The Year I became a Hooker: My Crochet Journey

How it started.

Last year, as part of my Year of Restore, I decided to try something new. I taught myself how to crochet. This was not the first time I tried to crochet. About 10 years ago when the kiddos were small, I bought some yarn, a hook and gave it a go. You can see my first masterpiece in the pic. No, I have no idea what the hell it was supposed to be. I do know that it was kind of a disaster. Looking back I can tell you what I did wrong…. everything. That yarn is definitely NOT a beginner yarn. I would bet money that I was using the wrong hook size and I had no pattern. This was an aimless attempt at learning a new skill. As you can guess, after this monstrosity, I hung my head in shame, set down my hook, and gave up learning how to crochet.

I was not going to be a fiber artist. For years to come, I would still find myself wandering through the yarn aisle wishing I could do something with all of that beautiful yarn. This went on for years. Me looking at yarn and wanting to create something beautiful and then remembering the pink and blue eyelash yarn abomination. I would then leave the yarn aisle and head to the bead aisle feeling defeated. I would even see cool projects like temperature blankets and think, “That would be so cool to do if only I knew how to crochet.” Knowing, that I would probably never learn. Such quitter talk, I know.

The Pom-Pom Project

Holiday Pom-Pom Décor

In the winter of 2020, in the middle of a pandemic, something changed. I finally gave in to my yarn yearnings, bought some plain old yarn, and started to make pom-poms. I don’t know why. It was something to do I guess. I made them for all the windows. For the manel. For picture frames. I made a black and red one for our tree at work. I even sent some to friends and colleagues. There were pom-poms everywhere!! It was delightful! It also reignited my desire to give crochet another try.

I had befriended yarn again so it was time to pick up a hook and make something. But as the disaster danced in the back of my brain, reminding me of my failure, I knew that this time I had take a different approach.

Try Again

Learning from my past mistake of jumping in blindly with no direction or plan, or clue, I decided that if I wanted to learn this for real, I needed to start with the basics. So I found a pattern labeled easy and gave it a try. It was not too bad. The pattern was easy to follow. I successfully made a hat but I still made many mistakes. I used yarn that was a little hard to work with and did not use the right sized hook. But, despite that, I did create a hat. A too big, lopsided hat. Still basking in the afterglow of a semi-success, I turned to YouTube and found a video tutorial for a “simple” octopus. The tutorial was good. After a bit of struggle and some rewatching over and over, I made an an octopus! Like the hat, it was a little wonky and filled with mistakes but, it was were what it was supposed to be. It was at that moment I decided, I could crochet! I was now a hooker! OK, not really but I had made it further than I ever had before. I had some confidence and more yarn!

Taking the Big Step

After my two successful projects I wanted more. Since it was the holiday break in the middle of a pandemic, we could not really go anywhere, I started playing around with a few more simple projects. I made three more octopi and a few gauge swatches. The day after Christmas I decided that if I really wanted to do this, I needed to go big. My mind drifted back to those temperature blankets I had admired so many years ago. I decided that having a year long project to focus on would be a great way for me to practice my skills and get better. I was right. (If you want to learn more about the blanket project, you can read about it here.) Long story short – I kept with it over the course of 2021 and completed the blanket! The coolest thing was to see how my skill changed during the year. The beginning of the blanket was a hot mess. The edges were terrible and there were so many dropped stitches. But, I got better and better the more I did it every day. Seeing my skills improve gave me the confidence to try other things and keep learning!

How its Going

Over that past year, I have gone from the creator of wonky things to the creator of slightly less wonky yet beautiful in their own way things. Since that first hat twelve months ago I have made five blankets, one pillow, three pairs of fingerless gloves, a cardigan, (yes, a cardigan!! Who would have thought?) two wraps, six scarves, three hats, a dog snood, twenty mug cozies, a dice bag, a fox, a sting ray, a water molecule, some stars, some skulls, some Christmas trees and a hyperbolic pseudosphere. Whew. It has been a busy year. I do not even want to know how many hours of video tutorials I have watched or patterns I have tried to decipher. It has all been worth it. This time was different. I approached it like like an educator. I identified my objective, found the resources that would support my goal and I made things. Over and over again.

How its Going

It Ain’t Nothin’ Unless You Learn Something

I have learned so much and am really proud of how far I have come. It has been fun to challenge myself with different projects and techniques. With any new hobby or skills there are things you learn as you put in the time to move from beginner to…er… less of a beginner. Some of these lessons are specific to crocheting such as the difference between a signal crochet and a double or why it is important to write down which hook you used if you are going to pause a project. (Don’t ask me how I know. Just know that I know.) But, some of the lessons we learn along the way can be applied more broadly. So what did I learn as I hooked my way through 2021. Well, I’m glad you asked. Here are some of the things I have learned on this journey.

First and foremost, don’t let past failures, challenges, or mistakes stop you from trying again. I say that all the time. I’m surprised I let a failed attempt define me as a crafter. If you really want to do it, try again. Only this time find the resources and tools that will help you be successful. I could not have done this without all of the great YouTubers out there doing demo videos. Thank you, fellow crochet people!

Nest, don’t be afraid to start. Some time projects seem so big and overwhelming that you don’t even know how to start. Crochet a yearly temperature blanket. Wow – that is a lot of work. But not when you break it down into single days for about 15 minutes a day. That makes it much easier to attack! Make a cardigan. What? I never thought I would be able to make a cardigan. As I was working on rectangular blankets I could not even imagine making something wearable. But, I found a great pattern that broke it down into easy to follow steps and one week later, I had a wearable. (The pattern was the Kami Cardi by TL Yarn Crafts.Check out her stuff. It is amazing!) Breaking it down into pieces helped my get over the overwhelming idea of the finished project. Take it one step at a time.

Image from NASA.gov Hubble Space Telescope – https://www.nasa.gov/mission_pages/hubble/multimedia/index.html

Going back to failures – just because you made it, doesn’t mean you need to like it or keep it. Frogging is a crocheter’s best friend. Made a mistake? Frog it. Made something weird and ugly? Frog it. In the world of crochet, “frogging” means to rip out stitches. (Yes, I use crochet slang now.) Remember my first wonky hat? Well, it was kind of unwearable so, I frogged it. It is now art of a beautiful blanket in my office. It was hard to frog that first piece. All I could think about was how all the time I put into making it was wasted. But really, isn’t it wasted if the hat just sat there unloved? Frogging is not admitting failure but correcting a wrong or giving something new life. Speaking of past failures – that pink and blues eyelash monster might be just what I need to create a crochet version of the above Hubble Telescope image. I look forward to frogging that thing and using it to make something new and (hopefully) beautiful. Bit, if it doesn’t turn out, no worries, just frog it. This is becoming my second favorite F word.

It was a Crochet Christmas this year!

And finally, it is ok to pause a project and start something new. Blame my weird brain but I get bored with big projects. As soon as something becomes repetitive my brain finds something shinny to focus on instead. I found that taking a break from a big project to complete a small quick project gives me the break I need to continue. It’s ok to have multiple projects going at a time. Give yourself permission to project hop. (Just remember to write down your hook size before you move on. Again, trust me on that one.)

The End?

Well, that post is way longer than I expected. But, I guess I was trying to reflect on 365+ days of my crochet journey. There was a lot to cover. Big thank you to all my IRL and social media friends who have suffered through the MANY pictures of the various projects and all of my talk about yarn. I appreciate all of the support this past year as I tried something new. This is not the end of my journey but the start. I have so many projects I want to try (and so much yarn)!!

Resources

If you are thinking about taking your own crochet journey, I support you. Do it! It’s a fun hobby. Oh – and my fitness app counts my hand movements as exercise. So, bonus!! As one newbie to another, here are some of my favorite resources for learning.

  • TL Yarn Crafts – patters and tips. Her videos are what really helped my with technique. She also has great Tunisian Crochet tutorials.
  • Ravelry – Join this free community for so many patterns and to connect with others who are just as passionate for the craft.
  • Bag-O-Day Crochet – Watch her videos for tutorials and yarn reviews.
  • Alt Knots – Do you need you dark soul but still want to crochet? Try Alt Knots. She puts the spooky in spooktacular crochet videos.
  • Jonah’s Hands – This kid is amazing! He has great tutorials and is a joy to watch.

Have fun hooking!

Word of the Year 2022

Happy New Year!

It’s that time again when we dust off all of our failed resolutions from years past, shake off the disappointment, and give them another go. For the past five years I have gone against the grain and instead of coming up with a list of things that I will not accomplish, I have instead, chosen a word that will be my focus for the upcoming year. (Apparently, this is a whole thing now online. It has a hash-tag and everything – #OneWord2022. I like to think that I was a trendsetter with this one.)

For the most part, this idea of one word to rule them all for the coming year has been a fun exercise. It has given me a way to focus my energy and drive my priorities. At the very least, it’s a way to plan for the year in January and a framework for reflecting on the year in December. I think I have been fairly creative in my word choices over the past five years. I have tried not to be too generic with words like Love, Believe, or Hope. Don’t get me wrong, they are all good words. But none of them have the teeth I needed to be inspired for a whole year. So, what have been my words for the past five years. Well, since you asked…here is the list (if I blogged about it, I was even so kind as to give you the link.)

Past Words of the Year

  • 2016 – Nourish
  • 2017 – Transform
  • 2018 – Boundaries
  • 2019 – Reach
  • 2020 – Less – I thought this was a great word at the time. Hindsight, am I right?
  • 2021 – Restore

It has been fun to pick the words. I was super proud of 2020. It was going to be the year of “Less but Better”. All I can say is the Universe is full of irony. I was smarter in 2021 and chose Restore so I could focus on bringing back some of the good things. Yesterday I took some time to reflect on the positives from 2021. There were quite a few and I do feel I restored some important things. So, what to choose for 2022?

The Right Word for 2022

Finding the right word is hard. I really thought about it and was about to give up all together. This was going to be the year with no word. Just a year. Then I listened to a podcast from one of my favorite thinkers, Greg McKeown. In fact, his book Essentialism is what inspired the Year of Less. I was listening to one of his recent podcasts, episode 83 to be exact, while working on a project and thinking about why choosing a word was so hard. The episode dove into the first chapter of his new book and asked “What if this could be easy?” Seriously, I stopped what I was doing and repeated that out loud. “What if this could be easy?” The past two years have been really hard. What if it could be easy? That is when my word for 2022 hit me right in the face. Easy. This year will be the year of Easy! It all made perfect sense. Look at the definition below.

eas·y/ˈēzē/adjective

  1. achieved without great effort; presenting few difficulties.
  2. (of a period of time or way of life) free from worries or problems.

Don’t both of those sound amazing? I want to achieve without great effort AND have a period of time that is free from worries or problems. I wish that for all of us!

So, how do I plan to approach the Year of Easy? After kicking the word around in my head a bit and completely overthinking it, here are my three Easy Goals.

Be Easy – Don’t Over Complicate

I know that living Easy is not going to be…well, easy. It feels like today’s society believes that things of value or quality are hard. (That might explain some of my underlying issues with Impostor Syndrome if you think about it.) And, if you take the easy way out you are lazy or what you do is low quality. I don’t think that’s true. For example, over the past year I’ve been learning how to crochet. I have seen that even the easy stiches can create beautiful things. So, the year of easy is not about quick fixes and low quality. It is about simple solutions and less complicated actions. I am going to look for the easiest way to get the best result and stop over complicating (and over thinking) everything.

Go Easy – Don’t be a Jerk

Also, as I said before, the past two years have been hard. For all of us. And we, my friends, have been kind of hard on each other. I mean really, some of us have been complete jerks to each other. It is time for us to stop and go easy on each other instead. Show some compassion, some grace, some empathy. We all deserve it. I mean, come on, even Adele gets it.

If you go easy on me, I’ll go easy on you. Haven’t we all been through enough?

Take it Easy – Slow Down, Partner

It’s ok to slow down.

The Year of Easy will also be about slowing down and enjoying life. I will continue to nurture those restored habits of creative pursuits, finding joy and being connected. We can’t do that if we’re rushing through life. So, take it easy. Slow it down. Enjoy the ride a bit more.

There you have it, everyone. My 2022 word of the year and more explanation than you ever asked for. My wish for you is that you all have an easy, yet amazing year. You have all earned it.

Exploring Micro Fiction and Visual Stories

Here we are, another NaNoWriMo and I still have not penned the next great American Novel. Every year I think, “This is my year! I will write that book that has been bouncing around in my brain! I’ve got this!” Then December comes around and I realized that I did not have it and the story has again gone untold. Sigh.

Yes, I know that I can write any month of the year. It does not have to be a November thing. But, there is a hashtag. So… #NaNoWriMo

This year however, I have discovered a type of fiction that seem much more my speed. Micro Fiction!

Several years ago I started writing little mini one or two sentence stories. But I didn’t think of them as stories. Just short little musings. I was inspired by one of my favorite artists, Brian Andreas of Story People. I discovered his quirky art twenty five years ago on a business trip to Decorah, IA. (If you have never been to Decorah, go. Go now. I’ll wait.) There was something about his whimsical, child-like drawings and the simple statements that really spoke to me. I loved his messages and was inspired to start writing some of my own. They were silly and sappy but I would post them to social media anyway. It was fun. I mentioned this fun hobby (Is it a hobby? I don’t know.) to a writer friend of mine and she said, “Oh, you write micro fiction!” Micro fiction. What is that? My interest was piqued.

Science tells us that most of our memories, even the ones we hold most dear, are false. They are nothing more than stories constructed by our brains using bits and pieces of fact mixed with ideas from our imagination. But when I remember you I smile so I have decided that I like the way my brain thinks.

K.A. Brynteson

I started doing some research. It is a thing and apparently very popular. From the two sentence horror stories to six word summaries to (let’s be honest here) the social media posts we write with a 144 character limit. We all write micro fiction from time to time.

As I’ve had fun writing more, I’ve been look for ways to connect this type of writing into the classroom. I know that there are many students out there who love to write but find longer works a bit overwhelming. Shorter stories, 100 – 500 words or less, can be an accessible alternative. Accessible, but not easy. The constraint of few words helps you be creative in your word choice. You have to flex your writing muscles. Each word is necessary. They kind of remind me of some of the activities I do in my visual literacy class with images such as my Tell a Story with 5 pictures or my Photo a Week photography prompt. They both focus on constructing a story with either your visual vocabulary or a few well selected images.

Because of this connection, I have started taking the mini stories and turning them into a visual posts, adding a layer of visual literacy into the activity. For the examples I’ve shared in the post, I used Adobe Spark. If you read my blog at all, you know that this is one of my most favorite tools. I use Adobe Spark tools all the time for digital storytelling. I found it was a fast way to take the text and create a visual representation. I experiment with fonts and colors and shapes until I have a composition that I feel compliments the message of the passage. This would be a very simple activity to do in the classroom. Have students write their own micro stories and then us their design skills to turn them into posts or even posters for the classroom.

Here are a few more examples.

Ok, I admit that I am starting to creep into Jack Handy’s deep thought territory, it is still a fun challenge to see if I can take an idea and turn it into a mini story. No, they are not all good. I know that. They are not up to the level of Story People by any means but it is fun. I have also found that I go back and edit them often. Especially when I turn them into a visual post. I play around with the word choice to see if I can say the same thing with fewer words or in different ways. It feels more like playing with words than actually writing a story.

I’m sure that there are students out there that might feel the same way. Micro fiction could be a way to turn even your most reluctant writer into an author, a couple words at a time. Give it a try and see what they create.

If you want to learn more about using Micro-Fiction in the classroom, here are some lessons and blogs to check out.

Happy mini-writing!

ISTE 2019 Recap

Summary of my favorite finds and ideas from ISTE 2019.

It is hard to believe that it has been almost a month since the amazing ed-tech-a-palooza celebration known as the International Society of Technology in Education Conference or ISTE. There was so much to see and do this year that it has taken me a while to try to boil it all down into a recap. I have so many notes, flyers, and resources that it will probably take me until ISTE 2020 to really process everything. Good news, I have lots to explore for my next 30 tech tools in 30 days series coming this November. But, for you, my loyal readers, I will try to narrow down all that information into my finds and ideas from ISTE 2019.

Old Favorites. New Tricks.

I typically spend a good chunk of my ISTE time in the expo hall checking out my favorite tools and looking for new ones to explore. It is great to reconnect with some of my favorite go-to tools and see what new things they have in the works. I love being able to talk to both the developers in making these tools possible and the educators who are leading the way in the classroom. These are some of my most valuable conversations. Here is what some of my old favorites are up to.

Michael Cohen at the Adobe Booth
Michael Cohen at the Adobe Booth

  • Adobe Spark – Adobe’s booth is my first stop every year. This year was no exception. Not only got to meet the amazing Michael Cohen (aka The Tech Rabbi) and hear how he uses Adobe Illustrator to teach creativity and Math, I also got to talk to one of the developers of my favorite, favorite, favorite, tools – Adobe Spark. Animations are now available as part of Spark Post apps. (Coming soon to the web). Students can also now collaborate on a Spark project.  If you are not yet using Adobe Spark, then these should give you a reason to give it a try. Also, check out Camp Adobe for some amazing learning opportunities. You can read more about my feelings on Adobe Spark on some of my past posts – Spark Post, Spark Video, Spark Pages.
  • 3D Bear – One of the darlings of ISTE 2018 was 3D Bear an augmented reality app. Well, they have had a great year and showcased a lot of ideas at their booth. If you have not played around with 3D Bear, go check out the free trial and start creating. They have lesson plans and challenges that will help get your students creating in AR. Tons of fun. And I’m not just saying that because they have a dancing unicorn that you can play with.

    NASA Learning Labs
    NASA Learning Labs
  • NASA –  NASA was everywhere at ISTE this year. In their playground, they featured new lessons and activities from the STEM Innovation Lab. My favorite was the Eclipse Soundscape. An app that allows you to experience the solar eclipse through visuals, audio, and other sensory displays.  On the expo floor, they had more resources such as their materials that let students learn about all the amazing things going on on the International Space Station. You can find a ton of resources on the STEM on the Station website.
  • Bird Brain Technologies – Finch 2.0 is coming! I repeat Finch 2.0 is coming!! Learn more on their website and see what makes the Finch 2.0 a cool new addition to the Bird Brain family.
  • CommonSense.org – Everyone’s favorite ed tech review and digital literacy site brings you a curated list of their 50 favorite EdTech tools of all time. This one is well worth the browsing time.
  • Flipgrid – Flipgrid fever infecting the ISTE crowd. Shortly after the conference, Flipgrid announced a new Augmented Reality feature. The new FlipgridAR app update lets you add Flipgrid to everything!

New Finds

In addtion to exploring my old favorites, I collected a list of new finds that I want to explore further. They are everything from new STEM activities to new technology. My list is long but here are the first ones I’m going to dig into.

  • Stitching the Loop – Free curriculum for students to explore computer science through e-textiles.
  • Wildcards – A new programmable expandable circuit board and an inexpensive and easy to use tool to help students explore electronics, computer science, and engineering. Designed by a team of electrical engineering dads.
  • 826 Digital – Free mini-lessons, lessons and other resources to ignite a love of writing in your students.
  • Pinna.fm –  Streaming audio service for students. On-demand access to podcasts, audiobooks, and music for PK – 6th grade.
  • Creator Bot Mini Bot – I would love to get my hands on this little bot. It is an Arduino powered robot kit that has everything you need to create a robot.
  • Get Media L.I.T. –  A new graphic novel series by Weird Enough Productions that helps students explore media literacy, social-emotional learning, and 21st-century skills.
  • Synth – This one is a new-to-me tool. You can create 256-second podcasts and share them with the world.
  • Science Journal by Google – Turn your device into a scientific tool through this app. It takes advantage of the sensors built into our devices phone and allows your students to collect data.

New Ideas

So, what are the hot topic ideas on the horizon of ed tech? There were several topics and ideas that stood out this year. From the playgrounds to the Mainstage, people were talking about creativity, computational thinking, and innovation. I left the conference with some new learning goals of my own. My top three: artificial intelligence, Augmented Reality, and Virtual Reality. Google has experiments and activities for you to get started with AI. And I’m ready to start building with CoSpaces and Merge Cube. 64832451_10220359185996876_5431999139598565376_o

Whew! That is just the tip of the ed tech iceberg when it comes to new ideas from ISTE. Even with all of these new tools, my MOST favorite part of the conference was connecting with all of the amazing educators from around the globe. I get to see some of my education heroes and meet many new ones. I’m looking forward to all of the new collaborations and conversations that will fill the time until we all meet again in Anaheim at ISTE 2020.

Big thank you to all the folks who worked hard to make ISTE possible. And thank you Philadelphia! I had never been to Philly before. I got my first “real” Philly Cheesesteak and saw pieces of our history. It was a winning trip all around!

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Were you at ISTE in Philly this year? What were your big takeaways? I’d love to hear from you!

Retro Image Editing with 8Bit Photo Lab

Do you sometimes long for the pixilated blocky graphics from your youth? Yea, me too. Well, Android users rejoice. You can create your own 8-bit works of art with 8Bit Photo Lab from Ilixa.

Features

8Bit Photo Lab is a free app that allows you to adjust the color, resolution, and dithering of your photo to give it the look of the pixilated screens from the 80s. There are several pre-set filters to get you started including filters that mimic the look of the green screened Commodore, the sepia tones of a Gameboy, or even the multicolor output of the Apple II. I felt like I was back in grade school playing Tass Times in Tonetown on the old Apple IIe. Browse the slideshow to see my examples some effects.

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In addition to the pre-set filters, there are a wide variety of controls so you can continue to manipulate the color, resolution, and dithering. You can even introduce the banding of a CRT screen and some image glitching. It is fun to try out the different controls to see how it changes your image.

8Bit Photo Lab editing screen.
8Bit Photo Lab editing screen.

The editing interface is very easy to use. When you are done, you can save your images to your device or share them out on social media.

 

The free app is probably good enough for you photo dabblers out there. For the rest of you, you might want to upgrade to the pro version for a mere $2.49. This gives you a bunch more presets, pallets, and effects, as well as more control over the settings. The pro version also gives you a higher output resolution.

Other Apps by Ilxia

If the name Ilxia sounds familiar, it is because I already reviewed their app Mirror Lab. You can read my review here. They have another fun photo editing app called Mosaic Art Lab.

Mosaic Art Lab is, again, a free app with pro upgrades available for $4.49. The interface is similar and as easy to use as 8Bit Photo Lab and Mirror Lab. One of the features I like in Mosaic Art Lab is the Random button. The Random button will select a random image on your device and apply a random filter. Using it you tend to get some amazing happy accidents.

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In the Classroom

In the post about Mirror Lab, I listed several ways you could use the app in the classroom.  For example…

  • Explore the different filters and have your students all create a different image based off of one starter image.
  • Build student visual literacy skills and have students create images based on different emotions. Have them write about why each image represents each emotion. Make sure they use their visual vocabulary.

Those ideas hold true for both of these apps as well. You could also…

  • Create some of your own images and have the students use them as starter images for stories, poems, or musical compositions.
  • 8 Bit Lab would be a great tool for having students create images that go along with their favorite sci-fi stories.
  • App-smash and try using a combination of the three apps to layer on special effects. Granted, this is also a great time to discuss the trap of over-editing an image.

For me, anything that gets your students taking and editing photos while building their creativity is fantastic!

Ilxia has developed a wonderful suite of editing apps that are fun and easy to use. Whether you use them in the classroom or use them to create your own art, they are all worth exploring.  Download them all today and start creating! Share your art in the comments. I’d love to see what you and your students create.

Create Animated Infographics with Animaker

I love a good infographic. There is something special about the creative combination of art elements, design principles, data, and information that just makes my eyes and brain happy. Give me a well-designed animated infographic and my eyes and brain are overjoyed!

As much as I love looking at them, I love creating them even more! I’m always on the lookout for new tools to help me create beautiful things with data. Today, I found Animaker. Today is a happy day.

Creation Made Easy

View of the editing screen.
View of the editing screen.

Animaker is a web-based platform designed to give businesses, students, and teachers the power to create amazing animated infographics, posters, presentations, and videos. The interface is fairly simple to use.

I spent about an hour creating my first six scene video complete with moving text, animated logos, and data. I didn’t start with any tutorials. I just jumped right in with a template as my guide. The editing interface is similar to many of the other tools out there. There is a timeline for each scene where you can manage the effects and timing of your assets. The premade templates are very helpful because you can use them as a guide as you create your own scene. However, even if you start with a blank scene, it is easy to layout your design and create something new. It didn’t take long to figure out how to use the design tool to create my video. I love a tool with a small learning curve.

When you are done creating, you can save your project. With the free plan, the video can be exported to Facebook or YouTube. Upgrade your account for more creation tools and sharing options. Here the pricing schedule for individuals and businesses.

Educator Plan

Educator Dashboard
Educator Dashboard

For the educators out there, there is Animaker Class. Get started with a free account and you can give the tool a try with up to 25 students. From your educator dashboard, you can manage your projects, create a class roster, manage class assignments, and send students messages. You have limited space and features with the free account. Upgrading to the premium opens up a lot of tools and functionality. The cost is $10/month per teacher and $.02/month per student. Read more about the differences between the two plans on their pricing page.

This was a fun tool to explore. I can see tons of ways teachers and student can use this in the classroom. Have your students collect some data and then use this tool to communicate their findings. Discuss the use of goods design principles and data visualization strategies. Let them loos in the tool and see what they create.

Here is my first video. Not too bad for my first try. Have fun creating amazing infographics!

Unleash Students’ Inner Writer with Storybird

I don’t know about you but for me, writing is hard. Nothing is more stressful than staring at that blank page waiting for the words in my head to organize themselves enough for me to write them down. I bet you have a few students who feel the same way. Storybird is a beautiful website that you can use to inspire your students to write and not fear the blank page. It is actually more than a writing website. It is a writing community where your students (and you) can read and write visual stories and poems.

The Art of Creative Writing

Storybird Artful storytelling (2)Writing with Storybird starts with amazing artwork. Writers select artwork from the huge Storybird art library and use that piece of art as the inspiration for their story or poem. The artwork becomes the inspiration for your story or poem. Artwork is a great way to inspire your writers to create stories.

Using the art as their guide, students can write a picture book, a longform book or chapter, or create a poem using an interface that reminds me of magnetic poetry.

Writing, Challenges, and Courses

Storybird has more than just amazing art to help unlock your student’s writing potential. Students can participate in a variety of community challenges that help give them some direction to their creative writing. For example, in the What in the World? challenge, students select an image from artist Julius Tan’s collection of wild and wacky scenes. Then they write about this new world. What do they see, hear, or smell? Then end challenge is to create a three-page picture book about this new place. There are over 20 challenges for writers of all levels. Select one that helps to build your students’ use of dialog or an advanced challenge to push their skills. Browse the challenges on the Challenge page. Storybird Guides

If you are looking for more targeted skill building you and your students can take one of the many writing courses available. Courses are multi-lesson, self-paced experiences created by writing experts. For example, you can learn all about writing fantasy from best selling author, Shannon Messenger.  If you are not up for a full course, you can also explore the How-to-Guides.

If you are looking for more inspiration, browse the community library and read books and poems created by other community members.

Writing Gamified

One of the coolest features of Storybird is the gamified elements. It will only get your students writing, it will keep them writing through badges and crowns (the in-system rewards). As your students write every day or complete challenges, they earn crowns. With crowns, they can unlock access to the courses and How-to-Guides. If you are writing too you can also earn badges and crowns.

Teacher Resources

Storybird includes resources for teachers including classroom management tools. With the educator tools, you can set up multiple classes, build a class roster, assign challenges, grade assignments, and give student feedback. Students join your class using a passcode. Their completed work is submitted into the class library where you can review it, grade it, and give feedback. storybird-review.png

Looking for a new idea for a fundraiser? Storyboard has you covered for that too. Your students can create their own books and then parents can log in and order hard or soft cover copies of the book, or stationary or artwork featuring their poems. Your class raises money from each sale. If you ask me it beats the heck out of cookie dough or wrapping paper, am I right? Read more here.

Pricing

Initial sign up is free. The way I understand it, you can access all of the features listed above with the free account. Some features, such as courses or guides might just take time to access as you build up crowns to unlock the features. However, for faster access, you can become a community member. A month by month membership will cost you $8.99 a month. Or, sign up for a year at a time and the monthly rate drops to $4.99. You can read all about membership benefits on their benefits page.

Whether you are a teacher who is looking for a way to get your students writing or a young aspiring author looking for that extra kick of motivation, check out Storybird. To bring you a little inspiration, I will leave you with my own poem. Happy writing!

Poetry by Kbrynteson on Storybird (1)
My amazing poetry.

 

Green Screen Magic with Do Ink

If you are not making fun green screen adventures with your students yet – what are you waiting for? Go find a green blanket, grab your iPad, download Green Screen by Do Ink and jump on this bandwagon before you miss out!

If you are not familiar with green screen effect, or chroma key effect, here is the basic idea. Chroma key is a special effect technique where multiple images are layered on top of each other. Using a chroma key filter, you can make a color range of the top image transparent so an underlying image can show through. Any color can become transparent, however, a high key green is commonly used, hence the term green screen.

Why would you do this? Well, what if you want a picture of your friend on top of the Bean in Millenium Park in Chicago? You could go to Chicago, climb on top of the Bean and try to get a picture before security arrives (I would not suggest this option). Or, the easier and more legal way, take a picture of the person on a green screen and overlay it onto a picture of the Bean using editing software. Viola! Your friend is on the Bean and no one got arrested. Yay.

Anyway, chroma key photography and video production have been taking the classroom by storm lately because of a great iPad app called Green Screen by Do Ink. It is one of the easiest tools out there for making green screen projects.

Full disclosure – I do not have an iPad that supports the Green Screen app. Yes, it is sad. I hope to remedy that soon. However, I do live vicariously through the projects of others by following Do Ink (@doinktweets), #doink and  #greenscreen on Twitter. The projects students and teachers are creating are amazing!! 51K1TKetnVL._SX389_BO1,204,203,200_

I also had an opportunity to play with Do Ink back in October thanks to the incredible Todd Burleson. Not only is he the type of creative librarian you wish you had as a kid, he is also the author of The Green Screen Maker Space Project Book. He was at STEMfest this year to host a green screen workshop. I was lucky enough to attend and had a chance to give Do Ink a try. It was tons of fun!

Green Screen Features

The Green Screen by Do Ink works on any Apple device that supports iOS 10 or later. You can download it from the Apple store for $2.99 a device. A steal considering all of the amazing features packed into this app.

Features — Do Ink
Screenshot from doink.com

Using this app you can combine up to three layers of images/video using the editor screen. As you can see from this screenshot, the editor is simple to use and easy to navigate. You have a preview window, a timeline and some tools to help you create your video.

As far as timelines go, this one is pretty simple to understand compared to other video editing software.

The chroma tool is where the magic happens. It allows you to select the color you want to make transparent, as in that lovely green color seen above. The app also has a Mask tool so you can draw custom transparency masks not based on color.

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Green Screen Workshop at STEMfest with Todd.

Green Screen lets you use images and video that are already on your device or that you record live. You can even add animations you created using Do Ink’s other app, Animation and Drawing.

When you are done with your project you can save it on your device or export it to the cloud.

If you need some guidance while creating your project, visit the Do Ink Documentation Page for some in-depth information on how to use the app. Also, visit their Tips Page for some creative ideas on how to make the most of your own green screen studio.

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Anything can be a green screen!

The best part about green screen production with Do Ink, is that you do not need a lot of expensive equipment to get started. Don’t have a green screen? Use a bed sheet or a shower curtain taped to your wall. Or, create your own mini green screen by painting the inside of a clean pizza box green. Anything can be a green screen! Add an iPad with the app and you have a green screen studio.

There are more classroom uses for this app than I can list in this post. If you want to get your creative juices flowing, then click on over to Twitter and check out what teachers are sharing with Do Ink (@doinktweets), #doink and  #greenscreen. There are tons of inspiring examples of what students can do and create with this app. If you need more ideas, then head over to Amazon or your local independent bookstore and pick up Todd’s book, Green Screen Maker Space Projects.

How are you using Green Screen in your classroom? What amazing things are your students creating? Share!

 

 

Beautiful Web Pages Made Easy With Adobe Spark Page

This is not the first time I have written about Adobe Spark. For last year’s 30 tools in 30 days, I reviewed both Spark Post and Spark Video. You can read my review of Post and Video by following the links. However, I did not review the final tool in this suite – Spark Page.

Visual Portfolios and Digital Stories

Adobe Spark Page gives you the same simple tools you find in Post and Video. In a short time, you can create visually stunning web pages. Like Post and Video, Spark Page’s main focus is on the images. There are several tools to help you create a page that highlights your images.

Here are a couple of examples of pages made using Adobe Page.

The first I created for the STEM Read Podcast to display pictures we took while recording an episode with author/illustrator Tom Lichtenheld and Dr. Rhonda Robinson. (Here is a link to the episode if you would like to give it a listen.) The second is a sample of my photography and the third is my daughter’s art portfolio.

You can see from the examples that the pages you create are more than just static web pages. There are some nice scrolling and image display features. Want to see more, check out their inspiration gallery.

Key Features

Make Images  Videos and Web Stories for Free in Minutes   Adobe Spark.png
Adobe Spark Page – Easy Editing

Adobe page has a ton of features that make this an easy tool for building a visual web page.

  • Formatted blocks – You build your web page in blocks. You can select the type of block you want and then add your images, text, video, or buttons.
  • Embed videos – You can add videos easily to your site. Create videos with Spark video and then add them to your page. with a simple click.
  • Upload images from anywhere – Not only can you upload images from your computer, Spark Pages also connects to Lightbox, Dropbox, Google Photos, and Google Drive. If you don’t have your own images, you can search through Adobe’s bank of stock images.
  • Apply Themes – Change the look and feel of your page by applying different themes. If you have a paid account, you can set up a custom theme using your brand management settings.
  • Free – Just like the other Spark tools, Page is free. However, you can upgrade to the premium account if you want to manage the look and feel of your brand and remove any Adobe branding. Read more about the pricing on their Pricing Page.
  • Adobe Hosting – Adobe hosts all of the pages you create using page. You do not need an external host.
  • Sharing – When you publish your page, you get a shareable link. You can also share your page through Facebook, Twitter, Google Classroom, or email.
  • Link updating – If you update or modify your page, you can update the link to push out the changes. No new URL needed.

In the Classroom

All of the Adobe Apps are wonderful tools for the classroom. With Spark Page, your students can create amazing visual stories that look like they have years of training. Here are just a few ideas for how to use this with your students.

  • Art portfolios – As you can see from the example above, Page is a fantastic tool for creating visual portfolios. I like the combination of text and images that allows your artists to write captions and artist’s statements about their work.
  • Informational web page – Instead of having them write a research report, have them put together an information page about a topic they researched.
  • Visual resume – Have students create a visual about me page. Focus on different audiences. What would a professional page look like versus a personal page? This is also a good time to talk about what you should and should not share online.
  • Science journal – Create a science journal that documents an inquiry project through text and image.
  • Reflective journal – In my visual literacy class, I do a Photo A Week challenge. Having my students create a reflection journal using their images would be a great way to capture their learning.
  • Digital Stories – Whether your students are creating works of fiction or non-fiction narratives, have them tell their story through building a page.
  • Class magazine – Turn your students into journalists and have them create a class magazine. Assing different content sections to different teams and let them work together to publish a magazine. Create multiple pages and pull them together into a Google site or other website tool.

There are so many other ways you could use Spark Page in your classroom. You could even create your own visual resume to highlight some of your own professional wins.

If you do not have a free account yet, go sign up for one today and start playing with the amazing set of tools!

Add Some 3D to Your Coloring with QuiverVision

As I write this, the entire midwest is hunkering down for our first big blizzard of the season. While the winds blow outside, I’ve decided that it is the perfect time to pour myself a glass of wine…er… I mean a cup of hot chocolate and do some coloring. Not just any coloring mind you, some augmented reality coloring with QuiverVision.

Coloring only BetterColoring my Quiver Coloring sheets.

QuiverVision is an app that brings your coloring pages to life. The app is free to download on iTunes, Google Play, and Kindle. The app works with special coloring pages that you can download from the QuiverVision Coloring Packs website.

There are several color pages available on the website. Some are simply coloring pages while others have interactive content and quizzes. Find one you like and simply print, then color, and then let the app do the magic. There is a mix of free and paid content. For the paid content, you are able to print off any of the pages but you cannot access the augmented content unless you make an in-app purchase. One of the packs I tried to use was only 99 cents to unlock.

At first, I was not too impressed with the educational content of the pages. I think I was just using the wrong pages. I tried a few others and was pleasantly surprised. I liked the interactivity of the different pages. The cell coloring sheet gave you information on each part of the cell. It also included a quiz. I’d be interested to see what the paid content is like.

Watch the video to see some of the interactive features in action. With this coloring page, you create your own flag. While using the app, I can change the wind speed and watch my flag wave. The video was captured in the app. I turned off my sound but you can also capture audio. Could be an interesting way to have students give an oral report on their flag. Have them talk about what the colors and symbols mean. (However, before they create their flag, have them watch this video with Roman Mars from 99% Invisible on why city flags are great examples of bad design. Don’t let them fall prey to bad design choices.)

Companion Apps

There are three other apps from QuiverVision: Quiver Education, Quiver Fashion, and Quiver Masks.

Quiver Education seems similar to QuiverVision but with more educational content. Quiver Education costs $5.99 so I am assuming you do not need to pay for the additional educational content.

Quiver Fashion is perfect for your budding fashion designer. With Quiver Fashion, you can print out the coloring pages, design your own clothing, create collections, and have virtual fashion shows.

Quiver Masks is my favorite. Masks uses facial tracking to overlay your custom mask onto your own face. There are 19 coloring pages to choose from. Some are hats while others are full face masks. You can use the app without the coloring pages by using the preloaded masks. However, it is more fun to color your own mask. Check out my cool cat hat. That should keep me warm during the blizzard, right?

In addition to putting cute masks on your face, you can record video with your mask on. This could be a fun way to add some interest to your students next speach. Have them do it wearing a virtual hat or mask.

You can even do a face swap with the Masks app. Don’t try this with your own face. It’s just creepy.

If you want to get started with augmented reality but you are not sure where to start, give the apps from QuiverVision a try.

Now, where is my wine? I’m going to color while I watch the snow fall.