The Silk Road VoiceThread is a broad introduction to the subject of the ancient routes that linked China, Eurasia, the Middle East, and Europe beginning in the 2nd century B.C.E. It is aimed at Middle or Junior High School students and is organized into four main categories: (1) where the trade routes were located, (2) what goods were traded, (3) when the main eras of its development took place, and (4) who were some famous people who influenced its development. Each slide presents an image and asks a question that the students can research and answer in recorded comments. At the end of the voicethread there is a list of recommended resources that can be used to answer each question and suggestions for how teachers can use the VoiceThread as an interactive learning resource. This VoiceThread provides a scaffolding for research and active engagement with an important topic of world history.
I based the organization and content of the VoiceThread on the SPICE Silk Road Curriculum. I chose what I thought would be the most important concepts for a Middle School history class, made an outline, and tried to select questions that could be researched and answered by students working in teams or small groups during just a few class periods. After writing the questions and checking to make sure that adequate resources exist for answering each question, I searched the internet for clear, interesting images for each slide. I kept track of the source for each image as I went along so that I would have that information for the Picture Credits document at the end of the VoiceThread.
The goal of this VoiceThread is to give young adolescent learners an interactive way of learning about the history of the Silk Road!
The easiest part was loading the images and recording the questions. I used an inexpensive digital external microphone in order to keep the sound of my computer’s fan out of the narration recording. This cheap microphone significantly improves the quality of the recording!
The hardest part of making this VoiceThread was the text content creation. It was challenging to decide what information to include, what to leave out, how to organize it, and how to frame appropriate and engaging questions. I had to do some re-writing of the questions about trade objects because it wasn’t always possible to find adequate source material written at an accessible level for Middle School students on all the trade objects I wanted to include. I also had to do some re-recording of my questions in order to avoid recording my own annoying vocal habits (I hope I succeeded most of the time!).
I used Google Docs to write the narration and keep track of the picture credits so that I could work from ! both home and school without having to fiddle with flash drives. I also used Grab to get the images and then used Adobe Photoshop to re-format almost all the images so that they would fill up the slide area as much as possible. I also used Powerpoint to create the slides that have text (wrote the text, filled in a background color, used Grab to get the Powerpoint slide as a separate image, then re-formatted with Adobe Photoshop).
VoiceThread is a perfect format for getting students actively engaged in researching a topic. They are motivated to find the information and present it in an articulate way because they will hear their own voices presenting the answers as soon as they record! Also, they enjoy hearing each other’s voices answering the questions, so there is a built in format for reinforcement of the learning. I would encourage other educators to use VoiceThread for research projects in this way, but to be sure and not skip the step of checking to make sure that there are adequate resources at the appropriate reading level available for students to find the answers easily.
Teachers using this VoiceThread should present a general introduction to the Silk Road to the entire class by either reading a short book or showing a short movie about it (there are several listed in the resource document at the end of this VoiceThread). Teachers could then assign students to research and record an answer to the question on just one slide each. Alternatively, students could work in pairs on several slides. Another use would be for the teacher to have the class use this VoiceThread as a whole-class review at the end of a unit on the Silk Road. This VoiceThread could also serve as an example of how to create questions about different aspects of a topic. Students could be asked to create their own VoiceThreads on other aspects of the Silk Road using this as a model.