Archive for October, 2009

VoiceThread is a great presentation tool that allows you to provide narration (in the form of comments) to accompany a slide show. Imagine taking a simple PowerPoint presentation and recording your presentation once and having it available for your students any time they are on-line. Students can leave responses or questions in the form of comments, either typed or recorded, to further the discussion. There’s even a “doodle” option, which allows you to highlight the section of the slide you’re referencing. The writing fades over time, allowing you to move on to another point without cluttering each slide with too many notes.

This week I am presenting 2 workshops with my colleague, Mrs. Mary Christine Dion, one for faculty at our high school and a second at the MassCUE Conference in Foxboro, Massachusetts.  We’ll be sharing this amazing tool with our colleagues and offering some ideas that we’ve tried with our own classes. We’ll also be offering a few tips to help avoid issues (as with all tools, VoiceThread is not perfect).

Project ideas and samples

My Latin 1 class recently completed a Latin Mottos project. Students searched for mottos in Latin that still are in use today. They found a single image that best showed the message of the motto. They uploaded the slideshow to VoiceThread and recorded themselves reading the Latin mottos. In addition to identifying uses of Latin in the modern world, students are demonstrating their mastery of Latin pronunciation.

Latin Philosophical Mottos

Latin Mottos about Death and Life

My Latin Studies classes are just now completing a storytelling project. Students were required to write a short story in Latin demonstrating their understanding of specific grammatical concepts (specifically, use/forms of certain noun cases and agreement with verbs and adjectives). They created a slideshow incorporating the text of their story on with images to help tell the story. They are now recording themselves reading the stories with correct Latin pronunciation.

A Story about Rufus and Alma

I created a similar story, this time with the assistance of my 3 and 5 year old daughters. The girls sat in my lap one afternoon and helped me write a story slideshow using SMART Notebook. I uploaded the slideshow to VoiceThread. Then my older daughter read the story aloud. She’s just starting to read, so she was very proud that she could read the whole thing. Younger students could create their own stories, or each student could create a single page. Illustrations could be scanned in and the students could narrate or describe their pictures. VoiceThread has an educator option, which helps provide a safe and secure platform for students of all ages.

Three Lonely Dinosaurs

Mrs. Dion’s Spanish students practice describing themselves. They brought in pictures of themselves as babies and Mrs. Dion created the slideshow for the class. All the students wrote a descriptions of themselves in Spanish without sharing their names. Classmates then commented on each slide, guessing who was in the picture based on the description. In a similar activity, each student created an autobiography slideshow. They shared pictures and wrote about their life in Spanish. Students then uploaded their presentation and recorded their autobiography in the target language.

Baby Pictures


In another Spanish lesson, Mrs. Dion’s students each created a complete VoiceThread presentation. In a lesson on body parts and illnesses, students had to talk about how to get into shape. The students were instructed to describe what happened during a full week of trying new fitness routines: each day they suffered another injury to some part of their body. By the end of the week, the students were completely incapacitated! Students took their own photographs and narrated their mishaps, all in Spanish.

Body and Health Project

Another Spanish teacher, Mr. Michael Springer, is using VoiceThread with his upper level Spanish students to investigate Spanish art history.  Students were to find an image of a piece of art and commented on their slide in Spanish. This is a good example of an activity that transfers well to any subject that would require commenting on an image or picture – art history, geography, geometry, history, and biology all come to mind as subjects where this activity would be meaningful. At The Professional Learner Profe Springer shares his Lessons from a VoiceThread Project.

Our Advanced Placement teachers were discussing the need to encourage more conversations in the target languages. On the Spanish AP exam, students are required to listen to a short conversation and respond. We brainstormed the following activity. Students find an image that will inspire conversation (e.g. someone looking at a broken window, someone looking over a cliff). Two students are assigned the picture and must develop a conversation inspired by the image. The images are uploaded to VoiceThread and the teams record their conversation as comments. The rest of the class then listens to the other conversations and responds to what they’ve heard by recording their own comments. This recreates the activity on the AP test while giving the students creative in-put to how they develop the conversations.

But VoiceThread is not only for Foreign Language teachers. Browse the VoiceThread site and you will find projects created for Art History, Language Arts, Science, Math, Biology. Remember that there are educator accounts available for teachers which allow teachers of all grade levels to take advantage of this great tool while respecting the privacy of their students.

Tom Barrett has created a great resource, 17 Useful Ways to Use VoiceThread in the Classroom. Check out his ideas and be sure to send him ideas that you develop for your own classes.

MindMeister has a VoiceThread in Education mind map that offers suggestions for how to use VoiceThread for class projects and more.

Please visit TeacherTech 21st Century, a wiki where we share our presentation from the MassCUE Conference.


One excellent result of attending workshops such as MassCUE is meeting people who use the same tools and hearing what they do with their students. I just met Mr. Greg Kulowiec from Plymouth High School and The History 2.0 Classroom. He presented on VoiceThread at the MassCUE Conference in 2008; he suggested I search for his projects and his students’ work. Here are some examples of what he does:

U.S. History Honors class Impressions of Slavery

Weighted Average Word Problem

U.S. History Honors Should Jackson be on the $20

He also made a great (and perhaps obvious) suggestion that I search for samples in other subjects.

For Math:

The Math Lessons for 9-25-08 by Ms. Colville

For Science (short but effective):

The Carbon Cycle (4th Period) by Mary Ellsworth


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The Power of Twitter

Today I’m at the MassCUE Conference at Gillette Stadium in Foxboro, Massachusetts. It was exciting to pull into the parking lot this morning and come up to the Fidelity Investments Clubhouse. As I listen to the keynote address I can look out the window and see the field where the Patriots play. Throughout the day I’ll be attending workshops and tweeting and sharing what I’m learning.

Later this afternoon Liz B. Davis and I are presenting “Establishing a Learning Network Using Twitter” in Theater A. We will be sharing tips for getting started with Twitter and for using Twitter to powerfully build a network of educators and colleagues globally. Establishing a Learning Network with Twitter is a wiki where we share links and resources for using Twitter to build a network.

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MassCUE excitement!

It’s much too late on a Tuesday night, but I’ve been Skyping and collaborating and chatting with colleagues about the MassCUE Conference tomorrow at Gillette Stadium in Foxboro, Massachusetts. I’m thrilled to have the opportunity to present some of my experiences and what I’ve learned. I’m even more excited to learn more and touch base with some amazing educators. Keep an eye on Twitter, check in soon here. I’m looking forward to tweeting and blogging and keeping an active backchannel for all of the workshops I attend!

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GoogleDocsOver the past few weeks I’ve been working on culture and language projects with all of my classes. Each class had a project that required collaboration, either with a small group or only with me. During the research part of the project, all of the groups created Google Docs to collaborate and share what they found. As the projects became more focused, many students started to use a bibliography generator, such as EasyBib, to keep track of their resources and images. For the final phase of the project, students created presentations using Google Presentations. All of these tools are free, all require no storage space on a network, flashdrive, or hard drive.

What I found to be most valuable about using these tools with my students was that I could “conference” with students about their work and research on my own time. Several days each week I need to rush home to pick up my girls from school right away. During each class period, I prefer to keep all of my students focused and working, so conferencing with small groups ends up being less productive for the groups that I’m not actively engaged with. And despite my best efforts, there always seems to be one group that doesn’t get as much time or attention as they needed. With Google Docs I logged on each evening and checked on their progress. If one group didn’t seem to be moving ahead, I could e-mail them to keep them on track. I could offer tips on where to go next and offer links to useful websites.

When my Latin students were writing a story in Latin, I highlighted the text and color coded the notes to indicate what they needed to focus on. For example, when the verb endings needed revision, I highlighted those words in yellow; blue was for noun endings. When the final document no longer had highlights, the students knew they had made the proper corrections. Google Docs also allowed me to keep track of the revision history, to see who was contributing and when. One young lady, who had been complaining about exhaustion, seemed to be editing only between 1 and 3 a.m. This gave me an opportunity to talk to her, not just about the project, but the issues that seemed to be getting in the way of her learning in all of her classes.

In Google Presentation, I could see where the students were going with their slideshows and offer assistance with layout and formatting. When one group had a significant download issue (a lovely slideshow wouldn’t download in any format), I was able to troubleshoot the problem over the weekend while my daughter napped. This wasn’t an issue I would’ve expected a group of high school students  to be able to work out on their own and the students might have thought that they had to start over. At the same time, I hadn’t been able to find time to troubleshoot the issue when I wasn’t rushing between classes or trying to meet the immediate needs of a class full of students.

This past Friday most of the projects were due at the beginning of class. I hadn’t required that all of the final projects be in a Google format. I figured that some students would be able to do more with PowerPoint or might have trouble accessing the internet from home. What struck me, though, was that of the students who didn’t manage to meet the Friday deadline, 9 of the 14 had not used Google Presentation or Google Docs for the final product. The remaining 5 students had been out with the flu immediately before the deadline.  The reasons for missing the deadline included forgetting their flashdrive (2 students), running out of ink in the printer, e-mailing the slideshow to an account that can’t be opened at school, and saving it on a computer that they didn’t have access to except during occasional study halls. Two students e-mailed their presentation to me, but did not type the correct e-mail address. One student created his PowerPoint on a Mac but didn’t save the images along with the presentation; when he tried to open the file on my PC the images weren’t there. ALL of the issues would’ve been addressed, if not solved, by collaborating with me using a Google platform.

The lesson I’m learning is that Web 2.0 tools such as Google Docs can facilitate learning in a more meaningful way than the old fashioned red pen and paper. After all, no one has to keep track of that page of notes that I hand wrote. No one has to look through the crumpled papers shoved in the bottom of a backpack or locker. No one has to decipher messy handwriting (mine or theirs). All of the editors (students and teacher) can see the notes. All of the editors can follow the history of a document – from any computer that has internet.  Special education liaisons can be brought into the conversation to provide support.

So why don’t I do this all the time? Because there are too many limitations of time and space for computer labs and technology available to all students. Until students can rely on using computers in class each day, I can’t expect that they’ll do all of their work on-line. I would love to move to a paperless classroom. But there are already those among the faculty who complain that some teachers are using the limited computer lab space more than is fair. I am looking into getting a grant to purchase a classroom set of laptops or netbooks. At the same time, the school administration needs to promote this kind of learning, IT needs to be open to allowing students access to wi-fi in class, parents and students need to see that meaningful learning does not always require paper and books.

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My five year old daughter loves to play with my computer. I try to keep her on the machine set up with kids’ games and links preset to sites that are Mom-approved. But often she’ll look over my shoulder and ask to feed the fish on my iGoogle home page.  The other day she told me she didn’t like the picture that I use on Twitter. Today, though, she did approve of another avatar that I’m using for this blog, VoiceThread, and other sites. I showed her a few others I had made – for a friend, for my husband – and fairly quickly she identified each person. When she asked if we could make one for her, I thought it would be fun, not to mention interesting to see how a 5 year old imagines herself.

Avatars are a good way for students to create an image of themselves without sharing personal photos.  The avatar maker that I like is called FaceYourManga. It allows you to change specific features and, even with somewhat limited options, seems to get the key elements that make a person identifiable to family and friends. The one critique I had for this avatar maker was that the bodies were really designed for adults and I was very clear that I would not create an image of my daughter that had the figure of an adult woman. It is somewhat hard to avoid, but I think we did o.k.

Bridget - aged 5 B_cropped

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Need to know

Over the past few years I’ve noticed that more and more of my students are struggling with issues that reach far beyond the classroom. I know that I’ve become more aware of my students and I’ve tried to connect more with each student over the year. It is a challenge to really get to know kids when I typically have between 75 and 100 students on my roster – and I’m lucky to have small class sizes. Each class meets for less than an hour each day. That’s not that much time to get to know so many students and to teach them Latin.

At the beginning of each year my mailbox is filled with folders sharing IEPs and 504s and other education plans that keep me informed of diagnosed learning disabilities and other issues that might impact each students learning. I also make sure to keep track of the list of illnesses and allergies that the school nurse shares with teachers. I’m aware of who carries an epipen in case of bee sting and who is allergic to milk or nuts or shellfish. This confidential information helps me get a better idea of who each student is, and perhaps what issues he/she deals with outside of my classroom. I only have food in my classroom on rare occasions, so the food allergies don’t seem to come up much for me. All of this information helps me provide accommodations and establish a safe classroom setting to help all of my students have success.

Yet each year I stumble across information that I really wish I had known much earlier. And sometimes the information we get isn’t the information we need. Parents and students often keep information from teachers either because they don’t think it is relevant to the classroom setting or perhaps they wish to keep certain medical issue private. I understand the instinct to keep social and emotional issues separate from school, yet so often those are the issues that impact a student’s ability to focus and learn. This week a young woman in my class told me that she had trouble staying awake in my class because her Prozac kept her up at night and left her drowsy all day. If she hadn’t felt comfortable sharing that with me, I might never have known. Yet this is exactly the kind of feedback that a parent or doctor should hear. Another student shared with me that his prescriptions (for ADHD) hadn’t been working for him last spring. He was drinking an energy drink when he came into my room and could barely stay in his seat the rest of his period. Shortly afterward he went into rehab to deal with drug and emotional issues. Again, I would never know about his struggles if that student hadn’t felt safe sharing that information with me.

Parents and students have a right to keep information private, this I know. But a teacher can’t meet the needs of a student without having all the facts. It is as important for me to know about a student’s struggle with depression as it is to be aware of a life-threatening nut allergy. When a student is fighting drug dependency, a teacher will see him every day, more regularly than a parent or a therapist. Please, parents, share this information with the adults who can make a positive difference in your child’s life.

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