Thursday, September 22, 2016

How To Use The "Green Screen" Effect in WeVideo

Eighth grade classes are working on a project right now that is quickly becoming my all-time favorite project. I guess I say that a lot. Pretty much any time we do a new project...

We're using WeVideo to create, well, videos. The theme for this quarter is Digital Citizenship and Internet Safety. I told the students that most of the videos out there about this topic are fairly cheesy, or talk down to you, or just feel kind of fake, and I challenged them to make a video about this topic that was actually BETTER than what's out there.

So far, I am seriously impressed with what they're coming up with!

One of the most fun features of WeVideo (we have a paid account for our district) is the green screen, or color keying, option. And it's relatively simple to do! I made a quick screencast showing the steps of how to do this here:

...and yes, I know that my lime green hair gets keyed out in the final version. It amuses the students greatly.

I've been messing around and having big fun being chased by Godzilla and hanging out "in the club" via green screen. If you're interested in seeing the full project outline/introduction that I show my 8th graders, you can check out my other video here:

I went all Spike TV on this one, including REALLY bad use of middle school slang, like "epic" and "lit." The kind of adult use of slang that causes students to cringe and never use that word again. Ha ha - bonus! 

I am really loving WeVideo this year for movie production. I've used iMovie, Adobe Premiere, and Windows Movie Maker in the past... what video creation software, apps, or websites do you prefer to use?

-Mrs. L.

Wednesday, September 14, 2016

Harnessing the Power of Social Media for Elective Teachers

My husband and I are both teachers. We did a presentation at the IAEA (Illinois Art Education Association) conference in 2015 all about social media for art teachers. I revised our presentation for Fall 2016, with a focus on ANY elective area teacher, because I strongly believe that social media is a great way to:

  • Advocate for your program 
  • Stay connected to parents, students, and the community
  • Connect with fellow teachers in your subject area - discover your personal professional PLN!

I've embedded our (revised) presentation below:


In my opinion, one of the most important aspects of using social media as an educator is to consider your audience. Depending on what level you teach, you will have a different audience of parents vs students. Once you've determined who your audience is, choose your social media services accordingly. For example, my middle-schoolers are so "over" Facebook and Twitter... but they're pretty into Instagram and Snapchat. Ask yourself, "Is there a way to use these services to help enhance learning for my students?"

Of course, regardless of your student/parent audience make up, every level will also have an audience of fellow teachers to communicate with, too. I cannot put into words how important my "internet" colleagues are to me, and how grateful I am for all of the help and inspiration that I've gotten from them!

I am a firm believer of the "Think Big, Start Small" philosophy - if social media is new and scary and you don't know where to start, I always recommend Twitter as a launching point. Start there, and hopefully you can slowly build upon that later!

-Mrs. L

Friday, September 9, 2016

Awesome Avatars Using Google Draw!

My all-time favorite project in computer lit class is one that I call "Google Doodle Yourself" using Google Draw. You can use Google Draw to create your own illustrator-esque portraits, which are awesome for having students use as avatars. The best part is that this is actually quite simple to do! It doesn't need to be perfect in order to come out realistically. It's up to you how detailed you want to go with it.

I use this YouTube video in class to show students how it's done:

I love that you can take a picture right on the spot, but you can also upload existing photos, which lends itself to creating portraits of friends and family for gifts or other surprise things!

The trick to creating these images is the line drawing tool called "curve," which smoothes out any shapes that you make. It gives your shapes a cool cutout style for that all-around freehand-ish drawn look.

The only downside of Google Draw that I've discovered so far is that there isn't an iOS app for it. But I like to use it on Chrome (via Chromebook, Macbook, or PC laptop) using a mouse to help with the fine motor skills required if you wanna get the details looking good.

The other thing to keep in mind is that shapes work on layers, so it's important to work from largest shapes to smallest shapes when tracing, so that you can select the tiny shapes without the larger ones blocking access. Then, when filling in the shapes, you work backwards, smallest to biggest. If you mess up, no biggie, because there's an "Arrange --> Order" function that will allow you to move shapes forward or back as needed.

When you're all done, you can download your drawing as .pdf, .svg, .jpg, or .png - or you can just screen grab it, too! And from there, the possibilities are endless!

This is one of my favorite new computer tricks!

-Mrs. L.

Wednesday, September 7, 2016

Google Classroom: Fall 2016 Updates

In August, literally days before my classes with students were about to begin, Google Classroom unleashed an update. I decided to let some time pass so that I could work with this update before deciding how I feel about all of it. Now that some time has passed, I'd like to share a few points of consideration...

One of the great new updates is the ability to tag or categorize your assignments. I think it's helpful for teachers with year-long classes to divide up their lessons into units, chapters, or even activity types, such as a discussion question vs. a long-term project, or a group activity. I personally am using the tags to divide my lessons up into different topics, such as "Digital Citizenship" or "Google Apps for Education."

I do wish that there was an ability to add more than one tag to assignments, because sometimes there is an overlap of topics, and it would certainly make assignments easier to search for within the stream. Ease of search, and tagging/categorizing is kind of a trademark characteristic of Google products, so I'm a little surprised to see that that hasn't come into play just yet.

There are a few other things about the updates that aren't necessarily improvements, but changes to the way Google Classroom functions. One of the big changes that really freaked me out at first was that the join code for Google Classroom was no longer in the left hand side bar. I couldn't find it at first, and it took me a few minutes of searching and clicking around to discover that it is now located under the "students" tab. Discovering this change the morning of my first day of classes caused me a mini panic attack!

The other change that I noticed is that Google Classroom no longer gives you the ability to create an assignment for multiple classes in one step. Yes, you can create an assignment, and then reuse the assignment in another class, but in the past, you could create one assignment and simultaneously publish it to multiple classes. Since I teach two sections of the same class at each grade level, this was a really helpful feature for me. I guess I'm not sure why Google Classroom would remove a feature. Even if some teachers weren't using it, I don't know what the harm would be in retaining that functionality.

The other big update to Google Classroom this fall was the ability to have parents elect to receive email summaries and notifications. This is a feature that sounded really promising to me. The biggest hangup I'm having is that after I enable parent access, I seem to have to manually enter each parent email address individually?

What would really be optimal is the ability to give parents a join code like the students have, or a link where parents could sign up if desired. Because I'm a teacher that only teaches six-week long classes, it's not really worth the effort for me to enter parent emails. I would have to re-enter a whole new slew of parent emails every month and half!

I can see this new parent access feature being very helpful for a semester-long, year-long, or an elementary classroom teacher, because they only have to do the work one time. For me, it would just be an endless cycle of work, so I'm going to hold off until Google enables a better way for parents to sign up. That makes me kind of sad because I really like the idea.

I did, however, sign up for parent email notifications under my own "student" account, just to see how it worked. I have a student account so that I can test out Google Classroom (and assignments in general) from the student view, which, - side note - would actually be a really good feature for Google Classroom to have for teachers. I'd love to be able to toggle a tab or a switch and change the view from "teacher view" to "student view." The only way I found a workaround for that is to actually create my own student account.

I signed up as the parent (using my personal email) for my "student" account so that I would get the email summaries, to see what they look like and how they function. I was pleasantly surprised when I got my parent summary email this week and saw that it lists assignments that are posted even if they don't have a due date. I was very worried that the email summaries would only give alerts if there was an assignment coming due.

My assignments in Google Classroom typically have no due date because my turn-in times are kind of flexible - even if a student turns in the work on the last of class, I will still accept the work. Since my entire class is only a month and half long, I have to prioritize whether or not I want worry about keeping track of and taking points off for lateness, or if I would rather just rather have the work in the end. I'd rather just have the work!

So, I was happy to see that my parent email summary listed assignments that were newly posted in classroom for that week. As a teacher, this is something that I definitely would want to show up! I also liked that Google Classroom showed a summary for all of the classes that the student was enrolled in, which in my case, was all six of my computer classes.

The possible advantage/potential here is that if parents signed up for alerts in another class, their email would already be entered into the "system" and I wouldn't need to enter them - parents could just elect to get updates from my class, too. Therefore, if parents were signed up/enrolled school-wide to Google Classroom alerts, I wouldn't have to enter any parent emails at all! My school hasn't really adopted Google Classroom as a whole just yet, but if this happens in the future, this would be really nice.

... but in the end, this kind of puts me back at square one, which is a waiting game: either having Google create a join code/link for parents to use to sign up, or waiting until a majority of my building has adopted Google Classroom and parents are enrolled school-wide.

I do wish that Google seemed just a little bit more receptive to requests or suggestions. Here is my ultimate wish list of Google Classroom features at present:
  • The ability to tag assignments with multiple topics/tags, for easier searching and sorting, kind of like Gmail labels. 
  • The ability for parents to sign up for email summaries via a join code or link, rather than the teacher having to enter each parent email. 
  • Bring back the ability to publish an assignment to multiple classes at once. 
  • The ability to switch between "teacher" and "student" views in Google Classroom. If I'm projecting my machine up on a screen for the class to see, my view differs from what they see unless I'm logged into a student account. 
  • The ability to customize the left hand side bar - particularly, I would like the ability to post links to some outside sources, like PowerSchool, so that students could check their grades, or a link to the school website. 
  • The ability to customize your class colors, because although you can put your own image as a header at the top of your class, Google Classroom chooses the "main" color scheme for you. Being able to self-select the color scheme would allow me to better organize my classes visually. For example, my two sixth-grade classes might be purple, my two eighth-grade classes could be green, and my two seventh-grade classes could be blue. I find that having things organized visually helps me to be more productive.

Wouldn't color coding make this so much nicer? Maybe it's just the art teacher in me, but...

All in all, I am very happy with Google Classroom overall. I like Google classroom as my main hub for information and assignments. I will continue to use Google Classroom, regardless of whether or not all of these new features are 100% viable for me personally.

-Mrs L.

Tuesday, September 6, 2016

Digital Citizenship Similes: An Unplugged Activity

I like to use lessons from Common Sense Media's library of lessons when I teach internet safety and digital citizenship because I find them to be pretty relevant and engaging for students at the middle school level. One of the lessons I'm using this year is called Digital Life 101. One of the activities I've modified from this lesson for my classroom is the simile activity where students finish the sentence, "My digital media life is like…"

We do this activity using our wipe-off tabletops, which I talked about earlier this year in a blog post. The kids really enjoyed getting to write on the tables which isn't something that you normally get to do in school! I even let students draw little symbols or pictures to go along with their response if they wanted. 

If time allows, I will have students share out their answers with the class and discuss the meaning behind their simile. In this particular case last week, we had run out of class time, so I told students to leave the writing on the table as an exit slip activity for the class. After the students left, I walked around and photographed each students answer. I then turned the responses into a photo collage, which you see below. 

I thought it was kind of fun to share out what the students had to say about a typical middle schooler's digital media life:

  1. "...the skin on your elbow. It's funny to yank on, but it hurts after a while."
  2. " to play with."
  3. "...a unicorn because I don't like to go on it so it vanishes."
  4. "...a pet hamster. Sometimes it's fun but sometimes it's boring."
  5. "...a unicorn because it doesn't exist."
  6. " food. Everyone loves it, everyone needs it."
  7. "...monkey, it goes all over the place."
  8. "...a big, fluffy, teddy bear, happy!"
  9. "...a pack of fun."
  10. "...a box of chocolate, you never know what you're going to get."
  11. "...golem. No one likes it and it's lonely."
  12. "...a piece of cheese I love it."
  13. "...nothing because I have a flip phone and I don't have anything."
  14. "...a fantasy."
  15. "...a dinosaur."
  16. "...New York, it never sleeps."
  17. "...a lion because it's unpredictable."
  18. "...rain. Sometimes I use it, sometimes I don't."
  19. "...a rainbow b/c it's magical."
  20. ", because it's fun on social media."
  21. "...another life."
It's nice to have what I call an "unplugged" activity every once in a while. Although we are in computer class, and therefore use our computers a good 90% of the time (if not, more...), it is nice to take breaks and switch it up a little sometimes.

Bonus? If your network/internet/power (!!!) goes out, you can still do this activity!

-Mrs. L.

Friday, September 2, 2016

What, Exactly, Is Technology Integration Anyway?

Occasionally I'm tasked with projects that I put a lot of effort into for only a very small audience. Take grad class, for example. I spend a whole lot of time writing a paper or creating a presentation that gets seen by only a small number of people only one time. 

So I've decided to start sharing my efforts out on the blog to a wider audience. Here's one example: a short 5-minute presentation on technology integration. In this presentation, I aim to answer the following questions: what is technology integration, why is it important, and how can we use technology with students to enhance communication skills? 

Sometimes when I make presentations like these, I feel like I'm "preaching to the choir," but I am always surprised to encounter teachers who aren't automatically super jazzed by tech the way that I am. This presentation is for them. Feel free to use this for your own purposes, as long as you credit back to me, please. 

- Mrs. L.