Internet, Tech, Writing

Guest Blogger: Sonya terBorg

Guest Blogger: Sonya terBorg.

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21st Century, Creativity, Internet

Voki – Giving Students a Voice

In our previous unit under the theme How We Express Ourselves my students were asked to create a Voki avatar to persuade people to send their kids kids to our school – essentially answering the question “Why Riverstone?” from their perspective.  We had used Voki in the past, and I wanted to revisit it in a more formal (rather than optional) way to really see if this was something worthwhile to do.

My class has Voki Classroom accounts.  This is different to the regular, free version of Voki.  What it does differently, is that it allows you access to your kids work prior to publishing.  As the teacher, you set the assignment and send this to each child’s account.  They log in (with usernames and passwords that you have access to) and click on the appropriate task, read the instructions and carry out the assignment. When they are finished, they submit it to you for review.  You can ‘approve’ it or send it back to them to work on it some more.

Here are what I consider the key strengths of Voki:

  • you get an oral presentation without the pressure of performing live in front of an audience. Yes, I know performing live is valuable, but so is hearing people applaud your clear, confident, expressive speech that normally may have been muffled and quiet and spoken into your armpit. 
  • some kids will knock your socks off! I was crazy impressed with the majority of the Voki’s that were produced for this assignment and some kids really stood out from the rest – and not necessarily the kids you would expect either.  I love that.
  • it is really intuitive.  We had used it before but even then, all it took was one class lesson on the Smartboard and they were off.  There were a few glitches along the way but that was my doing – not Voki’s or my kids!

Which leads me to my recommendations:

  • make sure you set the assignment up first!  I know, this seems simple, but in all the organizing, actually sending out the last assignment to their accounts was missed off my to-do list.  Major bummer.
  • keep a printed list of usernames and passwords – they are easy to remember but we use a lot of sites and so having them handy is a must so those who forget can quickly access them
  • start with some fun, non-assessed assignments – let them play with Voki!  I started with a book review from a character’s perspective and each child introducing themselves.

Prior to beginning the assignment, I shared the following with my class.  Click on the image to enlarge.  Click to download a PDF version.

Voki Rubric Voki Assignment Planner

After you have approved their work, it is very easy to embed the finished Voki in your blog.  I have found in the past that there are many embedding codes that don’t work with WordPress (the blogging platform we use at school) but Voki is not one of them.  At the conclusion of the assignment I was able to easily export the Voki’s to our class website to share with the students and their families.  Here are a couple of examples of our Voki’s:

 

When they were uploaded, each student was tasked with drawing five names from a hat, finding that Voki online, and reviewing their work using the following form.  The grid of persuasive strategies is from the awesome website, ReadWriteThink.

Voki Review

In addition to this personalized, specific feedback, we watched all the Voki’s as a class and rated them ‘live’ using the online student response tool: Socrative.If you have not used Socrative before, please check it out!  It is really cool – and as the byline says, “as easy as raising your hand”.  Once you set up a teacher account, students log on with any device and plug in your ‘room number’.  You control the pace of the questions or allow them to go at their own pace.  As they answer your questions, their responses show up live on screen.  We watched each Voki together and then rated them on persuasive effectiveness on a scale of 1-5.  Check this video out for further information:

Socrative introduction video (new) from Socrative Inc. on Vimeo.

In Summary:

I would highly recommend the use of Voki in your classroom.  I like the education version, Voki Classroom, mostly because of it’s editing/reviewing options and because your recordings can be up to 90 seconds (as opposed to 60 seconds in the free version).  It is easy to see where each student is at on the project and feedback can be delivered instantly to them from your account to theirs. I love that you can embed the finished Voki’s and the quality of both the avatar and the voice options are excellent.  In addition to the stock backgrounds, you can also upload your own images = the first Voki featured in this post actually has a photo of the front of our school as the background.  This feature allows you to incorporate aspects of visual language into your curriculum by challenging students to come up with the most appropriate look to their Voki that suits their message.

To compare Voki with Voki Classroom – click here.

To download a user guide to getting started with Voki Classroom – click here.

Creativity, Innovation, Play

Children At Play!

On my drive home today, I noticed a sign like the one above as I approached an intersection.  I have some bulletin board boarders in my classroom that say “Caution! Kids at Work”.  I got them because I thought they were cute.  I am now thinking of replacing them with a big sign like this on my door.  Why? As a reminder to myself as I begin the new year to make room for play.

I have posted on enabling creativity, the power of play,  and the idea that there is no purpose without play. I believe that play is positive, play promotes creativity, play unleashes ideas, curiosity, wonder and excitement – and isn’t that what school is for? So the sign will more than likely go up in some form or another.  But a sign in itself is not enough. I want my actions to reflect my beliefs.

We have had two days of school so far.  Teacher days.  No kids. But they are always on my mind.  The actual logistics are still in the making but here are some of the things I want to do in the first day/week of school:

SPOILER ALERT!  *If you are a parent of a child in my class and can promise you won’t share the following with your kids, you may keep reading – but don’t share! 🙂

The Marshmallow Challenge

The Marshmallow Challenge.  This is cool.  It is a TED talk, a challenge, a blog and just a fun, dynamic way to kick things off.  It has been done by CEO’s to Kindergartener’s and soon, by my fifth graders.  Why do it?  In the words of its creator, Tom Wujec:

The marshmallow challenge provides teams with a shared felt experience, a common language and a solid stance to find the right prototypes to build their real projects successfully, to avoid the oh-oh moments and have real ta-dah moments.

Exactly what I want this year: sharing, commonalities, inquiry, and aha moments.  I don’t actually mind if there are oh-oh moments.  They work for me too.  But honestly, what better way to kick off the year than with some spagetti and marshmallows?

Introductions via Voki

I was that kid who sat there, petrified that I was going to have to speak in front of the class.  I loathed it. I don’t know if any of my new kids dislike speaking in front of the class.  I do know that there are some options for getting around that – at least on the first day.  Cue Voki.  This is a fun, online tool that allows you to make an avatar and record a voice for it – your own, or a text-to-speech voice from the US, UK or Australia.  The challenge will be for kids to choose to either recreate themselves as closely as possible (with their own voice) or to create an alter ego avatar and have us guess who they are.  Here is my Voki that took me about six minutes to make:

Click to open Voki page

Voki has a classroom account for a fee.  I am going to start my free trial of the educator account and see after the two weeks if the kids and I think this is a useful tool to add to our belts.

Choose ???

The one assignment that I gave my incoming group of fifth graders was to read Wonder by RJ Palacio.  This book has launched the “Choose Kind” movement.  I want to ask my kids what they are going to choose for themselves this year.  If they have a choice between right and popular, hard and easy, challenge and status quo – what would they choose? These words will become our targets: the things we aim for throughout the year.  I want to incorporate these words into a large piece of group art: something beautiful and meaningful for the children to collaborate on together and make their mark as fifth graders.

I want to share this quote with my class to help them think about the word they will choose.

I am looking forward to combining their words with their images to make something magnificent for our wall.  I am toying with the idea of also sharing one of my favorite poems, “Why the Caged Bird Sings” by Maya Angelou.  I love it. Love it. I think that also will have to be shared – it’s themes of bravery, dreams, hope, strength and courage are all traits I want to build in my kids this year.

Lego!

I don’t even know if we have any lego at school – but we should! I just read a really cool article about a 23 year old from Illinois who has become the fourth Lego Master Model Builder in the United States.  He now works at LegoLand. Here is the video application he sent out to Legoland in order to be considered for the job.  In the video, listen to him describe all the ways lego can be used to foster and strengthen imagination, creativity, passion, innovation and ideas:

I love it! I have done a quick look and in some places, universities and colleges will loan out kits of lego for schools for a 3 to 4 week time period with a refundable security deposit.  I don’t know if we have something like that in Boise, but I want to find out!

Ultimately, my goal is to start the first day and first week off the way I mean to continue: with challenge, collaboration, technology, innovation, thinking, creating, connecting and playing.  Lots and lots of playing.

How will you start the new school year?