Monday, March 7, 2016

DIY Classroom Voice Recording Box

This school year, I have been blessed to participate in an initiative in my county called #LoudounCreates. As a part of this initiative, my class was given a cart of Dell Venues (well, we have to share with another class) to use in the creation of digital content that we share with the world through our school's YouTube Channel. I absolutely love how engaged and excited my students are when it comes time to use the Venues. The students absolutely love creating videos and sharing them, especially when other people watch and comment on their work.

One of the biggest issues we experience with recording is all of the background noise. As I am sure you are aware, keeping a classroom of students quiet is nearly impossible. I've tried sending students into the hallway, but a school is a very busy, noisy place. As a result, many of the videos we record end up having a lot of other voices on the recording. It's not terrible, but I am always looking for a way to do it better.

One day on Facebook, I came across a post about the Chatterbox. The Chatterbox is a portable recording box designed specifically to help students record their voices in a classroom, while cutting down on all of the background noise.
As I looked at the Chatterbox, I realized that I could actually make these myself and save a little bit of money while doing it. I did some digging online and this is what I came up with.

You will need the following items:

Step One: Assemble the cardboard box. I used clear packaging tape to hold the bottom together. I also put a piece of tape on the flaps inside the box to give it some more stability and to keep the flaps from moving. You will also want to cut the top four flaps off the box so that they are out of the way.

Step Two: Attach the Velcro tabs to the acoustic foam. I put one piece of Velcro on each corner. You will need a total of 16 tabs (four for each piece of foam).

Step Three: Attach the acoustic foam to the inside panels of the box. I placed one piece of foam on the right side, the left side, the back (the bottom of the box), and to the top. I put both pieces of Velcro on the panel and then pushed the panel into place. This made sure that the pieces will line up correctly. Because of the box size, the acoustic panels don't fit at snugly as they do in the Chatterbox, but a smaller box might have made using a tablet inside a bit difficult.

That's it! I was able to put one together in about 15 minutes. If you would like, you can paint your boxes before installing the foam or you can take the foam out and paint them after. I haven't painted mine yet, but it may become a weekend project in the near future.

When students want to record their voices, they just place their device inside the box and lean their heads over the device. The acoustic foam will block out most of the sound that would normally be picked up by the microphone. I tested one of the recording boxes at home with my son after putting it together. Our washing machine was running just a few feet from where we were recording and very little of the machine noise was picked up by the iPad's microphone. It was amazing.

The Chatterbox sells on for $39.95 and it looks really neat. However, a set of 12 acoustic panels sells on for $19.99. It takes four panels to make a box, so one set of acoustic panels will allow you to put together 3 recording boxes. My office supply store was selling the 14x14x14 boxes for about $3.79, but I was able to receive a teacher discount and that reduced the price greatly. As a result, I was able to create three boxes for a fraction of the cost. Granted, mine don't look nearly as nice as the Chatterbox, but they will serve the same purpose.

Do you do a lot of voice recording in your classroom? Can you make use of a product like this?

Friday, January 1, 2016

Why Am I So Excited About Two Jars of Pennies?

As you are probably aware, college is not cheap, even when you go to a fairly inexpensive school I like I did.  Like so many other students, I need to take out loans in order to complete my education.  This included both my undergraduate and both of my graduate degrees.  Yes, I am a perpetual student and I love being in school.  However, I do not like the reality of student loan debt and student loan payments.

Each month, my wife and I pay almost $350 to student loans.  $350!  That's crazy!  So this year, we've decided we are going to pay off the loans (or make a fairly sizable dent).  Currently, we have a little less than $28,000 in student loan debt.  Just typing that out makes me sweat a little bit.


Now, why am I so excited about the two jars of pennies?  Well, we decided to make a visual representation of the amount of money we owe and the amount of money we've paid off on the principal.  That is where the two jars come in.

The first jar (the one with all of the pennies) stands for the amount of money we owe presently.  As I said, we owe almost $28,000, so this jar contains 280 pennies.  Each penny is worth $100.  Every time we pay $100 toward the principal, we move a penny from the first jar to second jar.  This includes our monthly loan payment.  I looked at how much goes toward the principal and how much goes to interest each month.  After the payment posts to the account, I'm going to make a payment for the difference between the amount that went to the principal and $100.  In each situation, it will be around $20-$25.  It looks like we are going to have to skip a meal out in order to cover that difference, but that's better for us, right?

If you look closely in this jar, you can see that we've already been able to move 4 pennies to the "Paid" jar.  We decided not to make a purchase and instead to put that money toward the debt.  Additionally, we "found" $300 in our bank account that we could safely afford to put toward the debt.  It felt really good to be able to move those pennies, even if it was just a small drop in the bucket, or jar, as it were.  Hopefully this is the start of some great momentum and we can start moving pennies like crazy.  I would love to be able to show the two jars at this time next year with all of the pennies moved.  How awesome would that be?

What financial goals do you have for the coming year?  Please share in the comments below.