While working with 7th graders on basic Scratch functions, I realized again that each person comes to technology applications just a little differently. There are groups of students who simply “get it” and there are groups that learn with a real variety of success.

I might be asking the obvious here, but what’s so different from learning programming with Scratch and learning how to write a 5 paragraph theme I would have my students write using a pen and paper?

The setting of course was so different. One January day, my Juniors were finishing up an in class writing assignment while the wind whipped around the three story brick building (built in 1934) with very leaky windows along the outside wall. One student actually picked up his paper and blew off the little bit of snow that had sifted through the leaky window frame. Really, I’m not making this up! Of course, this happened rarely, and the wind just happened to be in the right direction (horizontal, blowing snow) that cold, January day in my classroom at Greenville High School on Moosehead Lake, Maine.

The point here is that all my students could write. They all knew how to use a pen/pencil, and how to form words on the paper in a manner that was organized (we worked on that), spelled correctly (there was no spell check), grammatically constructed in an understandable way, and to the point.

Now let’s switch to the computer lab where students are not using the PC towers, but their own MacBook Airs with Scratch. The difference in success is striking. Yes, all can “write,” but not all understand how to make the basic constructions to make the sprite follow the arrow through the maze we had designed. Nor do many understand the concept of the “reset” in a game, bringing back the players game piece to the original screen. They can follow broadcast and receive, but I suspect they are just following instructions and not understanding the concept, the why. These students have been in school for the past 7-8 years.

I guess the ‘why’ and the ‘how’ was pretty well ingrained in my Juniors that cold January Day as they worked on their in class writing assignment.

I’m not so sure these 7th graders have the same comprehension with Scratch programming. Most think “it’s really cool,” but here in Lyndonville, Vermont, there’s no snow filtering past the weather stripping on this below freezing November morning.

Let Them Do It !

This morning I was facing a small group of grade 1 and 2 students, about 12 in all. We’d been working on iMovie on iPads, and they had previously written their storyboards and gotten most of their clips. Their teacher asked them to pay attention to my instruction, but I only said to them, “if you have four panels in your storyboard, how many clips should you have?” They all understood the correct answer was four. At that point, the projector decided not to cooperate, and I let them continue/begin work on their projects.

What I witnessed was amazing to me, but probably shouldn’t have been. All the students had their individual questions about how to use the software, but when they got that part, they were off and running to reshoot, add transitions, music and voice overs.

My hesitation to let them loose was framed by my own classroom experiences as a teacher who felt he needed to give them all the information they could possibly need first. Instead, they just needed to do it!

When they have finished their films, we’ll get them to their teacher to assemble to a DVD to archive. And their next project will be even better because now they know about camera shots, storyboards, sound and transitions and text. I can’t wait to see what these young film makers will come up with.

Kindergarten and iMovie

This is the first year that I’ve been working consistently with a Kindergarten class. I had always shied away from these younger students as I really didn’t have the experience, and I thought I had no skill sets. But being a grandfather to four young boys has given me more confidence. And there’s lots of help out there, too.

I had been working with a K group o 14 students using iPads for the first time. We began with DoodleBuddy, and looked at ABC Ninja, both free apps. But that wasn’t enough. The iPad isn’t just for games, even though that’s what many of the students would like to do.

So I decided to see if these 5-7 year olds could use the camera and iMovie. We started with learning how to use the camera and controls. They took pictures of their two or three most favorite things in their classroom. This week, they students will do some more organizing and they prepare to use iMovie on the iPad.

I can’t wait to see what they’ll produce.


I know the tech coordinator for this school system in central Maine,and emailed her last week after wondering about this sign I blogged about recently. It seems that the admin team made the decision last year that it was a good thing to have all teachers publish a classroom Web page.The teachers have been working on the process since. What wonderful support for technology in this system.

iPads, iMovie and 7 year olds

This morning I worked with 11 second and third graders with iPads. We did the disappearance scene, and the kids loved it. Next session will be camera angles. Once they get that down, and the inside shot, too, I think they might be able to try the doorway scene and write a simple storyboard for a film idea of their own. Seven and eight year olds making movies? Who would have thought!

I was amazed at how quickly these kids picked up the idea. They were crawling out from under cloth draped cabinets, doors, on a rocking chair and then not there, on a couch and then not there.

Their only instruction was to make themselves disappear. To do this, the first shot is of them coming through a door. Then a second shot of the empty doorway. Finally, by adjusting the cross dissolve between the shots to the maximum of 2 seconds,students edit the clips a bit to either side. Finally, they add their own titles.

Next time, camera angles, the inside shot and a storyboard for their own ideas.

Have You Visited Your Teacher’s Web Page?

While driving through Maine back to my Vermont locale, I passed by a sign outside the Poland Elementary School on Rt. 26 that said, ” Have You Visited Your Teacher’s Web Page?”
Amazing. I had not ever seen such an advertisement, and kudos to the school administrators who are brave enough to put that pressure on their classroom teachers. Many schools in Maine (and in Vermont) are not expecting what this small school in Poland is doing. ALL teachers today need a classroom Web page for so many good reasons, even if not all their children’s parents are not connected at home.
List assignments
List of materials
PDF forms for field trips, other permission forms
Links to other learning sites

What this all comes down to is that learning continues after the bus has left the school yard!

Paper Cut Animation

Remember the openings of Monty Python? That’s paper cut animation, I’m told. What a great session at ACTEM 2013 with Barbara Greenstone and her colleague on how they did this with 8th graders during a technology class. I’ve added a description on my Web page at

After working with 4+5 graders in Taos last winter, I’ve been looking for the next thing in movie making, and I think I’ve found it. But it isn’t new. Also this morning, after reviewing the links Barbara Greenstone kindly sent along (which I added to the page linked above), I reviewed my curator of the tweets from those I follow, and in that curation for 10/14/2013 I found a name I hadn’t seen for a long, long time: Norman McLaren, a Canadian filmmaker whose work I used to share with my students when I taught Film Study in Maine. McLaren drew directly on the film. Boogie Doodle, and Dots are two of my favorites. Yes, 45 years old, and some very, very early digital music, but still….

Short Film Making

Late last fall, I was asked if I would be interested in coming to Taos, NM, to lead a short film project with some schools there. Lists of equipment were made, travel plans finalized, and near the end of January, 2013, I flew to Taos to work with 4th and 5th graders in two elementary schools.

The plan I developed was to work for three weeks, 1 1/2 hours a day with each group. I spent three hours split between two classes in one school, and then another three hours split between two classes in the second.

My boss helped schedule the process and worked with me the first and third weeks. During all the time with students, the Taos computer technician helped out with getting the equipment to the right place, seeing the batteries were charged, and helping out with one of the filming groups. And the teachers worked with one or two groups. We were all tag-teaming each other so all the bases were covered.

With the teacher’s input, the classes were divided into production “companies.” Each company chose a topic and then went to work developing their pre-production story boards.

The pre-production planning took most of the first week. But during that time, we learned how to use the cameras, what different shots could be used, how to edit in iMovie, and how to use GarageBand to create some theme music for their movies.

We found that we were always revisiting pre-production planning and re-planning a shot, then re-filming it, and a re-edit. Just because we went through the process in “order” didn’t mean that we couldn’t re-do some part of it.

The most difficult part of this process was in the conversations with students during the pre-planning stage. Because these students had never done a project like this, and because there were not really used to “thinking outside the box,” the challenge was to get them to envision something they had never really experienced. How does one get a student to create with iMovie when the possibilities aren’t known?

I used two exemplars from a school in central Maine where I developed a “Short-Short Film Contest.” We then spent a lot of time on sharpening the focus of the project. Next, we created the story boards.

One 5th grade group really didn’t get it. Their initial shots, and I really should say “shot,” was 1:24 minutes. We spent several sessions fine tuning that into separate clips of 5 to 10 seconds each using different camera angles. They eventually figured it out, but it took a lot of focused discussion to get them to understand that clips of any length more than 15 seconds just won’t yield a good project in a short film construct.

The “Premier” showing of all films is tomorrow at one school. There, we’ll have to hang a sheet between two tether ball stands and use the speaker system and projector from the classroom. These small elementary schools on the mesa don’t have lots of resources, but they are very creative to make up for what they lack in that department.

I’m making the DVD, grabbing the iMovie files exported to quicktime to my USB stick, and then bringing them into iDVD on my laptop. I’ll burn the DVD’s and those will be shown at the “Premiers” at two schools using either a laptop or a DVD player. Parents and media have been invited, and a radio interview was broadcast on the local station.

Technology with Blinders

Many of you may know what “blinders” are. I should say “were,” as these were primarily used to keep horses’ eyes on the straight and narrow. With blinders, horses wouldn’t be distracted by things not in their direct path. Wagon drivers could then be better assured that the horses would follow the trail and not veer off to check out that cute filly in the next pasture.

Horses aren’t the only critters that have binders: we do, too. And it’s technology agendas that can place them there.

In one school I work with, the technology integrationist is everything Google, and pushes the staff to have their students log into their google accounts just as soon as they log into their laptops. It doesn’t matter if the students won’t be needing anything Google while working on Scratch, for example. Writing can be done in Word or Pages or TextEdit and not just Google Docs. Files can be saved in the local drive or uploaded to the school’s server, not just Google Drive. And Web pages can be made with iWeb and stored locally (until iWeb goes away), not just Google Sites.

I worry about this narrow-mindedness when it comes to this type of technology use. Using Google this way (“Log in to your Google account as soon as you start your MacBook Air!”) is limiting students to explore other opportunities, and it gives them the impression that Google Drive is the best and the only solution to file sharing and getting anything technology-related done.

Don’t get me wrong here; Google is a powerful sharing tool. It’s just that there are other options out there.

Thankfully, the teachers know the score, and they are looking at their students’ technology experiences as ones that will not limit but broaden horizons and thought processes.

Epub Collaborative Writing

A few weeks ago, two middle school teachers approached me to discuss ideas for their combined science/LA classes to collaborate on a Field Study project. Students were going to be in teams, and the teachers wanted them to share their work using the iPads they have been using this year.

Recently, the 5th-8th grades had been using Creative Book Builder, a great app to making a book for the iBooks App on the iPad. CBB allows the user to push up to DropBox or Google Docs the epub file generated on the iPad. It also allows users to access the same account to pull down any book placed there.

Students had some parameters for CBB. Each one had a chapter. They added their voice, their photos, their text about the subject of the field study at Center Pond.

The LA teacher scanned in all their drawings. So this project included their own art work, too!

The results were great, and the process worked very well. Some iPads had the older version of CBB, and named the files in number sequence, but the teachers helped me out with identifying the authors and I simply renamed the files in Drop Box.

It was easy to pull all the chapters together into one ePub book, and then push that compilation up to DropBox. Then, all students had to do was to go to DropBox with Creative Book Builder, create a new book and download the compilation. They could then see each others work in ONE book.

This is a good example of collaborative work in the digital age. What drove this to success was not just the app’s design but mostly the planning the teachers did before embarking on the project. The teachers knew what they wanted to see as an end product having had some experience with CBB products from earlier this spring.

The technology was pretty easy for the students. I fielded questions about page breaks, formatting text, but mostly students had the app all figured out.