Friday, October 30, 2020

Learn About Exploration and Compasses by Making Your Own

Today, many of us just use an app on our smart phones when we need to get directions and navigate from point A to point B. Most of our students have never experienced getting directions in any other way. So they may be surprised to learn that we used to use maps and compasses to find our way from point A to point B. How compasses work and how you can make your own is the topic of a SciShow Kids episode released earlier this week

Make Your Own Compass explains to kids what a compass is, how it works, and how they can make their own with common household products. 

Applications for Education
Making a compass could be a great little project for kids to do at home with their parents. After making the compass students and parents can test it out with a backyard or neighborhood "expedition."

Building a compass could also be a fun project to incorporate into an in-class lesson about explorers and explorations like those of early polar explorers Amundsen and Peary. 

How to Create QR Codes to Share Google Forms

Back in September I wrote about and made a video about how I'm using Google Forms as a sign-in/sign-out sheet for my classroom. Some of my colleagues are doing the same thing. One of my colleagues, Erin, had the good idea to create QRs code for the forms that students use the most and post them on the classroom wall. That way students students don't have to filter through Google Classroom to find the sign-out form or lunch form when they need it. Of course, this only helps if your students are allowed to use their mobile phones in school as mine are. 

There are a lot of free tools for making QR codes. Some have more features than others but they all do essentially the same things. The tool that I use for making QR codes is QRCode Monkey. QRCode Monkey lets you adjust the resolution of your QR codes before downloading and printing them. QR Code Monkey also lets you change the QR code's color and shape. In the following short video I demonstrate how to use QRCode Monkey to create a QR code for a Google Form. 

Thursday, October 29, 2020

Witeboard - A Simple Online Whiteboard

Last week a reader named Donna sent me an email asking me what I knew about Witeboard. It was a new tool for me so I gave it a try. 

Witeboard is a collaborative online whiteboard. To use it just head to the site and start drawing. Witeboard has some basic drawing tools and text tools. To share your Witeboard whiteboard all you have to do is give someone the URL that's assigned to it and they can start drawing on it. 

It is possible to create an account on Witeboard but you don't need to create one. The benefit of creating an account is that you can save your work and access it from multiple devices. 

In the following video I demonstrate how to use Witeboard. 

Applications for Education
There are a lot of whiteboard tools on the market today. I use Google's Jamboard almost daily in my classroom. If Jamboard's not your jam, Witeboard is a nice alternative to try. 

Like all collaborative whiteboard tools, Witeboard could be handy to use when you need to sketch a concept for students during a virtual meeting (I made one today to explain port forwarding). It's also a handy tool for students to use to show you their sketches of a concept. 

Five Screencasting Tools Compared and Ranked - Fall 2020

The launch of Vimeo Record earlier this week made me think that perhaps it was time to write a comparison of popular screencasting / screen recording tools. For this comparison I selected the five options that pop into my head whenever I'm asked about screencasting (which has been almost daily since March). With the exception of Flipgrid all of the tools in this comparison have free and paid options. This comparison only addresses the features that are available to educators for free. If you'd like to see the comparisons in a chart format, I have embedded a chart at the end of this post (if you're reading this in email or RSS you'll need to click through to the website to see the chart). 

Common Features for All Five Tools
All of these tools allow you to download your videos as MP4 files which you can then upload to YouTube, Google Drive, OneDrive, or any other video file hosting service of your choice.

All of these tools allow you to record your screen and your webcam although Flipgrid doesn't allow that to happen simultaneously (more on that below). 

My Rankings

1. Screencastify 
In the interest of disclosing my bias, I kind of didn't want to put Screencastify at the top because I'm still a little sour about getting rejected for a job with them. But after comparing of all these options objectively, Screencastify came out on top. 

Screencastify has the most integrated sharing options of the five tools in this comparison. The ease of integration with Google Classroom and EDpuzzle is particularly nice. What pushes it to the top are the drawing tools and editing tools that are available for free. There are some convenient tools for drawing on your screen while recording. That function is great for emphasizing a particular item on your screen or creating a whiteboard video with Jamboard. In the free version of Screencastify's editor you can overlay text on your video. That function is, again, great for emphasizing or clarifying what students are seeing. 

2. Loom
Loom offers a very generous package of features to verified teachers through their Loom for Education program. Those features include recording for up to 45 minutes per video, unlimited storage, viewing insights, and password protection of your videos. Loom also has a fantastic Gmail add-on that lets you record and send screencasts right from your inbox. If Loom had just a couple more editing tools (the ability to draw on screen would be great as would overlaying text) I'd put it ahead of Screencastify. 

3. Flipgrid/ Flipgrid Shorts
I have to clarify that for this comparison I only focused on the screen recording element of Flipgrid. Flipgrid has many other wonderful features that aren't directly related to screen recording. If you want to know more about Flipgrid's other uses, take a look at this playlist of videos

The nice thing about Flipgrid's screencasting tool is that you have access to it whenever you launch the Flipgrid recorder for any other video that you might make. You can also combine a screencast with a simple webcam video or whiteboard video that you make in Flipgrid. The downsides to Flipgrid's screencasting tool are that you can't use the drawing tools while recording your screen, there isn't a cursor highlighter, and you can't capture your webcam at the same time as your screen. 

4. Screencast-o-matic
I use the paid version of Screencast-o-matic for nearly all of the videos that appear on my YouTube channel (an overview of the paid version is available here). The free version, however, doesn't measure up that well against the free offerings of Screencastify, Loom, and Flipgrid. 

The recording length limit on Screencast-o-matic's free plan is a generous fifteen minutes. And the cursor highlighting is fantastic. The ability to reposition the webcam cutout is also handy.

The shortcomings of Screencast-o-matic's free plan are found in the sharing and editing options. While you can download your video as an MP4, the only integrated sharing options are YouTube and Screencast-o-matic's hosting service. The post-recording editing options are also limited to just trimming your recording. 

5. Vimeo Record
This one only made the list because it was fresh in my mind after its launch earlier this week. It's so new that it might not be fair to even try to compare it to the well-established tools on this list. Vimeo Record doesn't have any editing tools, drawing tools, or integrated sharing options other than hosting on Vimeo itself. But at least you can download your videos as MP4 files. 

Wednesday, October 28, 2020

Three Ideas for Stop Motion Video Projects to Make With Cloud Stop Motion

Last month I published a video about how to use Cloud Stop Motion to make a stop motion video. Stop motion provides a good way to make simple animations and time lapse videos. Here are three ideas, including one from a current student of mine, for stop motion video projects for students. 

Showing Network Activity

This idea came from one of my students. They had an assignment last week in which I asked them to create short videos to explain a variety of concepts that we covered in the first two months of the school year. I let them decide the format for their videos. Some made screencasts, some acted out concepts, some did voiceovers on slides, and one student made an animation to explain how data travels through small wireless LAN. The animation was essentially a stop motion video of the movement of packets of data. 

Time Lapse of Making Cake (or anything else that's time-consuming)

This idea was inspired by a conversation with one of the culinary arts teachers at my school. Anyone who has baked and decorated a cake knows that it doesn't happen quickly. But you can show the process quickly through the use of stop motion. To do that just take pictures during the process then put them into order in Cloud Stop Motion and play it back at the speed you like.

Illustrate Concepts That are Hard to See

Pick a concept in biology, physics, or chemistry that is hard to see with the naked eye and then make a stop motion video to illustrate it. It might be an concept that's hard to see because it happens so quickly or it might be a concept that's hard to see because it's so small. A classic example of this is a golf ball bouncing off a cement floor. You can't see the ball compress with your naked eye. Using stop motion is a good way to illustrate how a ball compresses and bounces. 

Disclosure: Cloud Stop Motion is an advertiser on