Take 2: Student produced video projects

I previously vented my frustrations about the losing so much time to preventable problems while doing my first video project, though despite these issues I decided to give it another go. I feel the project design is pretty strong, so I didn't want to just scrap it because of some technical issues. After today's "Grand Premiere" of student videos, I'm very glad I didn't give up on it.

Why did it go so much better this time around?

I'm not entirely sure, but I'm going to suggest it was mainly due to two factors:

  1. I was better able to anticipate where we'd run into problems. Last semester I was blind-sided several times leading to lots of scrambling and inefficiency. We ran into similar problems this time, but I already had a protocol in place for how to deal with these issues1.
  2. I had exemplars. I could point to some well-made videos from last semester to illustrate my expectations. More than anything, I was impressed by the overall increase of video quality this semester.

The Grand Premiere

I haven't always done a great job at championing my students' work. One thing I admire about Christian Long is how frequently he tells his students how awesome they are. (especially visible during the Alice Project & the 1984 project). I'm generally proud of my students, but I felt I needed to celebrate their work in a more special and obvious way.

Today I popped 12 bags of microwave popcorn during my prep and stitched together their finished video projects complete with introductory fanfare, the THX sound, an opening red curtain, and a fun intermission song. We spent about half the class simply watching each others' videos2.

The videos

Enough of me. More of them. Here are every one of my 2nd block's video projects. Feel free to leave comments on this post or on the the YouTube video pages. I'll be sure to share your comments (both praises & critiques) with my students.

(Update: This post has received a lot of attention by people doing Comments 4 Kids. While I'm grateful for that, unfortunately the kids really don't read this blog. My suggestion would be to leave comments on each video's YouTube page. That way the students are much more likely to see your comments. Thanks!)

Alkali Metals:

Alkaline-Earth Metals:

Transition Metals:

Metalloids & Semi-Conductors in Plain English:


Noble Gases:


  1. For a more detailed explanation, see my guest post over at the Free Tech 4 Teachers site.      (back)
  2. We later did, and are still doing, some self- and peer-assessments.     (back)

Digital video projects with bare-bones equipment

Originally written as a guest post over at Free Technology for Teachers.

Last semester I had students create videos that creatively describe the families of elements despite a lack of much in the way of digital video hardware, software, or technical support. There were some challenges along the way, but overall I found the project to be a positive experience.

Why video?

I don't simply want students to learn a set of facts. I want students to engage with the material and demonstrate the ability to apply their knowledge to situations beyond traditional classroom assessments. I also wanted students to think of how they could simply and clearly communicate scientific information to non-scientific audience. The video format allowed for easy sharing (through TeacherTube or YouTube) and encouraged the concise and creative communication of ideas.

Bare minimums

  • Cameras. I have an older Flip video camera and a digital still camera that takes movies. I encouraged students to use their own cameras if they had them as well (many did). Despite having four times as many groups as cameras, students rarely had to wait to film.
  • Computers. I had a cart of 24 laptops available for my use, though it would have worked just as well if I only had one computer per group.
  • Software. I had students used Windows Movie Maker, which comes pre-installed on pretty much every Windows computer. Some students also used PowerPoint to create and edit still frames in their videos.
  • File converter. The version of MovieMaker on our student computers didn't recognize the AVI video files my cameras use, though I know in general MovieMaker should play nice with AVI files. The first time around I used Zamzar to convert the video files to the WMV format. Zamzar works great, but is pretty slow. Even worse, due to downloading restrictions on student computers, I had to do all the conversions on my computer. This semester I'm using Format Factory on my machine, which has worked just fine so far. If the version of MovieMaker installed on the student computers was up to date, there would've been no need for conversion at all.
  • Microphone. Several groups chose to narrate over their video. I had a cheapo $9.95 mic and a nicer USB headset mic. Students preferred the cheapo mic because the student computers often didn't recognize the USB device.


  • Unforeseen conversion mess. The first time through, we had some pretty significant delays due to having to convert all the video files to the WMV format. I'm in the middle of the second time through this project right now, and I'm finding I'm much better prepared. Using Format Factory instead of Zamzar has helped cut down the wait time for file conversion and there seems to be much less frustration this time around.
  • Teaching the tool. I didn't spend time teaching students how to use MovieMaker. This was a purposeful move. I knew MovieMaker isn't overly complicated and the students were quite capable of figuring out a lot of its features on their own. I made a couple of quick screencasts going over the basics and provided links to other helpful screencasts. When a group had trouble with something, I would help that group and then have that group help any other groups experiencing similar problems.
  • My personal fear. I was pretty worried this whole project would crash and burn- especially considering my lack of experience with video and the bare-bones nature of my equipment. In the end, things turned out just fine, though the fear of the unknown is always something that can prevent us from trying out new ideas.

The results

They may not blow your mind, but I'm very happy with the final products:

Launching "Science Cast"

I'm a little concerned by the word, "pilot."

I'm in the midst of ramping up my students for 5 solid weeks of self-directed learning related to climate change. Uncharacteristically, I cleared the proposal with my principal and the science curriculum director before going forward with the plan. I was given "permission" to pilot this program.

Despite all the recent "21st Century Skills" and "self-directed learners" talk around school, the standard-driven CAPT (our state standardized test) reigns supreme. My 9th grade Integrated Science class has a rather extensive list of content standards I'm supposed to cover. I know my 5-week self-directed unit won't cover as many official standards as 5-weeks spent teaching a traditional curriculum.

I'm attempting to more efficiently use class time by exporting some of the content delivery outside the classroom. I saw a video some time ago about chemistry teachers who did something similar, and was recently reminded of the video by a tweet from Ben Grey.

After playing with several options of how to record & publish the video podcasts (I found Wes Fryer's recent posts on LectureCasting very helpful), I created a new subdomain (http://sciencecast.benwildeboer.com), recorded video through UStream using CamTwist, then published the podcast to a WordPress blog & uploaded the video to Vimeo as a redundancy backup. I've submitted my podcast to iTunes so the video will be viewable on students' mobile devices1.

A few observations about the process:

  • It took longer to prepare, record, edit, and post than I would like. I know it'll get faster the more experience I have, but I'm not sure I have the time to do this for every section.
  • There were lots of failures. I can't tell you how many times I had to sit down and work through some issue I was having.
  • The end result is pretty boring. Some students said they parts of it funny or interesting, but I think they were just being nice. To be fair, it'd be boring in class, as well, right?

The first episode (The Periodic Table [& valence electrons]) is below. What do you think? Is this worth the effort?

The Periodic Table (and valence electrons) from Mr. Wildeboer on Vimeo.


  1. Update: The podcast has now been approved and is available on iTunes. I'm waiting to hear back from iTunes about its approval.      (back)

"Typology of non-optimal video use"

I tend to skip through reading your blog posts when I'm busy. If I'm lucky, others of you will post tweets or blog posts pointing me back towards the good stuff I've missed1.

Wes Fryer posted about potential copyright issues with showing 10 full-length films in a semester. I saw it, glanced through the list of films, and moved on. Luckily, Damian Bariexca2 did a quick post wondering about potential ethical issues when blogging about your own son or daughter's teachers. While that's not an issue very pertinent to my life, it was enough to help me discover a gem lingering in the comments over at Wes' joint.

Towards the end of Wes' post, he wonders what Renee Hobbs, who is described as "one of the nation's leading authorities on media literacy education," would think about such practices. To my (and seemingly Wes') surprise, she wrote a thorough post discussing the issue.

Surprisingly to me, it is legal to show full-length films in class, though Dr. Hobbs notes that legality isn't the same thing as being educationally sound. You should really read her post (here it is again), but she basically says it's probably more educationally sound to create a clip reel focused on the desired learning objective instead of showing a full film, gives suggestions of how to create clip reels, and also suggestions for how to broach the topic with the teacher.

More interestingly for me, Renee Hobbs drops a link to her paper, "Non-Optimal Uses of of Video in the Classroom," where she included a "typology of non-optimal video uses." I recommend reading at least this section of her paper (though the rest is quite good as well), which starts on the page 6 of the pdf document. Here's a brief overview:

  • Typology #1: No clearly identifiable educational purpose.
  • Typology #2: No use of pause, rewind, or review.
  • Typology #3: Large group viewing experiences give teachers a "break."
  • Typology #4: Teacher mentally disengages during viewing experiences.
  • Typology #5: Teacher uses TV viewing as a reward.
  • Typology #6: Teacher uses media only as an attention hook.
  • Typology #7: Teacher uses video to control behavior.

In my few years of teaching I've seen some pretty, um, "interesting" films being shown in the classroom- many of which don't get beyond typology #1. This is one of those papers I'd love to see passed out to faculty at the beginning of the school year, but I'm not sure I'd have the huevos to do it myself.

Do you use films in your classes? How do you use them?


Image credit: Hello, My Name is Inigo Montoya by oxygeon; shared with a cc-by-nc license.


  1. Which is one of the reasons I really don't like Twitter's new retweet feature. It doesn't show the retweet if the person being retweeted is someone I follow. I, for one, would like to see when the other people I follow deem posted links and tweets worth resharing. Just sayin'.     (back)
  2. Do you believe I spelled that right without looking it up? Score!    (back)

Video projects: Lip service only

n my traditional cavalier/reckless fashion, I designed a project where students would create videos as the final product. I have two video cameras1 (a Flip and my point & shoot that shoots video), MovieMaker, three microphones, and a lack of experience with the moving picture medium.

Students got into groups, randomly selected a family of elements, and got busy researching & planning. Other than the typical issues that pop up when freshmen work together in groups2 things were going swimmingly. I suggested using PowerPoint as an image editor or stop motion picture creator, but other than that I really didn't push them in any direction for how they should produce the video. I was pleasantly surprised at the creative mix of puppet shows, live video, claymation, and other ideas that they came up with on their own. Despite the lack of equipment there were very few times when a group had to sit around waiting for a camera.

The trouble starts

Students began to download their video files and attempt to work with the files in MovieMaker. That's when things got dicey. Just a few of the problems we ran into:

  • Student accounts often were not able to download files from external devices. Sometimes it would work for them, sometimes it wouldn't. Weird.
  • Despite the claims on the official MovieMaker website, the program as installed on students computers could only import .WMV files. My video cameras saved files as .AVIs.
  • I sent students to Zamzar to convert the video files. Zamzar isn't always fast. Even better, students aren't allowed to download any files from online to school computers. When the conversions were finished I had to do all the downloading & distributing of files. I mourn the large amounts of class time that were lost due to all this file jockeying.
  • On a couple random days, the students weren't allowed to save any files into their network drives. Needless to say, that caused some frustration.
  • Beyond the problem above, twice during the project the school district's network drive was too full for anybody to save anything to it.

The irony

As a faculty, we've frequently heard from our administration (from assistant principal up to the SuperNintendo himself) that we need to embrace and encourage "21st Century Skills" with our students. As part of the NEASC accreditation process we're involved in the term "21st Century Skills" also comes up in every other indicator, standard, and student learning expectation.

The end

I probably won't try another video project this year. I'm pretty skeptical about trying it next year. The sad/frustrating/scary part of it all is that the issues with this project were caused by the lack of support from the administration and institution for a creative project that embraced "21st Century Skills." The problem didn't arise from poor project design3, a lack of student ability/skill, or a lack of resources. The problem arose solely as the result of an overly restrictive network and a lack of vision from those who control those restrictions.

The solution?

  • Trust students with the network.
  • Trust teachers with the network.
  • Think about what these "21st Century Skills" that are harped upon actually mean for how students and teachers will need to use the network. Adjust network restrictions accordingly.

Despite all the issues some pretty great videos came out of it. Check out a quick selection below:


Creative-Commons image via P.C. Is2dent's Flickr stream


  1. I did encourage any students with cameras that took video to bring them in. A few did.     (back)
  2. i.e. "Johnny stole my [noun]!" "I didn't take your [noun], you're crazy!" "MR. W!!!"  [you get this too, right?]      (back)
  3. Truthfully, it's very hard for me to judge the effectiveness of the project because the end result has been so overshadowed by all the technical issues.     (back)

New York City and The Google

I might not be quite the Google-ite others are, but I do use a good number of their tools, and I think their corporate structure and culture might have some lessons for the education world. As a result, I decided I'd like to see the Google in action at the Google Teacher Academy in NYC this November. I'm not counting on being selected, but I figured I couldn't pass up the chance.

I've put in my application, which included producing my own 1 minute long video- something I've never done before. I'm pretty happy with the results¹, although it's certainly a long way from being professional. I'd call it a good first attempt at film making.

Here it is, my acting, screenwriting, producing, and editorial debut:

Let me know what you think.


¹ Upon searching for other applicants videos (which I did only after finishing my video), I saw lots of pandering to Google by focusing on how cool Google tools are. I hope that's not a major requirement, since the only Google-y things in my video are the brief screenshots of Reader and YouTube. Oh well. If they're looking for panderers, then I'm not going to be their guy anyway.

5 minutes to a better school

Chris Lehmann recently gave a presentation titled "School 2.0: Creating the schools we need" at an IgnitePhilly event.

It's probably the best 5 minutes video clip I've seen online¹. I've never heard someone explain things I've grown to believe so right on.

Watch it. Love it. Do it!

Mr. Lehmann gives his take on the presentation and the slide set he used on his blog.

¹that didn't include a cat doing something hilarious, of course.

Universal Declaration of Human Rights

A beautiful typographic video of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights put out by the Human Rights Action Center:

The Universal Declaration of Human Rights from Seth Brau on Vimeo.
It amazed me how large a percentage of the world doesn't enjoy the basic rights set forth in this declaration. In fact, even the United States may not allow for its citizens to enjoy all the rights laid out by the declaration.


Video from vimeo :: via NOTCOT.org

Awesome Video of the Week, Vol. 4

Amazing slow motion video of a lightning strike:

Most people have an emotional response to lightning. Growing up, that emotion for me was fear¹. As I got older, the fear gave way to respect, awe, and wonder. Indeed, staring out at an approaching thunderstorm on a warm summer night, watching the constant flashes of light, for me is one of the most mesmerizing sights.

In super slow motion you can actually see the streams of negative charges (often called a stepped leader) branching down from the cloud seeking out the more positively charged surface of the Earth. Generally this happens so fast the human eye can't pick it up. Once one of the branches of negative charges makes contact with the positively charged ground (or tree, or house, or whatever) the circuit is completed, releasing the stored electrical energy and creating the lightning bolt we're all familiar with.

LHC Day!

Today marks the first time the Large Hadron Collider will attempt to circulate a particle beam. This new tool in the belt of particle physicists should help prove/disprove some current grand unified theories, including the existence of the Higgs Boson, thought to be responsible for giving mass to particles.

While some people have been worried the LHC will cause some crazy reaction that will end in the destruction of the Earth (say, via a black hole), Cory Doctorow in a post at Boing Boing quoted a physics who said of the chances of the LHC destroying the Earth: "Look, it's a 10^-19 chance, and you've got a 10^-11 chance of suddenly evaporating while shaving."

In honor of this grand event, I post below the LHC Rap, which is a surprisingly good song about the LHC. If you weren't listening too closely, you could almost mistake it for a Digable Planets song (almost).

To learn more, check out CERN's home for the Large Hadron Collider.