I've been hearing a lot about VoiceThread over the past year or so. Supposedly, it was something like a PowerPoint presentation crossed with Twitter, with a little bit of FaceBook thrown in. VoiceThread presents a very simple slideshow and allows viewers to leave comments along the margins of each page. These can be written, audio or even video comments, which theoretically makes it a very powerful communication tool. It seemed like a creative way for students and the outside world to carry on a conversation about a particular topic, but it's been a bit daunting to me.

After six months or so of tiptoeing around it, I decided to give VoiceThread a real try. In my Food Magnet, my students periodically do "tastings" of new foods - discuss them, rate them, make notes in their tasting journals, etc... - and I thought that would be a pretty good forum for them to use this tool.

For our first time out, I had my students test various folk remedies for eating a too-spicy pepper. I used my digital camera and my new Flip Video camera to take pictures and video of them trying different remedies. I used my TuneTalk to record their observations, which I edited into audio files later.

For this first VoiceThread adventure, I had each student identify him/herself before each comment, so I would know who was who later on when I edited the sound clips. A couple of the students used their last names, so bleeped them out while I was doing the editing. In the future, when students are recording and posting their own comments, that won't be necessary.

Here is our first attempt:

This seems like a promising start.

I'm going to have the students in my Magnet create their own avatars and have them post their own comments on the foods we taste from now on. VoiceThread allows them the choice of using a microphone to record their comments on the spot, upload soundfiles (like the ones I used in this slideshow), type their comments or even phone them in on their cellphones.

Time will tell, but for now, I'm going to provisionally love this new toy.




It was the fresh cactus in the window that got me in trouble.

I was running some errands in Manchester this afternoon and drove by a market I've never been in before.

This is somewhat dangerous, because I'm a bit obsessed with food and small, hole-in-the-wall ethnic markets, and you're not going to find many places much more ethnic or hole-in-the-wall-y than this place. Given that I was driving in one of the residential areas of the city, where the streets are only a lane and a half wide at the best of times and that there are still snowbanks from the last snowstorm to contend with, AND double-parking seems to be more the rule than an exception, this was probably not the best place for me to be distracted while I was driving.

Anyway, I managed to pull over, make an quasi-legal 23-point turn and park in front of Empire Foods, a very cool, pocket-sized bodega in Manchester's "Tree Street" neighborhood.

I went in.

Which is kind of deceptive. To say I "went in" implies that I had some sort of choice, that I could have stood out there in front of a strange, new bodega and after some thought, turn and walk calmly back to my car and drive away instead of being sucked into the store like a hard-boiled egg into a milk bottle.

Anyway, I walked in and was immediately hypnotized by all the cool stuff - mostly Mexican ingredients like dried herbs and mysterious canned goods - on display. The guy behind the counter seemed fairly suspicious of me and the longer I looked around, the more bemused he became.

(Cool word, huh? Bemused - it's worth 20 grains of rice at FreeRice.com.)

Anyway, after a few minutes, he came right out and asked me what a guy like me was doing in his store. (Clearly, I don't represent his usual customer demographic.) I told him that I'd seen the nopales - fresh cactus paddles - in his window.

He brightened up and said, "OH! You're from Texas!" (This seemed to clear things up, at least a little bit, for him.)

I told him, no - I just like food.

He thought this over for a few seconds, then smiled. Apparently, this was an answer he could really get behind.

We chatted for a few more minutes then I felt I needed to buy something before I left. I'd been intrigued by several 1-liter bottles of some canary-yellow beverage in a glass bottle. When I picked it up, it had a warning about pregnant women and operating heavy equipment, so I ended up buying it.

(I've had several glasses of it now, which probably explains the rambling nature of this post. I'm not worried though. I know it must be good for me - it has a cow on the label.)

Anyway, the upshot of all this is that I have a new friend and new store and a bottle with a cow on it, so life is looking pretty good.


So, what does any of this have to do with the classroom?

Um.... Give me a second....

Aha! I've got it!

When I got home, I added Empire Foods to my Awesome Food Map.

For the past few months, I've been adding all the grocery stores and restaurants I visit to a custom map on GoogleMaps. This allows me to share cool new finds with friends and family. Each place is marked on a map that allows them to find out a little bit about each place, look at it on a satellite photo and even find driving instructions on how to get there.

Now, imagine using this in a classroom setting to map all the Civil War battles in your state or all the places Flat Stanley has visited or all the places that various ancestors came from during a Family Tree project - you start to see the potential.

I already do a project like this with my students during our Civil War unit. I'll post more about it when we get to it.

In the meantime, please enjoy my Awesome Food Map:



Now, if you'll excuse me, my new friend the cow and I are going to watch a movie.

Or maybe just take a nap.