Archive for March, 2013

Teaching with Tumblr

Sunday, March 31st, 2013

This week we learned about using different kinds of technology to create virtual experiences for students.  Among the ideas explored were mobile apps and exploring virtual worlds.  We also thought about good versus bad uses of technology in the classroom, which remains an important topic as new teachers enter classrooms full of digital natives.

When it comes to using technology, namely cellphones, in the classroom, there are always pros and cons.  Some of the downsides of allowing cellphones in the classroom is that phones often act as distractions.  When I was in high school, students were always hiding phones in their laps or were texting behind their backpacks.  The fifth grade classroom at my old grade school now has a cellphone bin, where students drop off their cellphones at the beginning of the day.  In my practicum classroom last year, students were constantly playing with their smartphones.  It was difficult for the teacher to manage the classroom and get the students to put the phones away.

Another downside to using mobile apps is that it assumes that all students have smartphones.  Not all students are going to be able to download apps on their phones, and they may not be able to get Internet on them.  Just like teachers have to consider that not all students will have access to computers and Internet outside of school, we also have to consider that students may not be able to use mobile apps.

However, there are definitely advantages to using virtual technology and mobile apps.  Virtual technology, such as Storybricks, can allow students to create their own visual stories.  While students should be able to write their own stories, being able to illustrate and flesh out their story visually can help engage students and add a new level of meaning to their story that could not necessarily be expressed with words.  As stated in a report to Congress, “Virtual Worlds and Kids: Mapping the Risks,” “For children and teens, virtual worlds offer educational, social, and creative opportunities.  For example, educators are using these spaces to provide students with hands-on experiential learning opportunities.” These opportunities can pique students’ interests and give them more freedom of creativity when it comes to their schoolwork.

Similarly, mobile apps can let students upload material whenever they want, as long as they have a smartphone on them.  If a student finds something in their research online that could be of interest to the class or could be used for a project, they can save it to an online profile like Tumblr.  Tumblr would be an interesting blogging experience for students, since many of them may already have Tumblrs or are familiar with the site.  I also think that Tumblr can be a means of connecting students as a class.  Students could upload content to a classroom profile for their classmates to work with.  Teachers can also benefit from communicating through Tumblr or other online profiles, uploading content-specific material that teachers in different subjects can look at.

An example of a Tumblr account that I came across recently is “WhatShouldWeCallEducators,” whose creator uploads gifs with captions related to issues that teachers come across daily.

It’s often humorous, but I wouldn’t show it to students since we don’t want them to feel as though they are made fun of.  However, this is just one example of how a Tumblr could create solidarity among teachers, and among students.


Federal Trade Commission. Virtual world & kids: Mapping the risks. Retrieved at

Mini-Projects 2: Around the World

Sunday, March 24th, 2013

This week the mini-projects seemed to focus on taking us out of the classroom and into the world.  Among the choices were timelines, Google Treks, and Lit Trips.  I worked with all three of these choices to come up with a way to bring a piece of literature to life for students.

The first project I completed was a timeline, which I created on a website called TimeToast.  This website allows users to create any kind of timeline they would like, with the option of adding text and photos.  I chose Jules Verne’s Around the World in 80 Days for my timeline because the story is basically an itinerary that the characters try (and sometimes fail) to follow.  A timeline would be a good way to illustrate to students the passage of time for books like this, which can be very confusing when the characters are moving to different areas quickly.  The timeline also acts as a deadline.  The main character has to return to London after exactly 80 days, and by putting that date on the timeline, students can visualize the amount of time the characters have to work with.  Here is my timeline below:

timeline link

Screenshot of Timeline linked to online profile.

The second project was a Google Earth Lit Trip of Around the World in 80 Days.  This project was much more difficult for me.  I was able to place landmarks where the characters went in the novel, like London or Bombay, but I couldn’t figure out how to link them.  With some help from Dr. Coffman, I was able to finally get the landmarks to link together, forming paths in between.  However, while I was working on Google Earth, I also tried to make a Google Trek to see if I could create paths more easily.  Here are both projects (still works in progress) below:

Screenshot of Google Trek


Path from London to Suez

Path from London to Suez

Both of these projects could be very important in an English classroom.  Sometimes it can be difficult for students to visualize the paths that the characters take in the story.  Another good example of a novel that I could do a Trek or Lit Trip for would be Night by Elie Wiesel.  In this book, characters are moved from one concentration camp to another throughout Europe during World War II.  A Lit Trip could show students not only the places that these prisoners were taken to, but how far these people had to walk during Death Marches.  This serves to call attention to themes like human suffering, and give students emotional relevance to the text.

Both of these activities could be useful in the classroom as a means of helping students visualize texts.  Treks or Lit Trips and timelines help make texts much more accessible because students are able to see a journey of a character or the places they went and when.  Both projects would give context on an emotional, historical, political, and geographical level.


Mini-Projects I: Online Activities for the Classroom

Sunday, March 17th, 2013

This week, we were asked to choose two projects from a list to complete and upload to our online Web Portfolio.  Among the possible assignments were podcasts and comic strips.  I chose to create an avatar, and a lesson plan based around the website Wordle.  Each project had a different purpose in relation to the Web Portfolio, but both could be used in the classroom, particularly the English classroom.

The first project I completed was making an avatar on  This website allows users to create a “voki” that can move and speak.  You can add audio, code it to a blog, or upload it other kinds of websites.  The assignment for the course asked for a Voki to instruct visitors on my online portfolio.  I first picked out an avatar and personalized it so that it looked a bit like me but also looked professional.  I didn’t want to use a Voki that had fairy wings or vampire teeth!  There weren’t many choices for professional-looking avatars because only those paying for an account could use certain avatars.  I was left with the free ones, but found that I was still able to create a somewhat “normal” Voki.

I then added audio.  At first I wrote it out for the Voki to read, but the dialogue sounded stilted and very artificial.  To fix this, I called a number provided on the website and recorded my dialogue over the phone.  This worked out much better.  The dialogue sounded much more natural and I wasn’t distracted by the Voki mispronouncing my name.  The hardest part, however, was uploading the Voki to my Google site.  I was using Google Chrome as my browser, and the Voki did not show up on my portfolio.  I switched to Internet Explorer with greater success.  To try to fix the problem with Chrome, I added a link to my Voki just in case.  I am still working on trying to get the Voki to show up on Chrome, but I’ve come up with a little bit of difficulty because I am still getting used to a new laptop and figuring out where everything is!  Hopefully in the next week I’ll be able to fix it.  The Voki on my portfolio acts as a guide that briefly tells visitors to my site how to navigate the left-hand tabs.

This activity could be used in the classroom for a variety of activities.  In the English classroom, students could create a Voki based on a literary character and add audio that gives background on that character.  This could be a fun and engaging way to get students to think about the characters they encounter in class.  Another use could be for a class collaborative website.  The Voki could act as a guide that instructs students on how to use that particular site.

The second project I completed was a lesson plan using Wordle.  This website allows you to enter words into a box, and the website then creates a graphic image composed of those words.  I had a harder time with this assignment because I had to figure out how to install Java onto my laptop and allow ActiveX to work.  Once this was finished, I was able to create an image using words that describe the character Harry Potter, from the popular book series.  The lesson plan attached to that Wordle asks students to think of a fictional character and create a Worlde using words that describe that character.  Physical appearance, relationships to other characters and the setting, and the character’s goals  are asked for when the students create the Wordle.

In my own classroom, I would use this activity as an introduction to a book we would be reading in class.  The Worlde would be a way for students to think critically about a character and describe that character.  For a creative writing assignment, students would be asked to think about their own characters in a three-dimensional fashion.  According to the Virginia SOLs for ninth grade (2011), “The student will develop narrative, expository, and informational writings to inform, explain, analyze, or entertain, a) Generate, gather, and organize ideas for writing.”  Because students should be able to write a creative, original piece, they need to be able to create characters that work within the story’s environment.  This activity could be used instead of or in conjunction with a Voki avatar.

According to Chapter 7 of Using Inquiry in the Classroom (Coffman, 2013), when creating an online activity, the teacher has to “identify what types of computer hardware and software are necessary to participate and make sure your school has the necessary tools” (p. 111).  I definitely agree with this statement because while I enjoyed the activities and would use them in my own classroom, I did not originally have the software required for the Voki or Worlde to work.  I needed Java and ActiveX, and I became frustrated while trying to download this software. Before assigning these projects, I would inform students what software they would need at home (if necessary) and I would check with the school’s computer lab to make sure the downloads needed were there.  Despite my initial frustration, I do think that these two activities would be beneficial to students in an English classroom by getting them to speak (using a Voki) and analyze (using Worlde).

References: (2011). Retrieved from

Coffman, T. (2013). Using inquiry in the classroom: Developing creative thinkers and information literate students. (2nd ed., p. 111). Lanham: Rowman & Littlefield Education.


The Writing on the Wall: Using Wallwisher in the Classroom

Sunday, March 3rd, 2013

I have to admit, when I first took a look at Wallwisher, a website that allows you to build a “wall” and attach electronic sticky notes to it, I was a little skeptical.  It seemed like the sticky notes were all over the place and that most comments end up getting covered up by newer posts.  How do we weed through to find the older posts and keep track of them?  Some posts didn’t have names or tags, either.  So how can we use this tool in the classroom effectively and efficiently?

Funnily enough, all the things I didn’t initially like about Wallwisher, I ended up liking.  I like the colors and the vibrancy of the posts, which are sure to catch students’ eyes easily.  Sticky notes are also a more interesting means of communication.  We use physical sticky notes all the time to remind ourselves of events or assignments, so why not have an electronic copy of those notes that we can access from any computer?  Unlike physical stickies, Wallwisher notes don’t get lost, and are easy to sift through.  They are also grouped by topic, which allows you to organize your thoughts more easily.

Wallwisher has plenty of uses in the classroom.  Student groups can each make their own project wall that illustrates their planning process for the teacher.  It’s a better form of assessment than asking the students to turn in physical notes, which they can easily “bs” or say got lost.  Students can also use the wall to give feedback to others’ projects or to the teacher.  The teacher can also post sticky notes to give students advice on their projects.

The most important function in my opinion is that Wallwisher illustrates how each student contributed to the project and what steps the groups took to complete their work.  Separate walls can show brainstorming, outlining, and finally, bringing all of the information together into one assignment.

I also agree with Dr. Coffman’s (2013) suggestion: “Visual appeal, the colors, and the freedom to move things around that makes it a lot less daunting than jotting things down in Word.”  While GoogleDocs are easy to use, they are just blank, white documents that students have to contribute to.  The sticky notes are short and concise, so that students have to think about what they want to put up on the wall.  When students label the notes with their names, it is easier for the teacher to figure out who made what contribution, while this can be a bit of a hassle in a GoogleDoc.  Wallwisher is a fun, easy way to get students thinking, writing, and collaborating without too much pressure.

I would definitely use this in my future English classroom, where students can use the walls to brainstorm ideas, structure their papers, and give feedback to their peers.  Here is my own wall that I created for class.  This would be a topic I would use to get to know my students!  Add to it if you like!


Coffman, T. (2013). Week 7 reflection blog post: Shared sticky notes. Unpublished raw data, University of Mary Washington, Fredericksburg, VA, , Available from Canvas. Retrieved from