Thursday, April 19, 2007

Dabbling with Movie Maker

Our students are coming up from the primary division so well prepared that we are able to add on to our tech curriculum. We decided add movie making.

I know that teaching children how to make web sites makes it easier to help them view other web sites more critically. My hope is that we will eventually craft this unit so that it helps students learn to express themselves in this media and also become more critical of it.

Our eventual plan is to use...
  • Photostory with third graders using still photos,
  • Windows Movie Maker with fourth grade using still photos
  • Windows Movie Maker with fifth grade using video-- probably the video from digital cameras, not video cameras due to server space limitations
For this year, we are using still photos with all the students as we find our way in this unit, figuring out what does and doesn't work.

Our first idea was to have them use our online photo gallery to gather images to create their own video yearbook. Unfortunately, a bit of experimentation showed us that our online photos are too compressed. The resulting movie becomes too pixelated.

Our Plan B is to let the students chose their topics and use either their own photos, their own drawings, or images from the Creative Commons section of Flickr. In my most advanced classes, I'll also let them bring in video from digital cameras if they have a way to do so.

I wasn't sure how best to help students plan their videos, but a few years ago at a different school I had learned that students need to make a movie before they can successfully plan one. To that end, my fourth and fifth grade classes raided our school's online photo gallery and make very short movies. For most classes, this took two class sessions. The first session had them gathering the digital photos, importing them into Movie Maker, and then adding them to the timeline. The second session was the bells and whistles, such as transitions, video effects, titles and audio.

Throughout the first two sessions I kept stressing that this was a practice movie for them to learn what the program can do. I encouraged them to experiment, not worrying about ruining anything. When they asked me for help, I kept my hands away from the mouse, always asking, "What have you tried?"

Those strategies paid off and the students are quickly achieving more interesting effects than I've managed in my attempts. As with our web page unit, the students are enchanted with what they are able to do and I have to all but haul them out of their chairs at the end of class because they don't want to leave.

Windows Movie Maker is not as stable as I would like; a few students each hour have it crash on them. However, I like that when you are making a project, all your media is inserted as shortcuts. The actual photos and sound aren't pulled in until the project is rendered. This makes it much less processor intensive, much more responsive while we work on the movies.

For our beginning movie makers, this program is a very easy place to start. Since the program is free, many of the children are realizing that they have it at home and are starting to dabble there as well. I think we've got a winner here!