Toybox

Hey folks!

This week fellow COETAILers are geeking out a bit about the devices in their classroom and how they are used. Not everyone has access to the same types of resources, and in both my practice and my school’s philosophy, it’s an area that shies from in-depth discussion. Good pedagogy before technology is a great philosophy, and one that I believe in deeply, but that doesn’t mean that there aren’t a few gadgety gems worth having a discussion about. That said, this week I want to introduce you to a few of my favourite technology tools and how I use them to enrich the classrooms I visit. As a primer, the International School of Phnom Penh  (which I’m using for the following examples), has limited numbers of iPads available in each classroom. Low end portable laptops are also available for check out, a computer lab can be booked for heavier-duty lessons, AppleTV is available in each room with a projector for screen mirroring. We also have some cameras and other A/V equipment that students can access from check out. I’m always pining for new resources, and feel limited by low student to device ratios, but I try to remember not to take these things for granted and to use what we do have effectively. Here are a few tips on leveraging these resources and some devices to complement them:

Next-level Video: Greenscreen Setup, Tools, and Tips

Last year I discovered how easily an iPad-equipped classroom could take their video projects to the next level for about $15. The extremely easy-to-use app Green Screen by Do Ink ($5) and $10 worth of Green Fabric stuck to my wall with sticky tack was all it took to have students swimming under the sea or describing their work in front of a giant background of it. Students can independently record Chroma-key videos with their own backgrounds using this app in Grade 2, perhaps sooner, and importing clips into iMovie for iPad means that my Grade 4s can completely record and edit video projects on an iPad and save them to Google Drive.

There are limitations to the iPad experience though, so I brought a few of my own personal tools to school for my own projects. Editing video on a Mac or PC is much more powerful (iMovie, Adobe Premiere and Final Cut are some good applications) and brings some other possibilities into the mix.
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Using a webcam and microphone (built in laptop stuff works), you can create multi-layer and picture-in-picture effects using a green screen and the free open source software, OBS. Youtube tutorials can walk you through it. I decided to spend a little money and get a quality webcam (the Logitech c920 works great with chroma key) for 1080p video, and cannot understate the value of a good microphone. The Blue Yeti can connect via USB and has great dynamic range for recording large spaces, multiple voices, and has enough gain to catch even those tiny little shy voices.

We use chroma key (greenscreen) video to act out stories, reflect on our learning, present information to others, and create creative projects. When all you need is an iPad and some green fabric, you can find these popping up in classrooms all over our school, from Early Years to Grade 5. Good quality webcams and microphones can also be used to turn any computer into a video effects workstation!

Make Your Own Music

Videos need sound. In fact, I think it’s one of the most underappreciated aspects of good quality video. A major problem for video projects, especially those shared publically by students on blogs or YouTube, is making sure that the music and other audio is not copyrighted material. Luckily, the immense music-making power of affordable apps such as Garageband can turn an iPad into a music production studio in no time. Thanks to built in smart-instruments, a KG teacher with no experience using Garageband or playing any musical instrument was able to make the following musical track in 30 minutes. What can your students make with a little practice? You’ll be impressed!

On-the-fly Blogging for Younger Kids

These days, I’m always harping about “not just turning it in”, encouraging teachers and students to “publish it!” instead. That works great for our independent bloggers in Grade 3+.

Sometimes, particularly with young students up until Grade 2-3, that experience seems beyond the time available to the teacher or capabilities of the students. Yet with iPads and smartphones in the classroom, there are awesome ways to publish student work fast and efficiently. Thanks to fellow COETAILers and tech integrators, EasyBlog.org provides two-click recording and uploading for students and has flexible pricing options (parents pay, you don’t!) for schools and teachers. Once you set it up, students as young as 5 can blog away all day and you need only preview their video for approval before it’s posted. If you’re interested in a little bit more of a social-media or teacher-driven easy blogging experience, our  Early Learning Center teachers have really taken to the Storypark platform out of New Zealand. Although it’s a bit more expensive, teachers can micro-blog anything they catch on their phone or iPad and tag students with it, adding it to “stories”, which are essentially social media posts about learning.  It’s been more successful in boosting parent engagement here in Cambodia than anything else we’ve tried.

Electricity Experiments with Games

Here’s a fun toy to experiment with: The Makey Makey.

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I’ve done a number of great lessons on coding and electricity using this little thing, and since it’s an open-source design, local electronics fab shops sometimes make them for cheap.

The MakeyMakey connects to any computer with USB, and when clipped to any material conducting electricity, it sends signals through that material to a specific input command on the computer. Connect a banana to the spacebar, or a stapler to a mouse click. Create your own custom controllers for coding games like Scratch or learn about what materials conduct and which don’t by connecting them to a drum machine.

Coding Games for Kids

Since this week people are globally honouring the “Hour Of Code” event, I thought it worth recommending some great iPad-based coding games that are popular with students in my classes. Although devices aren’t necessary to teach coding, they can create engaging opportunities for kids to challenge their logic and critical thinking skills from a young age.

For Pre-Readers! (Age 4+)

The Foos

Kodable

For Storytellers(Grades 1-3)

ScratchJr. – Create animated cartoons and simple games using Scratch coding.

For Explorers and Game Players (Grades 2+)

Tynker

SWIFT Playgrounds – Apple’s new iPad exclusive coding game! New modules are being released as of this writing.

Hopscotch – From games to art projects, this powerful coding app can turn an iPad into an interactive maze or a gyroscopic lightsaber (for a start!)

For suggestions to some non-iPad resources, check out code.org (Code Combat is my favourite). There are great tutorials for mature beginners at codeacademy.com, too.

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These are just a few examples on how devices in the hands of teachers and students can redefine learning experiences and open doors to future opportunities. From interacting with our PLNs, capturing learning on the fly, publishing our work or empowering our students to make amazing things independently, the devices are just the start. It’s up to you to use them effectively.

Comments, questions, any suggestions you’d like to share? I’d love to hear them in the comments below!

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2 Replies to “Toybox”

  1. Hi Matt,

    I am amazed and humbled at your post! I have a much better understanding of how the Green Screen/Chroma Key works (I usually use words like’magic’ when I explain it to teachers.) I use the basic set up you mentioned, ipad, stand, green screen in background. I definitely get the value of the microphone–I have worked with many shy voices–but am curious about the additional benefits of the web cam. (What is the purpose of the direct streaming? Is this required for use with the open software you mentioned?) I am not sure I am there quite yet, but I may come back to these tips for the final project… 🙂

    Also, thank you for the two coding apps mentioned for the pre-readers. I will give them a try. I used Daisy the Dinosaur ( link to itunes.apple.com ) and link to lightbot.com (ios version), but found Daisy was too “wordy” for first graders even.

    I will look into the Swift playground–appropriate for 3-5th graders, you think?

    Thanks again for all the tips and resources!
    Cheers,
    Holly

    1. Hi Holly, thanks so much for reading!

      The webcam has a few different benefits for me: It takes better video than our iPad Air or a built in laptop webcam, and is a whole lot cheaper than one if you’re on a budget. The video is recorded directly to my laptop so I don’t need to collect it from the iPad, although my students edit in iMovie for iPad, I use the Mac version or Adobe Premiere (teaching myself now) since they have a lot more power and flexibility. This particular webcam seems to be pretty good at detecting the colour difference from the green screen too.

      I like lightbot too but I’ve not tried Daisy The dinosaur, going to check it out RIGHT NOW.
      Swift Playgrounds looks VERY promising for 3rd-5th graders, I’ve only done a few modules so far but I enjoyed it as a 34 year old amateur coder. 🙂

      Thanks for sharing, you are awesome.
      -M

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