Cleaning Things Up

So I’m approaching 2.5 years without a single post here. I just cleared out 8000 spam comments…would like to get things started again here before the school year is over. More to come…

Choose Your Own Adventure on Youtube

Last Spring I spent a couple posts discussing a digital Choose Your Own Adventure game using YouTube annotations and cards. The second post covered all of the “how-to” details, but I did not follow up with the finished project. We ended up with 23 connected videos in the final version. Here it is:

The students were very happy with the finished project. My new class of third graders (and even my 3 year old niece) love playing the game, and my Autumn after-school class is at work on a new story (involving a boy ninja and a haunted house).

The only technical point I’d add to the explanation post is a quick tip on how to use cards (in addition to annotations) to link the story together:

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This allows users to play on phones and tablets (where annotations don’t always work).

To polish the beginning, we created a nice title screen with PicCollage, and we used computer iMovie (instead of the iPad version) for a couple of early videos.

If your students want to play an adventure game, or if you have a listening center as part of your literacy block, give them a link to our story and I’m sure they’ll have fun. I will update in a few weeks with our new story.

P. S. Print this document to help your students find all of the different endings.

How to Create Games on YouTube

Screen Shot 2015-09-20 at 11.06.20 AMEvery teacher should work to move students from consumers of digital content to creators of digital content. This step is not as difficult as one would think, especially if students are creating simple math or language videos. When your students are ready for the next challenge, you can take advantage of YouTube’s annotation system to make interactive games or stories. For example, my third grade students put together these episodes of the “homophone game” (must be played on a computer, not mobile):
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YouTube Preview Image

Games like this require time to create, but they are the perfect project for eager students who tend to finish other activities quickly. Students could take YouTube games in multiple directions, but let’s start by focusing specifically on how we produced episodes of the “homophone game”. My students used four applications:

  1. PicCollage on the iPad (any slide-preparing app would work)
  2. Doodlecast on the iPad (another screen-casting app would work)
  3. YouTube Annotations
  4. YouTube Audio (optional but recommended)
Step One – Create the Plan
Instead of breaking out the technology right away, we started with pencil and paper. Students IMG_0281chose a homophone, then created six or more sentences using the different versions of the homophone. We kept the best 4-5 sentences for the game.
Step Two – Create the Slides

Using the application PicCollage, students created colorful slides to illustrate their sentences. We collageused clear and simple slides for the example sentences (solid-color background, easy-to-read font), and they could do whatever they wanted to the “wrong answer” and “correct” slides. To make the game, we needed:

  • A Title Slide
  • An Explanation Slide
  • 4-5 Sentence Slides
  • A Correct Answer Slide
  • A Wrong Answer Slide
Step Three – Create the Videos

Using DoodleCast pro, we made 6-7 short videos for each game. The breakdown:

  • An introduction/explanation video with the first sentence (about 1 minute long)
  • 3-4 “right answer” + next question videos (about 30 seconds)
  • A wrong answer video (about 15 seconds)
  • A finishing video (15-30 seconds)

The best way to get a sense of these is to play the game. We usually waited until the end to create the introduction/explanation, since it had to be the longest and most polished. Also, having learned a lesson from hundreds of previously published student videos, I created a shared YouTube account for students to publish (so I don’t have to log in to my account every time).

Step Four – Link the Videos with Annotations

Although I’ve had success with students using YouTube Annotations in the past, this was the first time I’ve had them link videos together. It’s probably the most technically intimidating aspect of the project, but 8 year olds pulled it off without too many problems. This video explains exactly how to do it:

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Step Five – Add Music

Technically this step is optional, but I think the music adds a lot to the game experience and energy of the videos. I’ve written a post about how to use YouTube Audio, or again, just watch this video:

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Step Six – Share and Have Fun

It may seem like a long and complicated process for a 5 minute game, but the students love making them, and they are fun to play as well. I’d love to get other students playing these and creating videos of their own, so please comment if you’ve shared these with your students or if they’ve made one of their own. And as always, please let me know if you have any questions about the process.

Adding Audio in YouTube Editor

In February I attended my second Google Apps for Education Summit (GAFE), two years after my initial one, and having already published heaps of student/teacher content on YouTube, I was looking for a few new ways to use Google Apps with my students. The presenters gave me several  ideas, like teaching visual text with Google Drawing, or using Annotations to create interactive videos, which we immediately starting doing (part one and part two). One of my favorite takeaways, however, had been sitting in front of me for years, and I never took advantage of it: the audio feature of YouTube video editor.

It’s simple to use and can quickly enhance any video you publish. This screen shot gives you a glimpse of what you’ll see when you open the audio feature. The powerful part is in the bottom right corner…more than 150,000 songs to choose from (especially nice for those who are tired of the same dozen iMovie jingles).


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After choosing a track, you can adjust the volume level and position when you want the music to start. Here is a four minute tutorial I made for my students on how it works:



You can see some examples in the homophone game we’ve made (more on that later) and the digital story my after-school class is creating (wait until the ends of the videos).



If you’ve been publishing teacher/student videos for a while, or even if you’re getting started, I would recommend experimenting with this feature. There are a couple of drawbacks: for example, you can only choose music after publishing (not while creating the videos), and you can’t finely tweak the volume level (I’m afraid the music might drown out some of my students’ voices). But it’s a low time-cost, it’s fun, and adding music really takes the videos to another level of quality.

Digital Choose Your Own Adventure Story (update)

It’s been a couple of months since I first wrote about the idea of having students use YouTube annotations to create a Choose Your Own Adventure Story. The group working on this only meets for an hour a week, so the progress is coming gradually, but before we publish I can discuss the process. We are in “bells and whistles” mode, so hopefully the final story will be done soon.

Writing Process

Story Board and Illustrations

The first thing we did was discuss story ideas. We brainstormed and chose a beginning, but a branching story has room for almost every idea. Spoiler alert: our final story will have bears, yetis, wobbly bridges, piranhas, mountain climbing, cliff jumping, fighting, trespassing, fairies, prison, and more things I can’t remember. We didn’t map out the entire thing, but we decided that our story would start with a girl entering the forest to pick berries. She comes to a fork in the road and chooses which way to go. Adventure ensues.

Each segment of the story is less than a minute, so we used a simple graphic organizer to plan the words and pictures. When the scripts were finished, the students created small color pictures and then got out the technology.

A Rough Plan of our Branching Story

iMovie (ipads)

The movies were created on iPad minis. The mobile version of iMovie is simple and easy to use compared to the desktop version, which is a bonus when working with younger students (these were 3rd and 4th graders, but I think K-2 could pull it off with help). The students snapped photos of their drawn pictures, and then they recorded the story. Simple.

Doodlecast Pro

This is my favorite iPad app and what we used for vocabulary videos and math tutorials. For the digital stories, we used the screencast so we could have at least one digital picture and to use the cursor to direct the viewer where to click. Check the end of any video for an example.

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When the Doodlecasts were finished, we saved them to the iPad camera roll and then imported them into iMovie (a 10 second process).

YouTube Annotations

The videos were published from iMovie to YouTube, where the students linked videos together using annotations. I’ve written about YouTube Annotations before, but the interesting thing is that YouTube released “cards” in the last two weeks, which we may add to the videos soon. I need to research a little more, but basically, annotations don’t work on mobile devices, and cards are YouTube’s solution to this problem. I’ll write about it after experimenting a little more, but it was simple to add a card to our latest math video.

Adding Music

This is our first time to use the “audio” feature of YouTube video editor. This warrants a post of its own, coming soon, but I will quickly say that my students were able to effectively add music to their videos in a short amount of time. Watch this video until the 23 second mark to see how it sounds:

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Finishing Up

So that’s where we are now. I hope that we’ll be done after a couple more classes. I’m looking forward to sharing their finished product soon.

70,000 Views on My Student/Teacher YouTube Channel

A little over two years ago, I uploaded the first video to my school YouTube channel. It was a four minute song performance from third graders, “unlisted” so only people with the link could view it. A few months later, I added my first “public” video, a plant documentary created by my students. Slowly and steadily, I added more videos, experimenting with flipped learning and math tutorials, student produced iMovies, and heaps and heaps of student created vocabulary videos.
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I currently have more than 355 videos, of which 200+ are public on my channel, and what started as a way of providing homework help to my students and a global audience for their creations has grown to a level I never expected. This week we are about to pass 70,000 views on the channel, but we have recently been clocking about 10,000 views each month, and I can only imagine that number will keep growing. When compared to the stars of YouTube, it’s a drop in the bucket, but considering the content, and the fact that I’ve put little effort into promoting the channel or videos, it’s a large number. 

Here’s how it breaks down:

Student Produced Documentaries and Stories
The coolest part of tracking these numbers is seeing student creations reach such a large viewership. The first round of plant iMovies my third graders made really caught on, with more than a thousand views for a few, and several hundred for others. 
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A year and a half ago my summer school class turned a Japanese folk tale into a digital story, and it is our most popular student-created video, with about 2000 views. I saw some of these students, currently 5th graders, in the hall recently and mentioned that their video was quite popular. It was fun to see them whip out their phones, search for their video on YouTube, and marvel at the number of people who had seen it.
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Vocabulary Videos
My students have made a lot of vocabulary videos, mostly last year, but the current class has just started to get rolling and I would imagine the number doubling to well over 200 within the next few months. All of them are here. I would like to see their video dictionary reach a critical mass so it could become a resource for students all over the world, and I also would love to see other schools get involved with adding videos to the collection. My students love making them, and they are very motivated when they receive comments and accolades from people in other countries. Last week a third grade teacher in the States commented that “we had fans in far away places.”

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Math Tutorials
While I’m most excited about student produced work, the majority of views to our channel have come through the math tutorials that I created. Eight of the the top ten videos are math tutorials, including 10,000+ views for one thrilling lesson on subtraction (warning: not thrilling at all):
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Nevertheless, I’m happy that students in other places are learning from the videos. My main thought here: if I had known so many people would be watching these things, I would have put forth a little more effort. The tutorials are functional but simple, created hastily during my planning periods (listen for ringing school bells in the background), with almost zero production value. Perhaps the simplicity is part of the appeal. In the future I will at least try to add nicer introductions with VideoScribe, which I’ve experimented with in my newer tutorials.

Performance and Sports
In addition to the three categories above, I have tons of videos of student performances and of my basketball teams, but other than the occasional highlight video, almost all of those are “unlisted.” Still, I’ve found YouTube to be the easiest way to share performances/games with parents/students.
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YouTube Preview Image

So, after an unexpected 70,000+ views, what’s next? I guess the first step is to get our current channel better organized. All we’ve done is upload lots of videos. We currently have: no profile picture, no channel artwork, no video organization, no engagement with our 180+ subscribers, and no knowledge of how the YouTube network works. There are a lot of resources on this, so I’ll do some research and report back in a future post. 

YouTube Annotations and Choose Your Own Adventure Stories

As a kid, my favorite book series was Choose Your Own Adventure (CYOA), the classic sci-fi/adventure series where you made decisions throughout the story to change the outcome. The stories started the same, but quickly changed based on your choices, leading to as many as 40 possible endings. I devoured these books, reading through them with dozens of bookmarks poking out, which let me go back and see the results of different decisions.IMG_0098

It turns out, I was not alone. More than a quarter of a billion of these books were sold in the 1980s and 90s. There were 185 books in the original series, published in 38 languages, over a 100 spinoffs, and the series weighed in as the 4th most popular of all time, behind Harry Potter and Goosebumps (more history here and here).  When I started teaching 3rd grade, perhaps the lower range of students who can comprehend the well-written text (originally aimed for 10-14 year olds), I bought a bunch of the classics on ebay one summer and used them mostly as read alouds. My students loved them, and we wrote our own version of a CYOA story.

Publishing the story turned out to be too much of a hassle, so we moved on. Almost exactly two years ago, I went to the first Google Apps for Education summit in Tokyo. I learned about YouTube annotating and linking, which, combined with digital storytelling, was the perfect tool for a modern version of a CYOA story. It’s been done before, but the material I found was more for nostalgic adults, and there weren’t many kid-friendly CYOA stories on YouTube. I found a few live action versions, and this one made with videoscribe, but that’s about it (let me know if you have something better). I wrote about doing this idea in an early blog post, but he amount of time required for students to put something together was not available, so again, we let it drop.

This semester, however, I will be teaching an after school activity for digital storytelling, and it may be time to revive the idea of a kid-created, YouTube-based CYOA story. I have 12 creative and artistic 3rd and 4th graders, who happen to enjoy CYOA stories, and on Monday I will run the idea by them and see what they think. I created an example to show them what it might look like (you’ll have to wait until Monday to see the choices):

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This was created with Doodlecast Pro on the iPad, but I’m not sure if that’s the best tool. A simple drawing app plus iMovie might be a better choice (I’d love to hear your suggestions). Check back on Monday to see the choices here, and I’ll post soon to see if my students have chosen to run with the project.

Recommended App – Road Movies (iphone)

Time to revive the blog after a long hiatus, and I’m going to start by following up on some recommendations I made in the past.


I wrote about the iphone application Road Movies about a year ago. Please check out my original post to see see what it is and how it works, but basically it allows you to take quick and simple 24-second movies using a bunch of small clips. It edits them together and gives you a cool looking highlight video of a trip, a special day, or an activity.

When I first wrote about the application, we were in the midst of Coetail Course 3 on visual literacy, and it seemed like the perfect tool to play around with. I brainstormed a list of ways to use the application, and after publishing my blog post, completely forgot about trying them (I’m sure I’m not the first).

I even deleted the app from my phone, but when our third grade class took a trip to a sports park last month, I realized it was the perfect high-action day to capture with a “Road Movie.” I downloaded it on the spot, made a movie with 24 one-second clips, chose some music, and shared it with students and families. The students loved it, and the parents appreciated the window into what was happening with the classes.

We’ve since made brief movies of subsequent field trips, presentations, parties, and special events. Here’s a quick look at “Japanese Culture Day” that we held at our school last week:

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I listed the possibilities for the app in my initial post, and I don’t think there are any dramatic changes from that list. If fact, I could list a a few minor downsides:

  •  Limited Musical Choices – There are only 14 songs to choose, and while some are cool, if you’re doing more than one movie, you will quickly run out of options. Technically, you could load the footage into iMovie and choose your own soundtrack, but the main appeal here is how quick and easy it is to shoot a movie and upload it straight from your phone.
  • Novelty Factor – The movies are easy to get excited about in the beginning, but the more you make, the more the novelty factor wears off.
  • Basic  – This is a simple, fun app, but it’s not earth shattering. You may be able to showcase student learning, but students learning is not at the core.

Nevertheless, many people have never heard of this, and it’s so simple and easy to use, I recommend it to any teacher with an iphone.

In other news, this is my first blog post in half a year, but I have several posts planned for the next couple of months, so please check back soon!


Student-Produced Images with “Draw Free” app

My third grade students are creating imovie documentaries on plants, a project first attempted over a year ago. One of the main tech lessons of the project is having student use “free-use” images instead of taking whatever photos they find on the internet. For some ideas, however, the students have had trouble finding images that fit with what they want to explain.


For example, two of my students wanted to illustrate the different zones of the ocean, but a google search for “free-use” images turned up nothing. Feeling more comfortable with the project a second time around, I challenged them to make their own image. This was the first time to do this, however, so I was unsure what was the best ipad application for the job. I heard about “Art Studio” at the course 5 presentations, but a quick search showed it cost $5 and probably had features that we didn’t need.

mzl.jsyghlzyAnother more reasonably priced app ($0), appropriately called “Draw Free,” did the trick. My students were familiar with Doodlecast Pro, which has similar functions, and they were able to independently figure out how to use it. Despite the similar logos, I’m sure “Art Studio” is a more powerful application, but for third graders trying to whip up a quick illustration for their movie, “Draw Free” will get the job done. Here’s what they came up with:


As my students get more into their movies, I hope more will be able to create their own images. We should be finished by the end of the week, so look for an update soon, and let us know if you’ve tried other drawing apps that have worked for your students.

Celebrating 100+ Student-Created Videos (course 5 final project)

For my COETAIL final project, I had three goals. I wanted my students to:

  1. develop their vocabularies
  2. use technology to communicate their learning in new ways
  3. teach other students (from classes in our school and beyond)

To achieve these goals, my students learned new words, created videos on ipads (using DoodleCast Pro), and published through youtube and google sites. Here’s one example:

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To see our entire library (or dictionary) of student created videos, click here.

Once my students had learned new words, turned them into videos, and published them to the world, it made sense to keep the momentum going with some kind of goal. Shortly after creating our google site with about 30 videos, we decided that 100 vocabulary videos was an ambitious but achievable goal. We whipped up a quick chart and were on our way. IMG_0598

We created new videos about once a week, usually in pairs (there are 19 students in my class). We used the kids teaching kids method to get the neighboring 4th graders involved, but most of the work was done by my class. Two weeks ago, we hit our goal (though my students show no sign of wanting to slow down or stop).

Most of this process has been documented on this blog, so I will post a few links and fill in the blanks in areas that I haven’t covered. Here is the idea in its infancy, and an update a month and a half later. There have been some minor tweaks, but the steps used to create the videos have remained largely the same throughout the process:

  • Students choose words that they already learned and are confident they can use (more on how and why to teach vocabulary).
  • Students write a script for their videos. Here is the template we use. The most important parts, or at least what I emphasize the most, are the two example sentences. We try to create examples that show different contexts in which the word may be used. This is also a great way to assess the depth of students’ understanding.
  • Students draw two pictures to go with their example sentences.
  • When the script and illustrations are finished, I quickly check them and the students can get iPads and use DoodleCast Pro to create slides. Then they record. I publish all of the videos to my youtube account. I’m not sure if this is the most efficient way to go about things, so I’ve thought about creating a youtube account just for the student vocabulary videos. That would allow me to share the password and students could upload their own videos. For now though, they are all on my page.
  • Once the videos are published, my students add annotations with YouTube editor. You can make this step optional, but my 3rd graders figured it out quickly.
  • Finally, we collect the videos on a google site.
  • My students became so efficient at communicating through this medium that we easily created some math tutorials using similar methods.

Once the site was up and running, we kept cranking out the videos, but it took some time before we moved onto our third goal of teaching others with the videos. In fact, I checked the website analytics in March and realized nobody was using the site:

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Most of the student learning had been completed, but to reach the “Redefinition” stage of the SAMR model (and to have an authentic, global audience), I knew we needed to connect with people outside of our classroom.


We started with the other third grade class from our school. My students created a worksheet with some example sentences, we explained how to access and use the website, and that was it. I let my students wander around the room like real teachers to help people who had questions, but I think their favorite part was checking the work of others. Then they gave feedback to their students, which I hope enhanced their own understandings of the nuance of words. Soon the second and fourth grades were on board as well.

And to make the project truly go beyond the classroom walls, we connected with schools in China and the Philippines to learn from our website. Again, reaching a large number of people was not the main point, but by mid-April we were getting hundreds of website page views every week:

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The true success of the project, however, can be measured in confidence with which my students use the new words they’ve learned, and in the enthusiasm they have for wanting to learn and share more.

Although this marks the end of course 5, this project is in some ways just beginning. Only a few classes have used our videos, but we would love to get more involved (please contact me or leave a comment if you are interested). At this point, two classes at my school have made videos, but the other classes who have been using our website are ready to start making their own tutorials. If we combine forces with other classes and then other schools, the number of student-created videos could easily be in the thousands, not the hundreds.

I hope to keep posting here to let you know how it goes. Please leave a comment if you have thoughts or want to get involved. Thanks!