My Best Work This Year

IMG_1016This was another incredibly satisfying year professionally. My work with Discovery Education continues to evolve and my role as Community Engagement Manager is one where I get to work with so many wonderful people. I spoke to thousands of people in keynotes and workshops. I collaborated with colleagues on many projects and contributed to lots of content online. However this year my best work came in the form of a passion around storytelling.

A few years ago I saw a great series of videos produced for Prudential Insurance called Day One Stories. These were short videos featuring people on their first day of retirement. While that may or may not sound very interesting, they were shot beautifully and told simple but compelling stories.

I immediately considered both how a similar concept could be used within the Discovery Education Community. Having dabbled with video over the years, I relished the opportunity to create something based on these stories. The DEN (Discovery Education Network) began in 2005 so this was our tenth year. We celebrated in various ways and I was given the opportunity to celebrate by creating my own version of the Day One Stories.

Ben Grey, who helped create 59 in 59 in his district, spent time with me sharing his expertise and insights as I set out to create the DEN in TEN stories. Over the next few months, I shot and edited 8 videos featuring 9 community members. We showcased educators from Canada, the United States and the United Kingdom.  From elementary and high school teachers, principals and vice-principals and district leaders and coaches and even retired educators, the Discovery Education Community is diverse and full of great stories.

For example, here’s RJ Stangerlin. She’s a founding member of the community, retired educator and cancer survivor. I was privileged to share her story.

DEN in TEN: RJ Stangerlin from shareski on Vimeo.

You can view all the stories here.

While I say it was my best work, I’m fully aware of the flaws and areas that need improving. I’m not a professional videographer but am passionate about storytelling. I’m grateful for people like Ben who are so willing to share and offer great feedback.

For those interested in the technical side or process here it is.

I began each project with a Skype call to do a mock interview. As you might be able to tell, the videos follow a pretty basic plot line. Your role as an educator, your personal life and interests, your connection to the community. A 30-minute pre-interview gave me a better idea of what I would like to capture. I arranged to travel to the subject’s location and tried to capture the audio first. Using a snowball mic and a quiet space, we mostly just talked. I wanted to capture as natural a conversation as possible. Usually, I ended up with anywhere from 15-30 minutes of audio. Then we went to film. Knowing that none of the audio from the video would be used, simplified the process. I used a Canon Rebel ti3 DSLR with a 50mm lens. I tried to only use footage that was shot from a single position. No panning or zooming. I didn’t always keep this rule but tried. The challenge came in shooting in classrooms. I tried to use a variety of shots so that classrooms didn’t become generic. I captured about an hour of total footage.

Editing always began with the audio track. Using Audacity, I essentially tried to find snippets that might be useful. Rarely were these longer than a minute. I ended up with 6-8 minutes of audio and then tried to edit it down to 3-5 minutes. This was the most difficult part of the editing but the format I used meant that after this was done, the rest would be much easier. I used iMovie to do the rest of the editing. Having access to the Discovery Music library I looked for minimalist soundtracks that did nothing more than kept the story moving at the appropriate pace.

I could talk for hours on the nuances of this kind of storytelling, not as an expert but as someone who appreciates and is trying to learn this craft. I hope to continue telling these stories and more importantly, hope the help you understand better the Discovery Education Community.

What About Snapchat?

Snapchat has been around for years. Educators were quick to file it under “bad social media” as people focused on the ephemeral nature of the tool and essentially thought of as a way for teenagers to share inappropriate images and videos.

I had a conversation a while back with my then 15-year-old about her use of snapchat. She was drawn to it because it enabled private conversations with her friends. I find it ironic that we’ve been telling kids to guard their digital identity and be aware of their privacy and when a tool comes along that supports this, we tell them not to use it. Weird. I get it, images can be screen grabbed and shared without permission, but even snapchat alerts you when this happened. But yes, like all tools, they can be used nefariously. My daughter continued by telling me that in the same way she and her friends talk in her room without adults they want spaces like this online. That doesn’t mean they are doing inappropriate things, but they need ways to share things without adults hovering over them.

A few years ago I found a story format called 5×5. 5 videos, 5 seconds each and try to tell a story. I made this one.

I’ve always been fascinated with these types of story forms. Snapchat stories fascinate me. Recently, snapchat enabled collaborative stories with limited access. Major League Baseball allows fans to contribute to a shared story. Interestingly, they aren’t saving these but again, that constraint and feature is what makes it compelling.

Casey Neistat does save his stories and uses them as his vlog. Thus far, he’s the one doing the most interesting work I’ve seen.  I’m looking for other examples. Here’s my first story. I don’t know how much I’ll continue to use it but for now I’m in full play mode. Follow me if you want to play along. username: shareski



Before you start thinking, “what about snapchat in schools?” Stop it. That knee jerk reaction to immediately think “<insert new tool/app> in the classroom” needs to end.  If blogs and social media were around 50 years ago I’d worry we’d see things like, “Ovens in the classroom”, “5 ways to use Lawn mowers with students”, “Top 10 radio stations to engage students”. Not every technology or app has to be jammed into curriculum or school. In other words,

“Not every technology needs to be “edufied” but in a world that there are so many new things that we are still learning about and figuring out, I think it is important that we have some credibility in the conversation.”  George Couros

That’s where I’m at. I’m playing and exploring first for my purpose. If at some point I think it might be useful for others, I’ll start that conversation. For now, I’m trying to tell and understand stories.

“The truth about stories is that’s all we are” Thomas King

2014: My Year in Numbers

Pretty basic stuff here. I simply copied the keynote template I used for last year, changed the data, replaced the images, tweaked a few builds, exported it to imovie, added some music, published to youtube and voila. Having all this data and doing nothing with it seems a bit pointless. Not that anything gets over analyzed but it’s another means of reflection. In addition, creating ways to visualize and add a little life to numbers is something I think we all could do a bit more with. It’s still not as polished as the original inspiration but it serves a purpose I think. (PS, Dan, I’d love you to make more of these)

As stated in the video, for the first time I created more video this year than I wrote blog posts. This continues to show the shift in the way we communicate and tell stories. As much of a fan I am of data, I still use it with caution and intent.

What data to you collect? Why? I wonder if we might want to consider using tools like infographics and videos to make our own data more appealing, interesting and potentially useful? George thinks it’s a good idea even if Alan thinks it’s a little goofy.

2014 Year in Photos/Videos

It’s just another story caught up
In another photograph I found.
And it seems like another person lived that life A great many years ago from now,

When I look back on my ordinary, ordinary life,
I see so much magic, though I missed it at the time.

Welcome to year 7 of my annual year in photos montage. In case you missed it, here are the previous renditions:

2010 (aka, the year I tried something crazy)

And while there are probably too many jumping,dog, golf and family/friend dinner photos, it’s my life and story. In some ways, very ordinary as the lyrics above state and yet I fully understand how fortunate and blessed I am to be able to travel and live the life I do. I continue to capture moments everyday as an act of mindfulness and gratitude. I have no plans to stop anytime soon.

2014 year in photos from shareski on Vimeo.

From a technical perspective, I used imovie to put it together. It’s pretty easy to put all my photos/videos as I tag them with 36514 and next year with 36515. By default, they come in with the Ken Burns effect. I’ve seen a few slideshows using this effect and often times people just leave the pan and zoom that it defaults to. I think this is a mistake in that the pan and zoom effect is intended to point to and reveal specific aspects of the photo. Keeping that in mind, I try to be intentional with every image. Sometimes using the full image and other times subtly moving in or out or across. It is by no means a masterpiece but simply being intentional makes it more watchable. I watch a few frames at a time to determine if a transition is needed or if I can just use a straight cut. In addition I do try occasionally to syncopate the music to the images/videos as well. Typically I’ve used creative commons music but this year I decided to use copyright music. The reason is that Youtube has made clear how they will handle it. In other words, it’s not illegal. They will let you know exactly how they will handle every song. You simply acknowledge the content ID match and you’ll know which countries may not play it or if you can monetize.

The “slideshow” montage is one of the most common media productions you’ll see at funerals, weddings and for many school projects. In large part because it’s relatively simply to create. Making them compelling and interesting is more difficult. I would never recommend creating something for the public that is over 3-4 minutes. Mine is 27 minutes long but it’s mostly for me, a bit for my family and if you’re able to watch it all, that’s a bonus. Having spent upwards of 12 hours putting it together, it’s a labour of love and all those images remind me of what I have. Happy 2015 to you all.

Update: Unbeknownst to me, youtube stripped the audio so the embed is now from vimeo.

An Oscar Type Moment

During any talk or presentation I give I make sure that people can reach out to me to share a story, ask a question and even challenge me. I value the ways in which we don’t need to let a one time presentation but a one time presentation.

Recently, someone shared a great story and I thought I’d pass it along here. It’s a story about gratitude, joy and storytelling, three of my favourite things

I was a PETE&C this year where you were the keynote speaker.  I just wanted to let you know that Joy still exists, at least in my school.

This is one way I used technology in my classroom.  Not a lot of teachers would voluntarily video tape their lesson and post them on YouTube. However the good news is that when Google needed an example of someone teaching a technique for a commercial they were going to air during the Oscars, they scoured the internet and found my classroom.

The following is the email I sent to my friends, and attached is the press release the school sent out.

 As I was watching the Academy Awards last night and was sitting through the long acceptance speeches that seemed just to wander off, well off topic.  I said to myself, “If I ever win an Oscar my speech would be a simple thank you to Mr. Fetterman.”  Mr. Fetterman or “Fetts” was the faculty moderator for the stage crew and TV production crew at Maple Newtown Sr. High.  I thank him every day for the lessons he taught me, not only in video production but in life. Mr. Fetterman made me who I am today.

Presently I am a teacher at Mother of Providence Regional School in Wallingford, where I try to be to my students, what Fetts was to me. A teacher, a friend, a moral compass.

Funny that I was thinking about Fetts, not knowing what was to happen after I turned off the TV.  What started out as a lesson on the use of green screen and Chroma key ended up as a Google commercial during last night’s Oscars Ceremony.   Google aired a one minute spot called “We’re all Storytellers” narrated by Pixar’s Andrew Stanton, director of Wall-e and Finding Nemo. (Yes we are talking about Preston and Pixar in the same sentence.) That commercial featured a clip of one of my students, Grace in front of a green screen, pretending to fly. I filmed that clip while producing a series of videos on the use of Chroma Key in my classroom.

As I tell my wife and biggest supporter Kim, “You can never spend too much on electronic or LEGO’s, good things will come of it.”

One of the things that Mr. Fetterman always said was to “Do it right the first time.”  I think that this falls under that.

There are two versions of the commercial. They both feature my clip, one ends with the Google logo, and the other ends with Andrew Stanton.

Here is link to the story and video on Pixar Times.

Here is a link to the original video that was produced in my classroom.

And if you’re really bored, he is a link to whole series.

Thanks to Preston Tyrrell for allowing me to share this.