For the last three years, I've done book trailers with my 3rd graders. Before getting the iPads, we used Animoto, and I'd originally planned to just transfer the project to the Animoto app this year. And then I went to ISTE, where I learned about Adobe Spark Video. Intrigued, I played around with it, liked what I saw, and decided to take the plunge. Now that the project is done, I wanted to compare the two programs.
Hindsight is always 20/20, and in retrospect, assigning the kids computers and having them save their Animoto logins would have saved me a lot of time and effort. Since I didn't, it meant I was continually scrambling to log kids into their accounts, then locating their projects and loading them so that kids could get to work immediately. With Spark Video, I did have to create user accounts, but once an account was logged in, I didn't have to do anything else, and so kids could just grab their iPad, open the app, and get to work. Both sites allow you to register with a "fake" Gmail address (i.e. the teacher controls the main account and then creates endless +1, +2, etc accounts), which makes it easy for the teacher to control the process.
Adding Images to a Project:
Spark Video was a huge improvement for me on this front, though with a few trade-offs. On Animoto, kids had to use Google Images to search (we tried a few kid friendly image sites, but they didn't play nice with our browsers), drag the image to their desktop, then upload it into Animoto. This was a lot of steps for them to handle, and it also made it basically impossible for them to track URLs for citation purposes. As a librarian, I couldn't let this happen in good conscience, so I went in after the fact to recreate the citations through Tin Eye, which was about as much fun as you might imagine. Furthermore, there was no guarantee that the images being used were licensed for fair use, and the vastness of Google meant that a kid doing a book like Harry Potter could basically rip off stills from the movie, leaving little room for imagination.
With Spark Video, there is no immediate access to Google (the process would be Safari --> Google Images --> Camera Roll --> Spark Video --> Import image), which is a huge plus. The app has a built-in image search that looks at images tagged for fair use on Flickr, and kids simply tap an image they want to insert it into their video. The only quibbles I have are that there were a few inappropriate pictures that popped up (there were definitely some boobs!) and that keyword searches can be kind of unpredictable. However, the vast majority of kids were able to independently find images they wanted to use, and they took my chat about reporting inappropriate pictures to me seriously, which in turn allowed me to contact Spark support to flag and remove them from searches. The best part though, is that the app automatically generates citations for all images used. Oh, happy day.
While Animoto offers more options for backgrounds, I always had two issues with their layout. The first was that without fail, some of the most enticing backgrounds were only available to paid subscribers. As I recall, last year Animoto had done a better job of clearly labeling the 'pro' choices, but there were a number of kids who got frustrated and upset that their background of choice wasn't actually available to use. The other issue was that depending on the background chosen, the formatting of your images and text could change drastically. This led to some presentations having their images cropped weirdly, or zooming in unpredictably, and I didn't like the aesthetic.
Spark has a much smaller gallery of options to choose from, and only some of the backgrounds are actually customizable by color. This led to a few kids picking backgrounds where they had hoped to change the color, only to find they couldn't, but on the whole, it made it a lot easier for kids to pick their background and get to work instead of drowning in options. Huge plus for me. Layouts are also customizable by slide, with five basic options to choose from, which allows for a more standard presentation across backgrounds (though some templates will format images as circles rather than squares, for example). There is also no weird zooming. The length of each slide is customizable as well, which is nice.
Animoto has a more extensive music gallery, which is a definite plus, but I found that it was sometimes so large that most kids wound up using the same few tunes over and over again. Spark has a much smaller built-in collection, but it gets the job done.
Voice and Text
Animoto limits students to 140 characters per slide, but then subdivides that to a certain number of characters per line if you're doing a text slide. While this is a good idea in theory, it proved to be a really big challenge for third graders, who don't have the vocabulary to make good substitutions. Spark allows a fairly decent amount of text per slide, but what's even better is that it allows you to record voice as well. For some of my students who don't love to write, this was a huge bonus - they could still participate in the project and share what they knew without the hassle of writing. Win-win.
Cross Platform Compatibility
Both apps are accessible both from an iPad or from a desktop or laptop computer, which is awesome. Hooray for work being saved in the cloud!
So there you have it. I love Adobe Spark and won't be looking back. I'm really delighted with the final products and with how much more depth the projects had this year. The kids also loved using the app, and a number have told me that they're now using it at home as well, which is just awesome to know. Check out their great work!
My student/professional goal for this year is all about utilizing the new library iPads as creation (rather than consumption) tools. One of the projects I identified was teaching my 1st graders how to use Scratch Jr, a coding app designed for students who are pre-literate.
Scratch Jr. works by giving kids a built-in library of characters and backgrounds (though these can be edited or created by students) and simple blocks that use symbols in order to code their characters to create movement, action and sound. It's not as sophisticated as regular Scratch, but it does allow for a great deal of creativity at an age-appropriate level.
The premise of this unit was that students would create an original story following our group study of the beginning, middle and end of the story. I began by teaching them a few tutorials that introduced the different controls of the app (which I found here) and a few of the features they might want to use (we stopped at lesson 5 ). This part (which took about 3 weeks) was...frustrating for all concerned.
The biggest reason for this frustration was my assumption that students knew how to use the iPads confidently - after all, they use them in their classrooms. What I didn't consider was that when they use them, it's not for creation purposes, it's for skill practice, so there's little independent use of the devices involved. As a result, they were initially overwhelmed with all the functions of the Scratch Jr. app, and even struggled with how to apply the appropriate amount of pressure to the screen to delete or move characters around. I modeled, I used the ActivBoard, I handed out printed guides - but it was tricky getting them over the learning curves necessary to use the app successfully.
A student demonstrates their completion of the first Scratch Jr. tutorial, getting a car to move across a cityscape scene.
Just when I started to despair that this project was doomed to failure, I decided to stop the tutorials and see what happened. Students first had to plan out their story with basic storyboarding and get their story approved by me before they got an iPad. I did, however, allow them to use an iPad to look at the different backgrounds and characters for inspiration purposes.
And then, I just let them go.
The results were much better than I'd expected. Some kids figured out extremely sophisticated coding combinations, edited their characters or created original ones, added conversations, and used commands I never taught them. The majority of kids eventually found their feet and become more independent and comfortable using the app. The stories were fairly basic in terms of what happened on the screen, but the goal was to get them creating original projects, so from that standpoint, I'm pleased.
The next step was figuring out how to share their projects - Scratch Jr. is a fairly locked down app, which makes sharing difficult. And then I realized that I had the perfect solution - app smashing! It was a bit of a multi-step process, but it did the trick.
First, I used the Reflector app to broadcast the iPads to my laptop, then used the built-in recorder to film a video. Next, I used AirDrop to send the files to my iPad, then used iMovie to lengthen the videos. The exported videos were then added to Book Creator. This worked beautifully, because it allowed kids to record a verbal explanation of their story, exercise some editorial control over the title, font, and color, and have the video of their story play on the same page. Even better, Book Creator allows files to be exported as videos, so once they were done, I simply added the videos to my YouTube channel, then shared the link in each student's Seesaw folder.
We're still working our way through the recording process, and I have a few kiddos that are still working on their stories, but on the whole, I am pleased with how this project turned itself around. I surveyed two of my three classes to gauge their opinions on Scratch Jr., and the majority said they feel they can now use the app without much adult support and they would love to use the app for fun and for other curricular purposes in the future. Some even shared that they are now using the app at home, which was really great to hear.
Check out the stories that have been shared so far - more coming at a later date!
I will be the first to admit that I was initially very skeptical of the idea of a makerspace. I didn't see how it would really fit in with a school library program or why it should. Over the past year or so, I've been convinced of the merits, so much so that I actually proposed and am participating in a Makerspace-themed PLC at work for professional development this year. I haven't yet created a formal makerspace in my library, and I'm not sure I ever will, but I like the makerspace mindset/ethos, and I want to work it into my space somehow.
When Rachel and I presented at the Better Together conference this August, we both came away inspired by the idea of a makerspace. I got to thinking about how I want to do more outreach to my middle school students and encourage them to be in the library more often, and then I hit upon the idea of a monthly makerspace activity. I pitched the idea to Tahleen, the fabulous teen librarian at our local public library, and Ginny, my engineering teacher, and both said they would be happy to help.
The plan: One Friday a month, I will feature a makerspace-themed activity for students in grades 5-8. It has to be cheap, easy, and quick to do (students only have 45 minutes).
Challenge #1: Cardboard - it seemed fitting coming so close on the heels of the Global Cardboard Challenge.
Materials: Boxes of all shapes and sizes, duck tape (silver and colored), scissors, stapler, yarn, masking tape, exacto knife (from Ginny, only adults could use it), and a Pinterest page projected on the drop down screen of cardboard construction ideas.
The kids showed up, I explained the goal (create anything you want out of cardboard in 40 minutes) and set them loose. About ten kids came, and they had a blast. I was seriously impressed by what they managed to create in such a short period of time.
Check out their creations!
From left to right (top): A ball game - the ball goes in the top, then there are obstacles inside to navigate through, and finally "water" and a scoreboard. A doll house with two bedrooms. A zipline.
Bottom: A squid vending machine. A star-shaped mobile. A tent with a yarn curtain.
Serendipity is a wonderful thing.
Late last spring, I saw a post in one of the ISTE PLN's about an intriguing project that incorporated critical thinking, real-world problem solving skills, and 3D printing. Coincidentally, our engineering room had just gotten a Makerbot 3D printer, and Rachel (my art teacher) and I were on the lookout for a collaborative project for 3rd grade.
I explored the program some more and shared my thoughts with Ginny and Rachel, who both felt it was a great idea. Over the summer, Rachel and I met to plan the unit, figure out the logistics, and get a crash course in how to use Tinkercad, the free, web-based 3D printing creation tool that allows you to create files for the Makerbot that can then be printed. School started, and we chatted again about how we wanted to start, when Ginny hit upon the idea of having the kids get a "taste" of Tinkercad before we started the project, with the thought that we would give them a more in-depth introduction once they were ready to transform their clay prototypes into 3D printed designs.
We settled on having the 3rd graders create keychains - Tinkercad used to have a great tutorial on how to do this that disappeared between July and September, but since I'd done it before, I simply re-created each step and made a flipchart to show kids how to do it.
It was a success.
With a full 40 minute period, nearly every student was able to start, create and finish their 3D printed keychain design, which was then exported to the Makerbot software and printed out after the fact. The kids felt like they had accomplished something and were excited to hear we would be doing this project, and they couldn't believe that at the end of one class period, they had created everything they needed for a keychain (neither could we - we had budgeted two class periods for this).
It was also a good test run for the teachers to see how the kids responded to the software, what pitfalls we need to be on the lookout for, and which kids can serve as "helpers" when we get to the more complex stuff since they picked up these instructions so quickly.
Part of the risk in trying something new is that you might realize it isn't going quite the way you planned, accepting that, and figuring out a way forward.
Two years ago, I began the process of "hacking" my NF collection by adding real-language descriptors to the Dewey Decimal System, and categorizing books by these new categories instead of in strict DD order. In some cases, this tracked pretty closely with Dewey (Animals), but in others, it pulled together wholly unrelated books (People/Places). However, last year, as I began to teach the new system to kids, I realized that I had made some sections overly complicated or unclear for a kid to understand. "Boredom Busters" was pretty straightforward, but "ELA" (English Language Arts) caused a great deal of confusion.
And so, here I am, redoing certain sections. We are simplifying, down to just the category name and at most one sub-category (so Animals - Dolphins instead of the current situation of Animals - Sea Mammals - Dolphins), and some sections are disappearing completely (ELA is going to become Poetry, Myths/Legends, Folk/Fairytales, and a few other small categories). It'll take time, but I remain confident that it will pay off and make it easier for kids to navigate the library independently.
We had a funny back to school schedule this year, with kids coming for the first two days of school followed by a four day weekend for Labor Day. I wanted to do an activity with the classes I saw on Wednesday and Thursday - something quick and easy, but also relevant to library-related topics and a way to get them thinking about themselves as readers.
Just before school started, I saw posts floating around Facebook from Cari Young about emoji book talks. I used her form as inspiration for my own, and an idea was born. After doing a welcome-back read aloud (My Teacher is a Monster by Peter Brown), I introduced the kids to emojis. Many of them didn't know that the smiley faces were called emojis, but as soon as I showed them my slide, they knew what I was talking about. We ran through all the different emotions, and then I showed them my sample emoji book review:
(Translation: the story was funny, it made me think, and it was scary. I liked the book.)
The kids loved the idea and spent 20 minutes happily occupied with their reviews. My 2nd graders did get a little confused by the "the story was" line, but once I re-explained it to them, they were good to go. The best part? I now have a bulletin board that's all ready to go for Back to School night that also serves as a place for kids to get book recommendations. Win-win!
Over the summer, I took a course on app smashing for professional development. As I quickly realized, I'd been doing app smashing without realizing it, but the class pushed me to try new things. One app that I'd always wanted to try is Aurasma, so I used this as my excuse to jump in. Today, my augmented reality orientation went live, and it was a hit.
To get started, I filmed little videos in Tellagami to introduce things I wanted the kids to pay attention to - not just the different sections of the library, but also our Awesome Box, the library catalog, and the"What is Ms. Bery Reading?" board. For the MCBA shelf, I used Animoto to make a book trailer for the titles I'd purchased.
The next step was exporting my videos and then adding them to Aurasma - the app did not play nice for this, so I wound up doing everything via my laptop, which was a bit frustrating but not the end of the world. I selected a trigger image (something that will make the video start playing) and uploaded the videos to each "aura."
This morning, I printed out signs with the trigger images on them, put them around the library, and got ready to start. Kids worked in pairs with our brand new iPads, and I gave them a checklist to make sure they'd visited every "station." It worked beautifully. Kids cooperated and had fun, hopefully they'll remember things more easily, and I got the slightly surreal experience of hearing my recorded voice in ten different spots around the library all at once!
Working in a school is like any other area of life - you have to find your people. I'm fortunate enough to work with an amazing group of people, but one of my favorite, and most richly rewarding collaborations has been with my art teacher, Rachel. We collaborated on the zoo project I wrote about earlier, and this Thursday night, we presented on our graphic novel project at the 3rd annual Better Together conference, cosponsored by MSLA and MassCUE.
You can find a link to all our materials here, and this is a picture of our snazzy poster, which is now hanging out in the front seat of my car, because it seems a shame to throw it away.
The project takes roughly 4 weeks in library and 4 weeks in art, and we teach our respective lessons back-to-back so that it doesn't consume either of our curricula. I begin by talking to the kids about how a graphic novel is different than a comic strip - both are popular genres in my library, so I try and make connections the kids will relate to. Above all, I want them to understand that a graphic novel is a novel, it just happens to have pictures in it as well.
The next week, we move on to talking about plot structure and language choice, then students begin to brainstorm what their main character looks and acts like using a character guide. Finally, students do a brief storyboard to get their creative juices going before they transition to art. I send along all the materials they've worked on in library to art, and from there the students learn about how to put a graphic novel together.
Rachel's part of the project involves teaching the kids how to think about the layout of a graphic novel - why would you want to choose different layouts and panel shapes/sizes, perspective (when might you want to zoom in on your drawing, and when might you want a panoramic view), and how to communicate visually using facial expressions, speech bubbles, captions, and more.
We had a lot of people surprised that we put no restrictions on the students other than "no violence and school appropriate," but I love this aspect, because kids are starved for chances to be genuinely creative. Kids who are usually writing-resistant come to life, and their works really reflect who they are: we've had sci-fi stories, time travel, historical fiction, realistic, fantasy, and more. The whole process gives kids ownership over their ideas and their work, and it really engages them. This is also a tech-free project, which may come as a surprise, but sometimes it's good to disconnect, and a pencil and paper afford the kids far more freedom than pre-set layouts, characters, and backgrounds. If I'm using technology, I want it to be used for a purpose, and since we haven't felt a compelling need to integrate it into this project, we haven't used it. That's OK, too!
One of the best things about librarians is that we are always willing to share, beg, borrow and steal lessons and projects. Two years ago, I heard about an awesome mystery animal project from an amazing librarian (and friend), Laura Beals D'Elia, and then I saw it replicated when I went to shadow the ever-wonderful Judi Paradis this fall, which made me immediately want to do it this spring. I did it a little differently than both of them because I was working on my own (instead of in collaboration with a classroom teacher), and had minimal support, but I'm still pretty pleased with the results.
Our first graders study animal classification and then take a trip to the Stone Zoo, so this seemed like a perfect opportunity. The basic premise of the project is that students get clues about a mystery animal and have to use what they know about animal classification to create an argument for why they believed the animal belonged to a particular group.
The first step was writing the clues - I used the clues Judi graciously shared with me as inspiration, but wrote my own. I wanted to make sure each clue worked for multiple types of animals, which was tricky!
The next step was recruiting some very eager 5th graders to film a video for me introducing the project and sharing the clues. In retrospect, I shouldn't have had the videos reveal all the clues (rookie mistake!) because it altered the inquiry and discussion process, but the project was still a huge success.
We began by discussing what students already knew about animal classification using Popplet, one of my favorite mind-mapping tools. The following week, we watched the entire video and then began breaking down the clues. Using the ActivBoard, I read out each clue to students and then we spent time discussing what type of animal each clue might belong to, and I color-coded their responses for a visual reminder.
As we worked our way through the clues, I checked in with kids periodically to see what they were thinking. Not only was this a great use of turn-and-talk, but it made the kids stop and really process what they were talking about and work to build their conclusions with supporting evidence. I continued to track what students were saying to show the evolution of their thoughts using Padlet (the most recent posts represent the end of the project, and the further you scroll, the earlier in the process we were). They weren't always correct in their rationale, but I loved hearing their thinking change. Bigger picture!
I was also delighted to find out that the kids kept talking about the project outside of the library, and that they used their time at the zoo trying to desperately figure out what the animal could be. Two kiddos even admitted to taking a map from the zoo and studying it on the bus, determined to find the answer! This is the sort of thing you live for as a teacher, and I was delighted to hear this.
To finish up, kids had to draw a picture of what they believed the mystery animal looked like and write a short explanation of why they felt that way. I gave them alist of the clues related to the animal's appearance, and also a chart breaking down the clues and which categories we'd put them in.
Last but not least, I recorded the students sharing their thoughts using Explain Everything (my go-to app this year). One of the things I noticed as we did this project was how uncomfortable the kids were - they kept demanding certainty and answers, and I would just grin and tell them I wasn't going to tell them anything. I had to repeat multiple times that the clues were supposed to match different categories on purpose, and when we got to the final stage, I told the kids they had to judge for themselves which pieces of evidence were the most important. As you will hear, some kids took a straightforward approach (x had the most checks, so it must be this) and others were willing to explore and wonder a bit more.
On the last days of school, I revealed to the kids that the animal did not, in fact, exist. The reactions were mixed: some felt triumphant in having predicted it, others were very cross that I'd told them that it was a real animal (to be fair, I told them it could only be a real animal category, so imaginary creatures like dragons could not count!), and some thought it was very cool. I am definitely going to repeat this project next year, so hopefully the kiddos won't spoil the surprise!
Sometime last year, I started to see the phrase "app smashing" around the Twitterverse, and I was intrigued. What was this? How could I do it? And then I learned I was already doing it! So, what is app smashing? App smashing involves taking different apps/web tools and combining them together to create something new.
One of the app smashing projects we did this year was a resource put together for 4th grade students studying Washington, D.C. The 4th grade social studies curriculum in Massachusetts is focused on the study of the 50 states, but one standard calls specifically for students to learn about the various monuments in D.C. When my 4th grade team asked me for help, I knew exactly what to do.
First, I started with ThingLink, a website that lets you create interactive images by tagging the image with interactive content. I found a picture of each monument we needed, then found age-appropriate websites and videos related to that monument, and linked them to the image. When students hovered over the image, they would be able to explore the associated resources. To make everything a little bit more organized, I decided to use different symbols to denote different media formats - play button for videos, i for websites/text, and green bullseyes for tours.
But how to share the images with students in an easy, accessible manner? The library website would be a logical choice normally, but the idea of embedding some 20 images did not seem like a good plan, so I came up with an alternative: Padlet! All I had to do was take the link to each ThingLink image, paste it into Padlet, and then arrange the content. It was easy, visual, and the kids really enjoyed this new way of exploring resources. Even better, because Padlet allows for collaborative activity, I was able to split the workload with one of the teachers, allowing her to add extra content and resources that she had access to but I didn't. Win-win!
My name is Ms. Bery. I am a PK-8 library media specialist in the Boston area. In addition to being a certified school librarian, I am also certified in instructional technology, and have a strong interest in exploring and integrating technology in new and exciting ways in the classroom.
I am also a 2016 PBS LearningMedia Local Digital Innovator, and a 2015 recipient of the Massachusetts School Library Association's President's Award.
Check out the Sandbox for apps and websites I've found useful in supporting student learning and creativity. I also (very occasionally) review children's and young adult literature on my book reviews page.
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The Centered School Librarian
Mrs. Lodge's Library
Trust Me, I'm a Librarian
The Librarian in the Middle
Thinking Outside the Library Box
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