Wednesday, January 21, 2009

Become a Part of History with VoiceThread

Yesterday (Inauguration Day) was obviously an important day in U.S. history. Most of us will likely remember where we were when we watched Barack Obama become the first African-American president, and I know that we all tried to instill that message onto our students. Although, it will probably take some time for them to realize the significance of January 20th, 2009...

Anyway, I was looking for a way for our students to "leave their mark" and have voice in everything that occurred yesterday...when I miraculously received an e-mail from one of my favorite new websites about a collaborative project they were working on.

The website is called VoiceThread, and it's been around for a couple years, but I think that educators have started to see its value more recently.

Why is it called VoiceThread? Well, most of you are probably familiar with PhotoStory and how it allows you to tell a story with pictures, voice recording, and background music. A VoiceThread is similar, but it adds a unique 21st century twist: collaboration. When a VoiceThread is created, it's posted on the VoiceThread website in a gallery with all of the other VoiceThreads. Anyone with a VoiceThread account can watch it and (here's the collaboration part) comment on it. When someone leaves a comment about your VoiceThread, a small box with the person's avatar (picture) appears. When your VoiceThread is played, the comments are shown (or played) along with it. Comments can be left with text (typing), audio recording, video recording, and even by cell phone! It's an easy way to get a "global perspective" about a topic.

Click here to visit the webpage that VoiceThread created for the project they're calling "Inauguration Day Voices". Basically, it's a collection of VoiceThreads about Barack Obama's inauguration. There are 2 samples on that page that you can watch to get a better understanding of what it is and how it works.

How can I use this in my classroom?

  1. Create a VoiceThread account (takes a minute), find an "Inauguration '09" VoiceThread that you feel warrants a comment, and leave a comment as a class. You can do this in a matter of minutes.
  2. Create your own VoiceThread (with my help!) and use this Wordle word cloud about Obama's Inaugural Address as your "central picture"(note that the larger the word is, the more times it was used in his speech). You and your students (and the rest of the world) can leave comments about what you thought of the ceremony and his speech. See this previous blog post to learn more about Wordle.
  3. Create your own VoiceThread (with my help!) and upload a video of Obama's Inaugural address (or--more simply--a picture of him giving the speech). You and your students (and the rest of the world) can leave comments.
  4. Other ideas?

VoiceThread is an easy way for your students to share their opinions about the new direction of our nation, and I would really enjoy showing them how to do it!

Please let me know if I can help you out with this awesome project!

Good Luck!


Friday, January 16, 2009

Are You a Googler?

Note to e-mail subscribers: You should click here to go directly to my blog. There are some things that I have included in my blog post that will be left out of this e-mail.

Everyone has a favorite. Yahoo. AOL. Lycos. AltaVista. Ask. Google. Blackle (just learned about that one from a 5th grader). Live Search...and the list could go on and on.

My favorite happens to be Google, and I think that it's because throughout the last 2 years, I have really dedicated some time to learning how Google works. As you can imagine, I spend a fair amount of time on the Internet learning, researching, troubleshooting, etc., so I really need to understand how to search in Google.

Now, I know what some of you are thinking: What else could I need to know about Google? It's so easy because I can go to, enter my search term, press enter, and then follow the first link. Well, sure, that works sometimes. But spending a little time learning how to search in Google will help you find exactly what you're looking for quickly. And, you might learn about a few of Google's cool features along the way.

Here's a great 7 minute video from TeacherTube with some timesaving Google search tips:

So, as you may have learned from the video, it's all about how you search in Google. You sort of have to train yourself to think a little differently--instead of just typing a few random words into the search area. This is such an important skill for us (adults) to learn, but imagine if your students were Google pros (I bet that some of them are). Instead of spending countless class periods looking at (mostly useless and irrelevant) information, they could be finding exactly what they need--quickly! We spend so much time teaching kids how to use reference books, but we don't spend much time at all teaching them how to use the Internet. (By the way, where do you think most of the are going to start their research?...Hmmm...)

Check this page out too. It's Google's search "help" page that lists some of the other things that Google will search for (and how to do it): movies, stocks, flights, calculator, unit conversion...It's pretty amazing.

One final thought: This might seem strange to you, but it's something that I've noticed recently. The way in which we navigate to websites breaks us into 3 groups:

  1. People who use Google as their homepage and use it as their "portal" to get where they want to go. For example, if they wanted to visit the Target website, they would type "target" into the Google search space, press enter, and follow the first search return (which is the Target store). This seems a little weird to me. It seems like an extra, unneccessary step, right?
  2. People who use whatever homepage they want and type the URL of the site they want to visit into the address bar. So, this person would just type This makes more sense to me.
  3. People who keep a list of "favorites" or "bookmarks" and use those to navigate to sites.

So which one are you? I created this poll to find out, so cast your vote! I'm interested to see what the results will be...

Please let me know if you'd like me to come into your class and help your students learn how to Google fast and efficiently!

Good Luck!


Monday, January 12, 2009

Create Amazing Digital Books with Mixbook

What is it?

Mixbook was originally created for users to create digital scrapbooks using personal photos from weddings, vacations, parties, etc. While it is great for all of those purposes, Mixbook also has some great applications for education. If you're looking for a way for all of your students to demonstrate what they've learned, Mixbook is the perfect tool for you! One of its greatest features (other than the great layout and beautiful finished product) is that Mixbook allows multiple users to collaborate on one book.

Recently, I completed a Mixbook project with Michelle Discenza's 5th Grade Class. Her students had all read biographies about famous Americans and Michelle was looking for a culminating project...and along came Mixbook...

Here is the amazing Mixbook that her students created (100%, cover to cover):

Mixbook - Create Beautiful Photo Books and Scrapbooks! | View Sample Photo Books | Create your own Photo Book

How we did it:

  1. Michelle's 5th graders read biographies in small groups and completed a packet with graphic organizers. This helped them organize their thoughts when the time came to write summaries in their Mixbook. Each group (team) learned about one famous American.
  2. Michelle created a (free!) Mixbook account using her school e-mail address. She created a book with enough blank pages for each team to have 2 pages of work space.
  3. Students worked in collaborative teams of 3 to search for and save pictures to use for their pages. To conserve time, we asked each team to find only 3 pictures (enough for a 2 page layout). When they found and saved a picture, they also saved the URL (that would later go into the Mixbook) for copyright purposes. Most teams needed only one 45 minute period to find all of their pictures.
  4. We assigned teams to specific pages in the Mixbook (i.e. one team had pages 2-3, the next had pages 4-5, the next had 6-7, etc.). It was important that the teams stayed on the pages that were assigned to them (if they used other pages, it would overwrite other teams' work)
  5. Most teams spent about 2 periods (45 minutes each) writing and designing their pages. Mixbook has TONS of options for page layouts, background design, texts and fonts, and even a new "sticker" option for that authentic scrapbook look.
  6. When all 8 teams were finished, Michelle asked a student to create a cover page, it was added to the book, and the book was published.

Notes about the project:

  • The entire project (not counting reading the biographies) took about 4 class periods, so creating a Mixbook is not a major time commitment.
  • Michelle "embedded" her class' Mixbook on her classroom webpage. Embedding means that people who visit Michelle's webpage can flip through her Mixbook without leaving her webpage. This is a great way for parents and the community to see what you're doing in class.

Anything else I should know?

  • Books that are published on the Mixbook site are public, so please remember that using individual pictures of students is not allowed without written parental consent (per QUFSD Website Publishing Policy).
  • In order for students to collaborate on one book, they would all have to login to the same Mixbook account. For Michelle's project, she and I logged students into the Mixbook site (there were only 8 computers). If you don't want to do that, and you also don't want students to use your account, then you can create an account with a "fake" e-mail address from a website called MailCatch. Simply register for a Mixbook account by making up an e-mail address with a domain (e.g. If you visit, you will be able to check your "inbox", but you won't be able to write mail. It's a safe alternative for your class...
  • If you're going to use pictures from the Internet, make sure you take a few minutes to teach your students about copyright and fair use. They shouldn't be taking pictures from the Internet without giving credit.
  • If you're really happy with the books you create with your students on Mixbook, you can actually order a hard copy! Michelle ordered a copy of her Famous Americans book and it looks great--very professional. The cost of the book depends on how many pages the book has (more pages = more $). Of course, you don't have to order the book--you can just use the digital version.

Here is another sample from Mixbook:

Mixbook - Create Beautiful Photo Books and Scrapbooks! | View Sample Photo Books | Create your own Photo Book

Visit Mixbook, create an account, and play around on the site for a few minutes. You'll see how easy it is to create a great looking book in no time at all.

Please let me know if I can help you and your students with a Mixbook project!

Good Luck!

Tuesday, January 6, 2009

Wordle Word Clouds

What is it?

Wordle is a very cool, very fast, and very easy webtool that creates a "cloud" of words. The size of the words in the cloud is directly related to the number of times each word is used (i.e. the more times the words is used, the larger the word). It's a great visual representation of text--and it's something that a classroom teacher or a student can make in just a few minutes. It looks really cool too!

Here's an example I made with the National Technology Standards for Students:

How does it work?
  1. Determine what text you want Wordle to analyze. It can be a Word document, webpage, blog--anything that has text that can be "copied and pasted". (You can also just type the text onto the Wordle site.) See below for ideas...
  2. Visit the Wordle website:
  3. Click on "Create your own."
  4. Either copy and paste or "freetype" your text into the text box.
  5. Click "submit" and Wordle will automatically create your word cloud.
  6. Once it's created, you can change the colors, layout, font, and style using the "edit, language, font, layout, color" menus above your word cloud.

How can I use it in my classroom?

  • Have students use Wordle to copy and paste their essays or reports to analyze word use. This could be for editing purposes or to help them analyze a theme of their writing. I'm sure that it would interest them to see what word or words they used most frequently.
  • Google song lyrics or poems and use Wordle to create a word cloud. You could display it on your plasma to start a class discussion--Why do you think that word was used?
  • Copy and paste relevant newspaper articles.
  • Google websites that provide transcripts of historical speeches like this one. Use Wordle to start a discussion about why the person giving the speech chose to empasize certain words or phrases. Here's an example I found online. This might be a cool idea for the upcoming State of the Union address...
  • Use a word cloud as a "word splash" activating strategy--create it beforehand with key concepts and vocabulary and display it on your plasma.
  • Use it as a vocabulary activity--have students type the main vocabulary word into the text box a few times (so that it appears larger) and then type a list of synonyms and antonyms. It will make a very cool representation of the word!
  • Introduce literature or a new chapter--copy and paste or freetype the first paragraph or page of a new book or chapter and use the word cloud to stimulate a discussion and build background knowledge.
  • Make a guessing game--have students create word clouds about characters in a book or main ideas in a chapter (without giving away the actual name or idea) and then have them share the word cloud with the class. The other students would use the clues to guess which character or idea the cloud represents.
  • Teachers and students could create an "about me" word cloud at the beginning of the school year.

Anything else I should know?

  • Wordle is uncensored and there is no way to guarantee that your students won't see an inappropriate word (if they are using Wordle). I don't think that this should scare you away from using Wordle, but it is something to keep in mind...
  • To see the actual word count for the words in your cloud, click on "language" and then "show word counts" at the bottom of the menu.
  • When you create a word cloud, you are the only one who sees it...unless you click on the "save to gallery" button. Then, everyone (in the world) will see it.
  • To print a word cloud, click on the "print" button underneath your word cloud.

You should really give this a try--it will only take a few minutes. And if you really want your students to be engaged, let them give it a try!

Please let me know if you would like my help with Wordle or anything else!

Good Luck!


Monday, January 5, 2009

Welcome, 21st Century Educators!

Welcome to the 21st Century Learning Blog! This will be a space to share tips, tricks, project ideas and examples, and great tech tools for your classroom.

I will update it as often as I can--possibly daily? Weekly? I'm not sure--it's really going to depend on my schedule.

Here are some ways that you can stay updated with blog postings:
  1. Check the blog daily
  2. Subscribe to the blog using an RSS aggregator, such as Yahoo or Google Reader
  3. Subscribe to the blog by typing your e-mail address into the "Subscribe via E-Mail" box at the top right corner of the screen. You will receive a "confirmation" e-mail when you subscribe and you'll have to open that e-mail and confirm it--please check your junk mail folder for this e-mail. If you do this, an e-mail will be sent to you whenever I write a new post.

Whichever way you choose to subscribe, when you read the posts, you'll notice that I will try to consistently set them up with this information:

  1. A description of the website, project, tool, lesson, etc.
  2. How you can use it in your classroom.
  3. Any other advice or information that is worth sharing.

I'm hoping that you'll see and read about great ideas on this blog and then implement them with your students--with my help and support, of course. Please feel free to contact me with any questions.

The other great feature of this blog (actually, of all blogs...) is that you can comment on any posting that you wish. If you read what I have written and have a thought, idea, or personal experience you'd like to add, click "comment" under the post to share!

Good Luck!