Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Sick of PowerPoint? Try Prezi!

What is it?

Prezi is a very cool and fairly new free online presentation tool that (for me) has been a very refreshing (and much needed) alternative to PowerPoint. According to the website, Prezi allows anyone who can sketch an idea on a napkin to create and perform stunning non-linear presentations with relations, zooming into details, and adjusting to the time left without the need to skip slides. And, it looks great when it's finished!

PowerPoint presentations are typically "linear", meaning that viewing one means that you'll look at one slide, move to the next, and so on. I'm sure we've all seen great PowerPoint presentations...and we've seen examples that aren't so great. It's painful to sit through a presentation in which the speaker puts an unreasonable amount of text on the screen. Or, worse yet--when the presenter reads the text for you from the presentation! Where's the excitement with that? How is that engaging? As far as I'm concerned, it's virtually impossible to make a boring Prezi presentation.

How does Prezi work?
Instead of creating individual slides with information, Prezi gives you a "space" that allows you to insert text, pictures, and movies--literally jumping and zooming from one to the next. It really lends itself well to presentations that are created to encourage discussion or to highlight a few important points. Check out this Prezi tutorial that lets you try it to see how it works.

How can I use it in my classroom?
Obviously, if you're looking for a different way to present and engage your students, Prezi is perfect (A Prezi looks great on a SMART Board). I would suggest that you select a topic and give yourself a few days or weeks to create your Prezi presentation--just so you can get used to things. Prezi doesn't offer "teacher/student" account access, so if you'd like your students to use Prezi, they'd have to create their own individual accounts.

Anything else I should know?
  • Prezi is completely web-based, so you'll have to connect to the Internet to create and view presentations. Although, it is possible to download your own presentations when they're finished (you can't download other users' presentations, but you can view them)
  • The free Prezi account inlcludes 100mb of storage space (more than enough) and publishes finished Prezi presentations to their "Showcase". You should check out the Showcase to get ideas.
  • I would highly suggest that you check out the "Learn" page at before you begin working. It will make things easier. It took me a while to get used to the editing and viewing controls that Prezi uses, but it was well worth it.
  • Prezi is a European company, so you may notice a few language differences on some of its pages.
  • Here's another Prezi with some tips and tricks

Please let me know if you'd like my help using Prezi!

Good Luck!


Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Create Talking Avatars with Voki

What are Avatars?

Avatars are computer users' visual repsresentations of themselves. Many Web 2.0 sites ask registrants to upload photos of themselves when they create their profiles...although it's really not a great idea to post pictures of yourself publically anywhere on the web. Avatars are great alternatives--it's a picture of you, but it's not really you! (If you have ever played a Nintendo Wii, you've made an avatar. It's the character you use to play the game).

Voki is a website that allows users to create 3-dimensional avatars...that talk! It has some great features that allow users to design their own character (or browse through their premade avatars that include politicians, celebrities, creatures, aliens, characters, dogs, and cats!). Once you've created your character, you can give it a voice in one of 4 ways: using your cell phone, recording directly to the website with microphone, typing text that Voki will turn into speech, or uploading an audio file from your computer.

Social Studies teacher Mike Varney contacted me recently about a project idea he had that incorporated Voki. During his unit about the Vietnam War, Mike asked each of his students to write a speech as a “Dove” or “Hawk” stating whether they support The War. The students were asked to write from a first-person point of view and to provide reasons to support their opinions. However, instead of having the students recite the speeches in front of their peers, he helped them create avatars (digital representations of their War character) to “give the speeches for them”. Using Voki, Mike helped his students create their characters and record their speeches. The results were outstanding…and very entertaining. Check this one out:

What Else Should I know?
  • Voki is a free website, but it does require that users create accounts and register an e-mail address. Because Mr. Varney's students don't have school e-mail accounts, we used MailCatch to create enough accounts for each of the students to use.
  • There is a 60 second time limit for recording, so keep the narration short and sweet!
  • When they are finished, Voki avatars are embeddable. Mike's students embedded their avatars on his classroom website.
  • The entire project took 2 class periods: one to create the avatars, and one to record the speeches. It was definitely a quick project.

Please let me know if you'd like to try Voki with your students!

Good Luck!


Friday, April 3, 2009

Check Out the New Google Earth

Google recently released its newest version of one of my favorite tech tools: Google Earth. This new release (Version 5) looks and works very similiarly to previous GE versions, but it includes some pretty cool new features:

  • A New "Ocean" Layer: Now you can fly underwater to learn about expeditions, shipwrecks, and marine life. (I don't think the underwater graphics are amazing, but I'm sure they will improve.)

  • Travel to Mars: Previous versions allowed you to explore Earth and Space, but now you can visit The Red Planet to see satellite and Rover images. There are some excellent guided tours located within the "Mars Gallery" layer.

  • View Changes Over Time: Use the new "historical imagery" feature to view how locations have changed throughout the last several decades--a great way to check out our impact on the environment.

  • Record Your Tour: We have always had the ability to create, save, and share "Placemarker" tours in Google Earth. Now, we have the ability to record narration, which gives students the ability to talk their way through their tours.

You can click on any of the titles above to see a short description of the feature. Or, click here to watch an overview of Google Earth 5.0.

5th Grade Teacher Nicole Enny recently attended an after school professional development class about Google Earth. She had been using the volcano layer in GE to teach her students about The Ring of Fire. After attending the class and learning about some of its new features, Nicole decided that she wanted her students to create a tour of different types of volcanoes around the world. She also wanted her students to record and narrate their tours so that they could be shared back in her classroom. Click here to watch one of their completed tours.

*Please note: You will need Google Earth Version 5 in order to watch the tour. Not sure if you have Version 5? You probably don't. Click here to download the newest version.

Here are some other awesome Google Earth resource pages:

Please let me know if you'd like my help with creating your own Google Earth Tour!