Month: September 2009

Total 14 Posts

Summer Cinema #1: 40th Anniversary

[The next two posts discuss some of my technical notes from two video projects I completed this summer – one professional, one personal. If these are too far off the beaten path for your tastes, please check back in next week.]

Ponderosa Lodge 40th Anniversary Montage from Dan Meyer on Vimeo.

My first video project this summer was a montage celebrating the fortieth anniversary of a local camp. This was complicated. No video existed from the 1970s. I thought, initially, to interweave older photos and newer video but, instead, went strictly with photography.

This was also challenging. There is only so much you can do with still photos. You can cross fade them. You can apply filters. You can edit them to music. You can go the Animoto route. You can go the Ken Burns route. But those techniques do very little to enrich the content. Ken Burns enriches his photos, for instance, with research, narration, and editing. Without those, the motion across the screen would grow tiresome.

I took a familiar path. Several years ago I posted a photo montage that exists somewhere between 2D and 3D. The technique is straightforward.

You take as many photos of the scene as you need plates (or layers). You keep your camera in manual mode so that when you move subjects out of the way (to get an unobstructed shot of the background) the aperture doesn’t change.

In this case, I wanted a layer for each of the brothers and the background. You use the pen tool in Photoshop to cut out each plate from the background and then import the composited file (with three total layers, in this case) into Adobe AfterEffects where you tell your computer, this layer is closer to the camera, this one is farther away, here’s how to move the 3D camera around the scene. Once you outline your scenes, it’s only a question of how much free time you have for the digital carving.

This project was different. I couldn’t go back in time to shoot the two brothers separate from each other and from the background. I spent four hours scanning slides from the 1970s. After I masked the subject from the photo there was … nothing. Just white space. I had to guess at and then recreate the background.

So I got cozy with the clone tool, which is exceptionally easy to use poorly. As often as I could, I set myself up with subjects standing in front of solid colors or simple textures, which are easy to clone.

These two were especially difficult. The sandy ridge behind the campers is almost entirely fake. If you look closely at the pool photo, you’ll notice I had to clone an onlooker’s entire face.

I thought sand would be easier to clone but the light fell across it unevenly and had me pulling out tufts of hair trying to compensate. Stay away from sand.

It’s difficult to stretch a single technique across an entire film. It gets tired. So I waited to deploy that one until the bridge of the audio track kicked in. Beforehand and afterwards, I went for a ghostly, melancholy vibe with subjects drawn into the campground at the start and then drawn out at the end.

Which, again, required a lot of digital carving.

What I Used To Know Isn’t Good Enough

One of my most vivid memories of childhood is carpooling with Brad’s mom to a church group when I was ten. It was early fall and we were talking about the changing seasons when she quoted her husband, an amateur astronomer: “We’re losing a minute of sunlight every day.”

That remark was so traumatizing that even now, almost twenty years later, I can recall the exact cross-street we passed when she said it.

I pictured neverending darkness. Riots. I wondered if we should maybe skip church group and stock up on flashlight batteries before the rest of town found out. Even at that age, my sense of patterns (and what a math teacher years later would call “indirect variation”) was developed enough to understand that we didn’t have much time left.

This is what I used to know:


That was a perfect, teachable moment for someone to step in and show me that what I used to know wasn’t good enough. “Not everything works like a line. Some things work like a cycle, getting bigger, getting smaller, getting bigger again. Can you think of anything else that works like a cycle?” Et cetera.

It has taken me six years to rewire my teaching to approach new knowledge as the solution to the limitations of what we used to know, rather than as an entry on a list of standards or “what we’re learning today.”


  1. The First Day Of Summer School.

Excellent Math Blogging

These two are fresh. If you subscribe now, you can say you were into them before they got big.


Tony Alteparmakian is a 2009 Leader in Learning enacting Chris Lehmann’s vision of classroom inversion (though I don’t doubt they came to the idea separately). Their idea is that we should send our students home with what used to constitute classroom time – the lecture – and spend classroom time on labs and teacher-led enrichment of that material.

Obviously, that vision comes fully loaded with complications but Tony is resolving them one-by-one in a how-to series that has only just started.

Also, I dig his redesigns. It’s hard to argue with slide transformations like these.




Sean Sweeney is an extra-value meal. In one corner of the edublogosphere you have the edtechnologists, the district IT staff, the ICT professionals, the policy wonks, etc., all asking huge, important questions about merit pay, technology integration, assessment, online schooling, etc., and posing reckless hypotheticals about limitless resources with nothing less than the future of education at stake, and all of it makes me grateful for guys like Sean who are driving 90MPH up the right lane, offering educators something they can use in the classroom right. now.

I’m talking about his quadratic catapult project. Or his Graphing Stories remix. Or his exercise in grocery store estimation. And that’s his output over two weeks.

This is math-instruction-as-artistic-expression and it’s cool as hell to watch.

“A Trash-Talking High School Math Teacher”

The story broke online: the express lane isn’t faster. Jaws hit the floor. It made a few laps around the blogosphere while the MSM played catch-up. 72 hours later, I was in front of a camera, explaining the regression to a reporter for CBS in San Jose who in turn challenged me to a race down the checkout lines.

Here is that (two-minute) clip:

Click through to view embedded content.

Three takeaways:

  1. Slow news night.
  2. Everyone has an opinion on this one. Most people also have a demographic they are particularly loathe to find ahead of them in line.
  3. This visceral, widespread reaction to nothing more than a) a clear picture, and b) a concise question will do nothing to make my WCYDWT evangelism less insufferable. Apologies in advance. This isn’t the only way to teach, but it is a fun way.