About Robert Simpson

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Students Start Here… Photoshop Elements the Key to Digital Media

Learning to use selection tools.

Learning to use selection tools.

Last week I had the pleasure of introducing the Adobe Digital School Collection (ADSC) to a group of Massachusetts educators during the PreConference workshop of MassCUE (October 26, 2010).  The Adobe Digital School Collection is a bundle of software optimized for creating digital media content.  The most important applications are Adobe Photoshop Elements (PSE) and Premiere Elements (Pre), the first handles image creation and editing and the later video.   In my experience, most students and teachers don’t have an opportunity to use these programs on a daily or even weekly basis.

The first activity that I introduced during the PreCon workshop was focused on setting up and building a Photoshop Elements catalog.  The origins of the catalog lesson came from my district’s use of DeepFreeze on all school computers.  DeepFreeze prevents users from altering or permanently storing files on shared school computers.  In order for a user to build an intelligent portfolio of digital images, Photoshop Elements requires a dedicated storage space for building an ongoing catalog.  The analogy here is like collecting toy cars and having plenty of shelves to display and organize them. The shelves need to stay put and your toy cars shouldn’t disappear.  Fortunately, PSE gives users the ability to create custom catalogs that can happily live on a flash drive.  In my school, students participating in our Adobe Youth Voices digital media program each receive their own flash drives.  The workshop participants learned to setup a flash drive catalog.  The lesson plan including all the media assets are available on the Adobe Education Exchange.  Look for Introduction to Photoshop Elements 8 Catalogs – The De Young Museum Portfolio.

Spooky castles?

Spooky castles?

Once teachers had a working catalog we explored the world of selection tools using a lesson shared by Sara Martin over the Ed Exchange.  In horror of Halloween, I challenged teachers to create the spookiest castle using selection tools, shapes, effects, and filters.

After students master editing still images I like to introduce the PSE slideshow editor to move them into video.  The skills needed to master good video production require about 10 times the effort and commitment to learning to become really proficient.  I explained to the workshop teachers that video consumes about 10x more hard disk space than still images especially when High Definition video cameras are readily available.  If you are new to the Digital School Collection, my recommendation is to build your foundation in Photoshop Elements.  This photography slide show was created exclusively in Photoshop Elements using the slideshow editor.   If you like the effect, you are probably responding to the combination of photographic imagery, movement, music, slide transitions and timing.  Challenge your students to build highly polished slide shows before diving into the world of video.  Posting the best slide shows on a streaming video site for everyone to see and comment on will motivate your students to work harder.

We recently surveyed a group of middle school students on their use of technology and software.  As expected the most popular activity was texting, 92% of students reported texting everyday or at least 2-3 times per week.  The next most popular activity was watching YouTube video at 82%.  I always ask students if they would like to be the ones creating the content that everyone WANTS to watch?  What tech integration projects using Photoshop Elements do you want to teach?

Educator Goes Street For July 4th

July 4th is one of Boston’s best annual community events.  The world famous Boston Pops Orchestra stages a free public concert at the Hatch Shell on the Charles River Esplanade.  For those true musical patriots who seek the glory of premium seating – prepare to camp overnight.   Only those brave citizens risking life and poor cellular service will persevere to awaken in one of several columns sleeping toward the moment of truth, 9:00 AM!

I recently completed a 4-day street photography course taught by B.D. Colen, a noted journalist and photographer.   The central principle of street photography is to accurately document public events through the art and craft of photography.  As an educator on the front lines of helping public school teachers integrate technology into their teaching practice, I’m struck by the similarities of street photography and teaching in the 21st century.

First, the tech savvy teacher and the street photographer need to be passionate about connecting with their subjects, sometimes risking rejection.  The most difficult workshop assignment was to “get close” to complete strangers in order to capture the moment.  B.D. challenged us to set our camera’s zoom lens to a single wide-angle setting in the 35-50mm range and be no more than 10ft from our intended subject.   The gold standard of street photography is capturing people head on, immersed in the moment without regard to the camera.

Second, while everyone seems to have a digital device that captures images and video,  developing the ability to anticipate and SEE the moments worth documenting requires great observational skill.  The same is certainly true of the teacher who must judiciously scan a classroom full of students and make decisions about when to redirect her lesson or assist an individual student.    Good street photography freezes those meaningful moments of human interaction from a simple embrace to the shared wonder of an amazing fireworks display.  As I set about snapping photos throughout the day, it became apparent that a wide range of people just naturally welcome digital cameras and mobile phones into their lives.  The challenge for street photographers and teachers is how to document meaningful interactions between people when they are increasingly online.  For instance, in the photograph, Weeping Willow Boy and Flags, the boy appears to be relaxing in the tree oblivious to his surroundings.  If you examine the image closely, he’s got an MP3 player and a minute later he was furiously texting as he still laid comfortably in the tree.  Last week at ISTE’s 2010 conference in Denver, CO, Elliot Soloway predicted that within 5 years every American student would have a mobile learning device (MLD).   Should teachers welcome MLDs into their classrooms?  Will all students become street photographers?

My final point involves the 21st century skill of communication and collaboration.  My approach as a photographer is to sit back, wait a bit, and frame my images before snapping.  Given this reserved approach, I netted about 500 images that B.D. asked me to cut in half.  I then submitted my images for peer review with four other classmates.   Our ultimate goal was to each tell the story of Boston’s July 4th celebration through a series of 30 photographs.  To learn the art of good street photography we viewed and discussed photographs from books by, W. Eugene Smith, Henri Cartier-Bresson, and Robert Frank.  Sure, you can see many of their most famous images on the web, but the printed photographs speak more loudly.  If you are a digital educator, you certainly understand the challenge faced by many students who need to learn good editing and synthesis skills as they confront the shear volume of data easily collected with today’s digital devices.  What images would your students select for publication in a book?

Read more about Street Photography on the Digital Grin forum.

Wikis: The Ultimate Time-Lapse Learning Tool

One area of photography that acts as a bridge between classic still image photography and video is time-lapse photography. Time-lapse photography consists of taking a series of photos at regular intervals and then displaying them one after the other.  The effect can be used to show patterns that are not normally observed in real time.  Clouds make a terrific subject for time-lapse photography as they roll across the sky.  My clouds time-lapse long photo consisted of taking 150 photos using a intervalometer set to take one photo every 5 seconds.  Using QuickTime Pro the photos were converted into a sequence displayed at 15 frames per second in a QuickTime movie with a total elapsed time of 10 seconds.  How long did it take to shoot this time-lapse? Was is worth the time? The first question requires basic math skills the second one is based on opinion.  One stunning use of time-lapse was produced by Dan Chung during China’s 60th Anniversary national day on October 1, 2009.

Helping teachers think through their desire to integrate technology into their classroom instruction requires patience and an attention to detail similar to that required to produce good time-lapse images.  Teachers know that good classroom instruction requires an enormous amount of thought and attention to detail.  Adding technology to the mix increases the demands made on teachers to acquire new skills.   Many teachers are inspired to take the plunge to learn a new technology if it means their students will respond positively to the learning experience.  What technology tool is the most important one for teachers to master? It’s the wiki.  Why? Wikis build on basic word processing skills so you can quickly add text content to a sharable web page.   The sharable nature of wikis make them part of what’s termed Web 2.0.  The key to harnessing the instructional potential of the wiki lies in their ability to show growth.  Think of a wiki as a time lapse learning tool, where learning can be captured and nurtured over a period of time.

Google Analytics Becoming America wiki report map for Massachusetts

Google Analytics Becoming America wiki report map for Massachusetts (8/14 thru 10/17)

A recent example of time-lapse learning can be illustrated through the Becoming America wiki.  Becoming America is a new Teaching American History Grant project that provides professional development for teachers in six school districts.  The end goal for teachers is to create an American history lesson composed of primary sources found in the many libraries, archives, and historic sites located across eastern Massachusetts.  Through this research process, teachers learn to think historically while breathing new life into their American history curricula.   Since the wiki’s launch in August 2009, it has logged 3300 hits with Braintree teachers accounting for 27% of the hit count.   Braintree teachers use the wiki the most because they cannot attend face-to-face meetings.  All teachers use the wiki to respond to questions posed by project historians using the discussion tab.  Historians appreciate being able to view teacher responses before giving their seminars.  As teachers begin creating their lessons the wiki will be a critical resource for organizing primary sources and weaving them into compelling learning experiences.  The concept of wikis as time-lapse learning tools is best seen using the history function for any page.  The Unit Teams 2009 page’s history tab reveals there have been 16 updates to the page since it was created on Oct. 5th.  Clicking on any of the updates shows what changes were made.  Each individual update represents one frame of a time-lapse record of learning.

What time-lapse Web 2.0 tool do you use?

If you are interested in learning more about time-lapse photography visit the DigitalArtworks Time-Lapse Tutorial.

NECC 2009 in the Clouds

Digital-Age Learning Concept MapIt’s been a cloudy, cool start to the summer throughout much of the Northeast.  So when I departed Boston for this year’s National Educational Computing Conference (NECC) in Washington D.C., I was ready to feel some heat.  It was my fifth consecutive NECC and the 30th anniversary of the conference.  NECC attracts around 20,000 educators from around the world who are passionate about designing and developing digital-age learning experiences.  The digital universe has grown so vast that it’s easy to become overwhelmed by the complexity of processing and synthesizing new information.  My compensation strategy is to use concept mapping to emphasize important ideas gathered during the conference and attempt to relate them to practical classroom use.   The concept map to the left was created with the new MyWebspiration web application (view the web version).  A web application runs entirely through your web browser.  There’s no software to download and install.  Why would the makers of Inspiration software decide to create a web version? The answer can be found in the CLOUDs.  These aren’t those pesky precipitating clouds, but rather an array of computers pushing virtual versions of software through the Internet into your browsers.  NECC was dominated by these cloud computing solutions.  One major issue for schools is the need to constantly update software on individual computers.  The cloud version of Inspiration requires a browser with a stable Internet connection.   Now here’s the real kicker, myWebspiration concept maps can be shared and edited by multiple users.   Imagine assigning your students an assignment to collaboratively visualize books for homework.

The cloud metaphor is a good one to characterize the current status of educational technology.  I spent NECC 2009 thinking about the creation of compelling Digital-Age Learning environments.  Simpson holds a humidity probe during the Information Technology in Science Instruciton workshop.MyWebspiration concept map shows a link between the world icon, NECC 2009, and a cloud symbol containing Digital-Age Learning.  Controling clouds is notoriously futile therefore teachers will get wet.  Your students will benefit from Information Technology experiences such as collecting temperature data with a USB probe directly into a computer and then sharing through the Information Technology in Science Instruction portal.   Social Networking is also critical for making your curriculum global.  Educators are using Twitter and Ning to create social networks that bring students together to design solutions to real-world problems and build their digital literacy skills.

Photography and Collaboration are also given the cloudy treament.  Adobe Photoshop.com enables image editing through the web.  flickr is one of the largest photo sharing communities on the web.  Wikis are the single best method for initiating a web collaboration.  I created the NECC09 wiki page to share information and resources with K-8 educators back home.  To document my NECC experience, sessions and workshops were listed by date with notes posted as text comments and concept maps!  Selected photos were either embedded into the page or streamed from my flickr account.

How will you share your NECC09 experience?

Teachers’ Domain Equals High Quality Digital Media for Teaching

I watched Nature’s The Loneliest Animals over the weekend about the plight of endangered species.  My first thought was that educators have a tremendous responsibility to teach today’s students about the facts concerning loss of habitat and the importance of biodiversity.

I’ve been collaborating with several Ferryway 4th grade teachers on a project-based unit designed to lead students through a set of inquiry-based activities on animals and biomes.  The goal is to build higher order thinking skills in our students as they learn about the link between habitats and animal life.  According to our state (MA) curriculum science standards, students in grades 3-5 record details of the life cycles of plants and animals, and explore how organisms are adapted to their habitats.  In 5th grade, students are assessed on their understanding during the MCAS science exam.  OK wait a minute, you mean students take the high stakes science exam a full year after receiving the instruction.  YES!!!  In fact, an analysis of the questions on the MCAS science exam shows that between 10-15% of the exam deals primarily with animals and their biomes.  Additionally, 1 of the 5 open-response questions usually requires a deep understanding of animals and biomes.  To differentiate our instruction and increase the likelihood of student retention we have incorporated new digital media into our biome lessons.  Where can teachers find good digital media assets that aren’t completely off limits due to strict licensing terms?

Screen shot of Teachers\' Domain Animal Classification Game Resource

An excellent, free source for high quality digital media is provided by Teachers’ Domain. Teacher’s Domain (TD) is hosted and maintained by WGBH Boston.  One terrific aspect of the site is the ability to download videos, audio clips, and Flash interactives to your desktop.   In most cases, teachers and students are granted permission to download, share and remix these digital media assets.  I downloaded and integrated a 2 minute QuickTime on Nihoa Island as part of vocabulary lesson (PDF 763KB) using a student response system.  Students watched the clip and were asked which vocabulary words best described the movie.  I think you are beginning to see how useful this can be for teachers.  The interactive Animal Classification Game created in Flash fits perfectly with the goals and objectives of our biome unit.  Students are presented with animals that they must classify as mammal, reptile, bird, amphibian or insect. I also appreciate the citation function that makes it easy to copy and paste the correct reference to the TD resources.

Search Teachers’ Domain before you try to create your own interactives or videos.  Register for a free account to gain access to hundreds of digital media assets.  Let me know what you find and how you used it in a lesson.