Working as a tech integration specialist allows me to participate in some great lessons and on a good day I help the teachers find a fun and meaningful way to integrate technology into their class.

The Idea

This week in first grade we are learning about the coral reef ecosystem. The students had created their own coral reef animals, and in the past they had shared about their invented animals to the class. This year we wanted to make their sharing more sharable and I suggested a video. (This is our first year with iPads in elementary and sometimes I think “make a video” is my goto move for almost everything.)

In this case we had an opportunity to connect to another project in the school. The middle schoolers had created a crocheted coral reef a few years ago, and since the first graders had created coral reef animals it seemed natural to bring these two together.

The Tool

I thought the best tool for this video would be Puppet Pals HD directors edition. It has to be the paid directors edition (2.99) because this upgrade from the free version allows users to bring in their own characters and background. This ability to import a background transforms the puppet pals app from a digital playground to the most fun IWB app around.

Using this tool with first grade means I didn't talk about the IWB features, we just were engaged in playful learning.

The Process

When creating a tech project you have to choose which skills you are teaching and how much scaffolding you are supplying. For this to work each group needs:

1. A background picture or 2 loaded into Puppet Pals

2. A picture of their animal imported into Puppet Pals and “Cut out,” a feature that allows you to remove the background from the picture so you just have a stand alone character.

Talking with Donna and Morgan, the first grade lead teachers, we decided we could teach the kids about taking a good picture of the background one class and have the kids make the movie during the next class.

Sam and Puppet Pal

Teaching the first graders to frame and focus the shot was fun. I held the iPad and they aimed it, screen tapped to focus and then his the shutter button. We ended up working with 1/2 the class at a time because we could only photo one small part of the reef at a time because of the display case doors. NOTE: we had 2 lights set up and it was a little tricky keeping the students from knocking them over. This shoot took place in the middle school lobby and we attracted quite a crowd as the older students were trying to figure out what we were doing.

The teachers were awesome helping keep order and tracking which student were using which iPads. The next step was that the teachers had to take pictures of all of the reef animals and upload them to BOX. We use as our cloud storage. The teacher also could have loaded the pictures into drive. What is important is that they got the pictures, labeled with student names into the cloud.

My next step was to import the student pictures onto the 12 iPads we were using, making sure the right ones were on each. I then went into Puppet Pals and “cut out” the actors for each film and imported the coral reef pictures the kids had taken.

With all the images loaded we were ready to go!

We had more silly examples than we would have liked which is

Pro-Tip One

Make sure your expectations are clear and the kids have a script of some sort. Even when they had a list of 3 things to say the videos were better. The tool is novel enough that the videos can get silly quickly.

Pro-Tip Two

Make sure you have the right Puppet Pals downloaded BEFORE you are importing pictures. I did not double check and there was a mix up. It is very likely I requested the wrong version of the app from my IT director. Luckily he was understanding and available, but the lesson could have been sunk right there.

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Pro-Tip Three

Have a recording helper and a quiet space to record. We were lucky enough to have 3 teachers in a room of 24 first graders. This meant that once we got going we were able to have 2 teachers pull groups out for quiet recording while the third helped groups practice in the main class room. The only hangup here was the pair of boys who recorded with each teacher instead of just once. (They were having a great time though).

Pro-Tip Four

Review your schools video policy before you start so you can share this work. By keeping student faces, the names of the student, and the name of the school out of the videos we made sure these videos could be shared publicly. Be sure to check with your school or district as policies can differ greatly from school to school.