This week in INDT 501, I explored two new creative tools:
- Tagxedo– A tool that allows you to create word clouds, much like Wordle. You simply insert a text and decide on the shape you want the text to take.
The most exciting and functional part of Tagxedo for social studies teachers is that it makes the most frequently used words in the text the largest. By highlighting the most common words, students can easily see the main idea and themes in a text. For this reason, tagxedo has enormous potential! It provides students with a lot of information in a concise manner, making it a great tool for warm up activities. For instance, I made Tagxedo images of two primary source documents from ancient history, The Code of Hammurabi and The Book of Exodus, to illustrate the similarities and differences in ancient law codes. To see what’s important in these two texts, students simply examine the Tagxedo images and then discuss why each law code emphasizes certain people, places, and/or things.
We can then ask students how the emphasized, most commonly used words reflect Babylonian and Hebrew society. We can get students thinking about what each civilization valued without having them spend an hour of class time or homework time reading the entirety of each primary source text. While they may end up reading the entirety of the primary sources later in the lesson or in their research, generating word clouds of the text saves a lot of time up-front and allows us to see the bigger picture sooner, perhaps in turn generating even more student interest and curiosity from the get-go.
More importantly, these word clouds demonstrate an approach to problem-solving. In political science, we frequently answer questions by looking at data in this way– by examining speeches and legislation to see what is most important and valued, according to word count. Of course, political scientists then combine the data with historical context and analysis but, the starting point is raw data. Word clouds, although a rougher, less precise sketch of the data, make the data visually appealing and more mentally digestible, if you will. Take for instance,The New York Times‘ word clouds of all presidential inauguration speeches. It illustrates, in an exceptionally appealing way, one method of examining the presidency over time. From these word clouds, we can make numerous analyses and conclusions. All in all, word clouds are a great engine for modeling research methods and for sparking student interest and thought.
Seeking even more visual, animated appeal, I explored another creative tool this week:
- Voki – a tool that allows you to customize avatars with voice, visuals, animation, and backgrounds.
While Voki can be used in the classroom in a variety of ways, I used it to enhance my professional web portfolio and get feedback on it. Below is a screenshot of how I used Voki on my website.
I must admit, creating a Voki was quite fun and I will continue to think about how I can incorporate it into my classroom. Surely, students would enjoy creating their own, too! It might be handy for shy students creating presentations, who want to minimize their speaking time but still get their points across to the class.