Greek Drama for the Short Set

Last night was one of those turning moments for us as our youngest child took part in a “graduation ceremony” at his preschool — the same place where his older brothers went and the same place where we have been very connected for at least the past eight years. It’s unusual in that the little guy had the same two teachers — Paul and Scott — that his older brother had during his year at the school. They are dynamic teachers and bring out the best in kids.

Last night, as part of the ceremony, the preschool class (which had been learning about Greek Myths all year) put up a stage production of some Greek Myth stories, toned down to the appropriate level. It was very cool. My son was Poseidon, making the waters swell by shaking a blue cloth up and down. I love how Paul and Scott make these classic stories come alive for the little minds and then let the kids help produce the play. It was beautiful chaos.

Now he leaves that school and enters another one next year as a kindergarten student. He’s ready but we will miss our preschool.

Peace (in the transition),

Yet Another Pew Report: State of Online Video

Man. The Pew Research group is a busy lot, and what they keep presenting us with as data around technology is fascinating. I certainly appreciate it. The latest report is about the use of online video.

Read The State of Online Video.

Here are a few highlights (my comments are in italics):

* Seven in 10 adult internet users (69 percent) have used the internet to watch or download video. That represents 52 percent of all adults in the United States. But while young people continue to be the most active age group in this category, the gap is shrinking. The same is true for the gender gap, as more women are sharing and watching online videos than in previous Pew surveys.

* Comedy or humorous videos rose in viewership from 31 percent of adult internet users in 2007 to 50 percent of adult internet users; news was the second most-popular category, with 43 percent of adults saying they watched such videos, compared with 37 percent in the earlier survey. This is no surprise. The most viral of videos are often short, funny ones. That’s human nature, I guess.

* Educational videos rose in viewership from 22 percent to 38 percent of adult internet users. This indicates to me that teachers are making inroads into using technology and video, either for sharing or for learning. In either case, the numbers here are likely to grow as social networking sites make it easier and easier for the sharing of videos. I think a lot of teachers are stymied by the “how” to share videos, not the making of them.

* Movies or TV show videos rose in viewership from 16 percent to 32 percent of adult internet users.

* Political videos rose in viewership from 15 percent to 30 percent of adult internet users.

* One in seven adult internet users (14 percent) has uploaded a video to the internet, almost double the 8 percent who were uploading video in 2007. Home video is the most popular content by far, shared by 62 percent of video uploaders. And uploaders are just as likely to share video on social networking sites like Facebook (52 percent) as they are on more specialized video-sharing sites like YouTube (49 percent).

It’s clear that video content is growing and that with no-frills cameras like the Flip and others, it is easier than ever to make movies and share them. And I think the quality of videos is getting better, even though there is a still a lot of crap out there.

Peace (in the data),

Looking in on Student Stopmotion Movies

Some of my student groups are nearing completion of their stopmotion movie projects. I was out the other day, which puts a wrench in the timeline because a sub can’t do technical support, so progress is slow. Still, most are working on creating soundtrack music and then the next step is pulling it all together. Friday is our deadline. That’s tomorrow. Yikes.

Here are a few scenes from three movies that were completed.

Peace (in the show),

Where is the vision? interviewing principals

Last night, I was part of a community meeting at our neighborhood school where my sons go (not where I teach) to interview the two finalists for principal. This is important to me because my youngest starts kindergarten there next year and the school has been sort of rudderless since our last principal left and an interim (now, for two years) was put in place by our superintendent.

Let me say, I was underwhelmed by both candidates, and that is frustrating to me.

Both finalists  seemed like hard-working people with rich backgrounds in working with kids, although their strengths were clearly in opposite sides of the spectrum. One finalist is very child-centered (coming from an ESL background) while the other was about discipline and school climate (currently an administrator in that sort of position).

I paid careful attention to the vision they had for the school, particularly around literacy. One mentioned that they like the concept of writing workshop and Lucy Calkins, but didn’t convince me that they had an idea or plan for moving those ideas into the entire school. This finalist did talk about expanding texts beyond the basil readers now in use (good) but gave no specifics about how that would be done or what that would look like.

The other finalist talked about the use of personal narratives for students (good) but did not articulate a vision that put that kind of writing at the center of a vision. This finalist also danced across the line of criticizing Response to Intervention (RTI) until the superintendent informed him that the school uses RTI. (My thought: why didn’t this person ask about programs before this interview?)

I don’t know.¬† Neither seems the kind of visionary our school needs, but then again, it is tough being principal these days and maybe the pool is shallower than I thought. Our last principal had clear visions, but she ruffled a lot of feathers along the way. Me? I say, ruffle them if it means improving the school.

Pet peeve: one of the finalists talked in educational jargon, peppering their answers with acronyms. I had to stop them a few times and ask them to explain what they were talking about for parents not well-versed in it.  (remember, now, this is an unknown audience member interrupting them, asking to explain the concepts they were using in their answers). While a friend of mine later said this jargon speak was not a big deal for her, to me it indicated no sense of audience, and I wondered how that might translate into how they deal with teachers.

Peace (in the frustration),

Finding Pieces of the Writing Puzzle

Sometime last year, just after the collapse of my band (The Sofa Kings), I had this vision of creating something different now that I was not attached to a group. The new project would be a story of a life of a character told through freeform poetry and original songs and it would stretch from childhood to senior citizen. Although it is never named, the character suffers from a variety of Asperger’s, which makes it difficult for him to connect with the world around him.

But there is this girl ….

The poems came quickly and formed the spine of the story. I began working on songs to go with it and for some time, I was collaborating with a friend on some recordings. That didn’t seem to gell and we both abandoned the project and, except for now and then, our collaboration (on friendly terms).

I shelved the whole thing for a few months because I was tired of it and needed some space. This week, I returned to the story and began doing some recording myself, trying to lay down tracks for the 12 or so songs and recording the podcasts of the poems. I felt as if I were stepping back into an old book.

But I still foresee a narrative problem with the story. There are too many gaps. I purposely have left many holes in the life story because I want the reader/listener to have to reach and think and come to their own conclusions. But I noticed too many holes and wondered what to do. This is part of what led me to step away earlier this year.

Yesterday, I had one of those “why didn’t I think of that before” moments and realized that the voice of the girl was missing and that she could be used to shine a light from another perspective. Her story is being written in prose, as short fiction pieces.

I feel happy to have found a solution to a vexing problem and am viewing the character swirling around in my head.

Peace (in the solution),

Talking Webcomics on Teachers Teaching Teachers

A few weeks ago, I took part in an interesting discussion on Teachers Teaching Teachers about the use of webcomics in the classroom. Among the guests were two of the guys from Bitstrips, which is a site that I have been toying around with lately and like. (I’ll be using it this summer for a youth Webcomic Camp).

Take a listen to the hour-long TTT show, if you have time.

TTT:Talking Comics

Peace (in the frames),


What I think …

This post combines two pieces that I pulled together recently — one for a mini-grant proposal from a teaching website and another for the YPulse Wired Teaching Award (where I was a finalist).

For the minigrant, I was asked to write about what I think about “21st Century Readiness” and also, if I were to a video documenting my thoughts, what would it look like?

My thoughts:

Young people compose all of the time, although it often happens outside of our classroom. They are texting in short-hand language that some adults find unnerving. They are surfing the Net. They are creating and sharing videos. They are “reading” video games and navigating information, and then using that information to inform the “story” of the game. Some are on Facebook and other social networking sites. Unfortunately, many educators don’t view this world as composing and writing. They erect walls between home and school. But I see this world outside of school as a possibility for learning that we cannot ignore. If my students are to be ready for the future, then they need to understand the platforms and networks which are they use. A readiness for 21st Century means being taking a critical stance, understanding the world in the midst of technological change, and adapting in order to achieve goals and success. As teachers, we have to realize that the exact skills we teach right now might not be applicable in the future. But if we can educate our students on how to work with others (even in online spaces, beyond a physical proximity); how to use inquiry as a path forward towards understanding; how to use technology for their own means; and how to always be critical and asking questions, then we have done much to prepare them for the world they are entering. Readiness for the 21st Century means being unafraid of challenges that come with the world of digital media.

My movie idea:

My video story would begin with a bored student leaving school after a day of five-paragraph essay writing, and as soon as they hit the doors, they immediately take out some mobile device and the frame shows them composing a long message. We follow this young person around through the rest of the day (outside of school) as they use digital media and technology in authentic ways: making a video; using apps on a mobile device for some authentic purpose; composing and recording a mash-up song; etc. I imagine that the video story could also show a teacher opening up their eyes to the possibilities of what this student is doing, and turning to the student as a class leader to help develop a project that engages the class, so that the traditional writing activity (essay) is coupled with other possibilities (persuasive video, podcasts, etc.)

The YPulse Award asked us to contribute a short video on advice that we would give for educators when it comes to using technology. Here is my one-minute take on urging folks to get their own hands dirty before they bring a tool into the classroom.

Peace (in the sharing),