Defense Paper

This unit, consisting of 4 lessons, is the first of a 3 part student leadership series.   Students are primarily non-traditional college students with a wide variety of college readiness skills ranging from multiple high-risk factors to being sophisticated learners.   Participation is voluntary with no credit or grade associated with completion.   The unit is intended to be open-entry with 1 – 10 students entering and proceeding at their own pace over the course of a 15 week semester. Both the voluntary and open-entry aspects of this unit present pedagogical challenges.

Motivation generally created by earning credit and grades was absent due to the voluntary nature of the course, requiring alternate motivational strategy. The need was met by incorporating aspects from the motivational theories of flow and self-determination.

Consistent with flow theory, as described by Gutierrez (2014), I made a particular effort to state clear objectives with each lesson and ensure presentation of instruction, task, and deliverables are consistent between lessons and free of extraneous ‘noise’ so students can quickly identify the tasks and assignments for each lesson.   With a heavy reliance on triggering intrinsic motivation, the unit begins with having the student identify things they are good at. This strategy meets Deci and Ryan’s self determination theory (SDT) component of competence.   The unit concludes by giving students the autonomy to choose their own project.

Assessment for this unit is based on student self-reflection on the learning process as evidenced in journal entries and concept maps. Students are asked to interact with the content and then reflect on the learning process and their personal values in relation to the content.   Journal entry prompts ask students to think critically about social issues as interpreted through the lens of their own values.

As an open entry opportunity, there will be no student cohort to interact with.   Students are asked to converse with friends and family in this unit and will need to begin interviews with social service agencies in the next unit.   Feedback at this point is instructor based and conversational in tone, provided in written form.   Feedback can come at the end of each lesson, but I predict more opportunities for questions and feedback to arise during the unit.   Because of the individualized and very personal nature of the feedback, I am counting on it to be relationship building, providing relatedness, the third leg of SDT.

The unit also draws on both cognitive and constructivist learning theory.   Students are asked to participate directly in a guided self assessment and make meaning (cognitive theory) of the results by seeking the impressions of people that know them well. They are introduced to the topic of social change first by definition, then by real life example and then once competence is built, by analyzing current services and creating plans for new programs that they will execute in the next lesson.   As they develop the knowledge and skills they interact on deeper and more individual levels with the content (constructivist).

Ultimately, I hope the combination of early success, supportive and relationship building feedback and autonomy in project choice will keep students engaged and moving forward in the process.


Gutierrez, K. (2014). Designing for motivation: Three theories eCampus designers can use. Retrieved from

Tool Reviews (All Three)

Figured I’d put these in one place since it can sometimes be difficult to find things if there’s lots of recent posts. Gets pretty long that way but it’s easier to find.

First up is Mango Languages. I don’t have a product that I made with this service because it doesn’t really produce visible products.

First and foremost, Mango Languages is free, but it’s not an online tool in the sense that I thought it was. I’m really used to DuoLingo and YoyoChinese and ChineseSkill being totally isolated digital tools, but Mango Languages surprisingly directed me to my local library’s website. Instead of being offered exclusively through the Mango website, it took me to the FNSB public library site’s home page with no indication of how to even find what I was looking for! Unable to find anything relating to  this service on the library site, I found out that Mango Languages has a mobile app so I’ll be reviewing that, but I think Mango is losing out here on “ease of availability.” Consider that a major barrier to entry – even the mobile app seems to want you to go through your local library. If your local library doesn’t have a subscription, you’re boned. What an archaic business model.

I worked through some of Mango’s Mandarin Chinese lessons since that’s what I’m most familiar with. Languages are divided up into really broad “topics” – here it’s Conversation, Chinese Zodiac, and Feng Shui, which is weird, but I went through all of Feng Shui. I also looked through the start of Conversational Chinese and followed it for a while just to make sure I was giving the app a fair and thorough testing of a single language.

The verdict: if you’re new to a language, this probably isn’t the app for you. I think at higher levels in education it would be a good tool for intermediate or advanced learners. Nowhere that I could find does the app go over the importance of tones – it’s mentioned, but not taught. If you can’t distinguish the basic tones in Mandarin you’ll never have a conversation, no matter how good your vocab is. There’s also nothing about grammar and syntax. There are little “grammar notes” here and there which are useless without an understanding of how a language is ordered.  The app is all about mimicking sentences and breaking them down word by word without any explanation as to what the order means, why it’s in that order, or why similar words mean different things in Chinese. If you don’t know, similar words in Chinese may sound exactly the same to an outside speaker, but with different tones in the vowels, so if you can’t distinguish between the four tones you can have some embarrassing or funny slip ups (草泥马 is everybody’s favorite but there are a LOT of weird ones). Every decent language learning tool I’ve ever seen has started its Mandarin or Cantonese lessons with an overview of the tones and how context determines meaning more than literal word choices, and this does not. Chinese is all contextual so these things are important.The pinyin writing system, which the app uses, indicates tones, but the app never describes what pinyin is or what the marks above the vowels mean.  If the grammar is this lacking here, in a language with similar syntax order as English (SVO), then I imagine it’s really a pain for other languages with major order differences (Romance languages).

That said, there’s an option to record yourself saying a word, which is actually really awesome, and you can listen to it and play it at the same time as a recording of a (native?) speaker saying the same word so you can compare your pronunciation. That doesn’t do much if you don’t understand the tones, but it’s still really cool. I wish all languages apps gave you recording tools. It’s still just asking you to parrot sentences, but it’s the most effective way to parrot sentences, I guess. The layout of the app is actually quite nice, even if it’s kind of unresponsive. It’s simple and sparse but that’s what you want in a language app – the ability to navigate unhindered.

I think I will probably keep the app on my phone. You have to download lessons and they are pretty big, but I imagine since I already have an understanding of the building blocks of  Mandarin, this app will be good to pick up on a lot of little things I might miss otherwise. Mostly it looks like small talk. Were I teaching a language I would recommend this to students who had already been studying for, say, at least a year in school. It’d be useful for picking up and mimicking new sentences, but not for learning a language from scratch. It’d be useless for that – in a tonal language where context matters, or a Romance language where conjugation matters, you might do more damage than good.


Next up is Quick Rubric. Making Rubrics can sometimes be a real pain because tables in Microsoft Word / Pages / Google Docs aren’t always easy to work with.

I really like this. It offers up an incredibly easy to use interface. I used it to recreate a rubric I’ve taught with in the past and managed to get the entire rubric made very quickly, not counting typing type. The interface is incredibly simple and lets you create rubrics in sort of a drag and drop / add your own template. There’s not really much to say because the website is very easy to use and very attractive. It works well on mobile, also. I was using and Android and was able to login and make a rubric just as easy as on a computer, typing obviously notwithstanding. I always think of rubrics as being one of the biggest pains in the butt in the world of practical education. Re sizing tables in MS Word and trying to make sure everything fits without a table breaking weirdly is infuriating, but this tool really fixes all of that. Be able to scale the score how you like is awesome too. Sometimes rubrics are weird when you have a scale (out of 30 here) but REALLY it’s worth 100 points in the gradebook. This scales automatically for you, you just click it up or down.

There’s no way to swap the x and y axes though, which is weird, because in larger rubrics like the Six Traits one I made, it’s sometimes easier to have the rubric horizontal with the scores going from top to bottom instead of from left to right. Having it start at the highest score instead of the lowest is a little weird too, but not disorienting. There are also no text editing options, which I would like. No way to bold or italicize or use bullets, as far as I can tell.

You can see my rubric here:


It comes out easy to read / formatted nicely and can be shared with just a URL. Far as I can tell you don’t need an account to view other people’s rubrics so there’s some cool potential there for being able to swap advanced rubrics back and forth with other teachers. That’s always nice. Much as I love Google Drive, it’s not always as fast and easy and flawless as it needs to be.

The biggest drawback is with the printing. I don’t own a printer but I did try to print it to see what it looks like, and there’s a huge logo at the top of the screen. Because it’s in portrait orientation instead of landscape, it doesn’t all fit on one page. The URL being listed is distracting and gives your username away to your students, if you care about that. I suppose you could clip it and print it as picture if you want but that sort of defeats the point. It’d be nice if there was a “export to PDF” option.

Despite its shortcomings, the tool is simple and plain enough that I’d use it in the future. That’s what I really want out of a rubric creator. No fancy flash based programs, no weird breakable tables, no obtuse formatting issues, no pre-made garbage rubrics, just a simple tool that takes my text and arranges it in a functional rubric with a point scale. That’s all it needs to be and that’s what it is.

Last up is Screencast-O-Matic.

I figure I’ll let this one mostly speak for itself. The video is part of the review.

Sorry for the audio quality. It turns out Screencast-O-Matic doesn’t work with on-board microphones in laptops. BIG strike against it, I think. I had to re-record over the video’s audio using my phone as an external microphone. That’s not a glitch, either. I replicated this error on my old Macbook as well. How weird, right? I also made three screencasts (1, 2, 3) just LAST WEEK using Camtasia and Camtasia recorded that audio (which, as you can tell, is high quality) using my Windows laptop’s on-board microphone. Most people nowadays do the overwhelming majority of their work on laptops or tablets and have no need to own desktop computers. Most people I know who do are either tech junkies / work with computers or are gamers. Certainly most teachers don’t seem to need them. How strange.

Something I didn’t mention in the video is the online features. It is very easy to navigate your saved videos and if you pay the $15 a year you get more storage space plus a bunch of other cool but probably mostly useless features. Having it stored online is great, but I’m not sure why you’d bother when they’re just going to end up on YouTube anyway? I also didn’t think about how launching the screen recording tool from the website might make it useless if you ever want to record without internet! Mostly I would never do that, but it’s something to think of.

Screencasting in general is one of the greatest educational tools we have, I think. I love screencasts and have used them in my classroom before. I’m currently being paid to make some for the UAF library. Google Drive, your gradebook, checking grades, navigating district websites, how to use class tools, etc. – there are a lot of options for screencasts.

This tool is just as good as any other, really. There are some weird quirks that I go over in the video but for the most part I think any teacher could find cool ways to use this. It does have a few drawbacks – the weird web-based thing, the lack of editing, and the audio issue I ran into, but it’s also fast and easy and has that cool pointer feature which Camtasia doesn’t have. All in all it’s a good tool for teachers to try out and it requires a FAR lower level of tech literacy than Camtasia does, for example. If you’re thinking about ever doing screencasts (and you should), I would say start here. For most teachers, Screencast-O-Matic delivers the tools you’ll need for your classroom (record and export easily) in a simple package. It doesn’t do much else (like Camtasia) and it doesn’t ruin its functionality with stupid design (like Jing) so, if I didn’t already have a Camtasia license, I’d probably use this for most of my screen recordings for my classrooms.

In short, Camtasia > Screencast-O-Matic > Jing, but this is free. You choose.


PS – Unit incoming tomorrow! Doing some last-minute editing and clean up.

Defense of Unit Activities and Assessments

The desired outcome of my unit is social change. The underlying objective is for students to recognize that every one of us is part of the water shortage/pollution problem and every one of us has the ability (and responsibility) to initiate positive change for the benefit of the environment and the survival of mankind. The intended audience for my unit is 4-6 grade, and the lessons are scaffolded for students to construct knowledge.

The first step in change is recognizing there is a problem. My first lesson focusses on the limited availability of fresh water on our planet. The visual simulation format was created to capture attention and physically demonstrate how precious fresh water is as a resource. The assessment for activity one is designed to solidify the understanding that, although it seems that water is everywhere on our planet, the freshwater we use daily is in very limited supply.

The assessment for lesson one is also designed to spark conversation and stimulate critical thinking regarding how each of us waste water and contribute to pollution. This concept is explored further by the Home Environment Checklist in Activity two. At this age, students have limited exposure to environmental issues, and daily routines are filled with reading, writing, and math. Self reflection and meaningful dialogue can be a powerful tool in constructing knowledge. It is important to note the characteristic of the learners for this unit is somewhat unique. My unit is designed as a field trip where students from a variety of classrooms would come to me for a portion of the learning. Some sections of the unit are designed to be facilitated by the teacher in the classroom while others will be hands-on with me during the field trip. I hope this unit would be related and connected to a curricular topic of study in the classrooms, but it is possible that it will be somewhat artificially inserted into a rigid schedule. The discussion and follow-up activities are where much of the real potential for learning lies. All are designed with collaboration and social interaction in mind. Discussing new ideas and understandings with classmates, as they brainstorm lists and define vocabulary terms, helps make meaning of the new information.

Activity two involves the whole class in a role play scenario. Students are assigned an occupation and a container of contaminants. As the Catchment Story unfolds students physically dump their pollution into a clear tank of water. Because water waste/pollution is a real-world, collective problem, I chose to incorporate a Project Based Learning model. The use of storytelling and role playing in this activity aims to immerse students in the problem, and collectively generate possible solutions. Differentiation is incorporated through multiple methods of communication and delivery, thereby catering to various learning modalities. The Home Environment Checklist bridges the gap between home and school. It is designed to critically examine habits and behaviors that add to pollution with the assistance of a parent (who will be paramount in initiating any lasting change). The Checklist offers real-world examples to begin solving real-world problems.

Activity 3 involves students in another role-playing situation. Students learn about, and conduct various indicator tests to measure levels of pollution in different water sources. The activity and discussion, based on The Water Quality Interpretation Chart, is designed to help students understand how human behavior leads to the diminished water quality from samples they just tested. This is a very busy, active-learning experience with characteristics of the learners in mind. Because this is not my class of students and therefore I don’t know individual learning styles, preferences, or disabilities, this activity incorporates a variety of learning modalities. The assessment is largely built into the activity. The predicting, comparing and contrasting, and measuring water quality with indicator tests are all objectives and activities in which the students will participate.

The final activity brings the unit together with a deliverable. Students take their newly gained information and create a product that shares a message with the greater community. This fits into the model of Project Based Learning as well, by engaging student voice as well as collaboration with peers, teachers, professionals, and community. This activity is designed to be completed with the guidance of the classroom teacher, and the provided prompts, resource videos, and student created projects will assist in idea generation. I would like to facilitate publicly posting brochures and posters at the store to create incentive and add perceived value to the final product.

Throughout this course, and specifically through the study of learning theories, I have discovered that my philosophy for teaching and learning is deeply rooted in constructivism.
The lessons and activities in my unit are developed so that students are active participants in constructing knowledge through social interactions and hands-on learning.
In general, assessments are designed to reflect the knowledge that students have constructed through learning activities and discussions. Assessments are measurable and speak directly to the learning objectives outlined.

Review of Tools

The first tool I chose to review was Socrative. I picked this tool because it was relatively new to me and because feedback on my unit suggests the assessments need work. I’m planning to present my unit online for other teachers to utilize. It seemed that Socrative could be an alternative and possibly engaging way to assess knowledge acquisition.

When I first navigated to, the first thing that jumped out at me was “Get a FREE account. I’m all about free things, especially at the exploration stage when you don’t know if it’s going to be a value-adding tool or not. The main page is attractive and uncluttered, offering a brief product description and demo video. The website states: “Socrative empowers you to engage and assess your students as learning happens. Through the use of real-time questioning, result aggregation, and visualization, you have instant insight into levels of understanding so you can use class time to better collaborate and grow as a community of learners.” Essentially, the teacher has a digital device that collects and organizes data submitted from student devices. The demo was really helpful in giving an overview of the software capabilities. New users are then given an option of looking at the user manual. Maybe it defines my generation, but I’m still one to look over a manual before jumping in and “mucking around” with something new. One of the potential barriers to effective use that I found was that the user manual is very cluttered and confusing. There are arrows from text boxes to screencast images everywhere and in no particular sequence or structure. The lack of continuity with this makes it hard to know where to start reading a page and what description is related to what graphic.

After briefly reviewing the manual, I dove in, starting with a quiz for my first unit activity. When creating a quiz, you have the option of selecting a multiple choice, true/false, or short answer questions. The format of Socrative makes this process a breeze. It’s simple to add, delete, or re-order questions to fine-tune your assessments. One of the best features of this program is the “explanation” box following each question. Teachers can choose to include an explanation that will appear after students select or articulate their answer. I love the immediate feedback this provides students. If they answer correctly, the explanation is a confirmation of their understanding. If they answer incorrectly, the explanation immediately addresses the shortcoming. The feedback happens instantaneously, allowing students to reflect on their answers while the new ideas are still fresh in working memory. The “explanation” box would also be an asset to a teacher who finds the unit online and wants to teach it, but has a limited knowledge of the subject matter. There was one problem I encountered while creating quizzes in Socrative. I couldn’t find a way to add graphics, shapes, or text boxes to the quiz. One of my original quiz questions focused on the proportion of freshwater available relative to the total amount of water on Earth. I used text boxes in Pages to graphically represent volumes. I wasn’t able to replicate anything close to this in Socrative.

Beyond simple quiz generation, there are other features of Socrative that I think would be advantageous in education.
Teacher Collaboration – Teachers can share quizzes based on the code assigned. Importing/exporting quizzes is efficient for sharing course design and delivery.
Real-Time Questioning – The Quick Question feature allows teachers to stop instruction at any point, ask a question of the class, and gauge understanding based on instantaneous results they receive. This “snapshot in time” seems like it would provide the basis for real data-driven instruction. If results show most of the class “gets it,” the teacher can move on. If results show one particular concept is proving difficult, they can re-teach that day. Teachers have the ability to see exactly who is giving each answer, providing opportunities for differentiation. The live results provide an option for customized teaching difficult to match with paper.
Exit Ticket – This is another assessment option, which the teacher would have students complete digitally at the end of the lesson. Teachers can customize questions for the Exit Ticket that tell them whether students understood and can achieve objectives. The Exit Ticket could be used to solicit personalized and confidential feedback from students about delivery, effectiveness, gaps in understanding, etc. Based on this, teachers could work individually with students or choose to cover a lesson again on a subsequent day.
Space Race – A fun and engaging way to introduce a little competition into assessment. Students can compete individually or in teams against others. Students are “competing” to correctly answer quiz questions. Results are displayed as rockets moving along a racetrack and show competitors progress as well.

Overall, I thought this tool was easy to use with a fast learning curve. If one can get past the equipment resources necessary to implement, the advantages of real-time feedback are constrained only by imagination. Once I got over my initial (predictable) hurdle of diving in and messing around to learn how to use the tool, I began to see many educational advantages. With about 3 hours invested, I learned the software, revamped, and re-producing all my lesson assessments on Socrative.

To view the quizzes created for my unit of instruction, first sign up for a Socrative account. Then, log into Socrative as a teacher, and select manage quizzes. From here, choose import quiz. On the next screen you will have the option of importing a quiz from another teacher using the SOC share code (there is also the option to upload quizzes an from Excel file). The SOC code for my quizzes are:

Water Availability: SOC-19023441
Water Quality Testing: SOC-19025827
A Day in The Life of Campbell Creek: SOC-19025308

The second tool I chose to review was Camtasia. I picked this one because a classmate suggested I might use it for creating and sharing videos during our Peer Review session. I had no experience with it, so this was an ideal opportunity. The Camtasia website describes the software as follows: “A powerful, yet easy-to-use screen recorder, Camtasia helps you create more professional videos without having to be a video pro. Easily record your screen movements and actions, or import HD video from a camera or other source. Customize and edit content both on Mac and Windows platforms, and share your videos with viewers on nearly any device.”

Although they tout a “30-day free trial” it seemed to me they tried hard to make the free-trial process confusing enough to encourage frustrated people to just sign up for a paid subscription. In attempting to download the free trial version, I kept getting prompted for the activation key. I ended up downloading it 6 times trying to figure out where the activation key was displayed. Finally I called their support center for help and was told the activation key was only for customers buying a paid subscription. I was told how to skip this step and proceed with the free version. I find this type of thing very manipulative. I understand that companies are in business to make a profit. But if you offer trial product to stimulate interest in your for-profit product, you have a responsibility to cater to that user as well.

I wish I could say things got better when I finally got my free version downloaded. After looking over the new platform and exploring the menu bar, I found a “start a new project” tutorial. I watched this and the process for capturing a screenshot video seemed pretty straight forward. I set the same controls they recommended and tried to create my own. The video worked fine, but there was no audio. I tinkered with the internal input and output on my computer, changed settings, and tried every combination of built-in microphone, built-in input, built-in speaker possible. I made a dozen test screenshots and simply couldn’t get the audio to work. I’ve taken classes with Collaborate that require use of a headset, so I tried this next. Plug in the headset, change audio settings in system preferences, and try again. This yielded the same results. I spent another hour messing with connections, verifying that the headphones worked on another computer, changing settings, and trying to make a simple test video. Same results. The screen capture function worked fine in two dozen test videos, the audio never picked up sound.

Now I will be the first to admit that I’m not terribly tech savvy. I think it somewhat likely that operator error was to blame in this scenario and not necessarily a problem with the software. But if I’m having this problem, isn’t it likely that someone else has experienced it? I searched their in-house help service extensively trying to find answers to my questions, but there was nothing on the topic. I ran out of time and finally walked away. With 24 hours to reflect on the process though, I don’t know exactly what I would do differently. I had already spent 20 minutes on hold and conversing with tech support to just get the free version. I felt stupid calling back with another simple issue. I would argue that a service is hardly free when it takes 2-3 hours to figure out how to access the point where you start learning the tool.

I spent enough time scratching around the software to realize it isn’t what I thought it was anyway. I had a vision of a movie making software, this wasn’t it. Camtasia is great if you want to teach how to navigate somewhere online or demonstrate some technical skill that requires multiple steps. It basically records your cursor actions, what’s on your screen, and your voice (apparently). It would be very beneficial for teaching someone the process of getting to a desired location or the steps necessary to set something up. The editing capability appeared to be efficient and the sample screencast I watched look very polished. I see plenty of value in the software for educational purposes, sorry I can’t give a better review.

The third tool I chose to review was TeacherTube. I selected this one because I thought supplemental videos may help hook interest and engage students in the activities I’m putting together. The TeacherTube website states: “Stop wasting hours looking for learning tools and relevant content. TeacherTube is your one stop shop for user generated educational videos from around the world. You don’t need to reinvent the wheel. Find exactly what you’re looking for within a quick search.” It was love at first read. They had me at “stop wasting hours looking for learning tools,” after my Camtasia experience.

I started exploring this tool with the intention of eventually creating a short video introducing topic(s) covered in my unit. After searching the site for a half hour, however, I realized there were already a plethora of videos hosted there that were relevant to my project and probably better than I could produce with time constraints in place. However, the creation of a video was a part of my unit, so I further explored TeacherTube by creating and uploading a video. (The tool I used to create the movie is an iPad app called Doodlecast Pro Video Whiteboard This awesome resource is available for $4.99)

Learning curve – I was quick to pick up the basics. Within 20 minutes I was searching for content related to my unit. I was pleasantly surprised to find a pool of videos related to catchment.
Ease of use -The site was relatively easy to navigate. The help section needs some improvement. All tutorials are screen recordings without audio. It is difficult to watch a tutorial video without audio because I am wasn’t really sure what skill I was learning in the help video. Constant pop-ups and advertisements are distractions that take away from the instructional value of the resource. In my search, I did not find enough videos that would warrant a paid subscription.

Time required to create – TeachTube is not a tool for content creation. It is a resource to host instructional videos. I choose to use Doodlecast Pro as the tool to create videos. In order to upload content to TeacherTube, you will have to have software to create content. According to TeacherTube, the following file formats can be uploaded: wmv, avi, mov, flv, mp4, jpg, png, gif, mp3, doc, docx, .ppt, .pdf, .txt, .csv, .xls, .mp3, and .wav. Having used Doodlecast Pro in the past, it took a total of about an hour to create the script, graphics and compile the content to upload it to TeacherTube.

Problems encountered – Constant splash ads. Every time a user selects a video to view, a splash ad appears in the video window. This is confusing, annoying and distracting from content. While I watched many good videos, there were a lot of movies that were poor in quality. For example, some movies had pixelated images and very poor audio.
Barriers to use – A paid subscription is required for many of the features. This also does away with all the advertising pop-ups. When videos are uploaded they are not available immediately, so teachers will need to plan ahead if videos are included in lesson plans. Also, when I uploaded, I received notification my movie needed to be reviewed before publishing. I imagine content is vetted for copyright etc; however, in order for me to endorse and recommend this resource, the review process needs to cover video quality.
Educational Uses – There is a lot of value in using movies as instructional resources. I support video use (creation of instructional content, telling stories, PSAs….) in the classroom. As a parent, my children’s privacy is a concern. I think schools should consider internal servers and software services for video use, especially if the videos include students. To me, resources such as TeacherTube should be local (site based) to assist in student privacy and quality control.

View the short video I produced with Doodlecast and posted to TeacherTube here:

Review of Toontastic


Toontastic was fun and easy to use but perhaps more appropriate for K-3, than for higher ed. This is an iOS app, so I downloaded it to my ipad and started playing. My 6 year old took over and had a blast figuring it out. The learning curve was minimal and the guided step-by-step was very good. He had no trouble making his first movie and we were able to create right away with no frustration factor. There is also a pretty nice little parent/teacher guide.

Toontastic is a little different than the other cartoon creation tools I reviewed in that the tool lets you create an actual animated movie. You are assisted in choosing a background, characters and props. Then you record a voice over while dragging these elements around the touch pad. When you play it back, you not only hear your voice   but the character movement was is recorded, creating a fun and engaging little cartoon movie.

I don’t see this as being as useful with older audiences. For the younger set, they do coach you through creating a story with a beginning a middle and an end. That being said, if you had a specific project in mind that wanted to combine animation with voice, this would be a good choice.

Unless,   everyone that you wanted to particpate didn’t have iPads. I don’t know what this is going to look like in the future. The creators of Toontastic, Launchpad Toys, was just acquired by Google.

I was not able to export my silly movie to give you a demo without granting the app permission I did not want to grant it but you can watch the official demo movie on the Launchpad Toys webpage

Learning curve: Minimal
Ease of use: Easy
Time required to create a product: 10 minutes +
Key features: Easy to create animated characters with voiceover
Problems you encountered: Export restrictions
Barriers that might prevent effective use: iOs specific
Possible educational uses: Teaching storytelling to k-3

Review of StoryboardThat

After my experience with PowToons, I almost decided to change my review selection to give me more variety.   I am really glad I didn’t.   StoryboardThat is fantastic. The user interface was intuitive and frustration free. Their were enough built in elements to illustrate an idea without getting lulled in to searching forever.   Everything just worked.   I made the storyboard below in about 15 minutes including signing up for an account and figuring out what I wanted to do.

I was very impressed with the flexibility of use allowed to the free user.   You can’t set privacy settings but you can download the entire board or individual frames. You can download as a high resolution jpeg (Adobe Illustrator) or as a pdf.   You can create a slide show or download to powerpoint.   You can also send directly to social media or get an embed code for you website.

At the end of my 15 minutes, the little vignette below was already on my work Facebook page.

StoryboardThat has also provided dozens of lesson plans for teachers.   One created for A Streetcar Named Desire, introduces students the key elements of the 5 part play (intro, rising action, climax, falling action), and then asks them to identify and recreate a scene representing each plot point on their storyboard. Another has them storyboard the character traits of the main characters.   There are so many things that you could do with this it makes the $10/month education price very tempting.   I want to play with it more, but I am thinking of using this in a later lesson and having my leadership trainees practice civil disagreement by storyboarding a conflict scenario.

The tool is easy enough to use that it makes it realistic to add it into a workflow.   Maybe I will story board my next lesson plan or unit!

Review of Powtoons

I have been wanting to try this and I am glad I did.   I have disabused any romantic notions I might have had about creating really cool professional looking animated lectures.   This tool would be best used to create a short (15 second) animated video.   Unfortunately, you can’t download or set privacy without a paid subscription, so I am not even sure that would be worth while.

I think this tool is pretty sophisticated, but I don’t see it coming in very handy in very many instances in the classroom unless someone has more time on their hands than   I do.   Or they have a very specific idea that fits the abilities of this tool.

Here is my animated PowToon review

Learning curve: Closer to MS publisher than InDesign
Ease of use: It was easy to use, but frustrating to get a clean result.   I think you would have to use it regularly to get a decent looking product in a reasonable amount of time.
Time required to create a product: It took me a couple hours do to this.   That includes the time I wasting by starting with a complicated 2 minute lesson intro lecture… instead of the beginner level video I’m including here.
Key features: Cool animated text and graphics.   Slides with a timeline.
Problems you encountered: The timeline is too simplistic to give precise control.
barriers: If there is a close caption feature, I didn’t find it.   That takes it off the table for me.   I think the animation would actually distract from a lesson message unless very sparingly applied.   Polished and professional looking results would take some time to create, sloppy results are even more distracting.   Expensive to be able to download your product.
Possible educational uses: Given the barriers, I think there are other products that would better for most educational uses.

The company puts out some fun animated video tutorials: