Category Archives: Uncategorized

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:

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 (
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 (
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 (
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 (

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 (
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.

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.


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.

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.

FREE Inspiration

Writers use them for brainstorming. Scientists use them for solving problems and organizing information. Whether you call it a word web, a concept map, or just a bunch of little boxes connected with arrows, the process writing down concepts, figuring out how they are related, and connecting them together can be a valuable teaching tool.

Two of the most well-known software tools for doing this are Inspiration and its primary grade companion, Kidspiration. These programs are great, but they are not cheap. In fact school licensing for these can be almost as expensive as licensing Microsoft Office.

Now, finally, there is a FREE alternative to Inspiration. It’s called Cmap Tools. You can download it from their web site. ( Mac, Windows, and Linux versions are available.

When you install it and run it for the first time, you will be asked to create a username and password. This is required so later on you can share your concept maps with others or even set up a collaborative concept map that can be edited by multiple users. Even if you don’t want to do this, you still need to create a username and password in order to use the product.

If you’re used to using Inspiration, you may find the Cmap Tools does things a little differently, but those differences are not major. You can’t do “rapid fire” concept maps and there is no clip art included in the software. You can add images, links, and annotations. You can also link to Word documents, videos, and other Cmap files.

To get a good idea of what the process of creating a concept map is like, take a look at this tutorial video they have created. Creating Concepts and Propositions (requires Quicktime)

They also have other tutorial videos that explain how to use the software:
Adding Resources
Introduction to the Views Window
How to Create a Folder

The one thing that Cmap Tools seems to be lacking is the ability to export your concept map as an outline that can be opened in Microsoft Word. There is an “outline view” that can be exported as text (.txt) but the text does not have the traditional outline formatting (I, II, III, A, B, C, etc.)

On the plus side, your concept maps can be exported as jpegs and as web pages (html). You can also upload your map to one of their public Cmap servers (I have yet to try this) and make it viewable to anyone with a web browser. Once it is online, your map is given a unique web address (URL). Anyone with a web browser can access it, and anyone with Cmap Tools can be invited to contribute and edit it.

I’m already brainstorming on ways this software could be used with students. Here are a couple of ideas:

“What’s the Connection?”
Use Cmap Tools to create a collection of terms. Save the file. Have students open the file, look at the terms, and figure out how they are related. It’s up to them to move the terms around and link them together with arrows using the correct propositions.

“Family Tree”
Have students start by typing their name as the first concept. Then they add their relatives around them as different concepts. Finally they need to add links stating each person’s relationship to the student (brother, sister, cousin, uncle) as well as their relationships to each other.

I still think Kidspiration is a valuable tool for primary grades and would not want to replace it, but I could definitely use Cmap Tools with older students – grades 5 and up.

Check it out and let me know what you think.

Image Credit:

Let Them Be Heard – ONLINE!

Any primary teacher can tell you that students’ reading improves if they can hear themselves read. Remember using that old Califone cassette recorder in the back of your classroom? Here’s a new twist to that activity – Student Audiobooks.

Many of you have students write their own stories. First Grade teachers at Grandview Elementary School have taken things a step further. Their first grade student write stories. Then they read those stories into a digital recorder. Their teacher then adds a little music to the beginning and posts them on their class blog.

“The stories were recorded using an iRiver mp3 recorder, the music was added and the stories were edited using Audacity, the music clips come from FreePlay Music, the stories are being stored at the website and this blog is hosted by Edublogs in Australia.”

Visitors to their class blog can click on the links to hear the students’ “Audiobooks”. What’s pretty cool is the audio files are in MP3 format so they can be imported to iTunes and copied on to an iPod.

Even if you don’t have a fancy digital voice recorder, you can still hook up a microphone to your classroom computer and record with Audacity or Garageband.

NOTE FOR GARAGEBAND USERS: If students illustrated their own stories, you can scan or take digital pictures of their pages. Then using Garageband, you can insert those pictures above the audio track to create an “enhanced” podcast. Listeners would not only hear the students read, they could also see their artwork.

Now students can go online and listen to their stories and those from other kids in their class. Parents can go online and listen to their children read, or download it to their iPods to share with family and friends.

Change is…

Complete the following sentence:

Change is _______.

a) good
b) bad
c) inevitable
d) all of the above

Our world is changing and the web is changing along with it. Below are a couple of video clips from You Tube. The first one from Colorado educator Karl Fisch helps us get a handle on how the world is changing. The second offers a glimpse into how the web is changing to keep up.

NOTE: If your school blocks YouTube, watch these when you get home.

A Simple Solution

This Internet tip is an oldie, but a goodie. I’ve known about it for a long time but never really made use of it until this week. It really saved me a lot of trouble.

There are some great web sites out there for primary kids. One of the best ones out there Starfall, but there are other good ones as well. I know I can trust first graders to double click on Internet Explorer, but I don’t want to deal with having them type in a web address. Even asking them go to Favorites and select the correct one, can be a chore. To solve this, I’ve taken some of the web sites most often used by our primary grades and put them in the Links toolbar. This way the kids just have to open Internet Explorer, click on the correct link in the toolbar, and Viola! they are at the correct web site in no time.

Here’s how…

1. Open Internet Explorer.
2. Go to the VIEW menu, select TOOLBARS, and make sure the LINKS toolbar is checked.

If it is, and you still don’t see the links toolbar, it may be hiding down at the end of your Address Bar.

If so, just go to drag it down below the Address Bar. If it won’t move, you may need to unlock the toolbar – Go to VIEW, TOOLBARS, and uncheck LOCK THE TOOLBARS.

3. Go to a website you want to add to your toolbar.
4. Drag the address from the Address Bar down to the Links Bar…

…and a new link is added.
5. To make room in the Links Bar for more links, you may want to shorten the name of the link. To do this, right-click on the link and select properties. Click on the General tab and change the name to something shorter.

6. To delete a link from your toolbar, just right-click on the link and select DELETE.

Here are some primary grade web sites I have on my Links Bar: Starfall, Mr. PicassoHead, Ben’s Guide to US Government, White House Kids Page, US States Games, I’m sure you can think of some other great ones too.

FIREFOX and SAFARI users, this works for you too. It’s called the Bookmarks toolbar.

FIREFOX: Go to VIEW and select BOOKMARKS TOOLBAR. Drag web sites to the toolbar.
SAFARI: Go to VIEW and select SHOW BOOKMARKS BAR. Drag web sites to the toolbar.