Gamified Literacy? Sounds Like A Dream(scape)

Have you ever wondered how you could get your students to be as excited about reading comprehension as they seem to be about playing the latest online video game? My students will happily discuss the details of their latest foray into the Fortnite world but wouldn’t dream of discussing the main idea of the paragraph I asked them to read. At least, they wouldn’t talk about it without being asked to!

Well, the good news is that the people who created Squiggle Park, a Canadian “learn to read” app for K to 2 students, have created Dreamscape, a “read to learn” site created specifically with gamers in mind! And….it’s totally FREE!!! And….it’s Canadian!!!

So, Dreamscape is a literacy platform for Grade 3 to 6 students (Grade 7 is being worked on and Grade 8 is in the future). Through reading short passages and answering questions, students (Dreamseekers) can build their own “base”, or “dwell” in the Dreamscape world, with the goal of protecting their Visioncore, where they store their dreams. Successful readings give players the opportunity to add defenses and resources to their base, as they build their dwell and move forward in time. (Here’s a rundown on all the characters and magical buildings, for those of us who like to know what we’re getting into ahead of time!)

Kids earn the right to “buy” these things by reading passages and answering questions correctly.

For those who are wondering, as students successfully read passages and answer questions, the level of reading goes up, (and down when they are not successful) without the students even being aware of it. I was concerned that eventually my good readers would “run out” of passages to read but in speaking with the development team, I have been assured that they are constantly adding more passages and are seeking partnerships with publishing houses for even more reading passages.

Check out all the learning that can happen!

Now, I must admit, I am not a “gamer”, so when I first tried playing Dreamscape myself, I struggled to enjoy it. But when I got a few of my students logged in to their accounts, they immediately were comfortable and knew what to do. One of them told me “it’s sort of like Clash of Clans – I can figure this out easily!” There is a tutorial for those kids in your class who are not gamers and below you will find a video that shows you what the game looks and plays like:

One of the things my kids liked is that they can “battle” other players in the class. One of the things I liked is that the players can be at different levels when they battle each other. Battles are limited to 3 minutes in time and the game is designed so that students have to do a lot of reading in order to build up to a battle.

As an ELA teacher, I am thrilled when my kids get excited about reading. And it’s great if I can find something online that’s free and safe. And the icing on the cake is finding something that gives me data about how the kids are doing. When Dreamscape first launched as a pilot program this last fall, they hadn’t developed their teacher dashboard, so as a teacher, I couldn’t see any stats about how long my kids were playing, what things they were struggling with or where they were being successful. That has now changed. The teacher dashboard gives teachers all kinds of useful information, from what skills your class as a whole has mastered to what skills a specific student is struggling with.

View of a sample teacher dashboard

So…to recap:

  • Dreamscape is an online reading comprehension app/site for Grade 3 to 6 kids (Gr. 7 coming soon!)
  • It works on PCs, Macs, Chromebooks and on tablets with a free app – I’ve personally tested this!
  • Dreamscape has gamified reading comprehension skills
  • It is absolutely free – no cost to school OR parents! And it will stay free!
  • It’s Canadian – go Canada!
  • A little Math for you:
    • Kids + Video Games = Engagement
    • Engagement + Reading = Learning
  • Via the dashboard, teachers get all kinds of useful data to help drive instruction
  • Setting up a class and adding students is quick and easy

So, with all of that going for it, why not give Dreamscape a try? I bet your students will thank you for it!


Apple’s Hidden Gem!

You know that feeling you get when you find some money unexpectedly? Like the $10 bill you stashed in your winter coat on the last ski day of last year that you unexpectedly find when you put the coat on this year? It’s like a free gift! Pretty good feeling, huh?

That’s how I felt the first time I was introduced to Apple’s app, Clips (which I apparently had on both my phone and ipad for over a year but just hadn’t looked at)! I first “met” Clips at ISTE in June of 2018. It was one of the tools I meant to study more over the summer. Yeah. That so did not happen! However, since then I have had time to play with Clips and here’s what I’ve discovered!

  1. Clips is an awesome little multi-media app that’s great for capturing short “clips” of life in the classroom (or elsewhere)!
  2. It’s not as powerful as iMovie but it does some very cool things that iMovie can’t do.
  3. Clips was created for social media, so if you are wanting to create a longer, more complex video, go with iMovie. Having said that, you can apparently record up to 60 minutes with Clips!
  4. Clips has some cool filters that your kids will love to play with, including my favourite…Comic!
  5. Apple has added speech bubbles, arrows, shapes, emojis, stickers and surprises you can add to your pictures or video. I mean, come on, who doesn’t love an app that lets you add Star Wars characters?
  6. You can add music and do some basic editing.
  7. You can use the voice recognition feature and “talk” in titles or video captions. While cool, I have to say this doesn’t work all that well in a noisy room!
  8. It only works on iOS 10.3 and later, so for those of us who still have the really old iPads…sorry.
  9. Aside from the learning curve of how to record, it’s pretty easy to use!

To start with, open the app and decide if you are going to use images or video you already have, or take new.

Recording is a little confusing at first. To start recording, you hold down on the big red button. To keep recording, you swipe up, which makes the button smaller and then to stop, you tap on it. Clips records in a square format, so you can hold your ipad or iphone in either landscape or portrait mode.

To take a picture, you click the round white button but then to insert it into your project, you have to do the red button thing again. You do get used to it! (To add existing stuff from your library, you also have to use the red button.)

Once you’ve added your images or video in, you can add titles or “posters” which are transitions. You can also click the little rainbow star and that will let you add all the “fun” stuff, like filters and stickers and emojis.

Once you’re finished your Clip, upload it to the photo file by clicking “Save Video”. From there, it’s easy to add to Fresh Grade, send via email or message, upload to Google, or add it to Book Creator.

Once you get used to Clips, it’s super easy to use. There aren’t a lot of bells and whistles, but there’s certainly enough there to make it as useful classroom tool and one that your students will love using!

Grammarly and Wall-E: A Cautionary Tale


Photo cred: Arthur Caranta

My students and I were recently getting ready for the FSAs – standardized literacy and numeracy tests given to all Grade 4 and 7 students in British Columbia. We were discussing what they were allowed to do to help themselves and one student asked, “Can I use Grammarly?” This was followed by a short discussion during which I found out that many of my students had installed the free Grammarly Chrome extension. My answer, of course, was no, because that’s what the FSA rules would say. But as the kids started working on the tests, I started thinking. Would my answer to Grammarly always be no? Would there ever be a time where my answer would be yes?

For those who don’t know, Grammarly has several iterations, but the one my students have been using is a free Google Chrome extension that, when applied to a piece of writing or an email or a tweet or post, will check your spelling and grammar and help you fix them. Sounds great, right? I mean, who hasn’t accidentally sent an email with an error or tweeted something without spell-checking first? Grammarly will make sure that doesn’t happen. Awesome sauce!! (Disclaimer: Grammarly for Chrome is NOT part of the G Suite of educational tools and is not recommended by our district. My students installed it on personal accounts without checking with me.)

Almost. Here’s where Wall-E enters our cautionary tale. Wall-E is an animated science fiction story created by Pixar. In Wall-E’s world, humans live in spaceships, where they have become hugely obese due to a reliance on automation. Machines do everything for the humans and as a result, humans have grown lazy and indulgent. Have a look:

So, here’s my concern. If I let Grammarly do all the “heavy lifting” for my students, will they end up like the humans in Wall-E? Incapable of editing their own work and understanding their grammar errors? What happens when we go old-school with pencil and paper? Shouldn’t they know how to write a proper sentence on their own? Know how to check subject and verb agreement? Will they learn that using Grammarly? Or will they take the easy way out and let Grammarly do the work for them? I mean, come on….we are talking 12 year-olds here!

Now, I don’t see myself as a Grammarly Grinch. There are several members of my extended family who have learning challenges and I am sure they would benefit from Grammarly. And yes, there are students currently in my classroom with learning challenges who might benefit from a tool like Grammarly. For those students, we have Read & Write for Google Chrome. With its newest addition of the Check It tool, Read & Write does most of what Grammarly does and it has still other tools that help students with different learning challenges.

So, to answer my question from the top, I’m going to take my lesson from Wall-E. My answer to Grammarly will always be “no”. We’ll dig in and learn some grammar this year. And for those students who need some extra support, we’ll use Read & Write. And we’ll all exercise our learning muscles, to make sure they stay strong.

Technopeasant or Technoinquirer?

I was recently discussing Micro:bits with a colleague, Jeff Muthanna, who was trying them out with his class for the first time. He is an incredible, passionate, caring educator with years of experience but when it comes to technology, he sees himself as a “technopeasant.” I disagree. After talking with him, I see him as a “technoinquirer” and I’ve asked him to write a guest blog. I hope you enjoy it!

guest blogger

Jeff Muthanna’s Blog

So I recently figured out something about technology that is a game changer.  I also had a breakthrough, no, I’m going to say it: a triumph with technology. Just to give you an idea of where I’m coming from, I’m pretty sure I have never written the words triumph and technology in the same sentence. Why? Because tech is a little scary. It’s always new, and just when I think I’ve got a handle on it, it evolves at such a head-spinningly fast rate, I feel I can never keep up.

As a teacher with 20 years under my belt, I have seen technology become increasingly more important in the classroom. As I work in a school that is a “digitally enhanced learning community“, I am expected to have some proficiency with tech – but I’ve also always pointed to the “enhanced” part of that title – we are not “all tech all the time”.  The learning is still at the forefront of what we do, the tech just enhances how we can learn. But I can’t say that being able to use tech doesn’t involve some learning in itself, and I have always believed that if you want a student to know something, you must teach it; hence, especially with new technology, a problem arises.

There is a definitive gap between knowing how to use a technology and knowing it well enough to lead a class in their learning about it.  Sometimes it feels like a divide that can’t be broached. We have all experienced a lesson falling apart when we have to pause repeatedly to figure a technology out. First, you feel your students’ attention waning, this increases and plateaus at disinterest, then you feel the sweat start to bead on your forehead as you divide your attention between trying to keep theirs and getting the tech to work… I get this same feeling when I think about teaching my students how to code or build a robot. I personally can’t do that ( I will add in the word “yet” here or my kids will call me on it), so how on earth could I ever teach it?

But here is the beauty of inquiry based learning:  we are inquiry based teachers. This means we do not have to completely know something to facilitate learning about it. Most recently, I had a successful experience with micro:bits in our classroom.  After an introduction from our digital literacy support teacher Cari Wilson, I borrowed a class set from the district. I can now say I am a firm believer in having a general understanding (even a novice “I-think-I-get-some-of-this” understanding) and just going for it.  I  mean, you can still drive a car without knowing how spark plugs or compressors or other underpinnings work, right?  

I don’t mean to sound cavalier by saying just go for it. In fact, this goes against every teacher-molecule in my body that shouts “plan it, have a back up plan, and maybe a plan C and D in case the first plans don’t work”. I guess my comfort zone in teaching is having enough of a grasp of what we are learning in class so I can guide students when they take a wrong turn.  But here is what I’ve learned: sometimes the best learning happens when you CAN’T help your kids. Sometimes the best learning happens when they have to persevere through problems, collaborate with their peers, and really strategize as they realize that failure is a part of the journey in learning. When I had to look at a frustrated eleven year old and admit, “I honestly don’t know how to do that”, the grit and determination I saw in them as a result was astounding.  They have never worked so closely with each other, or made such good use of resources provided, than when they realized that asking me was a lost cause. (Writing that sentence just made me laugh out loud, I hope they don’t use it as the headline for this blog.)

Because this task required determination, I witnessed a triumph: a sense of pride developed in my students for having figured something out, and then this beautiful willingness to help others emerged. (Okay, I admit it – after being asked a bevy of questions I sincerely could not answer, I started an “ask these kids” list on the board for those who needed help. I’m pretty sure I called it “Class Experts” and by default they were. The list started with the two names of my “whiz kids” (you have these kids in your class too, I know you do) but then the most amazing thing happened. Kids started signing their names up to the list. (On their own, without a prompt – you know that feeling when something goes right in the classroom without you even planning it and you feel like crying?) The more students accomplished, the more they were willing to help others towards their goals as well. That day, it became clear that the number of student helpers on my white board was directly proportional to the confidence and capability they felt by learning something themselves.

I believe this is true inquiry, and I believe this is what makes teaching technology completely manageable in our classrooms. While I still don’t feel I have any mastery with tech, I do have a renewed faith in the power of inquiry when it comes to figuring it out. Technology, in my case micro:bits, was the most engaging task I could think of for my students to show me their own power as learners. I believe in the power of my kids, as mistake makers and risk takers and learners. I think being brave and using new technology in our classrooms is the best modeling we can do for our students.  I think it was Nelson Mandela who said “Courage is not the absense of fear, but the triumph over it” ( although I bet he only had to type that on a typewriter; or write it with a pen…)

Ten Tips for Leveraging Digital Opportunities Within an Inquiry Based Learning Environment for “Just In-Time” Learning, from one Technopeasant to Another…

  1. Be brave.  If you can’t be brave for yourself, be brave for your students.
  2. Be explicit in pointing out perseverance when you see it around you.
  3. Treat mistakes as teachable moments.
  4. Know that you don’t have to be an expert. The power of google allows you to virtually invite experts into your classroom. Have a couple sites for your kids to access that explain the fundamentals of the tech you are using, or have searchable databases. (There you go, facilitating learning again. You’re amazing.)
  5. Know that, as a teacher, it’s okay not to know. Model this and live in the discomfort for a while, it will give you insight into how your students feel when they’re learning something new.
  6. Know that it’s also okay for your students not to know. (The secret here is that sometimes the fun comes from figuring it out!)
  7. Even if you feel inadequate or unqualified when it comes to technology, you up your cool factor just by trying it and by getting the kids to try it. Strange but true.
  8. Honesty is the best policy (as in “I’m learning alongside you guys, I’ll share what I know with you and then I’m hoping you can share what you learn with me.”)
  9. Inquiry, growth mindset, and technology are actually the perfect combination. Consider  this is an opportunity for you and your students to learn something new.
  10. It’s a pretty good feeling to know that you tried. It’s an even better feeling to know you  succeeded, not because you knew how to do it, but because you learned how to do it.  I have a feeling that if you have the courage to try micro:bits in your classroom – or something else that is new or unexplored, you will experience a very elusive feeling  – a sense of triumph with your technology.


Digital Natives…Say What?!



I still remember the first time I heard the term “digital natives.” It was during one of my first Educational Technology Masters classes. The prof introduced the term and talked about how kids today, born into a digital world, are more tech savvy than their baby boomer and Gen X teachers. I know at the time I thought…really?! I guess it depends on how you define tech savvy-ness (not sure that’s a word but I’m going with it!)

Sure, your average teenager is better at selfies (I still feel too self-conscious), Snapchat, texting while walking (nope – still can’t do it!) and likely knows how to use an iPhone better. Most kids are fearless with technology in a way that most adults are not. They are willing to experiment and play. And play is maybe the key word here. Kids are great at playing with technology – Youtube videos, online games, Minecraft worlds. Kids can do all of that!

But what if your idea of tech savvy is using technology to work? In a school setting? Hmmm….not so sure that kids are ahead of the curve here. How many times have you asked your students to save a file, set up a document, create a chart or send a proper email, only to have them look at you as if you are speaking a foreign language? Do your students understand how to search safely? How to find jewels in a sea of internet junk? How to differentiate their writing for texts vs. essays?

Do they understand why it’s not a great idea to have their device remember all of their passwords? Do they know how to manage their digital footprint or even why that’s a thing? Do they understand that they need to apply critical thinking filters to what they read and see on the web?

So, while you might think that the students in your class were somehow magically born knowing more about tech than you were, my experience shows that’s just not true. Kids still need adults to help them learn how to use technology safely, meaningfully and purposefully, especially in an education setting.

Now, if you still want to learn how to take an awesome selfie or how to keep up your Snapchat streak or attempt to understand Fortnite’s appeal…ask a kid for help!

Happy New Year!

welcome back

For the majority of the world, New Year’s Eve is December 31st. But for educators…it’s the last night before school starts up in the fall. The end of the Labour Day weekend. The start of a “new year.”

I can always tell when New Year is approaching. My sleep gets interrupted by “back to school” dreams, or sometimes, nightmares! This year I’ve had a recurring nightmare about being forced to teach Kindergarten – I wake up in a panic every time!

But it’s not all bad. I get excited about new school supplies, a new planner, freshly polished linoleum and plans for “the best year yet!” I look forward to reconnecting with colleagues and meeting new students, so despite the scary dreams, it’s a good time!

I thought I would focus the first blog of this year on a few reminders and tips for the beginning of the year, so here we go!

Patience Is A Virtue!


The more that technology becomes part of the landscape in our district, the more we feel we should be able to hit the ground running, digitally speaking, right away. Google, Fresh Grade, Math IXL, My Blueprint…as teachers we want to be able to dive right in and get started. But.

But we need to remember that Acceptable Use policies have to be signed, Google and Fresh Grade have to be opted into by families and, most importantly, the tech support staff need time to put all the “behind the scenes” pieces together. For instance, Fresh Grade gets our student data from MyED BC, but we can’t send that to them until all the classes in all the schools are settled and the last student and teacher changes have happened! That takes time and the collected efforts of a large number of people, so….be patient!

Google Is Always Changing!


It’s true – Google changes their stuff constantly. This summer Google Classroom has had a number of changes. Some of them are great, some are good and some are so-so. Although I could list them all out for you, Eric Curts from Control Alt Achieve does such an awesome job, I’ll just link out to him. Here is his blog post on the changes Google made to Classroom and here is his blog post on how to get around the biggest disappointing change, the missing About page (he has some awesome work-arounds!)



Digital privacy and the safety of our students is something we all need to take seriously. Our district, led by Sean Nosek, has worked hard to ensure that our use of tools like G Suite for Education, meets the expectations set out by the Privacy Commissioner. Teachers and students can safely use all of the tools located within G Suite. Where we need to be cautious is with apps and sites that encourage you to “Sign in with Google”  – they seem, on the surface to be safe. And they might be. But what they are NOT is part of the G Suite for Education. What that means is that they have not signed the same agreement not to data mine and there is no guarantee their servers are safe or even within Canada.

The exceptions to this rule (yes, there are always exceptions – life would be boring without them!) are tools like Discovery ED. With Discovery ED, you go to and then you DO sign in with Google. This is something the district has organized with Discovery ED, to make sign in easier but still safe.

If you are ever not sure about an app or site, please don’t hesitate to ask!

Quick Tips


Need to know how to get a student’s device onto the district network? Go here. (You will have to sign in to Inside45 to access this)

Students forgotten their passwords? You can reset them but remember that they need to be an 8 character password. Go here for instructions on resetting passwords. Again, you will need to log-in. If you have a new student or if you are teaching Grade 4 students, the district will supply passwords sometime in September.

So…enjoy your new students, get set to have a great year and stay tuned for lots of great ideas to use in your classroom!


Summer Learning


It’s that time of year…summer weather has arrived, report cards have been written and both students and teachers are counting down the days to freedom. We’re all tired and ready for a break – the lazy days of summer stretch out in front of us and September seems a long ways away.

So, what I am going to say next might not be all that popular, but I am going to say it anyways. After you’ve had a bit of time to decompress but before September looms large, take some time to learn something new. Let the teacher become the student. We’re always telling kids they should be lifelong learners. Well…so should we!

What you choose to learn doesn’t really matter. I mean, sure it would be great if you chose to learn to code with Scratch or took the Google or Apple Educator tests. It would be awesome if you picked to learn an app you wanted to use next year or decided to dive deeper into something like DiscoveryEd. I wouldn’t be me if I didn’t encourage digital exploration and learning, right?!

However, you could just as easily learn to windsurf, knit, bake bread or speak Spanish! What you learn isn’t important – it’s the process of learning that’s important. That feeling of nervous anticipation when you start something new, the frustration and challenge of failure and the eventual elation of success – those feelings are universal to all learners. Adults and children. Remembering what that feels like makes you a better teacher.

My own summer learning starts at the end of this week, when I head off to Chicago to attend ISTE, the biggest ed tech conference in North America, if not the world. I am uber-excited and somewhat nervous and I can’t wait to learn all kinds of new things I can share with you next year. And in case you are worried that all I do is work…I’m also going to learn how to sail my boat single-handedly and I’m going to try learning Russian.

Whatever you do this summer, have fun, relax, recharge, reconnect and learn.

Be An Image Whiz!


We’ve all sat through boring lectures or presentations where the prof or student reads the words right off the slide…verbatim! BOOORING! So much better when there is an intriguing, inspiring or engaging image on the slide. We listen to the speaker with our ears and “read” the image with our eyes – much better! A picture really can be worth a thousand words!

So…read on for some tips for how to deal with images in a multimedia digital world! Quick disclaimer – I am not going to discuss copyright, “fair use” and citation in this blog, as I have covered them in other posts – you’ve been warned!

First, a few basics. Digital pictures are made up of thousands of little coloured squares – pixels. The more pixels or megapixels in an image, the better the resolution.

There are several types of image files that you while likely encounter. The first, and probably most widely used is a JPEG (.jpg) file. This is most likely what you’ll find when you google for an image. JPEGs are great for the internet because they aren’t large files and they run on almost all operating systems.

Another file type you will encounter is a GIF (.gif). The colour on these does not tend to be great, the files are often quite large, but the big attraction for your students (who will likely be quite familiar with GIFs) is that they can be short bursts of animation. Here’s one I used in a recent presentation…SLAM!



The third file type you will likely encounter is the PNG (.png) image. The best thing about these is that they can have a transparent background. This is great for adding images to slides or uploading sprites to Scratch or other web based sites. Here are two images of a dolphin on a Google slide – the one on the left is a .jpg and comes with a white background. The one on the right is a .png…transparent background!


So, how do you and your students get better at using pictures in your work? Start by using the tools available in Google Search!

Screen Shot 2018-04-30 at 9.22.50 PM


From the picture above, you can see that once I click “Tools”, I can search for images based on file type, size, colour/transparency, usage rights and several other things.

Found the image you want? Well, you can right click it and save it to your files. You can copy and paste it, although this does not always work (for magical computer reasons that, tbh, escape me). And, if you are using Google Chrome as your browser, you can actually just “grab” the image, drag it up to the tabs and along to the tab where you want to use it and then drop it into the doc or slide!

What if the image is the wrong file type? You can use an online converter like Zamzar to switch file types. This works well, although if my students need this, I do it for them, rather than having them enter their emails.

What if you want to edit your picture? Most laptops have basic photo editing tools built in – you likely have the ability to crop and modify the transparency, colour and a few other things right at your fingertips. Not sure? Google the name of your laptop with the words photo editor and you should get what you need. You also have access to basic photo editing in Google Photo!

If you want more photo editing tools but don’t want to splash out for Adobe Photoshop, there are online sites like Lunapic and Pixlr.

If you want to add words and arrows and shapes to an image, you can play with it in Google Drawings (part of GSuite) and also in Google Slides.

Untitled drawing

So, whether you’re adding class pictures to a weekly newsletter or teaching your students how to build a great slide deck, hopefully you’ve found some tips in this post to make you a real image whiz!

Google and The Shoes That Fit!

Please note that I am reposting this from a previous blog I had. It’s report card week and I am up to my eyeballs in report writing so I hope people don’t mind that I am reposting! If your school district has yet to “go Google” then maybe this blog will convince you to jump in!

Reposted from 2016

A little while ago I was preparing to give a presentation to parents about GAFE and how it is being used in the district. I wanted to find a way to let parents understand the historical lead-up to our adoption and how much of an impact GAFE is having. I needed some sort of a visual cue. While on a long walk with my dog, I came up with the image of running shoes and GAFE. Before you stop reading in the mistaken illusion that I am crazy, let me explain!


Here’s what the pre-GAFE, pre BYOD days looked like in our district. Schools all had laptop carts for student use. The carts were filled with 15 to 30 PCs, all with the same operating systems running the same software. From a device management perspective things were easy. Learn how to use one device and you can use them all. Our district was at the digital forefront and there was lots of great learning going on. For teachers who were not very techie, they could at least feel that if they knew how to use the programs that the laptops had they were doing okay. Everyone wearing the same shoes was safe and it worked. But ultimately it wasn’t going to last.

Of course, before long, kids started asking if they could bring their own devices in. They were tired of the clunky old district devices and wanted to use their own personal devices. This led to the growth of our BYOD movement, which now encompasses all of our schools in some way. With BYOD, the range of devices was astounding! Everything from a generic tablet a family got when they opened a new bank account to a 15 inch state-of-the-art MacBook Air.



As a teacher, this can be very intimidating and even time consuming! I distinctly remember one assignment I gave my students on creating climagraphs to compare the climates in ancient Persia, Egypt and Greece with Vancouver. I spent a whole weekend creating how-to videos for Excel, Numbers and Google Sheets, to make sure all the students in my class, no matter what spreadsheet program they had, could be successful. Crazy! Being a teacher in a pre-GAFE BYOD classroom required an awful lot of digital flexibility. When everyone is wearing different shoes it’s exciting but it can be overwhelming.



Enter GAFE. In the fall of 2014 we began a slow adoption of GAFE, starting with teachers who were willing to be early adopters. Almost right away we noticed a change. Because Google is platform agnostic, GAFE provided teachers and students with tools that worked with all devices. Management became easier and teachers only had to know Google. Yes, there is a bit of a difference if you are using a laptop or an iPad but it’s minor and easy to get used to. The speed with which GAFE is being accepted and used by our teachers and students is a real indication that we’ve finally found the right shoes!

A Little Hollywood Magic!


Do you remember the first time you realized that the ships in Star Wars were actually plastic models filmed in front of a green screen? Or the time that you realized the weather person on the news does not really stand in front of a giant tv screen showing the local weather? I do. I was blown away – it’s like magic! At one time, that magic was something that only big Hollywood production companies or television studios could afford. That’s no longer the case! Now, with just a few supplies, you and your students can create the same Hollywood magic at school!

How? Green screen technology! You only need three supplies: a green background, an iPad 2 or better and an app called Green Screen by Do Ink. (There are other ways to do this, but for elementary school, this is the easiest and it works really well!)

The first thing you need is a green screen, or green background. You can buy inexpensive green screens for use in a school, you could paint a wall green if it’s something your school is going to do often or, easiest of all, just pin up a couple of large pieces of green bulletin board paper up on a wall. Whatever you choose, you want the background to be as flat and wrinkle free as possible. Oh yes, remind the kids not to wear green clothes when being filmed, too (although it is kind of fun to see what happens when someone does wear green!) And, if possible, film in a tucked away corner of the school where you will not have as many interruptions or noises to content with.

The only other piece of equipment you need is an iPad (Gen 2 or higher) loaded with the Do Ink app ($3.99 CAD). A tripod for the iPad is a nice addition, as is an extra external mike, but neither is necessary.

Before I get into using the app, I will say that the first time I do this with kids, we do it for fun. No marks, no assignment. Let them experiment and learn what they are doing without the added pressure of assessment. I often have them do a mock newscast. A few weeks ago I worked with a whole school and the kids used a set script, as follows:

  • Student One: Hi, my name is _______ and this is the Vancouver News for __________, 2018.
  • Student Two: The weather today will be ______________.
  • Student Three: In sports, the Canucks beat the ________, 3 to 1
  • Student Four: And finally, in entertainment news, Alessia Cara won best new artist at the Grammys.

Once I move onto a serious project, I make sure the kids have spent a fair amount of time in the planning and storyboarding and scripting stages.

Once you’re actually ready to start, I would recommend working in small “chunks”. Film a bit, add it to the app, edit and then film again. Trying to do it all in one “take” can be stressful and difficult, especially for younger students. While you can film and take pictures from within the app, I find it easier to do all my camera work before opening the app.

Do Ink is relatively easy to use. Here is what the interface looks like:


And here’s an explanation of what you’re seeing:


For the bottom (background) layer, kids can add still images or video or even, if you also have the Do Ink Animation and Drawing app, animations.You add by clicking the bottom plus sign and then choosing the source. The middle (video) layer is where you add the “green screen” video you’ve taken. The top layer is for further animations or images you want to add in. When I start working with kids, I tell them not to use this layer for at least their first project – no point in getting too complicated right away.

Here is a how-to video:

Here is a little “cheat sheet” I created to walk you through the first few times (Green Screen with Do Ink!) and here is a link to Do Ink’s Instruction page on their website.

Once you have finished the project, you can save it to the camera roll and export it or, take it even further by uploading the video to iMovie where you can add titles, transitions, credits and sound affects!

So, how could you use this? A million ways! Create a documentary about an animal and its life cycle. Illustrate one of the human body systems. Have students dress up in pioneer clothes and pretend to be settlers talking about what it was like to travel across Canada, or be gold miners talking about the Gold Rush. Be space explorers looking for habitable planets. Really, whatever your imagination can dream up you can probably do!

If you have camera-shy students, or students whose parents would rather they not get filmed, there are other ways to use the green screen. For instance, if the students are talking about ocean exploration, they could draw or build a model submarine which you could then hang in front of the green screen (use a green painted string or a see-through fishing line to suspend the sub). Students could still read out their script but do it off-camera. Or, if you have puppets, you could have students sitting down, holding the puppets up in front of the green screen. They can still use their voices and you won’t see their faces.

So, what do you think? Is it time to add a little Hollywood magic to your class?