Archive for May, 2011

Having spent the last year as a technology coach, I have worked with numerous teachers and students on a variety of tech related projects. This is my observation:

Using technology in the classroom forces all involved to work. First, teachers need to learn the technology so they can be comfortable with it when working with students. Then they have to teach the technology to the students. Then the students have to learn it and use it. It’s a messy process and takes time, time that might seem better spent with direct instruction (meaning that the students copy down notes as the teacher lectures).

Using technology as an instruction aid is a hard sell when the stakes for learning are so high. Many teachers are reluctant.

However, when a teacher does take the plunge, he or she often enters a world of learning that makes it hard to return fully to the way lesson were once taught. The teacher becomes excited about teaching. Students become excited about learning and become engaged in their educations. They are no longer learning facts out of a book and spitting them back out in the form of a multiple choice test. They are learning why facts are facts, assimilating knowledge and producing original content that reflects not only what has been learned, but a sense of identity in a global community.

Do I think that technology is the answer for raising test scores? Probably not, but learning with technology is not going to hurt test scores either. It is not the magic bullet, but it helps. At least students will be engaged in their own learning and have a means to share what they have learned with the world. When learning becomes personal and can be shared, real learning takes place, and technology is a conduit that makes this possible.

So, this is what I have learned: We have to use technology in our classrooms. It is imperative. Through this medium of education, all involved, both teachers and the student, learn and grow together. Both become engaged in learning. That is the whole point of education. Sometimes we get mixed up when talking about the purpose of education. The purpose is not to see how many facts we can cram into students head. The purpose is create lifelong learners.


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There is one thing that all students need to be taught when using Movie Maker. This one action or click of the mouse will save the teacher and the students a lot of headache and tears (I mean tears literally here!).

When saving a movie in Movie Maker, videos need to be saved as a movie file before they can be taken and played on a different computer.

Here’s an example. Sandy spends hours at home working on a video for an upcoming assignment. She has a video that she knows will astound the teacher and the rest of her classmates. The day it is due, she brings her video on her flash drive and plugs it into Mr. Kaiser’s computer. Her classmates are giddy with excitement because many of them were involved in the film, and they are excited to see themselves on the screen. Sandy opens up a file labeled “kaiserproject.MSWMM”. This is the file where she created the video on her home computer. When she opens up the file, the video won’t play because there are a bunch of red X’s all over the screen.

This is usually where the tears start.

The problem is that Sandy didn’t save her work as a movie file. She only saved the project. This is the biggest problem teachers and students have when creating a movie with Movie Maker.

When saving a movie in Movie Maker, there are three options to save under “File.” The first is to “Save Project.” Thist option saves all the work on the project in the project layout. The file will be labeled with the “.MSWMM” extension. This is where the user works on the video. This is not a good way to show someone else a video and the project files only work well on the computer where the project was created. This means that Sandy can only see her project files on her home computer where she built the project. When she tried to open the file at school on Mr. Kaiser’s computer, it doesn’t work.

The second option is to “Save Project As…”. This option is when users want to save several different versions of a project. It is not used that often in general student use.

The third option to save under “File” is the important one: “Save Movie File.” This is the one that will save the movie as a file that can then be taken to a Mr. Kaiser’s computer and played for the class. This file will be labeled with the “.wmv” file extension. The big difference here is that the Movie File is a file that will open up in a media player (or video player) like Windows Media Player or whatever player one might use.

When Sandy saves her movie as movie file, she brings it to class, plugs it into the computer, and gets applause from the class. The tears are spared, and she gets the good grade that reflects her hard work. Everyone is happy!

If there is anything I have learned this year, it that this one action cannot be overemphasized. It is the number one problem with students projects that I receive phone calls for on an almost daily basis.

Remember: Save as a movie file, save as a movie file, save as a movie file. This should be chanted several times at the beginning of every movie project to make sure everyone involved understands:) .


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The title says high school, but the more I think about it, maybe I should say, 5 technology skills every student needs before they enter middle school. As wrote yesterday, the earlier students learn these skills, the more they can actually use them. These are the skills that allows students great freedom in expressing themselves in the 21st Century. Not only that, these are the skills that are increasingly valuable in the workforce.

Students creating podcastsphoto © 2008 Susan Hersh | more info (via: Wylio)Looking at the list, one might be tempted to say that students already know how to do all of this. That is only true to a certain extent. Having worked with over a thousand students this year, I can tell you that the percentage of students who are proficient at these skills is quite low.

Yes, many students know how to post a video to Youtube, but they have no idea how to actually put a video together using rendering software. Many read blogs, but few have ever written their own. The same goes for pictures. Students are always posting pictures on Facebook, but many don’t know how to transform a picture by add some flare with photo editing tool.

Here are the 5 skills that every student (and let’s include teachers) needs to have:

Manipulate Pictures

There are so many ways to work with pictures. One of the easiest is to use the Picture Manager that comes standard on many computers. Online apps such as Picnik are great and are super easy to learn to use. For those that want to get a little more technical, free downloadable programs like Gimp are great. Learning to manipulate a picture is a valuable skill, whether it be something simple like cropping or something more advanced like merging two pictures.

Write a Blog

I don’t think that every person alive should have a blog. That is not the point of learning how to write a blog (though I find it a fun activity 🙂 . Learning to write a blog teaches many other valuable skills that translate to other online activities. Learning to navigate a blog dashboard, creating original content for an audience, and learning to receive and manage content are important skills to have.  Blogging is also free. Check out Blogger or WordPress for easy to use blogging platforms.

Record Audio Tracks

Unless they have done it before, most people don’t realize how easy it is to record and audio track, and the possibilities of this technology are endless. Buy a cheap microphone for under 10 bucks, download Audacity, and start recording. This is one of those technologies that opens up a whole world of project ideas for students. Recording is also a valuable skill for the future workforce as more and more of what we do goes digital.

Create a Website

I don’t need to do much explaining as to why this is a valuable asset for students. Every business that wants to make money has a website. Every business, even if they don’t make money, has a website. More and more, just about everyone just has a website. At one time this was somewhat of an expensive proposition and took quite a bit of technical computer training, but that is not the case anymore. Using free apps like Lifeyo or Weebly, students can have a website up and running as fast as they can type and design. Being able to say that you know how to make a website is a definite plus on a resume.

Make a Video

I always seem to find myself talking and writing about making videos with students. It is such an important skill, and it shows that a person knows how to think. We are already seeing the rapid rise in the importance of video in our culture, and it is not going to slow anywhere in the near future. This may be the most important skill for students to learn. I have put making a video last on the list because the other skills on the list lead up to this skill. For beginners, making a video slide show using Animoto is a great way to start. Then try and put together a video using Movie Maker or Jaycut.

Now Go and Do It!

Find a way to start sharing these skills with your students. The first step may be learning them yourself. Once that is done, plan projects that allow students to use and express themselves through these technologies. I guarantee that it will be fun for both the students and yourself, but that is not the main reason for learning with them. A teacher’s job is to prepare students for the future, and these skills will ensure students are ready to be competitive in the 21st Century.


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When every student in the school knows how to use a particular piece of technology like how to make a video, then technology can be used to its fullest potential as a tool in the classroom. Over the past month, I worked with the computer teacher in our 5th and 6th grade school to help every student in the school make their own video. Our hope was that once they knew the basic steps of how to create a video, they could use this knowledge in their core classes. We thought that if students knew how to make a video, teachers would be more likely to use video projects as a part of their instruction.

Right now it is too early to tell if this is going make teachers more comfortable with video projects. It certainly has to help. Even if they don’t, this project will not be a loss. The student gained valuable experience on the computers, most of which pertains to several other functions on top creating and producing a video.

Through this project I have learned the importance of having students engaged in a project that helps them learns different skills. While working on a video project, students learn word processing skills. They learn how to transfer and convert files. They learn to save often and how to ctrl-alt-delete when the computer crashes, a regular occurrence with movie maker. They learned these, and a whole host of other skills that don’t pertain strictly to video work.

I will be the first to admit that this was not an easy undertaking, especially for the teacher. Just imagine 450+ students working on their own movie! There was bound to be some deleted files and frustrated kids, but at the end of the whole thing, it was a great learning opportunity for all involved.

We need to do this more in our schools. Students need to have the time to learn the technology that helps them learn. The problem is that there are not many opportunities where all students get this chance. That is why we chose to do this with 5th and 6th graders. This is the last time in our district where all of the students go to a computer class. Once in middle school and high school, a student is required to take one semester of keyboarding and that is it.

Look at what your own system is doing. When are the students learning how to use the computer, and what are they learning? If they are spending a semester learning the ins and outs of Excel, they may not be learning the right stuff. Students need to be learning those technologies that they can use for their own learning, and video projects are a great way to start.


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Okay, so it’s Saturday. I usually try to post a video on Friday, but this week, it didn’t happen. Sometimes a day goes by, and it almost seems like it never even happened. Anyway…

This is a funny little video. Any teacher can identify with one of the teachers in this sketch, whether it be with one of the teachers or the mocking nature of professional development. I know that it is Saturday morning, and you are probably trying to take your mind off of school for the weekend. Just watch this. It will make you laugh. Trust me.


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One of the reasons that I like tech projects is that they often promote group work. One of the reasons that most teachers hate group tech projects is that students have a hard time working in groups and students can quickly get out of control. The key to a good tech project where students work together and all members are actively engaged is the manner in which the activity or project is designed by the teacher or instructor.

For a teacher to expect students to work in a group, there has to be an opportunity for every student in the group to work. All to often, a project is explained, students are placed in groups, the assignment is given, and one or two student in the group do  all the work while the rest mess around, watch Youtube videos, or sleep at their desks. Situations like this become unwieldy for the teacher and soon, the tech projects are dropped and out come the worksheets.

The point here is that each student needs a clearly defined job. You know the old adage, “Idle hands are devils playthings.” I am pretty sure this was coined by a teacher! Students who don’t have any purpose in a class cause problems.

Here are are 4 tech projects or apps that definitely promote group work and collaboration when set up correctly.

Video Projects

If you have read my blog much, you will know that I love video projects. They are one of the best ways to promote group work and collaboration. The key in doing this is to have the students work together on the project, but also do quite a bit of work on their own. All the students in a group should write their own script and make their own storyboard. The students can work together in creating a script or storyboard that they can use for filming. I know that this sounds like a lot of extra work, but if one student is writing the script and another is making the storyboard, what are the others going to be doing? Wreaking havoc on the classroom.

After they have decided as a group on what to film, all the students can work together on the filming. Then, when that is done, each student should have an opportunity to cut and edit film. Have each student make his or her own video using the clips shot as a group. This gives everyone the opportunity to work and learn.

Build a presentation using Prezi Meeting

Prezi has a feature where students can collaborate in the building of presentation, all in real time. Imagine a chat room combined with a tool that makes presentations similar to PowerPoint but much cooler; that’s Prezi Meeting. First, one student in the group needs to set up a workspace and invite the other members of the group. After that, all students can add text, pictures, and video to the blank canvas. Students can also talk to one another meaning that they can all work on a project outside of school. If you haven’t seen this work before, it’s pretty cool.

Cover It Live group discussions

This doesn’t actually count as a project, per say, but Cover It Live is an excellent way to include every student in a classroom discussion. One of the downsides of a group discussion in a typical classroom is that one or two students often dominate the discussion. You know, the one in the front who raises his or her hand with ever question. When doing a discussion in Cover It Live, every student has an opportunity to contribute. I have found that with this activity, those “wallflowers” in the room are often the most active in the discussion.

Build a website

Building a website as a group can be a great way to get everyone involved. Using an app like Lifeyo or Weebly, groups can easily put together a custom made website to show whatever has been assigned by the teacher. This does require some more work on the part of the group to make sure everyone has a job, but the teacher can (and probably should) facilitate this. Students can split the job of writing text, finding pictures, and building pages. In the creation of a webpage, everyone can be busy, even in the building stage. Lifeyo works great for this because more than one person can edit the same website at any one time, as long as they are not working on the same page.

Technology and group work are two powerful ways to for students to learn. If planned correctly, the combination of the two will engage students in learning unlike most anything else that can be done in the classroom.


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I don’t know if there is another app out there that can make a high quality slideshow with the professional flare that Animoto can. Not only are Animotos good looking, they are easy to make. With a little experience, making an Animoto shouldn’t take much more than 15 minutes. Oftentimes, loading the pictures takes longer than creating the video.

I have talked in the past about using Animoto to display student work. Student art work makes especially striking videos, but don’t limit videos to art work. You know all those dioramas and projects students make, especially at this time of the school year? Get out the digital camera and start taking pictures. Put them all in an Animoto and let parents see what other students in the classroom have been working on. This is also a great way to show administrators and school board members what is happening in the classroom.

Class activities and field trips also make super Animoto videos. Collect all the photos taken by parents and students. Load them into Animoto, choose a song, and make a video that students can watch to remember the fun they had on their trip. It’s kind of like a fancy mini-yearbook in video form.

This past week, students at one of the schools where I work were transferring their poems to the sidewalks surrounding the school with sidewalk chalk. It is a great activity, and we decided to make a video with the pictures that were taken. This video took about 20 minutes to make. If you have never seen an Animoto before, you probably won’t believe it!

Click here to see the video.


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