Turning Texters into Talkers

Audio has the ability to engage students quickly, so that they can get away from their precious text messages and really get talking! Here are some of my thoughts on the tools from the audio sandbox .

For Teachers:

The last time I was out on school-related leave, I decided to record a video of myself, to tell students want to do when the substitute was present. I used my i-phone, and I posted the video on google-classroom. Many students thanked me for creating the video, and said that it helped them understand the assignments better, while other students still failed to complete their work for the day. I recognized that these students probably would not have completed their work either way, but at least now we could all avoid the excuse, “I didn’t know what to do.” For this reason I like tools like Voki, Vocaroo, and DragonDictation as tools for communicating announcements and directions,  to students and parents. I would also be keen to try out audio feedback as a possible supplement, or replacement to written feedback on an assessments and drafts. 

For Students

I know my 6th graders would freak out (in a totally good way) over Blabberize or Chatterpix the apps that let your pictures talk. My students in the past have created character portraits as part of reading reflection projects; it would be awesome to animate those portraits through Blabberize, or Chatterpix and let them speak! Characters could say key quotes, or add to the plot of story, etc.  Examples of figurative language and idiom could be animated in creative ways (see my example), not to mention, how fun these tools would be for creating clever memes! (There’s got to be a bunch of ways to make memes educational…leave comments with  ideas if you have them.)

BookTrack Studio would be a great tool for digital storytelling, creating podcasts,  and a good way for students to gain fluency and develop speaking skills.

The Talking Hyperbole-My “Blabber” 

Using blabberize was fairly easy. Make an account before you create something, or you might lose your first creation like I did, and have to start over.  From the main screen hit “Make”, upload a photo that you have permission to modify, crop if needed using the tool on the site, and then hit the next arrow, to move to the screen where you can add a mouth. The mouth part is a little tricky. At first I didn’t know I could adjust the size and shape of the mouth. Watching a youtube video helped, and then I was able to get the hang of it pretty quickly. It was fun!

I did run into trouble embedding my example using the Blabberize embed code. I tried putting the code into the HTML tab of my blog, but it just showed up as a grey box in the preview, and as a broken link in the published version. I ended up using the feature on the website that allows you to download your blabbers as videos (a neat feature that is temporarily offered for free!) and uploading my video to YouTube. I then embedded the YouTube code, which worked.

Blabberize seems like the kind of website that would be blocked on the HCPS filter, so I’m curious to try it out at school. Hopefully, I will be proved wrong. 

Image Credit: Budi, Rollan (2009). Dog chillin’ with red sunglasses.  Retrieved from https://www.flickr.com/photos/rollanb/3545177630 CC BY-SA 2.0

*Photo modified by MissZee using blabberize to animate and add audio.




Turning Texters into Talkers

Getting Emotional with Audio

In the summer of 2013, I made my first and only Cross-Country road trip to date. During that time RadioLab and This American Life became the staples of a pleasurable driving regime. As I drove, I would become completely engrossed with the podcast, and the driving time would just roll by. Hearing a narrative without seeing video was something I had not done in awhile (not including listening to music of course). I was surprised by how much listening to the podcast and visualizing the information felt like reading a book on paper. It was more engaging than watching TV, or listening to a song, because I had to do more of the work to interpret what I was hearing.

When I think about this experience today, I begin to understand that asking a student to engage in audible text can be more challenging than asking them to read traditional text. With printed texts students are able to go back to information and re-read. If their memory fails them, or they lose focus, the students can skim back through, rather than having to recall information. For students to fully engage with narratives through audio they have to gather information more quickly, and hold more information in their mind’s for longer periods of time.

While in some cases students will be able to pause audio, constant pausing may disrupt the fluency of the text, and sometimes a podcast may be listened to by the whole class at once. Therefore, we would need to help students gain annotation strategies to help students organize and remember information that they “hear”, rather than read (visually). . Visualization activities would also be beneficial for helping students comprehend the “text” as they listen.

Considering these aspects, engaging with podcasts could help students gain strength as readers, especially when considering more and more often media is being consumed audibly and visually, rather than “textually.”

On gettingsmart.com’s list of 60 Podcasts, three interested me immediately; The Moth– a storytelling podcast where people can listen to, and submit stories (personal narratives), Big Picture Science– where diverse issues are discussed and analyzed by scientists from different fields, and Killer Innovations– a podcast sharing and celebrating innovations and innovative thinking. While I plan to go back and listen to all of these, I decided to give Big Picture Science my immediate attention.

I was pleased by the vast amount of podcasts there were on the website, with a diverse selection of topics ranging from Black Matter to the rise of the Gluten Free Diet. I chose an episode titled “Happily Confused: Emotion Commotion”. I was drawn to the description which said, “[emotions are]  the common language that unites us all – except when they don’t. A tribe in Namibia might interpret our expression of fear as one of wonderment.” It reminded me of an article my students and I had just worked with in class, which discussed how Emoji’s lead to miscommunication because people read expressions differently. I thought I’d check this podcast out because, one,  it sounded interesting, and two, I thought I might find some connections I could share with my students.Expression_of_the_Emotions_Figure_21

The podcast started off very quickly; with a lot of transitions. I would describe the first 3 minutes of the show as choppy , and a bit overwhelming. Because of the transitions, multiple speakers, sound effects, and topic changes within the podcast, I felt it might be more approachable for high school students. However, as the podcast went on, the pace did even out, and the speakers didn’t switch as quickly.

The podcast offered humor, alongside a wealth of information and perspectives on emotions within our brains, and within our society. Several scientists weighed in, and the hosts offered interesting discussion points along the way. This would be a fantastic podcast to play for teaching tone and mood, because the producers created clips to demonstrate how media plays on our emotions, and these were dispersed throughout the beginning of the show.

One of the main things I took away from this podcast was the idea that emotional intelligence is, in many ways, more important than intellectual intelligence. We use emotion to connect at a very basic level. Media is more successful when it plays on human emotions. Similarly, our teaching is more engaging when we invoke an emotional connection in our students. Audio may be a great gateway into striking that emotional chord.  Something to think about as we play this week.

As for how I think this podcast could be incorporated into student learning I do have a few ideas:

  • Students could listen to shows with topics that relate to a non-fiction article, or fictional story they are reading. They can use information from both texts to compare and contrast.
  • Students could choose a topic of their own and create a podcast that mimics the style of Big Picture Science This could be a summative assessment within an interdisciplinary unit of teaching. For example, the script could be produced in English class, while the research takes place in science and history and Math (depending on the topics), the production could be done both in the library, and within classes! Podcasts could be shared virtually with the community.
  • Students could use podcasts strengthen ELA skills. For example students could identify the text structures used within scientists’ narratives. They could also analyse how both voice and other production elements fit together to create a specific mood and tone. 
  • Big Picture Science can be used to supplement taught curriculum within any of the core classes, because the topics and applications are so vast.

Link to Big Picture Science

Image Credit:

Guillaume Duchenne. Figure 21, horror and agony.  Scanned from 1965 version with foreword by Konrad Lorenz published by University of Chicago Press, Public Domain, retrieved at: https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=4045698


Getting Emotional with Audio

The Distraction-Proof Infographic

I am a big fan of the “piktochart” for displaying information, but also as a creation tool for students. I have not only created infographics on piktochart to illustrate information such as “how to make an inference” and “how to tell a story with narrative plot elements”, I’ve also asked students to use piktochart to create instructional images that utilize sequence, in order to produce simple “how-to” guides.

I use Canva as well. However, I usually use Canva to make digital book club posters to post on my educational social media accounts, to promote our school’s book club, which I sponsor.

Because I had already used both piktocharts and Canva, I decided to try out easel.ly. I tend to get started by choosing a template that I think I can modify to suit my audience and purpose. I have tried starting with a blank canvas, but I usually find that I can get lost, or overwhelmed, when I design from scratch . The templates are helpful in providing initial structure and organization for content. These templates make infographics fairly idiot proof, or if you are like me, distraction proof. With too much freedom, I tend to play too much, getting distracted by all the different design elements, rather than keeping it simple and straight forward. A template allows me to “color within the lines”, but with enough room for modification and “tailoring”.

Easel.ly proved to be very user-friendly, maybe even more so than pikotcharts, however, piktocharts offer more choice in design, especially when it comes to available images, shapes, and icons  that are free to use in your infographic. I also think the templates from Piktochart are more attractive. Still, manipulating my infographic within the easel.ly platform was simple and easy. I especially appreciated the automatic placement guides for lining up images and text, as well as the clone feature, for copying elements you want to use throughout the graphic.

At our school, much to my enthusiasm, we are moving towards practices that foster a love for reading in the classroom. Increasingly, teachers are utilizing student choice and independent reading to drive reading achievement, and increase engagement. Throughout the process of reading independently students reflect on their reading in a variety of ways, including: response journals, discussion, and book talks. My infographic gives some basic advice on how to create meaningful book talks. While slightly modified, the content from my infographic comes almost directly from the work of Irene Fountas and Gay Su Pinnell (see citation on infographic), the creators of the Reading Response Journal template, that we recently adopted at my school.

BreakdowntheBookTalk (3)


The Distraction-Proof Infographic

Reuse, Recycle, Re-appropriate

As I began sifting through the materials in the sandbox, I realized that it would be interesting to have students re-appropriate images in class. Images hold so much symbolism, so it would be interesting to have students choose classic images (think: American flag, diamond ring, graduation cap, a cross, a heart) and deconstruct them. For example, students could write about what these images represent to different people, and which messages are usually paired with specific images. In addition, they could discuss where these images usually appear, and find examples of different ways these images are used within media.

Once students chose a “classic image” they could find an example to modify using the creative commons search, or a Google filtered search. Their job would be to modify the image, to somehow alter its “typical” meaning. For example, a diamond ring might become part of a set of handcuffs, or a cross might become a sword, or text might be added to prompt the viewer to consider the symbol in a new way. Students might even pair typical images with typically associated language, like you see in my image of the American Flag.

I found a very “glorious” image of an American flag shining in the sunlight, and used tuxpi.com to add a “ghostify affect”. This drained the photo of its color, and gave it a bleak connotation. Whereas before the flag looked beautiful, and almost holy; now it looked ghostly and had an almost “looming” quality. I chose to drive home the idea of American patriotism by using red, white, and blue text, and also including a key line from the “Pledge of Allegiance” (liberty and justice for all), but I re-appropriated the phrase by replacing “all” with “some”, and I made a point to use white text for “some”, while leaving the other text within that line blue. My picture now reflects a new message; one that calls into question current social issues, especially in regards to the experiences of people of color within the justice system.

This type of exercise not only asks students to analyze how symbols are used to spread messages across media, but it also asks them to think critically about propaganda and author’s purpose. I think students will get more out of the activity if they focus on a social issue they want to address, and make their modifications purposefully in order to create a specific message; rather than just modifying an image just to change the style, or make it funny.

This activity might work best for 8th -12th grade as it does ask students to consider controversial issues, and may prompt more adult discussions. However with differentiation, and the right facilitator, I think it could work at any grade level.

I felt the image I chose worked well for my design because it personified the ideal image of America. It was also well above Reynolds’s suggested 1180 x 720 pixel size minimum for photographs (105). After modifying the image in tuxpi.com, I also modified the image within Microsoft paint. I enhanced the saturation and the brightness of the image, to increase the intensity of the photograph. Just as I wanted the flag to appear looming, I wanted the brightness of the sun to appear blinding. The saturation increase seemed to deepen the stormy mood of the photo, creating contrast between light and dark. I chose the Gill Sans font, because it is mentioned as an essential font in Presentation Zen Design (39), and I wanted to get a feel for it. I also chose to make my font large (48-72pt font), in hopes that someone in the “back of the room” would be able to read my image clearly on the screen.

Two other ways I could imagine students using tools from this weeks sandbox are:

  1. Students could use PicMonkey to create colleges that tell short stories. Almost like a 6-word memoir, but with images and text.
  2. Students could use Big Huge Labs to study text features, and practice with main idea.

If you want to know more about these ideas just leave me a comment 🙂


Image Credit: Jnn13 (2009).  Flag of the United States of America, backlit, windy day. Retrieved from: https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=6221363 CC BY-SA 3.0.


Reuse, Recycle, Re-appropriate

She’s Styling

wordleI was excited as I read through the syllabus of this class to discover that much of our journey would consist of stylistic choices in regards to presentation and creation of instructional materials. I consider myself the “creative cat” type, being a singer/songwriter, English Teacher, and lover of all things art. My excitement grew when I discovered that the text for this class, Presentation Zen Design, explains design using Zen concepts as a foundation for understanding. Zen is always something I have loved to learn about. In college, I took Zen Buddhism classes, and began taking yoga and meditating. My senior seminar paper was entitled Zen in Scottish Literature. 

One concept I remember from my studies of Zen is the concept of the “pregnant zero”. The pregnant zero basically means if you have “nothing” anything can happen, any idea, possibility, or moment could be born into that space. This goes along nicely with the concept of “pu”, the uncarved block. A block that is uncarved can become anything. It is pregnant with potential.

I kept these thoughts in mind as I created this blog. I wanted my style choices to reflect the simplicity, and even the emptiness, of the pregnant zero and the uncarved block. Author of Presentation Zen Design, Garr Reynolds, puts it in design terms, stating, ” As a general principle, create visuals and other designs that express what is necessary. Minimize or eliminate that which is excess” (15). Therefore, I chose this “Minnow” theme because I appreciated how simple it was. It felt clean, empty, and able to give birth to new ideas for both me, the writer, and my possible audience.

I also wanted to keep in mind my audience. Reynolds reminds us to design with our audiences’ needs in mind. When describing type he says, “Type must make our words clear. Audiences should not have to work hard just to decipher meaning from the letter forms” (30). This concept could be applied to a blog design as well. I chose a design that is readable, easy to scroll through, and lacking in general “bells and whistles”. I don’t want my audience to have to struggle to navigate or read my posts. I want it to feel like a simple experience, such as that of opening a book and reading.

When playing around with color schemes, I decided black and white was the cleanest choice. The “white space” provided in a simple black and white format allows my words to breathe, and keeps the focus clear. When  browsing the internet we are already so easily distracted by ad’s on the sidebar, pop up messages letting us know we’ve gotten some social media notification, and images upon images to scroll through. Therefore, I wanted this space to embody a cleanliness, which denies the clutter of our everyday internet experience.  Reynolds says, “The biggest mistake that most people make is seeing empty space as something that must be filled in– as something that is wasted unless it is filled with more elements” (17), so I tried to resist that urge as I created my blog.

Finally, the image of the multi-colored tree is my own. It was created from a Holga film camera during my freshman year of college. That Holga camera was a pregant zero in my life. Filled with empty film that could become anything. It was free from the instant gratification of digital film, but not from flaws. My pictures contained light leaks, color distortion, and other “mistakes” I could not have planned, but that only served to make my photography more beautiful. This is much like my journey through education. Our mistakes are transformative, and they allow us to give birth to new ideas and possibilities. It’s a simply beautiful process.

I hope you enjoy this simple blog, and all your pregnant zeroes.




She’s Styling