Monday, February 15, 2010

Engaging Students with Voki

Thank you Richard and readers for having me as a guest blogger today as Richard takes a well-deserved vacation.

Currently, I use wikis to provide supplemental materials for my English language learners. In each wiki, my students enjoy the Voki avatars. Voki is a free service that allows your students to create personalized speaking avatars and embed them on a blog or wiki or send them via e-mail. This service provides numerous features to help students personalize their speaking avatar's voice, appearance, hair color, background, clothing, and more. Additionally, when you make changes to your Voki these are automatically updated. These various options make Voki ideal for engaging students in any subject at any grade level.

My adult students enjoy listening to weekly conversations from Shelly and Steve. The adults visit the class wiki to listen to the conversation, then answer questions. Below is a conversation about the Super Bowl. I asked my students if they could figure out what the phrase "rooting for" meant by listening to the conversation.

Another way I use Voki is to help my very young students create digital identities. The parents feel more comfortable with the children using avatars instead of their real identities. The children also create the conversations for the Voki. Voki also helped me engage students with our class puppet, Teddy the Bear. The children helped me create a Voki in Teddy the Bear's image. At the beginning of each class, Teddy the Bear greets the children by name, tells them what he's been up to, and asks them a question.

These are a few ways I use Voki with my students. How could you use Voki to engage your students in your subject area?

Shelly Terrell is a technology teacher trainer, English language teacher, and the Director of Educator Outreach for Parentella. Explore her Teacher Reboot Camp blog for tips on professional development and integrating technology effectively into the curriculum.

Using Technology to Find Students

Using technology tools with high school students is always a good idea. Okay, maybe that statement is a bit bold, but let’s face the truth. High school students are more connected to online forums, Facebook accounts, and cell phones than ever before. Meeting students “where they are” requires meeting them online.

Knowing that students are comfortable in collaborative digital arenas, I felt compelled to try a few technology tools with a tough group of students this fall. These students were very diverse, they all struggled with writing, and they HATED school.

What can I say? I love a challenge!

I started small. I replaced Time Magazine articles with “The Week in Rap” to teach a current event lesson one Friday. (The Week in Rap is a hilarious music video that summarizes the week’s events in less than 5 minutes!) At first, my hooded sweatshirt-wearing cherubs were skeptical. By the end of the segment, they were begging me to watch it again! After using this tool, I was ready to take them to the next level: Etherpad!

What’s Etherpad you ask? Well, Etherpad is a free tool that allows users to collaborate in real real time. There’s no need to refresh your screen with Etherpad, it automatically updates every .5 seconds! To top it off, there are no sign-ins required. I should also note that Etherpad was recently bought by Google, but they have open sourced the code resulting in alternatives such as Pirate Pad.

After watching the “The Week in Rap” video, I asked them to find a computer. I had already opened an Etherpad on each computer, so the students only needed to turn on their monitor. I pre-populated the Etherpad with a prompt relative to the video we had just watched regarding the unemployment rate for teens.

At first, the silence in the room was deafening. Then, gasps and questions came flying out. “Hey, Jason’s typing on MY screen.” Then, “Whoa. There’s a chat box. Are we ALLOWED to use that?!?!” After the first five minutes, the students figured out that they were supposed to work together to answer the question that I provided. I was amazed. I had not provided the students with a single verbal prompt or redirection, and they were using the tool to write a response together. Before I knew it, they had drafted a coherent answer to the question together. Their single response was much better than anything they had written individually all year.

Then the magic really began. I played back their responses using the “time slider” and they watched their ideas develop. Then we talked about it.

I asked them:
  • How did you help each other?
  • How did you respect each other’s ideas?
  • Do you think your collaborative response was better than your individual response? Why?

For the first time, students who thought that school couldn’t teach them anything were present. They saw the power of working together, and they were extremely proud of their product.

I don’t think that any of the tools I used revolutionized the classroom setting. However, those tools allowed me to meet students in a place where they felt comfortable. While I have a long way to go with my personal learning and my instruction, I know that using innovative tools will help me meet my students in environments that allow them to thrive!

Kristen Swanson is a Program and Training Specialist that is passionate about helping students with special needs in Bucks County, PA. She shares her work with the world on her wiki and her blog. She would love to hear from you! She can be contacted here.

Computer keys source is available here.
Puzzle source is available here.

The Heilbrunn Timeline of Art History: A Resource for History and Fine Arts Teachers

Hey folks, I'd like to start off with a thanks to Richard for letting me gush about a resource my students and I use extensively in our Art History and West Civ classes.

The Heilbrunn Timeline of Art History at the Metropolitan Museum of Art is not only one of my favorite resources on the Net, but is also one of a trio of sites (along with BBC History and the ever-democratizing Wikipedia) that I've turned to in my move over the last two years to ditch textbooks from my classroom.

According to the Met:

The Heilbrunn Timeline of Art History, funded by the Heilbrunn Foundation, New Tamarind Foundation, and Zodiac Fund, is a chronological, geographical, and thematic exploration of the history of art from around the world, as illustrated by the Metropolitan Museum of Art's collection. The Metropolitan Museum's curatorial, conservation, and education staff research and write the Timeline, which is an invaluable reference and research tool for students, educators, scholars, and anyone interested in the study of art history and related subjects. First launched in 2000, the Timeline now extends from prehistory to the present day.
The site is broken down into four basic parts. The first -- World Maps -- organizes art and history by region.

The second part breaks it down according to a series of timelines beautifully integrated with artworks, regional maps, and scholarly essays.

The third section features thematic and contextualizing essays -- a must for any history teacher who wants to get out of the rigmarole of a chronologically based curriculum.

Lastly come the indexes of artworks. And these are powerful tools both for preparing lessons as well as providing an authoritative reference for on-the-fly image finding and analysis of the sort that often arises (especially in the Art History classroom).

I'd argue that museum websites of this caliber are to images what Google Earth is to maps. And I'd fully encourage all History and Fine Arts teachers to check out the Heilbrunn Timeline and think about ways it might help transform your classroom.

And as you do come up with ideas, please share them with my History students... visit our class wiki and leave ideas, comments, questions, and connections for us. We look forward to learning with all of you!

-- Shelly Blake-Plock

LearnCentral - A Social Network for Educators

While Richard is on his annual fishing trip, I am honored to have been selected to step in and guest blog for him. So, with that said, on with the blog post!

February 2009 saw the launch of the social network for educators called, "LearnCentral". LearnCentral is a free community that allows educators to network, share and post resources and participate in a variety of discussions. Educators can create or join groups based on any number of traits pertinent to education. While the LearnCentral community may not be thought of as a specific technology tool, the community itself is full of wonderful tools available to the community members.

LearnCentral is a growing community and one feature that is a widely used aspect of the site is the implementation of live webinars using Elluminate. As a member of the 'Host Your Own Webinars' group at LearnCentral, educators are able to schedule and use a fully featured Elluminate room for FREE! There is no fee to participate in the community, group or use the Elluminate room. In addition to the 'vRooms' that Elluminate offers to the general public, the Elluminate room available through LearnCentral allows for an unlimited number of participants to join your webinars scheduled through the LearnCentral community instread of just three people like in the vRooms. The only contingency that is required of LearnCentral and/or Elluminate is that the webinars must be open to the public and the link to the recording posted in the LearnCentral after the webinar has concluded.

Elluminate offers fantastic training sessions to help you prepare to moderate and host an Elluminate session. The LearnCentral community, sponsored by Elluminate, was founded by Gailene Nelson and has become the passion of Steve Hargadon to help grow and develop LearnCentral.

If you do not feel comfortable initially hosting or moderating an Elluminate session by yourself, feel free to call upon me to assist you. I can help out and provide a general overview of the features used in Elluminate or step back in the session until you need assistance.

I hope Richard enjoys his vacation and returns to blogging energized and refreshed! It has been an honor and privilege to guest blog for Richard and I greatly appreciate the opportunity to share ways to engage students and teachers to use technology.

*Note: Kim Caise has been an educator and technology specialist for the past 20 years. In 2006 she became a National Board Certified Teacher in Career and Technical Education with a specialty in Technology Education and was nominated for the 2005 Disney Teacher of the Year Award for her dedication to the teaching profession. Kim is a co-host of the Classroom 2.0 LIVE show that is broadcast in Elluminate on Saturday mornings which provides opportunities to learn about Web 2.0 tools and resources through collaboration with guest presenters and other educators. She recently has taken on the position of the Elluminate/LearnCentral Community Facilitator and Flat Classroom™ Project Administrator while maintaining a professional blog titled, “Kim’s Ventures in Educational Technology”. You can often find the many resources Kim shares with her Personal Learning Network (PLN) on Twitter, Plurk, LearnCentral or Facebook and maintains a wiki on video conferencing resources.