Posts Tagged ‘VoiceThread’

In the past I have mentioned that I use VoiceThread with my classes for digital storytelling. VoiceThread is a web-based service that allows you to upload images (a PowerPoint, photos, documents, or even video) to create a presentation. What makes VoiceThread different is that you can then comment on each slide, creating a narration or explanation that is either typed or recorded. Then, depending on the publishing options that you choose, you can share your VoiceThread either with only a few individuals or with the entire world. Anyone you share it with and who has a VoiceThread account can then add their own comments to your presentation.

One of the first projects I used VoiceThread for was a storytelling project with my Latin Studies classes. These students are mostly juniors and seniors in high school who have repeatedly failed in their studies of other foreign languages.
The goal of the project was to review a number of grammar concepts, particularly noun cases. Students wrote their own stories and demonstrated their understanding of the grammar through the Latin writing. They then chose or created images that best told their story. Finally, they recorded themselves reading their story using their best Latin pronunciation. Students viewed each others’ stories and left comments for each other. One example of this story is “The bear who cried ‘boy’” created by two boys in the class. Their story was created in PowerPoint and then uploaded to VoiceThread. In “Sabina’s Bad Day” the student who created it found images mostly from stock photo sources. She then inserted the text using SMART Notebook to create the basic slide show.

In our Latin 1 classes, we start the year by asking our students to find examples of Latin mottos or phrases that are still in use today. This year we used VoiceThread to again add the oral element to the presentation. Most of the presentations were created using either PowerPoint or SMART Notebook. Then the images were uploaded to VoiceThread and students recorded their comments there. Students selected mottos that all followed a certain theme, then chose images that best illustrated the motto. Some examples of this project are: Latin Love Mottos, and Philosophical Latin Mottos.

As these projects suggest, I teach Latin at a public high school just north of Boston. I expect my students to create their own presentations (for the most part) and then we use our language lab to record the comments. Occasionally I’ll use VoiceThread to create projects with my daughters (ages 3 and 5). This fall, on a particularly exhausting and rainy Friday afternoon, my girls were driving me crazy to play on my computer. Together we created Three Lonely Dinosaurs using SMART Notebook and VoiceThread. The girls chose all the images from the Gallery in Notebook and then Bridget recorded herself reading the story. This is when she first began to read, so we shared it with family and friends who might not otherwise get to hear her.

This year my older daughter is in kindergarten. She does well with letter recognition and writing, she is even reading short chapter books. Each week her class studies one or two letters and their homework is to find pictures or draw things that begin with the assigned letter. Bridget enjoyed it at first, but soon became bored looking for pictures in magazines. When I spoke with her teacher, she thought a VoiceThread sounded like a good option. Each week my daughter and I brainstorm some words with the key letter. I then help her search for appropriate images on the internet. We create the “book” using SMART Notebook, inserting the images and choosing the colors for the text and background. Using my laptop and a headset Bridget records the words and the letter of the week. What I’ve really enjoyed watching is her own developing sense of what will make a good presentation. At first, she didn’t care much about the color of the background. But when she saw that some pictures look good with light backgrounds and others look better with a matching background she started to get choosy about what she wants each slide to look like. This week she did all of her own recording and was really choosy about how the final recording should sound. Some slides required five or six takes for her to say it just that way she wanted it. Sometimes she spoke too slow or she stumbled over a word; it was easy to delete the bad recording and do it over. Our first effort was Pajama Party, with more recent projects being Bridget’s R Book and Bridget’s Y Book.

Although I write mostly to share things that I think can apply to educators, I can’t leave out one last VoiceThread we enjoyed making. When Bridget was recording her stories, my younger daughter was jealous of the fun she was having. Together Julie and I created Hiking at Lake Winni using pictures of a recent trip we had taken up to Lake Winnipesaukee. This was a wonderful way to share Julie’s personality with family that lives around the world.

VoiceThread, as with any form of presentation, works best when the project is well planned before the images are uploaded. The images themselves can’t be edited in VoiceThread, although there is a doodle function that allows you to add writing to your comments. If the original images or presentation isn’t very good, you probably won’t be able to make it better with VoiceThread. Having said that, VoiceThread is really easy to use – my 5 year old basically has learned how to do it herself. It is easy to share and it is easy to control who views your presentations. Their education accounts (both free and those with a fee) allow teachers to supervise the work their students are creating and sharing. If you are looking for further ideas for using VoiceThread, check out the VoiceThread for Educators Ning or VoiceThread for Education Wiki.


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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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Yesterday I wrote about the TPACK for FL Teachers workshop that Drew McAllister had invited me to Skype into. It was fun to share some of what I’ve learned with other FL teachers and to see (via video) professionals collaborating over the summer to integrate technology into their curricula. Yesterday I focused on Google Docs and offered some suggestions I have for using that tool with students. Today I want to touch on a few other tools that I think FL teachers in particular might find useful.  If you aren’t a FL teacher, though, don’t stop reading now! None of these are specific to second language learning or teaching, it’s just that either I or my FL colleagues have found specific uses for them with our classes.

I am a big fan of Google applications. [I’m not Google Certified, but if Google wants to set up a Teacher Academy in the Boston area, I’ll do my best to be there!]  In particular, Google Maps and Google Earth really lend themselves to use in the FL classroom. In both applications, students can create tours of cities (in the target language) and can placemark specific spots. Google Maps is web based, making it easy for students to access from anywhere. The street view in G0ogle Maps can be really fun for students. For example, a Spanish teacher had students locate 10 typical items (a bus stop, a supermarket, etc.) in Madrid and create a walking tour with directions in Spanish.  Google Earth is a free download, which could be a challenge for a project if students can’t download it at home.I used the Ancient Rome layer in Google Earth to guide my students through locations in our textbook and students then researched sites of their own choosing and created placemarks or 3D models using Google SketchUp.

A fun one or two day lesson uses Voki to create a talking avatar. Students create an avatar and then record (up to one minute) in the target language. This is a fun activity just before a holiday or between units. Students could record a simple introduction or narrate a description of the avatar they have created in the target language. When the Voki is finished, they submit their final product by e-mailing it to the teacher.

If students are interested in creating simple movies, animoto makes it very easy to put together images and music to create a music video.

If you would rather have students narrate their images instead of providing written captions, VoiceThread is an excellent resources. Students can either upload pictures directly and record an audio caption, or they can upload a PowerPoint presentation and then provide the narration. This introduction to VoiceThread for Education was created by an Michelle Pacansky-Brock, an art history instructor and clearly shows some of the potential this tool has for teachers and students. Other students can then leave comments, perhaps in the target language, either in written or audio format. I saw this tool used really nicely in a “cooking class” for French students. Each slide demonstrated a step necessary to create a food and the students practiced the imperative nicely.

If a comic strip is more what you’re thinking of, try Pixton.  I originally found this site on the recommendation of Shelly at TeachPaperless.  He uses it frequently with his Latin classes for translation. A translation homework assignment becomes fun – and far harder to share – when the presentation is in the form of a comic strip!

If you are looking to visualize text, try Wordle. I really like to create a wordsplash of a Latin reading (simply cut and paste the text) and use that either as an introduction or review with my students. A few months ago I was asked to be a guest lecturer in my colleagues Advanced Latin class. The poem for the day was Catullus V, one of the love poems he wrote to his girlfriend, Lesbia. We used this Wordle to discuss important themes and to visualize the repetition of important words.

Thanks again, to Drew and to all of the participants in the TPACK for FL Teachers workshop. I had fun chatting with you and sharing some of what I and my colleagues have used to integrate technology into our FL classes.

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I’m getting excited to present at conferences. After presenting at our district sharing conference over the past few years I’ve become more comfortable with public speaking about my teaching. This year, I presented a number of times at trainings, classes, and workshops mostly about technology and tools to use in the classroom. As more of my colleagues came back from expensive workshops only to say, “you would’ve done much better presenting!” I started to feel like I should take  a more active role in these teaching conferences we all attend.

May 1 was the deadline to submit proposals to MassCUE, the Massachusetts Computer Using Educators conference.  This year the conference will be held in late October at Gillette Stadium, the home of the New England Patriots and a fairly new conference facility for New England.  I decided to work with two of my colleagues and on two separate proposals, one for using Twitter to build a PLN and another demonstrating VoiceThread in the Foreign Language classroom.  I don’t know that either proposal will be accepted, but I am excited by the possibility.  The application process couldn’t have been easier.  In both cases, my colleagues shared a Google Doc with me, we collaborated on our ideas, inserted the essential information, and were able to electronically submit our proposals before the deadline.  MassCUE seems eager to have educators present tools they are actually using in their classrooms.  The first presenter gets free registration to the conference, the second presenter receives a discounted rate. There seems to be no concern about availability of technology for the presentations or at the conference as a whole. The 2 day conference is about an hour from home, however there are several hotels nearby that make staying there more appealing.

Contrast this with the second conference I considered presenting at.  MaFLA, the Massachusetts Foreign Language Association, similarly holds its conference in late October.  A Spanish teacher colleague and I considered presenting on VoiceThread to this group of Foreign Language educators.  So many of the tools that we’ve been using in our classes don’t seem to get used by our colleagues. Yet, FL is the ideal place to teach students to collaborate and connect with the world.  We had several great ideas for presentations that we thought would be unique to the conference.  The deadline to submit proposals is not until May 30, but I truly doubt we will bother.  Why? Well, first of all the call for proposals is very clear.  All presenters must be members of MaFLA ($45 per year per person, not paid for by our district). All presenters have to register for the conference (the fees for this year have not yet been posted, but last year the registration was $90, probably not paid for by our district).  The call for proposals states ” Presenters must assume the cost of all audio-visual equipment other than one screen.” Scrolling down further there is a list of fees for renting the a variety of presentation tools:

List of equipment and rates at MaFLA conference

I haven’t used a Flip chart for a presentation in ages.  So that’s an easy one. But consider a presentation on using VoiceThread in the FL classroom.  We would need to rent an LCD projector ($75) and speakers ($50). We would have to purchase wireless cards from the convention hotel (no price is listed). Presenters are required to provide their own handouts (and it appears that handouts are mandatory) equal to the number of seats in their assigned room. It does not appear possible to provide our links and resources in a Wiki or other on-line format, particularly if we can’t expect any of the attendees to have paid for wireless access.  So to sum up, for two of us to present about VoiceThread at MaFLA next October the total cost to us would beover $400, if I’ve done my math correctly.  The conference is nearly two hours from my home and falls on a Friday and a Saturday, necessitating an overnight at the conference hotel and eating in restaurants for those meals not provided by the conference.

Which conference would you choose to present at?

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