Monday, May 2, 2016

The Power Of Student-Made Videos - Easy Apps For Projects & Primary Sources

Source: ASIDE 2016

The use of videos in learning is no longer exceptional. Whether via classroom viewing, flipped instruction, or self-directed YouTube searches, kids expect a multimedia accompaniment to their otherwise humdrum lectures and daily note-taking.

Having students create their own videos upgrades the internalization of ideas to a much more nuanced level. Inviting learners to produce their own content is the difference between input and output, content and skills, decoding and encoding, passivity and activity. 

Luckily, an array of user-friendly (and largely free) websites and apps has made it easy to incorporate video projects into any humanities or scientific classroom. For example, we’ve written before about how much we like Adobe Voice and Renderforest in giving students agency over their own learning.



Source: Magisto
One of our favorite (and effortless) apps for creating videos is Magisto. Intended as an automatic editor, Magisto’s algorithm self-selects the best parts of your video clips and images, and it splices them together into a stunning finished product. Even using only still photos, the app does a magnificent job of melding photographs into a powerful short film. Yes, there are free and paid options, but the free version offers a nice buffet of styles and songs to allow for customization. In addition, setting up student accounts is a breeze, with no concerns for firewalls or emails.

In our history classroom, we’ve used Magisto to particularly worthwhile effect in studying primary sources. For example, in our investigation of assimilation and the Dawes Act in the American West, our eighth-graders examined the photographs of Edward S. Curtis in his documentation of Native Americans. Among historians, Curtis owns a difficult legacy. On one hand, he was the only Easterner who committed years of his life to record and preserve the vanishing tribes of the continent’s First Peoples. On the other hand, he posed his subjects in deliberately disingenuous headdresses, choreographed untimely rituals, and removed contemporary technologies from the photographs he thought should speak only to yesteryear.

Whether “true” or not, Curtis’ choices invite valuable conversations about historiography and ethnography. In the end, all photographs involve making choices. They are, therefore, by nature artificial. Every kid who frames and retouches an Instagram snapshot knows this. All primary sources, in this mold, are less-than perfect, because they all emerge from the lens of their creator. But does that detract from their value as illuminating historical relics? Or put differently: the lesson here is for students of history to be rightfully skeptical, while still appreciating the value of evidence.

Using Magisto, our eighth-graders made videos with Curtis’ photos, using the following determinations:
  • Selection - which images would properly relate to their theme?
  • Sequence - what progression would make sense from start to finish?
  • Style - what editing suite would complement the intended mood?
  • Music - what instrumentation would add value to the theme?
  • Text - what title and summary would help teach others?
  • Tone - what overall feeling or motif would wed the images together?



The father of data visualization, Edward Tufte, likes to say that 1 + 1 = 3. He refers primarily to white space and spatial adjacency. But another corollary suggests that when combined, two visual elements create a third sense of meaning simply because of their union. The marriage of two parts establishes a separate sensibility via their juxtaposition. Nowhere is this more true than in producing videos. The images, text, editing, soundtrack, transitions, and effects all fuse together to give birth to a wholly original animal that is more than the sum of its parts.

When kids design their own films, they become the educators of their peers. They must stitch together a narrative and storyboard each moment in a process that combines logical reasoning, cause-and-effect, and content mastery. They also must employ their graphicacy skills to fashion compelling and appealing visual displays. On a most basic level, students also genuinely like making movies. It’s a low-cost, high-reward project that gets them excited to dive into primary sources and eager to engage with the material.

Thursday, April 28, 2016

The Worldwide Water Crisis - Animated Motion Graphics To Educate About The Earth

Source: Kasra Design

Students are always the first to want to care for Mother Earth. At our school’s Earth Day planting event on Friday, the kids asked why we didn’t do this more often — why we didn’t tend the gardens and grow vegetables and think about composting, recycling, and conservation on a more consistent basis.

The ensuing discussion led to questions about water. Each day seems to bring new headlines about the crisis in Flint or California, not to mention the global droughts that affect millions of people. Few people realize that only 2.5 percent of all the water on earth is fresh water. And two-thirds of that fresh water is locked in glaciers and ice caps, leaving only 1 percent to sustain the 7 billion inhabitants.

Source: Kasra Design

Think of the inordinate amount of water we use every day through drinking, cooking, bathing, cleaning, producing food, making products, and generating electricity. It takes 2400 liters of water just to make one hamburger.

A terrifically produced explainer video from Kasra Design, called "Precious Water - Animation Awareness," brings these startling facts to life through a kid-friendly cartoon. The motion graphic, seemingly made for the Iranian Butane Industrial Group, offers 10 ways each of us can make a difference in conservation. These kind of tips resonate with students, because they require little sacrifice but offer a big reward.

Precious Water - Awareness Animation from Kasra Design on Vimeo.

Aside from the obvious advice of not running water while brushing teeth or not letting toilet leaks last too long, there are some clever ideas. For example, if we reduce our shower times by just 60 seconds, we can save 570 liters of water a month.

Source: Matter

Another compelling motion graphic about the water crisis here in the United States is "Groundwater and the Drought: How the West Is Miscounting Water Supplies." Created by Jons Mellgren and Anna Mantzaris for "Killing The Colorado," a collaboration between ProPublica and Matter, this stop-motion video not only points out the facts behind our nation's water supply, but it also proposes genuine solutions at the governmental level. The design is appealing and cute for a wide range of young viewers, to get them excited early about working for lasting change.

Groundwater and the Drought: How the West Is Miscounting Water Supplies from Matter on Vimeo.

For other animated explainer videos to teach about STEM and the environment, check out:

Tuesday, April 19, 2016

Build It - Project-Based Learning In Full Bloom

Source: ASIDE 2016
The library makerspace was in full bloom this year, giving our students an amazing opportunity to learn by doing. They were encouraged to use a variety of applications to explore different ways to demonstrate their academic abilities as they related to curricula thematic units. The finished products were anything but projects; they combined informational, visual, and spatial literacies, and they actively pushed students to think critically and solve problems.

Source: ASIDE 2016
As with any project-based learning experience, it required collaboration. The nursery, Kindergarten, second-grade teachers, and librarians worked together to design an interactive, hands-on unit to engage students on multiple levels throughout the process. The following projects represent a symphony of parts, but most of all, they could not have culminated into this extraordinary learning experience for the students without an incredible group of dedicated friends and colleagues.

Source: ASIDE 2016
Teachers Elizabeth Wakhale and Lori Zwick described it this way: “The nursery children worked in the library makerspace with librarian, Stephanie Temple, to transform everyday materials into upcycled instruments. The inspiration came from the book entitled The Animal Boogie, by Debbie Harter, where they listened to the sounds of the rainforest. Tissue boxes became guitars, oatmeal containers became drums, paper towel rolls became rain sticks, and egg cartons became bell shakers. Their imaginations soared, and the sky was the limit.” The children will play their musical instruments in their outdoor celebration of Earth Day and the rainforest in the campus amphitheater at the end of the week.

Source: ASIDE 2016
The students in Kindergarten used engineering skills to create blue prints of world landmarks by deconstructing the shapes of buildings, finding the materials they needed to build them, and erecting the structures in three-dimensional forms. Geography was an integral part of the learning process. The students studied the continents and made map keys to mark where each of the landmarks was located.

The Kindergarteners learned about community helpers with their teachers Marybeth Horne and Jessica Shippos. This project was a way for them to see how community builders must have worked together to construct important cultural landmarks. “It was amazing to see how the students carefully deconstructed the different geometric shapes for their blueprints to figure out they materials they needed to build their own creations,” said librarian, Stephanie Temple.

Source: ASIDE 2016

Source: ASIDE 2016
The second graders became urban planners and architectural engineers to answer the question, “Where Do People Live?” They used a variety of visual tools such as sketchnotes and mapping to plan their physical urban, suburban, and rural communities. This involved visually transferring a two-dimensional map into a three-dimensional environment.

The second grade teachers, Stefani Rosenthal and Jessica Raffaele, had the students document the communities by taking photographs on their iPads. They imported the images into the Book Creator app in which they reflected in writing on the needs of a community and the type of community in which they would like to live. It was a perfect combination of “High Tech, High Touch.”

Source: ASIDE 2016
Our “Build It” after school program was also a big hit. The whimsical robots and imaginary landscapes captured the hearts and minds of everyone. It was an amazing experience for the students to see their handiwork on display. It was the school hot spot for the week, with lots of photo opportunities with their creations.

Most of all, nothing limited their creativity. When the exhibition opened, the students could not have been prouder, nor could we.

Saturday, April 9, 2016

The Classroom Sleeper – Are We Paying Attention?

Source: Michael Wesch
We’ve all had students in our classes over the years who sat in the back to put their heads down to sleep. This is not the student we’ve referred to as the “understudent,” who waits in the wings or quietly sits in the shadows of the room doing the required work. We’re not talking about the quiet ones, the introverts, or the “low verbals” either. The “sleeper” is different.

We recently showed a group of students preparing public service announcements one of our favorite videos called the "Vision of Students Today," produced in 2007 by Michael Wesch, for its effective way to deliver a powerful message. That’s when we discovered his recent animated video titled “The Sleeper.”



The message hit home. We’re positive that educators experienced the same frustration as the teacher in the animation, and perhaps even thought that the sleeper deliberately set out to annoy us. Some may have wondered if the student disengaged because of boredom, or questioned whether it was the material or their teaching style. For others, it’s personal and exasperating.


Source: Michael Wesch
Why are sleepers so unsettling?

Are they not paying attention, or are we?

How sensitive are we to students who disengage?


This becomes our challenge!

We should not be so quick to judge, or make assumptions about why they're tired. If we never stop to ask, we may never know the hidden talents that push students to stay up late to create something they are passionate about through sheer desire.

In an education system too focused on narrow pursuits, it misses the strengths, the interests, and the opportunities for not only the sleeper, but also for every other student as well.

Source: Michael Wesch
We need to stop and ask, make it personal, and tap curiosity. When we do, we just might find out something that surprises us.

Monday, April 4, 2016

Why Design Matters For Educators And Learners

Source: ASIDE 2016
We just finished attending the New York College Learning Skills Association (NYCLSA) Symposium in Saratoga. We met impressive educators who shared their expertise and resources, and we presented “Design Gives Context To Content To Engage Learners.” The following is an excerpt of why we feel so passionate about this topic.

The harmony between form and function not only applies to design, but it also relates to the synergy between educator and learner. It supports both. Good design of information guides the attention of our students, creating a relationship between context and content. It allows for engagement without distraction.

Design Matters, because it can:

  • Steer the eye of the viewer
  • Remove the noise and congestion
  • Separate ideas into succinct areas
  • Create a consistency across materials
  • Align information for clarity
  • Establish a hierarchy of content
  • Make information easier to navigate

Design plays an integral part in the skills of graphicacy, visual literacy, and visual thinking. If companies spend billions of dollars on advertising to grab our attention, it would make sense for educators to think about information design as well. With the growing industry of online learning, how we incorporate visual information makes a difference not only in the way a student engages with the content, but also how he or she comprehends the information over the long run.

Source: ASIDE 2016
Attention, comprehension, and retention, or “ARC,” are inextricably linked when the visual information is included in the overall design of content. It’s why people and kids remember commercial, jingles, logos, and brands. The connection increases engagement with the material, making it memorable. The more we incorporate these aspects into our teacher toolkit, as well as in the options that students have to deliver content, the deeper the link to the material.

Source: ASIDE 2016


Design can influence the perception of information, the visual communication, and the engagement with text. It enables learners to make associations, and it provides opportunities for greater understanding.

Saturday, April 2, 2016

Infographic Design Provides Students In Grades 2 – 4 Context For Content

Source: ASIDE 2016 - 2nd Grade Infographics
Since we began working with students to create infographics several years ago, we’ve witness tremendous growth in their ability to give context to their content. They’ve become accustomed to keeping font choices simple, careful about not typing in all caps for easier readability, and selective with color and images.

Source: ASIDE 2016 - 3rd Grade Infographics
They think about placement of text, simplify the information, and see the connections that each part plays in the overall design. It’s no longer a battle to compile the content and type the copy first, and then make it POP! There is no doubt in our minds that our continued integration of design as a method to transform information so that it can be easily understood at a glance is becoming second nature for our students. We spend less and less time instructing them to go back to rework problem areas.

Source: ASIDE 2016 - 4th Grade Infographics
Their mastery of the elements and principles of design show a natural progression with each advance in grade level. We’ve built a vocabulary of terms and expressions such as “1 + 1 = 3” that roll off their tongues as they help others around them. They understand that it’s not about the math, but the spatial adjacency of items that are side by side; they get that the middle counts. They love putting the infographic side-by-side with their research notes. The visual vs. linear comparison really hits home, and the sense of pride in their work is huge.

Source: ASIDE 2016 - 4th Grade Infographic

We firmly believe in the benefits of pushing the design of information within the curricula as a way of helping students internalize their research as well as create a context for it. With each year that we do this, the process becomes easier.

Monday, March 28, 2016

Good Interactive Design Taps Into Student Engagement

Source: Inequality Is
It goes without saying that in the world of our students today static doesn’t cut it. We get it, and we’ve abandoned many old PowerPoints, moved away from textbooks, and discarded our opus of worksheets. That’s why we are constantly on the prowl to find resources to help make learning participatory. When content is combined with good design, it provides a context for stronger understanding; when the design of information is interactive, it prompts students to engage with the material in a physical way.

Each of the interactive infographics below offer students active ways to connect with content. Each one is designed slightly differently, but they all hook users into wanting to know more.

Inequality Is

In this interactive infographic about income inequality, the audience is made to feel that the issue is “personal,” and it’s hard not to stay engaged when the user is told how much they will earn based on gender, age, education, and ethnicity. It also allows for custom comparisons that instantly adjust on the screen.  Check out the video under the “created” link, adjust income distribution under "real," or head over to “fixable” for some possible solutions to the issue. Inequality Is is an eye-opening way for students see the correlation between education and personal income.

Source: Inequality Is

Evolution Of Insight

This interactive infographic tells the story of market research using a timeline to navigate from 1890 to today. As participants travel through the decades, they learn how the growth of consumer research began from the early development of public opinion polls and focus groups to the age of big data today. It provides just enough useful bits of information for students to grasp the history of media and marketing. Evolution of Insight is a good resource for media literacy lessons, or in discussions on the ethical uses of gathering data.

Source: Evolution Of Insight

115 Years Of American Homes

This interactive is designed as if the user is taking a road trip looking at homes across the decades. In this case, the design is conducive to the timeline of travel, and with each new era the car transforms to adjust to the style of the decade. There are also interesting tidbits of information regarding fashion, home furnishing, and more as the user travels through time. Use this website in social studies classes to make historical comparisons between then and now, or perhaps even to predict what’s next.

Source: 115 Years Of American Homes

Designing content to be interactive elevates the participatory part of what modern learners want. The more active they are in the pursuit, the more likely the content will stick.

For other resources please visit The Benefits Of Good Design.
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