Posts Tagged ‘web tool’

Nick Cave exhibit at MassMoca, summer 2017. (photo by me)

So I’ve been thinking about tech tools lately. When I work with teachers to support their technology use in the classroom, I always insist that we start with the learning goals or really anything but the technology. However, I have an upcoming technology event and so particular tech tools are on my mind.

A tool that I had forgotten about but have come back to is VoiceThread. I have helped foreign language teachers use it in the past, so perhaps I just got stuck in putting it in that bucket. I don’t know.

Anyway, my students and I were doing research on installation artists. After a brief introduction to the movement from an art colleague, they were off and investigating individual artists. As it turned out, I did not have time in the schedule for students to present their findings, nor was presenting really a goal of this mini-unit. Side note: What to do with research findings so that there is some audience or use for it beyond the researcher is often a conundrum. If I do the presentation thing, it ALWAYS takes WAY longer than planned. Plus, often it turns into a different person lecturing. Is that really what I want? If I give student groups an entire class period and make it clear they need to engage and teach the class versus just dump information, they can do that. But with the ~10-minute time frame, by the time you add class participation, each little report out is taking over class again. Ok, back to the main point here.

I had several goals for this little mini-unit:

  • First of all, I wanted students to learn about installation art as a movement.
  • I also wanted students to become more familiar with how to talk about this kind of work, so I had them incorporate information from reviews in their research.
  • I wanted students to learn about at least one artist in more detail, but also to hear about a few more artists.
  • Finally, I wanted the presentation itself to invite interaction, connecting it to installation art in a way.

Hello, Voicethread.

I teach seniors so I didn’t figure I had to do too much explaining. I sent them the link to make an account; I did a little bit of explanation in class; I directed them to where the how-to videos were online. Some students found the drawing tools and really used VoiceThread to a fuller extent than others. And, a few students had minor technical issues. Overall, the learning curve for using VoiceThread was a non-issue.

When I look at the whole thing, it worked really well for the goals I had. Students could easily share their final work with their small group and with me. Not only did it allow for written or audio comments by the student-researcher but really lent itself to interaction, which was the most challenging goal to achieve without using extensive class time. Having students interact with the final presentations is a baby step towards one component of their culminating assignment for this unit, and being able to practice the interactive piece and think about ways to engage your audience will be helpful moving forward.  

(I would embed one or two, but all the comments are identified with the student first and last names. You’ll have to trust me on the quality.)

Why hadn’t I thought of this before?


So, I’ve been thinking about Macbeth recently. I am teaching a section of 9th grade English this year. Currently  we are reading Macbeth, and it’s hard for many of the students.

As we go slowly and carefully through the original text even my class of 16 can seem too large. I need to have a small group looking closely at a given passage, and often I need to be involved in this close examination. Since I cannot read my students’ minds (and thank goodness for that!) one of the best ways for me to know they are engaged is for them to speak up. However, only 1 person can contribute to a discussion at a time if we don’t want chaos. Enter back channel chat. This is a strategy I have used before in 5th grade.

So the issue that I was trying address was participation.

  • I want more participation from more students.
  • I want a little more of a peak into their heads, on the limited topic of Macbeth.
  • I want to provide other modes of participation.
  • I want to de-emphasize speed and quickness. Sometimes in conversations the topic moves quickly and leaves some folks out.

The basic outline: I decided to combine the fishbowl format with live blogging or back channel chat. Fishbowl conversations have a small group in the center of the room (in the fishbowl) and the rest of the students outside the center. The center group engages in a discussion and the outer group evaluates the discussion either in terms of content or participation or habits of the inner group or listens and gives feedback at the end. By combining this with back channel chat, I turned the outside group into a second discussion group. However, this group had their conversation exclusively online using Todaysmeet. This online conversation was on the same topic generally, but also veered off or took a different tack at times. (See this teacher’s post about fishbowl and live blogging for more information.)

Here is a room set up for one type of fishbowl conversation.  CC photo by Flickr user Learn4LIfe

Here is a room set up for one type of fishbowl conversation.
CC photo by Flickr user Learn4LIfe

What I noticed was with a smaller group in the fishbowl, more people participated. No surprise there. However, adding the Todaysmeet option is what really makes this a winner.

  • Typing provided a different format for participation.
  • Several people could comment “at the same time” since they were typing. No one was interrupting each other.
  • It was a perfect format for those “I agree” comments that say I am listening and engaging but might not have something new to add here.
  • Students who would never interrupt to add something, had a lot more say (type) than usual.
  • Repetition wasn’t such a problem.
  • I could go back over the transcript later.
  • I got more information about who was thinking what.
  • I “heard” from a wider range of students (everyone).
  • When it was time to be in the fishbowl, there were also fewer people and more of a chance for each student.
  • Students asked questions that might sidetrack the main conversation and got answers from other students. I swear this happened.
  • And, students asked if we could do this again. They worked harder and wanted to do so again, even if they wouldn’t say it that way.

While it’s not necessarily an everyday strategy, I think it’s one to keep.

What strategies other strategies increase participation?

So, I’ve been thinking about the essays I assign 5th graders. (To give you some idea of what to expect from 5th graders, at the beginning of the year many of them think “essay” is “SA”.) I’ve also been thinking about the podcasts we’ve been doing this year. If this were a title fight, who should win?

I say this is round 2 because in round 1 podcasting got disqualified, something about paperwork not being in on time. Anyway, so in round 2 (that would be now) podcasting is here and all official.

Boxers by Keith Haring, Berlin (1987)

So let’s meet our opponents:

In one corner, in the striped trunks, we have the traditional essay. The essay is a recognized champion. It fits in with how any serious thoughts used to have to be presented. It has lots of impressive sponsors. It’s not always very agile in the hands of 5th graders and gets obsessed with details. When everything comes together though, it can blow you away.

In the other corner, wearing polka-dot trunks, we have the podcast. The podcast is the challenger. It is hip, casual, and plays a little loose with the rules. It is part of the new digital crowd where folks present ideas in a variety of ways. It can get too free-form when it mixes with 5th graders. You have to watch out for being swayed by its cool factor, but when taken seriously, style and personality of the students come through loud and clear.

Here’s my blow-by-blow recap: I would feel I was doing my students a disservice if I did not teach them to express their ideas in written form. That means reading carefully first, thinking and putting ideas together second, planning what to include and the order to put it in third, and finally drafting and editing a final essay. That said, one of my stated goals of this type of assignment is the be able to use it for some sort of assessment–of thinking and writing. So, while the essay allows me to asses grammar, all those little errors sometimes overwhelm some solid thinking. But I have noticed as I have listened to the podcasts my students made that it is easier for me to see beyond the grammar when I am not in fact seeing the grammar, but listening to the power or lack thereof of ideas.

I have added podcasting as a final step, not substituted it for writing. There are very few people who probably should just speak off the top of their heads and be assessed on it, and I would guess none of them are 10 years old. When I listen to their essays, I get to hear the students stressing the parts they think are important (which of course more experienced writers can do just in text, but we’re not quite there yet). I get to hear each student breathe life into that flat paper statement.

So who wins this round?

I have to say it’s a split decision for me, folks. I’m keeping both of these powerhouses in my class; they’ll just have to get along.
Photo by Achim Hepp used under creative commons license.

(Not sure what it is with my chosen metaphors lately; they seem to relate to activities in which I do not participate as I neither sing nor box.)

A Cool Tool for me

Posted: November 30, 2010 in Uncategorized
Tags: , , , ,

So, I’ve been thinking about some of the web 2.o tools I like best. One of them is Symbaloo.


This tool allows you to organize links to websites. You can use it as a PLE or a way to organize your favorite bookmarked sites. I started using it last year after listening to Wendy Drexler talk about it in a webinar. She showed how middle school students were using it both to collect research links on a topic and to link to the final online artifacts (glogs, etc).


Since I teach 5th grade, having students search for readable content is sometimes more time-consuming than is reasonable. So, I thought I would start out using it as a way to gather preselected links about a social studies topic. Then, I could share them all with my students. Here’s a picture of what a “webmix” or “desktop” I made.

I assign a link to teach tile and pick the color and little icon that go with it. Not hard, not fancy, so helpful.

This webmix above was from last year. We were just moving on to studying classical Greece after studying Crete and the Minoan civilization. So, I did some searching of pictures and text in advance. I arranged the tiles so that the pictures were at the top and then as you move down the links are more and more text-heavy. Using the “share this webmix” option, I emailed the link to my students. Then in class they could follow the link and see the same webmix you see above. Students had some time to explore the links at their own pace. Those who like to see a visual first, could start at the top. Those who wanted more words, could head to the middle or bottom rows. Great for differentiating.

Also, you’ll see on the bottom right, two tiles with pencil icons. These are links to wallwisher bulletin boards for students to leave questions or interesting facts.

I have continued this pattern of using Symbaloo this year as well. So far, I have made a webmix for links about Mesopotamia. Again, I organized more pictures and bite-sized information towards the top and more far-reaching text at the bottom. And, again I linked to bulletin boards (this time Stixy) to collect questions and fun facts.

I have found that this allows students to gather some background knowledge that works for them. Then, we come together again, each student has already begun to build that background knowledge and has a place for new information.

Other ways I use Symbaloo:

  • I made a webmix that is just links to all my students’ edublogs on one side and in one color and all their eportfolio wikis on the other side in a different color. (I borrowed this idea from Ann Leaness @aleaness on Twitter.)
  • I have started a webmix of tools and resources that my class uses so that we have a 1-stop shopping place to find all our the tools and sites we use a lot.

I love this tool. I have shared it at several unconferences (EdCampPhilly and NTCamp) and offered a short session on it during an inservice day at my own school. Those who came to my session at school were not all classroom teachers, but all were enthusiastic about how they were going to use it in their everyday lives.

Anyone else using Symbaloo in a great way?