Student Choice and Voice

Student Choice and Voice


Matthew Farber is a middle school social studies teacher in Denville, New Jersey and author of Gamify Your Classroom: A Field Guide to Game-Based Learning (Peter Lang Academic, 2015). He is Voki’s lead ambassador and an active member of the ed tech community at large. His impressive roles include co-host of Ed Got Game on the BAM! Radio Network, contributing blogger to Edutopia, and BrainPOP Certified Educator. Farber’s essay is the first in an installment of guest blog posts written by our ambassador team. It highlights the personalization Voki gives students in creating their assignments as well as Voki’s engaging and lasting learning effects.

I frequently use Web 2.0 educational technology tools to engage my middle school social studies students’ learning. I try to imbue lessons with student voice, which Voki literally helps me achieve. In the past I have created a likeness of myself on my class webpage to welcome incoming students. This has served to whet student desires to make their own avatars.

Because I teach social studies, designing talking avatars often means having historical figures virtually deliver famous speeches. Student-created Patrick Henrys proclaiming, “Give me liberty or give me death!” has occurred often throughout the years!

Once students are comfortable using the Voki interface, I ask the class how they envision its use in assignments. Through project-based learning, students get a chance to author, publish, and share their Voki stories online, for others. When implementing project-based learning in a classroom, it is fundamental to include students’ interests and passions. By bringing students in on the learning conversation, they then have a voice in the experience. It is especially moving to observe quiet and shy students “speak” using avatars as their communication tool.

Students are the best lesson co-designers. When I introduce content as a design challenge, I always ask how they would make it interesting to the intended audience. This often involves brainstorming, testing, and iterating on concepts. We brainstorm ideas that would motivate and engage student learning.

Case Law Cartoons

One design challenge was to highlight important Supreme Court rulings, as well as to create an engaging presentation for others to learn from.  Each case was selected due to the impact they have to student’s everyday lives today.  The project was wrapped in a narrative shell, in which students are consultants to a new Web series for kids, similar BrainPOP or Flocabulary.  Then they are told, “Your animation company has been hired to create a short cartoon to illustrate real-life examples of how the cases affect students.”

The unit’s learning goal is to predict how Supreme Court rulings can have an affect on their everyday lives.  For example, the case of Tinker v Des Moines, in which students were suspended for wearing armbands to school to protest the Vietnam War, was a landmark ruling of freedom of expression.  Students’ freedoms and rights do not end when they arrive at school.  Students first read through 10 different Supreme Court cases on the New York Times Upfront webpage. After they select one case, they complete a planning sheet summarizing the case.  Then students brainstorm ways their cartoon can illustrate a real-life situation (example: at school, in the mall) of how that ruling affects children today. It is especially moving to observe quiet and shy students “speak” using avatars as their communication tool.

This project met social studies curriculum standards, as well as Common Core Standards that pertain to evidence-based argumentation. Students were highly engaged in the process. They had choice to select the case that interested them, as well as the unique avatar to represent them. Also, they remembered the project months later. Try that with a worksheet!

I am thrilled that Voki just released its mobile version. Using it is similar to the experience of the website version; however, it takes advantage of the touchscreen interface. Simply tap and swipe to design an avatar. Then hit the record button to give it a voice. My students now create presentations on the fly. The Voki for Education app is yet another instance of how teachers and students are supported with a technology tool.

Best of all, the Voki for Education app is free. I also like the fact that there are social sharing features. Instead of classwork being posted on a bulletin board, it is even easier to publish online for a global audience.


Student example, about Tinker v DesMoines and its affect of freedom of expression:

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