Feb 182015

Poetry and film. Not exactly an easy pairing for Grade 5 students…or so we thought. Check out this amazing film, just one of many created this year, and read on to find out how it came about.

The Back Story

Four years ago, when reviewing the Grade 5 curriculum, we discovered two areas that were under represented. First, was a lack of focus on the teaching and learning of poetry. There was also no opportunity for the students to learn how to design, plan, create, edit and publish film. So the idea was born to merge the two together in the same unit of inquiry.

Design cycle

MYP Design Cycle

This year, we decided to give the unit a makeover using the MYP design cycle. This will be a big part of their middle school lives and made for a great transition between the elementary and middle schools. Our aim was to dedicate more time inquiring into and analysing films, looking carefully at the techniques used by film makers to evoke emotion. We also wanted to allow more time for the development of ideas, as in the past students have come up with one idea for a film that may not have been easy or realistic to produce.

For the first two weeks of the eight week unit, students inquired into poetry, learning about and writing different forms as well as using devices such as refrains, personification and simile. At the end of week one, they were presented with the design brief:

  • Create a video from a poem you have written that evokes a specific emotion
    • No more than 2 mins long
    • Resolution is 540px
    • Published by x date

Inquiring and analysing

With their poems chosen and refined, the students set about inquiring into the different techniques used by film makers. Using award winning examples such as Racing Time by Adele Myers, they learned how shot duration, framing, perspective, lighting, camera motion, soundtrack, voice over and setting are used to evoke emotion in the viewer.

Once they understood all the techniques, they looked at four other examples and then made generalisations about each one. For example, they found that the most common shot duration was between three and five seconds, that medium and close up shots are used a majority of the time and there are rarely any transitions or special effects.

I was so surprised that the shots were so short, I was sure they were about 10 seconds. – Grade 5 student

During this period, students worked in teams to discuss and record their thoughts. These groups would become support teams when it came time to making their films if students needed actors or camera and light operators. As film making is rarely a solo effort, building in these collaborative support structures proved extremely valuable.

Developing ideas

The second stage of the design process had the students coming up with at least three different ways that they could film their poetry video. In the past, students often took a very literal and unrealistic approach to turning their poems into a film. They would write about winter and snow, yet Beijing has little or no snow. They’d write about flowers blooming in spring time, but pretty much everything is dead in Beijing in January. Our aim was to get them to generate multiple ideas and then run them through a filter of cool factor and difficulty (see below). We hoped this would make the students cognizant of the choices before them and how difficult filming certain scenes can be.

Idea filter

An example of an ‘Idea filter’.


With their ideas sorted, they then set about learning how to storyboard before storyboarding their own films.

During this stage of the unit, I did a ‘Filming 101’ lesson with each class, demonstrating what to do when they had a camera in their hands. Framing, perspective and lighting were all covered and it was clear the students made connections between what they had seen in the example films and what I was showing them. I also used some pre recorded footage to teach all classes the ins and outs of iMovie 11 as most had not experienced it before.

Creating the solution

It’s pretty easy to make a good movie nowadays…to make an awesome film takes a lot of effort.

Students ended up having about a week to film, edit and publish their movies. Many chose to film at home, which meant they were able to focus on getting a top notch voice recording of their poem at school. Those at school used iPod touches with a mount and a simple tripod to film with their teams. They were so excited to get to the business end of their project!

Interestingly, the biggest challenge of the whole process came during post production. Once they had their clips in iMovie, I discovered a severe case of ‘good enough syndrome’. It’s pretty easy to make a good movie nowadays. If you have a plan, a camera and editing software, you can make something pretty decent. To make an awesome film takes a lot of effort, fine tuning and patience. Even those who had the time didn’t want to go back and re-record a shot that was a second short, change the perspective or adjust the timing on the voiceover. Even when I asked if they’d like some feedback most students didn’t take me up on the offer. Those that did get a wide range of feedback from staff and peers certainly produced a better film. This is definitely something to work on next year.

Once published, each class watched their films and assessed them using the criteria below.

Film criteria

Poetry Film Checkbric used for peer assessment


Three films were chosen to be shown on the big screen in the school theatre to the whole grade and their parents. It was awesome to see their films presented like a real cinema film. They absolutely loved it.

If you’d like to watch all 15 films presented, click here.


Once the dust had settled, the students looked back at their ripped, dirty, smudged storyboards. It was obvious how much they had been used! They compared their published film to their storyboard and recorded on their blogs their justification for any changes they had made. The finished product was not assessed by the teacher, formative assessments along the way were used to determine students’ understanding of how artists use different techniques to evoke emotion.


Using the design cycle shifted the focus to the process rather than the product. It enables in depth analysis into real film makers use of different techniques. It gave students a chance to develop their ideas. As a result the quality of the films created by these 10 and 11 year olds was so far above previous years. It will be interesting to see if the same occurs next year.

If you have any questions about this unit of inquiry, please feel free to leave me a comment below. You can find all a page with links to all resources and lessons used here. 

Mar 142014

I recently came across a blog post by @kagmoran about the challenges of having only two iPads in her 1st Grade class. Shephoto noticed that her students were beginning to obsess about the pair of devices and arguments were starting to occur.

“They aren’t fighting over who gets to create something cool, but over who gets to play some silly game I have on there for my at home kids. This isn’t education to me. This is too much screen time and I can’t allow this in my classroom.”

WAB is not a 1:1 iPad school. Our 1st Grade classes are 1:4. This has meant we have had to really think carefully about how we are using them. After much thought, I responded to her post with the following comment:

“Having just two iPads in the class is definitely a challenge, but in my experience it mostly relates back to purpose. What are the iPads in the your classroom for? If they are for the students to use to practice skills, then have them as a part of a rotation/station. The Guided Access feature (Setting > General > Accessibility) is awesome for this as it locks the iPad into one app and the students need a passcode (that only you have) to change to another app.

If they are for creating things like books using Book Creator, posters using Pic Collage or Puppet Pal animations etc. then this can easily, and is often better, done in partners. Once they know how to use the app, I’d give the students 10 minutes to work on it during literacy time before someone else gets a turn. The time limit means they will often be more focussed than if they have a whole lesson to work on it.

If you are using the iPads for documentation, then leave them in a basket in a central place. The kids come and get an iPad when they would like to publish a photo or video to their blog using a great app called, then place it back in the basket again for someone else to use.

Purpose is what drives the use of any classroom resource. Once you work out what you want to use them for, then you can plan the how.”

As with any blog post, there’s never any guarantee that you’ll get a reply from the author. Kimberly’s response below made my day:

“This might be the best advice I’ve had all year. Purposeful work is what drives everything I do. How did I forget that about iPads? I think because the kids enjoy them so much, I forgot they were the tool and not the toy. You have given me so much to think about. I plan to stalk you on Twitter. Thanks so much!”

 Posted by at 12:05 pm
Feb 132014

I love using my iPhone and iPad to tell stories through the lens. Whether it be at school or in my personal life, it’s so easy and you get great results if you follow some simple rules. However, the titles and music provided become tiring after a while. Here are some tips to reinvigorate your iOS movie.


Sure, having Katy Perry as a backing track might be good for some videos, but I find regular music tracks with lyrics take away from the story I am trying to tell. Instead, go to and browse their amazing library of instrumental music tracks. You can search by instrument, mood or style. They have some free licenses for Youtube, personal and in classroom use. Most tracks even have pre cut versions of various lengths. Once you’ve download a few different tracks:

  1. IMG_1305Import into iTunes
  2. Create a playlist called ‘Freeplay Music’ or something else you’ll remember
  3. Add all the tracks to the playlist
  4. Sync the playlist to your device

Now, when you go to the audio browser in iMovie on your device, you’ll have some great new tracks to use! I am getting enough tracks now that I am actually making specific playlists now for different lengths (eg. under a minute) and moods (eg. action, play, scary).


I worked this out the other day when helping to document the 100 days of school for a Grade 1 class. To create custom titles you need some images and an app that puts text over images. I chose to use Over, but there are lots out there. Whichever you choose, you need to make sure it allows you to use landscape images. Here’s how I did it:

  1. Find a range of different background images (I used photos I have taken from my travels) and import them to IMG_1300iPhoto
  2. Create an album called ‘Title Images’ or something else you’ll remember.
  3. Go to iTunes and sync that specific album to your device
  4. Open Over and add your title to the image you have synced
  5. Save to the camera roll
  6. Open iMovie and go to the Photos browser
  7. Select your newly created title image and drop it into your project.

Unfortunately, these will not be animated like the one’s in iMovie, but you can use the Ken Burns effect to create some movement.


Once you’ve finished make sure you export to the camera roll. It gives you lots of options to share your full quality movie.

I used Easy Blog Jr. to upload the movie directly to this post.

Check out the finished story below:

 Posted by at 10:08 pm
Dec 092013

You may have noticed that every now and again, the Google logo changes. Often it will be to celebrate an event or to commemorate someone. This all started back in 1998 when the founders of Google wanted to show that they were not at work. They drew a stick figure behind the ‘O’ to show they were at a music festival, instead. They called this altered logo a Doodle.

From then on, Google has created over 1200 different Doodles for their sites all over the world. You can view them all on their Doodle Gallery. Following their lead other web companies such as Bai Du, have also started altering their logos.

Each year, Google runs a competition, called Doodle 4 Google, in schools in different

countries around the world. They invite children from KG – 12 to draw a Doodle based on a theme. The winner gets to have their Doodle on the Google homepage for millions to see (as well as winning some money for themselves and their school). Meet, Matteo Lopez, the winner from 2011′s USA competition here.

Your class blog may not have a logo, but it probably has a nice space for a header at the top of the page. A great way to make the class site more ‘yours’ is to hold a Doodle 4 Your Class Blog competition. Every month you could hold a competition to see who can draw the best Doodle for your class site. The winner will have their Doodle as the header for that month. The rules will be the same as the Doodle 4 Google competition.

Here is a possible Doodle 4 Your Class Blog entry sheet that you might like to use. The frame is the exact size as the header image to make it easier to upload after scanning hand drawn designs. I changed the theme each month depending on what was happening in school eg. Unit of inquiry, sports days etc.

In my class, the students really got into it. You can view some of their designs in the gallery below:

 Posted by at 4:12 pm
Dec 042013

Do you believe in six degrees of separation? It’s funny, but in the world of international teaching, it’s often not six, it’s much less. Someone always seems to know someone who worked with someone a while ago. It’s quite how often it happens. I never really appreciated just how amazing until today. Check out this totally incredible story.

As you may know, I have recently ventured into the world of app development with two mates/colleagues. Our first app Easy Blog Jr. was released last month and is slowly being shared amongst schools and teachers alike. It’s an iPad app for blogging with WordPress, aimed at  lower elementary students. A couple of teaching buddies (@jdungan and @pep073) shared the app at the recent iPad Summit at the American Embassy School of New Delhi.

I married into an international teaching family. My wife’s parents are international teachers in Beijing, my wife’s a teacher and so is her brother. He teaches at Woodstock School in Mussoorie, northern India. Way up north. I am talking the foothills of the Himalayas north. The school is big on outdoor education and they regularly go hiking and kayaking.

Now, at the time of writing, I only knew of three schools that we seriously trying out our app. Most of the interactions regarding our app that we had had, were with people online, via Twitter or the app websites.

So where does the connection come in? Well, turns out, my brother and law, whilst on a recent rafting trip on the river Ganges, came across a bunch of teachers on a short thanksgiving getaway by the river. They got talking and he learned that they were from the AES New Delhi. My brother in law is into tech like me and they started discussing devices, iPad use and the challenges of getting kids to blog authentically.

“Hey have you heard of this app my brother in law has developed called Easy Blog Jr.?”

“Actually, yeah we have. Grade 1 are trialling it at the moment.”

What the?!!?! Of the three schools IN THE WORLD who were trying out my app, my brother in law happened to meet them on the banks of the Ganges River.

The odds of this meeting are ridiculous. The odds that the group would be from the school that saw my app demo’d last month. Ridiculous. The odds that my brother in law happened to talk to someone about educational technology on the BANKS OF THE GANGES of all places. Crazy.

Three degrees of separation? Not as crazy as you might think.

 Posted by at 3:59 pm
Nov 282013

At the recent Learning 2.013 conference in Singapore, I was fortunate enough to attend a workshop by Dave Caleb aptly titled,iPhone ‘Stories through the lens’. Amongst his many talents, Dave is an avid and very talented photographer who I’ve been following on Instagram for a while. Some of his images are absolutely amazing and they are all captured with his iPhone.

At the Western Academy of Beijing (WAB), my students have access to a camera at all times. They can use the iSight camera in their Macbooks, there are iPads, iPods and yes the ‘old school’ HD Sony point and shoot. All take HD video and are extremely easy to use. As a tech coach, I feel like I have had a hand in making more videos in the last 18 months than any Hollywood director has in their entire career!

One thing I have always struggled with is helping the students structure their videos so they told a story with a start, a middle and an end. I have tried using storyboards which work well if they know the location, but what happens if they don’t? They can’t storyboard something they haven’t seen yet!

In his workshop, Dave suggested teaching the students to take particular shots that allow them to put together a story simply and easily wherever they are. Of course, the basic elements of photography such as light, perspective and framing are used when taking these shots. I too, now use this same framework to tell my own stories through video. Read on to see examples of these shots.

 Posted by at 10:58 pm
Aug 112013
To help remind students of their responsibilities when using blogs and other online tools, it may be helpful to develop a list of essential agreements.
Below is an example list from a Grade 5 class that was posted on a page on the class blog for everyone to access, both at home and school. Students agreed to them by ‘signing’ their name in a comment at that bottom of the blog page.
Online Agreements
Like any essential agreements, students should play a role in their creation and they should be few in number. Here’s how you might like to go about it:
Lesson 1:
  1. Brainstorm – Ask the students all the things they use the internet for. Discuss and categorise them into broad areas such as research, blogging and communication.
  2. Think Pair Share – Allocate these areas to groups of students who need to then think about what their responsibilities might be when going online to complete these tasks. You may like to use an online tool such as Padlet, but good old fashioned scrap paper will do the job. Students pair with another in their group and then narrow their list down to 3 things that they write on Sticky Notes and then stick onto the whiteboard.
  3. Teacher thinks and reads aloud grouping any similarities to narrow down the list.
  4. Reflect: Ask the class to discuss with a buddy  they did not work with – What was difficult? How did you determine what were you most important responsibilities?
Lesson 2:
  1. Teacher has typed up a draft list of responsibilities and shares it with the class in hard copy form.
  2. In pairs, students refine the list. Encourage them to write, cross out question any they feel don’t make sense or are duplicated elsewhere.
  3. Teacher discusses the changes as a class and makes live changes whilst projecting the list on the whiteboard.
  4. When the list is down to a max of 10. Ask the class for final refinement.
  5. Publish your list online for all to see. You may like to add question prompts to help remind the students where and when they need to think about the agreements.
  6. Students can ‘sign’ the agreements by writing their names at the bottom of the page in a comment.

Do you have any examples of online essential agreements? How have you developed them in your class?

 Posted by at 10:05 pm
May 292013

I saw this great video when browsing tech blogs recently and it got me thinking. Obviously, it’s become a pretty big cliche, but just how far can app development progress with the current features of the iOS and Android hardware? It’s a touch screen, with a camera and a microphone. Surely it’s going to come down to the peripherals that plug into them.

Does the future really hold people carrying around their iPads and then having to plug in Google Glass type thingos and whatchamacallits? Sort of defeats the purpose of an all in one device, don’t it?

 Posted by at 10:34 pm
May 292013

During the planning stages of the last grade 1 unit of inquiry for the year, I was asked if I could help the students create short videos, community service announcements if you like. Their unit, sharing the planet, was all about identifying a need and taking action on it. It was only after I had agreed and left the meeting that it dawned on me that I would be working on about 50 short films in the space of a week!

I wanted to make sure I modelled the same film making process that we used with the older students at WAB, but as this was my first foray into film with 7 year olds wasn’t sure what they could or couldn’t do. Here’s what we did:

Step 1: Planning
Homeroom teachers discussed and brainstormed with the class ideas and recorded them on one bug chart eg. how to make the school a better place.

Small groups of students choose and idea and recorded a basic plan: who (the actors/characters; what (simple sentences narrating what will happen in the movie); where (location of filming).

To storyboard their films some classes asked the students the draw a small picture to show what is happening in part of the narrative. Other classes left the storyboarding to me to work through with each group before we filmed.

Step 2: Filming
To say the kids were exited was an understatement! So I took out a group at a time. I am lucky enough to have an extremely capable teaching assistant who also took out a group, thus halving the amount of time required to get through the whole class.

I constantly referred the students to their storyboard, asking them “where are we filming? who is saying what?” “What background do you want?”

I let the students set up the tripod. From thir experience with the iPads, they already knew how to use the camera on the iPod. For each shot I asked them if what was on the screen matched their storyboard image.

Depending on the group size, either they operated the camera or I did it it for them.

Step 3: Editing

Up until this project, I had always downloaded the footage onto my Mac and edited in iMovie. I have been pretty negative towards the iOS version due to its limited capability. however, because there was only 6 shots, I decided to give iMovie on the iPod a crack.

After showing the students how to create a project and add the clips, they quickly got the idea and were able to compile their film with little trouble. The only problem was finding the correct clip if they had multiple takes to get it right. A quick preview and a little trimming from me and their film was complete.

Step 4: Publishing

This was probably the most difficult aspect of the whole process. If the students were older then it would be a simple case of giving the a USB and having them upload to their blog. Grade 1 don’t have a blog. instead, they use the dated, but still useful iWeb platform to share their work. iWeb is machine based so each student needed to put their movie onto their iWeb site manually. Here’s how we did it:

  • Copy the entire class’s movies onto a USB to share
  • The homeroom teacher showed the students how to plug it into their laptops and open finder.
  • The students dragged their class folder onto iPhoto.
  • They could then access the movie via the media browser in iWeb and addition to their new page.

Here is an example of one of the finished products:

Grade 1 Students Taking Action

 Posted by at 1:55 pm
May 062013
Mobile Devices on School Trips

Are mobile devices appropriate for school trips?

Whilst, out of school today on recon trip to the site of the Grade 5 end of year camp, I was asked to record some video of the facilities to show some students anxious about leaving home.

I used an iPod touch to take short clips of the cabins, the dining area, classroom spaces and of course the toilets (everyone’s primary concern!). As I was recording, it got me thinking about how it would cool if I the iPod was 3G and I could upload the video to the school blog or media server moments after I had taken it.

Then I got thinking what about if all the students cameras were able to upload photos from their experiences to the cloud as they happened. That would be cool right? I don’t think so. Students would get distracted, heck they can’t even focus with a point and shoot digital camera, let alone a 3G enabled iPod. There is also a lot to be said about being in the moment, particularly on trips where the students are challenged, taken out of the comfort zone both physically and emotionally.

What about teachers? They could use apps such as InstagramQwiki or the WordPress App to upload highlights from the day as they happen. As I parent I’d love to see what my son was doing. That would be cool, surely? I am in two minds about this. On the one hand it’s great for parents to see all the amazing experiences, on the other it sort of spoils the mystic and adventure of leaving Mum and Dad for three days if they know every task you are doing and when.

I think I’ll give it a try at this year’s camp and see what the response is. In the meantime, do you think mobile, cloud enabled recording devices are appropriate for students or teachers at camps?

 Posted by at 2:49 pm