Making ‘Magic’ (schoolbus) with 1st Graders

At the suggestion of Ann Oro (aka @njtechteacher) and Kelly Tenkely (aka @ktenkely) both ladies from whose blogs I learn much, I am writing up the information on how I created the “Magic Schoolbus Goes to the Ocean” project with 1st graders.

Classroom Teacher’s Role:

After reading the book, The Magic School Bus on the Ocean Floor by Joanna Cole, the 1st graders did some research on ocean topics of their choosing. From the research, they wrote a few sentences on their topic. The teacher took photos of each student in various poses (like swimming) in front of a green screen. If a green screen is not available, the photos can be taken in front of ANY solid color background, like a bulletin board. It’s best if the background doesn’t have a texture, so a cinderblock wall is not a good option.

Tech Facilitator’s Role:

Preparing the images: To prepare the images, you need to remove the green screen background. There are many ways to do this with image editing software like PhotoShop, but I used the ‘Preview’ program on the Mac. I opened each photo in Preview and used the Instant Alpha tool to remove the background. The Instant Alpha tool, or magic wand, is located in the “Select’ menu. Work carefully so as not to eliminate too much from the photo. Changes aren’t finalized until pressing ‘Return’. Resave each cropped image with the name of the student.

Drawing the background and adding the child’s photo: The next step is to have the students draw their background images in KidPix or a similar drawing program. As they are creating their drawings, it is important to remind the children to think about where they will place themselves in the picture. Save the KidPix drawing and then insert the cropped green screen image of the child. To insert the image in KidPix, go to the top menu and select Import>Graphic and navigate to the desired image. Once the image is imported there will be green handles at the corners to resize the image. The 1st graders were able to resize their images and place it in the desired location. Once you click off of the image and the green handles disappear, the image cannot be moved. This happened a few times, so we had to ‘Quit’ and open the drawing again. That is why saving BEFORE importing the child’s image is important. Once the image is in place, save the KidPix file and export as a jpg (File>Export).

(The next two steps could be completed in Word, PowerPoint, or Keynote. The steps may be different, but the same result can be achieved)

The Comic Life template: In Comic Life, turn the page to Landscape (File>Page Format>√ the Landscape box). Drag an image box onto the page to the desired size of the book page. Add a rectangular textbox in the upper right (or left) corner and fill the box with yellow. This replicates the notes seen on pages of the Magic School Bus books. This yellow box is where an adult will type the sentences about the ocean topic written by the child. After typing in the facts, save each Comic Life document with the child’s name.

Adding the children’s drawings and speech bubbles to the Comic Life page: Navigate to each KidPix jpg and drag it in to place into the saved Comic Life document. The image will slide under the yellow text box with the facts. Have the students add their speech bubbles and comments. Save as a Comic Life document.

Publishing: There are many different ways to publish. We have printed them to make a class book. We are also recording the students’ voices in a VoiceThread. If using VoiceThread, you will need to export the completed Comic Life document as a jpg (File>Export>Export as Image) before uploading into VoiceThread. Here’s our finished product:

We worked on this project 2x a week for 30 minutes each time. My involvement didn’t occur until after the research was completed. To complete the ‘tech’ portions of this project, we completed it in about 3 weeks (9 meetings). The children loved putting themselves into their drawings and really saw the connection to the actual Magic School Bus book. They are enjoying reading and rereading about their ‘journey to the ocean’.


6 Responses

  1. Outstanding lesson! I had no idea that Preview had the instant alpha feature…what a great find! Thanks for sharing with the rest of us, can’t wait to try it out 🙂

  2. Thank you so much for writing this up. I have never used green screen and this would be a great project to finally give it a try. Some of my eighth grade students wanted to use green screen, but I never got around to finding material that would work. This project might have to wait until next year. We have a few copies of Comic Life. When I saw you mention the project, I had a feeling there would be a lot for me to learn and a lot for the students to gain. I might be asking for a little more info once I get an image into Preview, but it sounds straight forward.

  3. Very creative and I also did not know you could use Preview in such a fashion. You continue to amaze me and teach me! I look forward to sharing this project with our teachers. Did the teachers feel as if their “Time” was used well to complete this project?

  4. Thanks for commenting all of you! 🙂

    Scott: The teacher was extremely pleased with the ‘time spent’ on the project. She does the ocean research project anyway and the added bonus of having me come in to manage and assist with the tech skills made it an easy sell. We developed the idea together and the fact that she took ownership of the parts she could manage and learned the tech pieces she didn’t know along with the kids made the project a hit. It was recently shared in both book form and as a VoiceThread at the school showcase. Parents loved it too.

  5. This was really a very creative project to provide your students. Just as an additional resource for other educators that may read this post, I would recommend Studentreasures publishing as a creative writing project for the classroom. They turn your students writing and illustrations in professionally hardbound books for free.

  6. I have used Studentreasures in my classroom and definitely recommend using this program to all other teachers.

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