Sunday, October 27, 2013

10 tips for recording video in the classroom

I updated this post in October 2014. I added a few tips for teachers and created a Google Docs version too. The new post is here.

Given the popularity of this post, I created a video version of the tips. It is embedded at the end of the list.

I would think many of these items are obvious, but as much as I have to remind students I know they're not obvious to everyone.
  • Plan in detail.  I know it's more fun to start recording, but poor planning will result in either lots of frustrating editing or a poor final video.  Good planning includes a detailed script for all dialogue or narration and a storyboard showing the basic camera views for each shot.
  • Make sure you are recording files you can edit later.  This means you have to record with a camera, phone or other device that creates a file format compatible with your editing software.  I recommend doing a quick test with your equipment first. Record a short clip and try to edit it with your editing software.
  • Hold your camera, phone or device in the landscape position.  I didn't think to remind students of this until we started letting students use their own devices.  Remember that computer monitors are always in landscape.  Don't hold the phone or iPad so the image is taller than it is wide.  It might work great for Vines or other clips you send your friends, but it really weakens the final product no matter how good everything else turns out.
  • Think about what the viewer is seeing and break up the scene accordingly.  Does it make sense to stand back with the camera and just record the whole scene as if it were a skit?  Or would different camera angles throughout make it more interesting?  Would close-ups of certain action help tell a better story?  Is there anything in the background that will distract the viewer from what is most important?
  • Listen before recording.  Is there background noise or bad acoustics that echo when actors talk or make other sounds?  Choose a quiet location.
  • Listen carefully when you are recording too.  Be aware that a distracting noise (squeaky chairs, doors closing, etc.) while someone is saying a line can't be removed later.  We often block these things out easily when listening to someone in real life, but when watching a video they are impossible to ignore.  
  • Speak clearly when being recorded.  Probably everyone on the set knows the script and knows what is being said.  The viewers don't have that advantage.  Pay attention to how fast you talk, how loud it is and whether or not the words are distinct.
  • Record too much rather than not enough.  Start recording several seconds before action will start.  If someone will say, "Action," or otherwise alert everyone to start, be sure they wait at least a second after the camera has started to cue the actors. It is so easy to trim a few seconds off the start or end of a clip in editing.  Compare that to the case when the camera person turns off the camera immediately after the last line or the actors start talking as soon as the camera starts.  Those make for bad edits later.
  • Along with that, if you have the time, get two good takes of each shot.  You can overdo this, but generally if everyone finally gets a good performance once, the next one will be even better.  During editing it can help a lot to have a couple choices for the take that will end up in the final video..
  • When acting a scene, don't look at the camera or the person behind the camera.  It is very common for actors to look to the person working the camera as if to say, "Did we get it?"  Those looks can ruin an otherwise great take and sometimes you won't notice it until editing later.
To sum it up, remember you can save a ton of time in editing with careful planning and by paying attention.  Consider what the viewer will see and hear.  After you make a couple videos thinking like this you'll appreciate your favorite movies and television shows all the more!

Based on your experience, what advice would you add to the list?

Tuesday, October 22, 2013

Updated draft of our math video

Last week Crystal and I reworked the chorus of our Perimeter and Area Song.  (It's part of our ongoing elementary project for math music videos.). I really like what she did to put life into the melody and I easily adjusted the chords into something I was pleased with in  I experimented more with adding different instrumentation, but I still had the basics of the song elements done in about 20 minutes after downloading her new vocal track.

The video could be a lot better, but right now I'm seeing what I can do with just iMovie on the iPad.  And as far as that goes, all mixing was done in GarageBand on the iPad.  I think I'll do an iPad version, then one that uses more options from robust editing software on computers.

Saturday, October 19, 2013

Free Halloween Game for the Classroom or Family Fun

Freaky Forest is a game I created with the help of my wife and children a few years ago.  It is a very simple push your luck game about trying to find your lost trick-or-treat candy in a scary forest.

You can play the game with chips, but it's a lot more fun to play with candy like M&M's or Skittles.  It would be good for three to six children per group in a classroom or as a fun family game.  

We sold some copies through Fair Play Games and then I put it online for free as a print-and-play game.

I just compiled the rules and sheet of cards into one PDF.  The page of cards should be printed on heavy paper or cardstock.  You also need two regular dice and 10 chips or pieces of candy per player.

And if you're interested in another free Halloween game with versions for the classroom and for a group of friends, check out my creativity game Halloween Haiku.

Thursday, October 10, 2013

Draft of our sample math video

As I have posted previously, I'm working with our upper elementary music teacher to create math music videos.  It's all part of a MACUL grant I wrote over the summer based on this project from last year.

This week I finished a rough draft of our song about perimeter and area.  It is posted below.  The topic was identified by one third grade teacher as a skill students struggle with.  I know even from my years in a high school math class that students would get the two formulas backwards.

I wrote the simple words for the chorus and Crystal Owen, the music teacher, made up the melody.  We recorded her singing with Audacity using the USB microphone we received from the grant.

I uploaded that to and created a few versions of the background tracks.  From there, I added my spoken parts and mixed it all using GarageBand on the iPad.

For the video I used Explain Everything for the animated parts and Doodle Buddy with Pixlr for the images.  We will continue to improve the song and the video in the weeks ahead.

We are looking at mid-November for starting the project with fifth graders making similar songs and videos for younger students.