My First Photobooth

May 11, 2015

Anatol_JosephoThis past week I was asked to setup a photobooth for our Teacher Leader Academy Awards.  I want to share my lessons learned and give you some ideas if you ever want to setup a photobooth for yourself.  First, I want to preface with some limitations I had:  Members of my team had already purchased a vinyl backdrop which, though affordable, was very shiny and produced some unwanted reflection.  Also, I did not have a photo strobe/flash kit so I instead used our video lighting kit.

The basic setup
Hanging the backdrop-in my test situation I used 2 lighting stands and attached the backdrop to it with masking tape.  At the event they supplied what is called “pipe and drape” so I taped the backdrop to those poles and was happy about the drape covering the bottom area since the backdrop was only 4 feet high.  I assembled our three-point lighting kit.  This meant a backlight, a spotlight and a fill light (with reflective umbrella as a diffuser).  The lights served 3 purposes: providing even coverage, adequate lighting (in a darker ballroom) and defining the photobooth space.  And speaking of the space, after power cords were taped down and improvised sandbags added to the bottom of the light stands, I marked a target area on the floor to show where people should stand to be in the frame.

photoboothsignand tape


My team members also bought some props to go along with the superhero theme of the event.
We encouraged attendees to get a free photo and strike a pose with a prop and co-workers.
Some people brought their children and so I improvised extra height with them standing on the lighting case. After the photos were taken, we collected the props and gave out slips with link to google drive folder with photos, using a tiny url.


The camera and settings
For this job, I used my Nikon D5200 SLR camera with tripod.  I set it for shutter preference (1/250) and an ISO of 400-figuring that the lights would give me plenty of illumination.  Even so, I wasn’t worried about underexposure, since I could always lighten them later and I did indeed lighten them before sharing in case folks wanted to print them.  (something to watch out for-the exposures were problematic due to the light reflections off the props).  Initially I tried to have participants trigger the camera shutter with a remote control, but since it required holding the button for a while and having to explain this to everyone, I abandoned the remote control for this shoot and just stood behind the camera.  Folks could see themselves as they struck poses because I activated “live view” on the camera and flipped the monitor screen toward the booth.  I tried to snap at least two shots of each group.  Of course I loaded my largest and fasted SD card into the camera and brought along an extra camera battery and the charger since I knew the monitor screen was going to consume a lot of power.

Best practices
In conclusion, I want to share the best practices for you to consider in setting up your own photobooth:
Get or make a non-reflective backdrop.
Use a good camera with a tiltable monitor screen.
Try to get or make some props.
Give out a link to where the photos will be posted.
Keep it fun, encourage posing and group interaction shots.
Add some lighting if you can.
Mark an area on the floor for people to stand.
Have a big, fast memory card and extra batteries.
Have two people staff the booth if you can-one to run the camera and one to hand out props, collect props and give out photo link.
Wishing you many smiles along the way!


Pixlr, Free Photo Editor

April 24, 2015

pixlr logoI was driven to Pixlr by two nudges.  The first was when a teacher asked if I knew of a free alternative to Photoshop that she could use in her classroom with her students.  Almost at the same time I had to replace the hard drive on my personal laptop and during the process I lost access to my Photoshop installation and Adobe was asking me for $10 a month to use Photoshop.  A colleague had told me about some free alternatives and after a quick review Pixlr looked the most promising for features and ease of use.

What I found was that Pixlr has a similar layout to Photoshop and the tools in the free version do most of the things I adjust photos/images in a hurry.  These commonly used features include cropping, basic light adjustments, adding text, and applying filters.  The free version doesn’t include many advanced Photoshop features such as layers, masks, etc, but you can purchase the Pro version of Pixlr to add these and other features if you wish.  The other limitations to the free version that you should be aware of are that 1. You can only open one image at a time and  2. The only export (save as) options are bmp, jpg, png and tiff.  I can live with these limitations for the free price.

If you choose to use Pixlr, know that you have several options.  First, you can use the solely online version, or you can download the app to your mobile device or desktop computer.  You can also choose to use the free version or subscribe to their Pro version for just $15 a year (much more affordable than Photoshop).

Here’s a screenshot of some of the tools with one of my photos open.  For more info and to download, visit their site Pixlr.

pixlr screenshot

Converting pdf Files in Google Drive

April 10, 2015

logo-adobe-pdfGoogle-Drive_logoSometimes folks want to edit a pdf file or at least pull some text from a pdf file.  If there isn’t a lot of formatting and images that you desire, and your focus is on the text itself then Google Drive can convert the document for you.  There are two paths to take for this conversion to take place.  1.  If you’re using the old Google Drive interface, then in your upload settings you can choose to convert the pdf document to a Google doc.  2.  If you’re on the new Google Drive or have already uploaded some pdfs then follow these directions:

RIght click on the document name and select “Open with Google Docs”

open with screenshot

You’ll have to wait while the document is being converted.  This shouldn’t take too long.

When the document opens you’ll see the original scanned pdf page and then below that the extracted text.

converted pdf view

You can then edit, copy, paste. modify this text.

Pretty cool trick!

Quick and Easy Virtual Breakout Rooms

April 3, 2015

2 new teachers at nei eventMy main webinar tool is Adobe Connect and I love all the options it gives us for running interactive virtual meetings.  One of its features is Breakout Rooms.  These rooms have all the tools for collaboration and can be setup in advance.  The only problems are: 1. They are sequestered so that people outside the rooms can’t see what’s going on in the other rooms, and 2.  As a host I have to toggle between all the rooms, jumping in and out to see them, one at a time.  Recently I saw Cynthia Clay from Netspeed Learning Solutions come up with a simple fix to this problem.  She created two chat boxes, one for “Group A” and the other for “Group B”.  She even provided instructions on which group attendees were assigned. Beauty in simplicity.   2 chat pods screenshot from netspeed recordingNow I know that this solution doesn’t give attendees all the collaborative tools that breakout rooms have, but they are so simple to set up and implement in a fast way with few clicks, simple instructions and little confusion.    To take this approach further, she also shows an example where there are three chat boxes-each with a separate question to answer/discuss.  Attendees can either be assigned to a question or self-select which question they’d like to respond.  These are great options to increase engagement in webinars, and could be considered breakout rooms without sequestering. I will have more tips to share in the future and I encourage you to share yours.

6 Things, 20 Slides

March 12, 2015

flying handlebars purple effectIn the book Presentation Zen Garr Reynolds recommends finding a Pecha Kucha night to practice the skills learned from his book.  When I moved to Denver I punched in the search terms and found an organization called Ignite Denver.  They do a variation on Pecha Kucha-you are limited to presenting 20 slides but each only lasts for 15 seconds, giving the presenter only 5 minutes to convey a message.  (Pecha Kucha is 20 slides for 20 seconds each.)

After applying and being accepted by Ignite Denver I went to work on my presentation: 6 Things I Learned While Riding My Bike.  My idea was to share lessons learned and tie it to my new experiences after moving to Denver, giving it a local angle as well.  The number of lessons or stories went down from 8 to 6.  I figured that if I told 6 mini stories, then I could allot 3 slides to each.  The remaining 2 slides would be used for intro and outro.  Next, I outlined the presentation as a storyboard using 20 sticky notes.  I had to decide what 3 images would be used to tell each mini story.  Talk about economy…tell a story with only 3 images.

Well, I was up for the challenge.  To up the ante I decided to shoot new photos and use a minimum of text on the slides.  I treated the project as if I was shooting a film.  I made a shot list which included location and props needed.  Ah…the  props.  This  took some extra work, and at one point out of my comfort zone.  One of the props I needed were bullet casings.  Not being a gun owner, nor having many gun-toting friends I had to go to a local shooting range and ask them for some empty shells.  Fortunately they gave me some without any questioning, although they may have joked about me later after I left.  No matter. I got what I was after.  As time went by I was able to take all the photos, with the exception of 2.  One  had to be shot by my wife Nita, since it included me in the frame.  The other, of a large truck, I found on Flicker Creative Commons and gave it proper citation.

The setting for the Ignite Denver presentations are different from any other presentations I had ever given.  First of all, they are in front of a large live audience who are drinking large cups of beer.  Secondly, presenters are expected to memorize their speeches.  No notes allowed.  Fortunately for me, my years as a performing musician helped me deal somewhat with any stage fright and I am blessed with a good memory.  To thwart any potential memory lapses, I used the slides to be my prompts/reminders as to what I should be talking about at that precise moment in time.

Now any good storyteller/presenter needs to bring emotion and engagement.  The stories themselves would help a bit with this, but I made sure that I included drama and humor into the script and my vocal inflection.  What more could I do for engagement? Ironically, one day while riding my bike to work I came up with an audience participation segment.  I would encourage them to make motorcycle sounds.  Since I figured their inhibitions would be lowered from the beers, I thought I could pull this off.  What did the end product look and sound like?  Take a look here at the recording and let me know what you think.   (NOTE: the recording has a few buffered glitches in it, but you should get the idea. And there was a technology bonus to mention. The event was streamed live, so some of my friends on the East Coast were able to attend virtually.  This may have helped me too. Knowing that I had friends in the audience-in person and virtual.)

EdCamping Again

March 6, 2015

edcamp button 2015Recently I was lucky enough to attend my second EdCamp in Denver.  Some things were different on this go round.  First, the initial paper signup sheet was gone, replaced by a google doc.  No problem there since it saved a step for the organizers and gave everyone easy access to notes.   Secondly I led a session, but in a new way.  I tried to be more “guide on the side” and allow for plenty of sharing among the participants.

So, what was my topic?  E-portfolios.  One of my personal purposes was to find out what other educators were using in terms of platforms and how they were using them to assess student work.  It surprised me that many teachers were still searching for platforms and protocols themselves.  One revelation was that not everyone was clear on the purpose of e-portfolios.  Fortunately, I found a great website that explains the why and how of e-portfolios.  If you’re interested in this topic, take a look at the site here.  (Not?) Surprisingly there are many quotes from Austin Kleon’s book there.  (The connections continue.)

What other topics were discussed that day?  Using Video in the Classroom, Blended Learning, Gamification, Personalized Professional Learning, Problem Based Learning, Twitter, Schoology, Google Apps in the Classroom, and Makerspaces, to name a few.   Fortunately for all of us, there are extensive notes shared with the world here. Edcamps are great places to hangout, network, learn, share, and you don’t need a sleeping bag :-)

Photos for Class

March 2, 2015

6819094724I’m a big proponent for using Flickr Creative Commons as a source for finding reusable photos.  I’ve used many over the years and have made a concerted effort to give back by licensing virtually all of my photos with Creative Commons (CC) licensing.  The main hurdles for K-12 teachers who want to use Flickr CC is getting a safe filter and making it easy for them and their students to properly cite the photos they find.  Now there’s software to solve these problems:

Besides providing a safe search for images, you’ll find that when you download an image it comes with full attribution at the bottom.  The image I used for this blog post is an example.  Let’s all find photos for class!

Website on the Move

February 27, 2015

criteriumphotoforblogpostAs I promised in my last post, here is an update on my new website and a review on the software that I used to create it.  As i mentioned previously, this new website aggregates all the creative and instructional work that I’m producing.  These areas include instructional design and technology, digital storytelling, photography and music.  It should provide one-stop shopping for people who want to find and use my work.   I’m very happy with how it turned out and invite you to take a look here:

I want to share with you the process I engaged when building the new site.  First, I wanted to move to a friendly website builder where I could balance good design with quick design.  The software that I chose was Wix.  It’s free to use and publish-if you don’t mind having their branding on your pages.  I chose to buy a premium account so that their branding wouldn’t appear and I could use my own domain name.  Wix has hundreds of templates to choose from and I went unconventionally with a theme that was created for a restaurant.  Why? I just liked the layout, the clean look and how photos could be featured on the front page.  I can’t stress enough how easy and intuitive the editor is to use.  There are many choices for customization bu you could create a simple site in minutes.  Besides ease of use and creative templates, the other thing that I have to recommend about Wix is the wide array of plugin/add-ons that they have available.  They are easy to install and use.  The one I chose for starters is a Twitter plugin that shows all my tweets.  I can adjust the size, the feed, and placement on my page.  So…look at my new site and try out Wix for yourself.  I’d love to hear your thoughts

Synergistic Cognition

February 18, 2015

chihuly smallSometimes everything comes together in the most delightful way.  I’m calling this new experience “Synergistic Cognition” since interdisciplinary studies or curriculum integration sounds too dull for the wonderful feeling when multiple subjects and modes of learning mesh.

Here’s what happened to me this week.  I’ve been taking a course on PLNs-Personal Learning Networks.  The course is being held online.  Most of my fellow students are in Maryland while I’m in Denver Colorado.  In the course we looked at and tried out various social media for learning.  The platforms we touched were Scoopit, Diigo and Twitter.

As the course is winding down, I’m ratcheting up work on a new aggregated webpage for all my work and social media presence too.  This new site will also serve as my final project for the course.  So, at the same time I decided to start reading this book “Show Your Work!” by Austin Kleon.  The first chapter is called “Find a Scenius” which he defines as a group of creative people to get feedback from.  Where can you find a Scenius?…Online of course! social media networks- PLNs!

All of sudden I saw the connections between this book and work from my recent course. I got quite a brain rush when these two sources came together for me.  I’m calling this Synergistic Cognition.  Not only did I make a connection from the course to the book I was reading but the book also connected to other ideas and books.    Later in Chapter One, Austin talks about how freeing it is to be an amateur.  Everything is new.  He quotes a Zen monk Shunryu Suzuki: ” In the beginner’s mind there are many possibilities, in the expert’s mind there are few”.  This drew my mind back to “Made To Stick” where the Heath brothers talked about the curse of knowledge.

I am joyful at all these connections being made.  I will have more to share and I wish you happy connections, or Synergistic Cognition!

Drag and Drop Quizzes in Moodle

February 4, 2015
Daniela Harmann Flickr CC

Daniela Harmann Flickr CC

I’m really excited about the new drag and drop quiz functions in Moodle.  We added them to our main site last month.  There are three audiences that I can see using these immediately:

1.  Adult Learners-for our adult learners we have the option of making more complicated, yet visually appealing, drag and drop matching text quizzes.  Not only are they easy to create and automatically grade, they can engage adult learners in choice, applicability and higher-order thinking.  Of course, auto-graded quizzes are useful in self-guided online course modules.  They will run on their own, indefinitely, without further facilitator interaction.

2.  Teachers will find these quizzes easy to create and appreciate the auto-grading. I hope teachers will consider this a wonderful opportunity to create PARCC-like tests to get their students ready for the real thing.

3.  Students will enjoy the visual appeal, be engaged by the game-like challenge and get great practice for future mandated online testing.  They might even find that taking a quiz can be fun!

Below are some screenshots of quizzes I created for elementary school students as examples:

drag and drop map quiz in moodle

fish matching quiz in moodle


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