Post-its and Ponderings
A middle school teacher's thoughts on science, technology and learning

Monday, November 23, 2009

Brainpop Animations

I love Brainpop. I have used these videos in classrooms from 1st grade through 7th grade. Even though Brainpop is animated, the information is complex but presented in a clear and entertaining way. Each video is 2 - 4 minutes long, and my students especially enjoy Tim's themed T-shirts! The quiz is a great way to get whole class feedback. With a school subscription, you could use it in a computer lab, but I find it perhaps more useful to use an LCD projector and a screen, so that we can pause, replay and discuss portions of the videos.

Even though it is subscription-based (see below), there are a number of free videos you can check out.

I use these videos in three main ways:

  • INTRODUCTION: I might show a video first (ex: Black Holes) to spark kids' interest and help them generate questions about an upcoming lesson. Also, I can use the quiz as a pre-assessment of the class' collective knowledge.
  • REVIEW: After an activity (ex: kids acted out the life cycle of stars of varying masses), I play the video and hearing the vocabulary in the video helps them solidify their previous learning experience. (ex: "Hey - That's me! I was the nebula!")
  • EXTENSION: If students finish an activity early, or need more challenging content, I will have then watch other videos extending the current curriculum (ex: Big Bang, or often in Technology class, I will have advanced students watch information about binary code or the internet)
However I use it, the kids love it. Check out Brainpop or Brainpop Jr. for more information.

You can sign up for a 1 week free trial with an email address, and one year subscriptions range from Family ($99) to Teacher ($175) to School ($975) to customizable District options.

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Saturday, March 21, 2009

RIP: iMovie 06 download is no longer available

So, I'll admit it, I haven't been keeping up on my Mac news. I heard about Steve Job's health issues, the new iPod Shuffle and the contract-free iPhone, but somehow I missed this - Apple pulled their iMovie 06 download?!

I was horrified by the new iMovie 08. However, I was mollified by Apple graciously providing a free download of iMovie HD 6 to all registered users of iLife ’08. This afternoon, a young filmaker asked me how to "get that version of iMovie that's cool" because she doesn't like "the one with the star." So, I head over to my trusty link and... gasp!... page not found! Apparently, on Jan 27, 2009, blogs started to report that Apple had removed the download page for iMovie HD 6 in preparation for their iMovie 09 release.

Oh, how I wished I had archived that dmg....

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Saturday, January 05, 2008

Converting .mov to .swf for Mac

In a previous post, I discussed my purchase of two screencast programs. One of them was kind of cumbersome, and the other one was easy to use, but did not output to .swf. I almost spent another $65 for a new program that was easy to use and outputted to .swf (Screen Mimic). Moments before I clicked "buy," a friend suggested I look for a program to convert my Quicktime files to Flash.

It was like a door was opened for me, leading to vast golden fields reflecting the late summer sun... OK, maybe I am being a bit melodramatic, but I was really excited. This means that I could record a silent screencast in iShowU, then import the Quicktime into iMovie 06 to edit the video and add voiceovers at my leisure. I had been frustrated that one stutter or misspoken word in a screencast often necessitated starting over.

So I found a blog post about converting Quicktime files into Flash which also had a tutorial for Mac users interested in using the (free) program FFMPEGX. However, this program only converts to FLA and there is a whole other process to be able to play it on the internet.

I need something simpler.

Video to Flash Converter 5.7 seems to be a popular choice, but it also seems to only work with Windows, despite what some sites claim. In fact, there seems to be no shortage of shareware for Windows use. I was getting discouraged.

Finally, I found Video2Swf which, ironically, is produced by the same company that makes Screenography. For $45 (on "sale") it seems to be a good choice. It even allows you to chose from a number of players to embed your video. (The Luddite in me enjoyed choosing the pretty designs.) The demo was clear and easy to use. (The demo puts a watermark across the middle of your output file.) Here's my first demo sample (a video inspired by a 2006 school trip to Europe):


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Wednesday, December 26, 2007

Screencast for Mac

So, I was inspired to create some tutorials, and needed to find a program to create screencasts. (What's a screencast? Check out articles in InfoWorld (2005), O'Reilly (2005), and see some fancy examples on the Apple site.)

A friend found me a very helpful blog post entitled Mac Options For Capturing A Video of Your Screen. "Brian" reviews a few options for screen capture, and I decided to give them a try myself, plus check out another program Screenography. All of these programs have free demos. They also all have similar customizable screen capture sizing and hot buttons.

Here is what I found:

App #1: Screen Mimic 2.2.1
Price: $64.95
Demo: 30 second movies only with a watermark on video recording

This was my favorite and by far the easiest to use, however, it is also fairly expensive. Screen Mimic allows you to save your project as Adobe Flash (SWF), Flash Video (FLV), or Quicktime (MOV) files. The encoding seems fairly quick and the quality of the video is excellent. I also like the idea, as "Brian" blogged, that you get a second chance to encode a selection if you change you mind.

Brian's issue with this program (in 2006) was the lack of audio recording. I can only imagine that the $24.95 version he reviewed lacked the audio options this more expensive version now has.

App #2: iShowU
Price: $20
Demo: Large green text on video recording

Somewhat more complex to use, but still fairly easy. There are a variety of presets, but at my level of experience, this is not a great help to me. I do like that you have the option to slow the capture rate when your mouse is not moving, which helps keep the file size down. The encoding is immediate, although you do not have a Flash option.

For $42, you can bundle iShowU with Stomp, a program which allows you to compress, crop and apply affects to your videos.

App #3: Screenography 1.013
Price: $39.95 / $9.95 (for the lite version - stills only)
Demo: Giant yellow watermark on final capture

Another easy to use program, with the option of exporting as a QuickTime (mov) or Flash Animation (swf).

App #4: Snapz Pro X 2.1.2
Price: $29 (still capture) / $69 (movie capture)
Demo: 30 days unlimited, with annoying pop-ups (I haven't confirmed this)

This one is easy to use, and has cute little sound effects like "Action", "Cut", and "That's a Wrap." But I am not convinced it is worth the significant price difference.

Brian's final opinion:

After trying them all, I think I’ll stick with iShowU. The developer offers a good product at a good price. Also, he is quick to offer support. The second option would be Screen Mimic, especially if you are intending to work with flash videos.

My final opinion:

It's a tough choice between iShowU ($20) and Screenography ($40). However, I want the Flash option. I am perhaps biased towards iShowU due to its partnership with Stomp (though, admittedly, iMovie 08 has some similar features to Stomp, but I am a little salty about that release). I think I will stick with Screenography.

Update 1.3.07: Unfortunately I found the demos don't really reflect the actual usage of the programs, so here's my opinion after using the full versions. Granted, my experience is shaped my my personal machine and internet speed, but here are my reflections.

I started with Screenography, and was happy with my short (less than 30 seconds) clips and very happy with their being published to a .swf file. However, as I used it for longer projects, I found the rendering time to be long. After 3 minutes of recording, when I hit the hot key combination, it seemed to take up to 30 seconds to register, and then a number of minutes after that to render the movie enough to give me a "save" screen. This did not include the additional time to save the file. It was an exercise in patience. Also, the program would frequently "unexpectedly shut down."

For the $20, I decided to purchase iShowU. This one hasn't crashed on me, even up to a 4.5 minute presentation, but as far as I can tell, my only output option is Quicktime. I love the very fast rendering time, but miss the versatility of the Flash output.

So now I find myself longingly reading again about Screen Mimic. Even though I originally deemed it too expensive, I am finding myself with $60 spent on programs that did not best fit my needs. I'll keep you posted on how Screen Mimic works out for me.

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Wednesday, August 29, 2007

Review of iMovie '08 ... the Shock of My iLife!

I was so excited. I unwrapped my new Macbook Pro ceremoniously, reverently hit the power button and waited with anticipation. I had worked with iMovie for years, and was especially pleased with iMovie '06. Now, I would have my first look at the newest version of iMovie. When my dock appeared, I was pleasantly surprised by the slick new icon.

As I opened up the program, I was a little awed at the total transformation. My simple little program screen had turned into a completely different movie app.

However, as I navigated around the new program, I thought: Apple, what are you thinking?

I have used iMovie for years in the classroom. It is simple and offers many options for kids to create quite polished products. Some of the better features of iMovie 06 include:

  • Timeline view
  • Multiple audio track editing
  • Themes
  • Many editing options (transitions / titles / Video FX like reverse & slow)
  • Ability to open more than one project at a time, and copy & paste clips
  • Exporting selected clips only
I also liked:

  • DVD chapters and integration with iDVD
  • Option for third party plug-ins
However, guess what is missing from iMovie 08?

  • Timeline view
  • Multiple audio track editing
  • Themes
  • Many editing options (transitions / titles / Video FX like reverse & slow)
  • Ability to open more than one project at a time, and copy & paste clips
  • Exporting selected clips only
  • DVD chapters and integration with iDVD
  • Option for third party plug-ins
And the worst part? iMovie 08 CAN'T OPEN older iMovie projects. Apparently, iMovie 08 is a stripped-down version of 06, perfect for beginners, or people looking to throw together a 2 minute YouTube video. (Read this blogger's top 10 features missing from iMovie 08.) However, I almost wept as I thought of the years of video projects I have made with my students: V-show productions, Greek Myths, the Virtual Digestive System, not to mention all of the projects they did just for fun. Was my digital video life destined to fall prey to limited creativity in the name of efficiency?

To be fair, some people like the improvements. MacWorld calls it "the iPhoto for movies." There is more color-correction and cropping options, and no rendering time when you add effects. Also, it can input a wider variety of video formats. But, that's about it. Some people theorize that Apple wanted to prevent iMovie from competing with Final Cut Pro. Other people recognize the good along with the bad.

When I recovered enough to open up a new tab in Firefox, I read that many people are outraged. Thankfully, Apple offers a free download of iMovie 06. (CORRECTION 3/21/09: The download is no longer available as iMovie 09 is released.)

I can breathe again.

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