Getting Animated With Google Slides and Screencastify

I’m going to go into some detail about the process my class used to animate our Google Slides, but I got all my information from Sam Patterson’s blog here. Follow Sam, he’s good people (plural, if you count the puppets). Truthfully, there’s a million How-To blogs and videos out there for doing this, and How-To is rarely what I do. I’d rather write about how my class handled doing this and why I did it in the first place. The title of this blog is as edu-clickbaity as I can get without tossing my cookies. 

I’m constantly looking for ways to mix things up and make them better and different in my classroom. I have a few tried-and-true projects and those are nice to have in my pocket. I don’t like options that can only be used for one lesson or subject. That shows a lack of creativity. Every project should be able to be broken and rebuilt to fit a variety of situations. I call this Lego Lesson Planning (no one tell the Danes I stole their name).

On top of that, I’m currently 1:1 so I’ve been investigating the many options that affords me. You can read about my 1:1 Journey here and here. I’d heard tell of a way to make animated movies using Google Slides. Whispered stories told in hushed tones at 2x speed in Voxer groups. Podcasts that appear in my Stitcher playlist. I wanted some of that animated goodness. I wanted a way to make the vocabulary lesson I was planning more interesting and engaging. I wanted to justify having all these Chromebooks. To the Googles I went. The Googles brought me to this blog post by Sam Patterson. My kids can do this, I thought to myself. They can do it right now. They were at recess. I had lessons planned. Luckily, my students know that my class schedule is more like guidelines than actual rules. Out came the eraser and the whiteboard marker and just like that we were animating vocabulary words today!

It took a lot of steps to get my students where they needed to be. I had just enough time to mock up a quick, short example/tutorial for them to watch so they got the idea, and then it was off to the races!

Ok, not quite.

First we had to talk about what I meant by animating the vocabulary words to demonstrate understanding. Then we had to play with the shapes tools in Slides for a bit to get the hang of the whole thing. This I let the kids do on their own, and most of them picked it up rather quickly. Soon they were ready and raring to start doing whatever needed to be done to record it.

“Did you publish it to the web and watch it for timing, then script it out, then practice it?”

“Sure we did do all those things you said with your face, Mr. Robertson. Yep.”

“Cool, show me.”

“Uh, hold on. How do we do the first thing you said with your face? And the other things?”

It was time to stop everyone again and go over a quick How To Publish to Web- Go to File. Click on Publish to Web. Choose a timing. Done. Oh yeah, and while we’re here we need to get the Screencastify extension set up on everyone’s computers. I had done my homework (classwork, I know homework is a 4×2 letter word in education right now), so I knew the kids could add extensions to Chrome from their student accounts. Saved me a headache, but that kind of thing is important to check. The easiest way to guide kids to add extensions for the first time is to project your computer screen so they can see what you’re talking about. However, Mr. Murphy of Murphy’s Law was subbing in my class and the lamp in my projector had just burned out. So I got to do a lot of slow step-by-stepping while walking the room keeping careful track of who is where. In less time than you’d expect we were set up and students were starting to see that their slideshows were more slideshow than animation.

And finally, the real creative stuff kicked in.

It’s important that I write about all that long way to get here before getting to the really creative bits because that’s how a classroom works the first time you do something. It can take forever to get rolling. There’s a mix of letting the kids find their way while also guiding and correcting and, you know, teaching. There’s letting go of the stress of, “We’re supposed to be doing vocabulary practice right now and this totally isn’t that,” because you know it will be. You know that the next time you do this, all this time will pay off. The first time is supposed to take forever. That’s ok.

Once my kids were seeing their animations in action they started adding slides and slides and slides. More and more frames, digging into the idea of making a real moving picture show rather than a slideshow. The comedians and creative writers in my class showed up, scripting little bits that showed understanding of the words while also having fun doing it. Kids stopped raising their hands for help and started raising their hands to show off what they were creating. My job for many groups became reigning them in. “I think maybe 200 slides is enough. I get it, it looks great, but that’s enough for this. We’ll do more, I promise. Dry your eyes.” How great is it when students look disappointed that they have to stop working on vocabulary?

I even got to slip some math in on them, taking the lesson from a TA to a TAM (now to figure out how to work in Science and Engineering next time). “If you’ve got x slides, and each slide is set up to run for 2 seconds, how long is your animation? How can you make one slide last longer on the screen if all the slides move forward at the same pace?” Do you know? Duplicate that slide until the math works out.

Scripts written and rehearsed, I had to show two groups how Screencastify worked and then I had four Technology Superheroes who could show the rest of the groups. All they had to do was find somewhere quiet-ish to record (behind my desk, under a table, the empty-at-the-moment tutoring classroom across the hall, but not in the hallway. Too much traffic).

The enthusiasm was sky high. The kids loved this assignment. “Can we write our own stories next time to animate? We want to do more voices.” Dontcha just hate it when kids are asking to do an assignment again? And the final products, especially for first-time efforts, are fantastic. There’s many that, when I watched them, made me do that most wonderful of teacher reactions – lean back in my chair and clap in joy. And all this from the almost too simple edtech directions of – Create Google Slides, Publish to Web, Script, Screencastify. It saves to Drive, what we did, or publishes to YouTube. Simple ideas made deep are the best.

Below are the videos my kids made. They’re not all amazing unless you realize not one kid had ever done this before, and now they can do this and tell you what the vocabulary words mean.


cooDoug Robertson is the CUE Blog Editor and a twelfth-year teacher currently talking at fifth graders in Northern Oregon. He’s taught in California, Hawaii, and Oregon in 3rd, 4th, and 6th grades. He’s the author of three books about education, He’s the Weird Teacher, THE Teaching Text (You’re Welcome), and A Classroom Of One, one novel, The Unforgiving Road, and is an active blogger. Doug speaks at teaching conferences including CUE Rock Star Teacher Camps, presenting on everything from technology to teaching philosophy (or teaching The Weird Way, to use his words).  Doug is also the creator and moderator of #WeirdEd on Twitter, which happens every Wednesday at 7pm PST.

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