This is a guest post by educator and VoiceThreader, Jennifer Starkey.
For the past few months I have had the privilege of being involved in a teacher professional development program called Finnish Connections, Collections, and Reflections at North Carolina State University. One of the goals in this program is for the participants to connect with other cultures through global, collaborative, classroom projects.
For our project, I worked with my colleague Andrea Echols who is a second grade teacher and also part of the Finnish Connections program. Finding a teacher to collaborate with, especially when we limited ourselves to one country proved to be a bit challenging. We were members of several online classroom connection sites but actually ended up meeting Noora Malkavaara, a fourth grade teacher in Finland, through Twitter.
The idea for our project was for the students in each classroom to get to know each other. What was a typical school day like for our students and what was a typical day like for the students in Finland? Our students were curious about what the Finnish students liked and if they would have anything in common with students across the globe.
To accomplish this, I wanted to use a tool that would allow the students to interact with each other as much as possible. Because of the time difference and our school schedules, live video communication would not work and letter writing would take too long for the short time we had to complete the project. We discussed several options but I felt that VoiceThread was the only tool that could do everything we wanted. Noora had never used VoiceThread and was a bit hesitant but once she began working with it and experienced how simple and user friendly it is she agreed that it was the best choice.
VoiceThread’s versatility in giving the user choices in how they present their information by text, voice recording or video allowed the students to participate in the way they were most comfortable. Some of the Finnish students were nervous about speaking English so being able to type their responses allowed them to confidently participate. As the project progressed it was wonderful to see some students take chances and while they may have typed their first comments, they decided to try voice and video for others. VoiceThread also gives the option of being able to directly reply to comments so the students could have conversations and answer specific questions. The finishing touch was to make our profile pictures the flags of our countries so anyone viewing our project could immediately see which comments were from which country.
We began by taking pictures of our students during their daily routines such as arrival at school, lunch, recess, math, music, etc. Noora shared her pictures with me and I used different online tools to collage her pictures together with the pictures of our students. Each collage was loaded as a slide into VoiceThread. The students chose the daily activities they wanted to describe, wrote out and practiced what they were going to say, and recorded their information on the corresponding picture slide.
When the project was complete and our students were able to see the final VoiceThread they were glued to the screen. They were excited, surprised and awestruck by what they learned. When asked if they would do another project like this they overwhelmingly said, “YES!” Learning about another country and culture was the highlight of their year and VoiceThread is the tool that made it happen.
For me, the best part of the whole experience is that the VoiceThread can continue to be used for our students to learn about each other. Noora’s and Andrea’s next class of students can watch, add their own comments to the project and communicate with each other throughout the school year and this year’s students can revisit the project at any time.
About the Author:
Jennifer Starkey is the Instructional Technology Facilitator at Holly Grove Elementary School in North Carolina. You can follow her on Twitter @JennStar11 or her blog (which she has been neglecting but promises to get back to) Technology Adventures.