Drawing Upon PBS Kids

Something dawned on me the other day while making dinner.  My son was watching PBS Kids as I was cooking in the kitchen (cranberry chicken, quite tasty).  Martha Speaks and Word Girl make regular appearances around our house and my son, although he doesn’t understand most of it, does get wrapped up in their episodic exploits.  While we were watching these animated creations, I realized something: certain “explanation-creation” apps such as Educreations and Explain Everything follow the same core premise PBS Kids anchors itself to.

  • Create drawings and animations that are visually appealing? Check. 
  • Tell a good story? Check. 
  • Try to teach somebody something new? Check. 

The end results of PBS Kids and using an “explanation-creation” (is there a better term for these?) app maybe vastly different, but the goals are basically the same; try to teach somebody something new in an engaging informative and visually appealing way. So how does this translate to the classroom? Well, it’s more relevant than you might think. Rather than just tell kids to open up an app on their iPads and tell me what you know, why not instead frame it as though they need to tell me a story?  Or, teach me something without me realizing that I’m learning.  Because that is essentially what a lot of these shows do, and they’re quite good at it.  I’ve never been part of a group of TV writers but I imagine that when the creators of these kids  shows try to think of new episodes, it is equal parts “how are we going to get kids to learn?” and “how am I going to make it engaging so that they’ll actually want to watch it?”. Oftentimes in education we get bogged down with the former and don’t pay much attention to the latter.  We become very transfixed with figuring out how kids are going to show the teacher what they know.  Now, that is very important – don’t get me wrong – however, if that is our sole focus in the classroom, that mindset often eliminates creativity for kids.  If kids are so content on only explaining what they know then they aren’t accessing different parts of their mind to allow them to be creative.



And kids need that permission.  They need to be encouraged to not just show what they know but to show it in a creative way that is engaging to them and to their audience. There are a lot of kids who try to please the teacher and just do the most “academic” work they can for the teacher and in the process they will sacrifice their own creativity.  There are also a lot of kids who may not want to do anything because their perception is that the only right answer for a teacher is the one that has a lot of words and looks very rehearsed and looks as though they are writing a college level term paper.  But it does not have to be that way.  We can assess whether or not students know and understand the things that they need to understand by allowing them to breathe life into a topic they are interested in and creatively changing it to give it meaning for themselves.

Explain Everything
Explain Everything

So, this is something that I’m going to try to keep in mind as I use iPads in my class more and more and more as a creation tool to help not only with student engagement but to grow a student center of creativity and authorship..


VVY: Internet Video Showdown

The explosion of internet video is probably the best thing to happen on the Internet since the last explosion of something equally radical (Chocolate Rain anyone?). There are so many good video sites out there, and any serious company/website worth its weight in binary has video to show. Heck, even The Home Depot gets this.

So, with so much video content out there, what’s a teacher to do?  How does one navigate through the sea of available videos or use a video service that is right for school?  Here are my three favorite (and semi-obvious) sites and why.

Feel free to listen to YYZ while reading VVY, it makes this post that much more Rush-tastic.


If you’ve never used or properly explored Vimeo and you love video/film, you’re doing yourself a disservice by not checking it out.  Vimeo is the most beautiful video site out there.  The quality of the videos found on Vimeo is so high, its almost intimidating.  I think of Vimeo as the hottest girl at school:  you really, really want to go out with her, but you’re too intimidated to ask her out, so you play minesweeper on Windows 95 by yourself at home.  (Author’s note: I believe I married the most beautiful woman on the planet, and yet I still don’t use Vimeo.  Hmmm.  Enigma.)  At it’s worst, Vimeo offers gorgeous HD videos you won’t be able to use in class.  At it’s best, it’s an indie film making channel.  While there may be some great videos out there to use in a day to day class, the types of video Vimeo offers are a little more niche.  I could easily see this used as a platform for a AV or film class or after school group, or if there was an in-depth project that didn’t need a lot of sharing.


Viddler is the middle child placed squarely between Vimeo and YouTube.  It doesn’t have the quality film making of Vimeo nor does it have the widespread appeal and ease of use as YouTube.  That being said, it’s still useful and definitely handles uploading video content extremely well.  One thing I really like about Viddler viewers can make video comments at specific points during a video, and it’s really easy to do.  I experimented with this idea last year when I made a video about the Constitution as an intro to that unit.  For a few extra credit points, I had students comment on the video to see what happened.  Comments came slowly at first, but after they saw how much fun their peers were having, they wanted their face on the video.

(To see the video with student comments and interaction, click here)

Although there are some videos on Viddler that could be used in the classroom, I would use Viddler more for controlling the end result and for student interaction.  Unlike YouTube, it’s nice that you don’t have to deal with annoying links or adds from videos totally unrelated to the video you’re showing or videos that may be inappropriate.


There’s not a lot that can be said about the behemoth that hasn’t been said or explored already.  There are a million obvious pros:

  1. Students (usually) know how to use it.
  2. It’s pretty easy to upload to.
  3. There is tons of content.
  4. Videos can easily be shared.

Personally, the biggest advantage of using YouTube over one of these other services is how easy it works with existing student Google accounts.  Student’s can make their own YouTube account and have it share a log in with their Google account, which makes it really convenient to post YouTube videos to other sources like a Google Doc, Site, Presentation, etc.  Requiring a student to use YouTube is a lot easier than teaching them to navigate through Vimeo or Viddler.

All video services have their pros and cons.  You really can’t go wrong with any of these three services, though in a pinch, I’d probably take YouTube just for it’s easy of service and content with Viddler a close second for it’s on video interaction ability.

What do you use?  Is there a great service out there I’m missing?  Let me know, drop a line.

It’s All in the Game

Harvard University recently revealed that they would offer a class – for credit – based on one of my personal favorite show, HBO’s The Wire.

A few other universities have also taken a plunge with The Wire as well, but for the uninitiated, The Wire (now off the air after five highly acclaimed seasons) is set in inner-city Baltimore and follows the Baltimore Police Dept. as they track down drug lords, dock workers, and even rubs shoulders with public schools. That’s as simply and succinctly as I can explain the show. Its got to many layers to count. Its basically the world’s biggest onion people.

The class offered at Harvard will use The Wire as a vehicle to discuss urban social issues of inner cities.  If I were still in college (and had a wealthy benefactor to pay for my way into Harvard, as well as place my name at the top of the wait list) I would take this class in a heartbeat.

Why? Because it’s a window into a world I have never lived in and never will. It allows me to submerge myself for approximately one hour into the lives of realistic characters with very real struggles. When a show makes you think about the content of the show even when your are done watching it, you know its a good show. I applaud Harvard for taking a new path in trying to engage their students to think about subject matter in new and refreshing ways.

Using videos and movies in my own class is usually a great experience, but what I can’t understand is why many in education (primarily secondary education) turn their noses up at watching film in class (unless of course it is a film specific class).  I can understand that films can be used too much in class, but sprinkled intermittently throughout the school year shouldn’t be a problem.  In some cases, with certain subjects using film to illustrate a point and learn from it is the most effective way to learn.   Look, students can read about D-Day, they can write reports, they can pour over photos and statistics and other primary documents, to understand D-Day really, really well.  But is there a better way, short of having an actual vet speak to students or visiting a WWII location, to be able to get students to feel what soldiers experienced on D-Day than by showing the opening scene of Saving Private Ryan? What better way is there to demonstrate sacrifice than to show parts of Band of Brothers along with the amazing interviews the remaining vets of Easy Company give before the episode?

Water works, gets me every time.

Granted, sensitivity to graphic content must be adhered to (The Wire and Saving Private Ryan certainly have their lions share of that) but if a film is able to capture the imagination of a student, spark interest about a topic, and resonate with them long after they’ve moved on from that lesson or even that class, why would you not use film in your technology arsenal?

For some odd reason, watching film is viewed as a time waster in class (and there are certainly those teachers who abuse it) and is generally left out of the technology integration discussion. What ought to happen, is that film be treated as a viable resource to use alongside many of the other resources used in a 21st century learning environment.  As Omar Little from The Wire might say, “It’s all in the game.”

Screenr: Breakfast of Champions

Screenr is to screencasting as Eggo Waffles are to breakfast.  Easy to use, and something you’ll want to share with everyone.  O.k., maybe you don’t want someone toe leggo your Eggo, but you’ll definitely want someone to leggo your Screenr. There’s not a lot to like about this free, java ran, web based screencaster.

  • Sign in with your Twitter account?  Check.
  • Easy to use with a Mac or PC?  Check, check.
  • Plays on the web (or even on an iPhone/iTouch)? Check, check, check.
  • Free?  Booya.

There are tons of applications for the use of screenr in the classroom.  I used it most recently to embed into my Moodle site a screenr I made about how to peer edit using Google Docs.   So easy.

About the only thing Eggos have over Screenr is are syrup hording craters.  Once Screenr figures that out, game over.