Wednesday, October 26, 2022

Five More Things Students Can Explain With Simple Animations

Last week I shared five suggestions for things that students can explain with simple animations. This week I have five more ideas to share with you. But first I'd like to remind you that creating simple animations to illustrate understanding of concepts can be done by just about anyone in just about any context. That’s kind of the idea behind Dan Roam’s book The Back of the Napkin and it’s the idea behind my upcoming Making and Teaching With Animated Explanations course.
  • What happens when water freezes? (A question from my five-year-old).
  • How the Internet works.
  • The stock market.
  • Fractions
  • Long and short vowel sounds (a suggestion from a Kindergarten teacher that I know).


Click here to learn more about and register for Animated Explanations.

Tuesday, October 25, 2022

The Differences Between Crows and Ravens

Edgar Allan Poe's The Raven gets read a lot in schools at this time of year. Why you should read Poe's work is explained in one of the Halloween-themed TED-Ed lessons that I shared a few days ago. What's not explained in those lessons is the difference between a raven and a crow. To answer that question, turn to a couple of resources from The Cornell Lab's Bird Academy

Caw vs. Croak: Inside the Calls of Crows and Ravens is an interesting three minute explanation of the differences between the calls that crows and ravens make. The narrator of the video even explains what some of the different calls mean to the birds. 


American Crows and Common Ravens is a reference page that describes the physical differences between crows and ravens. At the bottom of the page there is a short and fun quiz to test your crow and raven identification skills. 

Applications for Education
If you're fortunate to live in an area that has both crows and ravens, take your class on a little walk to see if they can spot the each and identify them by sight and or sound. 

A Fun Tool for Creating Avatars

The internet is full of websites on which you can make little icons and avatars. What it's not full of is free sites for that purpose that aren't littered with pop-up ads and similar annoyances. That's why I was happy to find Mustachio. Mustachio is a free site that anyone can use to create a simple avatar. 

To create an avatar on Mustachio simply go to the site and click on the flashing avatar until you see one that you like. You can then customize the basic avatar you've chosen. Some of the many customization options include changing the jawline of your avatar, adding or removing wrinkles, changing ear shape, and changing hair, skin, and eye colors. Watch this brief video to see how easy it is to create and download a free avatar on Mustachio


Applications for Education
Using a custom avatar can be a good alternative to using the stock avatars that students are assigned by various sites that they use for your class. It's also a good alternative to using their actual pictures. And creating a custom avatar is a quick and fun process that can be used as a reward or incentive in for reaching a goal in your classroom. I know some elementary school teachers who start the year with students using standard avatars and then as the year goes on students will get to create their own avatars when they've reached a particular goal for the class. 

Monday, October 24, 2022

How to Create a Timed Quiz in Microsoft Forms

Microsoft Forms recently got some new features that are helpful for teachers. One of those new features is the ability to set a time limit for completing a quiz once it has been started. This is different than the setting to automatically close a form at a given date and time. This new timed quiz option automatically closes a form based on how long it has been open on an individual viewer's computer. Watch my new video to learn how to create a timed quiz in Microsoft Forms


Applications for Education
In the past if you wanted to create a timed quiz with Microsoft Forms you had to set specific times for the form to automatically open and close. While that worked in some situations, it wasn't an ideal method because it didn't account for some students needing a little more time to actually open the form on their computers and it would require you to re-open the submission period for students who were absent the first time you gave the quiz. This new timed option lets you give your quiz in a manner so that every student has an equal amount of time to complete it. (The merits or lack thereof of giving timed quizzes is a debate for another time).  

My Top Five Tips for Creating Instructional Videos

Over the years I’ve made more than 1,000 videos for my YouTube channel and nearly as many for students in my classrooms. Here are five tips that I’ve figured out along the way.

Keep it short and sweet.
Two five minute videos are better than one ten minute video. Even though it’s the same amount of time, watching two five minute videos seems like less of a chore to students than sitting through one ten minute video. Additionally, by breaking it up into smaller chunks you give your students the chance to think about what they’ve watched or complete a short practice activity before watching the next video lesson.

Include Highlights, Drawings, or Annotations.
Watch any of my screencast videos and you’ll notice that I have my mouse pointer highlighted to make it easier for viewers to see where I’m clicking. When I’m creating video lessons for computer science students I’ll also zoom in and highlight or circle the line of code that I’m editing.

Occasionally, I like to use text annotations to remind viewers of what they’re looking at. For example, when making a video about Google Classroom I’ll overlay an annotation that reads “teacher view” or “student view.” Last week I used annotations to correct something that I misstated at the end of this video about an augmented reality geography game

When I taught U.S. History I would use drawing tools to circle or draw arrows pointing to places on a map in my video lessons.

Turn on, elevate, and look at your webcam.
Even if it’s subconsciously, students want to see your face and know that you’re there. Turning on your camera, even when making a screencast video, can improve the chances that your students will watch your video and pay attention to it. Put your camera at eye level or slightly higher. Doing this makes it easier to make eye contact with your camera which makes for a far better viewing experience than looking up your nose. A better viewing experience is going to increase the odds of students watching your video all the way through to the end.

Create a Call to Action
This seems simple but a lot of people overlook it. Ask students to do something either during the video or immediately after viewing your video. Your call to action could be in the form of a few multiple choice questions that are built into the video. Another call to action could be a prompt for students to try the problem solving method you explained in your video. The point is, you don’t want students to be passive viewers of your video lesson.

Make it accessible.
Thanks to the influence of my friend Dr. Beth Holland, in the last few years I’ve been more conscious of trying to make instructional materials as accessible as possible to all students. This means making sure materials are accessible on a variety of devices and it means making sure that my videos are captioned.

Fortunately, when you distribute a video lesson via YouTube captioning and resizing are done for you. If you use something other than YouTube, you can still have automatic captioning done for you in Chrome. Here’s a demo of how I created captions for a video that wasn’t hosted on YouTube.