I shared this over at our iAnthology site (an experimental online writing space for teachers in the National Writing Project) but I thought I would share it out here, too. I’ve been trying to create some sort of timeline (this is an idea that my friend, Susan, has talked about — documenting points of entry into the NWP) with digital tools of my life with the National Writing Project.
I worked for some time with Photostory, but the project just stalled out on me. And none of the online timeline makers seemed to do the trick. Yesterday, it dawned on me that my recent infatuation with Prezi might be worth pursuing for this project.
I’m still tinkering with it (there is too much text, I notice, and so viewing it full screen is best).
Next week, I begin teaching the young readers’ edition of Three Cups of Tea to my sixth graders. It’s a fantastic story of one man trying to change the world by building schools and connections in Pakistan and Afghanistan. I wish the writing in the book was as inspirational as the story – I find the language wooden and choppy. So I will stick to the craft of the story more than the craft of the writing with this one (as opposed to reading such novels as Tuck Everlasting or True Confessions of Charlotte Doyle or Watsons Go to Birmingham, where the writing just soars).
I’ve been trying to find resources for pre-reading — things that will help situate my students to the story before we crack the book. I thought it would be easier, but I must be looking in all the wrong places. Luckily, a recent Time for Kids magazine article was centered all around building schools for girls in developing nations (the article focused on Africa but we extended the discussions to Pakistan and Afghanistan) that will segue nicely into Three Cups of Tea.
So, I turned to my classroom and realized that in terms of at least one facet of the story — climbing mountains – I had an expert right in front of me: my paraprofressional, John M.
Yesterday, John brought in a ton of climbing gear and gave presentations to all four of my classes about the art of climbing mountains, the science of it (thin air, types of mountains, air speed, elevation, etc.) and an overview of the dangerous beauty of the K2 Mountain that starts the book.
Although John had prepared a simple powerpoint, I encourage him to let me work with him on a Prezi version, and he agreed. He was very impressed with Prezi and it worked nicely on the Promethean interactive board I have in my room. He had kids climbing into sleeping bags, helping use ropes to navigate a “climber” through the treacherous terrain of the classroom and pretending to use special boots with massive spikes to go up a mountain of ice in winter. It was great experiential learning within the confines of the classroom.
We also showed the students a few videos of climbers up on K2 and yet again, YouTube has shown itself to be a valuable resource for us as teachers. Where else would you get such stunning footage of climbers reaching the summit of K2 and views of the Himalayan mountains.
Afterwards, we showed them this interview with Greg Mortenson and his daughter about the Three Cups of Tea book and the Pennies for Peace project (which our fifth grade class has been sponsoring, after they read the book earlier this year).
One of the findings that stuck with me — the idea (again) that writing outside of school is more meaningful to many young people than the writing we are doing in school. How engaged are they?
Young people are ambivalent about their enjoyment of writing. 45% of young people surveyed said that they enjoy writing. However, enjoyment of writing is related to the type of writing being done. When young people were asked to rate their enjoyment of writing for family/friends and their enjoyment of writing for school separately, some differences emerged. Young people enjoyed writing for family/friends more than they enjoyed writing for school, with over two-thirds of young people enjoying writing for family/friends and only half enjoying writing for schoolwork. Most young people agree that they enjoy writing more when they can choose the topic (79%).
It does seem that we should be doing more inquiry-based research around the questions of students, writing and technology. But how? And what questions do we ask? How do we move forward to review whether technological tools can improve writing? I need some guidance here, if you have any thoughts on the matter. (Because, our Western Massachusetts Writing Project site is considering a research endeavor on these very issues).
Here, the study’s objectives were: to explore how much young people enjoy writing, what type of writing they engage in, how good at writing they think they are, what they think about writing and what the role of technology is in young people’s writing. This is all fine, but it is subjective, isn’t it? It’s opinion of the students and perceptions, not real data.
I was once again reminded this week of the power of YouTube as a place for archived videos. Here’s what I mean: my sixth graders have started our unit on theater writing for puppet shows (more on that another day). I like to show them views of the Muppets, Jim Henson’s wonderfully imagined world of incredibly characters. I can’t really waste 2 hours with a muppet movie, although sometimes we’ll watch a greatest hits collection of the Muppet Show if we can.
What I want is a fun and quick introduction. So, last week, bouncing around the Net is this new Muppets music video of Queen’s Bohemian Rhapsody, which is a hoot to watch (and it rocks!). I was looking for that video, when I came across the motherlode of muppet insights.
Someone has uploaded the entire documentary of a movie called Of Muppets and Men, which I have never been able to find on DVD or even VHS without having to spend about $100. That wasn’t going to happen. Yet here, on YouTube, is the entire movie — cut into pieces, of course. It’s pretty amazing, but then I stumbled on something just as good — a video of Jim Henson, Frank Oz and Michael Frith talking about the puppetry and character development of Kermit the Frog. My students were fascinated by the discussion. The video came at a perfect time because my students are just starting to flesh out their own characters and are beginning to construct their puppets in Art Class.
Here, then, are the two videos I showed the other day:
Meanwhile, my family used to watch a Muppets-Sesame Street video each year (a sort of tradition) called Muppets Family Christmas, but I only have it on VHS and again, it has not been available on DVD (and we don’t have a VHS player anymore since one of my sons jammed a Lego into it a few years back). I missed that movie. But … look … here is the entire move on YouTube. Man. Incredibly. (Of course, cuddling up in front of the computer is not like cuddling up in front of the television, is it? But the time is coming when all that tech will be integrated seamlessly, and then cuddling will just be cuddling, right?)
Peace (in the muppetville universe),
One of the comics I really love is Sheldon by Dave Kellet. I have it in my RSS reader and have bought a few of the book collections. It just cracks me up (the comic premise: a kid makes a fortune off a tech company but lives with his cranky grandfather and has a smarty-pants duck for a friend, who has a lizard for a son … yep. Zany.
So here, Dave shows us his process for making his comic. It’s a great look at a comic artist at work.
It’s been some time since I wrote about things I am reading, but if you are on the search for a good read-aloud for young and slightly older kids (mine are 5,9 and 11), the I would recommend any of the books in the Peter and the Starcatchers series. This collection is written by Dave Barry (yep, that Dave Barry) and Ridley Pearson and retells the story of Peter Pan in an incredibly rich and exciting way.
Basically, the book centers on magical Starstuff that falls from the sky and the battle between the good people (Starcatchers) and the bad (the Others) as they try to either keep the magic safe or use it for nefarious means. There are plenty of spooky scenes and characters. Although the books are published by Disney, the stories are not saccharine sweet. There is a menacing undercurrent through the stories.
What my own kids love is the multiple storylines that weave in and out of the books and the cliffhangers that end every chapter. They are always begging me to keep reading, which is good news when you have boys, right?
The latest book in the series — Peter and the Sword of Mercy — is just as good as the previous batch (which includes two shorter novels that center only on the Lost Boys and Captain Hook on Neverland Island). In this novel, the plot revolves around the broken tip of sword by Charlemagne, which can be used to open up a treasure trove of starstuff. Oh, and the new king of England is being controlled by the others. Plus, Molly — who helped Peter in the earlier books but is now a mother to three kids — has been kidnapped, and her daughter — Wendy — needs to help her.
The female characters here are just as strongly formed as the male ones, and in the earlier books, it was Molly who was the brains, smarts and courage of the adventures, while Peter was a flying boy (too much Starstuff ingested, in case you are wondering) with big ideas.
My students have just finished up an expository writing project in which they invent an Imaginary Land around a theme and then design a travel brochure to advertise the place. We talk about using writing for information, about design and about using your imagination. It’s a lot of fun and they do get carried away with it sometimes.