Monday, September 26, 2011

Voice Thread! COOL and FREE!

This is NOT the best application of VoiceThread ever but it is serving my need to create a book talk "video" for my third annual "Sakai Reads" all school read program.  Every year I manage to convince the teachers, students and parents to join me in a theme-based all school "read" based on the "One Book, One Community" model.   It's pretty amazing that they are willing to do this with me! This is our third year for it!  Each student in my school chooses a read and participates in a parent led book discussion.  We call this year's theme "Building Community" but it really has more to do with being able to place yourself in the shoes of another person.  What does it mean to have empathy for another?  I've selected fourteen books this year and they represent many different genres. I'm looking forward to having the students select their choices!

Since I can't book talk the whole lot to them as much as I'd love to, I made this VoiceThread last night by uploading the book covers and a few slides that I made with PowerPoint.

VoiceThread is at its best when you allow others to comment on your slides.  Commenters can make videos with their Web cams, they can record their voices,  they can type in a text comment and they can even draw on the screen.  

As you can see, it embeds nicely into a Web site.  My only frustration with it is that it takes some time for it to transition between slides and upload the new audio. 

Last year two of my teachers had their students create an original poetry VoiceThread where they shared one of their poems partnered with a slide of art.  It was really a cool and relatively easy project.  Almost all of the students were stunned about what their voice sounded like!

VoiceThread also has a program called VT Educator where teachers can get a little more storage space if they can prove that they work for a school.  VoiceThread also has very affordably priced subscriptions.  A teacher or a school might choose to purchase a subscription because it allows users to create their own profiles which makes commenting much easier and also sensible. 

Also, Scipi from "Go Figure!" has encouraged me with a TOP TEN award from TeachingBlog Addict! Cool!

Top 10 TBA

Sunday, September 25, 2011


WikiGame: This could become very addictive!!! This is a game where you race around Wikipedia trying to navigate from one article to another through the fewest clicks.  It's like "Six Degrees of Kevin Bacon."  I just won with Eight clicks from Hilary Clinton to Frogs. 

My own, much more basic "Wikipedia the Game" is an attempt to help kids become more mindful and reflective about using Wikipedia. It is available as a FREE DOWNLOAD at my Teachers Pay Teachers store. It's also one of the activities in my "Info Bootcamp" unit. It simulates the element of chance in creating an article that can be edited and "improved" by anyone out there.  It's only available for SmartBoard Notebook right now.  It's best run as a full class activity.  Play begins with a roll of a die.  For each side of the die, a student has to do one of six things: either add their own fact, reveal a fact from a pile of useful information, reveal a fact from a pile of opinion facts, REMOVE something, or allow the hacker to add something by rolling the "hacker die."  Game play can go on indefinitely but I usually limit the game to less than ten minutes.  That is more than enough time to get my point across that there is some chance in how good a Wikipedia article is. 

I've created three "game board" slides that on three subjects that my students are very familiar with: SpongeBob, pizza, and the Sasquatch. 

What I've learned from playing this with several classes now is that my fifth grade students are more engaged with my ACTUAL lesson, which is to point out some ways that they can begin to distinguish whether a Wikipedia article has merit.   Some of these points include looking at the amount of references and notes at the end of the article, noticing whether the page has had a rating, and looking for other signs that the article needs to be "cleaned up."

There's also a Wikipedia article "Flow Chart" so that kids can see that there are many hands involved in the process.

I also make the point that sometimes teachers will insist that students not use Wikipedia and that my goal as a librarian is to make them aware of other sources that have greater credibility with their teachers.

Some of the things that I've discovered about fifth graders while playing the game is that they get the difference between opinion and fact.  They noticed that sometimes the best facts can get removed from a Wikipedia article, making it less strong.

Since I chose to use the Sasquatch legend as one of my game boards, I have the opportunity to talk about articles that have to be protected because they are controversial.   The Sasquatch article was once a big battle ground between the cryptid believers and the non-believers.  The Big Foot followers kept writing the article as if he truly existed and they had incontrovertible proof. Wikipedia finally had to come down on the side of those who are still skeptical and have blocked editing on this article. 

Finally, I've come across Wikipedia's actual FAQ for Schools!  This is what Wikipedia has to say about credibility:

It is possible for a given Wikipedia article to be biased, outdated, or factually incorrect. This is true of any resource. One should always double-check the accuracy of important facts, regardless of the source. In general, popular Wikipedia articles are more accurate than ones that receive little traffic, because they are read more often and therefore any errors are corrected in a more timely fashion. Wikipedia articles may also suffer from issues such as Western bias, but hopefully this will also improve with time
I'm in agreement with them. My school librarian's point that I try to make is that taking any resource at face value leads to sloppy scholarship at best.  

Saturday, September 24, 2011

Big Nate! I'm a BIG FAN!

I love any book that I can recommend to a reluctant boy reader and they actually might walk out of my library with it.  Big Nate works it well and I'm glad to say that he has three books out now and more are on the way from Lincoln Peirce.  I liked this Book Trailer for it. 

Why like Nate? He isn't afraid to make up some hilarious nicknames for his teachers, he will take a speed eating dare with whatever vegetables are surplused in the cafetorium, and has a "do-gooder" arch nemesis.  In other words, he's very relatable and funny.

So I created a Lit Guide for it in the hopes that one of my teachers would use it with her small group of reluctant boy readers who like graphic novels like the Amulet series.  It's for sale at my Teachers Pay Teacher's store.  I created a card game to go with it.  The object of the game is to collect DETENTIONS.

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Dark Life! Fabulous Sci-Fi by Kat Falls

I'm always looking for great sci-fi and I fell in love with this one last year.

It's Dark Life by Kat Falls.  What I liked the most about it was there aren't that many books out there where people attempt to colonize the seabed.  I thought that Kat Falls did a great job coming up with all the ways it could happen.  Just when the reader became skeptical about the science, she came up with a reasonably plausible explanation. Although the science teachers at my school did not buy the idea of the liquigen capsule taking care of the air pressure issue. 

We ran some science class based book discussion groups last year and this one was the hit of the series.  I wrote some questions for these parent-led discussion groups and have posted them as a free download at my store at Teachers Pay Teachers.  Eleven meaty questions for free!

I've got the sequel, Rip Tide, on my list of reads.  I'm wondering where she can go from here because I felt like she already had to reveal much of the surprise of living under the sea.  

Sunday, September 18, 2011

Info Bootcamp 2011 -- YEAR FOUR of molding FIFTH GRADE MINDS!

Every year I get the ability to spend the entire day with one 5th grade class.  The teacher doesn't set a goal... it's all up to me what I want to teach them.  Since I know that this is the last time that any librarian is going to get this amount of access to their minds, I feel a great responsibility to really make a lasting impact.

Here's a collection of three lessons that I've been working on for this year's fifth graders.   It is available as SmartBoard slides for sale for $5.00 on Teachers Pay Teachers.   I'm including two lessons that I taught last year, information privacy and the World Wide Web and I'm adding a new one called "The Wikipedia Game."

I really like "The Wikipedia Game."  It is my attempt to show kids the element of chance in how credible a Wikipedia article is.  For each roll of the dice, there is a different outcome to the article, including a "hacker" adding a one-word tribute to themselves.  I already played it with two of my ten fifth grades and I think that it was a highlight of the day.  Here's a screen shot of the actual game.
Wikipedia GAME screenshot

Of course since I had to come up with something that most fifth graders felt very confident about and was still very fun, I chose SpongeBob SquarePants.  This was a MUCH better choice than Parkour or Justin Bieber, I'll tell you.

Part two of INFO BOOTCAMP features my favorite fake Web sites including my beloved Pacific Northwest Tree Octopus, which I am so sad to say will not be showing up in my backyard tree at any point in the near future.  If you don't know about this sad creature that is not yet on the endangered species list but SHOULD, please check out his advocacy page here:

I do recognize that I am a very lucky librarian in that I even get to run bootcamp every year.

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Study Island -- Great resource, BIG learning curve

Okay, so I've spent so much time on helping my teachers implement Study Island over the last two weeks of school that my four-year-old now asks what road we take to get to Study Island.  Obviously, I need to come up for air. 

If I were go back two weeks and do some things differently, I would...

-- Recognize that the pre-tests for each section are actually NOT diagnostic.  I always thought that pre-tests were diagnostic.
-- Find more time for teachers to play games and commit to the student's joy in using the resource, which I don't think that they are doing at this time.
-- Not expect that the huge amounts of reports that they have available will allow me to do whatever I want. 

Despite the rough and rocky start for my teachers, I really think that it is a great resource with good live chat support. 

I'm actually putting most of my "library bootcamp" curriculum on it.  

Sunday, September 11, 2011

Google Earth -- Great Classroom Tool -- Make some PLACEMARKS today!

How to use Google Earth in the Classroom

Christopher Columbus set off
from the Port City of Palos in Spain
and your students can follow his
journey in this lesson that will help
you get used to using placemarks.
I love, love, love using Google Earth with students and I want to encourage YOU to do the same.  It's a lot easier and more manageable than you might think to make your own .kmz placemark file or to find one that has already been created.  One of my favorite lessons is available for free from my Web store at

These are part of the Placemarks that are included in my following the voyage of Christopher Columbus curriculum unit. To download FOR FREE, please go to my Web store!

Looking for KMZ Files.  A .kmz file is a downloadable file that contains place marks for Google Earth.  While they are easy to create, you can also find already created ones online.  Use the terms .kmz or "google earth" along with the subject you would like to find in a search engine. 

Other places to check: – A lot of teachers are helping to make lit trips for the books that they teach.  I did see that Watsons Go to Birmingham has one as well as My Brother Sam is Dead.

Working with KMZ files.  If you click on a kmz file, Google Earth should automatically load.  The placemarks will be located in the PLACES window on the left side of the screen.  It will be located in the TEMPORARY PLACES folder.  You will need to remember to use the plus sign to reveal the information contained in a folder.  You navigate to the places on the Earth by clicking on the place marks in the folder.

If you close Google Earth, you will be asked if you want to save the place marks that are in temporary places to your MY PLACES folder, which is also in the PLACES window.

Note, you can upload a kmz file to a Web page or a Moodle so that students can use them individually on a computer.


First, you will want to make a new folder in your MY PLACES folder.  Right click on my places and choose "Add a new folder" from the drop down menu.  You will eventually drag all of your place marks into this folder. 

Then use the search box which is at the top left of the screen to find a location that you want to put a place mark on.   Use the navigation tools at the top of the screen to zero in on the exact location that you want to put a placemark on. 

Then, you need to click on the yellow PLACEMARK ICON which is at the top of your globe’s screen.   A placemark will be attached to the globe at the center of your screen and a window will pop open that will allow you to name your placemark and add a DESCRIPTION of the location.  This description will be seen in a white “call out” box on the screen. 

Note also that your placemark has been put into your MY PLACES folder in the places section on the left.  You will have to drag it into your folder at some point. 

It’s important to note that you can only move the placemark around while the window is open.  Once you click the OK button, the placemark is locked down and the only way to fix it is to go over to the Places window and right click on the placemark.  This will allow you to select “Properties” from the drop down menu which will bring the window back up again.


Right click on the folder of Placemarks and select “Save Place As”.  This will bring up a dialog box that will allow you to save your placemark file in a location on your computer. 
How to add a photo or a video in the little “call out” window. 

This involves knowing the HTML code to embed a picture:

<IMG SRC=”put-the-image-location-here.gif”>

You can find the image location by right-clicking on an image and selecting “properties.

Or you can put any HTML code for embedding videos in as well.

My reason for blogging...

I work in an amazing school library that serves students in 5th and 6th grade but increasingly my job is also taken up with helping my teachers learn how to use and manage their technology.  A lot of this is "tech coaching" in the ten minutes that we have during their prep but some of it actually turns into stuff that I write out for them to refer to later.  

In addition to that, I also write reviews about Electronic resources.  I thought that I'd add links to those as well. 

And I'm also starting to sell some of my better curriculum activities and units on Teachers Pay Teachers.  Please consider visiting my store. Most stuff is FREE right now!