5 Quick Projects That Make Use of Green Screen

It might come as a surprise to some teachers that all it takes to replicate the green screen effects that we all see in the movies and on the news is a free green screen app and some green butcher paper.

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Green Screen and filming station with tripod in the back corner, next to my DIY idea wall (also white butcher paper)

Once I put up my own DIY green screen in my classroom, my students didn’t have much trouble thinking of fun ways to incorporate it into their lessons and projects. Here are five fun ways to get your students learning and creating with green screen.

#1 Make your own pokemon cards

For the unit Who We Are students began by taking a personality quiz and identifying the traits and “color” that corresponded with their personality type. They then created a pokemon card on mypokecard.com and chose the two traits that best represented them as their attacks. They also identified which color they would have most trouble working with, which led to great conversations about personality clashes at school and in the workplace.

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#2 For Photo Booths and Photo competitions

While student-led conferences are ultimately about learning, that doesn’t mean that they have to be boring. Our students set up a photo booth and showed their parents how it worked before snapping a quick pic in front of their chosen background. They made sure to raid the drama room’s stash of costumes before the event!

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We also had an elementary-wide photo competition during reading week that took advantage of our kids’ savviness with the green screen.

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#3 Make Yourself into an Ordered Pair (Graphing)

One thing that new users to green screen might not know is that with most green screen apps you can play with the size of the photos and even add several actors into the mix. For this mini-project, students took a picture of themselves in front of the green screen, added graph paper as the background and then plotted themselves and their friends into ordered pairs during math.

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#4 For Music Videos and Rap Battles

For one learning engagement this year, students had to use their research papers on a colonial superpower to create rap lyrics. They then put their rap lyrics to a beat using GarageBand. Finally, they took their recorded audio track and created music videos, which of course got enhanced by the use of green screen. It was a fun way to get kids writing, combining and using technology effectively, and blending the disciplines of music, social studies, and language arts.

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#5 Anytime you need the perfect background

For one of our units, students were inquiring about leadership styles. This led to a three day sequence where students experienced what their classroom would look like when transformed into one of the three main leadership styles: Autocratic, Democratic, and Laissez-Faire. Of course, I loved playing the autocratic leader, and in addition to having students sing songs about me and portray me in the history books in a positive light, students created these propaganda pieces – autocratic rule of law with pleasant backgrounds – to share with their parents on Seesaw, who were eager to hear how the day went.

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For any prospective employer, no children were damaged during the staging of these photos, for the record 😅

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I hope these give you some great ideas for how to use green screen to add a fun and engaging element to your classroom. Keep coming back to educationrickshaw.com, and check out Stephanie’s Teachers Pay Teachers.

“The What” vs. “The How” of Education

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After reading the above tweet, I’ve been thinking a lot about this idea that we may very well spend too much time talking about what we should teach rather than how we should teach. And the more I think about it, the more I crave conversations that concern the how of educationLearning-focused conversation is learner and pedagogy focused – The how not the what. If I had the power to singlehandedly change the conversation in education, I’d ask that we make a shift in the following ways:

Stop Talking So Much About What Curriculum We Should Be Using, and Start Talking About How to Facilitate Learning in the 21st Century.

Since I began teaching only a short time ago, I have seen schools go from local standards, to national standards, to international standards. Never during these changes was I privy to training on how to implement these standards with the best 21C teaching practices. It was always more important to document what I was doing, than how I was doing it. Even the Common Core website seemed to foresee this implementation strategy:

“. . these standards establish what students need to learn but do not dictate how teachers should teach. Instead, schools and teachers will decide how best to help students reach the standards.”

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How different things might have been in terms of buy-in by teachers for Common Core if we had known the strategies to implement these standards in the most research-based and pedagogically sound ways?

Stop Talking So Much About What Learning Platform We Should Be Using, and Start Talking About How We Can Redefine the Learning Environment.

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I’ve written before about different tech tools that I have found useful, such as Seesaw for portfolios, and Moodle as a learning platform for my elementary class. But I’ve found that most any tool can be tweaked and modified to fit any purpose; To use some SAMR-speak for a moment, teachers can Substitute with Edmodo just as they can Redefine with Edmodo. It is precisely for this reason that I get so tired of conversations over which learning platform is best. Rather than looking at How blended learning can take place, we are focused on the new-kid technology on the block. Changing from Schoology to Google Classroom will not solve any of a school’s problems, because the entire premise of the conversation is based around what is best rather than how is best.

Stop Talking So Much About What is the Best Device, and Start Talking About How We Can Best Integrate Technology.

It is true that there are downsides to tablets – no keyboard, low memory, etc – but the minute you want kids to take pictures and video you’ll find that there are also downsides to laptops. The same goes for IOS vs. Windows vs. Chrome, and mobile vs. desktop vs. wearables. Next year, it’s entirely possible that the coolest new gadget will come out and completely change the face of education as we know it.

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Rather than focus on the barriers inherent in any one school-adopted device, I’d like to concentrate more on ways to maximize learning in my classroom. How can we change the relationship between the teacher, the student, and their devices? How do we improve outcomes while promoting 21C skills and attitudes? How can I get the most out of my students and the resources that my school has?

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What do you think? The irony is not lost on me that I have just written an entire post which focuses largely on what we should be talking about as educators, and not as much on how we should be talking about it. . .

Keep coming back to educationrickshaw.com, and please leave a comment or question in the section below!

How to Set Up a Week of Free Inquiry for Anywhere, Anytime Learning

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When I was just a first year teacher, I placed a lot of value on my ability to control student behaviors. While students were quiet and well-behaved to the passing observer, I could sense that I was not facilitating the kind of learning experiences that I wanted from my teachers during my own education. The relationship between the teacher, the students, and the learning was traditional and strained, and everyday felt like a battle for points and rewards. I felt like I was part drill sergeant, part cheerleader, part disciplinarian, but not at all a teacher.

As my teaching became more and more inquiry based, and more and more student-focused instead of teacher-driven, I began to see that the increased trust that I had for my students did not result in a dramatic increase in unwanted behaviors. In fact, quite the opposite. This year, for the first time, I felt that I had finally built up the structure necessary to facilitate a Week of Free Inquiry, aka a Week Without Walls, or, as my students put it, “College”. For the first time in my career, I had to give up control of movement and control of content as students pursued their own interests wherever and whenever they wanted. Here’s how I did it:

Related: 5 Ways to Give Your Class Back to Your Students

I Organized a Legit Online Learning Environment

When I say legit, I mean legit. There’s no way that you are going to get students to perform at the highest levels in a wall-less physical environment without a dynamic and organized online environment. When my students started the week, they knew how to contact me (e-mail, instant messaging, commenting on assignments) and they knew where and when to find me (in the cafeteria, by online appointment). For weeks I had to build up a wealth of knowledge and skill surrounding the apps on their devices, and I had to foster IT-specific problem-solving skills so that students were able to figure out their IT issues on their own.

I am sure that any robust LMS could be used for a project like this, but I used my class Moodle page (See Moodle in elementary), and students were working on their own school issued iPad throughout the week. Assignments were turned in for review onto their online portfolio (we use Seesaw) and students had their own e-mail addresses. I wish that I had added instant messaging, like WhatsApp or something, to their iPads before the week began, but we communicated fine with just e-mail, Seesaw (see Using Seesaw to Teach Social Media), and the class chat activity on Moodle.

Students Put Together a Game Plan

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As the above sketchnote by @trev_mackenzie suggests, there is indeed a lot of autonomy and independence that comes from true free inquiry. However, even in the illustration we see that there isn’t total, complete freedom. To continue with the pool analogy, the above students may have increased freedom of movement, but they do have to remain in the pool at all times; they are not free to leave the complex without permission. Similarly, they are not allowed to make choices that put others’ safety at risk, or ruin the experience for themselves or others. At all times there is a “guide on the side”, but this guide is much more hands-off than during Guided Inquiry.

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To structure the inquiry I used both of these sketchnotes by @trev_mackenzie. The goal setting (#4) and the calendar (#6) were particularly important in organizing the project.

As students neared their final days of preparation, I had a litany of questions from students to go through, but the main question that kept coming up from my 10 year olds was: Can we do whatever we want? 

I tried to answer this question about the same way every time: This school is a learning space. You can learn whatever you want, however you want, and with whom you want, but you may not choose NO learning. You may take a break whenever you want, but in the end, this project is all about what we can accomplish in one week when we put our minds to it. I think you’ll realize quickly that you’ll need and want every minute that you are given during this special week. 

I Started the Year with a Plan for Gradual Release of Responsibility

There’s no way that a form of learning like this can be possible the first day of school. There are a lot of discussions, mini-lessons and student reflections about how we learn that must take place before a class is ready to embark on a solo journey of this magnitude. Gradual release does ultimately mean giving up the responsibility to the students. I knew my class was ready to take on this project when I felt that they had proven mastery of certain skills at least a few times before in a variety of guided inquiry sequences.

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This one pic says it all about how my class has developed. Idea wall and green screen in the back, flexible seating, blended learning, conferencing, and engagement, engagement, engagement. The students pursuing their own learning is at the center of every experience, not me.

You also have to accept that some students may take longer during the year to get to a point of independence where they will get anything out of a week of free inquiry. For those students, I put them with partners that I knew I could trust to move them along, and I checked in on them more frequently than I did other students. I tried to make sure that their failures at the end were limited to the product rather than the process, i.e. a bad final project, but abundant learning nonetheless.

I Proceeded with the Mantra of “Never Work Harder than Your Students”

After taking attending a workshop at the 2016 Africa Ed Conference in Johannesburg, South Africa by Karen Boyes called Never Work Harder Than Your Students, Let Them Do the Thinking, I began to see how the onus has to be on the student to take responsibility for their learning. When my teaching was teacher-directed, I was doing all of the work, and the students were merely passive consumers of information.

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Why do a song and dance and waste all of your energy while students passively watch the show? Let them do the thinking. Let them plan their path forward. We teachers sometimes just need to get out of the way.

After the workshop, I was very clear with my students about my new expectations: I should never be working harder than any of you! And if I am, then you’re not doing your job right and I’m not doing my job right. This idea of never working harder than your students was critical when I began the Week of Free Inquiry because I had to come to grips with what it meant to release all responsibility to the students as I sat back with a cup of coffee while waiting for my next appointment with a student group.

I Trusted and They Pulled Through

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Our class culture is built around mutual admiration and respect between learning partners. The traditional top-down relationship between teacher and student is virtually gone, replaced with a “learning partnership” model.

In the end of the day, building relationships with students to make them better people is why I became a teacher. I wouldn’t expect a teacher that feels differently and puts less of a value on relationship building to be able to pull off the Week of Free Inquiry. It takes really getting to know your students’ strengths and weaknesses, and really building a culture of trust and a love of learning. Because I trusted them, and they respect me to the point that they will go to the ends of the earth to impress me, they were able to accomplish amazing things during this highly unstructured time.

What do you think? Could your kids pull off a Week of Free Inquiry? Are you ready to tear down the walls and let them be free? Be sure to follow me on Twitter and check out @SGroshell’s Teachers Pay Teachers account.

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5 Books To Start a Book Club for Teachers

There is something special about book clubs that you don’t get from other forms of teacher PD. I love the feeling of finally being able to share what I’ve read with a group of likeminded individuals, all of whom have a different perspective on the same source material. In book clubs, everyone comes in as an expert (presuming that you’ve read the book), and even when chapters are rushed through or skipped altogether, the main ideas can easily be jigsawed together by a nice bit of conversation with coffee on hand.

The following are 5 books for professional book clubs that I’ve had the pleasure of either facilitating or attending in recent years. I hope you find them useful in starting up a book club in your school or organization.

1. Clever Lands by Lucy Crehan

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This is the most current Book Club selection that we’ve been reading at my school, and it is an easy and important read for our time. As PISA scores continue to influence policy around the world, it’s important to take into account what makes these so-called successful school systems so great, and what makes their contexts unique and inimitable.

The best part of using this book for a book club is that you can frame each meeting as a “journey to a foreign land”, as the book is split evenly between 5 of the top PISA ranking countries: Finland, Japan, Singapore, China (Shanghai), and Canada.

Related:

2. Creative Schools by Sir Ken Robinson

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Creative Schools explores the entire breadth of the philosophy behind Ken Robinson’s famous TedTalks, such as “Do Schools Kill Creativity?”. While his writing isn’t as humorously tangential as his videos, the ideas presented in Creative Schools are equally intriguing. While those box checkers among us may come away feeling desperate for concrete solutions to the industrial model of education, us creative folk cannot help but leave inspired.

Related:

3. Never Send a Human to Do a Machine’s Job by Yong Zhao and Co.

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This book literally kick-started my journey towards a truly blended model of teaching and learning. As the title suggests, Zhao goes into what machines are good for, and what they are limited to (at the moment), but he also helps us to learn from the mistakes of early adopters of educational technology, and to be more intentional in our instructional design when using technology in the classroom.

Related:

4. The First Days of School By Harry K. Wong and Rosemary T. Wong

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While not as up-to-date as the previous three books, I never go a year without flipping through a few pages of The First Days of School. Even as my practice has adapted in response to changes in my own life and environment, including the diverse populations that I’m serving, I find solace in the Wongs’ simple charts and graphics that help beginning teachers create an environment that responds to every child’s needs. The idea that every day, especially the day after a bad day, can be reworked into a first day of school, is reason enough for me to keep a copy of it on my shelf.

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5. Trivium by Martin Robinson

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It wouldn’t be a book club if someone came without reading the book, and Trivium was my moment to carry the torch. I guess this book was about where the three divisions of classical education (grammar, rhetoric, logic) meet, and how this conceptual framework can be used to help students today. Basically, I’m just repeating what it says on the cover of the book.

Did I come even though I didn’t read it? Yes. Did I talk about things that I didn’t know much about? Yes. Did I write on some chart paper? Oh yes. At the end of the day, I had a good time and met and talked about my favorite subject in the world while sipping on iced coffees. Totally worth it.

Keep coming back to educationrickshaw.com, follow us on Twitter and check out our TPT.

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5 Fun Idea Generators to Get Kids Writing

Before 1:1, I used to take lists of writing prompts or story starters that I found online and cut them out into small strips for the students. It was time consuming, and when they were all used up, I had to go find some more.

Nowadays, I rely mostly on online random generators to create these for me. While some of these are geared for adults, some are made just for the purpose of getting kids writing. Any of the following could be used for a writing center, or just as an exercise in promoting creativity during a lesson. Enjoy!

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#1 Blog Topic Generator

Do you want students to just get going on their latest blog post? Send them the link to this nifty tool, and they’ll be off and writing in no time. The tool requires them to fill out three keywords, and the result is a list of provocative titles that could start their latest post. Great for teaching Main Idea, too.

#2 Letter Generator

I’ve used a lot of variations of letter templates in the past, but why not use one that is online, and ready to use on a student device? The results of these letter activities can lead to funny interactions, and great conversations about formal vs. informal language, as well as the requisite formatting required to create a letter from scratch.

#3 Story Starter

Do you have a kid that just can’t get going during free writing or narrative writing time? Give them this tool and away they’ll go. They can even pick what type of genre they wish to pursue – good for students with a variety of interests.

#4 Random First Line Generator

Sometimes all it takes for students to get going on their writing is for the first line to be generated. Why not give your students a leg up with a randomly generated first line so that they can get those creative juices flowing?

#5 Pseudonym Generator

Not really a writing tool, per se, but a fun way to start generating funny pen names to develop the writers’ identity in our young learners. Just have students click through this random pseudonym generator, and sort out the names that they like, and pass on the ones they don’t like. Who knows? Maybe one of them will end up in big, bold letters on a future best selling novel?

If you haven’t already, follow me on Twitter, and keep coming back to educationrickshaw.com

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Teacher Draws 180 Unique Whiteboard Illustrations: One for Every Day of the School Year

I wanted to write about something different today, and I hope that it inspires you as much as it inspired me. Lately, I have become interested in teacher creativity, or perhaps the lack thereof in education today. In a profession so concerned with developing our children’s creative capacities, the average school can be a shockingly unimaginative place.

When I first made my move to Khartoum last year, I was hardly interested at all in the teacher whose shoes I would fill. Like most new teachers, I suppose, I was far more concerned with my own impact on student learning than on the legacy of the teacher who came before me. Stay with me here.

Then, only a few weeks ago, I suddenly found myself in a conversation about this teacher and some of the more innovative things that he had done. For example, this fine man – whose desk and room are now mine – used to wear a math jacket whenever it was time to teach math. The jacket was covered in math symbols and the pockets were filled with, I assume, math flashcards, protractors and the like. Out of respect for the man that I will probably never know, I decided to make a math backpack for my own class, which is now in use for my number corner.

But the one thing that stood out to me and that I wish to share with the world today is his practice of spending every morning drawing a new, unique whiteboard marker drawing to go with his schedule. He would playfully name each of the days of the week according to the drawing that he created. Every morning, kids would come to his class excited to see what new drawing would be waiting for them.

Until now, these drawings –  like many of our teachers’ talents – were hardly noticed by those outside of his classroom. Enjoy.

November 26, 2014

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I can’t think of a better way to learn than to have this man staring me down everyday during math.

January 14, 2014

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Is there a better way to start off a Wednesday right?

January 13, 2015

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So happy that someone had the foresight to take a picture of these so that they could live on forever.

January 15, 2015

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I still have that chart on the left.  I change the attitude everyday with a clip and award a bandanna to the student that exemplifies that attitude.

How awesome is this?

Feel free to share any examples of innovative, creative, or just plain eccentric practices that you see in your own schools. We need to respect, expect, and promote creativity in the teaching profession just as aggressively as we do in the classroom.

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