Most of you are just about ready to start school (if you haven’t already). And, as the days are obviously getting shorter, I bet all of you are reflecting (mourning?) as much on another quickly passed summer as you are planning for this school year. Though I’m “retired,” I’m no different. On Monday I’m off to a local school to help them kick off a year that will have an all grade focus on digital storytelling. And at the end of week I will begin my third year teaching DST for the Wilkes U./Discovery masters in Instructional Media program. But my summers off definitely aren’t what they used to be: no more sports camps and clinics or grad classes. Instead, they are filled with trips to conferences, workshops, webinars, and presenting (I finally got to work with good buddy Frank Guttler!), and more learning and coaching than I ever did. This summer ended on a particularly high note up near the Minnesota/Canada border in the Boundary Waters Canoe Area at Camp Birchwood for Boys. It truly was an inspiring week with Apple Distinguished Educators, their friends and a couple of really special guests. It was part tech conference with very limited but mostly NO Internet; part vacation with canoeing, swimming, fishing, rock climbing, hiking, and restful communing with nature; and part spiritual retreat: soaking in the quiet beauty and soothing sounds of the boundary waters, making do with the simplest of facilities (3 toilets/showers and no cell service!), washing dishes by hand, and savoring each sunrise, sunset and the unobstructed stars.
The only structured sessions were the morning sessions with Syracuse U.’s Seth Gitner and Sports Illustrated’s Bill Frakes. The rest of the days were filled with putting into practice what they suggested, the above mentioned relaxing, and the invaluable evening sharing. I resisted the urge to buy a good SLR camera before camp even though I’d been thinking that might be the best way to benefit from Seth and Bill’s expertise. I’d been thinking that that kind of camera might be a good alternative for both quality stills and videos in schools. And with our third grandchild (gonna need a bigger lap!) due in just a few weeks, it’s probably about time to step my game up. It’s still high on my list but both photographers, indirectly and directly, made it clear it’s really not just about F-stops and aperture. It’s not about the “correct” exposure. It’s about the exposure you want to tell the story of that moment or that subject. Both make the most of their images in a variety of formats. I encourage you to take a good look at the multimedia offerings on their two sites. I promise I’ll go deeper into their visual stories there and share how you can help your students communicate better by learning from their work. I was especially touched by Bill’s look back on a young soccer player who lost her leg to cancer 25 years ago. It’s “Missy” under the Stories tab.
And as for camera choices, after some input from Seth and Bill, I’ll stick to my standard advice. For general classroom use try and strike that tricky balance between the numbers you need, memory cards and batteries, and quality for still cameras of the simple, affordable point and shoot kind. I think they all also take video that’s decent enough for basic school projects. For dedicated video cameras, you still can’t beat the quality and practicality of Flip cameras and Kodak’s Zi-8 (I’m sure there are other flash memory video cameras you could add to those two also). I favor the Zi-8 because it has an external microphone input and can shoot 60 frames per second. However, that’s a recommendation for fellow Mac users only. Because it captures in QuickTime H.264, it’s a little tricky getting it imported into MovieMaker on a PC (Adobe Premier doesn’t have that problem though).
PC MovieMaker users should stick to Flips and make sure you have the latest software (especially the codec and firmware) from them to keep it cooperating with Windows. I think I just learned that all the latest Flip cameras save as H.264. Any MovieMaker users out there with recent Flips with advice to share?
P.S. A big thank you to Roger Wagner for supplying a full working copy of the latest version of HyperStudio to all attendees. I’m way overdue in posting about the storytelling capabilities of that updated program.
Photos by Springfield, IL’s own Karen Thompson.