Voki and BrainPOP: two power tools in a teacher’s toolbox

Voki and BrainPOP: two power tools in a teacher’s toolbox

 

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Any educator worth his or her salt would tell you that the secret to good education is to use the proper tool for the job – not all the tools, all the time, and not one favorite tool, in excess, to the exclusion of the others. The master teachers know which tool to use from their arsenal at any given time and are always looking to learn more. To that end, teachers have been asking us about Voki vs. BrainPOP as educational tools in the classroom, and in this short paper, I hope to provide a bit of relevant insight. I am not going to argue the merits of edTech and the pros and cons to having laptops or tablet computers at hand for the children to use. Rather I’d like to describe and enumerate the virtues of using one tool or the other, depending on the job at hand.

BrainPOP did not begin in the classroom – in fact, it was the brainchild of a doctor who wanted to teach his young patients about what happens to them when they get sick, by using animated videos. Through trial and error, it was found that the optimal amount of time a child would watch and be engaged in a little video was no more than 5 minutes. Soon parents began asking him for more specific content based on what they wanted to help their children with – and then they asked their kids’ teachers to please show these little videos in the classroom. A wonderful tool was then introduced to the realm of Education, and the rest, as they say, is history. But BrainPOP was not originally conceived as a classroom tool. To this day, BrainPOP is marketed to schools and districts – but also by subscription to parents as an educational alternative to cartoons and mind-numbing tweeny shows.

Voki likewise was not originally conceived as an educational tool. The digital avatars that can be fully personalized were originally created for use in social media, and business websites. However, clever and creative teachers began to use Voki in the classroom, letting children create their own avatars to do the talking for them. Teachers also incorporated Voki avatars into their presentations, as a maitre d’ when introducing new lessons or concepts, or as an engaging way to interact with the students during the lesson.

While BrainPOP was born as a content tool, Voki’s main focus at first was on its avatar customization ability – teachers and students could create their own avatars, and customize them richly and creatively. They could also create and share their own content.  However Voki realized very quickly that they could better help teachers and students if they pre-created content that was ready-made for teaching and learning.

BrainPOP includes thousands of short animated films, with recurring characters, that follow a formula: some bantering at first, then they read a letter which encompasses the main idea of the video, then they spend the rest of the time explaining, demonstrating or clarifying the concept or answering the question. In nearly all cases, the video ends with a joke of some sort. To use BrainPOP in the classroom, a teacher can either tell students to watch things they are interested in and plan for that to be a 5 – 10 minute self-directed learning activity, or the teacher can put the video on the interactive whiteboard and use it as a teaching tool embedded in the lesson of the day. It is simple and easy to navigate the site; one just needs a paid account in order to access the offerings. The drawback is that it is a self-contained, hands off stand-in for actual teaching.

Voki content follows a different methodology. Using the Common Core Standards as a guideline, the Voki team has created presentations narrated by different Voki avatars, which follow the grade level and subject curriculum. Bundled into Units, a teacher can download lesson plans and graphic organizers or handouts that go along with the lessons, and use the Voki lesson as a springboard, pausing and controlling the pace of the presentation to suit his or her classroom’s culture and needs. In addition, a teacher can copy the lesson into their own account and then personalize it, modify it or add to it, so that it is tailor-made to their class’s learning style. Teachers can even record their own voice for the Voki to use. Using Voki as a classroom tool requires some advance planning and preparation on the part of the teacher. He or she needs to familiarize themselves with the lesson content so they know when to stop and direct the children in an activity, and they need to become familiar with the content creator tool called Voki Presenter, which allows them to freely edit or customize the lesson or build their own presentation if they choose, from the ground up. Though Voki is a little more labor intensive and requires a teacher to spend some time with it to become comfortable with all the features, the benefit is that one can build on existing content or create new content that is unique and right on target. These abilities are not available with BrainPOP.

Both tools have iconic and easily identifiable looks. BrainPOP uses an almost retro-feel in their badges, with easy to identify symbols for the lessons, and very clean and crisp images. Everything is animated or cartoon style, and the site uses theme colors that are reminiscent of “the good old days.” The badges are arranged in tiles when you go to a specific subject area, though there is no discernible order to how they are placed. It is not clear if they are in descending order from the date of creation or there is some other filter at work. When you open up a video, you are also given options as to whether you want to take a quiz on the subject, “map” the ideas that are contained in the video, go to other activities or read up some more information. Each video is a self-contained, stand-alone lesson with a clear focus. The presentations are very clear and really explain difficult subjects (for example, internal combustion engines) concisely and in language that is easy for children to parse. In terms of the UI/UX factor, though BrainPOP is easy to use – just point and click – there is no ability for a student to utilize the content in his or her own presentation, whether it is an oral report or a homework assignment.

Voki’s signature look is the bright orange speech bubble. The site allows you to sort the content by grade level and subject. There are hooks, which are short presentations that introduce a topic or prompts students to do an activity such as writing starters or short math problems. Usually they are connected to an upcoming holiday or national day. Lessons are Common Core aligned and grouped together into Units, so that a teacher can plan to cover 6 to 8 topics using Voki content within the unit of study. As was mentioned earlier, one of the coolest parts of Voki is the ability of the teacher to personalize it – to change the appearance, race, gender, voice, and especially the message – so that it has the ability to connect with students even more.

As a teacher and an administrator, I can see the benefits of both tools in the classroom. Both can be very useful to help transition between topics, can be used as a Do Now to settle students into the goal of a lesson, or when students are finished with their work or tests early and can be directed to a useful occupation. Additionally, assigning either tool as a homework component to either prepare students for the next day’s lesson (reversing the classroom) or review content covered is more likely to be successful because of the fun nature of the tools. In the UI/UX factor, Voki has more hands-on options for students, and in fact, at the end of every lesson, students are encouraged to create a Voki avatar to respond to the main theme or question of the lesson.

Thus far, we have been able to highlight some of the positive uses that both these tools offer, both in the classroom and as homework components. Though we are not comparing apples to apples, it is useful and interesting to explore how and when each tool might be used to its best advantage. When considering a Special Education setting for example, Voki becomes the stronger option. Students who struggle with social anxiety or certain behavioral issues can use Voki as a safe way to communicate, a way to represent themselves through an avatar that reflects how they want to look and interacts with their peers and teachers by proxy. People with autism can learn about how to express feelings and identify facial expressions through play as they manipulate their Voki avatar. Students who are diagnosed with selective mutism or are very shy can find a voice to communicate with so that they don’t feel disenfranchised or disconnected. From a mental health perspective, using a Voki avatar in a therapeutic setting can help students express fears or anxiety, and help them share scary experiences like bullying in a way that removes them from the immediacy of the emotional burden.

As I have previously noted, it is not really appropriate to directly compare these two tools side by side, but rather explore each one’s strengths and uses. For an educator who was wondering what these tools are and how they can best be used, I hope this has been an enlightening and useful discussion. Since we know that the key to engaging students is using the proper tool at the proper time, I hope that this information will help teachers make good choices about the use of these technologies in their classrooms.

Na’ama Y. Rosenberg is the Director of Educational Content at Voki, a division of Oddcast Inc. a NYC company. Experienced in the field of education for over 20 years, she has previously worked as a teacher and administrator in grades 4 – 12, and in Early Childhood. 

Three tips that will give your Voki a whole new sound

Three tips that will give your Voki a whole new sound

Being flexible is always a good thing when dealing with the unexpected, but if you can wield the upper hand in your favor, then be sure to save yourself the frustration of unwanted circumstances—and results.

Just like there are tricks to every trade, there are tips to every tool, including Voki. One of our best kept quasi-secrets is how to regulate the speed, pitch, and pause of your avatar’s voice. We’ve all been there: you just added some great text, only to realize that your Voki spews it out too fast when you press play. Or there’s that break you want in between words, but your Voki seems to accelerate full speed ahead (sigh!). And then there’s the absence of emotion in the language itself. We may not be chasing highs and lows in life, but it’s pretty handy when it concerns our Voki’s pitch. Don’t fret—we’re pros at this.  Below is the scoop on how to manipulate your Voki’s voice:

To control the Voice Rate, insert the following formula to your text:

<prosody rate=“-12%”>Halloween is at the end of October.</prosody>

The lower the number in brackets, the FASTER the Voki will speak. The higher the number, the SLOWER it will speak. To gauge your pace, we recommend setting “-12%” as a benchmark for a steady speed.

To control the Voice Pitch, insert the following formula to your text:

<prosody pitch=“high”>Oh dear me!</prosody>she cried.<prosody pitch=“high”>The sky is falling. I must go and tell the king!</prosody>

The prosody code should sandwich the word(s) you want the pitch to apply to. Alternatively, to lower the pitch of your Voki, type in “low” in between the quotes (as seen with the high pitch configuration).

To add a pause to your text, simply add a comma where you’d like a break.

We hope this helps. Stay tuned for our next #TipTuesday!

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Catherine Alvino is the Digital Marketing Coordinator at Oddcast. She holds a BA in English Literature and a MBA with a concentration in Marketing. She loves to write and is proud to work for a company that adds value to learning.

Here’s How You Can Write Like a Halloween Story Champ

Here’s How You Can Write Like a Halloween Story Champ

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If there’s any time to get creative during the calendar year, it’s Halloween. Be it the costumes, the carving, or the confections, this spooky holiday is brimming with opportunity.

From Coraline to Frankenstein, and with the psychological thriller Girl on the Train hitting theaters this weekend, let’s just say there’s plenty of suspense brewing in some of our favorite books.

To be fair, not all of us think in the macabre mindset, but we can certainly all think in the imaginative one. This Halloween season, writing activities are the perfect outlet to tap into the creative voices of your students.

It’s the common rite-of-passage for critically acclaimed novels to be adapted for film. We can’t offer you a budget to get your story to the big screen, but we have something else in mind.

It just so happens that Voki is well equipped to participate in the Halloween writing process with you. Voki avatars do the job in adding animation to your ideas—not to mention social media can get them visibility.

As for characters, Voki has all your usual spooky suspects: Dracula, Frankenstein, skeleton, witch, zombie, bat, jack-o-lantern. But if you steer clear of the haunted path, then we have over 200 characters too choose from that can meet your imagination’s needs.

Teachers can prompt their students to write about anything pertaining to Halloween, but we recommend something that gets them thinking in the spirit of the holiday, something out of the ordinary.

Students can write their essay, and then create a Voki avatar(s) to narrate it. Using Voki Presenter, they can upload images, backgrounds, and links to create scenes and settings for their stories. There’s choice in how you want the story to be told. You can upload audio, type in text and have one of the Voki automated voices recite for you, or record your own voice.

We know: this is starting to sound more and more like a movie, and the students more and more like screenwriters, producers and directors.

It’s Halloween—what better time to think box office big?

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Catherine Alvino is the Digital Marketing Coordinator at Oddcast. She holds a BA in English Literature and a MBA with a concentration in Marketing. She loves to write and is proud to work for a company that adds value to learning.

 

Why Everyone Should Celebrate World Teachers Day

Why Everyone Should Celebrate World Teachers Day

Today, October 5th , is World Teachers Day (WTD).

What exactly is WTD?  In 1994, the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) proclaimed WTD a global event.  The day was chosen to commemorate the special intergovernmental conference convened by UNESCO in Paris concerning the Status of Teachers in 1966.

WTD has historically served as a day devoted to appreciating, assessing, and improving the lives of educators around the world.  The day also provides global citizens a special opportunity to address the issues pertaining to teachers across the world.

This year’s WTD marks the 50th anniversary of the original 1966 conference. It is also the first WTD to be celebrated within the new Global Education 2030 Agenda adopted by the world community one year ago.

In honor of this year’s WTD theme, “Valuing Teachers, Improving their Status,” the team here at Voki would like to take an opportunity to bring awareness to one important issue affecting the teaching community worldwide; namely, the concept of teacher retention and induction.

According to a 2003 study by Ingersoll & Perda, between 40% and 50% of new teachers are estimated to leave within the first five years of entry into teaching.

What’s more is that according to UNESCO, by 2030, an estimated 3.2 million more teachers will be required to achieve universal primary education and 5.1 million more in order to achieve universal lower secondary education.

This revolving door policy is often the result of insufficient resources, support and guidance for teachers as they begin their journey as an educator.

The process of acclimating teachers with their new job is known as “Induction” and the process has grown in recent years from relative obscurity to an important ideology within educational reform.

WTD encourages spreading awareness. We would like to have this piece initiate a dialogue and raise awareness. Please be sure to comment, share, like and or tweet this article with the hashtag #WorldTeachersDay to do your part in building a brighter future where education is a right not just a privilege…

About Voki:

Voki is free educational software that allows teachers to create awesome, customizable speaking avatars to better enhance learning and student engagement. Teachers record their voice and an animated talking avatar is exported.  A Voki can be used for debates, presentations, lessons, speeches, language studies and much, much more. Our character library includes cartoons, pets, historical figures, and cultural figures, just to name a few.

Our basic product is completely FREE because we believe all teachers deserve a chance to enhance their classroom no matter what their budget is. Voki is used in thousands of classes around the globe and is supported in over thirty languages.

Voki is truly a global tool made for educators by educators. Try it out for free today at www.voki.com.

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About the Author:

Michael Cassidy is the Product Manager of Voki. He is a digital marketer by background but also dedicates his time as an educator, philanthropist, coach, mentor and anti- bullying crusader. His book “The Skinny on Bullying, the Legend of Gretchen” is used around the world to help teach young students how to cope with bullying in a digital age.

External Resources:

Beginning Teacher Induction: What the Data Tell Us: http://www.edweek.org/ew/articles/2012/05/16/kappan_ingersoll.h31.html

World Teacher Day (Official Site):

https://www.worldteachersday.org/map/

Featured Teacher Sheila Slawiak Transforms Her Classroom with Voki

Featured Teacher Sheila Slawiak Transforms Her Classroom with Voki

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This summer, we asked our Voki community to submit their stories on how Voki has changed their classroom experience. We’d like to share with you the story of Sheila Slawiak, our featured teacher winner, who transformed her students’ attitude, engagement level, and integrity in their work using Voki.

Last school year during Q4 I tried out Voki for the first time.  I teach inner city struggling urban middle school students at a Level 4 school and before Voki, no project impressed them!  Then I found Voki and tried it!  To my surprise, all of my students loved it (from special ed to honors); I had 100% student engagement; and I had a student focused class!  It was a huge WOW! For me and for my students.  Even my most  highly risk students produced their product using my project requirements.  Never did I hear, “this is too  much work!”

I do have to admit, I used a lesson plan from the Voki blog as an idea.  Our school requires monthly written essays that show “citing of evidence”.  I took the idea of writing a persuasive essay about the importance of healthy snacks.  I gave my students a text set of 3 articles regarding the pros and cons of healthy snacks so they could synthesize their essay.  I also told them that their audience were 5th graders so they could feel important sharing what they have learned about healthy snacks.

To my surprise, they were so involved with all the activities in order to produce a talking persuasive avatar.  For the first time, there were no moans or groans inundating the lab, or piercing eyes staring at me. For the first time, I was able to facilitate peer reviews where each student really took an interest in their partners’ work.  For the first time, each student wanted to present their findings. For the first time, each student either scored a 3 or a 4 on my rubric vs. 0-3s. And for the first time, I was rated with high evaluative scores from my principals!  We all won and I attribute these wins to Voki!  Next school year, I’ll invite parents!

Thank you Voki for being so imaginative and for not ever settling!

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Sheila is an Instructional Technology Teacher for grades 6-8. She is passionate about teaching educational technology to both her students and colleagues. Shelia has expressed this sentiment on teaching: “It’s a wonderful feeling knowing that you can encourage all students (no matter what their challenges are in learning) to express their thoughts by utilizing audio applications like Voki that allow students to imagine greatness!”

Voki…On A Roll!

Voki…On A Roll!

One of my favorite things to do as an educator is to mix the digital and the analog for students. I see this as a necessary challenge. In a high-tech world, sometimes students miss out on the many benefits and social interactions that can come from non-screen activities, such as board games. On the other hand, we have so many amazing tech tools today that allow students to interact and express themselves, as well as collaborate and share with the world. I propose that mixing the two can be a powerful combination.

That is why this school year, I’m going to try…

story_cubes          peter_pan

The Ultimate MatchUp!

I first heard about Rory’s Story Cubes when we received a set as a family gift for Christmas. They’re simple…you roll all 9 dice, then use them to tell an imaginative story. However, you can use them in endless creative ways like having each person take one die and tell their part of the story (collaborative storytelling) in turn! Each roll reveals new and exciting turns in the story. After having met Rory in person, and utilizing The Creativity Hub’s other game in my schools (The Extraordinaires), I see the company’s vision and potential of using these analog games to engage and drive deeper learning.

I first heard about Voki through a graduate course taught by John Smith (@theipodteacher on Twitter). Immediately, I saw the power and potential of Voki in the classroom. As a STEM teacher, I am always on the lookout for tech tools that hook students and allow them to have voice and choice in their learning. Specifically in giving students a voice (different from their own), Voki makes sharing in front of peers easier because an individually-created avatar does the talking for them. Voki’s characters are unique and engaging, as well as funny and strange. Students adapt right away to the easy-to-use platform and are busy creating their characters from the start.

Primary Voki Moments in the Classroom

My first attempt using Voki with students was to have the first graders create characters that could share a welcome message for the next year’s first graders. We brainstormed ideas of advice they could give their peers about what it’s like to be in first grade and then they wrote several sentences down on paper. Afterward, we spent an entire class period (45 minutes) exploring how to make and create Voki characters…just for fun. The time for students to simply “play” with the site was so valuable. The next class period, since they had had some experience, we logged in with our official Voki student accounts. This way, projects could be worked on and saved for later. The students then began creating their Voki avatars and using the typing feature to give their Voki a voice.

Once their Voki was complete, they had to “present” it to me by hitting the play button. They were instructed that if I gave them a thumbs up or a thumbs down, I would show them if I could understand what their Voki was saying or if something needed improving. If you’ve never played around with Voki before (What are you waiting for?! http://www.voki.com/site/create), you need to know that sometimes you have to spell words phonetically. This can take a bit of problem solving and manipulating of the text on the student’s part. Honestly, I love this part about Voki. Your students are so engaged that they actually WANT to make their Voki say things correctly and so they will sometimes persist and show resilience until their Voki is perfect!

When students finished their “final draft” of their avatars, they submitted them to me for review and I then embedded their Vokis on a class webpage for the following year’s first graders to receive some Voki advice! Here is a sampling of what they created:

http://pburgstem.weebly.com/mrs-straws-class.html

Spinning Stories with Voki

So, I want to use Voki again this school year. I also want to utilize Rory’s Story Cubes to have students make creative stories. The plan is to have each student roll the cubes and a picture be taken of the dice for that student to reference. (See pic below)

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Then, the students will use their creative writing prowess to spin a tale for their Voki to tell later. In the example picture above, a student might tell a story about a paratrooper turtle on a mission in Ancient Egypt. Or, their story might begin, “Once upon a time, there was a young girl who loved to read…”. The students will use their unique dice roll to write a brief story. Then, they will create a unique Voki character to tell the tale and share it with the world! I may use the Voki Presentation feature to show a picture of students’ dice rolls as well as their Voki character telling the story as seen in the example below:

Story Cube + Voki Example

Another extension would be to partner with a class in the school or across the world and have students pair up with the same dice roll but create two very different stories they could share with each other. To finish it all off, make each presentation a page in a student-created iBook so the world can download!

Happy Storytelling!

Jason Hubbard

jason_hubbardJason Hubbard is a K-5 STEM educator in Perrysburg, Ohio. There, he trains around 1200 students at two elementary schools in the martial arts of creativity, innovation, and edtech. Jason received degrees from The University of Toledo, Bowling Green State University, and also teaches a graduate course through Communicate Institute at Walsh University. Jason is a husband to one amazing wife and six incredible children.

The Benefits of Hooks

The Benefits of Hooks

How many of you have found yourself in this situation: it is Saturday night and you are watching TV.  All of a sudden, this intriguing movie trailer comes scrolling across your screen.  It is a teaser about this amazing movie coming out this summer.  You are captivated and memorized.  You have to find out as much as you can about this movie that has captured your attention.  You are hooked, line and sinker.  You will be buying tickets online to see that movie as soon as they are available.  Effective classroom hooks are the same in regards to exciting movie trailers.  A great hook gives students a preview of what an amazing lesson is getting ready to be taught and learned. It can make the difference between the best lesson ever and the worst.

Student engagement during lessons is an area in education that teachers are battling on a daily basis.  Dorit Sasson, author of “7 Ways to Start a Great Lesson”, emphasizes that “the most important part of the lesson occurs during the first five minutes.” What is the trick to engaging students? According to “Shooting for Success!  Madeline Hunter Lesson Cycle”, written by the creator of the “anticipatory set” or “hook”, “the hook should excite students about the subject matter.” Hook activities are short introductions at the beginning of a lesson or even a project.  A hook can be a song, rap, dance, game, acting skit, art activity or even a technology-integrated activity that is directly related to the lesson’s topic. Ms. Hunter also states that the hook should “grab the students not focused upon learning. By having an activity related to what will be learned, it shifts their attention to the learning process. Anticipatory set can also establish a readiness or anticipation for what is to follow. For the “hook” to do so, it must pique students’ interest. Otherwise it might do the opposite and turn students off to the topic.”

I have talked about what hooks are and what purpose they serve during a lesson.  Now let’s talk about the benefits of hooks.  Hooks provide engagement, excitement and a gateway into the lesson’s objective that can prepare and motivate students to learn the content being taught.  Students can focus on creating more productive work and hooks make the learning environment fun right from the start.  These activities can tap into the multiple intelligence approach to learning simply by allowing teachers to be creative with the type of hooks used to kick off the lesson. For example, in Using Hook Stations to Engage Students in a Lesson, Hillary Mills, a 7th grade Science-Geology teacher, uses hook stations to kick off her geology/biology lesson.  The stations are set up just like small group learning stations but incorporated at the beginning of the lesson.  Each of the stations incorporates different hands on activities, with the students acting as geologists studying fossils in each case.

Before I became the Voki Content Development Manager at Oddcast, I was a classroom teacher for twenty years with a Master’s degree in Integrating Technology in the K-12 Classroom from Walden University.  When I reflect on the years I taught in the classroom, the lessons that resulted in the best student engagement were always the ones that kicked off with an awesome hook.  I would always use different style hooks that would touch on the variety of learning styles in my class to meet all of their learning needs.  Of course I was passionate about integrating technology as much as possible into my lessons!  I really wish I had the opportunity to use Voki Speaking Characters as hooks when I taught. It would have been one of the top software integration tools incorporated into my lessons. I truly believe Voki Hooks capture and engage the 21st Century learner.  There are a variety of ways to use these speaking characters and Voki Hooks are just one way.  The Voki Hook activities guided by the Voki speaking characters provide top level engagement at the beginning of lessons. There are over 250 speaking characters to choose from and some fit perfectly into themed units of study. There are also hooks created to celebrate special days of the year like Dr. Seuss’s Birthday, St. Patrick’s Day and National Pencil Day!  Here are some examples of exemplary Voki Hooks—feel free to incorporate them into your classroom lessons:

March Madness Multiplication

http://www.voki.com/presenter/playPresentation.php?id=0eb178c5581f651876fadae5a8980899

Tell a Fairy Tale Day

http://www.voki.com/presenter/playPresentation.php?id=57d2108c6efd565d5bd6b27e4c7e747a

Phases of the Moon

http://www.voki.com/presenter/playPresentation.php?id=494ad0d24e15c7da81c7ea265c7f4cb4

Pencil Day

http://www.voki.com/presenter/playPresentation.php?id=29ec8066dea8748449b852688c46ee5a

Voki also has a product called Voki Teach.  Voki Teach is a library of Common-Core aligned lessons, hooks, and tech project activities in the areas of ELA, Math, and Social Studies. Science and Foreign Languages are coming soon.  Learn more here: http://www.voki.com/teach/home

 

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Christina Bazemore is the Content Development Manager at Oddcast.  She was an elementary, high school, technology lab teacher and soccer coach for twenty years.  She received her undergraduate degree in Early Childhood Education from Georgia Southern University and her Master’s Degree in Integrating Technology in the K-12 Classroom from Walden University.  She is fulfilling her lifelong dream of working and living in New York City.  She has one son, Andy and a dog named Shadow!   Christina is a big Georgia Bulldog football fan!