Archive for October, 2010

Movie production in the classroom can be a scary thing for many teachers, and to be honest, I have seldom done a video project with students where I was in total control. There is always something that I didn’t know or think about. However, I have done enough projects now to have some idea of what to expect. Having certain tools handy will certainly make the whole process run smoother, making those bumps that do come up seem much smaller.

Here are five apps that I can’t live without. The best thing about all of these is that they are free!

1. Windows Movie Maker: I know that there are several other programs and apps out there that work better and have more options,  but Movie Maker is just dead simple and, at least with the machines in our building, works rather well. I seldom have to do more than about three minutes of instruction with students, and they can handle putting a movie together.

2. Any Video Converter: I have used this tool more in the last several months than any other tool on my desktop. It is lifesaver when it comes to converting all of the various file types out there. This converter is free and will convert most file types into a .wmv which is the file type needed for videos to be rendered in Windows Movie Maker. The other bonus that comes with this converter is the ability to easily download Youtube videos.

3. Audacity:  This simple but powerful tool allows users to record, edit, and mix audio files. It is by far the cheapest (free) and easiest editing tool I have used.

4. AoA Audio Extractor: This tool comes in real handy when audio files need to be separated from the video for editing and mixing purposes. I am guessing there might other ways to do this,  but AoA works great.

5. VLC Media Player: This player will play just about any file you can get onto your computer, whether it be audio or video. When students bring in several different files and you have to sort through them, at least you will be able to see what is in them.


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I have been barraged this weekend with several different perspectives on the movie “Waiting for Superman.” I haven’t seen the movie yet and don’t know if I ever will, but I find the discussions surrounding the movie interesting.

I was sent a link for a discussion that was moderated by Oprah. The discussion includes New Jersey Governor Chris Christie, Newark Mayor Cory Baker, Geoffry Canada, and Mark Zuckerberg. I found what they had to say interesting, but the more I watched, the more I found myself thinking about the fact that there is so much talking going on about how to improve education, but not a whole lot happening to actually make the change.

I know there is a bunch of money out there being funneled into certain education programs, especially those supporting STEM ideals. However, where there is lots of money being spent in one area, there is money being taken from others. The problem is that all the money in the world doesn’t make a system run any better. It may help, but money is not the end all solution.

I don’t write this blog to complain.

What I want to do is find out how to get things rolling, so we can see real change in our education system. I am rereading “Rework,” a book written by Jason Fried and David Hansson. Basically, this book serves as a no-nonsense guide on how to run a business efficiently in the 21st Century. So what does this have to do with education.

As far as I am concerned, if we could run schools like a business, things might start to change. Now I know that the whole system can’t run exactly like a business, but there are many similarities, and successful businesses today are changing the rules of how business run, as is shown in this book.

The chapter I just read is called “Reasons to Quit.” Here are the questions Fried and Hansson ask us to ask in looking at how effective our current system runs.

1. Why are you doing this?

2. What problem are you solving?

3. Is this actually useful?

4. Are you adding value?

5. Will this change behavior?

6. Is there an easier way?

7. What could you be doing instead?

8. Is it really worth it?

I actually have a good smart-alleck remark for all of these questions regarding education and how things are currently running, but I will let you answer the questions yourself. Just think of what you do on a day to day basis as a teacher or administrator and ask these questions about what you are doing.

Be honest.

Now change!


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This is just plain cool! I have watched several videos created by the RSA, and everyone astounds me.

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I ran across Photofunia yesterday and thought that it was a cool tool. Here is a quick activity using the app that won’t take much time to set up, but will be fun to do with your class.

Take a picture of yourself, or maybe even a student and create a picture using the app. Do this before class, so when you reveal the picture they will be surprised.

For the assignment, I would have the students get out a piece of paper and a writing utensil and tell them that I want them to write for 5 minutes on the prompt that I am going project on the board.

Wait until they are ready, and then show the picture. Let them look at it and work on their own without any help. I think that most students will take a minute to think about what is really going on. I am sure that many will question how the picture was made. Don’t tell them anything. Tell them to write and see what they come up with.


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I have been wondering lately how teachers handle all of the “stuff” they have to do in a day and still manage to facilitate any learning within a classroom. One of the biggest challenges a teacher faces is time. There does not seem to be enough time in the day to get everything done.

Maybe this needs to be one of the first places schools look to make meaningful change in instruction. If a teacher doesn’t have the time to prepare, how can the teacher teach?

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Ever get frustrated because you have a great picture on your phone, but want to get the picture on the computer so you can actually use it for something? I don’t know how many times I have attempted to extract  pics from a phone by hooking it up with a USB cord. It never works. Every phone has accompanying software that will allow a person do to this, but that does you no good if you don’t have the disk.

Here is the solution.

Send the pictures to your email via MMS. Most phones services that include unlimited texting also include unlimited MMS messaging. Send the pictures, save them from your email to the computer, and its all done. The pictures are ready to use.

Ok, I know what you are thinking, “How could you have a phone and not know this?” The truth is that it was not long ago that I figured this out. In fact, I was working on a project at school with some students. A bunch of us teachers were trying to figure out an easy way to get the pictures to out computers from student phones. The short story is that we “discovered” the MMS trick (the long story involves lots of trial, error, blood, sweat, and even tears).

When I found out that we could receive pictures via MMS, I was so excited to go home an tell my daughter (14 yrs, old) about my amazing discovery. When I told her, she said, “Yeah dad, I know. That is how I get all my pictures from my phone to Facebook.”

Turns out, she has been sending pics by MMS ever since she got her phone a couple of years ago!

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Now it’s time to tackle standard three and four.

Standard 3: Writing and Composition

Students who master this standard will be able to “effectively use content specific language, style, tone, and text structure to to compose or adapt writing for different audiences and purposes.” I think that of all the standards this one is the easiest to satisfy in a video project. A good video doesn’t just appear. The whole project starts with a script and when this is written, the author has to be thinking about how it will be presented and also processed by various audiences.

The second part of this standard states that students will “master the techniques of effective informational, literary, and persuasive writing.” I think a fun way to work with this standard would be to have students work on a documentary. This would definitely satisfy this standard.

I don’ t know if satisfy is the right word. Really, a project like this is going to teach the standards. Students will come out of a video project having gained a good chunk of knowledge that will make them a master. Sure, they can learn this by just writing. A video doesn’t have to be produced for learning to occur, but their engagement in the project is going to be much higher with a project like this.

Part three of this standard says that students will “apply standard English conventions to effectively communicate with written language.” With this standard, the scripts should not be accepted for filming until they are grammatically correct. You will be surprised how much effort will go into getting the grammar right so the cameras can be turned on.

Standard 4: Research and Reasoning

In this standard, students are supposed to know how to conduct proper research and also know how to evaluate the research. This one is a little harder to meet in a video project but is still easily done.

One of the problems with our society is that people pretty much believe what they see or read. I am certainly guilty! When working on a video project, research should be done to make sure that the time period is properly represented. This could be done with almost any video. Research is a base element of story writing.Students could also work on a documentary style video which is all about research.

So, I guess, the more I think about it, this standard is not going to be that hard to work with.

That’s all there is to it. It has been good for me to think about how the standards work into a video project. They definitely do, and I don’t think that it is a stretch at all. All of the reading and writing standards are easily taught.

I think the biggest thing to be aware of is the time the project is going to take. Making a video is not like handing out a worksheet or even having students write a lengthy research paper. Projects like this take time, but in the end, I really feel the students end up having a better knowledge of what they are supposed to know. Like I said before, this is due to the engaging nature of video projects.

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