Wednesday, February 5, 2020

Talkin' Heads w/ Google

One of my favorite projects to do with kids is to show them out to make Google Slides animations. And one of my favorite projects to animate is your very own talking head!

So how do we do it?

First you need to set up a fresh new Google Slide deck and you need to take a picture of your pretty little face. One thing that makes this tricky is that Google recently ditched the "Take a snapshot" feature from Google Slides. So while you used to be able to take a picture directly into Slides, now you have the extra step of inserting a picture from your computer. I highly recommend Alice Keeler's Webcam Snapshot, which takes a webcam snap and uploads it directly to your Google Drive.

[[UPDATE 2/1/18]] Take a snapshot is BAAAAACK! Yes!!! Makes this project a bit easier.

From there all you'll need to do is add the image to your slide from Google Drive.

Now you'll want to crop the background out of the image -- I like to use the oval crop tool to get as close as I can to isolating the head shape.

Then we need to create a mouth flap and a mouth color. The way I do this is by creating a copy of the face and cutting down a section that will move. I always put a solid color behind the mouth flap as well:

Now that all your layers are in place, you just need to copy the slide and move the mouth flap incrementally for each new frame.

Now you're talkin'.

Now you add something like a screen recorder (my recommendation is Screencastify) and you are creating your own animations, cartoons, and movies.

You can do this with anything -- it doesn't have to be your mouth. You can wave hands, have the wind blow your hat off, or dance a jig. The real beauty of a project like this is that you are showing students how to harness the tool -- now they can create whatever they want with it. The genius is the simplicity.

Sunday, January 5, 2020

Create Custom Art with Google Drawings

Some people never truly understand how amazing Google Drawings is. From the get go, it seems kind of boring. You just get that blank checkboard background. The tools aren't conducive to drawing. It's sterile.

All of that is true. But that simplicity is always what makes Google Drawings sooooo amazing. One thing I use to teach students how to get familiar with design and the functions of creating drawings is to have them create their own derivative art using images in Google Drawings.

The secret sauce is this guy:

The Polyline Tool! (you should be imagining that with a big, deep, echoing voice because this thing will CHANGE YOUR LIFE.) Let me show the ways.

First we are going to open up Google Drawings and just drop in any ordinary picture from the internet.

Now we are going to use the Polyline tool to "mask" over the image. This will give us a rough version of the picture that we can then start to touch up with our own personalization.

For this car, I'll use some circles to complete the wheels. I'll also flip through the layers to get the window shapes and some of the trim. After working for a while you'll have a whole mess of shapes that will soon become your own pretty little creation.

The final step is to go in, color it up, adjust your shapes, and add any extra details. This car needs a sweet lightning bolt down the side. You'll also want to delete your original starting image from behind your new creation.

Finally you'll want to group these shapes together to create a cohesive whole. This will let you move, stretch, resize, copy, paste -- all sorts of other things like it was any other image.

So that's it! This is such an amazing hack -- I have used this for countless classroom applications -- creating characters for stories, objects for animations, original images for presentations, I use this at home to have my daughters design their own princesses and castles. I have even used this exact technique to help my wife design a shirt for the staff in her office. There are truly thousands of applications for this, in and out of the classroom. 

Thursday, December 5, 2019

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, September 25, 2019

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.

Wednesday, August 21, 2019

Baby's First Podcast Studio: Google Slides

I know that podcasts are totally exploding right now. Everyone has a podcast! And it's awesome! I think it's wonderful that anyone that has a story to tell or an idea to share can put it out so easily for the world to see. And the amazing thing about podcasts is that they are super easy to create. They require just a microphone and a basic way to present media. No cameras, no fancy-schmancy editing, just good old fashioned recording.

Since it's so easy to create and share a podcast, what better medium to have our students share their own ideas and stories? Over the past few months I have been working with students on creating their own podcasts. First I looked into some popular tools like Soundcloud, Anchor, or even iTunes. Because of technology and privacy concerns, none of this worked. So then I thought -- we have Chromebooks and Google -- how can I have students create their own audio stories with these tools? The answer was simple! Google Slides!

You might remember I did a post a while back covering how you can "edit" videos with Google Slides. I decided to use the same premise here, only augmenting the process with a few other tools.

Read on to see out how we make student podcasting simple with Google Slides and Screencastify.

First, we need to plan out our podcast. For this project, students were discussing books, so we created this Book Podcast Organizer. Once you had it planned out, then we would proceed to record. For this, I had students use Screencastify -- for a few reasons. One, every student already has it on their Chromebook, and the videos you record drop automatically into your drive. No moving files around makes us all very happy.

Now you might be wondering why I use Screencastify, a screen recorder, to record a podcast. Well, it's simple really -- Google Slides allows us to embed video, not audio. And we can record a video of ourselves talking and pop that into a Google Slide to simulate an audio track.

You can just have students turn their webcam off. Really, they just need to have their microphone on. Screencastify can either record their screen or their camera, doesn't matter -- the key is the microphone audio.

At this point, with visuals being inconsequential, you are essentially recording an audio track. This is great for those kids that get hung up on people seeing their pictures, or don't want video of themselves out on the internet (and these are completely valid concerns for my students).

Next, you record your audio. For our book project I had students work in pairs and have a structured conversation about their books using the aforementioned organizer. All the while, they are recording the entire thing. Some kids can do it in one take. Others goof up all the time. Either way, I tell the students to never stop recording -- we can use the slides to clip the pieces together later if we need to, like I discuss in my video editing blog post here.

Another thing I have students do is enable "Tab Audio" while they are recording, this way, they can use YouTube Audio Library sounds and music as transition bumpers. This adds a level of professionalism and personality and goes above and beyond simple dialogue. And since I stress with students to complete work that is artfully done with high quality, this is a simple way to help make that happen with our podcasts.

Once the audio is recorded, we just need to embed it into the slide. That process is very simple. Since Screencastify backs up your videos to Google Drive, all you need to do is go into your slide, and insert the video file directly.

With the audio in the slide, all you need to do now is create your "player". The nice thing about a lot of podcasts on the web is that you can embed a clickable version of the podcast or individual episodes right into most websites. And we can simulate this quite easily with Google Slides. A happy coincidence of inserting videos into slides is that it adds a play button to the inserted video. This looks a lot like the play buttons on most embedded video and audio players. We use that to our advantage. We'll just design a little scaffold so folks know where they need to click....

With our podcast now complete inside of Google Slides, we can embed it! When we made our class versions, we created a class Google Site to share them all, but they all end up looking like the embedded example I made for students below:

And here's a student example with a bit of a different design:

And here's a link to the whole class's podcast series: Class Book Recommendations.

These came out AMAZING! The students loved them and it was a simple and safe way to simulate podcasting with younger students. The best part is that they were able to take content they were going to be working with in class and make a digital project that covered the same information. This really hit the sweet spot for digital integration. If you are looking for a safe and fun way to have your students or class start their own podcast, definitely consider using Google Slides and Screencastify to do the job.

Friday, June 14, 2019

Keep Stepping

Momentum is amazing thing.  "The motion of a moving body, measured as a product of it's mass and velocity" as it's defined in the dictionary. It's easy to understand as a mathematical concept. But I want to talk a little bit about momentum as more of an expression of our behavior rather than a way we explain a physics equation.

Momentum is powerful because the harder and the faster you go, the easier it is to maintain progress. I think of how this reflects my personal life as well as my work. As long as we have goals and maintain progress toward them, you'll have far fewer impediments to your progress. As long as we keep stepping, we have to worry less about what happens when we stop.

Think of it like this -- I love being a dad and I like doing fun stuff with my kids. A couple years ago I was at the top of my dad game. I was spending a ton of time with my kids, we had standing "daddy dates" every Saturday. We built forts. We went fishing. We made cookies. We played music...we did all this fun stuff all the time. And then we had a few weekends where I didn't schedule things to do. My kids went to their Grandma's for a weekend. I started filling time on Saturdays with sitting on the couch reading or playing video games.  ...And then I stopped doing things with my kids. I stopped stepping. I stopped.

Sure enough that momentum just fluttered away in the wind. And it became really hard to motivate myself to do what I needed to do (spend time with my kids), because I was more interested in this easier, selfish pursuit of comfort (eating chips on the couch). But what if I had never stopped? What if I didn't make excuses about why things wouldn't work out today? What if I stopped letting things I can't control effect my feelings? What if I kept stepping?

So that's where I find myself today with my job. Heck, it's the middle of June -- I could just as easily sit at home for the next two months and do jack. Hardly anyone would notice. But I want to keep going. I want to get better and stronger. I do not want my passion to wane, because I know just how difficult it is to start again. So I keep stepping. That's why I am presenting at uh, several conferences this summer. That's why I am scheduling time to go and work with teachers even when we'd all rather be sitting by the pool. That's why I check blogs and do Twitter chats and burn up that hashtag. It's better to keep going. It's better to just keep stepping.

Just today I got some disappointing news about a professional opportunity. I am not devastated, but I do feel a bit upset about how some things went down. And I know a few years ago hearing "no" would have been something to send me into a death spiral -- several days on the couch feeling sorry for myself and licking my wounds because other people just didn't get how fantastic I am. But why dwell on things I can't control. I'll just keep stepping.

So I say keep stepping -- not because it's summer and so many of us like to hit the pause button for a few months. And not because I am some rioting maniac about how your job should be your life and every waking moment should feature you progressing toward some professional achievement. I say keep stepping because moving forward, focusing on progress, solutions, or goals is always a better use of your time

Wednesday, September 19, 2018


One of the best vocabulary lessons you'll ever get is the one where you teach yourself the difference between "lazy" and "unmotivated". When it comes to students, when they aren't getting things done or it seems like they don't care, we are quick to call them lazy. But is that really the case?

Laziness is physical. Most of our students are actually experiencing a psychological problem -- lack of motivation.

The vocabulary we use to explain this behavior is important. In our mind if a student is lazy, it ends the conversation. You can't get over that.

Unmotivated suggests there is a source to the lack of effort they give in your classroom.

One of these things has a solution. One doesn't. If our students are unmotivated, it simply becomes a case of finding the motivation. Looking for something that moves that student. Building the relationship that makes them care.

So, whether you are discussing student issues in the teachers lounge or are simply processing internally what a student's issue might be, remember to check your vocabulary.