Finding Your Voice with VoiceThread




‘Voice and Data’


On April 8, 2011, I will be presenting a workshop at NCAIS Innovate focusing on and showcasing how students can learn to use VoiceThread to create a Digital Portfolio. In both of my Digital Learning classes students learn to reflect on their learning and find their voice by recording their reflective thoughts. I believe we need to do more of this type of work with our students as they often do not have the opportunity to both reflect and to tell the story of their learning. I also want my students to learn, collaborative communication as put forth by William M. Ferriter, Adam Garry in their book Teaching the iGeneration. From his Ed Tech Talk podcast on August 8, 2010 he offers this valuable quote:

Collaborative and competitive dialogue is something I talk about in Teaching the iGeneration and something that VoiceThread facilitates nicely.  We could talk about how our world emphasizes competitive dialogue—-kids are surrounded by marketing messages and celebrities and politicians screaming for attention and unwilling to listen to other viewpoints——but collaborative dialogue is essential for solving the kinds of global, cross-border challenges our world is facing.

Here are a few of my student’s Digital Portfolios (These are works in progress as we are still creating)


Link to Griffin’s Portfolio

Link to Madeline’s Portfolio

I also want you to find yourr voice by adding a sentence to a VoiceThread project based on Daniel Pink’s Drive book, and Two Simple Questions. Video is at:

Link to actual “What is Your Sentence”


May we all find our voice!

DA Middle School has Gone Google Video

Gone Google


Durham Academy Middle School implemented Google Apps for Education in November of 2010 so that all students, regardless of age, could access the powerful collaborative tools. With little training and few issues, students and teachers have Gone Google in meaningful and substantial ways to advance the learning of our students with this transformative collection of tools.

Google launched a Gone Google campaign for companies, schools and others to tell how Going Google has impacted the organization. I also read a blog post by Dean Shareski about how he started this Google Doc. I thought I would combine the two ideas and created my own Gone Google Doc to see if students and teachers would help create a Gone Google Video. After asking a few teachers to nominate students, I nominated teachers who were actively using Google Apps with their students. I created a Google Doc asking for a short video and shared it with the people.

The directions:

Teachers and students, I would like to hear how using Google Docs has helped you with school. The idea is to get short (30 – 60 second) videos where you answer the following statements. I will take the clips submitted and edit them together to create the Gone Google movie. We will do this all in Google Docs.

The idea is for you to create a short 30 second video clip that you shoot on your own with your computer and then upload it to Google Docs and share it with me, I can get it from there to make the Gone Google Video.

The Script:

1. State your first name and grade (No last names as it is going on the Internet)

2. Complete this sentence: “I have gone Google because I ………….

(Talk about how Google Docs helps you or any other comment that works for you).

3. Complete this sentence: My tip on how to use Google Docs is to ………

(Perhaps it is something you do for yourself that helps you be more productive).

4. Complete this sentence: I wish I could do _____________ with Google Docs?

(Optional  –  leave out if you have no wish).

5. Add any other comments you want.

Technical Directions:

1. Use your computer’s web cam and Photobooth or iMovie or any other software to create the movie. (If desired, I can video you at school).

2. Leave a gap at the start and at the end so I can trim it. 3 seconds is a fine amount to leave.

3. Name it lastname.gonegoogle.

4. Upload it to Google Docs and Share it with me. It should be in a .mov format.

5. Have the movie to me by 3/22/2011

6. If you need help uploading the file, see this link:

I am sharing it via our VoiceThread so if you would like to leave a comment, please do.


Flapping Our Wings in 6th Grade Digital Learning Class


Image: ‘With the Wings of a Bird’


I knew I wanted to try new methods of teaching and learning with my new sixth grade Digital Learning class. For the price of $39.95, I set up an Edublog for us to use to reflect and share our learning experiences. We just did our first post which asked students to write about an image that I provided to them via our blogs Media Library. The image is from Wikimedia Commons which allows me to also discuss copyright and some advanced skills like linking and target for links. We also discussed categories and tags so that we can build a logical tag cloud.

I plan to have them write reflective posts from home as work they do outside of class and to teach them how to share their VoiceThread portfolios through the use of embedding code. This was just the first post of what I hope will be many more from my students. They are editors which mean posts they make go live which as I told them, puts the responsibility on them to make sure their posts are “postable”. We went over the blogging and commenting guidelines which you might find useful to read as well.

Visit the blog and watch us learn together.

Student Back Channel

Computer Screens


Image: ‘Backchannel, from the Back of the Room’


Ryan has done more solid work with the backchannel resources. This just appeared in the Class of 16 Students FirstClass Conference. What makes a student to want to share like this? Is it built into the DNA of our students to share? How do we foster more of this sharing so that all students are involved in creation, curation, and publication? How do we make sure teachers are harvesting this back channel?

One way to do all of this is to bring it to light and promote it I believe. Many teachers have created Moodle Discussion Forums for this harvesting as it helps everyone. Of course, there are some who are concerned with quality and fear the backchannel resources could be erroneous. Which is better, nothing or somethings that may need to have the group correct?

Hey guys,

In case you haven’t noticed, I have posted lots and lots of personal glossary words for Kanoy science! If you don’t think you have a complete Personal Glossary #3 list so far, then check it out! (You may have to already be logged onto Moodle for the link to work)

Also, apply to my Quizlet group, “Cavaliers”! We have lots of History and Spanish sets along with a few LA ones. However, we don’t have very many French sets. I recommend Ryan St_____s’s group, “French 7 Engebretsen” for French sets.


French 7 Engebretsen:

Science 7 Kanoy:


Ryan S.


When the Learning Seeds Escape the Walled Garden

dandelion in the wind

‘Dandelion in the wind’

Having gardened for many years, I know how tough it can be to contain all of the plants inside of my garden area. Learning and teaching inside of a walled garden like our Moodle has some of the same limitations. Sometimes, the learning needs to escape into the world’s garden. I have worked with Tina Bessias on many wonderful projects and for many years we conducted workshops together for teachers at our school. She has always been a teacher who looked to challenge both herself and her students with work that could have meaning after the class was over. I was excited to hear that she was also a NCAIS Master Teacher. She clearly is one and I think we will both benefit from the challenges we face with becoming one of the first group of Master Teachers. Her Master Teacher project was about Immigrants and Interviews. A neat idea and one that I thought her students would both enjoy while also being challenged.

I received a very nice message, (which prompte this post) from Tina. She granted me permission to post it here as I liked how she included the earlier work her students had done with me as a reason for some of the success of the project.

I took six 9th graders to the ICG Conference at Carolina Friends School on Thursday.  Together, we presented our project to a small but engaged audience.  Mostly, I let the students do it, and I wish you could have seen them.  Nobody in the audience had used Moodle or created wikis before, and it was amazing to see the students’ work through their eyes.  They made seamless transitions among discussion forums, Garage Band, photo editors, wiki templates, and the concepts of the project–the variety of experiences they heard about from immigrants, the enthusiasm with which they referenced “my immigrant”…  It was a beautiful thing.  And throughout the project, they have mentioned and built on what they learned in Middle School.

I responded thusly,

WOW! What a Wonderful World View Student Centered project! I have been poking around in your course and Wiki and am awed by what you were able to harness and produce. I am also proud of what those students were able to create and do and am glad that my teaching laid a foundation. Too often, I wonder if what I do continues to be nurtured. Clearly, this project represents a prime example of the roles of a 21st Century teacher and learner.

Tina is a heavy Moodle user at the Upper School as her courses contain most of the modules that are available for use in classes. She has used the wiki in Moodle for many years even though most Moodle users agree, it is not very good. Moodle 2.0 has a much better, built from the ground up wiki which we will hopefully be able to use next school year. What Tina has accomplish with her project is to do the MESSY teaching and learning aspects of her project inside the walled garden of our Moodle. Only students and teachers can access it which limits projects living outside of a classroom or our Moodle. This is a classic use for a walled garden with 9th grade students. This is a picture of her Moodle tools used in the construction of the project. She used links, wikis, discussion forums and PDFs to guide the project. Some are active and some are grayed out as they are no longer available to students.

World Literature Bessias

I am excited to attend the presentation to the Durham Academy community on April 3, 2011 at 4:00 PM to share the learning and work of these learners and immigrants. To see more of the learning that lives in the garden outside the walled garden, visit The World in Our Midst.

Immigrant Interviews  home

When Students Run the Class



‘Bring Me Sunshine’


I took a leap in the last Digital Learning Grade 5 class when I gave them a rotation to teach themselves something, create a product, and teach the class. Like usual, I was impressed that most students more then delivered. A few students under delivered given their abilities which I attribute to not being sure exactly what to do with this new found freedom. I put together a VoiceThread of their projects to showcase them. We did have a couple technical and logistical issues which is why there is not one for each student. I will for sure do this again and frankly think we may want to do more rotations like this one as even though it was more work then all of us working on one project at the same time, it was a way more engaged and energized classroom. Besides, I never even thought of stop animation as that was a suggestion from the students. One group took over 300 pictures to create the duck movie.


When Students Teach Themselves for a Rotation



This Rotation is For You! This was how I introduced our last rotation for the Digital Learning 5 class. I wanted to try some of the ideas I have been reading from Jonathan Martin, The Electric Educator, and others on how they are flipping the instructional flow. I also wanted the students to showcase what skills they have developed during our trimester course as a final project to see if all we learned would transfer when given an open ended project.

Using a Moodle assignment so I could assess their work and because it is our main class portal where I can add tutorials from Atomic Learning in our Moodle, and other learning links that we needed to learn, I posed this challenge:

In this project, I want you to think about what you would like to learn to do that you could teach yourself and us. For instance, have you ever wanted to learn how to shoot a video, how to create a podcast, use Photoshop, or any other type of technology?

You will fill out a Google form where you will list what you want to learn, how you will evaluate your learning, and which type of project will you produce. Your project should teach us something that you taught yourself. This is part of your final project for class.

Once I have the ideas you want to learn about, I will work on getting resources for you to help guide our learning. Unfortunately, YouTube is blocked here at school so that will not be an option. If you find a YouTube video at home, you can send me the link and I will download it so you can watch it at school.

You will be required to work on this at school and at home so consider this fact as you think about how you will create your final project.


How to draw a ……..

How to record a  podcast?

How to shoot a good movie?

How to use Google Sketch Up?

How to use Google Earth?

How to use Scratch?

How to …….

Remember, you will teach yourself something and by doing so create something that will teach us.

We are now into the presentation stage of this project and these are the projects students have done to teach themselves and others. All students used a Google Presentation to present to the class. We worked on linking the video they made into the project since we had to upload their video to their Google Apps account and then get the link under the Share menu.

1. How to create a Stop Motion Animation – 4 students used cameras, iPhoto, and iMovie to create stories.

2. How to use Google Earth – 4 students have used Google Earth to create training movies, tips on how to use different tools or elements.

3. How to use iMovie –  4 students have used the Lumix cameras or video clips from parents to create movies that tell a story.

4. How to use Google Sketchup – 1 student wanted to learn more about this software after using it with his father.

I have learned that students will:

  • rise to the challenge when offered an option to do something they have a passion to learn
  • amaze you at the level of care and instructions they create
  • want to help each other learn once they learn it themselves
  • utilize tools and skills already learned to create new projects even without specific teacher directions
  • using a Google form is an easy way to collect and visualize data for a project of this type
  • actually use the Help menu in applications – how many of you can say that?

One student created a Google Presentation on how to use iMovie that it will serve as a tutorial for other students and teachers. She linked her presentation to an iMovie she has on her Mom’s Mobile Me account as it was too big to upload to our Google Apps setup. I never had thought about teaching students to do a stop motion animation, but believe I might work that in to the next class.

The biggest change is that I became the guide in the room to assist as needed but also to develop the soil where this type of self-guided learning could grow. This was a small step, but I feel had enough success that I will try it again next trimester.


What is Your Sentence VoiceThread Project – Please Add Yours



‘Sentience Structure’


I have been working on my NCAIS Master Teacher Academy project with my group of 5th grade students. I wrote about Daniel Pink’s Two Question video earlier. In my last post on Learning to Teach how to Learn is Hard, I wrote how I was having to help my students take time to go deeper with this project. After 3 days of work in our Digital Learning Class, they have added sentences for each of the 5 people, added their sentences, (two were absent so not quite done). Some worked on trying to come up with who the two people are that Daniel Pink refers to as “He taught a generation of kids to read,” and “She invented a device that made people’s lives easier.” I do not know about you, but these were not obvious people to me so I thought the students should figure out who they are by researching. I have to say, that some of the students were taken aback when I said, I do not know for sure who these two people are, help teach me. It is interesting to listen to their findings. I think this might be a neat way to flip the research of people where the students are given a sentence and then must make the case for who the person is or why it is their sentence. Some of my students did add reasons why it was who they think it was. I left this part pretty wide open as I wanted the process to be guided by the students and not directed by me completely. As I wrote previously, this is not easy for both of us in the room as the students looked to me for advice and approval, and I struggled with saying just enough. I enjoyed watching the students begin searching for the sentence to see if it would be that easy. Of course, the result was usually Daniel Pink’s blog which meant the students had to try different search terms and strategies. I had hoped this would be the case as I tried to scaffold the lesson in such a way so that students would develop this understanding.


Now it is your turn to add to this VoiceThread. Please take the opportunity to add your sentence, have your class add their sentences, and figure out who those two people are. Pass this VoiceThread along to any one who might want to add to it. All I ask is that the work be serious in nature. If you have a video camera, record video, if you have a good microphone, record audio, or if you only have a keyboard, type the sentences. I would suggest if you are typing that you use a Word Processor to type the sentence and then copy and paste it into the comment as while any sentence is good, a misspelled sentence seems less educational.


Learning to Teach how to Learn is Hard

I worked with my Digital Learning class today on my Master Teacher Academy project inspired by Daniel Pink’s Two Question video. As we discussed the concepts, responsibilities, and outcomes, I had the sense that what I was asking them was very new to them. I like reading Dean Shareski’s posts as he has an inspiring message as I try to adjust my teaching. I am trying to have my students guide their learning more with me assisting and coaching as we both learn together. My students today were in too much of a rush to get the project done. I felt like I had to hold them back as I want to go deeper and get to a level of emotional connectedness to this project. Granted, it may be that I am too connected to the project, since it is my project and not theirs. I understand that, but I am guiding more here for a reason. Anyway, I am sure we will get to where I want us to get as my students rise to the occasion. I was struck by how this video echos many similar themes. I am working on growing as an educator and this helped me today. That makes me better today, then I was yesterday. Thank you to Dean Shareski and Shelley Wright.

There will more about the project I described later, but for now let’s listen and learn from Shelley and her students.

Bridging the Divide with Writing Tools



As I left work yesterday, Pete McWilliams asked me if I ever needed a testimonial on the power of our Google Apps for Education, let him know. I said I would love one as I would be interested to know how he was using them and if it was helping him teach writing better in his seventh grade class. Pete, or as he is known, Mr. Mac. has been teaching at Durham Academy for many years and has always been willing to learn new ways of integrating technology into his teaching. He epitomizes the term life long learner. When I envisioned how Google Apps for Education could be used, I hoped to get him on board as I knew he might see the benefits of being able to collaborate in real-time. Mr. Mac has for years used Remote Desktop to monitor students as they write their papers in the labs. We would get the program setup for him and he would observe and when needed take control of the student’s computer. This allowed him to type suggestions to the student inside of their document. He told me he envisioned this type of tool 42 years ago when he began teaching.

In November, Mr. Mac came to the training sessions I held on how to access and use some of the features of our Google Apps for Education setup. We then worked together as he was beginning his current writing project. I have seen the success his students are having but did not fully realize all the benefits he and his students until I got his letter this morning. I have tears in my eyes as I am proud and happy to hear this type of report on how the tools are helping him and his students. He told me to share his letter with anyone, so I want to share it with you. Thank you Mr. Mac.

January 27, 2011

Mr. Karl Schaefer

Dear Karl,

Durham Academy continually stretches her faculty through the introduction of new technological hardware or software. The latest magical–and it is truly magical–advance is Google Docs.

Google Docs allows a teacher of language arts to do that which this particular teacher only conceived of at the beginning of his career. How could interactive writing occur in a manner that would allow the teacher in one physical space to read a student’s writing in a totally other geographical location–while the student was in the act of composing? Google Docs finally provided a way! For several years it has been possible to sit in a DA computer lab to interact electronically with students as they write, offering constructive criticism and responding to questions. But with Google Docs it is now possible to interact electronically with students as they write beyond the school walls. Last Sunday, for example, I sat at my kitchen table and worked–electronically–with a student polishing an essay from her home, offering immediate suggestions about grammar, punctuation, organization, style, and the like. The important point here is that pupil and instructor could each observe without delay that which the other was writing, thus allowing the student to persevere at a difficult time. This efficient, personal intervention afforded the student the opportunity to grow in her composition skills under the tutelage of her teacher despite the fact that class would not reconvene for over forty-eight hours. Needless to say, the reverse was also true. That is, the teacher could see the mind of the student at work during the writing process.

So kudos to Durham Academy for providing this computer-assisted program that truly is a magical link insofar as it affords student-teacher reciprocity in real time. If one of the grounds of good pedagogy is integrating into the curriculum strategic means for academic success, then Google Docs stands on its own merit. As a revolutionary bonus, use of this tool also saves paper!

Pete McWilliams