Muddling through the blogosphere

January 1, 2012
by blogwalker

Tips and Tools for Making an Award-Winning PSA

“To fulfill the promise of digital citizenship, Americans must acquire multimedia communication skills that include the ability to compose messages using language, graphic design, images, and sound, and know how to use these skills to engage in the civic life of their communities.” ~Renee Hobbs

As we head into the New Year, it is exciting to see a number of great video competitions open to students.  From our regional spring SEVAs competition to NextVista’s national and international events, students can hone their 21st century skill set (critical thinking, communication, creativity, collaboration, (digital) citizenship) – as they build their ePortfolios and digital footprints.

It is also exciting to see a growing number of free online tools and tips to help student filmmakers through the process of taking a message and transforming it into a media gem. For example:


Storyboards – From printable storyboards to Mathew Needleman’s more organic approach to storyboarding, storyboarding is a starting point for creating a powerful PSA.

Script writingPSA Scripting Template – Thank you, Bill Ferriter, for this excellent resource!


Camera shots:

  • Rule of Thirds – This basic camera rule/practice will rock your world – and your students – if you’re not already familiar with it.  Here’s a great video by Kids in Action on everything you need to know about the rule of thirds. Once you’re aware of the rule of thirds, it will change how you view videos – such as this trailer from High School Musical (thanks again to Mathew Needleman for sharing this one).

  • Wide-Medium-Tight Shots – I had another big ah ha moment, right up there with learning about the rule of thirds, when I attended SECC’s SEVA Training session with News 10’s multimedia journalist Nick Monacelli.  I recommend watching the entire 40-minute session on Building a News Story. But if you’re short on time, move the play head  about 15 minutes into the presentation and watch Nick explain the importance of taking B-roll footage. It’s B-roll tight shots – not transitions – that “professionals” use to quickly and smoothly move a story along.

And the big ah ha?  Hey, until hearing Nick’s presentation, I had not considered that almost never in a news story will you see transitions used.  Aside from the rare dissolve transition, used to show a flashback or change in time, transitions are  not part of an award-winning newscast. But, oh my, do students, especially elementary students, love to use transitions! Nick’s presentation could be just the tip students need to rethink the use of star wipes, for instance, in transitioning their viewers from one scene to the next.



  • UJam – I am no longer envious of Mac users’ access to Garageband (I teach in a PC district), thanks to UJam, a free, web-based program for creating music – even if you (like me) are music-challenged. UJam was one of my favorite take-aways from last summer’s Merit program.
  • ccMixter – ccMixter is a community music site featuring remixes licensed under Creative Commons where you can listen to, sample, mash-up, or interact with music in whatever way you want.  I learned about CCMixter in Silvia Tolisano’s wonderful Digital Storytelling How to Guide for Educators.
  • Jamendo – A rapidly-growing community of free, legal and unlimited music published under Creative Commons licenses.
  •  Audacity –  A free, cross-platform program for creating and editing audio. Here’s a link to my favorite Audacity tutorial: Audacity Basics

Video editing – Although I’m still grieving the loss of cloud-based JayCut, such an awesome freebie that even included green screen options – and allowed editing from both Mac and PC, eliminating all kinds of school-to-home/home-to-school issues – I continue to be grateful for iMovie, Movie Maker, and PhotoStory3 (one of my favorite digital storytelling tools!).  And I look forward in the New Year to exploring free smartphone apps for filmmaking.

I think one of the most important things we can do for students is to support and promote their efforts at becoming effective multimedia writers. Providing tools and tips is one way – along with providing authentic audiences.  Over the next month, I’d like to gather a comprehensive list of student video competitions.  If you know of any, please jump in and leave a comment.

The great films have not been made yet. The ones who will make them are out there, though, riding a skateboard.” ~Robert Altman

October 5, 2009
by blogwalker

Five Reasons Why I Love Photo Story 3

This year I’ve decided to add Photo Story 3 to my workshop offerings.  I don’t know why I’ve waited so long to introduce teachers and students to this extremely user-friendly program.  For a number of reasons (and I’ll limit myself to five), it’s a great beginning step into filmmaking and the art of digital storytelling.

Reason #1 – It’s all about the Next button! Yep, once you’ve uploaded your pictures, you basically just ‘next’ your way through this program.ps31

Reason #2 – Panning effects – If you’re a Ken Burns fan, you’ve got zooming and panning tools at your fingertips.  In fact, random panning and zooming are the default setting. You can, of course, turn off this effect for all or for individual pictures – or customize your pan (click on the Customize Motion button, click in Specify start and end position of motion box.


Tip: If you”re using Movie Maker 2 and are bummed about not having a “Ken Burns Effect” (Windows XP) or find the Vista panning effects a bit limiting, you can easily bring a still image into Photo Story 3, add the panning and zooming effects, and then import that image into your Movie Maker project. Easy-peasy!

Reason #3David Jakes’ video tutorials and handout – Short and excellent!  What if you wanted more information on zooming and panning? Check out Adding Pans and Adding Zooms.

Reason #4 – Concerned about copyright issues for music? Not to worry, PS3 has you covered with a built in music selections to choose from that allow you to select the properties that best match your story. Or you can upload MP3 files. Start with if you’re looking for copyright, royalty-free music.

Reason #5 – It’s a FREE  download from Microsoft.

Need more convincing why PhotoStory3 is a great program?  Checkout some classroom samples from Paul Hamilton’s Universal Design for Learning wiki. And if you have samples of student-created PS3 projects,  I would love to add them to the filmmaking resources page of Toolkit4blogwalker!

September 6, 2009
by blogwalker

Teaching Collaborative Digital Writing – a la Glen Bledsoe

I’ve known Glen Bledsoe for about eight years, through our mutual association with the National Writing Project. Whenever I have the opportunity to participate in one of his workshops, poster sessions, or panel discussions, I am blown away by both the brilliance of his observations on teaching and learning and the innovative ways he molds and weaves technology into the elementary classroom.  So I was thrilled when my copy of Teaching the New Writing arrived this week, knowing that it included  Glen’s chapter on Collaborative Digital Writing:  The Art of Writing Together Using Technology!

A visit to some of the multimedia projects developed by Glen’s students will give you a window  into  the many ways he infuses technology into his language arts program, eliminating barriers of poverty, language, or past disengagement with writing:

  • The Library Ghost (due to download time, I’m giving you the URL, rather than embed it –
  • Donny and the Ghost

I used to hesitate sharing Glen’s projects with teachers new to technology and digital storytelling because their reaction was likely to be “how about you show us something better suited to beginners.”  But if you take a sample such as the Library Ghost, which basically involved an entire class of 4th graders, Glen does a beautiful job of explaining the steps that moved an idea from concept to product.  His chapter is loaded with common sense suggestions and easy to follow tips. Glen initiates projects like Library Ghost by connecting the laptop to the projector and beginning the storytelling process, starting with:

  • Describing the Characters: As a class, they develop the list of characters for the story, making sure not to use classmates’ names. Through a shared discussion, each character is given characteristics (i.e., for a female character – “she’s into fashion, but she doesn’t really know what’s fashionable and what’s not” or “she has many friends, but she doesn’t tell them about all her feelings.”)
  • Writing the Script: Glen takes about 30 minutes each day with the lights dimmed and the computer projecting onto the screen at the front of the class.  Beginning with an impromptu cast rereading of what’s been written so far, as a group they edit what doesn’t make sense and move on to adding the next lines.  This process is repeated daily until the script has been completed to everyone’s satisfaction – although revisions are still likely to take place throughout the recording sessions.
  • Recording the Script: In this phase, students work together in small groups. With a USB microphone connected to Glen’s computer, students record their lines one at a time. “It’s unrealistic to expect students to read their lines like live radio and not make serious errors.  Allowing them to read their lines over and over and picking the best version works well.  The lines of the script are numbered, and as we record the lines, we number the sound files to match.  This is a simple step but extremely important.”But how do you keep a class quiet while individuals are recording their parts (a question I am frequently asked)? In a loud voice, Glen does a Three, Two, One countdown, signalling to the rest of the class that they must be completely still until the speaker has completed his/her lines. Then students can return to their “normal rustlings.” When the class has maxed out on being able to hold still, he waits till library time, for instance, and asks small groups to stay back in the class to record.
  • Adding Photos: Photos are taken after the lines have been digitally recorded. A student called Scriptboy or Scriptgirl and the director (Glen) “coach the principal actors for a given scene.  The Scriptboy then reads aloud what line is being said for a particular photo.  The actor then holds herself in such a way as to mime the line. Body language, facial expressions, and camera angles are all very important in conveying meaning.  Don’t underestimate the power of these three elements in supporting the text of the story.  The script always comes first.  You can’t create a very compelling digital story with a weak script, but with a strong script adding the above characteristics will add a level of polish. ” Once the photo session is completed, upload shots to your computer (in same folder as the voice recordings!)
  • Assembling the Script: Now that lines, voice recordings, and photos have been uploaded, assembling the story is the easy part.  But I’ll repeat Glen’s tip to “Spend most of your time on the writing.  I can’t emphasize that enough. “
  • The Ultimate Purpose: Who’s the intended audience and for what purpose?  If it a film competition, for instance, you’re likely to be dealing with a 3-5 minute time limit.  So the original piece may need some trimming down, which could eliminate some students from the story.  Glen’s policy is to assure those students that they will get lines in upcoming digital productions.

Because I am mindful that many teachers must justify digital storytelling as a part of their English/Language Arts program, one of the many lines I’ve highlighted from Glen’s chapter addresses standards:

It’s not difficult to take a collaborative digital media project and match it against either a given state’s technology or language arts standards…While the exercise is not difficult to do, I don’t set the standards first and then design the projects around them.  I look at the project from an artistic perspective and then find standards that match.  That just the way my mind works.  The inspiration comes first. If the idea is powerful enough to move me and my students, then it will have enough substance to engage the standards.  Grabbing an idea and following through with it is a real-world task. I believe the purpose of standards is to reflect real-world needs and apply them to student work.  If students are creating projects that reflect real-world tasks, then it follows that they will be adhering to the standards.”

It’s a beautiful Sunday morning in the foothills, so I’m heading out to my deck to start reading the next chapter, Kevin Hodgson’s Digital Picture Books – From Flatland to Multimedia. If you’re not already subscribing to Kevin’s blog, you’re missing great tips and examples of what digital storytelling looks like with 6th graders!

March 8, 2009
by blogwalker

EdubloggerCon-West pre-CUE event

Due to very iffy wifi connections, I was not able to do much live blogging from CUE (although I did Tweet much of the conference). Here are a few of the gems from  the Wednesday pre-Cue EdubloggerCon-West meet up (Thank you, Steve Hargadon, for putting together this event!)

  • Jose Rodriguez – How do you get students away from mandated scripted learning. Using Two-Minute Tamales (Gary Soto), for example, at end of story, students produce a video. Jose starts with as a free version of a SmartBoard. Students build a 5-minute play for which they develop the script for narration. They have to build in dialogue. is an easy interface (large font, upload images, etc.). Jose uploads from iMovie to, which has an option to save as non-flash-based file (QuickTime). Small file too!
  • Copyright discussion: Checkout flickrstorm tutorial posted by David Jakes on his site.
  • Janice Stearns – virtual meeting through ustream – Besides video and back channel,  Janice also brings in coveritlive –  which adds the appeal of making conference look like sports live blogging, but you can moderate it! Whoot Whoot. Looks like an easy, baby step into video conferencing. Move them on to Elluminate as next step.

February 7, 2009
by blogwalker

BAWP: Scaffolding for Success – One digital story at a time

I first learned of the Bay Area Writing Project when my daughter was in 2nd grade at Rooftop Elementary School in San Francisco. At a PTA meeting, teachers enthusiastically shared how a summer institute across the bay had completely changed the way they would be delivering writing curriculum to their students.

And I remember my daughter coming home with her writer’s notebook and talking about “sloppy copy” and “author’s chair” and, just, well, wanting to talk about her writing.

We moved the following year out of the Bay Area and up to the Sierra foothills, where I eventually fell into a teaching job at my daughter’s school – and where I learned about the Area 3 Writing Project, the Sacramento region’s counterpart to the BAWP. I had the good fortune in 1995 to attend the A3WP Summer Institute.  Like the Rooftop teachers, I began the next school year with a commitment to bring out the writer in every student.

It’s easy to make commitments like the above when you know you can count on the support of the amazing Writing Project network.  For example, checkout what I found this morning while browsing the National Writing Project website: Literacy, ELL, and Digital Storytelling: 21st Century Learning in Action. I’ve had the pleasure of attending Clifford Lee’s Digital Stoytelling session live during an NWP conference. But now, thanks to a collaborative effort between the BAWP, NWP, and the Pearson Foundation, Cliff’s wonderful immigration project is online.  This video is but one of the many resources posted to the site, providing the scaffolding for teachers thinking about structuring an immigration project – or any kind of documentary project.

What a gift to have 24/7 access to best practices for digital storytelling from teachers like Clifford Lee and his colleague Yumi Matsui!

November 27, 2008
by blogwalker

NCTE ACE Workshop Makes “the Shift” Visible

I love being part of the ACE group, which always offers a Monday hands-on tech session at NCTE. Each year, I walk away with a deeper understanding of what 21st century teaching is all about.

Rich Rice opened the workshop with a session on K-16 Educational Blogging and Podcasting.

My NWP colleague Troy Hicks led the second session: Writing with Wikis. Troy opened the session by asking “what’s the matter with wikis?” Some participant ideas:

  • danger of overriding work(and we went live with a flurry of posting – and overriding each other)
  • tough to keep organized

His second question: “What’s good about wikis?” Participants’ thoughts:

  • small group projects, e.g., poetry project
  • collaborative essays
  • allowing students to incorporate information in different ways
  • creating policy documents

If you are looking for ways to make visible to teachers the power and possibilities of collaborative writing, take a tour of the many projects Troy has shared through this wiki. I love his Project Write: Book Discussions. The author links take readers to wikipedia-like resources pages. What a great model!

Allen Web led the third session, opening with a small rant on the design of 21st century computer labs, which look amazingly similar to 19th and 20th century “labs.” Small but revolutionary idea! I’ve asked Allen to send me a photo of the lab he has designed, where laptops are placed on small tables that can easily be moved to accommodate whatever project students might be working on. I now understand why the use of technology in classrooms with access to a few laptops always seems so much more powerful than what I typically see happening in elementary – secondary computer labs.

My favorite link on Allen’s LitArchives site = Civil Liberties Online Resources. Not on his LitArchives site, but very exciting is his Literary Worlds project. At a glance, more impressive than read/write projects I’ve viewed in Second Life!

I led the 4th session with an introduction to VoiceThread.

The 5th session was my first time to participate in one of Carl Young‘s workshops. Oh my, some great ideas and resources for teaching the realities of digital identities! Given that few K-12 students have received much instruction, either from home or school, on the ethical use of the Internet, Carl’s suggestion to those whose digital identities may already be questionable as potential employees, grant recipients, etc., to get out there and create a positive web identity. Love Carl’s resources and samples posted to Being Proactive!

Ewa McGrail, who organized this year’s ACE event, ended the day with a great activity and resources for teaching copyright and fair use. I’m really glad she’s posted the handout, since we ran short on time.

Interested in becoming a member of ACE? Contact Ewa. Next year’s NCTE ACE workshop will be in Philidelphia, one of my favorite cities:-).

*Image from Library of Congress American Memory Project –

November 26, 2008
by blogwalker

NCTE Ports of Entry Session

It was my privilege to join Monica Edinger and William Teale for an early Sunday morning NCTE session, Ports of Entry.

I’ve known Monica – and stood in awe of her work – for close to ten years, so I don’t know why the level to which she promotes questioning, creating, and sharing with her 4th grade students still amazes me. For a glimpse into her Web 2.0 journey, start with her presentation and then take a tour of Edinger House, her classroom blog.

William Teale added another layer to our presentation by pointing out that, although Monica and I have been exploring and experimenting with new tech tools for over a decade, many teacher are still intimidated by technology and the time commitment required for meaningful integration into the curriculum. Bill showcased two online projects: ePals and in2books. Although I was vaguely familiar with both ePals and in2books, I did not realize these two programs are both under the umbrella of ePals, a once fee-based program that is now free and very dynamic. The power of ePals is that a teacher with limited tech proficiency can easily enroll his/her students not only for online pen pal “demographics dances” (bill’s words), but can also connect them to powerful lessons and projects that promote global awareness and social action on such vital topics as water.

The in2books project provides free books to Title 1 schools, grades 3-5, and connects students with an adult pen pal (carefully screened by the organization!) for the purpose engaging students in reading and writing and promoting a love of books. Here’s a link to an NBC spotlight on the program –

OK, and the good news about our 8:30 a.m.-on-a-Sunday session was that our participants outnumbered the three of us, were impressively awake, and seemed to share our enthusiasm for Web 2.0 in the elementary classroom 🙂

November 11, 2008
by blogwalker
1 Comment

Mathew Needleman’s K12Online Preso – Oh my!

I’ve blogged about Mathew Needleman before. Since attending his CUE 08 presentation, I’ve been following his blog and have even written videoconferencing sessions with Mathew into my district’s current EETT grant. But if you haven’t had the pleasure of meeting face-to-face with Mathew in real time or virtual time – or even if you have – you now have the opportunity to watch the amazing video he created for his recent K12Online Conference presentation Film School for Video Podcasters!

Mathew’s explanation of the storyboarding process will make you rethink those storyboarding templates (that I’ve been giving students). I also have a much better understanding of the Rule of Thirds now. He touched quickly on lighting too, an area I haven’t a clue about setting up, so I’m hoping maybe Mathew has an upcoming session on that topic.

What a strong case for media literacy in the elementary curriculum! Just wish I had joined Mathew live for his K12Online Conference session. Next year for sure!

August 22, 2008
by blogwalker

Why Filmmaking Belongs in the Classroom

“I think the big mistake in schools is trying to teach children anything, and by using fear as the basic motivation. Fear of getting failing grades, fear of not staying with your class, etc. Interest can produce learning on a scale compared to fear as a nuclear explosion to a firecracker.” Stanley Kubric

For the past couple of years, Nikos TheodosakisThe Director in the Classroom has been my top recommendation to teachers wanting to venture into filmmaking as part of their curriculum. In addition to tips and wonderful graphic organizers, Nikos also lays out a compelling argument (on behalf on his own children – and all children) for why filmmaking belongs in the classroom, starting with Part 1:

  • Learning in a world of change
  • Living and learning in a visual world
  • How filmmaking develops higher order thinking skills
  • How filmmaking develops personal and social skills
  • How filmmaking raises awareness

I have a new favorite: Reading in the Dark: Using Film as a Tool in the English Classroom, by John Golden. I found this gem while attending the July National Council of Teachers of English (NCTE) Institute for 21st Century Learning. What a great resource for secondary teachers – and probably upper elementary too. “Even though this book deals with cinematic technique and film study, it is ultimately a book about using film to help students improve their reading and analytical skills.”

Golden includes over 30 films, ranging from E.T. The Extraterrestrial to Life Is Beautiful , and provides strategies for viewing each, including reading strategies (e.g., predicting, responding, questioning, and storyboarding), textual analysis (e.g., characterization, point of view, iron, and connections/comparisons between authors’ and directors’ choices) and classroom tested suggestions for developing units. Tons of powerful images pulled from films, along with thought-provoking “Questions to Consider.”

I’m working on a presentation right now for our Sacramento Educational Cable Consortium‘s upcoming Video in the Classroom event.  I’ll be sharing both books during my session – and am seeking a third to add to the list.

July 22, 2008
by blogwalker

NCTE – Helen Barrett on ePortfolios

Helen Barrett is sharing her commitment to life-long portfolios and building the argument for portfolios in our own personal lives, not just for our students.

Realizing I had my camera with me, I logged onto and recorded Helen’s session.

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