Wednesday, June 27, 2012

Animated Video - What is a Flame?

I'm on a bit of an animated explanatory video kick this evening. This marks the third mention of an animated video in a post today. What is a Flame? recently won The Flame Challenge hosted by Stony Brook University. The challenge required entrants to explain to 11 year olds what a flame is. The 11 year old students choose their favorite explanation and What is a Flame? won.

What is a Flame? explains what causes flames and why flames have colors. There's even a catchy tune at the end that should help some students recall information about flames. It's one of those catchy tunes that you might remember at random moments ten years from now.

What is a Flame from Ben Ames on Vimeo.

H/T to Open Culture

Virtually Cycle the Tour de France

The Tour de France kicks-off on Saturday. This year you and your students can virtually cycle along with the world's best cyclists. Cycling the Alps which I reviewed in May has developed maps for all twenty stages of the tour. You can zoom in on the course, see the elevation profiles of the stages, and navigate through the stages.

Applications for Education
The navigation is a little rough but virtually cycling The Tour de France could be a fun way for students to explore the geography of the course. Start here with stage one. 

H/T to Google Maps Mania

PowToon Looks Like a Great Tool for Creating Explanatory Videos

PowToon is a new service for creating explanatory videos through what appears to be a simple drag and drop process. PowToon provides drawings of people and objects that you can arrange on blank canvas. After adding your narration to the arrangement you can publish your video.

I used the phrase "what appears to be" in the preceding paragraph because PowToon is still in beta. I discovered it through this great TechCrunch post yesterday. After reading the post and watching the introductory video, I immediately registered for a beta invite and I am now anxiously waiting to getting in on the beta. Learn more about PowToon in the explanatory video below.

Applications for Education
Once I get my hands on a beta invite (and to be honest, I'm hoping writing this post will prompt PowToon's creators to send one to me sooner than later) I'll know for sure, but so far it looks like PowToon could be a great tool for students to use to create video explanations. By removing the requirement of creating drawings, PowToon allows creators to focus on telling a story as best as they can.

What Are Cookies? And What Do They Do?

Image Credit: 
No, this is not about those delicious-looking cookies to the left. This is about the kind of cookies that are captured when you browse the web. Last year I shared an Explania video that illustrated and explained browser cookies. Yesterday, Common Craft released an explanation of their own. Watch both videos and I think you'll have a pretty good understanding of what cookies are and what they do. I do wish that both videos added a little more information about why and how websites and ad networks in particular use cookies.

Use Instagram Images in Animoto Videos

This afternoon I gave a brief demonstration of Animoto to a wonderful group of educators in an Ed Tech Teacher workshop. It was the first time that I had used Animoto in about a month or so. When I went to add images to my video, I noticed the new option to import images from your Instagram collection. While I don't have enough pictures in my Instagram account to make it worth while, this could be a fantastic feature for some people.

Applications for Education
Animoto has long been one of my favorite tools for to show to educators and or students who have never made a video before. It's easy to get them started and quickly producing nice-looking videos. One of the things that I always stress when I show Animoto to educators is that they need to guard against getting sucked into the visual effects and look for content and process. By that I mean we need to have conversations with students about storyboarding, the symbolism and power of imagery, and the power of sound tracks to influence how we feel about what we see.

12 Tools for Quickly Gathering Informal Feedback from Students

This morning I'm again facilitating a workshop with Greg Kulowiec. At the start of the session we introduced three tools for quickly gathering informal feedback from students. The three that we introduced were Socrative, Poll Everywhere, and TodaysMeet. But there are many other tools for quickly gathering informal feedback from students. Here are twelve tools that you can use to quickly gather informal feedback from students.

Urtak is a free and simple polling service that can be used on any blog or website. The polls you create can have multiple questions, but they must be "yes or no" questions. But Urtak isn't that limited because visitors to your poll also have the option of writing in their own questions. You can get started using Urtak in seconds by registering with your Twitter or Facebook account. You can also use your email address to create an account with UrtakUrtak polls can be embedded into your blog or you can direct people to your poll by sharing the unique url Urtak assigns to your poll.

Kwiqpoll is a simple tool for quickly creating and posting polls. To create a poll with Kwiqpoll just visit the site, type a question, type your answer choices, and go. Your poll can stay online for three or seven days. Kwiqpoll assigns a unique url to each of your polls. Give that url to the audience that you want to participate in your poll. is a service for quickly creating and hosting online collaboration spaces. On you can create your own space, quiet appropriately called Halls, in which you and your teammates chat, take notes, and manage to-do lists together. In your Hall you can also post polls and surveys to gather feedback from your group.

Understoodit is a new web app for quickly gauging your students' understanding of information that you have shared with them. I saw it in action for the first time last week when my Ed Tech Teacher colleague Greg Kulowiec used it during a workshop we taught. Understoodit is quite simple. Just open your account (it's still in beta by invitation only) and open the simple poll of "understand" or "confused." Students can vote using any internet-connected device. Students can vote whenever you have the poll open. They can vote multiple times too. So if they are confused at the beginning of class, but understand ten minutes later they can change their votes.

Simple Meet Me is a free service for quickly creating an online chat room with anyone you like. To use the service just go to SimpleMeet.Me and click on the link below the chat code. That code appearing when you visit is the code you can give to anyone you want to join your chat. Anyone joining your chat just needs to enter that code to join you. Registration on is not required.

Socrative is a system that uses cell phones and or laptops (user's choice) for gathering feedback from students. You can post as many questions as you like in a variety of formats. One of the more "fun" question formats is the "race" format in which students can work individually or in teams to answer questions as quickly as possible.

Poll Everywhere is a service that allows you to collect responses from an audience via text messaging or web input from a computer. The free plan for K-12 educators provides selection of features and quantity of responses that is adequate for almost any classroom. One of the neat ways to display feedback gathered through Poll Everywhere is in word clouds. The word cloud feature integrates with WordleTagxedo, and Tagul.

Mentimeter allows you to pose a question to your audience and get instant feedback on that question through cell phones, tablets, and any other Internet-connected device. Mentimeter doesn't have has many features as Socrative or Poll Everywhere, but it is free and very easy to use. In the video below I provide a two minute demonstration of Mentimeter.

TodaysMeet is a free chat service that can be used for holding a back-channel discussion with students and colleagues. If you're not sure what a back-channel chat with students would look like, I encourage you to read Silvia Tolisano's post about using back-channels with elementary school students. Silvia's blog is where I first learned about TodaysMeet three years ago. TodaysMeet is completely free to use. Setting up a chat area in TodaysMeet is very simple. To set up your chat area just select a name for your room (that name becomes the url for your chat area), how long you want your room to exist, and select an optional Twitter hashtag for your chat area. To invite people to your chat area send them the url.

Chatzy is a neat little website that provides a free platform for hosting your private chat area. To use it, simply name your chat area, select your privacy settings (you can password protect it), then send out invitations. Instead of sending out invitations you could just post the link to your chat area.

Pollmo is a free service offering an easy way to create and post simple polls online. Getting started with Pollmo is easy. Just head to their site, type your question, type your response choices, and select a color theme for your poll. Then just copy the embed code provided to place your poll on your blog or website. Don't have a blog or website? Then just direct people to the url assigned to your Pollmo poll. is an open-source backchannel tool developed at the MIT Media Lab. Using you can create an online forum through which users can exchange messages in response to a presentation they're watching. There are a lot of free services that do the same thing, but there are a couple of things that make different. allows you to select a start and end time for your backchannel. As the administrator of a account you can create and manage multiple backchannels and schedule them to go live at different times. also includes voting tools that participants can use to vote messages up or down.