Wow! Two Weeks of Tech with Students

My sixth grade students and I have been totally immersed in technology these past two weeks but it hadn’t really dawned on me how much until I had a moment to reflect. So, here is a quick recap of the past two weeks:

  • We used our class weblog — The Electronic Pencil — to post their short stories that were inspired by the picture book, The Mysteries of Harris Burdick by Chris Van Allsburg. We worked on the laptops for a few days, editing stories and using the computer for writing. The blog was our publishing venue and about 20 students sent their stories into a contest being sponsored by Van Allsburg in which students use Harris Burdick for inspiration.
  • We used the comic creating site (thanks, Bonnie) Make Beliefs Comics to create comic strips around the theme of the PeaceBuilder’s Pledge. Our school is part of the PeaceBuilder network, which is built around positive social interaction among students. We then took their comics and created a website (using Google Page Creator and Flickr) that we shared with the rest of our school. Incidentally, I used the Make Beliefs Comic site in a workshop that I gave around technology and writing across the curriculum, and the roomful of teachers were having the time of their lives.
  • We went to our Youth Radio site and tried to listen to some of the programs there, but our wireless network was being a bit funky so only a few students got to post comments. We need a return visit. Soon.
  • We began to create avatars that I hope they will use for a future project. We used two sites — Portrait Illustrator and Lego Mini-Mizer. The Lego site was easier to use but harder to save. The Portrait site was harder to use but easier to save. Go figure.
  • We used a wiki to build a collaborative dictionary of made-up words (we are studying the origins of the English Language) that now has invented words from the past four years. The Crazy Dictionary now has close to 300 words from my sixth graders and they use the wiki to add their own. That blows me away and gives them quite a thrill to know they are contributing to a “living” document in a virtual world. This is the site for just this year’s words.
  • We did podcasting, as they recorded their invented words and definitions. The audio files were then attached to the entries at the wiki, giving a new dimension to the dictionary. A couple of favorites:
    • Toxf – The act of growing a sixth toe on your left foot! Listen
    • Zwig– An orange ostrich, wearing a pink tutu and eating a frozen mash potato TV dinner. Listen
    • Jujuba— A giant piece of bacon used as a weapon. Listen
  • They were also creating their own music loop songs, with my Super Duper Music Looper program, and they loved it!
  • Next week: I want to begin to teach them how to build their own websites and I just need to find the right tool. (Anyone have suggestions?)

Peace (in the classroom),
Kevin

The Puppet Show Website

Yesterday, I wrote about my investigation into video, particularly as it pertains to sharing and showcasing student work with families via the Web. (In this most recent case, it is puppets. But later in the year, it will be claymation and animation and other projects). The following website is the result of that exploration. I would appreciate any feedback you may have, since I have only been able to view it from my home desktop computer.

Head to the Norris Puppet Show Website

Peace (in the world, please),
Kevin

My Long Journey into Video Streaming

Just over a year ago, I decided to try to move deeper into the convergence of video and the web (see the Collaborative ABC Project for one aspect of that investigation). When doing class projects with students, I have often burned the videos onto DVD (time-consuming when you have 80 students) and worked to share them via our class websites and weblogs (yes, we have a school website and two different blogs — one for daily homework assignments and one for showcasing work from my writing class). In doing so, I have relied on either YouTube (although almost never) and GoogleVideo (more commonly) or TeacherTube (sporadically). My concern is always the links that bring my students eyeballs to inappropriate places. (With TeacherTube, it is has been a frustration with the buffering time).

So, after filming 24 different puppet shows last week and wanting to share the videos with both students (they never get to see their own shows as they are behind the puppet theater) and their families, I decided that I wanted to find a way to host the videos and stream them myself. This way, I have complete control.

It hasn’t been easy, partly due to my own lack of knowledge about web hosting and video conversion, etc. But I think my perseverance has paid off.

Here is my journey:

First, I took videos of the 24 puppets shows on my digital camcorder, and then used MovieMaker to create small versions with titles. But the files are still huge and really not in any state to embed in websites. One thing you learn quickly about video is how huge the files are going to be if you want any sort of quality.

So, I posted a query to the Classroom 2.0 Ning Community, asking about advice, and some folks were very helpful. It was here that I began to realize that I needed to convert my movie files into a flash or Shockwave format. This makes for better streaming. I experimented with YouConvertIt and it worked but it was slow. So I bought a video conversion program called SoThink video encoder, which is very flexible and allows for converting videos to different kinds of formats. Thus began much experimenting about size of files to be created and formats. I went through a whole process of creating flash movies before I realized that shockwave is better for streaming (I am trying to cut back on the buffering as much as possible).

After converting all of the files to a SWF format (shockwave), I then thought about how to host the files. At Classroom 2.0, some folks suggested using my school server (not an option for me for both space reasons and for access reasons). I tinkered with using my Box.Net account, where I host my podcasts and store important files as a backup, and that worked but it ate up a lot of my alloted space. So I turned to a video hosting site called 4Shared Video and paid for a Silver account that allows you to embed video that you have in your account.

puppet1 (7)

So, after many hours of uploading the videos, I now had to figure out how to embed the files. I used Google Search and came upon a site called (ahem) Free Video Codes that will generate html code for embedding video files being hosted elsewhere. It was very handy and easy to use.

So now I had my videos stored somewhere, and I had the code to embed, and now what? I needed a way to showcase the movies. I tried out a variety of different things. I embedded some of the videos into my school homepage but found the buffering of multiple videos just too much. Someone at Classroom 2.0 suggested using my Wikispaces site, and I did try that but found it wasn’t what I wanted.

Once again, I turned to Google again. If you have a gmail account, you have access to something to Google Page Creator, which allows you to create websites under the Google umbrella. I realized that the site now allows you to set up multiple domains, which is nice since I could not establish a website just for the puppet shows. I then created a title page, with links to an individual page for each movie. So the entire site is now 25 pages.

puppet1 (3)

I know some students and families are going to want a copy of the puppet show videos, and I am in no mood to burn DVDs. So, what I did now was uploaded the video files into my Box.Net account, made a download link, and placed that link below each of the movies on the websites. Now kids and families can watch the movies on the web and download their own versions.

Tomorrow, I will share the actual Puppet Play Website.

I suppose that is enough informationfor now, but I hope it will help others who may be thinking along the same lines as me and want to know a path to showcasing student videos without the use of a hosting source. (Of course, you could just use YouTube or GoogleVid or TeacherTube and make things easier for yourself).

Peace (in puppets),
Kevin

Testing Video

I am going to write more about this later this week but I have been on a self-exploratory mission to learn more about embedding video without the use of Google or YouTube or TeacherTube, etc.

It has to do with showcasing puppet shows for families and not wanting to have any external links, and fast buffering (we have wireless in our school and if I have 20 students viewing puppet shows, I need a quick buffer).

So here is a test:

[kml_flashembed movie="http://www.box.net/shared/static/fs58j88g88.swf" width="350" height="300" wmode="transparent" /]

Kevin

A Podcasting Gift to Students

I normally don’t give out class presents. I figure that my presence and energy each and every day is enough (hopefully) of a gift to my students. They work hard, and I work hard, and we all have fun. This year, however, as I was sharing some of my podcast work with the sixth graders at this blog, a friend suggested that I burn the audio files onto a CD for families who might not have access to the classroom blog where the podcasts are shared.

What a great idea, and so I went ahead, and burned each of my homeroom students (20 of ’em) a copy of their voices, with a quick intro and outro from me, and then used some new CD package software to create CD covers for them.

It didn’t take much time and I believe it will be most appreciated by the parents and students.

Peace (in sharing voices),
Kevin

The Puppets! The Puppets!

Each December is puppet creation and theater writing for my sixth graders, and it is always a flurry of panic (we perform for younger kids this week!!) as time runs out, scripts are completed and puppets are constructed. I usually try to film the puppet shows for the web (and will try this week) but until then, I created this little video so that parents can get a glimpse of what we are doing.

[kml_flashembed movie="http://video.google.com/googleplayer.swf?docid=-2300864688933673392" width="400" height="326" wmode="transparent" /]

(I taught a group of my students how to use my Super Dooper Music Looper software and then I asked them to create the soundtrack for the video)

You can also access a few of the scripts as PDF files (all plays revolve around an invented holiday):

Peace (in puppets),
Kevin

Student Voices — Adventure Stories

(Note from Kevin: This has been sitting in my bin for a few week)

My sixth graders recently completed a short adventure story project and we created these podcasts in which they choose a tiny bit of their story to share with the class and the world (through our class website — allowing parents to listen in, too).

story pic

(A view inside a diorama of Ali’s adventure story)

The young writers have been hard at work developing adventure short stories, using the concept of Plot Development, character development and the use of action to move the story along. Today, before they turned in their stories for a grade, they chose small sections of their stories to read aloud for this podcast.

Listen in as they provide a snapshot into their stories:

Peace (in young voices),
Kevin

A Look Inside Imaginary Lands

As part of expository/informational writing (coupled with creative writing), my sixth graders worked on a project in which they invent an Imaginary Land and then create a travel brochure, using techniques gained from examining real travel brochures and advertising campaigns. They amount of investment they put into this project is pretty cool, and the coupling of writing and art really fuels a lot of them to do great work.

I scanned in a bunch of the maps, in particular, to share with parents and so I share them with you, too.

[kml_flashembed movie="http://video.google.com/googleplayer.swf?docid=1577320511090925048" width="400" height="326" wmode="transparent" /]

Peace (in new worlds),
Kevin

Student Voices — Changing Our Community

My sixth graders just completed a short, 300-word essay that focused on the suburban town where they live and what issue they would address if they were elected a leader of the community. This was a new project for me and I brought in some local elected officials and the town administrator to talk about local government. Many of my students were quite oblivious to way that decisions that affect them — such as maintenance and creation of new recreational areas or funding for technology for schools — were actually made.

We almost always share out our final writing to the class and this time, I brought in my Blue Snowball microphone (high quality, USB connected) and set up my teacher chair and offered to record them reading their essays. Almost two-thirds of each class volunteered to the podcast, which amazed me. I guess they want their voices heard. The podcasts have been posted on our classroom weblog and are being shared with town officials and parents and school administrators.

Here are a few:

Peace (in fostering change and leadership),
Kevin

Storyboarding with Powerpoint

My sixth graders started out the year in literature class reading the short novel, The Whipping Boy, and worked on a storyboard project that uses the computer and Powerpoint to identify the main plot points in the book. The book is about a prince and his whipping boy and it is set in Medieval times (aka The Dark Ages). The story is a twist on the class Prince and the Pauper story.

This use of Powerpoint allowed me to both introduce the program to the students (and get them using Paint for illustrations) and get a sense of their ability to identify main elements of a story. We shared these via our classroom blog, too.

Click on the pictures or student names down below to view the Microsoft PowerPoint slideshows created by students on the major scenes on the book:

the whipping boy projectjk

Jessica

THE WHIPPING BOY KIRA

Kira

The whipping boy slide show nick

Nick

Peace (in powerpoint),
Kevin