Amy's Whimsical Musings

Mozilla Webmaker Fellows: Popcornmaker for Language Learning

In a previous post, I mentioned that I’ve been working with Mozilla as one of their first “Webmaker Fellows”, testing out remix tools they’ve created to allow users to move from consumer to creator. Although I could have dallied with Thimble or Goggles, I decided to specialize in Popcornmaker, particularly because I have found it very useful in my high school courses.

The two projects I developed were slightly inspired by Mystery Science Theatre 3000 – a cheeky series I watched in the early 1990s.

Here is an example of their brilliant commentary:

I got to thinking that pretty much everyone is attempting to learn a foreign / second language, and that there are a lot of language teachers out there who could really take advantage of Remix culture and available media by having students annotate video in the target language. The go-to idea would be direct translation, but that does not lend itself to “higher-order thinking”, nor is it especially fun. So, inspired by the sarcasm and wit of Mystery Science Theatre 3000, I designed a project where students could challenge themselves to really “think” in the language they are learning and add clever commentary, subtext, speech and thought bubbles. It is VERY difficult to be witty and humourous in in your non-native tongue.


I really wanted to use the 1927 classic silent film METROPOLIS as a base since it is in the public domain and so completely bizarre. This is where I ran into a MAJOR PROBLEM – the film was simply too long (over 2 hours!) for Popcornmaker to handle. After some troubleshooting I scrapped the full version and trimmed it, hoping remixers would still have enough material to add to (since I only did the first 15 minutes or so).

A German teacher friend of mine came up with some clever text as if he were playing the role of a German language student (as well as the English translation, since I knew this would be shown as an example). After a while I realized I needed a few more quips, so I engaged the help of my conveniently German exchange students!). They really got a kick out of the whole thing and thought the film was quite entertaining, so I think it might be a successful activity. this really could be done in any language and remixed by various student in the classroom or on a more global, collaborative scale.

Screen Shot 2013-09-26 at 11.25.45 PM



My second idea was along the same premise but instead of a silent film, use a crazy ’80s music video! I picked Men Without Hats “Safety Dance” because, well…you’ll see.

This version is done as if I were a student of Spanish (again, I received much needed help from an actual Spanish teacher friend). We purposefully did not add text to the entire video, hoping viewers would understand they could remix and add to the original project.

TIP : be sure to check timing of the speech bubbles as well as the direction of the “tail” – Popcorn allows you to manipulate that.

Screen Shot 2013-09-26 at 11.51.26 PM


3 comments on “Mozilla Webmaker Fellows: Popcornmaker for Language Learning

  1. eflnotes
    September 27, 2013

    that’s some great ideas. i did a similar annotation exercise a while back. (

    the reactions of sts were mixed – some felt they could have done annotations just as well in youtube.

    have not used popcorn maker in a while so maybe a lot of issues have been ironed out?


    • amyburvall
      September 27, 2013

      They are working on the bugs, but Popcornmaker allows for more types of annotations than YouTube can offer, plus you can pull in maps and Wiki pages, for example.

  2. Pencil Led
    October 25, 2013

    This is pretty cool. Looks like it would also give you a genuine look at the humor and slang, if native speakers are inputting these quips. Right now I’m learning with BRIC Language Systems, but these annotated videos are something I’ll be searching for to further my learning.

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