Wednesday, August 7, 2019

Creating Student Tutorials with Published Google Slides Instead of Videos

Here's something I just started doing and I'd love to hear comments from other teachers who make a lot of tutorials.

Instead of making a video tutorial as usual for new lessons, I put all the steps in a Google Slide presentation and published it to the web.

Besides being examples of this process, I hope you find the tutorials themselves useful for tech projects in your class.

Here's the first example, about using Stop Motion Studio.
And here's a very useful one for importing photos using Google Slides on the iPad.


Why do tutorials as Slides instead of video? Well, generally I'd say this is much faster to create at first. Especially if a series of screenshots will do the trick, it should be faster than recording, editing out mistakes, adding callouts, etc.

Another plus is that I can update it almost immediately if I find out students need more information or if I have a mistake. All the students have to do is refresh the page and they'll see my changes.

I think students might like this better, since they can more easily quickly jump just to the parts they need as they work with the app the first time. If nothing else, it is a change of pace from the many videos from me that they normally have to watch.

I'll have more to say about their preferences after we try these with a class next month. I'm also going to try it with some staff tutorials.

The Reality So Far

I will point out a couple delays I had when making the first tutorial.

It did take a little while to make the animated GIF I used in the animation tutorial. Such GIFs often are not necessary, but sometimes a moving image conveys a lot of useful information. I still think the whole thing was faster than editing a video tutorial. (And by the way, I use this site to change most of my video clips to GIFs.)

More significantly, I ran into a very time consuming delay when I tried to insert the screenshots into the first tutorial. I actually used a process similar to what's shown in the second tutorial. I suspect the very large screenshots I grabbed from the iPad choked up my home WiFi, though, and the app gave up trying to sync them.

I did almost the same process for creating the second tutorial and I had no problems. I did go a little more slowly as I inserted each image on the slides.

Tuesday, July 30, 2019

Making Video Slideshows from Photos With iMovie for iPad

I just finished this introductory lesson (along with four related video tutorials) for our redesigned Middle School STEM course. It walks students through the process of making a video from photos using iMovie on an iPad.

As the course goes on, our students will be expected to use this process to create short videos about their other projects.

The document at the link below contains all the links to the short video tutorials. It will require students to:

  • Take seven photos
  • Add them to a new iMovie video project
  • Change the order, length and transitions as they like
  • Add movement to each photo using the pan and zoom effects
  • Add titles to at least two photos
  • Export the video to the Photos area on the iPad
  • Upload the video to Google Drive using the Google Drive app

Note that our students share iPads, so the directions instruct them to share the video file from the iPad's Google account to their personal Google account. As with any part of the document, you can edit those directions to fit your needs.

Click here to get a copy of the document with all the directions.

If you find that free lesson helpful, be sure to check out these other tech based activities I created for Teachers Pay Teachers.

Tuesday, July 9, 2019

My Updated Animation and Interactive Stories Projects

I updated two of my popular lessons recently:

  • Simple Animations Using Google Slides
  • Interactive Stories Using Google Slides

Students love both of these simple projects and the lessons come "ready to assign".

You'll get access to student directions in a Google Doc that you can simply post in Google Classroom. Students will follow the step by step instructions and watch video tutorials as they go. 

Both projects work well in any subject area for grades 5 - 12. The students will create their projects using Google Slides.

The lessons are $2 each on Teachers Pay Teachers, but you can buy both in a bundle for just $3. Here are the links.

Wednesday, June 26, 2019

Thoughts on Game Based Learning and Gamifying the Classroom

I started this blog eight years ago as part of my master's program. As it changed over the years, I drifted quite a bit from my initial purpose of sharing my classroom games on it.

Of course, the ed-tech landscape has changed a lot since 2011. In my district at the time we had just installed a big round of interactive whiteboards. Only one or two teachers had an iPad. I had never touched a Chromebook and no school I knew of was using Google Apps for Education (as we called them when they first came along).

A decline in classroom games on interactive whiteboards is just a part of the overall trend I've seen in recent years. It's been a gradual shift away from the bells and whistles with more emphasis on the learning. Even though I'm a game designer and even though I had a blast in those years using those bells and whistles for fun projects, the shift toward effective use of tech for deeper learning has always been my real passion.

After returning from Michigan's largest ed-tech conference in March, I was thrilled to tweet this observation. 
But what does this changing landscape mean for a blog with "classroom games" right in the title? Will it necessarily be a thing of the past? I sure hope not!

As we know, right along with the other changes in the ed-tech landscape, we have heard more about gamifying the classroom or game based learning. I actually stayed away from those terms on this blog for the most part, at least in any formal sense. But now as trends change and my blog title stays the same, I figured I'd touch on them directly.

Defining the Terms

Some people have mistakenly referred to gamification of the classroom and game based learning as if they're the same thing. Gamification can be a form of game based learning, but it doesn't have to be. I'll define them this way:

  • Game Based Learning - Using a game to teach a specific topic.
  • Gamification of the Classroom - Using elements of successful games to increase student motivation and engagement.

So if I have students play an online game about genetics to learn about basic terms and concepts, that's Game Based Learning (GBL). In these cases the students could tell you the game they played and what they learned about the topic at hand after participating in the lesson. Though I often didn't use the term and didn't always specify the learning objectives, most of my games highlighted on this site lend themselves to these types of lessons.

Gamification, on the other hand, just borrows elements from games that make them fun and uses that in the classroom. So maybe we take something like leveling up, getting a new avatar or scoring points and we make ways to do that in science class over the course of a marking period. It might be giving students digital badges for meeting specific objectives. We don't necessarily stop and play a game to learn, but the lesson or the overall progression through the course might feel more like a game.

My Observations

After years of experimenting with these two concepts in classrooms, here are some general observations I've made:

  • Students definitely learn from playing games. The challenge (and it's a big one) is to get them to learn what you want them to. I love games and I love playing them in school. They can be a distraction from the content, though, and any actual learning in that regard often is superficial.
  • I maintain that gamification in education is nothing new. School has, in a sense, always been a game. What else can we call it when the players acquire points and earn scores, hoping for credit that at best abstractly reflects their knowledge and skills? One can cheat at chess and on a math test. When I would write my syllabus for high school math, I couldn't deny it felt a lot like writing rules for my game designs. So school has always been gamified. The problem is it hasn't been a very fun game. In fact by today's standards, where gaming outside of school is a huge industry grabbing the hearts and minds of so many of our kids, it's laughable to think of year-long courses and rewards of letter grades as parts of a game anyone would want to play. 
  • So it isn't gamification that's new, it's that we have learned new things from modern, more engaging games.
  • I have not been a fan of gamification, because it's essentially about extrinsic rewards. Certainly badges, upgraded avatars and grading systems based on big scores are more exciting than working for that A- in math. In the end, though, it's tacked on. Call me idealistic, but I still long for the day students will be excited about learning the subject because it can better their lives.
  • While I don't embrace gamification as an approach to teaching, my experience with and study of it point to four very important elements of an engaging, effective learning experience. These same things come out of research that has nothing to do with games. So it's not the games that bring the magic to a good lesson. It's just that game designers have put that magic to use more effectively than most teachers have. The four elements are:
    • A clear goal - Effective teachers make sure the students know where they are headed overall in their learning and what the goal is in the current lesson.
    • Student agency - Students can have some choice and control in how they reach the goal (and possibly in how they show they reached the goal). 
    • Appropriate challenges - Each student is learning at the point he or she needs to be learning. It's not too hard and it's not too easy.
    • Timely, actionable feedback - The learner finds out quickly if he or she is on track and gets some information on how to get back on track when needed.
So there are a few statements about games on my blog about classroom games. Maybe that will provide fertile soil for further on-topic posts in the months ahead! If not, at least I had the foresight to put "and tech" in the title.

Tuesday, June 18, 2019

Making a Story Together - High school and elementary connections for authentic audience and engagement

We recently tried another interactive story experiment connecting older students with younger students. As always, the goal with this is to encourage reading in the earlier grades and creativity with the older students. All feedback so far indicates this was a success.

I've written previously about ways to do this with comics or just writing in a Google Doc and one very different method with less input from the younger students.

This story we just finished up is more like the latter case, with a twist inspired by our Boomwriter activity from last winter. The final result can be read at the links below, but first here is the process we used.

  • I found five high school students who were interested in trying this and their teacher agreed they could work with me. I managed it all through Google Classroom.
  • I also gave a survey to elementary students asking them to name some characters, choose a general setting and choose some character traits. This was presented to all students in grades K - 4, but only a few classrooms really participated. 
  • In pairs or individually, the high school students wrote short introductions to a story that fit the criteria generated by that survey. Alone or in groups, they generated a total of three different starters.
  • I made a second survey presenting those story starters to the elementary class so they could pick their favorite.
  • For the next round of writing, the high school students added to the story starter that the elementary students liked best. Again, each of those groups or individuals wrote the next part as they wanted the story to turn out. That again produced three different possible stories. 
  • We continued this for a couple rounds of elementary students voting on their favorite, writing the next parts, voting again and so on. Along with asking which story the elementary students liked best, I'd also ask for suggestions for dialogue or action. It gave them a fun chance to be creative.
  • Then since school was getting out soon, I had the high school students work together on bringing the story to a conclusion.
As you might imagine, the students wanted it to be humorous. That and the disjointed way we built the story definitely made it silly. You can read the story here:
The teachers told me that both groups of students, young and old, really got into the activity. We had to rush a few stages, so by the last round only one 3rd grade class was still voting. Their input showed enthusiasm, though, and the teacher told me they were excited to see where the story was going.

Which Method Is Best?
Having tried a few different methods now, I have to say my original approach (again, you can read it here) is still my favorite. In that one, the readers gave their input on the direction of the upcoming chapter, then the writers wrote it how they wanted to. I prefer that because:
  • The writers have more control (and therefore more buy-in) over the outcome of each chapter.
  • More importantly, they won't be disappointed when the ideas they worked hard on don't get picked. As I said with the Boomwriter activity, I can tell some students lose enthusiasm when their work isn't chosen.
There are still some downsides. You'll have to manage multiple stories if you have multiple groups of writers. Along with this, the readers will probably not be reading every story. They too will work in groups and probably will read only one or two different stories.