Geek Alert! - Warning: This post is pretty tech-geeky (unless you actually know something about computers, in which case, you'll wonder why I'm making such a big deal out of something so simple...)

I teach a Computer Applications class to 7th and 8th graders as an IA. It is a half-year class. For the first marking period of the class, the students do a lot of exploration and learn a bit about doing internet searches, editing photos and sounds, using PowerPoint, word-processing and other basic computer applications. For the second half of the course, I have each student choose a topic, then build a project that includes aspects of everything he or she has learned over the course so far. This generally means a PowerPoint that showcases other types of work.

One of my 8th graders is fascinated by a one-celled organism called euglena. This particular student is extremely tech-savvy and enthusiastic. (He knows much more than I do about many computer applications.) While searching online, he found a website with a short movie featuring these one-celled organisms. He really wanted to include this movie in his PowerPoint. (I don't have a problem with that, as long as he cites his source - he's not going to try to make money with this or anything.)

Unfortunately, this was easier said than done:

The website simply has a window that shows the movie. When you go there, a box appears in the middle of the screen and a moment later, there is a short movie running there. There aren't any options for downloading the video.

I addressed this in a typically over-elaborate and complicated way. There is a command called "View Source" that allows you to read the computer code that a webpage is written in. (See the picture on the right.) By reading the code, this student and I found out the actual filename of the video, then used Zamzar to convert and download it. (See previous post for information on Zamzar.)

It was only later, that I realized there was a simpler way of doing this.

I could have just right-clicked.

On the any pc-type computer mouse, there are usually two buttons. the "left-click" button that you almost always use with your index finger and the mysterious, almost threatening button on the right that most computer users never use and try to avoid because it confuses them.

The right click is your secret best friend.

Clicking anything with that right-hand button will open up a window of options in any given situation that you never dreamed about.

Including, in this case, the option to just download the darn video without having to search through all that code.

(As it turns out, though, this particular movie is a Quicktime movie - meaning that it is Apple-based. PowerPoint is PC-based and the two don't get along. I would have still needed to use Zamzar to convert the Quicktime movie (.mov) to a format more suitable for PowerPoint (.mpg). Did I just make your eyes glaze over? I'm really, really sorry. I'll try not to do that again.)

Once I had actually downloaded the euglena video though, there was a second problem - it was an insanely large file. Yes, the video was "short" compared to Citizen Kane or something, but it was over nine minutes long and really, really huge - 26 megabites: way too big to fit easily into a PowerPoint presentation.

There had to be another way of finding euglena video footage that was a little more user friendly.

As it turns out, there was. Is. Er... whatever...

On a whim, I looked up the word "Euglena" on YouTube. "What are the odds," I asked myself, "that anyone would be geeky enough to actually post footage of a single-celled animal-like alga on YouTube?"*

As it turns out, quite a few. My student and I are somewhat spoiled for choice vis-avis euglenic video footage.

So I guess the main lesson to be learned from all this is, K.I.S.S. - "Keep It Simple, Student". Or Teacher. Er...whatever...

* When I asked my wife this question, she pointed out, "You would."

Sadly, she's right.


If there is any website that strikes terror into the hearts of people in education, it is YouTube. It is ALWAYS blocked from any school network. The idea of students having access to raw video footage uploaded from who-knows-where is pretty scary. On top of that, even a quick look at the content on YouTube doesn't inspire much confidence in humans as a species - there are some pretty dumb people out there with access to a video camera and the dumber they are, the more likely they are to have stuff posted on YouTube.

There is an old axiom called "Sturgeon's Law" that says, "90% of everything is crap". So what about the other ten percent?

If you know what to look for (and even if you don't), there is an astounding amount of really useful (and cool) footage on YouTube that works really, REALLY well in the classroom - footage from classical music concerts, political campaign ads, great speeches from history, important events as they appeared on the news - you name it.

The problem though, as stated above, is, YouTube is always, ALWAYS blocked from any school network. So how can you use it in your classroom?

The answer is This is one of several online services that allows you to convert just about any type of computer file to any other type of computer file. You tell it what you want to convert and when it's done converting it, it will send you an email with a link to download the newly converted file.

(If that sounds scary and techno-jibberishy, think about it this way: If you didn't like the color of your car, you could send it to a body shop to be repainted. When they had finished redoing your car, they'd give you a phonecall to let you know it was done and where you could pick it back up. This is sort of like that.)

The other really cool thing that Zamzar does is to convert online videos like those on YouTube into video files that you can store on your computer. If you find a video clip that you want to use on YouTube, you can use Zamzar to download it for use in your classroom later.

Just copy and paste the URL (web address) of a particular YouTube video into the URL box in Zamzar, fill in the rest of the information it asks you for, then select "Convert". A taskbar at the bottom of the window will let you know when the file has been converted. A couple of minutes later, if you check your email, you will find a link that will allow you to download the video to your computer. If you are planning to use the video as part of a PowerPoint presentation, you should probably convert it to an "mpeg" file. If you are an Apple user, choose a "mov" file.

There is another advantage to doing this:

A couple of years ago, there was a particular video I needed to use in a class. It was a time-lapse video of traffic on the Panama Canal. At the time, the only way I knew of to access it was on streaming video. I had to swear all my students to secrecy everytime I showed it, because it took so much of the school's bandwidth, each time we watched it, everyone else's internet access in the school crashed to a halt. By downloading a video to my own computer, I avoid that whole headache.

Secret, Emergency Trick to Get Around School Filters:

If you are at school and suddenly realize that you need to use a YouTube video, but are frustrated by the internet filter, there IS a way around it - sort of. Let's imagine that you need a video of Dr. King's "I Have a Dream" speech:

Open a search engine like Google. Type in a search string that says something like:

YouTube, I Have a Dream

You will get something that looks like this. Choose the video clip that you want to use. (You'll have to take your best guess on which one that would be.)

If you do this at school, it will take you to the dreaded "This Website Is Blocked" Page of Doom. But it will also tell you exactly which webpage it is blocking. If you copy that web address, then plug it into Zamzar, you can send the link for the converted file to your school email account, then use that to download the video.

This is not a perfect solution, but I used it a few months ago to get a Barrak O'Bama campaign video that I needed on short notice.

Try downloading a video from YouTube this week. Your classroom might become 2-3% cooler.

YouTube: It's not just for idiots anymore.

[Note - It has been brought to my attention that this may violate YouTube's Terms of Use Agreement. While I doubt that specially trained YouTube ninjas will be sent to punish you for this, you should read the Agreement and make your own decision.]