My dream is to be free …

Along with my love of performance previously documented in an earlier blog post, my other earliest memory is of the chalkboard in our playroom. I loved to draw on the board and tell elaborate stories about what I had drawn to anyone who would listen, and my audience was usually my younger sister.

My other method of presentation was to use my Etch-a-Sketch, where I would create pictures using the two dials, share my drawings with family, then shake the picture to clear it and start over. However, I was limited by the vertical and horizontal lines, never able to find a way to step outside the limitations of the toy and express myself in other ways.

The desire to express thoughts and ideas has been around since paintings on cave walls, and unfortunately so has the oppression of individual freedoms to express those thoughts. The fight for personal and collective freedoms is ongoing … as one set of freedoms is achieved, others continue to struggle.

For this post, I have had the freedom to play, and as a result have chosen to include a number of the tools that I explored and my thoughts about how they can be incorporated into my work as a learner and an educator.

My personal learning process with multimedia and presentation tools

I decided to investigate these tools in pairs, with the intent of comparing the features of each to determine which I would prefer for my own personal learning. As a teacher-librarian, I looked at how the tools could support collaboration with teachers and also meet the variety of learner needs. Due to the number of students with diverse learning needs in our school, I also looked at the guiding principles of Universal Design for Learning when considering the use of each tool.

“Universal Design for Learning (UDL) is a set of principles for curriculum development that give all individuals equal opportunities to learn. UDL provides a blueprint for creating instructional goals, methods, materials, and assessments that work for everyone–not a single, one-size-fits-all solution but rather flexible approaches that can be customized and adjusted for individual needs.” CAST

UDL Guidelines are based upon this belief that all students can become mastery learners when three areas are addressed that support learners to meet curricular outcomes that are not designed to meet a range of learner needs. When planning for learning, the “what”, “how”, and “why” of learning should be considered:


Click on image to go to website

Vuvox and Animoto – Put on a show

I have created numerous slideshows over the years, and had students create movies where they can edit text, video and audio and make decisions about timing and transitions. I prefer to have them storyboard prior to letting them work on the computer, so that they can make decisions about content and layout without being drawn into the time-suckage that can result from the different editing options.

With Vuvox and Animoto, the editing options are limited and a final product can be created in mere minutes. This has great appeal to the busy classroom teacher, as I found when I was doing a collaborative project with the grade 1 teacher where we took photographs of the students demonstrating scenes of peace. A quick demo of the tool and she was sold, and we had the show completed in mere minutes. Due to district restrictions, I am unable to show the final product without written permission from all the parents, but we both had chills when we viewed it together.

I decided to then create a book trailer in Animoto using the book Remember: A Story of School Integration by Toni Morrison.

The free account in Animoto does limit the options to a few styles, and I am unable to adjust the speed of slides, and the 30 second time limit does not provide for many slides to be put together.

In Vuvox, I put together a series of images related to Remembrance Day, to link to the ongoing inquiries that students are doing and provide an initial stimulus for their own shows they will be creating:

Click image to view show

I can see how the linear style of this show might be easier to follow for some learners, as it does not have the music video style of the Animoto site.

Supporting my personal learning: Due to the ease of use, these tools lend themselves to creating shows of personal photos around themes such as special events or vacations with minimal effort.  I find the use of music and images to be powerful as a learner, especially when they are organized around a particular theme.

Supporting teaching and learning: As a teacher-librarian, I want to involve my library club members in promoting books. I feel that both Animoto and Vuvox would be easy to learn and highly motivating to create and to view. As a teacher, I feel that Vuvox would be easier to follow for assessment purposes. Using a multimedia tool provides students the opportunity to express themselves, and is motivating enough for them to sustain effort and persistence towards the final goal.

VoiceThread and xtranormal – Sharing

I was familiar with VoiceThread as I had explored it in the past, but I had yet to create one myself. I decided to make one to correspond with the upcoming publication of Diary of a Wimpy Kid: The Ugly Truth, as it is a highly anticipated book in both of my libraries.

Click image to view Voicethread

Creating the VoiceThread was very simple. I set up an account and was immediately provided with sample tutorial videos on my account page. It was pretty straightforward to upload images to the site, and I decided to try out all the different methods of commenting to see how they worked. I started with simply recording using the microphone on my laptop, and then tried out the telephone feature as I found that quite intriguing. When you select the telephone to comment, you type in your phone number and then VoiceThread phones you with a message asking you to record your comment. I found the sound quality to be decent, and thought that this would be a great option for family or friends living far away who might not have a microphone to use. I then tried out the webcam commenting option – also easy to use, and the text typing.

xtranormal is an animation tool where text is turned into performance. There are sets where one or two actors can be selected, and then you can type in the script for each performer.

Two Robots

I did create a short video and although I was amused by the results, I noticed that many of the options required the purchase of extra points, and that combined with the somewhat robotic voices and the potential for mispronounced words (especially with spelling errors), I decided that it probably was not a practical option at this time.

Supporting personal learning: VoiceThread would have been a great tool to have when my son was little, as our family lives far apart and it would have been a way to stay in touch and share the day-to-day events in our lives. The sample VoiceThread of the little girl getting her first haircut is a perfect example of how powerful this tool can be for young children (and their families): Getting a new haircut

Supporting teaching and learning: VoiceThread can be used to break down concepts step-by-step, with audio narration or drawing tools to highlight important ideas, and students can pause and replay as needed. A procedure in math, a science concept, the historical background to an event – all could be enhanced for diverse learners using VoiceThread. Bomar (2009) shares an example of using a VoiceThread in high school as an inquiry activity prior to reading a novel, in order to prepare students with background knowledge that would support them when reading.

For younger learners, VoiceThread is ideal. Student drawings could be scanned and then narrated using a microphone, allowing for feedback to be given as well. English language learners and struggling readers could practice their fluency when reading and build their vocabulary by finding images and narrating them.

I am also intrigued by the idea of using a VoiceThread as a Digital Portfolio. Here is a sample of a grade 5 student who demonstrates the ability to set goals, plan and monitor her progress, and identify her strengths and areas for growth. Fifth grade digital portfolio

Glogster and Bitstrips – Different ways of knowing

Glogster is an online poster creation site where images, text, audio and video can all be embedded. In addition, there is a social networking feature where students can comment on each other’s Glog. Because of this social networking feature, students in our school under the age of 13 are not allowed to participate due to our appropriate use agreement. However, setting up a classroom in the account allows for privacy settings so that students are not using their own email accounts to set up a Glog account. As the teacher, I can set up a free account where I have 50 students assigned. I decided to go with the Edu premium trial account (free for 30 days), so that I could test all the features of Glogster.

I have been working with the grade 5 team at one school to support students in building a Glog that will be the culmination of their first inquiry project of the year. Students have been investigating the climate in their ideal place to live, and have also been making connections to the lifestyle and potential extreme weather that might occur there. I started them with two that I had created, using the same content:

Ms. J Sample Glog 1

MsJ Sample Glog 2

Setting up a Glog was very easy to do, and there are enough options available to give students ownership over the design without being too overwhelming. In fact, I would say there are enough options that teachers will need to monitor students to ensure they don’t waste an entire class period changing backgrounds!

Students used a See/Think/Wonder process to generate a list of criteria for an effective Glog, based on the two I created and some other samples we looked at. We ended up with the categories of Content, Visual Appeal and Layout as being key to the creation of a Glog that clearly communicates and demonstrates learning.

The next step is for students to log on using their user id and password, which is a string of randomly assigned numbers and letters. We have not tried this yet, and my plan is to add each student’s last name to the random id and then email this information to students so that they just have to copy and paste from their Gmail account. This is my main concern with Glogster, especially with younger students who might find it difficult to understand their account. Also for teachers to be able to track each student – without their name, the random id would make it very difficult to understand who is who.

Bitstrips is a comic strip creator that also allows for the functionality of creating a secured classroom where it is not necessary for students to use an email account to log on. The teacher creates the classroom and adds the students, and then provides students with the information to log in. When creating a bitstrip, it can only be seen by members of the class, and teachers can moderate comments as well to ensure appropriateness.

Creating a bitstrip can be quick and easy:

A teacher would want to ensure that they set parameters for what students should spend their time on. I found myself spending far too much time tweaking my own avatar, and could easily see students getting involved in customizing their characters to the point where nothing else is accomplished.

Supporting personal learning: What I really like about the Glog is the ability to embed video and audio, and link to external sites. The visual appeal of the Glog makes it ideal for the front page of a Wiki or website, such as the Pathfinder Swap Wiki, which has provided me with inspiration for my own planning as a teacher-librarian.

Supporting teaching and learning:  Carrington and Robinson (2009) refer to how these multimodal texts “take into account not just just the written word, but also images, layout, font, sound, gesture, movement …” (p. 30).  During our criteria setting for an effective Glog, students pointed out how elements such as font style and size communicate message and intent. Bitstrips has great potential for writers, as it allows a method for planning and managing information in smaller bits, but also requires higher-order thinking as the storyline must be synthesized to the most critical elements to fit into the limited frames provided. It is also highly engaging for so many of our students who are drawn to Diary of a Wimpy Kid and graphic novels, which are highly popular in my libraries.

Prezi and Wallwisher – Working together

I had originally explored Prezi as a presentation tool for an inquiry course over the summer, and found that the ability to plan and see the big picture really helped me as a learner.

Click on image to view Prezi

However, the zooming in and out in the presentation mode made me feel a little motion sickness, and I felt that this would not be a tool that I would want to have 25 students use to share their learning (not without a bucket of Gravol, anyway!)

I decided to try out the Prezi format as a potential meeting/collaboration tool with a grade 4 teacher that I will be working with. I started with brainstorming a few ideas around our inquiry template, and invited her to edit the Prezi brainstorming as well.

Click image to view

The visual nature of the meeting space allows for multiple users to work together.

Wallwisher is another tool that allows for visual presentation of collaboration, and I can show that collaboration happening on the Smartboard so that all ideas are documented. It requires setting up an account, creating a wall, and then emailing all participants with the link provided so that they can join in the collaboration.

Supporting personal learning: As a global thinker, I need to see the big picture and understand my goal before I can sort out all the details. Even when I am collecting all the details, I need to have some sort of format for laying them out so I can begin to see the connections. I’ve tried Prezi out a couple of times this way, as a sort of virtual “Post-It” note generator, and being able to add images and hyperlink to other sites is becoming more helpful as I do more of my reading online.

Supporting teaching and learning: Using a visual collaborative tool in combination with conversation and discussion allows for multiple means of representation and expression. Students contribute ideas and share perspectives, allow for different ways of seeing the same problem. The newly revised Alberta Math Program of Studies is built upon this premise of students working together to find ways of solving problems, and then sharing this thinking with the rest of the class allows for those different ways of understanding to be developed. Tools such as Prezi and Wallwisher could allow for students to do this work together, show it on the Smartboard, and even include hyperlinks to other demonstrations of learning that they find.

Google Earth – Zooming between big picture and details

I began to explore Google Earth towards the end of the week, as a response to the needs of teachers and students. In the process of supporting the grade five students in their inquiry, I came to find that many of them had selected places that they had very little knowledge of. We then moved to Google Maps to help them begin to narrow down their search, as many had selected names of countries and needed to be more specific when determining weather and climate.

What I found also helped was determining the position of their country on the globe, and thus Google Earth also came into play. By starting with the reference point of our school (well, the empty field since our school is so new!), we could then zoom out and find the place they had selected, and then talk further about the location and how climate might be affected by factors such as proximity to water, geographic features, or position near the equator.

Supporting personal learning: I have always loved maps, and looked forward to the latest National Geographic magazine whenever we visited my aunt’s house. Her basement walls were lined with them, as they had every issue since they started publishing. I would plan trips in my head, using the photographs in the magazine to help me visualize what I would see when I got there. I can now do the same with Google Earth and Google Map, and the best part is that I can do it on my computer or on my iPhone.

Supporting teaching and learning: Google Earth has already proven itself to be an essential part of the inquiry learning process in the last week. Berger and Trexler (2009) state that “The tools’ visual immediacy helps to connect and motivate students encouraging them to ‘fly’ to different places and continue to investigate, to compare, and to document.” p. 183. It’s like being in a dream, but you don’t fall and wake up in the middle of it.

On Friday, a grade 6 teacher came to me looking to collaborate on the upcoming Sky Science unit, so I began to explore the potential of Google Sky. I discovered the ability to view the night sky above our location and map out the constellations. The Google Earth educators page provided a wealth of ideas that I am looking forward to going through as I begin my planning with the teachers next week. Berger and Trexler provide a useful guideline for planning, entitled The Educator’s Pre-Planning Guide for a Google Earth Trip (p. 199) that I am looking at using.

Concluding question(s) to ponder

Erin Gruwell entered a Long Beach classroom filled with students deemed “unteachable”, living amongst drugs, gangs and violence.

“By fostering an educational philosophy that valued and promoted diversity, she transformed her students’ lives. She encouraged them to rethink rigid beliefs about themselves and others, to reconsider daily decisions, and to rechart their futures. With Erin’s steadfast support, her students shattered stereotypes to become critical thinkers, aspiring college students, and citizens for change. They even dubbed themselves the “Freedom Writers” — in homage to civil rights activists “The Freedom Riders” — and published a book.” Freedom Writers Foundation

Erin shared with her students the lives of others who lived in war and oppression – Anne Frank, Zlata Filopovic – and guided them to start exploring their own fears and shaping a new identity. She gave them the freedom to dream bigger than they had imagined, and they flew.

I am fortunate to work with an amazing teacher who, with her junior high special needs class, wrote to Erin to convince her to come to Edmonton and share the stories of her experience. In preparation for her visit, they worked so hard that most of them improved up to four grade levels in reading and writing. When Erin came, I watched her speak to a gymnasium filled with young people that was so silent you could hear a pin drop. During her visit, she spent time with the kids and gave her full attention to every one she spoke with, and they all stood taller. They were inspired – to read, to write, to learn, and to be heard. They learned about the freedom to choose how to express oneself, to learn and access information, and the responsibilities that come with those freedoms -to demonstrate their learning, and to be an ethical and contributing citizen.

Moving towards a participatory culture requires that teachers allow students the freedom to explore ideas together using multimedia and presentation tools, and to remix those ideas. This teacher and I are now planning to have her new students inquire around freedom, to connect with their study of “Freedom Writers.” I’m thinking that my first steps will be to create a Google Earth trip showing all the places in the book – the neighborhoods they lived in, Anne Frank’s house, where Zlata had to flee. To give them a sense of place. Then, to guide the students to create their own Google Earth trips connected to Voicethreads that share more than one perspective, similar to the approach by Nichols (2010). She had her students create VoiceThreads showing how battles affected soldiers on both sides in World War II. Perhaps the students will explore the suffrage movement, the election in Iran, child soldiers in Africa, freedom of speech, or the failed attempt at democracy in China. I’m excited to see where they will go with it, and how we can support them all to wave their flag.



About shelljob

I am an educator and life-long learner, exploring new adventures as a teacher-librarian and graduate student. This blog is part of a course on Web 2.0 that I am taking. I am also the parent of a philosopher, a velcro dog and two independent cats. They all manage to keep me humble and grounded!
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One Response to My dream is to be free …

  1. tlkirsten says:

    Connections with the chalkboard and etch-a-sketch – awesome!

    Loved your analogy with freedom.

    “I prefer to have them storyboard prior to letting them work on the computer, so that they can make decisions about content and layout without being drawn into the time-suckage that can result from the different editing options.: – Nice tip!

    I liked the idea of voicethread for portfolios too.

    Finally, I am really inspired by your ideas for student connections to “Freedom Writers”

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