Friday, March 6, 2020

Ugh! It's Time to Spring Forward - Here's Why We Do It

As I Tweeted earlier today, it's a deflating feeling when you realize that you have to move your clocks forward this weekend. That's especially true of you're the parent of toddlers who have been on a sleep strike for a few weeks.

If you or your students are wondering why we (most of us in North America) have to change our clocks this weekend, here are few short explanations.





Even though it is not about daylight saving time, this TED-Ed lesson about the standardization of timezones is worth watching.

Sweet Lessons on the Making of Maple Syrup

This week we had a couple of relatively warm days here in Maine. In fact it was so warm (40F) that I rode my bike outside on Thursday. It was on that ride that I noticed sap buckets and hoses on some maple trees. That reminded me of some videos about making maple syrup that I shared last year and prompted me to look for some new ones too.

Ever Wonder How Maple Syrup is Made? is a new video from Highlights. The succinct video shows a mix of the old way of using buckets to collect sap and the modern method of using hoses.



My friend Gardner Waldeier AKA Bus Huxley on YouTube collects maple sap to make maple syrup. He does it the old fashioned way and he made a video about the process. Gardner's video shows viewers how he collects maple sap and turns it into maple syrup. In the video he explains why maple sap is collected at this time of year, how much sap he'll collect from a large tree, and just how much sap it takes to make a gallon of maple syrup. You also get a nice tour of Gardner's woodlot.



Maple Syrup the Modern Way is a three minute video about the process commercial producers use to make syrup.

How to Schedule, Host, and Customize Google Hangouts Meet Events

Last night I published Tips and Tools for Teaching Remotely. This morning I had an email from someone who read that and wanted to know if I had any tutorials on using Google Hangouts Meet. I didn't so I quickly made the following set of screenshots before my own class starts today. I'll try to make a video of this process later today, but for now these screenshots should get you started.



Step 1: Create a new event in Google Calendar. 

Step 2: Enable Hangouts Meet in your Google Calendar event. 

Step 3: Share the details for joining your Hangouts Meet event. Hangouts Meet should give you a link as well as a pin code for those who want to dial into your meeting. An easy way to do this is to post the link in Google Classroom.

Step 4: At the scheduled time go to meet.google.com and launch your meeting. 

You can share your meeting details with anyone even after the meeting has started. 


Step 5: Make sure your camera and microphone are working. 

Step 6: Enable captions for your meeting. You'll find this option by clicking on the little menu that appears in the upper, right corner of your webcam screen. 

Step 7: Customize the layout for your meeting or let Google automatically adjust it as people join. 

Step 8: Click "Present" to share your screen. 




Step 9: Click the red hang-up button to end the meeting. 


Thursday, March 5, 2020

Tips and Tools for Teaching Remotely

Over the last week I've received a bunch of emails and Tweets from people looking for my suggestions on tools and tactics for teaching online if schools are closed due to COVID-19. I'm going to start this post with some tips for giving online instruction then get into some recommended tools.

Tips for Giving Live Online Instruction
  • If you're going to use a service like Google Hangouts Meet, Microsoft Teams, Zoom, or another service to give live instruction, keep your webcam on as much as possible. Yes, you're students can still walk away from their computers while you're teaching, but they are less likely to get bored if they can at least see your face as opposed to just your screen.

  • Elevate your webcam to eye level or higher. No one, and especially not K-12 students, want to be looking up your nose for half an hour. On a related note look at your webcam instead of your screen when you're trying to emphasize a point. Tony Vincent provided a good example of how to do those things during his presentation for the Practical Ed Tech Creativity Conference.

  • Pepper your live online lessons with lots of little check-in questions for the group. In an online setting you don't get the benefit of "reading the room" the way that you do when your class meets in person. Your check-in questions could be as simple as "who's still with me?" or they might be a little more difficult like "what's the answer to that last problem?"

  • Encourage students to ask questions. You might even say something like, "at the ten minute mark I'm going to pause to give everyone a chance to enter a question into the chat."

  • Expect technical difficulties in live sessions. 90% of the time the technical difficulty is on the viewer's end and not on your end. If you can, set up two computers or work with a colleague to experience the students' perspective before you go live with your class. Seeing the students' perspective will make it a little easier to provide some troubleshooting tips on the fly.

  • If you live in a rural area like me and you don't have the fastest Internet connection, make sure other people in your house aren't streaming at the same time you're trying to broadcast live video. 

Tips for Giving Recorded Video Instruction
  • Just like with live instruction, try to out your face in the video. Tools like Screencastify and Screencast-o-matic let you record while keeping your webcam on. Your face will appear in the video in a small box in one of the corners of your video.

  • Strive for short and sweet. Two five minute videos are more likely to be watched all the way through by your students than one ten minute video is. The exception is if you're really comfortable on camera and really good at engaging people through video.

  • Keep the screen active. An easy way to create a video lesson is to record a screencast of your slides. That's also an easy way to bore the heck out of your students if you don't keep the screen active (I learned that lesson the hard way about 12 years ago). Add in more transitions and animations than you normally use in your slides. Or if that seems like too much work then try the approach of my friend Tom Richey. Tom splits the screen between him and his slides so that something is always happening on the screen. Here's one of Tom's recent videos

Tools for Hosting Live Online Instruction
  • In response to the spread of COVID-19 Google has increased the capabilities of Hangouts Meet for G Suite for Education users. You can now host up to 250 people in a Hangout. You can also now record your Hangout and save it to Google Drive where you can then share it through Google Classroom.

  • Microsoft has also responded to the spread of COVID-19 and its impact on schools and businesses by increasing the availability of Microsoft Teams. Earlier today Microsoft hosted a series of webinars about teaching online through Teams. The recordings of those webinars can be watched here.

  • If Google Hangouts Meet or Microsoft Teams aren't available to you, you might consider using Zoom. Zoom offers a free plan in which you can host a live broadcast for up to 100 people at a time. Zoom will record the meeting and you can save it on your computer to distribute to your students who missed the live meeting. 

Tools for Creating Recorded Video Lessons
  • Perhaps the simplest way to record a video lesson is to put your phone in tripod and record yourself in front of a whiteboard. I bought this 2'x3' whiteboard at my local Walmart for less than $20. When you finish recording your video, use the YouTube mobile app to do quick edits like trimming the start and end time then publish it for your students to watch.

  • If you have a YouTube account, you can conduct a live broadcast that will also be recorded and saved in your account for playback. Watch this video to see how that process works. It's important to note that your account must have been verified for 24 hours before you can go live on YouTube. Here's a demo of a livestream that I did a couple of years ago.

  • Showme is a tool that I've recommended for years for making whiteboard-style videos on iPads. It's also available to use on Android tablets and Chromebooks (some, not all).

  • Flipgrid added a whiteboard function last fall. You can now record a whiteboard style instructional video for up to five minutes then publish it for your students to watch and respond to. Watch this video to see how the whiteboard function works. And if you want to go "old school" with Flipgrid, here's an idea for teaching lessons through it.

  • Wakelet has integrated the Flipgrid video tool. That means you can record a whiteboard video within Wakelet. Here's a demo of how to do that. 
  • If you're a Mac or iPad user, now is the time to familiarize yourself with the basics of making videos in iMovie. There are lots of quality tutorials available on YouTube including these.

  • Chromebook and Windows users looking for a full-fledged video editor should look at WeVideo. WeVideo has a good set of tutorial videos here.

  • Finally, EDpuzzle provides a great way to create comprehension questions for your students to answer while watching the video lessons that you create. Here's my overview of how to use EDpuzzle. 

Unscreen - Remove and Replace Video Backgrounds With Just a Click

In the last few months I've shared a some good tools for quickly removing the background from images. I even made a video about how to use Canva to remove and replace the background in your images. But until this morning when I read this Tweet from Greg Kulowiec I didn't know of any tools to do the same with video without launching into a fully featured video editor like WeVideo or iMovie. Greg's Tweet mentioned using Unscreen to remove the background from videos.

Unscreen is a free tool that you can use to remove the background from any video clip that you have stored on your computer. Simply upload your video and Unscreen will remove the background. Once the background is removed you can replace it with a stock image from Unscreen or with an image that you upload from your computer. The catch is that Unscreen will only give you a GIF or PNG from your video and its replaced background. That's how I ended up with the image featured in this blog post.

Applications for Education
Just like when using Canva or Remove.bg to strip the background from an image, Unscreen could be a good option for students to use to remove the background from videos then virtually place themselves in front of landmarks. The GIFs that result from that process could then be placed into a slideshow or audio-slideshow video about a series of landmarks.