Posts Tagged ‘engagement’

Today, I am going to follow up on an earlier post from March 7th, 2011, “First Step of Innovation = Substitution”. In that post, I discussed how VoiceThread could be utilized as an innovative enhancement and substitution of literature circles and collaborative group conversations around media. As an example of this concept, I particularly like this one on The Secret Garden. On each of the seven pages, the teacher in this instance has provided active reading prompts that elicit personal connection, reflection, and comprehension. Her prompts also have a real metacognitive value to them (such as students indicating confusions and possible reasons for them). Students are also asked to provide supporting detail from the text as evidence. By providing an oral forum for student expression the students are provided an opportunity to explore thoughts beyond written word and traditional textual activity. It is often easier for students to explain their thinking and ideas in conference and the spoken word than it is through writing and prose.

English Language Learners

Students that find writing challenging are also disadvantaged by many traditional tasks; this is especially true for ELL students that are both new to English and in the process of learning it (a great idea for these students is to allow them to speak his or her own language). “Stronger students can quickly explain to less proficient students what the latter have not understood or what they have to do – this frees the teacher from constantly needing to check on the progress of the weaker student, allowing the teacher to devote enough attention to the other students in the class.” [Source] Since VoiceThread, like all voice recording software, is retained by the very nature of it, the student and teacher can continually refer to previous samples to gauge growth and progress of learning. In my own learning with the Equity Department and through research, I was interested to learn (and it is very logical) that “…human learning and cognitive development is based upon activation of prior knowledge. Teaching ELLs in a language other than their native one prevents the ELLs from connecting much of their prior knowledge with the new information they receive. It seems as if this practice ignores one of the most basic fundamentals for human learning.” [Source] Allowing ELL students to express themselves in their native language gives them a forum to make connections familiar to them by language and culture and then apply to English through the translation of their own words. This particular idea fascinates me.

Self Reflection - Metacognition

The most powerful aspect of VoiceThread is that it is communal and allows for the real creation of a learning community. As much as students are expressing themselves individually to topics or concepts, they are also adding their voice to the wider mosaic of those of their peers. This creates a real sense of community, a partnership of learners that can listen to and comment on each other. They can help each other grow throw comment thus learning the importance of both individuality and consensus. This peer assessment combines with that of self for the potential of rich metacognitive exercises.

The learning opportunities are endless and more and more I am leaning to the power of spoken word versus that of written. There have been many a time when I know that a student understands a concept better than they have presented it in writing. The reality of this is based in proficiency of vocabulary and writing style. Students that struggle in both of these areas produce writing that is often difficult to read, thus limiting our ability to assess their comprehension and ability to make real world connections to what they are learning. Conversation can really close that gap and help students to grow.

Setting Up VoiceThread
Gmail Aliases and VoiceThread Identities

Setting up VoiceThread is very simple – it really is only a handful of steps: sign-up, upload images, comment on them, and share with others. One challenging aspect for teachers will be the consideration for how to get students into the platform itself in order to comment. Anonymous commenting will not be a suitable option as assessing anonymity will make the identification of individual students problematic. There are two ways to have younger students (especially Grades 1-3 in our board since email accounts are not assigned to students until Grade 4): Alias email accounts through Gmail and the creation of identities in VoiceThread itself.

Gmail Aliases

To create Gmail Aliases, create yourself a Gmail email account (http://mail.google.com), i.e. john.smith@gmail.com – then logout.

Visit the VoiceThread Education site (http://ed.voicethread.com/) and Register yourself as a teacher and logout.

To create student accounts for younger students, you could pre-create accounts for them by signing up with Gmail Aliases (using the +name format) of your Gmail account (i.e. john.smith+dog@gmail.com; john.smith+owl@gmail.com; john.smith+cat@gmail.com, etc…) – logging out between each individual registration.

Here is a practical video that outlines the Gmail Alias process:

This video by @courosa is very good as well…

Students will have to login each time to use this format but it is one way of doing it. The other is to use Identities in VoiceThread – this may, in fact, be the best option….

VoiceThread Identities

One VoiceThread account can have many identities (commenting avatars) associated with it. A family, a class, or an interesting person can switch identities on-the-fly without having to sign in with a different account. Think 22 kids, 45 minutes, and a project to complete – and you’ll understand the wonder of this feature. (http://ed.voicethread.com/about/features/identities/) Be sure to watch the video at that link for further understanding. This video is also quite good…

VoiceThread Resources

There are so many resources for VoiceThread that have been created by people and posted online. A YouTube search like this one for “VoiceThread in Education” produced 58 results alone. There are lots of resources to help. VoiceThread itself has some amazing videos that are quick and simple – like this one “What’s a VoiceThread?“.

I, too, have produced three videos to get you started. Watch them below and let me know what you think. Why not share the links of your student’s work in the comment section below? It will be fun to see what everyone comes up with.

VoiceThread: Voice Blogging, Reflection, and Metacognition

Adding Students to VoiceThread as Identities and Creating a Thread

Where to find support for VoiceThread

Another Good Introduction to VoiceThread

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The major hurdle to jump when considering podcasting is where to host your files. As I mentioned in the first part of this series, creation of your audio project is only step one. Back in the day, you would record your cassette tape and give it to someone. That person would listen to it and return it; or listen to it, copy it, share it, and return it. That process has been made far more efficient and it is much easier to share with an immensely larger audience that can access it when THEY want it, not when you give it to them. Consider this the “pull versus push” scenario. In the “old days” you would “push” media to people. Now, people can “pull” it from a hosting site when they want or need it. In this case, we are going to use Tumblr as our host, our cloud platform from which people are going to pull our material.

There are two ways to use Tumblr as an audio hosting platform. One, you upload a previously created audio file as demonstrated in part 3 of this series. Alternatively, you can use the iPod Touch or iPhone application to record and upload the file wirelessly or via 3G to the Tumblr website. The two videos below will demonstrate both scenarios; the first video will cover the former while the second will cover the latter.

Please comment below with questions, concerns, or comments.

Cheers!

Podcasting with Tumblr – Part 1  – Accessing Tumblr and Uploading Audio Files

Podcasting with Tumblr – part 2 – Accessing Tumblr with the iPod Touch or iPhone App

Medea Playing with "Fluffy" - her Eyepet.

This past Christmas, Medea (6) received the Eyepet game for the PS3. What is an Eyepet you ask? Well….just the coolest little virtual pet you will ever see! Not only is he fun to play with but I am continually amazed by how much Medea learns while she is playing. The built-in language and social skills development is beautifully combined with the responsibility and nurturing reality of owning a real pet. Here is how Sony presents its Eyepet…

Are your kids clamouring for a pet? Take them home an EyePet™ – the fully interactive and magical new creature for PlayStation®3 (PS3™) from Sony Computer Entertainment Europe. Cool, playful, and just bursting with fun and games, EyePet is your new family playmate, and he won’t make a mess or chew your TV cables!

Interact with EyePet throughPlayStation®Eye, the interactive camera for PS3. PlayStation Eye will capture your surroundings and show them on your television screen, so your EyePet will appear in your very own living room. Call him with your Magic Card – a simple device that can create all sorts of fun and games for EyePet to play with – and watch as he hatches from egg and grows from a baby ball into a cub! Throw a ball and he’ll scramble after it, pat him and he’ll roll over for a tummy scratch. Use your Magic Card to select toys for him, including a trampoline, bubble-machine along with other fantastic toys to play with! See how EyePet can play and interact with his owners by watching the exclusive EyePet video here.

By completing daily tasks, you can teach your EyePet brand-new games to play. The more he learns – the more exciting new tasks you’ll get to teach him! EyePet is fully aware of people in the room, and will play with you and your family in your home. Poke him and he jumps, stroke him and he’ll roll over in contentment, tickle him and he’ll laugh!

Watch on as your youngsters play, learn and laugh with EyePet – just as if they would with a real-life pet. Kids and adults alike will love to customise him, dress him and see his various reactions: surprise him with a new toy, cheer him up when he looks sad or happy when you stroke him.

…he learns by pictures Medea creates for himOntario’s play-based kindergarten curriculum emphasized the Arts as one of the six key learning areas. In this game, she creates art, and interacts with new technologies that can imitate and re-create it in augmented reality. This is taken one step further when the pet can interact with the art she creates! In this way, pretend becomes that much more real and the stimulus to continue is profound! The kindergarten curriculum emphasizes drawing, painting, singing, dancing, and pretending as elements of the Arts and this game has it all.

Styling the Eyepet

Medea named her Eyepet “Fluffy” and he is very fun to play with. She dresses him up in different clothes on a regular basis and changes his hair colour and style, too. There are literally hundreds of outfits and combinations that can be used and more outfits are unlocked and awarded constantly by winning challenges. More on that in a second.

As with other virtual pet games, it is necessary to keep your pet happy and healthy. Like real pets, the Eyepet needs attention and socialization. Medea knows that she must regularly check his status to see how he is and what he wants. The Eyepet Health Check is an x-ray scan of the pet’s internal status. A scan of the pet’s head indicates if he has had enough creative stimulus – if not, Medea knows that she must play some challenging games with him like “Snap”, or have him be artistically creative by drawing, singing, or dancing. In all three activities, Medea must show the Eyepet what to do and how to do it – she is the teacher. Prior to singing, Medea sings into the Move Controller (now a microphone on screen – the audio is picked up by the webcam) and Fluffy imitates her voice and melody. To dance, The Eyepet learns from the motions of the puppet Medea has created; to draw, he learns by pictures Medea creates for him. Ontario’s play-based kindergarten curriculum emphasized the Arts as one of the six key learning areas. In this game, she creates art, and interacts with new technologies that can imitate and re-create it in augmented reality. This is taken one step further when the pet can interact with the art she creates! In this way, pretend becomes that much more real and the stimulus to continue is profound! The kindergarten curriculum emphasizes drawing, painting, singing, dancing, and pretending as elements of the Arts and this game has it all.

Eyepet Health Scan

A scan of the heart also indicates if the pet is happy. An unhappy pet will just never do. To make her pet happy, Medea knows that playtime is necessary. She especially loves to play bowling with her Eyepet. Not only does play make the pet happy, but it also increases his exercise – another aspect she must pay attention to while playing (and another of the key learnings for the kindergarten curriculum); and, of course, the pet needs to eat. When hungry, his stomach scan will indicate such and she knows that it’s time to feed him.

The nurturing and responsibility aspects of the game (Social development – caring for others), combined with artistic explorations are just a small part what the game offers when looked at as a learning platform. The challenges built into the game develop thinking and inquiry skills (some of the challenges are quite hard and problem solving is the key to being successful), promote language development ( reading, comprehension, procedural writing / lists), explore mathematical concepts (cause & effect, trajectory, speed, two-dimensions vs. three-dimensions, patterning, order), and science and technology (the Eyepet itself is a fascinating product of science and technology and how humans interact with it).

After she read the list of instructions, I asked Medea to explain to me what she needed to do in her own word’s based on what she just read. This enabled me to check her comprehension.

Gardening Challenge

Problem / Inquiry Based Learning through Challenge
The Gardening Challenge – Day Eight 

I want to walk you through the excellent learning that I witnessed while Medea was playing the game the other day. It was the 4th challenge of Day Eight in the Pet Program (there are 15 days and 4 challenges per day – prizes are awarded for having a successful day and trophies can be earned for challenges as well).

Flutter By: This is another photo challenge. First off you need to put on your pets flower hat. Once you have done this get your garden set out and grow a flower. Then wait about a minute and soon you’ll see a bunch of butterflies on the screen wait for one to land on your pets nose and take the picture. This will give you gold and the trophy.

The challenge is presented in a series of steps. I had Medea read them to me (great language development exercise, procedural writing / lists, different writing forms).

  1. Dress your pet in its flower outfit
  2. Get your gardening set out
  3. Plant a tulip and wait for a butterfly
  4. Wait for it to land on your pet’s nose

After she read the list of instructions, I asked Medea to explain to me what she needed to do in her own word’s based on what she just read. This enabled me to check her comprehension. She explained to me what she was to do perfectly. Another great skill here is memory as she has to remember what step comes next after each step is completed (it does not remain on the screen). First, she had to go to the “Home” page where you can wash, style and dress up your EyePet. There she dressed the Fluffy in his flower outfit (NOTE: this outfit is only available if you completed a previous challenge. If a prior challenge is not completed, then later challenges can not be unlocked). Since the Eyepet uses the Move controller, Medea points at the screen and clicks buttons on the controller to complete motions. The hand-eye coordination necessary is combined with the previously learned knowledge of how to navigate the game itself. Each new skill is scafolded on the last.

Frustration does set in periodically, so its good practice to encourage taking a break and walking around a bit so that frustration doesn’t turn into anger – thus defeating any good learning that could be taking place.

Once dressed, Medea had to navigate out of the “Home” area and into the “Augmented Reality” portion of the game. She needed to remember that the Gardening set is located in the “Outdoors” area (we previously unlocked the gardening set in the first challenge of Day 7). Once in the “Outdoors” area, Medea selected the gardening set and Fluffy got ready for some gardening.

There are a number of different seeds to choose from in the gardening area, so Medea needed to remember that she needed to plant a Tulip. If she planted any other seed, the challenge could not be completed. Fortunately, she remembered the right seed. Frustration does set in periodically, so its good practice to encourage taking a break and walking around a bit so that frustration doesn’t turn into anger – thus defeating any good learning that could be taking place.

MRI and cognitive studies reveal that the brain “evaluates” the probability of effort resulting in success before expending the cognitive effort in solving mental problems. If the challenge seems too high, or students have a fixed mindset related past failures that they will not succeed in a subject or topic, the brain is not likely to expend the effort needed to achieve the challenge. [Source]

After planting, the seed it is necessary to water it. This is where the Move controller really shines! Once selected, the Move controller turns into a watering hose with a duck-head nozzle on the screen. Water sprays from the nozzle and, so realisitcally, fogs up the inside of the screen and drips down too. You’ll swear there is water in your TV! Talk about realistic pretend activities!

There are multiple chances to succeed, as in all video games, and this is the power of them as learning tools.

As the flowers grow, butterflies emerge and fly around the flowers. The next step of the challenge is here. To complete the challenge, Medea had to take a picture of a butterfly on Fluffy’s nose. Some patience is needed here. She had to figure out herself that Fluffy had to be close to a butterfly before it would land on his nose. Also, to take a picture, she had to click the “Start” button on the side of the controller (this activates the camera). Then, at just the right time, when the butterfly lands, she had to click the “X” button (this takes the picture).

If successful, the challenge-completed music plays and awards are given. Some challenges are time specific and others increase in difficulty to achieve a bronze, silver, or gold medal. If unsuccessful, the level must be replayed. There are multiple chances to succeed, as in all video games, and this is the power of them as learning tools. Practice and new skills always bring future successes and Fluffy is very encouraging 🙂

Art Comes To Life – Pretend and Imagination Soar!

What child hasn’t wanted her art to come to life. It does with Eyepet in a very cool and interactive way.

In the Dance Moves challenge of Day 15, Medea needed to teach Fluffy how to dance using a puppet / marionette of her own creation.

First she had to draw the puppet on a piece of paper. Next, we held the drawing up to the PS3 webcam and, taking the crayon in his mouth, Fluffy drew the same image on his paper. After showing the art to us (“Good Job, Fluffy!”), the puppet popped off the page, expanded to three dimensions, and attached to the Move Controller, now a holder for the puppet’s strings. Movement instructions appeared on the screen for Medea to follow, demonstrating dance moves to Fluffy who proceeded to dance for us. This ability to interact with a virtual pet in augmented reality adds an amazing sense of realism. It also gave Medea an immense sense of pride. Drawing something that became part of the game, and teaching her pet how to draw in the process, was further enhanced by the challenge created from it and the trophy earned as a result of the success.

I am constantly amazed by her growing skill set and increased ability to solve rather complex problems.

Another great example of art coming to love in an interactive way is the Balloon pop challenge of Day Eight. In this challenge, Medea had to draw an airplane (this time she chose to do it with the Move Controller on screen). When she was finished, the 2D drawing popped into three dimensions and Fluffy hopped on it, ready for a ride. The challenge started – this time she needed to pop 115 balloons to get this challenge at the gold level. The problem solving involved and the trial and error of plane construction (straight lines and precision are necessary for the plane to fly correctly – science & technology), combined with the challenge of actually playing the game and popping the balloons offer great learning experiences in the form of play.

She even earned the “Stunt Pilot” trophy for her aviation skills!

Stunt Pilot 
Break 140 mph in a model plane without smashing into the ground

For every growing kid in today’s generation, …games are a staple in their life. Technology is now kid-friendly enough that even kindergarten aged kids play games on the computer. Grown-ups who grew up without such innovations often frown upon this trend, seeing these games as disturbing elements for the child’s growth. However, if you analyze these games closely, you’ll be surprised to find that they actually provide positive benefits and help kids to learn things that aren’t in their schoolbooks and daily class lectures. Combining fun and learning is one of the best advantages offered by online games, helping them to grow and educate by their own pacing and effort. (Source)

Every time I sit and watch Medea play Eyepet I am constantly amazed by her growing skill set and increased ability to solve rather complex problems. She looks after her pet very responsibly and nurtures it with care, love, and play. In her interactions with Fluffy, she is challenged to accomplish tasks that are increasingly difficult and broad in scope.

The Eyepet truly covers the Six Key Learning Areas of the Ontario Play-Based Kindergarten Curriculum: Personal & Social Development, Langauge, Mathematics, Science & Technology, Health & Physical Activity, and the Arts.

Sony markets the Eyepet as magic and I totally agree!

For more on how video games should be seen as a model for best teaching strategies, see this excellent artcile by Judy Willis, “ A Neurologist Makes the Case for the Video Game Model as a Learning Tool“, at edutopia.org.

I particularly like….

In humans, the dopamine reward response that promotes pleasure and motivation also requires that they are aware that they solved a problem, figured out a puzzle, correctly answered a challenging question, or achieved the sequence of movements needed to play a song on the piano or swing a baseball bat to hit a home run. This is why students need to use what they learn in authentic ways that allow them to recognize their progress as clearly as they see it when playing video games.

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