Saturday, June 30, 2012

Real Life Problem Solving in School

When it comes to creative problem solving in school, nothing beats a project that goes beyond the school walls and actually helps other people.  Here's an inspiring story of a couple high school seniors who did just that.  Their senior project helped a teacher and students on the other side of the world to achieve their dream of getting connected to the internet.

Check out the introduction video below and these links:
This is a great example of how much learning can come out of a project rooted in a passion with a purpose to meet a genuine need.  One other takeaway:  In a world filled with need, the learning never stops.  See how they are continuing a second phase of their project long after the two students graduated.

What similar projects could we inspire student to pursue in the upcoming school year?  Beyond that, please consider supporting this project and spreading the word about the work as it continues.

Friday, June 29, 2012

Aviary App for Easy Photo Editing

This was originally posted in the summer of 2012, but I recently updated some information.

I was having fun with Instagram a couple months ago to quickly present photos in fun or more pleasing ways.  I discovered the free app from Aviary recently, though, and I haven't done anything with Instagram since.

Most of the features I use are all free, but there are some in-app purchases for more effect packs.  I bought the Grunge pack for $0.99.  (I still love taking pictures that I imagine will be the cover of my hit recording.)

Aviary uses the engine from the original Aviary image editing tools (which unfortunately are no longer available).  I have always been impressed with their free online applications.  The app version is a very slimmed down editing tool, but it has become my favorite tool for editing photos on the iPad.

Aviary allows me to share right to Twitter and Facebook.

You also get extra tools to add more control than Instagram allows (at least from the last time I looked at Instagram).  There are Paint, Text and other common editing tools.  I like the stickers if, for nothing else, I want to add some funny speech bubbles.  That alone makes it a good app to use in the classroom to edit pictures for comics.  The meme tool is a lot of fun too.

There are a few tools that automatically adjust color balance for different lighting situations, though I can't speak much to their effectiveness.  I usually just tweak the brightness and contrast, so I'm glad those tools are available.

I most appreciate the filters for a final touch to pictures.  Aviary calls them Effects and in the time since I originally posted this they improved them quite a bit.  The app allows you to add the effects and frames separately now, so with a little work you can really make some attractive final products.  

But in the end, it's free.  There's really no good reason not to add it to your device for the additional options.

Here are some examples, the first two being recent additions using the latest version of the app:

Quick fun while we helped some friends move to a new house.

One of the basic Effects.

This is my outdoor "office".  
We hit 100 degrees yesterday in Michigan, but this was taken quite early in the day.

Thursday, June 28, 2012

Explain Everything - iPad app for flipped teaching

I have posted previously about some free iPad apps that can be used for flipped teaching.  I recently broke down and paid the $2.99 to buy Explain Everything.  I was told it is the ultimate app for video tutorials, supplying all the things that those free ones were lacking.

From what I've seen so far, that's been mostly accurate.  I really like the laser pointer feature and the entire app is intuitive and easy to use.  I am glad I purchased it and I'm sure I will use it more than I do the free ones as I get more comfortable working around the couple quirks.

Here are the pros and cons I see at this point:


  • Presentations can be shown live or narrated then exported as a video to the Camera Roll (or to other usual locations).
  • Laser Pointer allows for pointing out areas of the screen during recording or presenting.
  • Web browsers can display online content.  (I didn't use this much yet, but it looks like a great feature if it works even with complex websites.)
  • Can import pictures or even entire presentations (PowerPoint is an option) from Dropbox or Evernote.  (I haven't experimented with importing from Evernote and see my note below about Dropbox.)


  • It's not free.
  • I can't get it to import anything from Dropbox!  It might be me, but so far I can't even get one picture to import correctly.
  • When re-sizing objects it is too easy to rotate them at the same time.  It would be good to have a snap feature at every 90 degrees for objects.  I simply gave up trying to straighten a couple rectangular images perfectly .
  • Like all the free apps I mentioned previously, there's still no way (that I can see) to undo or edit part of the audio recording.  Since you can export to the Camera Roll, though, it's easy enough to edit the mistakes out in iMovie or another editor.  That's what I did in the sample below.
  • Note on 9/4/12:  Noooo!  It did the same thing I ran into with other slide creation apps.  Today I put together four slides for a presentation.  Before I had a chance to record I had to do something else, but I left Explain Everything open.  When I came back to the iPad and turned it on I tried to edit it and the app shut down immediately.  I lost all my work.  Educreations used to do this to me and I made a note about it in that review.  It could be attributed to any number of factors beyond the app itself, but I wanted to pass it along.

Here's my first attempt at a video tutorial using the app. It explains how to use the Say Anything flipchart in the classroom. For purposes of this overview of Explain Everything, you'll see all the important features of this app in the first two or three slides.

Wednesday, June 27, 2012

Teach Creative Problem Solving or Nothing

It took me a year and a half to get this straight.  Everything in school from kindergarten to a doctorate degree should be phrased in terms of creative problem solving.

No matter what the content is, it fits somewhere in the process of problem solving:

  • Finding new information to identify the problem
  • Processing that information to create and test possible solutions
  • Presenting the best solution in meaningful ways to the people who need to it
We know problem based learning is an engaging and effective teaching model when done correctly.  Yet somehow administrators and teachers get so focused on tests that they overlook its importance.  Or maybe they're afraid to let go and trust that successful problem solvers can also figure out standardized tests.

Regardless, this is my mission from here out.  If I'm talking to teachers or students, it will all be phrased in the context of creative problem solving.  If we ignore creativity and problem solving at the expense of right answers in content areas we miss the point.  

When I realized this, a few other things became clear:
  • True problem solving and creativity are hard to measure on standardized tests, but that's exactly why they need our focus.  Computers would have a hard time scoring such tests.  Tip:  Being able to do what computers can't is a good thing.
  • Any technology standards, attempts at technology integration or what are referred to as call 21st century learning skills are addressed perfectly in the context of creative problem solving.  Technology simply becomes the best tool to aid in the problem solving process.  
  • We know students feel that what they're learning in high school is irrelevant.  If teachers would frame their lessons in light of real world problems that can be addressed across curriculum areas this would be less of an issue.  Remind them:  Every class is providing tools for solving problems.  It's an unpleasant fact of life that problems always show up.  Good skills to address problems at all levels will always be relevant.

Tuesday, June 26, 2012

Say Anything Game - Creativity exercise for the classroom

Say Anything is a great party game from North Star Games.  The company was founded by my friend Dominic Crapuchettes.  Dominic is a game design genius, seriously.  He tells stories about how a game he made in junior high was so popular among students that teachers had to ban it.

But years later, I am thrilled that he gave me permission to create this flipchart adapted for the classroom based on Say Anything.  It makes a very fun exercise for creativity.  It's simple, imaginative and the students will have a lot of laughs.  

Like my other flipcharts and games based on creativity exercises, it is easily adapted to different needs including any content area.  One advantage of this one, though, is that it is so easy to play even younger students can enjoy it.

I have the rules, with clarifications and possible variations below.  A video explanation is at the end of the post.  Here are some related links of interest though:

Donations are definitely accepted!
These flipcharts from North Star Games have been popular. If you find them (or any other resources on the blog) useful, please consider donating $1 to $3.  Any money I receive this way will be used in my district to purchase resources for technology integration. I and my students greatly appreciate your support!  I would love to hear how you use the resources too.

How to play the game in class:  (Most of this information is in the flipchart, but additional notes are in bold.)

In the actual party game, one player is the judge each round and a "good" answer is determined by this judge.  In the classroom game the class votes for the best answer.  Three to five students compete as contestants much like a game show setting.

1)  Choose three to five students to be the contestants.  They should sit at the front of the classroom.  Each will need a pencil and sheet of paper.  Each contestant must put his or her name on the paper.  All the other students need an Expressions or Votes device.  Those students can also use a sheet of paper to write possible answers or to keep their points.

2)  Reveal the current question slide and give the contestants a minute or two to write their answers to it. They should try to give an answer that the most students will like.  Answers are turned into the teacher.

  • You can decide how rigid you want to be on a time limit for answers.  
  • Sometimes it takes a round or two for some students to feel comfortable just taking a chance with an answer.  You might want to read a couple questions ahead of time and have everyone practice.
  • Students who aren't contestants can still write down answers.  You might even require this to be turned in after the game just to keep them involved. 

3)  In random order, read each answer from the contestants.  A summary of the answer can be written on the cards slide (accessed by clicking Next on the question slide.)  The class should not know who wrote which answer.  You might want to have a couple students from the class read their answers as well, if they think they have a particularly clever or funny one.

4)  Have the class vote on their favorite answer using Expressions or Votes.  When finished, determine each contestant's score.  Points are given based on the percent of the class that picked their answer.  Round to the nearest 10th, so a percent of 16.6 would earn 20 points.  Record the score on the students' papers first, then click the Score button.  Record scores on that slide so the class can see who is winning.  The non-contestants can keep points as well.  Any student who voted for the answer that received the most or second most votes scores one point.  This score is done on their honor and is mostly for fun.  It can help encourage everyone to vote for answers they really think are best.

5)  Click the button at the bottom of the Score page to access the next question.  Repeat steps 2 - 3 above until four questions have been completed.  The player with the most points wins!  In case of a tie, all tied players win.

Additional Notes:

  • I chose to limit this game to only four rounds because that seemed to be best for how long it worked in my classes.  You can play again immediately if students are up for it.  I prefer to stop too soon rather than too late.
  • This activity can be used in other ways besides the game show format. 1)  A question can be given at the end of class and the next day all students can submit answers.  When the teacher has a chance, he or she can narrow the pool down to five good answers and the class can vote on the best.    2)  Likewise in the game show format, a teacher might choose to just do one question at the end of class and carry the game out over a period of time.
  • Note that near the end of the flipchart I included several other questions from the family edition of Say Anything.  You can substitute any of the four questions from those I listed or you can use those to create appropriate questions for your class.  Let the students help!
  • Of course, this game will be best if adapted to the unique needs of your content and school.  Think of questions that fit the subject area or include references to people and places in the school or community.
Here's a video explanation of how to play.  This was my first attempt at using Explain Everything and serves as a demo for that iPad app:

Monday, June 25, 2012

Mythology Edition of Why Did the Chicken...? - Fun exercise for creativity in the classroom

After all the fun we had last month with the classroom games and exercises for creativity, I am turning my attention toward more flipcharts in that style.  This Mythology edition is the same as my previous Why Did the Chicken...? game, but it adds Pandora's Box, filled with several nouns from Greek mythology.

Now your students can compete to give the best answer to great riddles such as, "Why is Zeus afraid of a teddy bear?"

I end up with mythology resources on the blog because each year the mythology teacher in our district likes to try a technology project just before summer.  Even if that subject is not of use to you, the flipchart serves as an example of how easily any content area such as social studies, literature or even science could be tied into the activity.

Be sure to check out the full rules for these games and look over the many resources for creativity exercises such as this one.

Thursday, June 21, 2012

No Wonder the Students Are Bored

I heard a podcast one time that cited a survey of high school students.  The one word they used most to describe school was "boring".  I did a similar survey in my own district and the results were the same.  I wasn't surprised, of course, but I haven't been able to forget that over the past year and a half.  I'm always on the lookout for causes to the problem and things we can do to solve it.

For a contrasting picture, I was extremely impressed with the student engagement I saw during the animation project I did with the high school Mythology class.  I was thinking about this a lot, how creative projects can result in so much life and passion in the classroom.  The young minds are charged with possibilities and excitement.

I made the graphic below to put the two visions side by side.  It was kind of funny (in a sense) when I first thought of the goal when taking a standardized test--get all the dots in the same place as the one answer key.  And when completed it doesn't even have information on it that is meaningful to a human being.  Just dots!  Of course, we have writing portions on the tests, but we were informed recently that in Michigan that portion will also be scored by a computer, just like the dots.  A lot remains be seen on that and more could be said, but for now...

I'm not against standardized tests.  We need the data.  When they get too much of the focus in schools, though, it's no wonder to me the classrooms have the life sucked out of them.  On the other hand, a classroom full of excitement and possibilities also fosters learning.  Those students get an enjoyable experience and they still can figure out where to put the dots.

Sunday, June 17, 2012

Christian/Bible Resources for Oh, Really!

I finally spotted one of my games for sale in real life!
Last year I posted a Bible/christian flipchart activity.  I wasn't sure how it would be received, but the number of downloads has been comparable to some other content area activities that I made.  I have heard from Sunday school teachers and other Christian gamers who play the game or use it in lessons.  I have always included words in all the editions that bring up matters of faith and I was glad to learn that Family Christian Stores was carrying the game.  (In fact, that's the only store where I've ever seen one of my games available in the real world.  Most are sold online.)

After recent correspondence with a Sunday school teacher and a father of a home school family, I decided I should convert that activity to these other formats for those who don't use ActivInspire:
These resources have some pre-selected sets of item cards that can be used to generate discussion.  Participants could rank them on paper and group rankings could be analyzed and discussed.  Alternatively individuals could just rank them and then explain their rankings in writing or orally depending on the needs of the group.

Discussion questions are included on the final slide that reveal how this game can open the door to some weighty subject matter.  A seminary student told me once that he uses the previous version of my game in educational and social settings.  Here's what he wrote:

"Your game provides a wonderful opportunity to talk to both teenagers and adults about things that are penultimate and ultimately about the ultimate questions of life, death, and the meaning of it all. Something our Post Post-Modern society does poorly."

"For the past seven years, I have been using your game both in large and small groups. In a game setting, issues which polarize people become somewhat disarmed, and people can laugh and talk about things of importance. Not every game...becomes a deep conversation, but it provides the opportunity. In short, the game provides a somewhat neutral forum for people to share ideas without feeling pressured into a political-religious debate."

Whether in or out of the classroom I'm thrilled to find out my games are being used for fun and learning.  If you have any comments on the above resources or thoughts on how the game might be used in other interesting ways, I will be glad to hear from you.

Thursday, June 14, 2012

Free Card Game for Educational Purposes

This summer I decided to just give away copies of What's It To Ya?.  That's the previous version of my game Oh, Really!, which is featured throughout the blog.  If you want to use the game for educational purposes, please let me know.  I'll send a few copies out a week for an indefinite amount of time.

Just email me at and tell me how you intend to use it.  I will select among requests due to my limited budget (U.S. addresses will be preferred) and I will likely contact you later to get your opinion of the game if you'd like to share it.  Please understand I'm doing this as a personal endeavor and I do not represent the publishers of the game in either form that is widely available.  In other words, don't be upset at them if I can't send you one because I ran out of money for this!

Since it's summer and most students aren't in school, I'll be glad to target other educational settings such as:

  • Homeschool families
  • Church groups such as Sunday school or other focused ministries
  • Summer camps
  • Counselors
  • Trainers

Please pass the word along if you know of someone who might find the game useful.

Check out my page on critical thinking games to see how I've used the game and what other resources are available.

Also, here are two remixed versions of videos I made years ago.  The first one combines the clips of random people that we asked to rank five items.  It shows the serious and silly extremes that can be achieved with the basic activity of the game.

The second one shows the laughs, but it also includes an overview of how it's played.

Best party game ever??  Well, at least it's flexible and can provide some serious fun...

How the party game is played...

Sunday, June 10, 2012

The Big Question

I wrote last week about asking better questions.  Here's my short presentation on the question that I ask now as I try to view school from the perspective of the students.  I pose it to teachers and I keep trying to think of good answers for it that I can put into practice next year.  If you've got some suggestions or solutions that you've seen work, I'd love to hear them.

Thursday, June 7, 2012

Epic Mythology Videos - GoAnimate with high school students

Melinda Newcombe teaches Mythology at the high school in the district where I work.  She asked me a couple weeks ago if we could pilot GoAnimate4schools with her class.  It ended up being a great project, definitely one of the best of the school year.  I was extremely happy with the engagement that I saw from the students at this point in the school year.

Here's a video that sums it up.  I also have the resulting videos embedded below.  The folks at GoAnimate have asked me to write an article for their blog and you can find the post here.

The Myths...

Odysseus and Polyphemus

Ceyx and Alycone

Pyramus and Thisbe

Achilles and Hector