Archive for December, 2010

I spend most of my time talking with teachers about how they can integrate technology into their classrooms. At times, it is hard. Education has been working on the same plain for so many years that there seems to be a norm for how information is taught, and technology is not necessarily in that plan. Particularly, I am working on several video projects at the moment. We just finished a hefty Youtube debate that was a great success. However, it took a lot of extra time out of the class where students could have been memorizing verb conjugations or diagramming sentences.

Now I am not saying that those activities are a total waste of time. They are useful in their own right, but they do not necessarily teach a student to read or write, and there is not a whole lot of support in the state standards for these activities. But that is what is “supposed” to be taught in the English classroom.

There are lots of teachers out there that want to change the way their classroom runs. I know it, but they are scared to break the traditions of education. This is due to several different factors that I don’t care to delve into at this point. Honestly, we have heard it too many times, and all it does is raise blood pressure levels.

Rather, I want to talk about how we change the current system. I ran across this video on TED yesterday by Derek Sivers on “How to make a movement” and thought it had some great advice for those that want to see change in the way our students are being taught.

Below is a list of the points I found to be useful from the presentation. Whether you see yourself as a leader in your school or a follower, both play in equally important role in making change.

1. A leader needs the guts to stand out and be ridiculed. This is so true. It is hard to stand out in the crowd, and believe me, people are going to stare and maybe even throw things. Just keep dancing, and people will eventually follow.

2. Embrace followers and make them your equal. A good leader doesn’t do the job for their own glory. They do it to help others be better and feel good about themselves.

3. The first follower is what turns the lone nut into a leader. A person can call them self a leader all they want, but until they have followers, he or she is  not leading anything, just an idiot dancing in a field. There is definitely not movement. Followers are an essential part of a movement.

4. A movement must be public. It does no good to sit in the closet and talk about what you want to do. Get the word out. Talk about your ideas with everyone, whether they agree or not.

5. It is important to nurture the first followers as equals. Again, followers are every bit important as the leader in a movement, and they aren’t going to hang around if they feel like they are being looked down on.

6. Make it clear that it is about the movement, not you. If there is someone proclaiming that they are a leader, than they are probably not all that good. A good leader will attract followers naturally because the cause is just a good thing to do, or in the case of the video fun!

7. Leadership is over glorified. A leader is nothing without followers and is not going to accomplish much. A movement doesn’t accomplish a goal without masses.


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I appreciate the comment by Kevin Hodgson, writer of Kevin’s Meandering Mind, on my recent post about video in the classroom. Kevin asked that I give more detail on my observations so that other teachers can see how videos can be a great tool for teaching.

Here’s the list with my two bits:

1. High student engagement. Videos truly get students involved in a lesson. When students know that they are going to be posting a video to Youtube, they want to make it right. I thought that I would have more trouble with students being silly and messing around with their acting and scripts, but this is the exception. Thus far, most of the students have taken the projects quite seriously, and I think they have really studied the content to make sure their videos correctly portray the material being studied.

2. Real student thinking. Making a video is a process that takes  a great deal of higher level thinking. First, student need to write an original script. They have to take the material they are learning and put it into their own words. Making a storyboard helps combine these words into actions. Then on top of all this, the student have to cut the video together, which may not have a direct correlation to the material, but it definitely teaches the students to think in a 21st Century mindset. From the first day of working on a video, the students will use more of their brains than in most classes throughout their school careers.

3. Collaboration with peers. Videos are a great medium for group work. One great example of this recently was in a class I observed that made storyboards on big sheets of butcher paper. The students were all able to lay on the floor and work on their own square. However, in order to do this, the student had to all work together so everyone knew what to draw. The group work really extends through all aspects of the project, and the real cool thing is that students produce a video that they can all be proud of. Students love to see their name in the credits at the end of the video!

4. Students learn to work through a process. In a great majority of our classes, student turn in a paper and go on to the next assignment. Video’s vary from this by making student work through a process that involves several different steps. They have the opportunity to learn how to work through all of these steps toward an end goal.

5. Exercise problem solving skills. While videos help  students learn to work through a process, they also give several opportunities to demonstrate problem solving skills. Invariably, video projects never go as planned. I have done a bunch of them now, and something always go wrong. The camera records in the wrong format. Someone loses a script. Movie Maker crashes. Yesterday, we went into the lab where some students were working on videos earlier in the week. When they looked for their files, they had all been deleted! What a great lesson in problem solving that was (as well as a lesson on the importance in backing up files, which thankfully, they had done).

7. It’s totally free (if you have the equipment). Okay, so the camera and the computer are kind of pricey, but most schools have a computer and a video camera of some kind. Once you have these two tools, videos are a cheap project. Some of the best videos are made with minimal props. I am always more concerned with the content rather than the aesthetics. As far as editing goes, Movie Maker does everything a student will want to do with a video, and it is totally free. There are numerous sites with free sound effects, music, video clips, etc.

8. It’s fun. I love to do video projects with students because they like to do it so much. I don’t care if it is 5th graders or 12th graders. They all have a good time putting the video together, and then, of course, they really like to watch the videos in class. Recently, I worked with a small group of students on making short films. We spent 6 weeks working on the films (all outside of school) and then had a small film festival where we popped popcorn, invited a bunch of friends, and watched their movies. They are begging to do it again, and I am guessing that next time we will have a bunch more students involved.

I also just worked with a group of 5 graders who were depicting scenes from Colonial America. I can’t tell you how many times I heard students say something along the lines of “this is fun,” and I have to admit, they were a blast to work with. Talk about energy. We had a scene where the slave owners were chasing the slaves, and they about ran off the school grounds before they realized I had told them to stop.

Kevin, thanks again for making me think about this a bit more. If there is anyone who has great experiences to share or add to this list, I would love to hear from you.



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I spent an hour this afternoon recording student responses for the Animal Farm Youtube debate. I thought the students did a good job with the initial videos, but now that we are getting into the debate, I am seeing the true value of this project. The students are really thinking about what is happening in the book and they are doing an excellent job!

The students are definitely engaged in the project. I asked several of them how many of the other videos they watched, and ever student said he or she has watched all of the videos posted by their peers. This means that they sat and watched the videos for at least 20 minutes, most likely more, all the while thinking about who they were going to respond to and how they were going to do that. Or in other words, they sat for close to a half hour thinking about their English assignment, a task that was not a requirement for the project!

This is not a read the book and have a quick teacher led discussion, then write an essay and move on kind of project. The students are taking an active role in thinking about what is happening in the book and then discussing their opinions through the eyes of a character in the book. This project is bringing the story to life for the students.

The only problem we are running into now is time. We have four days of school left for the semester. The  next time I work on a project like this I will make sure we have a little more time to work. I can only imagine how heated the discussion would become if we had a few more weeks. I posted the Cow’s response because I thought he was particularly dramatic.



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I have spent most of my time in the last few weeks making videos with students and teachers. I am finding that the more time I spend watching and helping students put videos together, the more highly I think of video projects in the classroom. Video projects are one of the times where I have observed students actively engaged in thinking about what they are doing, which doesn’t always happen.

Here are some reasons that videos should be a part of every class in every school no matter the age being taught. Granted, I have only worked with 5th through 12th graders, but I think in the right setting, any age of student can handle the basic process with some guidance. Okay, here’s the list:

1. High student engagement.
2. Real student thinking.
3. Collaboration with peers.
4. Students learn to work through a process.
5. Exercise problem solving skills.
6. Learn a valuable 21st Century skill.
7. It’s totally free (if you already have the equipment)
8. It is fun! (This is my favorite)


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I have been working for the last few days making videos with fifth graders. Honestly, we didn’t know how students of this age would handle all of the filming, storyboarding, and editing. Maybe I should rephrase that. I didn’t know how the teacher and I would handle that many students working on a project of this magnitude.

The student’s assignment was to make a video that recreated a fictional scene that portrayed colonial times. The students were split into groups of 5-8 students. They wrote a script, made a storyboard, and then filmed their story. Today we started editing the videos in the lab.

I am totally impressed by what the student have produced up to this point, and it just keeps getting better as the students put their work together in Movie Maker. The most impressive thing about this whole project is how vested they have become in their work. They really care about putting together a good product. Of course there have been numerous times where things got a little crazy, but I can’t even guess at how many times I have heard the students say that they were having fun. Did you hear that? Student were having fun learning!

Hopefully, if all goes well, I will have a few examples of student work to share in the coming days.


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I showed this clip from Ferris Beuller’s Day Off in a training today, and I never get tired of seeing it. It really makes me laugh. The sad thing is the reason that we all laugh at it. We have probably seen the same thing happen in our own classrooms at one time or another. I wonder if there was ever a time when a plain old lecture has engaged students? Don’t get me wrong. I think a person can learn from a lecture. However, I also think that there are a lot better ways to learn, especially with the technology that we have today.


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Friday, we filmed the first round of Youtube debates centered around the book Animal Farm. Just as a bit of background, these students are 7th Graders and are currently in the process of reading the book. Students chose a character to represent from what they have read so far, and then they had to come up with that character’s view on how Animal Farm is working at the present.

I was amazed with some of the scripts that students wrote. I was even more amazed at how serious they are taking the project. First of all, I only had to start a recording over one time in 17 students. That almost never happens. On top of that, they all spoke in clear voices, and many of them used dramatic tone in their reading.

Like all projects, I did my fair share of learning too. I now know that there is no way I can record 25 students in a couple of hours. After filming on Friday, I think that the best I can expect to do in an hour is film 6-7 students, and that is if everything runs smoothly. The plan for Friday’s filming was to have every student recorded, and then record responses by every student this week. However, we are now seeing that recording that many students is not going to work, so the revised plan is to record responses this week from the students that did not get to record last week. Then, we will have smaller recording sessions over the course of the next few weeks with five or six students at a time making responses. This way, everyone will still get to participate, but we won’t be killing ourselves with all the recording. Hopefully, some of the students will also take the initiative to record responses outside of school.

That’s enough talking. Here is the student work. Enjoy.

If you want to view a playlist with all the videos, click here.


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