At least once or twice a week I receive an e-mail asking how I make my screencasts, and given these posts are a couple years old, and I’ve adjusted my methodology a bit in the past few years, it seems high time I provided an update on my recommendations for screencasting. So, here goes.
For those using Windows PCs, not much has changed terribly. I still highly recommend Camtasia:Studio as one of the most cost-effective and easy-to-use software packages for screencasting (make sure you choose Education pricing for a 40% discount). It allows you to record what’s occurring on your screen, as well as your face (via webcam), and puts it all together with a variety of output options. It is my go-to tool when using a Windows system. Typically I create my presentation in Powerpoint, then load up Camtasia to record my walk-through of the presentation, and do a majority of post-processing in Camtasia. Finally, I upload to Youtube and also to the APlusPhysics.com site (many schools block Youtube, so having the videos in a separate place helps teachers provide access to all their students, regardless of location or device). A good example of a video created in this manner is the Kinematics Equations Regents Physics Tutorial.
About 18 months ago, however, I switched from the Windows platform to the PC platform. The “why” of the change is a long story, and probably not of interest to most readers here, but the transition was much smoother than I expected, and although I realize you pay a premium on the hardware end, I’m much happier with the transition than I initially anticipated. Initially I tried quite a few different methods championed by other teachers using Macs, but everything I tried was either flaky, too complex, or required too much “work” during the presentation — and when I’m creating the screencasts, I want to focus as much of my attention as I can on teaching the material as effectively as I can, with as little focus as possible on technical aspects of screencasting. For those who have been making screencasts, you realize how challenging it is to try to take a lesson, concept, or problem-solving approach and condense it down into just what the students need to know to get started. My goal in my videos isn’t to replace the classroom or teacher, but rather take the repetitive basic content and condense it down into something the kids can do at home, leaving us more time in class for hands-on activities, exploration, extension, and challenge work.
Without digressing TOO much further, I soon decided I had to come up with my own method. After a bit of trial and error and the purchase of several software packages that just didn’t work out for me, here’s the method I came up with (and am quite happy with). First, I create my presentation materials in either Powerpoint or Keynote (I prefer Keynote on the Mac to Powerpoint on the Mac just for level of integration, but they’re pretty much equivalent). Once my presentation slides are complete, I export them in PDF form. Then, I import the PDF presentation into a wonderful Mac software package known as Curio (HIGHLY recommended and comes with amazing developer support), “Spread” the PDFs out onto various pages, and I use Curio as my background software when I run my screen capture.
For the actual screen capture work, I went back to Techsmith’s Camtasia:Mac. It doesn’t have quite as many features as the Windows version, and post-processing is considerably less intuitive if you want to zoom, scroll, etc., but for the basics it’s pretty slick, and it also has one more GREAT feature that I love — the ability to remove a color from your recorded webcam video. This means you can do some basic “green screen” or “chromakey” work right in Camtasia:Mac. I’m not thrilled with the level of control of this feature, as there’s definitely some room for improvement, but it’s a great start and its easy integration right into the regular workflow makes it quick and easy to implement. The AP Physics C: Gauss’s Law video demonstrates a screencast created with this workflow. As an added bonus, Camtasia for Mac is also considerably cheaper than the Windows version, currently about $75 for an academic license.
Which leads us into the tricky part, the hardware. The most important part of your setup, from my perspective, is your writing input device. On the Windows side, for years I’ve used a Tablet PC (not an iPad or similar device, but rather a laptop computer that has a screen you can write on). These tend to be rather pricey (prices typically start around $2K for a decent system), and I haven’t had the greatest luck with them as far as reliability goes, despite attempts at buying high-end systems. What I consider a better alternative is the purchase of a separate input device, so that you can always upgrade / swap out the computer itself as needed, but continue using the input device from system to system.
Initially I started working with a Wacom Intuos tablet. It does what it’s supposed to, but I had a heck of a time looking at a separate screen while drawing on a separate input device. My handwriting was awful (even more awful than when I write directly on the screen), and I found myself stressing about the technicalities of the screencast as I worked. It just wasn’t comfortable at all. So, the barely-used system is sitting under my desk waiting for me to either put it up on eBay, loan it to another APlusPhysics contributor, or sell it for pennies on the dollar.
Shortly thereafter, I decided to take the plunge and purchased a Wacom Interactive Pen Display, model DTU-1631. I use this in my classroom each day as well, projecting the DTU-1631 screen on a digital projector, and writing my notes directly on the screen. This has the extra advantage of allowing me to capture all my class notes and publish them directly to our Regents Physics and AP Physics C blogs. It’s not the greatest monitor as far as overall image quality, and it’s certainly priced above where I think it should be (~$1000), but it works, and has become my everyday workhorse in the classroom. I’m pleased to see Wacom is coming out with some considerably upgraded interactive pen displays this summer, which may provide some further options.
I also invested in a system for home use this past fall, saving me the hassle of lugging the DTU-1631 back and forth from school to the home office regularly. Without the need to project the monitor, I decided on the Wacom Cintiq 22HD system. Again, the monitor image characteristics leave a bit to be desired in a high resolution monitor, but the ability to write directly on the screen at high resolution takes all the technical hassle out of creating screencasts. It’s not for the dabbler, however, as discount price is typically right around $2000.
As far as audio and microphones go, I continue to use a Zoom H2 Digital Recorder at home, which does a nice job of capturing audio cleanly at a price point around $180 with a bit of searching, but a year or so ago I purchased a separate Blue Yeti USB Microphone and I absolutely love it. It’s easy to use, has a tremendous cardiod mode, and provides awesome sound in a cheap, reliable manner. At a price point of roughly $100, I don’t think you can beat it, and it wouldn’t take much for me to trade in my more expensive Zoom H2 for a second Blue Yeti for the home office.
As far as webcams to capture the instructor’s face, just about any Logitech-type USB webcam will do. I’ve used a number of different webcams, most recently a Logitech HD Webcam C615 (due to its Mac compatibility). They do a decent job. For the higher-end videos using the chromakey (green screen) technology, I wanted something a little better, and found an outdated Canon ZR850 sitting in our closet. This mini-DV camcorder didn’t see much use in our house due to the advent of all the flip cam technologies, iPhones, etc., but I found that by connecting to my Mac through its firewire connections, I could get high quality, stable images fed directly into the computer and compatible with Camtasia. Certainly not a necessity, but a nice little extra.
Finally, in the interest of full disclosure, I do just a touch of post-processing on my videos outside of Camtasia. Although Camtasia has noise reduction algorithms built in, I had already purchased a license for the full Adobe Creative Suite (Master Edition) to build the APlusPhysics website, so thought I might as well use as many features of the software as I can. I use Adobe Audition to tweak the audio input from my microphones just a touch before final processing. This allows me to easily standardize volume levels, pull out 60Hz hum from the electrical system, and even remove a bit of the HVAC noise from my recordings. Certainly not necessary for a good screencast, but a little extra since I already had the software on my system.
There are certainly cheaper ways to do screen casting, and many great free to nearly-free alternatives. I’ve chosen this route with the goal of spending my time and resources up front to create high quality videos that I can use for years and years, tweaking and re-doing individual videos on a piecemeal basis to continually improve the quality of the video collection, as opposed to redoing the course year after year. There are certainly other strategies and workflows, but I’m hoping this may provide at least a start to others who are interested in screencasting without having to travel down all the mistaken paths I had to in developing this methodology. Make it a great day everyone!
Now, this took some research, some planning, and a number of tries, but matching up orbits for docking IS possible…
But certainly not easy. Took a bit of practice (and perhaps a minor bounce off the station…)
But in the end, the Kerbals prevailed.
Once docked, a fuel transfer was initiated to verify the process. After that, it was party time. The Kerbal who’d been manning the space station decided he needed to get out after going a bit stir crazy. Time to ride the rocket for a spell.
This, of course, left the space station unmanned, so one of our newly arrived Kerbonauts transferred himself over to the space station to take the helm.
So, it’s doable. Who’s next?
I’ve been playing around with the Kerbal Space Program recently because (1) it’s fun and (2) I want to know enough to be able to help my kids during their post-AP project, at least from a technical / computer perspective. My mission — have a Kerbal walk on the moon (and return home safely).
The first step was designing the vehicle. I went with a one-man capsule, a small engine, and lots of extra fuel (to give me plenty of room for mistakes on my first landing mission.
I made sure to add landing struts, a ladder to allow Jebediah a quick EVA, and, of course, a parachute for the command pod. The launch vehicle itself was designed in two stages, four large engines and fuel tanks to get the craft past 10 km, and another single large tank and engine to easily push into orbit, leaving the lander vehicle itself fully fueled in orbit.
The launch was very straightforward. I controlled the engines carefully under 10 km to keep the velocity below 200 m/s and avoid overheating. At 12 km I performed an orbital tilt to 45 degrees, got speed up, and then coasted to the highest point in the path, at which point I turned again on an orbital maneuver.
Separation was clean.
This left me with the landing craft fully fueled in a stable Earth orbit, ready to begin maneuvers to head to the Mun.
As I approached the moon I adjusted my orbit to bring me down near “the bright side,” and set my orientation to maintain a retrograde orbit.
After a few minutes of sweating with a light hand on the thrusters while maintain a retrograde orbit, I finally had the lander down on the ground (and even remembered to extend the landing struts!)
The external tanks were just barely empty (I hadn’t separated them during the descent as I thought perhaps the extra fuel might be nice for the Mun launch. However, upon reaching the surface, they were just barely drained. Easy quiet separation. Now for the EVA. I extended the ladders and Jebediah had himself a short stroll on the Mun before climbing back in for the trip home.
From there, a simple launch to get back into Mun orbit, then an orbital transfer back to Earth, which brought Jebediah down nice and safe and ready for his next mission!
Key Learning — having all that extra fuel was nice, but next time I could do things MUCH more efficiently at the landing stage, allowing me to launch a much lighter landing vehicle. Next challenge – Landing on Minmus and returning safely!
A couple weeks ago I had this crazy idea for a four-week project to do with my AP-C students after their AP exams. Typically we embark on a number of individualized, small-team projects, coupled with a study of semiconductor physics. This year, however, I wanted to change it up. I want to build excitement for the sciences and engineering. I want to try and truly capture the kids’ interest. So, taking a lead from a physics teacher tweet, I began exploring the Kerbal Space Program.
I first wrote about some basic ideas around the program last week in Kerbals in Space? Gamifying the Physics of Space Exploration. Since then, with the help and guidance of a variety of folks ranging from our school’s IT experts all the way to Kerbal Space Program enthusiasts from around the world, I think we have a pilot program (pun intended) ready to launch (pun still intended). As we blast into this new foray, my larger goal is to explore whether something as simple as the Kerbal Space Program or other “gamified” simulation has the potential for implementation earlier in the K-12 curriculum. If it works with seniors, could it be used with juniors? With freshman? With junior high students? With 5th and 6th graders? All with the ultimate goal of launching students into the challenge and excitement available in STEM disciplines.
We need to grab the attention of our up and coming society at an early age, and allow them to observe the need for math, science, writing, communication, and technology, and how these skills open doorways for them to engage in such fun and challenging activities. There are tons of good programs out there promoting interest in STEM, from robotics programs to alternative fuel teams to green teams… I’m hoping the excitement of space, presented in such a fun way, allows students to reach some key conclusions on their own. First, just playing the sim is fun. For a while. Then you realize no matter what you do you tend to crash into things and can’t make it to any moons or planets. It’s time to pull out paper, pencil, calculator, and jump on the Kerbal WIKI to do some research and learn about dynamics, energy, transfer orbits, staging, etc. In this way, the students themselves are driving their own learning with a purpose, a pull system, so to speak, as opposed to pushing information out to them and then asking them to apply what they’ve learned.
It’ll be a fun experiment. I’ve completed the Kerbal Space Program Education Project definition page. We’ll see how it goes from here, and if anyone wants to join us on this exploration, we’d love to have you along!
So last year I took every single question from the last 17 NY Regents Physics exams, organized them by topic, and printed them neatly into worksheet / workbook formats for myself and others to use. They’ve been pretty popular, but have also been a fairly high maintenance item, as I have been receiving at least 10-15 e-mails per week about the worksheets. Some requests have come from teachers asking if I have created an answer sheet to go with them. Other requests have been from students looking to check their answers. Some have even been from students posing as instructors attempting to find the answers to the worksheets. But far and away, the most popular question has centered around whether I might offer a print version of the worksheets.
It’s taken awhile, but I’ve finally cleaned up all the sheets, arranged them into a workbook format, solved every single problem, added answer sheets, and sent them off for publication. The result — yesterday, The Ultimate Regents Physics Question and Answer Book was released.
I’m planning on leaving the individual worksheets available for download on the APlusPhysics site — the book is merely provided as a convenience for those who’d rather have a hard copy, bound compendium of all the worksheets, with the answers included. Because these sheets are also popular as homework assignments, quizzes, etc., I don’t plan on posting the answer sheets publicly… that’s just making things a little too easy for students hoping to avoid productive work. The list price on the book is $11.99, which (typically) Amazon discounts within a few weeks of publication. I think that’s a reasonable price for a resource that took me many, many hours to compile, with the goal of hopefully recouping the costs required to publish the book within a year or so if all goes well.
Having said that, last night I received a troubling e-mail. Before even one copy had sold, I received a request asking if I would donate copies of the workbook to cover an entire physics course at a school. Now, I understand there’s no harm in asking, so I politely responded that the cost for any donated/promotional copies come directly out of the pocket of a high school teacher (me), and that the entire content was already available for download and printing direct from the APlusPhysics website. The follow-up, however, left me troubled. The response stated that the copies were for an inner city school and therefore computers and Internet access to download and print the files wasn’t reasonable.
Maybe I’m being naive, but I have trouble believing that there are school districts (and individual schools) that are SO poor that there isn’t a single computer with an Internet connection anywhere in the school. Or let’s say that there aren’t ANY computers in the school — how can not one teacher have access to a computer and Internet to obtain the files on their own time? And in what world is it reasonable that I should pick up the costs to print and ship a volume of copies to a school where they can’t find a way to download and print freely available files (which I also pay to host)?
Rant ended. I’m more than happy to give away a ton of my work (and time) for free, but there are some costs associated with making these resources available. The software to create the site, the hosting fees, publication costs, licensing costs, etc. Almost all of the content in the books is already freely available on the site for educational use, and I LOVE when folks make use of these resources. But, the reality is that all of these things have some cost, and if I want to continue to build a terrific physics resource for our students, a few of the items on the site have to generate enough income to cover the costs of the site.
Now, with that out of the way, I’m excited to be diving into the next project at full speed — review / guide books for the new AP-1 and AP-2 courses. Background work / development has been going on for over a year, and, if all goes as planned, the first draft should be underway within a couple weeks!!!!!