Sunday, September 30, 2007

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.

Wednesday, September 12, 2007

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.

Saturday, September 08, 2007

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.