Thursday, November 9, 2017

Baby's First Video Editor: Google Slides

Google Slides is my best friend. Really. Slides and I go way back. We've been teaching together longer than I can even remember. It's weird though, sometimes you learn something new about your best friend, and things are never the same. That's how things are between Google Slides and I since I learned about it's video editing capabilities.

That's right. Google Slides is an epic video editing tool. It's especially great for younger students. That's because slides can:
  • Embed videos directly from your Google Drive without having to upload to YouTube or other hosting sites.
  • Can be clipped down to just the segment of the video you want to share
  • You can play two videos at once to simulate "tracks". Have your video in the foreground and shrink another video in the margins that will play your background music.
  • Implement design elements like clipart, wordart, or the other tools available in Slides/Drawings to design layouts and overlays to surround your video
  • You can publish a video slide to the web so it can be shared as simply as you might share a YouTube video
Inserting a video is crazy easy. All you have to do is click Insert -> Video and find the video you'd like to work with in your Drive. 


Next, you can get into the different options you have for editing. Simply click on the video, and select the "Video options" tab above.


There's not a lot of editorial control you have here, but what you have is pretty useful. First is the clipping option. By using the "Start at/End at" functions, you can clip out sections of the video you don't want to appear in the final product. For example:

Raw File:

Edited/Published Video: 

That's useful for a multitude of reasons. First, most kids aren't one take creators. That means sometimes they are going to need to try to record a few times before they get it just right. This allows them to keep the camera running without having to worry about going back and deleting/rerecording every time they make a mistake. Also, if your students do screencasts or other recordings on their devices that require navigating or menuing during recording, this is a simple way to remove those parts of the video.

The other options you'll have available are simple enough. Autoplay when presenting plays the video automatically when the slide is in presentation mode. This can be a good idea when you are sharing a Slides video by publishing it to the web. Just send the publish to web link and you'll have a video that will start as soon as you click the link. I use this a lot, but add a title slide with directions to start the video. 

Mute audio will remove audio while the video plays. I don't use this too much since in creative tasks we have a lot of use for our audio with either dialogue, narration, or explanatory language. But there would be uses if you were wanting to record a separate track for music or narration.

By understanding these three editing tools, you can really start to do some interesting and creative things.

For example, when telling a story, you could have each slide be a different scene. Have the videos autoplay and go into presentation mode. Now you have a movie.


Since Slides doesn't let you set custom times, you can't let it let the slides auto-advance, which is a bummer. You'll need to either click through the slides yourself, or publish to the web like I did here so the viewer can navigate the scenes. It's not a perfect way to record multiple scenes, but it's a good basic start for those that aren't expert video editors.

Now let's talk about tracks. Since Slides has a free-form editor, it's possible to have multiple videos playing on a slide at the same time. For this reason, you can do stuff like this:


We have used this like you see above -- to have a background track with someone discussing what is happening in the foreground. News reports, storytelling, music videos. Again, there are tons of options.


Sync up a background track by inserting the music you want to use from a YouTube video, and shrinking the video down small enough that you can't really see it. It'll still play full audio, even if it's not visible.



Another pretty cool thing to add to the scene is using the shapes and word art to create digital settings to frame your videos. I did this in the lion video above. I have also done this to have kids create their own news channels, or just to add to the setting of a story they are telling. You should know that embedded video ignore layers, however. This means you can't put still images or shapes on top of a playing video -- it will just smash everything below and the video will set on top.


As you can see, there are tons of things you can do once you know how to mess with the video options in Google Slides. And the best part is, you don't have to be a digital media wizard. If you can record a video and edit with Google Slides, you can make some swag projects quickly and easily. It'd be great to see what you guys create with these powerful tools.

Wednesday, November 8, 2017

Where Are The Ideas?

Most kids these days are born digital. They live in a digital world, using digital tools, and connecting in digital environments. If we are doing our jobs right as teachers, students should also have the desire and motivation to pursue fresh and innovative ideas and create things people care about.

They have the tools. They have the ideas. Why aren't more of our students working with an entreprenurial mindset? Why aren't our kids making, designing, or marketing themselves. their ideas, or their creations? Does it have something to do with our classrooms? In a world where employers are begging for digital literacy and soft skills proficiency in the next generation of employees, we persist in asking "googleable" questions and forcing students to complete worksheets in the name of points and credit. As a result, we destroy any creativity, passion, or desire to create work students are proud of. 

If there's a solution, it's not an easy one. Most would say, "push an entrepenurial spirit" in the classroom. Teach courses on marketing and selling. Make public school business school. But to believe these are the solutions would mean ignorance to the real beauty and power of what entrepreuership is; A passion or a belief so much in your ideas that you feel the need to share them with others.

Neither Bill Gates nor Steve Jobs nor Mark Zuckerberg took a class in entrepreneurship while they were in school. They weren't taught to sell or market. It was never about making money or being efficient at managing resources. They were empowered to design and create something first, then market their idea to an audience. And the enduring truth that made their ideas reality was that they had others around them empowering their work and ensuring them that it was meaningful. I think we can take a meaningful lesson from that as teachers.

The secret to entrepreneurial mindset in our classrooms lies with indulgence. It lies with the respect of a student as a human being. It depends on supporting passion, curiosity, and talent, even when those things don't fill up columns in our grade book.

Human beings are born with the desire to create and innovate. We are also born with a propensity for socialization, to communcate and collaborate. These skills make us natural entrepreneurs. Sometimes ideas are silly. Sometimes they are crazy. Sometimes they are so stupid you don't even want to let the kid finish the sentence. But sometimes those ideas are Facebook. 


Monday, October 16, 2017

#DigCitWeek

October 16-20 is Digital Citizenship Week. Schools around the country take this opportunity to build awareness and educate students on a very important topic in their lives; how we behave in digital environments.

Internet safety? Creative copyright? Fake news? These things might not be part of our core curriculum, but they are still crucial lessons that must be taught to our students so they can protect themselves in an increasingly digital world.

I have three rules for teaching this stuff to kids:

1. Be Proactive - Focus on what students can change in the future to use technology more confidently and wisely. Focus less on the mistakes they have made in the past. When you go negative and slam kids for screwing up, they shut down. Keep your message positive and about what they can do better.

2. Guide without using Fear - There are many scary things online that can place children in unsafe situations. Rather than focusing on the fear of these things, we want to empower students to know how to handle these situations and harness digital technologies in positive ways. They should not feel afraid or hopeless -- we want students to feel empowered and safe when they use technology. The internet should not feel like a minefield.

3. Focus on Behavior - Somebody once said, "It's about neurology, not technology." And while I don't know who uttered this powerful quote, I respect the concept a great deal. When we teach kids how to use digital tools in safe and legal ways, we are teaching behaviors, not technology skills. The best digital citizenship lessons don't even involve using technology.

If you want to get equipped to have these discussions or would like resources to start empowering your students to inhabit digital environments, start these these resources:

  • Common Sense Media: A full curriculum loaded with resources and activities to work through with your students. This goes way beyond one week, and that's amazing!
  • Google for Education Digital Citizenship Training: A full course for you as a teacher to explore to learn more about digital citizenship and how to teach it in your classroom. Nothing can prepare you better for teaching this stuff than learning everything about it first.
  • Google's Interland - An integrated online web-based game designed to teach the fundamentals of internet safety to younger students. A fun and engaging way to learn about behavior in online environments.
  • MediaSmarts: Resources for digital literacy and safety including overlooked topics like excessive internet use and managing online privacy.
  • NetSmartz: Online training, lesson plans, and student project kits for teaching digital literacy and citizenship.
  • Teach InCtrl: Inquiry and collaborative lessons and learning activities designed to teach key digital citizenship concepts. 
This is just the tip of the iceberg. If you want more resources, or just would like to follow along with the conversation and the movement, check out the hashtag #digcitweek on Twitter. The more we all talk about this stuff and champion it's importance, the more kids we can empower with this knowledge.

Monday, October 2, 2017

The Trouble with Templates

I’ve written about creative struggle before. Specifically how creativity is work and there’s not creative gene. A side effect of not working to be creative manifests itself as a low expectation for students to be creative as well.

Many teachers believe that creativity is innate in students. That students who are creative are just random, and that some students have “it” and some don’t. This is an issue with the way we teach as much as how we train teachers. Little work is ever put into teaching creativity or the creative process. We know that many teachers struggle with being creative themselves, but do you ever think about how this can impact students when teachers don't understand creativity?

First, a history lesson.

In times gone by it used to be that creativity was a natural part of everyday life. Back in the days of artisans and artists, innovation was just what people did to get by. It wasn’t until the industrial revolution that routinization of tasks became a necessity. Since most jobs required mastery of repeated processes, there was less need for artisanal work. Less need for thought. Less need for innovation. And schools were developed to support the model of development of basic skills for routine labor. That was key in the development of our nation. This was a template for the way we needed people to operate to maximize efficiency and productivity.

But in a post-industrial society, this template can be quite harmful. While we still need productivity and efficiency in our lives, much of what remains of our industrialized society is automated. We no longer need to train people on basics like we did before. We don’t need to template their lives to be ordinary workers carrying out simple tasks. What we need to do is more encouragement of innovation, free thought, expression, and creativity.

We need to teach students to develop their ideas and own them. Stop borrowing and start stealing. Templates can be a great thing, but when they become a crutch, we rob students from coming up with their own methods and ideas. If we search for a template every time we get started with a project, what will we do when we come up against a challenge for which there is not template? How will we ever innovate if we are always looking for blanks to fill?

We need to encourage motivation for creativity by not assigning grades to the creative process. Creativity and innovation is stifled if we standardize what achievement or effort looks like. I know we need things like rubrics to help develop feedback models and we need assessment data to gauge the needs and progress of students, but do we really need to slap a grade on everything? Too many opportunities to get creative are wasted because students want to get the best grade rather than chase their curiosity or find an inventive way to do something. Grades scare us away from creativity. More recognition of effort and process. Less emphasis on product and assessment.

Sometimes creative efforts in others don’t seem creative to us. When my daughters draw pictures of hearts and rainbows, I often see cliche representations of things that have been done a thousand times before. It is so easy to criticize these types of efforts and not see them as the first steps to something greater. The problem is, we don’t see those first steps in the process of being creative. We let it stop there, thinking these students don’t have “it”. This is just the starting point. This is where we need to start encouraging creative thought and innovation. “How can you take this farther? How can you experiment with this idea? How can to tweak this design to make it personal to you? A heart stands for love...how else could you express this?” In the classroom, these are often the most powerful conversations I have with students -- the moments when we are being reflective about the work we’re doing and how we can make it a more personal reflection of who we are and what we care about.

Demonstrations are tricky. When we show “the way” we make our own vision seem definitive. It doesn’t challenge students to create their own vision, rather it pressures them to create a carbon copy of what we have done. As an example, often in my class we would create video book trailers. I would show them one I had created in the past -- this would inevitably lead to 25 different takes on my process, my layout, my music, my transitions, etc. Ultimately I was disappointed because these projects were not popping with student personality as I hoped. I learned that by allowing students to lead the demonstrations, having them learn the tools but not see my process and vision explicitly, we were able to emphasize their own creativity. We have powerful projects that were fun, creative, and exploding with personality.

Speaking to that, we probably show examples too much and don’t spend enough defining the problem. Explaining the why. Are we just asking students to Xerox an idea or a process? Or do we want them to experience and immerse themselves in in those ideas and processes? Something I learned was to discuss problems with students. Have classroom conversations about big ideas. Challenge them to address those rather than just showing them an example and having them create their own version.

These and other problems contribute to the templates we find ourselves stuck in. Many of us can’t take a risk or get creative because we have build such rigid walls of what school is supposed to look like. Something to think about: How are you challenging students to get creative? Do you make creativity a cornerstone of the work you do in your class? Do you ask students to address problem or create projects? Do you emphasize the process of creation or the completion of the task?

Reflect on this and consider how you might be able to make creativity something you model and emphasize in your classroom every day.



Sunday, September 3, 2017

Just Do It

As a tech coach, most of my work is directly with teachers. Typically I will try and have a reflective conversation after we've worked through a lesson or activity. One thing these conversations typically feature is a regret, a lamenting of the difficulty of students using technology. A common feeling is that it isn't worth the time or the hassle. I hear it all the time:

"It's too hard."

"They ask too many questions."

"They can't keep up."

"This would be easier on paper."

All of those things are true. Right now. But the reality is that those things are only true because we don't emphasize using digital literacy skills in our classrooms. We get bored and complacent about the way we teach and give up on trying new things, regardless of how important they are. We do things because they are convenient and easy and we give up on things as soon as we sense difficulty.

It's what you do with that difficulty that is key. Robert Greene author of Mastery, gets the core of what I am talking about here:

“The pain is kind of challenge your mind presents - will you learn how to focus..., or will you succumb to the need for immediate pleasure and distraction?”

It's not just with technology. It's with anything. If you aren't willing to work through the pain and the discomfort, you'll rarely make any kind of growth or build confidence with anything new. True confidence is born from pushing through things that suck. The longer you sit with the pain and discomfort — and actually create something meaningful, the more confident and successful you will be.


Friday, June 9, 2017

The New Digital Divide

When I first started teaching the digital divide was access. Educators were set on making sure that technology was available and ready for student use. The goal was for equity was in the physical presence of devices. And while physical presence of devices might not be where everyone would like, we are living in an area of unprecedented ubiquity of technology in education. With 1:1 initiatives and BYOD programs, many schools have done the work of closing the access gap. However this access has only highlighted a larger issue in our schools -- the digital skills gap.

The New Digital Divide.

Now that we have technology in students hands, what are we doing with it? Not enough. I've posted before about the myth of the digital native, about how we don't do enough to challenge, train, or encourage even the most practical technology use. Since we assume kids know how to use technology "well enough", we shortchange them on the real world technology skills they  need to be marketable, employable, and viable in a 21st century economy.

Studies show that 78% of middle skills jobs require baseline digital literacy. This means understanding stuff like spreadsheets, word processing, managing communication software like email, etc. And the more connected our world and economy comes, the more this number is going to grow. The truth is, if we want to produce students that are ready for even the most entry level of jobs, they are going to have to have baseline digital skills.

And if you think we already do enough of this, think again. A report by ETS shows that the United States is one of the poorest performing countries in digital literacy. The study, which looked at labor force millenials' (ages 16-34) ability in technology rich environments, shows that among developed countries, the United States ranks near the bottom with 56% below proficiency level 2. For comparison's sake, Finland was 32% and Japan was 33%.

All of this to say, in an increasingly globalized world, the United States isn't competitive enough when it comes to imparting the skills to be successful in modern economic environments. This is bad news for the country, but even worse news for our students who will struggle to gain employment and make a livable wage.

To address this, it is imperative that our schools develop digital literacy goals on an institutional level. We need to work with employers and institutions of continuing education to target the most high impact digital skills that our learners need today and in the future. And we must integrate these skills into the content we are already teaching. Digital literacy is more than something that would be helpful -- it's something modern students require. And we must do more to ensure it's taught and modeled in our schools.

Saturday, May 20, 2017

The Myth of the Digital Native

I am sure we are all aware of the term "digital native" by this point. You know, the idea that kids born in this generation are blessed with a technology gene that allows this to do "AMAZING" things with technology. I get so irritated by this term, because many people who share this ideology have no idea what the implications for that belief are.

Listen, just because your two year old can play games on an iPad doesn't mean they are a technology wiz. When a parent tells me their kid is some digital genius because he can get Netflix going on the TV all by himself I just want to rip my eyeballs out and roll them down the hallway. 

You've probably had this conversation with a parent. 

"Oh little Johnny is going to work in tech. He spends hours on his computer every day. He beat Angry Birds on my phone in ten minutes!"

Sounds like this kid has already audited his way to a computer science degree.

But really, think about it. So many people are fooling themselves into believing the consumption of digital content is authentic ability in using technology. This regressive thinking is shared by many teachers! A large part of my job is working with teachers to integrate technology, and many conversations usually begin or end with, "But, doesn't this stuff just come naturally to them" or "these kids are great with computers....why teach it?"

It bugs me because we THINK our kids can use computers when they really can't. And these vague understandings about what teachers should be doing with technology has damaging and far lasting consequences for kids in the 21st century. Technology skills will be the new baseline for work skills for the next several decades. Yet we assume students already have these skills when they can barely turn on their screens!

And so when we argue for increased tech in schools, the argument cannot be "that's where they are." The argument must be that our kids need to see it used effectively and with useful outcomes. That the application needs to be deeper than turning on a device, opening an app, or playing a game. Using a device does not mean you are in control of the technology.

This should start with primary grade teachers. A basic understanding of technology for communication. Understanding and using correct terminology (Sorry, a video on the internet isn't necessary a YouTubes). Why making a Google Slides presentation is not computing but in fact simply a way to present information. Showing that articles on the internet are not necessarily true and that we need to have discernment about media and be literate in our understanding of it.

This requires leadership and a changing of focus in our field and in our schools. Tech isn't something kids are natives of -- it's something we are all, to differing extents, immigrants to. We have invested so much money in technology, yet struggle to use our tech for any kind of authentic use. As we get deeper into the 21st century, I am hoping that our leaders start to realize this and begin to understand the power in their phones, tablets, and other devices, and how we can improve the way we use these things. Let's unlock the power of the device. Let's give students the power to explore, create, program, code, and design. Not just to make education better, but to make our lives better as well.