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A weblog designed to share Geography resources with students and colleagues

Monday, December 08, 2008

Using voicethread to plan work

Categories: s1 and s2

I tried my first class voicethread today and this is really just a bit of reflection. The context for using it with my group was to allow students to have an input into a country study of Brazil in terms of what they learn. This was part of another piece of work I'm doing with other teachers in the local authority about curriculum design. I wanted to negotiate with students around some central themes. These were as follows

1) Brazil's physical geography

2) Urban Brazil

3) People and culture in Brazil

4) Exploring the Amazon

There are links between some of the themes, and we'll look at these later. I started the period with a bit of Brazilian music from last.fm. This is a really nice online music service that allows you to tailor listening to your tastes. I searched samba and bossa nova and played some 'radio station' randomly selected tunes. This was just a bit of scene setting, but as usual seemed to work well as students did a short brainstorm about Brazil, telling me what they already know. I deliberately tried to steer this away from the purely geographical. For instance, every time I've done this, football gets mentioned. There is a lot of geography in this. A quick glance at a picture of the Brazilian national team in comparison to the Scotland team shows far more cultural diversity. I've used the roots of club football to explain this diversity too, e.g Palmeiras have strong links to the Italian community, Portuguesa to those of Portuguese heritage etc, so I'm quite happy for students to tell me about things they think are unconnected to geography.

After we had shared some of our knowledge, I set the four themes out on the blackboard (I still have one!), while setting up the voicethread on the interactive whiteboard. After explaining that I wanted pairs to come up with at least one question that they would like to ask about each of the four themes, I also suggested that they think of their own questions over and above these themes. I said that the voicethread was just another way to share these questions, but also hopefully to answer them. It would be nice if every time we answered these questions throughout the topic, students could edit the voicethread themselves. I also felt that this was another way to engage students in the topic, by using a different medium to interact. I think that the exercise was succesful, and here are the reasons:

1) Students could choose the way in which they participated in the topic- through text or audio which will be shared, or simply by participating in the class discussion and pair work (ongoing while individuals took their turn at the voicethread)

2) It was a chance to celebrate other classes work. The image that we based our discussion around in voicethread was a tourist brochure created by two girls in the previous rotation which was very good at presenting the positive views of Brazil

3) As this was quite a fast moving exercise, students did not browse each other comments or responses. This meant that some people asked the same questions, and allowed me to define the classes' areas of interest. There were several questions about the rainforest and crime in cities, probably as a result of the surprising (for me) amount of knowledge that this class had about street children.

4) The response are helping me think about approaches with this class. Lots of questions about animals in the rainforest had me thinking about 'making animals' as a way of bringing in the physical geography of the Amazon. The questions about crime meant that I would probably be able to succesfully use a 5 W's activity that I trialled with the last rotation focused on an edited episode of City of Men.

5) The responses also had the reassuring aspect of telling me that I don't have to reinvent the wheel. One of the things that my curriculum group discussed was whether approaching a topic in this manner would create lots of extra work. I have to say that, although this is only one example, I don't think I'll have to significantly re-resource, I'll maybe just have to change the priority in which I use my existing ones.

Of course, I should also reflect on some of the areas which could be developed in terms of using voicethread too. So here goes...

  • It would work much better if students had their own individual logins, and could take more ownership of their work. I know there are school packages and this is something to look at, as it would be a much more dynamic exercise

  • It would be more helpful perhaps if students had more time to think through the questions they wished to ask and then respond from home. Some took a little 'stagefright' when faced with a microphone and struggled to articulate fully their questions, while others declined to talk

  • Some might ask what the difference between this and a normal class discussion or a jotter based exercise would be. I've already suggested why I think there is value in using a different medium, but no doubt others would not share this view.

I'll hopefully be able to share this, but I would like my other s1 to add to it tomorrow. There are lots of ways in which voicethread could be used which are far more 'connecting', and I'm looking forward to using it in class in the coming months.


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