Working with students from other schools requires an introduction. In the lower grades and middle school, text often forms the basis for communication. Earlier in the year, I was captivated by a short film created by Lisa Parisi and Christine Southard's student for the Time Zone Experiences wiki. Another example is an Oskar Shindler interview. One of the teacher's on Twitter (I forget who) shared her son's link to this movie. I've enjoyed watching my seventh grade students create introduction videos for the Middle School Flat Tales project using Xtranormal.
What is Xtranormal?
It is a website that allows a person to choose from a variety of scenes and characters. It is currently in beta and there are four different sets of characters that can be selected using a free account. Once signed on, you begin to type the dialog. You can have a one character monologue or a two character dialog. I've asked the students to have two actors: one is the interviewer and one is the interviewee.
In addition to typing the dialog, you can give the characters various expressions and actions, change camera angles, and add music.
What Has Worked Well in My Classroom
I created one user name for each class: saintmichael5a through saintmichael8b. I was able to sign up to 21 students into a user name at the same time. I'm sure I could have had more students signed on. My largest class has 21 students.
It is easy to use. I did give each class a quick overview. I demonstrated adding text. Showed how to drag the animation or expression into the text box (that was not intuitive). I also demonstrated how the backgrounds and costumes do not take effect until the Action button is pressed. They watched the 9pm Time Zone Experiences video and loved it!
They were creating movies in no time at all.
Both my PowerPC iMacs and the new Intel Macs play nicely with the program.
What I Wish For...
Xtranormal does not seem to give an option for titling the movies in progress. As a result, I had the first two bits of dialog start with 1) What is your name and 2) My name is. When we return to class, the students click on My Movies then Movies in Progress. The students have to click on the Show Dialog link to find which is their production.
It did get bogged down when everyone was trying to click Action or Take Five (the button you select to save a movie before it's published). This only happened on one occasions. Most other times, it was fairly quick - less than five minutes. I found the speed reasonable considering the magic that is going on behind the scenes to create the video.
There are some "questionable for school" items: an "up yours" animation, a fart sound and lots of gun sounds. There are also bikini girls and undie boys (as I called them). I was very clear that this is a school project, so only school appropriate words, sounds and images would be allowed passed the Mrs. Oro filter.
It is a hit with the students. A huge number told me they created their own account over the weekend. I am policing the movies. I did catch some text that needed to be eliminated and couldn't tell "who did it" because of the general sign on, but overall it is well worth it for the project.
Jan Smith put together a wonderful intro video on the Flat Tales website. You should take a look at that, too!