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!
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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