VoiceThread as a Digital Portfolio

I have written about the possibilities with VoiceThread before. More recently, I have been tweeting about using VoiceThread as a digital portfolio for our Student-Led Conferences this semester.

In the past, my students have used Photostory3 to show and talk about their learning as a starting point for their Student Led Conference with their parents.  I’m now teaching in a mac school so Photostory3 was not an option.  After considering iMovie (and all of it’s amazing features) I felt that it had too many features that might be distracting for what I wanted.  The ease at which a mac allows you to record your voice, and video using the inbuilt webcam and mic was still going to be the foundation of recording our learning but I still needed to find a suitable platform.  A wiki was a consideration and then the brainwave of a VoiceThread Digital Portfolio appeared in my head late one night!

The more I considered VoiceThread, the more it’s interactive features appealed to me.  Using Photostory3 meant a final product. Nothing more added, no room for comment by parents and unless you sent the exported movie file, or embedded it on a wiki, no way for other family members in different parts of the country or in other parts of world, to see it.

Using VoiceThread was easy!  We’ve already used it several times this year, so the “tool” and how to use it was already established.  Here is the step by step organisation we used to complete a digital portfolio for each student in Room202.

Step 1: Sign up students for an individual account each in VoiceThread.

(We used an email that did not technically exist – but not gmail with + because that won’t work – The email address isn’t required to gain the password – which means the email does not have to exist – BUT you must remember it to be able to sign in)

Step 2: Brainstorm with students what they think needs to go into their portfolios.

Guiding questions:  What will my parents want to see?  What will my parents want to know about?

With very little guidance from me, students listed subject areas (Reading, Math, etc) along with how I’m doing socially, what my work habits are like, what I need to improve, what I can do well, PLUS some things that I’d really like to share with my parents because I’m proud of what I’ve achieved.

Step 3: Take the required photos. Upload to VoiceThread.  Take picture of self (using photobooth) and change avatar. Add teacher’s email address to contacts and share VoiceThread with teacher.  (This is how I could keep track of who was getting behind in their time management)

The only rule about photos was that ALL images had to be taken by Room202.  No google images allowed, no images from creative commons – but students could use any of the photos from our flickr account that had been taken during class activities during the year.  We talked about parents wanting to see their child (not someone else in the class) and own work captured (not someone elses) and how the image should relate to what you were talking about.  A checklist was introduced so that tracking what images were still required was easier.

Step 4: Write the script.

A prompt booklet with sentence starters in it was handed to each student – to encourage students to talk about their learning rather than what they were doing.  This was by far the area that required the most amount of modeling and took the most amount of time for students and the teacher!  I did set one script on a topic per night as homework to get things moving along.

Most students, in their first draft just talked about things like what they had read, or how a reading workshop session might go, or the celery experiment we did in class, rather than what they were actually learning to do and how well they thought they had done it, or what they might do better next time.

A second column was added to the checklist so that students knew which scripts had been written and checked off by me, ready for recording.

Step 5: Record Script

After gaining a check off from me, students were then able to record their script on the appropriate page.  I’m amazed at how considerate the class was – we did most of the recording in class, with a handful going to the teamroom next door if they had many scripts to record at once.  A simple “Quiet please, recording” and a “thank you” when finished – ensured that no-one had background chatter in their voicethread.  Everyone was respectful and quiet during a recording time (the only odd interuption was, of course, the bell!!)  Of course, using the inbuilt features of our macs meant that we needed no extra equipment other than our laptops!

Step 6: Reflect and Revise.
Listen to full VoiceThread, redo any pages where voice level was too quiet or too loud.  Hand in completed Checklist to teacher.  Using publishing options and playback options make changes to allow parents to see finished portfolio.

Now that Student-Led Conferences are finished, I can share with you all the resounding success of using VoiceThread as a digital portfolio.  Parental feedback so far has been how impressed they were with the effort from their children and how enjoyable it was to hear their own child speak about their learning in a clear and confident manner.  Being an International School, the majority of parents were thrilled to hear how easy it was going to be to share the VoiceThread with family and friends in different parts of the world.  Most agreed that being able to share with grandparents was a highlight.  Some dads weren’t able to make the actual conference due to work commitments so it was great that those students were able to go home and share this portfolio online with them.  One dad was actually in another country and was going to be watching the portfolio in his hotel room that night.

ESL students were most successful with their portfolios too and were encouraged to communicate with their parents in English and their native tongue.  This was much appreciated by parents and meant that family members around the world could understand what was being said.

I am incredibly proud of ALL my students and the effort that they put into their portfolios.

My Reflection: What would I do differently next time?

  • Swap Step 3 & 4 around.  To help students avoid talking about the image (therefore only talking about the “doing” rather than the “learning”, write the script first then take an image that fits what you’re talking about.  This process of preparing portfolios made me realise that we need to have more conversations as we are learning, about what it is that we are learning, why we are learning it and how we know if we have learned it.  We have our learning intentions and success criteria plastered around the room, plus we write them in our books but I realised after doing these VoiceThreads – it’s not enough.  Some students still aren’t making the connections between the things we do in class and the learning that we want to occur.  I’m really bothered by that and this is something that I really want address over the rest of the semester and the years to come.
  • Keep one or two of these VoiceThreads as a model for next years class.  The need to provide modelling and good models has really made itself powerfully known to me over this past year.  Modelling is the key to great learning and success.
  • Have students create their Digital Portfolio VoiceThread at the beginning of the year.  Add to it from the beginning of 5th Grade.  Perhaps set a target of 5 pages per semester.  This would avoid students talking only about the latest things they have learnt or struggled with.
The Power of Skype and your PLN

The Power of Skype and your PLN

The Most Amazing PLN Anyone Could Ever Ask For

This post’s feature image taken by my good friend Rachel; I’m “sitting” on Amanda aka HeyMilly’s “lap” and AllanahK skyped me in! This is the power of skype & your PLN!

My fabulous colleagues back home in New Zealand have been enjoying the Learning@Schools09 Conference held in Rotorua.  When my good friend (and one of the first people in my PLN) AllanahK tweeted that she was organising a “Matt-style” dance at the start of Wes Fryer‘s Keynote presentation, I couldn’t resist the urge to tweet back “Can I skype in?”

Sure enough – at 7.15am Bangkok, Thailand time, and 1.15pm, New Zealand time, she did just that- skyped me in so that I could join in the dance too.  It was brilliant – almost like being there.  I was able listen to Wes’s Keynote until Allanah’s battery finally died.  I wish I could have been there in personal to reconnect with old friends, make new friends, and learn new things from incredibly talented people.

Video Proof!

Unfortunately the background music “Dancing with Matt”, got pinged by YouTube as copyright material.

Putting it Together!

I originally used jing to capture the screen on my laptop (‘cos that’s all I had), then discovered that it saves as .swf. Drat! Because that means it’s not editable (without the Pro version – funny that?).  So here’s the master genius work around I used:

Step 1:  Grab Jeff Utecht on his way out the door – (‘cos he has ScreenFlow)
Step 2:  Replay .swf on his laptop and re-capture using ScreenFlow – saves as a .mov, edit as you go
Step 3:  Import into iMovie – add titles and credits
Step 4:  Play real “Dancing with Matt” video on YouTube to capture the soundtrack using Audio Hijack Pro
Step 5:  Import audio into iMovie – adjust sound levels
Step 6:  Upload to teachingsagittarian’s YouTube channel

(Did I mention that I love my mac laptop?)

Skype Connection-Fest

I’ve mentioned the power of using skype in the classroom before. We’re involved in Silvia Tolisano’s short, simple yet so powerful Skype project AroundTheWorldwith80Schools.  In just two short weeks we have connected with seven different classrooms in four parts of the world.  And we’re not stopping there!  By the end of our school year, I hope to share with you that we managed to connect right around the globe.

365/68 Skype with Benton Elementary School

As I reflect on our involvement in this project, I wonder what this has done for my students.  At first I thought that it really didn’t bother my students one way or another that we were connecting with so many different classrooms around the world.  But then, their excitement hardly ever shows – unusual I know, but seriously true.  I worry about that because they’re only 5th graders – what’s happened to their natural “wonderment and awe?”

However, my mother taught me really well – not to judge a book by it’s cover – so I decided if I was truly going to reflect on using this tool in the classroom, I ought to ask those that have the biggest stakehold – my students.

Here’s the questions I asked them and a sample of their replies.  You be judge of the value of using a tool like skype in the classroom with your students.

How do you feel stopping for 5-10 minutes, to skype with a class in other country?

Yes, we should keep on making connection around the world, because it helps us understand about different parts of the world and their cultures, but mainly because it’s fun.

Skyping with another class in another country for 5-10 minutes is great because you learn about their school, their way of life, their beliefs, and their culture. I have learned many different things about the topics in the previous sentence.

I like the idea of taking 5-10 minutes off to skype because it is a fast and easy way to communicate and learn about the other place we are skyping in a short time.

Do you learn anything when we talk to other students from around the world?

what the weathers like
what the other kids in that school play in recess
and other unfamilliar subjects we don’t do.

I learn about other people’s lives and it’s fun to compare them to mine.

I have learned about other countrys, culture, about them, and the location that they are in

Do you use Skype at home to connect with family/friends?

I’ve never connected on skype with my friends in America but I connect with my family in America except the skype that we do is we call them with our computer and it calls their real phone not their computer so that means that we can’t use a camera so that’s how it is different.

At home I Skype with my Grandparents in the USA, and my parents have other contacts in their Skype “phonebook.”

I use skype a lot at home because i skype my dad a lot when ever he leaves the country and i really like to skpe my friends.

I don’t use Skype at home.


What have you learned about communicating with others using Skype in classroom?

I have learned that on Skype calls you have to speak loudly and clearly, so the person on the other end of the line can hear you and understand you.

I learned that communicating with other people around the world can be very easy and simple.

Should we continue to make connections with other classrooms around the world?  Why? / Why not?

Also i really think that this helps people in our class to because you finally get a chance to say things about yourself and were you live to other people around the world.

I think that we should continue making connections with other schools because you will get to meet more people and learn more about the place that they are at.

I think we should keep skyping with other classrooms around the world because you learn about other people’s experiences and daily lives. Afterwards, you can compare and contrast them with your experiences and life.

I think we should keep doing skype calls but a thing we could do to make it better is if the calls had a bit more purpose because right now we arent getting anything really meaningful about the country we skype with.

I was thinking this was pretty honest and valuable feedback.  My class are relatively well-connected with family and friends that live around the world – being International families means they need to, they like the fast and simple stuff, they enjoy learning about students just like them and comparing themselves and they like meeting new people.

My Takeaways/Reflection

Keep using skype to make connections and have conversations around the world.

Keep it short – skyping is fun but it needs a purpose.  Even in Grade 5 students are looking for the purpose in whatever it is they being asked to do.

No Google for a Week

I’ve just finished reading Michelle Martin‘s latest post, A Week Without Google, on her Bamboo Project Blog.

My heart darn near skipped a beat at the thought of it.  Could you imagine it?  No gmail, gchat, gtalk,  google calendar, google docs, google maps, google search, google earth, google alerts, no blogger, and alas no iGoogle – no google anything!  And this is an actual assignment for Michelle’s daughter to do for her New Media Research class. And her assignment includes no YouTube either!!365/35

Oh my!  Could I do it? Um … NOPE.  Not a chance!  And then it dawned on me just how reliant I’ve become on one company’s products.  I hadn’t meant to, I didn’t do it deliberately and I certainly didn’t realise it – til now.  I can’t think of any other aspect of my life (even financially) where I’ve literally put all my “eggs in one basket.”

How many Google products do you rely on?  All the ones I use religiously (that’s on a day to day basis) are listed in the first paragraph.  I am so dependent on Google. I really need to think seriously about how to manage if Google “went down”  (as she’s frantically touching wood so that doesn’t happen)!  Over the past week our school server has been hit with a virus that no one has the fix for.  Work with the internet in the classroom has all but ground to a halt.  Today my students alternated between reading their books and writing with a pencil while we waited patiently for pages on our blog to load.  At least we had the books and pencils as an alternative.  But that’s my point really.  What alternative do I have for all the google apps I use?

What about you?  Could you go a week without google?  Are all your eggs in one basket too?

Psssst ….. don’t tell anyone ….. but

Today I missed my Windows PC.  Yes, yes I know ….. but before you mac’ers shoot me with bows and arrows, hear me out.

Over the past few weeks my 5th graders have been creating Lines, Angles and Polygon digital learning stories for 3rd & 4th graders at our school.  The purpose was to create an introduction digital story using photos taken around our very own school environment showing just how math exists in the “real world”, and teaching our younger students a few introductory things about Geometry.

Now we are a mac elementary school and I am a mac user at home (but have recently come from eight years in PC schools).  Last year I did a similar project with my Year 7 students but used Photostory3.  This year I made the project a little simpler for Grade 5 (Year 6) but used iMovie since there is no Photostory3 equivalent for the mac.

iMovie is a great programme, but it’s not as simple to use (with students) as Photostory3.  I am however very proud of the work that my students did with their digital learning stories as we finished them off today (just in time to be watched by 3rd & 4th graders before Christmas break).

Today we accomplished the following things:

1. Recorded our voices (after preparing a script) into our digital learning stories in iMovie
2. Created our own background music in Garageband
3. Added titles, credits and words to our digital learning stories

Thank goodness our fabulous 21st Century Digital Learning Specialist, (and my very good friend) Ms Cofino was with us in class today.  She spent three hours with us as we finished off this project.  Her help was invaluable as she most definitely knows more about iMovie & Garageband than I do!

I know you’re all busy thinking why on earth would you do ALL that at once???  And I must say that wasn’t the plan at all!  We have an issue with the available space for each student on our server.  Their flash drives are not big enough to store an iMovie project (and you know how BIG those are when you’re working on them!!) Plus our laptops are set up to clear everything on the laptop when the students log-off or shut down (which is a good thing really).  We didn’t really have a choice but to get our projects completely finished and rendered before we had to let another class use the laptop carts.

I love this project based learning.  I learnt a lot about the way my students work together, and already have some particular skills to pinpoint and polish next semester regarding collaboration.

I need an alternative hard drive so that my students aren’t forced to finish their work in a hurry.

I really need to make sure that I am using the right tool for the job.  Was iMovie really the right tool for this job?  Could VoiceThread have done the same thing?  (That would eliminate the server/saving problem).  And will I do it again?  Of course I will, and I’ll be tweaking it a bit more next time too.

PS:  In the next few days, we’ll be embedding our digital learning stories for Lines, Angles and Polygons on our class wiki math page – so take a look if you have some time.   We’d love some feedback on the discussion tab if you have time too.