Monday, November 25, 2013

Cool and useful website: Symbaloo

I've been seeing and hearing a lot about a cool and useful website called Symbaloo. From their About page:
Symbaloo is a personal startpage that allows you to easily navigate the web and compile your favorite site all in to one visual interface. Save your bookmarks in the cloud and access them from anywhere with any device.
Basically you create a collection or "mix" of favorite websites on one page. These bookmarks are visually represented by tiles. These Symbaloo mixes can be embedded on a class webpage or set as the home page for your classroom computers. This makes it extremely easy for your students to access the websites they need to complete your activities. This introductory video does a good job of describing what the website does.

How can this site be used in the classroom? If you have your students do any kind of work on the web you can create a mix to make it easy for them. Here are links to a variety of Symabloos to help you start thinking about how you can incorporate this great tool.

Virtual Field Trips
National Geographic Books
eBook Read To Me
Biomes for 2nd Grade
Art in the Classroom

Check out the Symbaloo Gallery for even more ideas. How will you use Symbaloo in your class?
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Thursday, November 21, 2013

Cool and useful website: Wonderopolis

I first heard about Wonderopolis from a blog post I read last summer. Ever since, I've been thinking about how it could be used in the classroom.

Wonderopoolis is a site that inspires creativity, thinking, exploration, and, of course, wonder. Each day the site posts a new wonder that kids can explore. Some examples of wonders are: How Many Hot Dogs Can I Eat In 10 minutes? How Rare Is The Rhino? What Is Infinity? Each wonder is accompanied by a short video. Here is the video for the wonder How Do Pets Find Homes?


There is also a detailed discussion of the topic which includes vocabulary words. An interactive Wonder Words section helps students extend their understanding of the highlighted vocabulary words in the article.

Other sections of the website allow learners to explore previous wonders, submit ideas for new wonders, and vote on wonders others are thinking about.

How can this site be used in the classroom? The possibilities are endless! Here are just a few quick ideas:

  • watch the video and discuss what was learned
  • students write in their journal, blog, or on Edmodo about what they learned
  • draw and label pictures about the wonder
  • have students further research the wonder
  • take the Wonder Word Challenge and use the vocabulary words in a story or article about the wonder
  • have students select a previous wonder and write, blog, or post on Edmodo about it
  • assign the wonder as part of the homework for students to share with their family

What other ideas do you have for using this website in your classroom?

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Wednesday, November 20, 2013

The nuts and bolts of a student run broadcast

I talked about our school's morning announcements in a previous post. You can view previous broadcasts here. The broadcasts are going extremely well. I love working with these students and am very proud of how quickly they learn and take over. Several people have asked about the equipment I use, so in this post I will list the equipment and describe how the studio is set up.


I am lucky enough to have an office that is big enough to hold my work space as well as fit the entire TBN studio nice and neat. The studio is set up in the back of my office as shown in the bottom picture. Here is a list of most of the equipment used in the studio.

  • Video Furnace - this device (#7 in the picture) was provided by the district. It captures the video and audio feeds, sending them down to the district run PBS station where they are encoded and sent back to the school through the Cable in the Classroom program.
  • Sima SFX-11 Digital Video Mixer (#1)- I picked this mainly for the price. It's one of the cheapest video mixers out there at less than $500 and does an excellent job for my purposes. It has 4 inputs (two RCA and two S-Video). All of my video sources (two cameras and one laptop) are connected to it. It has several outputs so I can connect a monitor to it to see what I'm capturing. The main video out connects directly to the Video Furnace device. My crew is able to select the different video sources at the push of a button.
  • Behringer XENYX X1204USB 12-Channel Mixer (#8)- The video mixer can handle basic audio mixing, but I decided to go with this audio mixer because it can handle more inputs and different types of inputs. I have two microphones for the anchors, one microphone for the weatherperson/interviews, a laptop playing videos, and another laptop providing background music. The main audio out on this goes directly to the Video Furnace device.
  • Teleprompter software - I currently use a free program called Microscript Pro. It's got a few quirks to it. I'm interested in trying out something different like AquaPrompt or PromptDog. I have it installed on two computers, one for the anchors and another for the weather/interview person.
  • Computers - I use three laptops in our studio. One runs the teleprompter software for the anchors (#2), another runs videos (opening sequence, closing credits, and any other special videos) (#3), and the third (#11) runs the teleprompter software for the weather/interview person as well as playing background music (Radio Disney).
  • Video cameras - I have one camera setup on the anchors (#4). A second camera (#10) is setup for the weather and is moved for interviews since they take place in the same space.
  • Lighting kit - the first year I set up the studio the Student Council was all excited about it so they donated funds for more equipment. I decided to purchase a light kit similar to this one. It helps brighten up the whole studio so it appears better on screen.
  • Monitors - in order for my crew to see everything that is going on I have several computer monitors. One is to display the teleprompter script for the anchors (#5), another displays the teleprompter script for the weather/interview person (#9), and the third is hooked up to the video mixer so we can monitor what is actually viewed in the classrooms (#6).
  • Cables and dongles - of course there are all kinds of cables running all around and dongles connecting the computers to the monitors and mixers. I included headphones for all of the crew so they can hear the broadcast just like the school would hear it.
In the picture below you can see how the studio is set up. The anchor desk for two anchors is set up to the left, and the weather wall is set up to the right. I have a primary grade weather kit hanging on the wall. The chairs in that area are setup for any interviews we do.
The TBN studio


The whole broadcast is run entirely by 4th and 5th grade students. I have a crew of 9 that arrives each morning at 8:40. They turn on the equipment, load up the scripts, and practice the day's script. During the practice we have a static image (the school logo) displayed on the screen and Radio Disney playing. This gives teachers the chance to turn on their classroom equipment and make sure they are receiving the broadcast.

A few minutes before the broadcast begins the audio mixer shouts "Going live!" and turns on all the microphones. At that point everyone becomes completely silent. At the first bell the broadcast begins with an opening segment and from that point forward the broadcast is live - bloopers and all!

The person running the video mixer is pretty much in charge. They queue the anchors and weather person for their parts and switch between the cameras and video. The audio mixer brings the microphones in and out and monitors the audio level for the videos and background music.

The crew were selected from students who filled out an application expressing interest in being part of the crew. The students rotate through the jobs every two weeks so that everyone gets a chance to try each job. Everybody wants to be the anchors and be on air, but they also enjoy the behind the scenes job as well. Some jobs are very complex and hard to do (video mixer), while others are simple and don't require a lot of effort (camera person).

The best part about this? I stand back and do nothing. The students run all the equipment and I just stay out of the way!

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Monday, November 4, 2013

Saving YouTube Videos

It seems like everyone has a lesson, how-to, demonstration, or other exciting video that they've posted on YouTube. These come in handy when you are teaching a concept and need a little additional information to enhance that lesson. Unfortunately in my district YouTube is blocked. But with the help of the Internet you can download that cool video at home and still show it during your lesson.

Ideally, to get through the district filter the YouTube video should be tagged for educational use. You can usually contact the author of the video and ask them to add that tag. You can also submit the video through YouTube EDU's submission form.

If you are unable to do that, or need it quicker than the email back and forth, you can use a site like to convert and download the video. Best of all-the site is free! You will need to follow these steps at home, since you still need to access the YouTube video.

To start you need to navigate to the YouTube video you want. Copy the URL for that video from the address bar.

Go to and paste in that URL in their search bar. It should look something like this.

Then click the Download button to the right of the search bar. Don't click any Download buttons below the search bar - those are ads and you'll end up downloading some junky software.

After click Download you may need to accept a security warning about Java. It's okay to Trust it - I've done this hundreds of times without any problems.

After the Java applet runs you'll be presented with a choice of file formats. Always go with the mp4 file format. The 480p is in the 4:3 aspect ratio and a smaller file size. This is usually good enough for my needs. 720p is in the 16:9 aspect ration and a much higher quality (and file size).

Click the link for the file format you want and it will download the video to your computer. Transfer that video to a flash drive and take it to school!

Keep in mind that the video is not yours to keep. I only offer this tip as a way of getting around the district filter for content you know is acceptable and useful in your class. Once you've shown the video be sure to delete it and also give proper credit to the author!

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