She Might Be Jackson Pollock

They might be heroes

Prepare for awesome.  Whatever it is you do for that…  do it.  I have no idea what you may have thought of They Might Be Giants prior to this post.  If you are unfamiliar, prepare for awesome.  You are hereby twice warned.

This band had a few airplay successes prior to becoming an educational boon for children far and wide.  Moreover, if you teach science or math to little ones, you owe yourself a catch-up weekend with these guys.  Delaney, our three year old, is a huge fan.  She’d tell you so, but you’d probably rather hear her sing.  Her all-time favorites:  Cells, The Bloodmobile, Photosynthesis, Science Is Real, Meet The Elements, Electric Car, Number Two, and Roy G. Biv.  There are many more she’s loved in the past couple of years, but really…  wouldn’t it be cool if a group this edgy would have something like  -oh, I dont know-  a wiki to organize all of this awesomeness?  Yep-  you guessed it:  This Might Be a Wiki.  Dig it.

So today I’d like to highlight an amazing band, a slick iPhone application, and a bit of the early-childhood learning fallout resulting from a clash of the two.

Today while Mommy was away, Delaney sat upon my lap for about an hour floating fingers through digital space…  spilling paint ala Jackson Pollock (one of my faves), all in the name of science influenced by TMBG.  As I sat in my chair piddling about with a new app, Delaney quickly came up to sit on my lap.  She’s used to occasionally plunking about with learning apps on Erin’s phone, but rarely gets that chance on mine.  Today, she watched me scribble about for something like 20 seconds before wanting to “…do it Daddy…  can I pwease?”  What do you think I said?

crappie jig I

Can you guess where my mind is in Midwestern March after 1) a very long and precipitous winter, and 2) flailing out the above image?  It is here that I have to warn you: the remainder of this post may contain mushy dadspeak.  If you can’t hang, bail now.


Delaney quickly said…  can I do it?  After a shake of the phone, and a clear of the screen. I asked her what color she wanted to use.  She promptly chose bwack… and after a circumnavigation of the screen with her sweet little finger, she starter chattering quasi-intelligibly about cells.  “What did you say?  What is that?  “It’s a cell Daddy…  cells are inside of all of us, it’s a blood cell.”  I had heard that much before.  But from there it got a bit more fun…

a cell

From there she whipped out an interior circle of sorts which she called the “nutrients” (smart me quickly realized this to be the nucleus) that “…has DNA in it.”  Now, a biology-teacher dad like me might be completely freaked out at this point if he hadn’t known of his daughter’s exploits with the TMBG songs and videos residing in Mommy’s iTunes closet.

She went on to tell me that, “DNA makes brown hair… and eyes… and boys and girls.”  If I wasn’t already in love with this little lap critter as my own little girl, I would have soon been hooked.

Who says this sort of thing when three?  As an instructional coach, I pay a great a great deal of attention to academic background knowledge.  Setting aside for a moment my deep beliefs in a rather constructivist approach to learning, we all know the benefit of children beginning any new learning with a prior set of relevant experiences…  or at the very least some of the vocabulary that goes with it.  How does Freshman biology change when these basics roll of the tongue like Schoolhouse Rock did for me?

cell number two

This cool little app allowed her to select new colors with the flick of a tiny finger.  I pointed out which buttons did what, and she quickly drank it in like it was the tricky block atop the Lego tower.  She then cranked out a few more cells and ended with, “Daddy, it’s your turn… you do it,” as a plea for modeling some fun.  What did I do?  Not much more than what she had already done.  It’s a bit tough trying to squeeze in a mitochondria with big kid fingertips.  All I did was to ask questions along the way.  I asked if she would tell me what I needed to do next.  I let her run the show.  I tried to roll with what she already thought was important.  She’s three.  Not fourteen.

trees and birds in the rainforest

After tiring of cells, she wanted to make ” a tree.”  She shook the phone to get a blank white slate, and then begged me to “draw too.”  She implored me to begin and I quickly drew in the brown trunk and branches.  After grabbing it away, the rest was all her.  Of course the tree needed “green leaves” and a line of “grass” beneath, and then a flock of “birds” above.  The black scribbles of birds in the image above are the birds in “the rainforest.”  Birds and coyotes… in the rainforest.  Who knew?


It all came flooding in to me as I remembered the lyrics regarding cells, the bloodmobile, etc…  I sat in my chair with my girlie atop my lap, piloting my little phone through her rich imagination.  A post with all of her descriptions would fill this page.  I won’t do that to you.  What I will do is ask you to think about the efficacy of a touchscreen in the hands of a toddler.  Full disclosure:  I love paper.  I adore the smell of crayons.  I love sitting down at the table with her and having her pick out colors for me and bossing me around the page, telling me what to color next.  I do not think it is a good idea to passively babysit kids with electronics, or anything else for that matter.  Just because they take to it like a fish to water…  doesn’t mean that it is necessarily a good thing.

For me though, herein lies the difference in today’s experience:  it wasn’t anything close to passive.  The size of this device allowed her to be fully seated within my arms and legs for some serious one on one time.  Close is good.  After all we are humans, not computers.  We were snuggled up.  We were storytelling.  We could get away with whispering.  So I’m reflecting on the synthesis of a touchscreen loosely emulating the style of Jackson Pollock, the musical genius of They Might Be Giants, and playtime that involves close physical touch with Dad.  The fun of all of this spilled out upon my lap this dark, rainy day in March.  When does a silly phone become a handheld learning tool… a creative tool… a play toy?  Think about that.  This was fun.

Artwork credits

*”A crappy crappie jig” ~  me.
*”Cell number one” ~ Delaney
*”Cell number six” ~  Delaney
*”Rainforest with birds and coyotes” ~  Delaney & I.

Failure Is Not An Option

I.  Parallels?

Why are the mandates of NCLB so difficult to swallow…  but yet a rather analogous challenge put forth in the Apollo 13 clip below is resisted for only a short period, and then finally accepted by all in a flurry of directed action?  The 120 seconds below are cinema gold.  In this scene, Ed Harris plays Gene Kranz, NASA flight director.  In briefing his team on the plight of the Apollo 13 crew, he set forth a seemingly impossible task-  a task not one of the men in the room has an easy answer to.  Give it a whirl…

Are the differences obvious?  I know-  these men will perish in short order without immediate, focused, and inspired attention.  And yet, aren’t a large number of our kids in a rather similar predicament in this country?  I would suggest that even though the “time to ultimate disaster” factor is far more lengthy… the answer is still yes.  And really, it could be argued that this is why we ended up with NCLB in the first place.  Discounting some of the more fringe and nefarious stories as to the origin and ultimate purpose of NCLB, I’d say that it is a fair assumption.

So yes, I would argue that there are parallels here.  However, the enlightened but small pack of readers here (those folks who would ever wade this far into my drivel) likely have pretty strong opinions as to what the differences here are.  Care to share a few?  It reminds me of the efficacy of sports metaphors in learning situations.  Though they almost always seem to fit in the beginning, they nearly always fall flat in practice.  Nearly always.  Why?  As a wrestling coach of nearly 20 years, I can attest to the allure of the sports metaphor.  However, there is usually a rather simple reason they fall short.  In athletics, there is nearly always an authentic, relevant, agreed-upon performance event at the end which drives all action.  So far, in US public education, we’re tried to build that same situation from the end->forward, and well…  as you know, that has thus far been a trainwreck by most measures.  As of where I sit right now, public education in America seems to be in deep need of authentic relevance and inspiring leaders.  Or is that inspiring relevance and authentic leaders?

We’ve tried the “building brains through business” model.  When do we say “nice try” and let an educator take the helm?  Actually, that previous statement likely just branded me a “fundamentalist” in some ways according to page 64 in Dr. Anthony Muhammad’s Transforming School Culture.  Now there’s a curveball.  Apparently I’m no longer as progressive as I had once thought.  Perhaps I shouldn’t have read about what Muhammad calls the “Old Contract/New Contract” so that I could remain a progressive agent of change for the better?  The last chapter I read was just seemed a bit too coercive to me from a leadership perspective.

The bottom line on my mind today?  Gene Kranz was unable to accept losing an American in space.  Yet we’re certainly “losing” a ton of Americans in our classrooms every day.  These are simply slower, quieter deaths.  Is the current coercive, CEO-headed model capable of delivering the reform we need before it is too late?  It certainly looks as if we’re going to find out.

To me, this movie clip is an awesome example of a very inspiring and seamless transfer back and forth between loose/tight leadership.  We could spark deep conversations about leadership on a fistful of points from this two-minute clip alone.  In your day to day work-  which of the characters here remind you of yourself?

II.  If I could only find…

Ever need the perfect movie clip to make a point?  Ever want to pull out just the right moment of cinema to glue all eyes and minds in one room on the same moment?  Isn’t it cumbersome to wade through two hours of video when you only need two minutes?  Find it frustrating to go through all of the the technical hassle in editing a clip from a DVD?  Not quite sure about how to abide by copyright in such situations?  Did that just sound like an ad?  What a salesman.  I think that’s probably why I stopped highlighting most webapps/services on this blog a while back.  I tend to do that on more local basis now in my district or building.  I have easily ducked any sponsored spots here from a philosophical standpoint.

Back to the slick little plug.  I like this site.  So if you need a film clip a few times in a year, well then…

“Houston… we have a solution.”

That solution is called:

As an upstart web service, Movieclips makes this process rather simple. Here, you can search through movies, genres, characters, actors, etc., to find just what you need.  If you aren’t finding that perfect clip just yet -keep in mind- the site is very new and is in the process of uploading tons of new clips each day.  The quality is rather amazing as well.  However, showing the clip at full screen resolution directly from the site allows the clip to be seen in all of its widescreen glory…  far beyond the quality of most YouTube clips.

As is typical of most any “Web2.0” app, you can comment on clips, share them out via link or embed, or simply click one button to share out via a list of the most popular social avenues such as Facebook.  Think this might be useful in some small way in your world?

The truth is, I came here to share a nifty little webservice.  I got distracted by leadership, schools, and a challenging day.


The Educational Remix- At Odds With Copyright?

Allow me to be frank-  as busy as my world is right now, the requirement to read “Persepolis” by Marjane Satrapi was a very frustrating thing.  With a stack of ten or twelve books with immediate professional impact to juggle  -just waiting on my desk-  this read seemed frivolous.

Not only did I have to read the book (one of nine in six weeks) but I have to crank out a formal paper and an “author presentation.”  Before you pull out the tiny fiddle, rest assured that this is a positive post.  Like any of the other requirements of my little grad program that don’t seem to professionally apply right at the moment, I usually choose to steer the task toward a place where my learning can benefit someone else in our school’s learning network.  For this presentation I decided to try a different technique for integrating text into an Animoto video:

(*update 6-5-11: I changed the embedded version here. I swapped out the YouTube version for this one. You’ll have to wait a bit for it to load via Animoto, but watching it in full screen mode this way is much improved.)

The above clip is my version of a biographical “author introduction” for class.  However, since the book itself is tightly autobiographical, it made little sense to parade an endless list of factoids in front of 18 adults who all read the same book… and at least a few of whom had Google in the pockets.  The last tidbit to know here is that this is a graphic novel.  Within the pages, the author allows beautifully stark images to tell a good amount of the tale alongside the words.  It really is a masterful work about……  well, I’ll let you watch the clip and see.

Rarely do I dive into the minutiae of the nuts and bolts of a creation like this.  Sometimes I sort of ignorantly assume that others will analyze the creation of digital media by simply examining how it presents itself.

Technically speaking, this is what I did:

  • Sat down with the cover of the book after reading and matched basic graphical elements to the style of the book using Adobe Photoshop.  I wanted everything to “match” the book.  Why?  Don’t ask.  I’m a sucker for design details like that.  I’m weird.  I know.  I tried to match the colors, the fonts, and other subtle design elements present.
  • Copied these design elements over into Keynote where I assembled all of the presentation materials as a traditional slide show.
  • Trolled iTunes for a bit of Iranian contemporary folk music to use as a soundtrack.  I know absolutely nothing about Iranian music.  Therefore, I wanted to simply find a track that mirrored the stark simplicity of the novel itself.  I think I found a good one.  I like it quite a bit, really.
  • Exported all slides as .jpg images into a folder on my desktop.  This took less than a minute in total.  Also- this conveniently numbered all images consecutively.
  • Uploaded all images to  Because they were already arranged in slideshow-order, no further shuffling needed to be done.  All that was left to do in Animoto was to select certain images to be “spotlighted,” followed by an upload of the .mp3 file for the soundtrack, and choose one of three overall presentation “speeds.”  Animoto then does the rest.
  • I ultimately remixed the video again to change speed and rearrange a couple of the highlights.  (one text-heavy slide displayed far too quickly)

Applications & Repercussions?

In the end, I felt like I created a pretty cool little video.  It certainly took a bit of time to do as a first run, but was largely automatic once the original slideshow was completed in Keynote.  Actually, this little clip made me so happy that, well… it almost makes me want to go back and re-read the novel.  To be perfectly honest, Persepolis is a pretty special work of art.

If you are new to this blog, you may think I have a exorbitant love for educational uses of video…  especially this one little free online tool.  In reality, while also juggling Lawrence Lessig’s Remix, a fascination with mashed-up content seems to be fresh on my mind.  That, and a recent discussion of the read/write/remix culture of 2009 in Doug Johnson’s session on copyright at METC 2009 last week.  In the Q&A afterwards I brought up an experience I had this past year regarding Animoto, UMG, YouTube and the YouTube content identification program.  In fact, Doug recently published one of his latest “Fair Use Scenarios” on this very issue.

Hossein Alizadeh and Madjid Khaladj


A New Hope

I think we are starting to see some really creative resolutions to fresh new uses of content…  that benefit all involved parties.  Even this video contains most of a copyrighted song entitled: Passion by Hossein Alizadeh and Madjid Khaladj.  Can readers of this blog download the song to an .mp3 later?  No.  Can they burn a copy of the song to play in a CD or DVD player?  No.  Is this educational use a mechanism to potentially generate more interest in the music as well as the book?  I hope so.  I wouldn’t highlight it if I didn’t think it held merit.

I decided to post the clip here after I realized that this might be a really cool way for an instructor to build interest in a book that an entire class might soon read.  (yes- like it or not, we still do this)  In fact, perhaps this is a really good way for a media center specialist, or librarian to pimp a set of newly-acquired novels to prospective students.  Perhaps it is even a way for students to reflect and then share a book with their classmates. (virtual booktalk?)  I think this could be a really great student-to-student viral marketing tool for discovering new reading material.

What do you think?  Is this song repurposed to a reasonable degree?  Does this use infringe upon the artist’s right to generate income from the song?  Does this use in any way cast a negative light on the work?  Is this kind of edu-marketing for students a reasonable educational use of the content?  Please share your thoughts on these and any other questions you see fit.

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Working Toward Classroom Relevance With Video

Ok-  for those of us wondering about the “educational” value of Animoto…  I bring you a Martin Luther King Day trailer from Stacy Baker:


Stacy is a cyper-pal of mine and one of our growing group of inspiring collaborators on The Synapse.  She is also a blogger herself and a teacher whose class blog entitled “Extreme Biology” was nominated and won a 2008 Edublogs Award for “Best Class Blog.”  She has recently taken the newly-released features on Animoto (adding text overlays and altering slide pacing) and really ran with them.  She is now becoming quite adept at using Animoto to deliver motivating “trailers” to introduce new topics of study for her biology classes.

One of the things I respect Stacy for the most  -is not only being willing to immerse herself in the latest technology-  but for taking the professional “second look” at any of these technologies for their real educational value at the classroom level.  I think her blog is a really good example of how one does this.  If you see what I see throughout her archives, you will notice time and time again a willingness to experiment, reflect and evaluate.

Several of us in our spontaneous little web community, including Erin, have been experimenting with this sparkly video tool since its debut.  Like most people, we all fell in love with the cinema quality of the transitions, its ability to match action to the music you select, and the overall ease of use.  This post of mine from last June was all about the tool itself.  That was pretty much prior to any attempts at classroom use.  To be honest, most of us quickly gave up on Animoto as an “instructional” tool.  That is, until we all pretty much seemed to spontaneously remember that there is a ton of value in grounding our course concepts in relevance.

Settling in

I think this follows a natural progression with the adoption of any shiny new technology.  The early adopters among us seem to dive in, feel out the parameters, see what it can do, and then spread the news quickly.  The next step then seems to be true evaluation on the front lines  The MLK day trailer above is a perfect example of a multidisciplinary look at one topic in biology.  If this video doesn’t make a brief case for the relevance of the study of genetics, then I’m not sure what does.  The biology of race is not one often examined in biology classes and I applaud the energy Miss Baker is putting behind this issue.

If you have read much of this blog you also know I am a huge proponent of front-loading any conceptual heavy-lifting with tons of attempts to engage and motivate.  It seems as if I am coming onboard with Animoto being another good tool to “hook” student interest.  From my first attempt at Animoto:


…until recently, I saw Animoto as a really slick little marketing tool for education.  The fast-paced and pretty videos work really well to show off something that has already happened.  With a few new features, and a switch in thought from marketing to motivation, I am now seeing Animoto in a very positive light for classroom use.  Actually-  my wife, Erin just beat me to a post on this topic.  What is this- competition?  Wow.  In fact, notice the title of her blog.  Perhaps this is what happens when firstborns marry.  But yeah-  please feel free to welcome her into the blogosphere with some feedback as this is her first post on an individual blog.  Also be sure to check out her video there introducing “mollusks” to her zoology students!

Have you used Animoto yet?  Feel free to comment with examples…

A N I M O T O !

Ok, I have to confess. I thought I had better do this sooner or later. 😉

I have been waiting to expose Animoto for the beast that it is becoming. I just thought it would be nice if you thought my latest two videos were the result of hours and hours of devoted video artistry by yours truly. The plain truth is, I take beautiful photos. There, I said it. I am cocky about my photographical sKiLLz. I took some pretty photographs, chose some particularly dynamic and tasteful music, uploaded them to Animoto and voila… they made the videos for me. Or rather, their computers made the videos for me. The Marine Biology video sitting at YouTube is here, and the leadership retreat video is here. However, many of you have already seen them right here on our own little Ning site.

The self-proclaimed “nerds” at Animoto state on their website that the program works by “automatically generating professionally produced videos using our own patent-pending technology and high-end motion design”. The entire process for the end-user takes place online; there is no software whatsoever to download. When you get in the end result, makes you feel like this is all a big sham, that some video experts sitting in a box in cyberspace quickly made your video and sent it back to you in final form. The service has started quite a buzz.

The official description goes like this: “Animoto uses patent-pending technology to analyze your images and everything about the selected music — its structure, genre, energy, build, rhythm — before developing a blueprint for the motion design of your video. The remaining time is spent rendering your video, using a giant farm of computer processors to custom-generate 15 new images per second for your final video.” In a word: amazing. In two words: amazingly efficient. Three?: amazingly efficient and creative. Ok, so that’s four, sue me.

Here is a very cool Animoto fact: videos under 30 seconds are free. Here’s another cool fact: full-length Animoto videos cost only $3 to make. An even better cool fact: a year-long license to make an unlimited number of full-length videos: $30. Ten in a year and it is worth it by those prices. But wait: *drumroll* for what seems to be the best part: for teachers, the service is FREE. The only thing that could have been better would be to have known that before spending thirty of my hard-earned dollars before finding out that little factoid.

Wow. Animoto. Give it a try.

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