Wednesday, February 11, 2015

Get more Pow from Powtoon

Our blogger today is Deborah Blaz, French and English teacher and head of the World Language Department at Angola HS. She is the author of six books on teaching, a keynote speaker and frequent workshop presenter.

Fast-paced, in-your-face, a little silly (if you want) and exciting -- a Powtoon!
I was looking for an interesting, cost-free way to present some fairly boring information to a class of freshmen...and found Powtoon, an online tool to create an animated presentation.
Here is my very first Powtoon, a tutorial commenting on frequent errors made in my English 9 class composition the day before:

OK, not mind-blowing (I have learned a lot since then) but I have to tell you, the students were mesmerized, some clapped when it finished, and most were saying things like "Awesome!" and "Can we see it again, please?" and then they did a MUCH better job writing for the rest of the period. Mission accomplished!

That Powtoon used the canned music available. You can also record your own voice and narrate it yourself. A finished Powtoon is incredibly easy to upload to YouTube and from there also very easy to share/embed if you have a blog or a wiki.

So, what might a Powtoon be good for, besides just the Wow Factor? Just choose an education buzzword:
[Note, I teach French mostly, so these examples will be somewhat more applicable to what world language students study]

Project-based learning? These are great for a final project. Students use these for book reports (see an example below), to tell a story (see the Typical day one for reflexive verbs, below), sell a product (food, classroom object, etc.), do a how-to video-- a good "show-what-you-know" for almost any topic. Students can use the text styles or record their own voices. I have heard from parents whose kids proudly showed them their creation, who were impressed and pleased with how much the student enjoyed the assignment, and how nice it looked.

Differentiated instruction? This can be one of  any of the 3 portions of a unit: the "content" delivering the basic information (made by you) or as one of the choices students have for the show-what-you-know "product" part, or the "process" (practice) part of a lesson -- have them make a pretend conversation, design an exercise program for a chapter on health/body parts, show how to pronounce something , or even visually show a letter written on a topic. A Powtoon would fit many learning styles as it has music, visual, is kinesthetic when making one, etc.

Flipped classroom? Powtoons are great to introduce and explain a new topic, delivering all the information in a fast-paced and impressive manner, which can be viewed over and over again as many times as needed! (great for slower and/or absent students in any type of learning situation). The free Powtoons are limited to only five minutes, which is actually what most flipped learning people suggest for the instructional videos.

Collaborative classroom? This can be done individually or as partners, of course, or viewed using collaborative feedback. A Powtoon would be a great way to do an infographic presentation based on a class survey, or some cultural information like teen afterschool activities in the target language culture. You could also do this as the middle part of a Jigsaw activity, with each group making a Powtoon presentation for their portion of the topic.

  • The free Powtoons are limited to five minutes only, unless you upgrade (see bullet later in this section).
  • Powtoons are not quick to create until you get the hang of it. Here are the steps I suggest you follow:
    • Before you ever open the site, write a script. Have a good idea of what you want to say and in what order. Also look at it, and decide how much to put on each slide. This will save a lot of time because then all you need to do is compose it (choose your characters and props and text).
    • Once on Powtoon, record yourself reading your script. Even if you don't leave your voice in, this soundtrack will give you a really good idea of how long each slide needs to be on the screen.
    • Watch the tutorial. I am older, with a steep learning curve for technology, and it quickly showed me where to click and a few cool things I could do that I probably would not have found on my own.
  • Powtoon does have modifiable prepared formats like: restaurant, explainer, product demos, and social that you can take a modify. Those save some time, as the slide transitions and text types as well as characters are already there (but you can change them if desired).
  • Like many sites, the basic Powtoon is free, but there is a premium (subscription) version. There is also the option to have a Classroom subscription, which is for 1 teacher and 60 students, with the option of adding more students (price is currently $5 /month more for every 30 students). Right now Powtoon is giving away FREE teacher subscriptions until it reaches a certain number. The link for that is  A Basic includes 10 free music tunes, and 8 free cartoon styles, with a variety of animated figures, text styles, and clip art props available (and, you can mix and match them. You don't have to use just one option). Right now (February 2015), an upgrade ($2/month for teachers, $1 for students) gets access to 20 tunes and 18 cartoon styles, and up to 15 minutes per Powtoon. Also, it gets rid of the "created using Powtoon" watermark. I personally have been very happy just using the free version.
  • Try going to YouTube and type in Powtoon and a topic in your subject area (or Google Powtoon + that subject, which would give you access to links on wikis and blogs that are public; you may not even need to make your own as there are many out there.
  • Have fun with Powtoon!

A book report 

A typical day

Here are some links to teacher Powtoons:

and student-produced Powtoons:

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