Tuesday, August 14, 2012

Avatar Madness

A few weeks ago I decided to venture into the world of avatar creation.  I think that using avatars may create interest in presentations and on my website, and with some thought and planning, I think they could be used to spark storytelling creativity in students and provide me with ways to help teach cybersafety.
The only real experience I had with avatars was creating a Wii Mii on the Wii and Madmen Yourself (which probably isn’t appropriate for elementary kids).  In surfing around for information about creating avatars, I knew that I wanted them to be kid friendly and free!
In the beginning, I didn’t have much time to browse for avatar creators.  I did find a fairly helpful eHow article, which warned to be wary of unfamiliar programs that required you to download things (viruses!).  For my first attempt, I did play around with Otaku Avatar Maker.  This site is pretty cool, and although I’m not an expert, it seems to me that the avatars you can make here are fairly traditional in a manga sense.  I felt pretty confident about site in general, and while it was easy enough for me to navigate and figure out, it didn’t seem very “kid friendly” to me.

My Otaku Avatar
A few days later, I checked in on The Daring Librarian, a blog I was introduced to a while back thanks to Pinterest.  And wouldn’t you know it, there was an entire post about avatar creation, “It’s a Cartoon, it’s an Avatar, it’s a New, Animated YOU!”!!  And that’s about the time I realized that thanks to The Daring Librarian – who is clearly more of a mind reader, I had hit the AVATAR JACKPOT!  For a fantastic list of online (and safe) avatar makers, be sure to download the “It’s a Cartoon! It’s an Avatar!” article close to the bottom of the post. 
Now, I haven’t had time to play with all of the avatar makers and cartoon strip makers (hello storytelling inspiration!) on the list, but I think the two that best meet my criteria (free & kid friendly) are Wimp Kid Yourself and BuiLD YouR WiLD SeLF. 
Wimp Kid Yourself is great because it taps into the Diary of a Wimpy Kid frenzy.  I cannot keep those books on the shelf, and you cannot beat making a connection between what the kids are reading and a fun exercise in following both picture and written directions to create and export your very own wimpy kid.

Me, the Wimpy Kid
I really love BuiLD YouR WiLD Self, by Wildlife Conservation New York Zoos and Aquarium. While this one is a little more involved and for a young student may require some additional help, the product can really be used as inspiration for research.  When you “build your wild self” you choose all the different components of a person, then add parts of different animals.  When you click done, it shows you your avatar creation with facts about the different animal parts you have included.  The site also allows for a teachable moment in that it requests your name – this would be the perfect time to talk to students about information we should keep private and what we should do when a website asks for private information.
Now, that's one WiLD child

For now, I plan to challenge the kids to build their own avatars using Wimp Kid Yourself and BuiLD YouR WiLD SeLF.  As part of the challenge they will need to tell me a book they’ve read this summer and a fact they learned about an animal.  I also plan to use the sites in the upcoming weeks to help me talk about cybersafety.
A few other sites I’ve played around with that are equally fun, but maybe more suitable for older students are:
 WeeWorld (for this one you have to create an account and you can earn points by doing different things – there’s also a live chat function that really wouldn’t be ideal for elementary aged students)

My Wee
HeroMachine 2.5 (this one is more mature in content, and it didn’t appear that avatars were downloadable as with the other sites)
Voki – is a site that a colleague sent me – it allows you to create a talking avatar.  It looks perfect to use with a SmartBoard.  It shows promise, but I haven’t had a chance to compare the difference between the free account and the classroom subscriptions. 
What avatar/cartoon makers do you like and how do you use them to engage the interest of your students?

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