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Stretch Your Digital Dollar

Screencasts Turn Students into Digital Teachers

March 8, 2010 · 7 Comments · Digital Storytelling, Ed Tech Software

We all know that when you’re able to teach a skill, you’ve truly mastered it. That’s why we pair up students in class, assign group work, and start peer tutoring programs. But, with screencasting, we can now have all our students teach others what they’ve learned, with just a little effort on the teacher end.

Screencasts have emerged as THE teaching tool on the Internet. If you’re not familiar with screencasts, they’re basically videos of someone’s computer screen accompanied by a person’s voiceover, explaining why they’re clicking here or there on the screen. (If you need more explanation, be patient – there are a few screencasts in this post.)

Whenever I’m learning a new tech tool, the first thing I do is search for a screencast tutorial on YouTube. From Flash to Ubuntu, I’ve learned how to use dozens of programs through these videos, many of which (I’m slightly embarrassed to say) were made by middle-schoolers.

Why screencast?

Having students screencast can solidify their knowledge, as well as being a good tool for teachers to use in the future. Let’s examine the benefits. Say, for example, you’re teaching your students about percentages. About half of the class has a solid grasp of converting fractions to percentages. The other half is pretty wobbly. Have two or three of your students create screencasts explaining the process. Benefit #1: These students gain a stronger understanding of the subject.

Then, perhaps in centers, have struggling students watch the screencasts (with the power to pause after each step and replay the video as much as needed) as they try to solve a similar problem. Benefit #2: Struggling students get one-on-one attention for as long as they need it, without pulling other students or teachers away.

If your students have Internet access at home, you might consider posting the screencasts online – on a classroom Web page, YouTube, Vimeo, or TeacherTube. They could be great homework resources. Benefit #3: Students practice a skill correctly, rather than re-enforcing their mistakes because they’re unsure of the process. Benefit #4: Parents who watch the screencasts would better understand what their child is learning and how you expect a problem to be solved. Benefit #5: If you post the videos on public sites, screencast authors will feel like their voice matters – they could potentially see dozens of others learning from their lesson.

Perhaps you had one or two students absent when you introduced the concept. Rather than ignoring them or having to find the time to re-teach the concept, hold them in during lunch and have them watch the screencasts. Benefit #6: Absent students can catch up quicker, with less teacher work.

Next year, knowing that about half your students always struggle with percentages, you could front-load students by having them watch the screencasts before you even introduce the concept. Benefit #7: More future students are able to grasp your lesson quicker.

It seems clear that screencasting is at least worth a try in many classrooms. Although, for me, math offers the most obvious opportunities to utilize screencasting, it’s definitely not the only subject where the tool can come in handy. Science students can screencast to explain the parts of a cell, by recording their explanations as they draw arrows over different parts of a diagram on the computer. Technology students can explain how to use various computer programs, detailing step-by-step directions. English language arts students can screencast as they create mind maps (in programs like Labyrinth), explaining why they created the graphic organizer they did.

Sometimes, teachers simply don’t have enough time for large projects, like digital storytelling. Screencasting can be a simple, quick way to integrate technology skills into any lesson, while simultaneously benefitting students and yourself.

How do I do it?

Screencasting is extremely easy. There are quite a few free programs that allow you to record your desktop. One of the more popular programs is Jing, a FREE application that works on Macs and PCs. (If you’re using an Ubuntu computer, I’d suggest RecordMyDesktop.) Jing is fairly intuitive. When it’s opened, you’ll see a sun-like graphic at the top of your screen. Mouse-over it to get the “capture” option. Then, you can choose to record a video or just take a photo of your screen. When you’re done, click the “save” icon. It’s really that easy.

When I taught fourth grade, I used Jing a lot during my mental math lessons. At my school, we taught using the TERC Investigations math program, which I loved. However, this curriculum meant that students used several different strategies to solve the same problem. There wasn’t one single way to solve a multiplication problem, for instance. Some students would skip-count, others would break apart numbers and multiply the tens, then the ones, etc. (I’m getting off-topic, but if you’re interested, here are specific examples of some of my students’ math strategies.)

We spent a lot of time talking about the efficiency of various strategies, i.e., counting by 10s instead of by 2s, and moving kids toward more efficient methods. It was really important for students to share their mathematical strategies with one another, so kids could start to understand more complex, but more efficient, problem-solving methods.

Just like in most math classes, I would call students to the board to write and explain their thinking. However, my class used an interactive whiteboard. After a while, I decided that this needed to be documented, so I started using Jing. Using the same computer that was attached to the whiteboard, I would start up Jing and start recording. When students went to the board, Jing would record what they were writing on the board as well as their verbal explanation to the class.

 

(If you don’t have an interactive whiteboard in your classroom yet, check out my post on building one for just $55.)

We all know we can’t always have every kid go up to the board and explain their thinking. But we can have them all do it at the same time, with Jing and ActivInspire. If you have enough computers, your entire class could create screencasts at the same time, explaining the same math problem. If your computer access is limited, you could have students move through a screencasting center until everyone has created their own. You can grade them, choose some examples for whole-class discussions, use them as part of students’ portfolios, and show them to parents during parent-teacher conferences.

Overcoming Jing’s limits

Jing is a great screencasting tool, but it does have some limitations. For one, you can only record up to 5 minutes at a time. Personally, I see this as a good thing because if screencasts are any longer, students watching them tend to lose interest. And if you’re going to use them as resources for students to watch during class, shorter screencasts are key. However, if you absolutely need longer screencasts, you could always record in parts. After the first 5 minutes is up, save it, stop whatever it is you’re doing, click record again, and continue. When you’re done, name all the screencasts part 1, part 2, etc.

Secondly, you can’t annotate with Jing. That means you can’t draw arrows or circle things as you talk about them. Although you can pay for a similar program, Camtasia, it’s unnecessary. I mentioned Promethean’s ActivInspire software in the above screencast. The same program allows you to annotate, as well:

 

If you’re not interested in ActivInspire, another FREE application called ZoomIt also gives you the ability to annotate, as well as zoom in and out, while recording with Jing. ZoomIt only works on Windows PCs and, although I’ve read a few positive reviews of it, I haven’t had the need to try it myself.

Jing’s final major limitation has to do with posting screencasts online. Unfortunately, the free version of Jing saves your screencasts as .swf videos, which can’t be uploaded to popular video-sharing Web sites, like YouTube (Jing Pro, at $15 a year, gives you more filetype options). I think sharing screencasts with the world is one of the main reasons to use them in class — creating them becomes a more meaningful task for students when they realize that they’ll be teaching the world. So, if you want to upload Jing screencasts to the Internet, you have three choices:

  1. Spend the 15 bucks on the Pro version.
  2. In order to use Jing, you have to create an account on screencast.com. You can upload your .swf videos directly to your screencast.com account and can then embed them onto any site. A free account on screencast.com, though, limits you to 2GB of space and limits the number of people who can view your screencasts each month. Plus, you still won’t be able to upload the files onto other video-sharing sites like YouTube.
  3. Convert the videos to .mp4, .avi or .flv files first. Luckily, this really isn’t that difficult. There are a number of conversion applications that will do this for you. One of the more poplular ones is Moyea, which has an unlimited FREE trial (however, when using the trial, a small Moyea watermark is placed in the center of your video – you can see it in the screencasts I created above). Moyea is fairly intuitive, but if you’re interested, here’s a screencast tutorial on how to use it:

Not just for kids

This post is mainly about students screencasting, but don’t let your kids have all the fun. If you use centers, you could create a screencast with directions for each center, even annotating over an electronic version of a worksheet to explain your expectations. Then, when students arrive at a new center, they can play the screencast and get started. (This is especially good for teachers of preK students or other non-readers.)

You could also post your own screencasts online as homework aids or for students to access in class, when needed. Imagine a student working independently who realized she wasn’t sure what a simile was. She could walk to the computer in the back of the room, pull up the teacher’s simile screencast and be back in her seat within 5 minutes, without ever having to pull the teacher away from a reading group.

Since screencasts are so easy to make and so quick to watch, there are hundreds of classroom applications for them. If you have more ideas or suggestions, please post a comment here! (Scroll to the bottom to find the comment box.) 

More information

Although I only have experience with Jing, there are other FREE screencasting programs out there. Here’s a list of a few. In addition, if you purchase the $100 professional edition of ActivInspire, you can screencast using the recorder option within the program.

If you’re looking for samples of student-created screencasts, mathtrain.tv is a Web site devoted entirely to student-created math screencasts. It’s definitely worth a look.

Addendum (3/12/10)

I recently learned about Go2Web2.0, a site that lists every Web 2.0 tool out there. (Yeah, it’s pretty overwhleming.) I was puttering around on it, and I found a link to ScreenJelly. ScreenJelly allows you to create 3-minute screencasts from your computer, WITHOUT downloading any software. You’re then able to Tweet or e-mail a link of your screencast to anyone. I haven’t tried it out, so I’m not sure about it’s limitations. If you’ve had experience with ScreenJelly, leave a comment to tell us how it went!

Lesson Integration Ideas

Elementary Classroom

Grade: K-3 (or students at those reading levels)
Subject: Reading
Objective: The student will be able to read sight words.

In most Kindergarten classrooms, you’ll find a computer center. Usually, what I’ve seen are two or three computers where kids put on headphones and play Starfall or sight-word games. In fact, even when I taught in middle school, I had some students who still needed sight-word practice, and I would send them to a computer station to practice while I worked with other students.

However, as teachers, we rarely have time to sit with students and listen to them as they play these games. Wouldn’t it be great if we could record exactly what they’re doing to double-check their accuracy?

Why not sit a student at a computer, start up Jing, press record, and play a video like this one (you could even use Jing to create student-specific videos like this):

Meanwhile, you could work with other students. At the end of the day, you can go back to that Jing video and check the student’s accuracy. You can make time to meet with him/her to review any misunderstandings. If the child read everything correctly, you could use the screencast to help other students learn sight words in the future. You could even show the video to parents at conferences, to show them how their child is doing as well as to model activities they could do at home.

Middle School Classroom

Grade: 6-8
Subject: Art
Objective: The student will be able to analyze and describe the artistic styles associated with renowned artists.

In most subjects, students are asked to do a report and give a presentation on a specific person or topic. I’ve seen art teachers have their students report on the characteristics of Jackson Pollock or Frida Kahlo’s styles. Why not have your students create a screencast to communicate this knowledge? They could pull up photographs of artwork on their computer. Then, while recording with Jing, they could explain their thinking about brush strokes and color as they annotate over specific parts of the paintings. You could then use these screencasts to help instruct future students, or post them online to help teach art students around the world.

High School Classroom

Grade: 9-12
Subject: Physics
Objective: The student will be able to explain how Newton’s laws of motion can predict the motion of most objects.

If you haven’t tried out Phun yet, I suggest you download it immediately. It’s a great FREE game where students can build machines that are controlled by the laws of physics (a more advanced version, Algodoo, is $39). Check out one project:

For more, just search “Phun” on YouTube — there are hundreds of examples. With Jing, though, you could take Phun a step farther. As they record their Phun machines, students could explain how the machines work, with specific references to the physics concepts they’ve learned in class. They could annotate over their creations, writing definitions, explanations, and even calculations.

Plus, as a teacher, you could use Phun to demonstrate any number of concepts, like this one:

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