Tuesday, April 8, 2014

Drones in School?

My job is so much fun. In the past few weeks I have had the pleasure of watching a group of seventh graders figure out how to operate a drone. Yes, a drone. Last year an amazing teacher at our school had her class writing grants for different science-based change projects. One class was working on raising awareness about and reducing light pollution. They wrote a grant to purchase a drone so that they could take pictures over our city to compare light pollution on different days. But now that project is over.... so.....

The students in my Student Technology Assistance Team (STAT) found the drone and learned how to make it work. They figured out how to set up the wireless network and connect a device (phone, iPad) to it. They figured out how to fly it and how take pictures and videos as they flew it. It wasn't a smooth process. We had trouble remembering to charge the battery, we had a few crash landings, we might have tried to put it together backwards. *grin* But overall, these seven students now know more about drones than any of their teachers.

Which brings me to our next project. The other day the STAT kids shared what they knew with 30 teachers from across my school division. They prepared their presentation and wrote a script explaining what a drone is and how they might be used in society. Then they modeled how to fly the drone. But we all know modeling isn't enough when teaching. So, next, they let the teachers try out the drone for themselves. Teachers had a blast trying out the drone and loved being taught by students.

But now what? We have this really cool drone, we know how to fly it, we know how to take pictures with it. Some teachers know about it. But how can it be used from here? Our students have come up with a ton of lesson ideas which I think are really cool. I'd love to hear more ideas or if you think these ideas are even plausible.

World Language or Beginner English Language Learner classes
  • Use target language to give directions to the pilot
    • Ex: Arriba!
  • Use target language to describe what is being seen

Math
  • Take aerial shots to study perimeters or other geometry concepts
  • Comparing how things look from the side, from above, etc.
  • Make a giant graph, drive the drone to specific points
  • Teach the concepts of X, Y and Z

Civics/Social Studies
  • Debate about privacy rights
  • Take aerial shots to compare to historical maps
  • Practice map skills (north, south, east, west)

Science
  • Understand lift and flight design
  • Aerial shots of erosion, watersheds, etc.

Physical Education
  • Aerial shots of students playing sports for analysis

Technology
  • How does it work?

English
  • Write pro/con debates about the use of drones

Art
  • Aerial shots to draw from
  • To teach perspective

Wednesday, April 2, 2014

Messing around with Green Screens

We been having a fun time these last few weeks messing around with green screen technology. It has been a lot of fun and we've learned a lot. (And it gave me a reason to clean out our "studio" - yea!).

If you've never tried green screen before, there are lots of ways to do it. In fact, when we do it, it isn't even a green screen, it is a blue one! The first step is to have a blue curtain or to paint a wall blue. In the past, I've even taped a blue sheet up to a wall and got pretty good results.

Next you add some code to Windows Movie Maker. If you aren't a computer programmer or if coding sounds intimidating to you, don't worry. I found the instructions here: http://www.wikihow.com/Chroma-Key-in-Windows-Movie-Maker super easy to follow. You do need to have the older version of Movie Maker though, the one for Windows 7 doesn't seem to work.

Once you add the Chroma Key, all the rest is a matter of editing in Movie Maker. The directions above take you through the rest of the steps. I've also written them out here: Greenscreen Directions if you are interested.

So besides feeling like a rock star when you figure out how this works, watching to kids videotape and edit is really fantastic!

The class I worked with had prepared skits ahead of time and came in "the studio" ready to film. I had a camera and tripod set up, but they did the rest. The filmed, transfered files from the camera to the computer and followed the directions for editing in Movie Maker.

They loved, loved, loved filming. Their skits were clever and creative and they could have recorded and re-recorded themselves all day. Gotta love 6th graders. TIP: tell students they only get 1 take!

The also loved, loved, loved finding images for their background. We found that color pictures worked best and that anyone that wore a blue shirt in front of the blue curtain disappeared when we applied the green screen! TIP: make sure students wear clothes that are a different color than your background!

Now, when it came to the editing, it definitely required more attention to detail and not all the kids were up for that. But, there were a few kids in each group that shined at this part. Maybe they hadn't been the ham in the skit or the director that remembered all the props, but when it came to understanding the editing process, they were experts. It was really interesting to notice how hard this part was for many students. It made me continue to think deeply about how we can offer more technology process opportunities for students in schools. More students need to be good at this step, understanding how the program works and that they can conquer it.

There is nothing like watching kids create a video that they've created start to finish. Greenscreen is no small undertaking but the outcomes are worth it!

I'd love to hear how others have used greenscreen and their ideas and tips about it!