used a camcorder to capture the audio.)
  • Converted to .mp3 using Audacity.

Tech Tips from the Bahamas

As I mentioned in the previous post, I was honored to be a part the Discovery National Institute last week. Fifty talented educators from 17 states spent a week together on the Carnival Sensation cruising to Nassau and Freeport in the Bahamas. But don’t let the words “cruise” and “Bahamas” mislead you – we worked! There were training sessions, group projects, and lots of networking and idea sharing.

What follows is my attempt to list of some of the ideas and resources shared by these amazing teachers, tech trainers, and media specialists.

Note: If anyone from the cruise is reading this, please add a comment to include any great ideas or resources I may have missed.


Science

Stellarium (www.stellarium.org)
From Amy L., Bend, OR
Think of it as Google Earth for the sky. Put in any location and see the night sky and constellations visible from that spot at that day and time. You can also project forward or look backward in time. Requires you to download and install their free application. Versions available for Windows, Mac, and Linux.

The Rock Dating Game (see previous post)
From Howard M – TX, Marty G – MI, Chris P – FL, Dave K – CA, and ME!
Good for 6th Grade Earth Science. Compare and contrast Metamorphic, Igneous, and Sedimentary rocks. Includes an Inspiration graphic organizer and a Unitedstreaming writing prompt.

Language Arts & Writing

Knight Cite (www.calvin.edu/library/knightcite)
From Rachel H., WI
An online tool for creating proper MLA, APA, and Chicago style citations.

Math/Social Studies

Dollar Around The World
From Rachel H – WI, Diana L - AZ, Kim R – CA, Jennifer D – PA, Tanya G – KS
Learn about other countries and currency conversion as your students investigate the value of a dollar around the world.
Assignment directions and web resources (Word File)
International Currency Factsheet (PDF)
Student Notebook (PDF)
Unitedstreaming Assignment


Social Studies/Geography

Where in the World? (web.mac.com/jennifergingerich)
From Jennifer G - OR, Carole G – FL, Beverly P – NJ, Dedra S – OK, Donna T – SC
Remember Carmen Sandiego? This project has students taking video clips from Unitedstreaming and breaking them into little “clues” that their classmates have to solve in order to guess where they are hiding. The project includes a writing prompt and quiz on Unitedstreaming and an Inspiration template with project guidelines.

CommunityWalk (www.communitywalk.com)
From Amy L., Bend, OR
This site lets you or your students create a “tour” by adding placemarks to a map. Each placemark can contain information, links, and/or pictures about that location. Possible uses include mapping out specific landmarks along the Oregon Trail, or creating a virtual tour of local historical sites in your hometown.

Library, Media, and Teacher Tools

Good Reads (www.goodreads.com)
From Bridget B., PA
Read any good books lately? Write a review and post it here. This site is great for connecting you with others who have read the same book and have similar tastes. Use it to create literature circles among your staff or with your students.
Bridget was also involved in the creation of this great video promoting their school library – a must see! (http://multimedia.mtlsd.org/Play.asp?FILEID=12429) Requires Windows Media Player.

Teacher Tube (www.teachertube.com)
From Jennifer G., OR
This is basically YouTube for teachers. It contains online video tutorials, student and teacher created projects, professional development, and more. Teachers can create a free account and use it to host their own videos. Make sure your school doesn’t block this one! (You might even win a laptop computer.)

Inspired Learning Community (www.inspiredlearningcommunity.com)
From Jennifer G., OR
Have you created a great Inspiration or Kidspiration lesson? Post it here. Looking for a good one? Search for it here. This is a huge library of teacher created Inspiration and Kidspiration templates searchable by grade level and topic.

Flickr Toys (www.bighugelabs.com/flickr)
From Jeanine B., WI
So you’ve posted your pictures to Flickr – now what? This site of full of toys to enhance your Flickr experience and have fun with your photos. Make motivational posters, trading cards, movie posters, mosaics, calendars, and much more.


Flip Video (www.theflip.com)
From Katie K., VA
This $85 video camera holds 30 minutes of 640×480 video on its 512MB of internal memory. Video is saved in AVI format and can be transferred to your computer using the flip-out USB connector. You can also watch video on your TV using the supplied video cable.

FMO: For MAC Only

3-2-1 Countdown Widget (www.apple.com/downloads/dashboard/calculate_convert/321.html)
From Amy L., OR
A great little classroom management tool. Add this to your OSX widgets and use it in your classroom to countdown to recess, free time, or to time a test.

Bluetooth File Sharing
From Howard M., Austin, TX
Howard showed me this impressive little trick to wirelessly transfer files to and from Mac via bluetooth. No WiFi connection necessary.
1) Make sure Bluetooth is turned on and both machines are discoverable.
2) Go to the Utilities and open Bluetooth File Exchange.
3) Select the file you want to send to your friends Mac. Click SEND.
4) Select the name of your friend’s computer from the list of available devices. Click SEND.
A windows will pop-up on your friend’s computer telling them that you are sending them a file. All they need to do is click ACCEPT. The file will be saved on their machine. Is that cool or what?!

Don’t Take Him for Granite

Sometimes the best way to discourage plagiarism among your students is to come up with an assignment that forces them to take information and present it in a whole new way.

In this project, developed by a team of top educators at the Discovery National Institute, students compare and contrast three similar, but different people, places or things. The three things appear as bachelors on a dating show. The bachelorette asks questions of the bachelors and they must answer in character using the information they compiled while researching their person, place or thing.

It will work with just about anything. Imagine a lovely young lady asking questions of Columbus, Magellan, and Cortez. Or what about Caesar, Alexander the Great, and Napoleon? With a little creativity you could even give personality to inanimate objects – like rocks.

Here’s a fun example of what such a project might look like for a science class. In it we compare the properties of metamorphic, igneous, and sedimentary rocks.

At the end of the project students need to fill in a graphic organizer. This one is just a basic Inspiration template that has been modified slightly.

Graphic Organizer Link (Requires Inspiration Software)

Finally, students are asked to synthesize what they have learned using the writing prompt. Their task is to write a letter to the lovely bachelorette encouraging her to choose one of three rocks, using their research to support their choice.

Writing Prompt Link

Who are these ‘top educators’ you speak of?
What did you do on your summer vacation? Well, if anyone asks I’ll say I got to go on a cruise with 50 of the most amazing and talented educators this country has to offer. This National Institute was sponsored by the Discovery Channel. I can honestly say I’ve never worked so hard and had so much fun at the same time. For more info about the DNI Bahamas Cruise, check out Joe Brennan’s blog.

This Dating Game project was a collaborative effort that combined the creative talents of five teachers from four different states. (We’re all listed in the end credits of the video.)

Let’s Go Back to Kindergarten

There are days when I want to go back to Kindergarten. I want to paint. I want to build things with blocks and Legos. I want to make inventions. I want to learn about about butterflies and then make one out of construction paper and see if I can make it fly just like a real butterfly. I want to use my imagination. I want to learn just because its fun to learn. I miss those days.

If you get a chance to observe a Kindergarten class sometime, it won’t take long for you to sense the energy in the air. There’s an excitement in the room because learning is not about working to get a good grade, learning is fun. Somewhere between kindergarten and high school our students seem to lose this enthusiasm. The model of learning changes from one of creativity and exploration to one of listen, memorize, and regurgitate.

Dr. Mitchel Resnick, the inventor of Lego Mindstorms, would like to bring back the Kindergarten model of education. He emphasizes the need for creativity in a world where our students seem to lack the skills needed to solve problems. In a society where creative ideas and solutions are sought after and rewarded, our school systems seemed focused on teaching to the test.

Last month, Alan November interviewed Dr. Resnick and posted it on his blog. (Go to Alan November’s blog to hear the interview.) Dr. Resnick discussed the work being done with his Lifelong Kindergarten Group at MIT where students learn by being creative. They solve problems by inventing robots using Mindstorms and Crickets. They also create and share their own video games online using an ingenious programming “language” called Scratch.

If you have a little extra time, I strongly encourage you to watch Dr. Resnick’s lecture given on May 22, 2006 at the MIT Museum.

“Sowing the Seeds for a More Creative Society”
There are two ways to view the video…
1) Download the lecture from iTunes. (FREE 146MB)
2) Stream it from the MIT Museum site. (Requires Real Player)

The video is a little over one hour. The first half is the lecture, followed by a question and answer session.