My Collaborator and Friend: Massachusetts Teacher of the Year

June brought some really wonderful news to our school. My good friend and collaborator on claymation/movie projects — Mike Flynn — was awarded the Massachusetts Teacher of the Year designation for 2007. Mike is a wonderful second grade teacher whose emphasis on hands-on learning, project-based explorations and embedded mathematics certainly puts him in a top tier of teachers I know.

Mike2For the past three years, his second graders and my sixth graders have worked together on claymation movies and it has been a pleasure to develop the project with Mike. He is insightful, flexible and moves towards recognition of the abilities of all the children in his room. Last year, Mike also joined me in presenting a workshop on moviemaking in the classroom at our Technology, Teaching and Writing Conference at UMass (sponsored in part by the Western Massachusetts Writing Project).

He is also a talented musician and he and I have played together as part of an old band of his and he has brought his talents to the stage at our school when I have helped our Student Council organize concerts for Katrina victims and the Asian tsunami disaster. Like me, he finds creative refuge in writing songs.

Mike deserves all of the accolades and is now in the running for National Teacher of the Year (where do I cram the ballot boxes?).

Peace (in celebration),

OnPoEvMo: In-Security, June 2007

The end of the school years allows me to think about my students in different ways and one of my students this year seemed to have so much potential is so many areas and yet could never refrain from tearing down everyone around her with biting words. So here is this student, wrapped up in my own poetic analysis as part of my One Poem Every Month for a Year project.

(June 2007)
Listen to the poem

Insecurity rages inside of you
you don’t curl up — you lash out —
words moving like daggers through the air
hitting the mark often
drawing blood in looks of surprise, and hurt,
and sadness,
yet bringing forth so little satisfaction
that you wonder why you do this —
drawing circles in the sand around you —
when all you really want is
someone to care about you.

Peace (with understanding),

Teachers Teaching Teachers: Musicians and Artists

I had the pleasure (yet again) of joining in on the Teachers Teaching Teachers show this past week with Paul Allison, Glen Bledsoe and Lee Babar, and while our intent was to talk about how things went this year with digital stories, the discussion quickly veered to how the arts can inform our teaching practice. I think we were in agreement that the arts can engage students in a variety of levels and that music, art, drama, etc, should be integrated into the regular classroom, and not just some “special” class.

We all talked about our backgrounds in music (‘cept for Paul) and Lee even pulled out her banjo and knocked out a few tunes. Very cool. Glen shared some of his electronic music compositions published through Magnatunes and explained a very interesting composition program that uses artwork to create music (still trying to get a handle on that one).  Time for a TTT Online Concert!

 Listen to the podcast of the show

Peace (in music),

My Dog, Bella

I was trying out a computer from the school where my wife and I will be running a claymation camp (but she just got promoted to Curriculum Coordinator at her school and won’t be around the camp much!!) and created this little movie of my dog, Bella, as she sits by the window all day, waiting for someone to bark at.

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Good Dog!

Peace (with kibbles),

Moving from Manila to Edublogs Premium

A few weeks ago, I wrote about my work with the Western Massachusetts Writing Project and our intent to use blogs more frequently. So far this year, through a generous grant from the National Writing Project, I have worked with almost 30 teachers and WMWP leaders to create their own blogs within Edublogs as a way to understand the potential and tinker with podcasting.

The second phase of that project is to establish a network of blog sites through our entire Massachusetts Writing Project network and we decided to contract with James Farmer and use his new Edublogs Premium account that allows us to create and administer our network, with James doing all the maintenance and upgrade work (Thanks, James!). Plus, everything will fall under the url/banner of a common MassWP web address.

In the past, we have used the Manila platform made available by the National Writing Project and we certainly appreciated the no-cost element to the blogs, but they just never caught on with our teachers, mostly due to the complexity of the platform. I used to see eyes rolling on the back of heads when I gave workshops. I am hopeful that Edublogs/Wordpress will be easier to use (it is) and more likely to become part of our network.

Our hope is that over time, a MWP/WMWP network of interconnected blogs begin to form and that first phase is the concept of online newsletters with rss feeds pulled together. We hope the blogs are not only for individual teachers, but also for the various programs within WMWP and MWP — such as Project Outreach, the Reading Initiative, and the English Language Learners network.

Here are some of the blogs I have established in the past month:

So far, so good.

Peace (with shifting platforms),

And finally … Stick Figure Movies

The last days of school for my sixth graders were spent working with a stick figure animation program and here are some of the movies they created:

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Peace (in frame),

Claymation Collaborations, part three

This is the final installment of the short clay movies from my classroom — all student-created and edited and produced.

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The movies here are:

  • Attack of the Evil Worm
  • A Day at the Beach
  • Bob and Super Cheetah in Invasion of the Mole People

Peace (in slowwwww mo),

Teachers Teaching Teachers: A Case Study

I took part in another Teachers Teaching Teachers show last night that focused in (after some tech difficulties with Skype) on one blogging post by a student of Paul Allison and the question of good examples of student writing. We didn’t get as deep into Paul’s case study as we would have all liked but it was still another interesting discussion around our expectations of student writing and how technology can play a role in those expectations. One interesting component of the show: a teacher from Australia was listening in and had two of his students talk about writing assignments that they thought were well-written, so we had some young voices in the mix.

PaulListen to the podcast

Also, be sure to check out Paul’s slideshow that highlights his young blogger working through a piece of writing.

Peace (with TTT),

Claymation Collaborations, part two

This is the second of three short claymation movies created by my sixth graders (in collaboration with second graders). I have one more movie to go, later this week. This first movie — The Haunted House — features some cool animation techniques (disappearing girl!).

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The stories are:

  • The Haunted House
  • Bowser’s Race Track

Peace (with monsters and cars),

Making Connections: Final Reflections

My big blogging project — Making Connections — is coming to a close and students and teachers are doing some reflecting on the experience. We had more than 200 middle school students from six different schools (targeted at rural and urban schools that are struggling) working on a variety of blogs. One wing did poetry, memoir writing, and friendly letters, while another wing (which I was part of) did shared science experiences and data collection and science-based fictional stories. The Making Connections project is funded through the National Writing Project.

Here are some student reflections:

“I like this weblog project. I like it because you got to communicate with other students. I liked doing all of the work for the blog. It was fun reading and responding to some work from students from other schools. Weblogging in school is very fun. I learned many things doing this project. I learned different kinds of ELA writings such as I poems. I learned how to use constructive criticism. I learned how to write better in the Blog project. I learned how to respond better to other students. I learned personal thing about my friends and classmates. I have learned a lot doing this Weblogging Writing Project.” – Mike

“I liked this project. I liked it because you can express yourself without getting bullied. Kids could write from the heart. So they could write without pressure on your back. By my calculations 90% of students in 99% of schools are not the way they make themselves seem to be. They could be really smart, but not want to show it because of popularity. I learned how to express myself. I was able to write about Megan without feeling mad or sad. I learned how to be a polite critic. I learned to say nice things about others.” — Rose

“I really liked this project. The best part of this project was when we got to write our different stories. Also another good part of this project was being able to use this to talk to some of your friends you don’t really talk too. It was a pretty fun project overall. This was one of the best projects I have ever done or been a part of. I learned how to read a little more carefully. I mean like being able to find any mistakes in the poems and if they had creativity or not. Also I learned that you can have fun with writing poems and stories. I also learned how to be a lot nicer to people than i used to be. I learned how to listen a lot better too.” – Nick

“I liked this project because I got to learn a lot of different things about computers. I also enjoyed the fact that I got to leave the classroom every now and then. Since we got to use the computers it made writing more fun for me. I liked this project because I got to talk to different people in different schools and grades. I learned a few things from this blogging project. One of the things I learned is to elaborate on certain topics. I also learned that are mean seventh graders who don’t answer the letters we wrote to them. This blogging project helped me to use better grammar, kind of. I learned how to give constructive criticism. Which was very helpful. That is some of the things I learned using this blogging project.” – Emily

“The project, Making Connections, lasted for months through the school year. I liked this project for many reasons. One was that it used technology and a different way of a school writing project in a good way. Another thing that I liked was that the writers got to use feeling into their writing and most of the writing entries were very good. Finally, another reason why I liked this writing project was that you got to interact with many schools in this area. They were also very creative writers and had similar and different opinions as I do. This is why I liked this project. I also have learned many things while using this blog. I learned how to use constructive tips and not hurtful ones. I have also learned that many writers feel the same way I do in some topics. I have also learned about many writing assignments and how to improve them. This is what I have learned from this project. “ — Jim

Here are some teacher reflections from a few who were new to the project this year and had no technology experiences prior to Making Connections:

“I have definitely furthered my technological knowledge through this project. I originally thought I would have some difficulty with the technology aspect, but was relieved to discover that it was relatively easy. I have learned a lot about blogging and how to connect writing and technology. I feel more confident with computer technology as a result of this project. I think my students have learned a great deal as well. They have learned how to blog appropriately and meaningfully, and they have gained technological skills. I think they also learned a lot just from reading about the personal experiences of older students involved in the project. Finally, they learned how to give both positive feedback and constructive criticism in their responses to posts.” Paula, Chicopee.

“I felt it was very important in the beginning of this project to get together as a group. We were able set timelines and goals for ourselves and the group, which was very important and helpful for me as a way of keeping focused and on track. However, sometimes time limitations and trying to work around so many peoples’ schedules made this difficult. One of the most productive professional development sessions happened during a scheduled leave day from school. This was an opportunity for us to spend a good amount of time together and actually utilize the computers and learn by doing, not just listening. . One of the easiest parts of the project was having each student post their own introduction. Students love using the computers. I think many students find writing on the computer easier than writing on paper and so we’re more willing to write and share more about themselves or respond to others. We have a mobile computer lab so each student is able to have his own computer. The only problem at times is access to the computer cart. Our school only had one cart at the time of this project and many teachers use this cart. It can be frustrating to know that you have a deadline and then not have access to the computers in order to meet this.”Lisa, Southampton.

I think the biggest goal that I had this year was to incorporate technology into the lesson modeling that I needed to do as an ELA coach. I was also concerned in the beginning as to the benefits of this project in terms of being a more effective way of writing than traditional. The students responded in a very positive manner to this project and I think that blogging made them forget their sometimes negative feelings about writing.”Michelle, Chicopee

Peace (in reflection),