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Thursday, June 23, 2016

Beware of the Copycat Trap!

On Tuesday afternoon in Dickson, Tennessee I delivered a new version of my popular talk Ten Common Challenges Facing Educators (learn how to bring me to your conference). In my new version of the talk I include the warning to "beware of the copycat trap."

The "copycat trap" refers to the scenario in which you find a neat lesson plan or other classroom activity on Pinterest, on Twitter, on a Facebook page, on a blog, or even Teachers Pay Teachers and think that it will automatically work well for your students if you simply copy the same steps that someone else used.

I first started to become aware of this trap after I published Life on Minimum Wage in a blog post many years ago. That was an activity that I created specifically for my students, but shared as a model that other teachers could use if they modified it to meet the needs of their students. There were some items in the activity that were specific to the students I had in my classroom that year. Shortly after publishing Life on Minimum Wage and for years since I have received emails from people who tried it and said that their students didn't get engaged in the activity. That's understandable if you used the activity exactly as I used it because my students live in rural communities so their frame of reference for many things and their favorite hobbies are, in many cases, quite different from those of kids in cities and suburbs.

The Internet is a great place to find lesson plan ideas and other resources to use in your classroom. Just beware of the copycat trap when you go to implement those ideas yourself.

My copycat trap idea is partially influenced by reading Paulo Blikstein's Digital Fabrication and ‘Making’ in Education:The Democratization of Invention in which he discusses the pitfalls of the "keychain syndrome" in maker spaces. 

My Three Favorite Video Creation iPad Apps for Elementary School

Over the last month I have spoken at conferences all over the United States. Creating videos with students is was the topic of one of my most popular break-out sessions during that time. In that session I try to offer resources and ideas for teachers of all grade levels. I also try to provide resources that work on iPads, Android devices, on Chromebooks, and on Mac & Windows computers. The following are three of my favorite apps for elementary school students to use to create content on their iPads.

ChatterPix Kids is a free iPad app that students can use to turn pictures into talking pictures. To create a talking picture just snap a picture with your iPad or import a picture from your iPad’s camera roll. After taking the picture just draw in a face and tap the record button to make your picture talk. Your recording can be up to thirty seconds in length. Before publishing your talking picture you can add fun stickers, text, and frames to your picture. Finished Chatter Pix projects are saved to your camera roll and from there you can export it to a number of services including YouTube. ChatterPix Kids doesn’t require students to create an account in order to use the service. Using the app can be a great way to get students to bring simple stories to life. Check out the video below that was made, in part, by using ChatterPix.




Tellagami is a free iPad that elementary school students enjoy using to create narrated animations. Tellagami allows your students to create customized animated scenes in a matter of minutes. To create a narrated, animated scene students simply open Tellagami and tap "create." After opening the create menu students will see a default character and background scene. The characters can be altered by selecting from a big menu of customization options. The background scenes can be changed by selecting from a menu or by inserting a picture from the iPad's camera roll. To add their voices to their animations students simply tap "record" and start talking. Completed animations are stored on the camera rolls of your students' iPads. Tellagami does not require students to create accounts or have an email address.

Shadow Puppet Edu is a free iPad app that students can use to create audio slideshow videos. The app offers an integrated search tool that students can use to find pictures from the Library of Congress, to search for images from NASA, and to find Creative Commons licensed images from Flickr. Students can also import pictures from the camera roll on their iPads. After selecting a set of images students can arrange them into any sequence by simply dragging and dropping them into order. Then to create a story students press the record button and talk while flipping through the images. Shadow Puppet Edu allows students to add text and stickers to each image too. When they're happy with their work students can share their Shadow Puppet Edu projects through a variety of methods including YouTube and email. Shadow Puppet Edu projects are automatically saved to the camera roll on a student's iPad. Students do not have to register for an account or have an email address to use Shadow Puppet Edu.

Khan Academy Announces a Talent Search

Do you enjoy making instructional videos for your students or the general public? Can you break complex topics into small, digestible chunks for others to understand? If so, you may be interested in entering the Khan Academy Talent Search contest. The contest runs now through August 1, 2016. Ten finalists will be chosen from all of the entries. Each of those finalists will win $300. The overall winner will receive $3000. All finalists will be considered for a contract to produce content for Khan Academy. Learn more about the Khan Academy Talent Search here or watch the video below.


Should you need ideas for an instructional video, check out the suggested topics list on Khan Academy.