Monday, August 3, 2015

Common File Extensions used in Schools

Common File Formats in Schools

Below is a list of the most common file formats in use in K-12 schools today.  Knowing what file format works with any given application is essential.  Many structurally similar (ie. text to text format, video to video format, etc) files can be converted to other file formats using a wide variety of file converters.  I strongly recommend

.doc or .docx
.ppt or pptx
.xls or xlsx
The document formats for the core Microsoft Office Suite (Word, PowerPoint, and Excel).  Formats with the “X” at the end (ex. .docx) are the default save format for Office 2007 files and above.   The “X” comes from a new file structure that utilizes XML.  X files are not backwards compatible with earlier versions Office, but are smaller and more secure.  
Tip:  If you are sharing Office documents online or with large groups of students, save as the legacy format (ex. .doc) to ensure end users with older version of Office can open it.  
Portable Document Format.  A .pdf file is a self contained presentation file that contains all necessary information required to consistently display contained information across a wide array of platforms.  
Tip:  Any device can open a .pdf file.  .pdf files can not be edited by the end user.  These two factors make it the ideal format for sharing assignments online.  Also, most applications can be exported as a .pdf.  When in doubt, .pdf it out.
.txt or .rtf
Text or Rich Text Format.  Both are very light text documents that do not contain formatting options.  Both are very small and can usually be opened by any device.
Tip: Word Processing programs can both open and export as one of these simple text formats.
.htm or .html
HyperText Markup Language. A common language that many websites are written in.  Your computer will use a browser (like Chrome) to open HTML files.
Tip:  You don’t need to know HTML to use it.  You can embed content on your own website or various places on the internet by simple placing HTML embed code in a specific location.  Link to a very useful HTML reference.
Comma-Separated Value.  A way of storing tabular data (think Excel) in a plain text format.  Any spreadsheet application can open or export .csv files.
Tip:  Most websites that allow you to bulk upload student information will accept a .csv file.  Simply export the student information from Excel as a .csv and upload it to the desired website.
Electronic Publication. EPUB is the most common open ebook standard/format.  .epub content is composed of “reflowable” text, meaning that the content adapts to the end users device, giving them the ability to change text size and spacing.  
Tip: Most mobile devices can read .epub files (Android, Apple, Nook, Kindle Fire - some of the older Kindles still use the .mobi file format).  Convert text from .pdf to .epub so students can edit the size of the text that’s displayed on their devices.


Tip: Many audio and video files require proprietary media players to play the file.  Save yourself some time and aggravation and use a cross-platform media player like VLC.  It is like the One Ring of the media player world.  

A Quicktime file originally used only by Apple.  Now much more common across multiple platforms.  Will require Quicktime or a cross platform player to run on a Windows PC.  Plays natively on a Mac or iOS device.
.avi and .wmv
Video formats created by Microsoft.  .avi is older and typically much less compressed that a .wmv file of the same length.  Both of these files are natively supported in the Windows environment (embeddable in PowerPoints, etc).
.mpg. mpeg, .mp4
Variations of the MPEG family of video designed and promoted by ISO (International Organization for Standardization).  They are open source and popular.  
Flash Video. Adobe Flash container file format.  Many online video sites utilize flash video (ex. Youtube).  Smart Notebook requires videos to be in the .flv format in order to be embed directly in a page.  
The current video standard for HTML 5.  Because of this and Google’s support for the platform it is seen on Chromebooks more and more often.  

.aif  or .wav
Both are lossless (uncompressed) audio formats.  .aif is most commonly found on Macs and .wav on Windows.
A very popular lossy (compressed) audio compression format that also contains id tags. The required format for Smart Notebook.
A lossy audio compression format designed for use with the Microsoft Windows operating system
The planned successor to .mp3.  Said to be capable of better sound quality and higher bit rates.

The newest image format.  Lossless data compression is used, so quality is usually somewhere between .jpg and .tif.  The format offers a variety of transparency options making it ideal for web design.
The most popular image format for cameras and websites.  It is popular because it uses compression technology.  the compression is lossy, so quality can be compromised.
Smallest image format, but achieves this with a limited color palette.
Lossless format considered to be the highest quality image format for commercial work.

Tuesday, July 7, 2015

Using an External Camera on a Chromebook

Sometimes you just need the added flexibility that an external camera gives you.  You may want to shoot a stop animation video with the Stop Motion Animator app, or shoot an action scene with WeVideo, or scan a QR Code taped to a wall.   In some of these cases the application will have an option to switch to a different camera built into the UI, but in most situations that is just not the case.  Below are step-by-step directions for switching between cameras using Chrome's system settings.

Step 1:
Click on the three horizontal lines (referred to as the "hotdog" by Chrome developers) in the upper right corner of your chrome browser, then click Settings.

Step 2:
Scroll to the bottom of the setting menu and click the Show advanced settings... link.

Step 3:
Under the Privacy section in the advanced settings, lick the Content Settings... button.

Step 4:
Scroll down to Media section and select the external camera from the dropdown menu beside the Camera heading.

Done.  Don't worry, this change is not permanent, your Chromebook will automatically switch back to the default camera when the external camera is unplugged. 

Monday, June 15, 2015

Classroom Applications for WeVideo

Creation is KING according to Bloom's Revised Taxonomy.  This is perfect because it is also the most fun.  Humans are wired to create, and technology streamlines that process.  Chromebooks and iPads ares the Elmer's glue and Popsicle stick of this generation, so let's see what we can do with one of their most useful apps.

WeVideo is the only truly cross platform movie making tool available to today.  It is cloud-based and can use a Google login to authenticate, making it ideal for classroom use.  It is not perfect, but it sure beats Windows Movie Maker (a moment of silence for those brave young teachers that have tried Windows Movie Maker as part of a classroom project).  

Classroom Applications

1. PhotoStory

PhotoStory 3 is a legend in the Digital Story Telling community.  It was a free application available directly from Windows for XP.  It was easy and produced a consistently high quality product.  The concept was simple, add pictures, music, text and/or voice and Photostory would "Add stunning special effects" to produce an amazing video, each and every time.  Unfortunately, Photostory 3 is not longer supported.  Good news, this same special effect (the Ken Burns effect) is available in WeVideo.   

Tips for creating "Photo Stories" with WeVideo:

  • Use the Storyboard mode instead of Timeline.  I only recommend this because your students will only be using pictures in their video.  This mode is typically to simplified for video editing, but it works really well in this case. This is only my recommendation for Photo Stories.
  • Upload all your pictures first, then perform a "marque select" (as seen in the animation above) to select ALL of the pictures you want in the story.  Once selected, drag them all on to the storyboard at once.  This action allows you to batch apply the Ken Burns animation. 

2. Book Trailer/News Cast

This one is very simple and straight forward.  The basic concept here is to use the webcam on the student device to directly record the student(s) as they speak.  For an additional level of awesomeness and authenticity, your students can use an online teleprompter like cueprompter in a separate tab.

  • Click the big red record button.
  • Choose "Webcam."
  • Choose "Allow" if using Chrome.  You may also need to install the new WeVideo Recorder Chrome Extension the first time you use it.
  • When you are done recording click the "Save Recoding" button, then "Save."
  • Drag the newly created video from your My Media to the Timeline.

Tips for creating book trailers/newcasts:

  • Using an online teleprompter in a separate tab  is particularly useful because student can not see themselves as they are being recorded. 
  • Socket puppets at all grade levels are fun and reduce the anxiety of recording one's self.
  • After publishing a book trailer have the students run the url through a QR Code generator. Print the QR Codes and tape them to the book.  
3. Paper Slide Videos

Paper slide videos are similar to the book trailers and newscasts, but instead of recording one's self, you record as series of paper "slides."  See the video below for complete details.

Tips for creating a paper slide videos:

  • Explain the concept storyboards to your students and then require them to create one before they begin creating their actual slides. Here is a nice storyboard template.
  • Use an external webcam if you have one.  If not, a laptops or a Chromebook front facing camera will work. 
These are just a few examples of how you can use WeVideo in the classroom.  The options are endless and only limited by your imagination.  How have you used this amazing tool in your classroom?

Thursday, January 29, 2015

Twine - 21st Century Choose Your Own Adventure


I was never a fan of reading.  As a child I would rather have gone to the dentist than read a book; that is until I found the Choose Your Own Adventure series.  The stories were interesting and "tricked" me into reading them again. They played more like a text adventure (game), than they did a book.

Fast forward 30 years and kids have not changed much.  They still prefer games to reading (most of them anyway).  But this post is not really about reading, it is about creative writing and a very cool tool by the name of Twine.  Twine is a VERY easy to use software application that can be downloaded or used online at  The idea here is that your students use the tool to create branching stories.  They can be as simple or complex as the author likes, but the process is what makes this particular tool so exciting.  Your students cannot just slap a story together - it will take some planning and thought.  In they end they will also have a tangible story/game that they can share with their family and friends.  The possibilities are endless.

I have made a short overview tutorial to get you started. It is embedded below or you can access it directly at

Photo Credit Paul Stumpr via Flikr


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