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My school got hit pretty hard by the H1N1 virus. Our 7th grade, which normally has 64 students or so was down to 17 kids one day last week. I had an 8th grade class with three students in it last Thursday.

In one of my classes, all the boys were out sick. 

I asked the girls, "Seriously? No boys?"

One of the girls responded, "Well, it is the SWINE flu..."

But I digress...

So the question is, with that many students out, what do you do about the content you are supposed to be teaching? All my blocks were finishing up the last couple of lessons of their Constitution unit and getting ready for a big unit test. On top of that, the end of the marking period was a couple of days away and I really wanted to give my guys one last chance to boost their overall grades. So, not covering the material wasn't really an option.

On the other hand, how fair is it to cover important material when half the students aren't there to have it presented to them? Yes, they can get the notes from other students, but it really isn't the same.

So I bit the bullet and did something I've thought about from time to time, but I've been really reluctant to do:

My Math colleague and I have talked from time to time about filming our lectures and putting them on the web for students who are out or want to review key concepts. This makes a lot of sense for him especially, because Math lectures are generally only ten to fifteen minutes long. 

Mine tend to be substantially longer.

Additionally, I really hate the way I sound.

No. Really. 

You know how cringe-worthy your voice sounds on an answering machine?

Mine sounds like that in real life.

Plus, as another colleague put it, I don't exactly look like Brad Pitt. (Truthfully, I don't even look like Brad Pitt's Creepy Uncle Sid.)

But, in times of crisis, sacrifices have to be made.

Here's what I did:

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I set up my Flip video camera on a tripod toward the front of my classroom. I started out by putting it on a mini, table-top tripod, but I found that every time a student bumped the table, the picture got shaky. I ended up using a full-sized tripod and got a better picture.

Before my actual lecture, I pointed the camera at my whiteboard and had one of my students stand there for reference, while I framed the shot. I discovered later that because she is much shorter than I am, my face wasn't actually in the frame for a lot of the lecture (good), but my belly was (not so good).

In order to head off potential privacy concerns from parents, I kept the camera aimed at the front of the classroom and didn't put any of the students in any of the shots. I also made up aliases for each of the students, which was probably overkill, but they enjoyed it.

I filmed each of my lectures and used the one that covered the most material.

For the PowerPoint review that I showed to my class, I thought about figuring out some way of downloading the slideshow directly into iMovie for a clearer picture, but I realized that I would lose any of the comments my students or I made, so I set the tripod up next to my projector and just shot the screen. It ended up looking a bit like a pirated dvd, but I think the lesson came across better.

When I was all done filming, I tried editing what I had in iMovie, but the file ended up being much, much larger than the raw footage, so I gritted my teeth and just uploaded the raw footage to Vimeo, as-is.



So, how did it go? Was it as bad as you thought?


Sort of.

From a watching-yourself-on-camera perspective, it was even worse than I had anticipated. I came across sort-of like John Candy playing a gay game show host. "Cringe-worthy" doesn't even begin to describe it. A couple of colleagues commented on how brave I was to put something like that out on the internet.

I don't think they meant it in an entirely good way.

On the other hand, from a pure teaching point of view, I was pretty happy. I covered the material I needed to, and it came across well. This was the first time I'd used video to observe myself and I was pleased with how I interacted with students. My pedagogy was solid and I looked like a real teacher.

Go figure.


I posted links to the two videos on my homework page and several students ended up using the lesson.



Anyway, here are the two lessons:



I look forward to your comments.

(Sort of.)



 
 

After a lot of angst and near-heartbreak, the final projects for the Car Unit are done! (Well, as done as they are going to be; as always, there are a few students who did not complete the project, but overall this one is in the bag.)

Ultimately, in spite of a lot of mid-project frustration, the final product was pretty satisfying. Many of the students put some real work into these interviews and we got some great stories.



A brief overview:

This was the final project for a new interdisciplinary unit my team tried out with this year's 8th grade. The topic of the unit was "Cars" and the theme was "Responsibility". In each of the four core curriculum areas, we used automobiles as a platform to address certain core ideas. In my class (Social Studies), we looked at the history of horse manure in America and how cars were seen as a giant leap forward in social responsibility early in the 20th Century. We looked at Henry Ford and how he changed the face of American Labor and we looked at some of the social changes brought about by car culture.

For their final project in Social Studies, students were told to interview someone over the age of 35 about a lesson that they had learned in Responsibility from cars or driving. Students were given bonus points for each year over the age of 65 their interviewees were. [The goal was to encourage them to go out into the community and learn something from the older residents. Most interviewed their parents, though.]

When they had recorded their interviews the students edited them to around two minutes in length and made a one-slide PowerPoint presentation identifying who the interviewee was, what the essential lesson of Responsibility they took away from the interview was and including a relavent picture (with sources cited).

I took the individual slides and sound files and combined them into longer PowerPoint presentations that we watched in class. We went over each project according to the rubric the class had been given at the beginning of the project and the students participated in my grading of the project.


Once I had four complete PowerPoint presentations (one for each class), I tried to publish them online, so parents and a larger audience could view them. I did this in two ways:

I downloaded a freeware application called iSpring Converter that adds a tab to your PowerPoint menu bar that allows you to more-or-less instantly convert a PowerPoint slideshow into a flash animation movie that you can post on your website. This turned out to be really easy. It will allow us to post the projects directly on the DCS website and the quality of each movie is really good.


The next step was a little trickier.

I used another freeware program called AutoScreenRecorder to record each PowerPoint as it ran in real time, then used Windows Movie Maker to edit it and add the students' soundfiles to it. (I'll go into this in greater detail in a later post.)

This is not a big deal - I learned how to do all this last year on another student project. The bigger problem surfaced when I tried to post these movies online.


In the past, I've published videos of student work to TeacherTube, basically a school-safe version of YouTube. Unfortunately, this time around, there was some sort of glitch in the system. I uploaded one of the videos at school and the website said to hold on, this might take a few minutes, etc..., and after an hour or so, SOMETHING got uploaded to my TeacherTube account, but it wouldn't play and I kept getting odd error messages. I assumed this was a problem of our school's filter or of TeacherTube itself, so after trying again at home, I decided to upload the student movies to YouTube. I figured that it would carry a little more prestige with the students anyway.

My videos uploaded pretty well, but somehow were never ready to play. Finally, this morning, I looked at my YouTube account more closely and realized that - duh - the videos were way too long for YouTube, which does, after all, specialize in short video clips of beer commercials and waterskiing squirrels. (I say this with all the affection in the world. You know at this point the special place YouTube holds in my heart.)

Finally, I ended up uploading the videos to Vimeo, a different online video service, which seems to suit our needs for this particular project better.

Anyway, without any further ado, here are the 2009 student Car Projects:


 

 
Overall, I would classify this project as a qualified success. I will definitely try it again with next year's class.

Click here to view the New Hampshire State Department of Education Social Studies Frameworks standards adressed by the Car Unit.