Some Messages for Japan

As a small group of students and I work to organize a benefit concert to raise funds for Japan, I have been trying to keep them interested and knowledgeable and engaged in the aftermath of the earthquake and tsunami. We’re going to be working on paper cranes and more.

Recently, I brought our classes to a site created by Google called Messages for Japan that allows you to write a message to the people of Japan. The site automatically translates English into Japanese, and then pins the message on a global map. The kids were pretty interested in the language conversion (we talked then about how Google’s technology does that) and in reading other messages from around the world.

Here are some of our messages, and the conversion.

Peace (for the people of Japan),
Kevin

Now, where were we …

The Monday after spring vacation is always an odd day, as kids re-adjust to the routines even as they are staring at the end of the school year not long down the road (I think, for us, in about eight weeks). And let’s face it: it’s a bit odd for me, too, to get back into my rhythm of teaching.

As usual, I was up way too early, thinking about the day’s plans and how to engage them back into our work. I decided we’re going to hold off for a day on digging into the sections of the novels they were to read over vacation (The Watsons Go to Birmingham and The True Confessions of Charlotte Doyle) since I know there are going to be some who did not read or did not remember to bring their books home. This gives them an extra night to catch up before we head into the center of both stories.

We will likely spend a bit of time working on our graphic organizer for our Environmental Essay Project as I work with them on organizing thoughts on the wide range of topics they have chosen to write about.  Later this week, the real writing begins and I want them to have as many organizational strategies as we can muster to keep them focused.
Student Topics Environmental Essay

So, what will we do, then?

Poetry.

I won’t get to our official poetry writing/reading unit for another few weeks, but still — it is April. I think what I will do is pull out Walt Whitman’s O Captain, My Captain and read it to them. We used a Time for Kids article before vacation to learn more about the Civil War and we talked a lot about President Lincoln’s role, and assassination.  (And who can resist the classic scene in The Dead Poet’s Society, right? Poetry is of the heart).

And then, I am going to pull out some of our Poems for Multiple Voices, and see what kind of cacophony of words and voices we can create with poetry as a class. (And in a bit of a connection to my book review the other day of Practical Poets, I have a whole collection of poems for two voices that celebrate mathematical ideas which are a hoot to read.)

We’re easing back into learning …

Peace (after the break),
Kevin

Ewan McIntosh: Seven Spaces of Technology

The Seven Spaces of Technology in School Environments from Ewan McIntosh on Vimeo.

This is a fascinating look at the concept of “spaces” when it comes to technology and learning. Ewan McIntosh really brings is into the ecology of the mind with his presentation.

He lays out:

  • Secret Spaces
  • Group Spaces
  • Publishing Spaces
  • Performing Spaces
  • Participation Spaces
  • Data Spaces
  • Watching Spaces

It’s worth watching the video and reading his blog post because it forces you to draw back and see the classroom from other angles.

Peace (in this space),
Kevin

Bored? Make a Stopmotion Movie!

My six year old made this movie, mostly by himself, the other day when his calls of being bored got to me. I helped with the technical aspects but he designed the set, shot most of the video, and came up the story idea. He then watched it about 25 times in a row and is very proud of his movie. I love that the tools are such that even a six year old can imagine themselves a movie producer and then go and produce a movie (without any of those pesky actors to deal with, either.)

Peace (in the frames),
Kevin
PS — If you want to learn more about stopmotion movies, check out my website resource Making Stopmotion Movies.

Earth Day, Animated through the Years

I showed this video to my students last week as they were getting ready for April vacation and moving into an environmental writing project. My co-teacher and I laughed a the t-shirts in the piece, but my students had no idea why we were laughing.

Peace (in the history),
Kevin

Book Review: Practical Poetry (across the curriculum)

Just in time for the push of Common Core curriculum alignment by our state, and many other states, Sara Holbrook’s Practical Poetry: A Nonstandard Approach to Meeting Content-Area Standards is, well, practical and useful and full of interesting ways to merge poetry with math, science and social studies. I was lucky enough to receive this book from Lisa, thanks to a poetry contest she held at her blog (Effective Teaching Solutions), and the other night, as my son was in basketball practice, I dove in.

Holbrook is a poet who has gone into many classrooms to work with students, and her insights are valuable around the ways that poetry can engage and connect writers with various elements of curriculum, without making it boring. This is creative learning.

She notes that poetry is one of those topics that seem to be left out of discussions around curriculum change, particularly as we move into more expository writing (ie, the Common Core) and leave more narrative writing behind. But she lays out a strong case for keeping poetry alive and well in our schools.

She argues that writing poetry:

  • jogs the memory
  • demands keen observation
  • requires precise language
  • stimulates good communication skills
  • encourages good organizational skills
  • encourages reading fluency
  • helps us learn about ourselves and our world
  • is a powerful language all of its own

While she begins with a look at the Language Arts classroom, she then shifts gears into how to bring poetry ideas into math, science and social studies in meaningful ways. While she acknowledges that some might scratch their head on these connections, she patiently lays out her rationale for each subject area, gives specific lesson plans and provides many student and her own exemplars.

When it comes to math, for example, she notes that both mathematicians and poets have similar intent: “We look for patterns in the world. We attempt to find a pattern that we can apply in order to define the unknown. We first look at nature as a whole and then attempt to break it down into parts. We use symbols to represent the unknown while we are in the process of defining terms, and we use comparative techniques to communicate with one another (58).”

I love that.

In science, she does something similar, but with physics. “Poetry’s mission is to understand the universe — physics’ mission is the same. Both condition the mind to search for an answer, to stimulate imagination, to look beyond the status quo. The arts and sciences are intertwined more than either side seems to want to admit (92).”

Again, I love that.

And in the field of social studies, she notes that the lens at which we make sense of the social and political and geographical contours of our lives and the lives of others also connects with poetry.

“And nothing gets a poet’s pen twitching quite as quickly as a good controversy. At the heart of every change or conflict in the written history of the world has been some bothersome poet spouting off on one side or another. The personal quality of a poem makes all those dates and events not only more interesting but more memorable. Poems are letters and snapshots from the past – ‘original source documents’ ; they’re like reading someone else’s mail versus reading a telephone directory. And memorable is definitely an advantage when test time comes around. (128)”

Yes, she hovers around our testing society and what that often means for creative writing, and again, she strongly makes the case that poetry is another way to help students achieve on standardized testing by moving beyond the drill-kill methods. There are ways to meet curriculum standards AND still spark creativity in our students. We need to remember that.

My sixth  class will soon be moving into poetry and I am going to have Holbrook’s book of ideas right on my desk. I also will be bringing it to meetings I am sure we are going to be having next year as we re-configure our district’s curriculum map to align with Common Core. I don’t want to lose poetry, and Holbrook’s Practical Poetry may help me make my case.

Peace (in the poetry),

Kevin

The Case for Video Games


Let me start out by saying that, as  father, I worry that my own kids are playing video games too much. As soon as I say that, I sound like an old fogey who wants to give them the boot out the door and say, “find some friends, don’t get into trouble and come back for lunch.” As a technology teacher, though, I see the value in some games (not all) and so I often have this conflict between parent and teacher in me.

So I was intrigued by the article in Edutopia by Dr. Judith Willis, a neurologist, about gaming. In “A Neurologist Makes the Case for the Video Game,” Willis look s at the phenomenon from the perspective of the brain. She talks about the dopamine flow that comes from challenges and success, the adaptive skills that come from solving problems in games, and the incremental feedback (the progress bar) that drives players forward through intrinsic reinforcement.

Willis then shifts her piece to the classroom, making connections with the merits of video gaming with establishing a system of learning. She notes that frequent check-ins, individualized goals and success, and reflective practice are all elements of gaming that could come into play (pun alert) in education.

Classroom instruction that provides opportunities for incremental progress feedback at students’ achievable challenge levels pays off with increased focus, resilience, and willingness to revise and persevere toward achievement of goals. The development of students’ awareness of their potentials to achieve success, through effort and response to feedback, extends far beyond the classroom walls. Your application of the video game model to instruction encourages the habits of mind through which your students can achieve their highest academic, social, and emotional potentials. — Willis

Does this mean we should rush to set up video games on all the computers in our classroom? No. But it does point again to re-thinking a natural response that “games are bad” and “that’s too much screentime.” Even so, I will be sending my kids outside today for a few hours. The sun is finally out, and they need the fresh air. Some things never change.

Peace (in the gaming),
Kevin

Making My Illuminated Text Poem

(an updated version — with audio)

A Warning: An Illuminated Poem from Mr. Hodgson on Vimeo.

I was asked by a few people yesterday how I created the illuminated poem I shared yesterday. So, I am trying to step back a bit and reflect on how I went about it and the choices I made in the composition process. A version of this post will also be on the National Writing Project’s Digital Is site.

First of all, I began my day at Bud’s site, where he had an image of warning signs and a few lines of a prompt for a poem. I also had it in the back of my mind that I wanted to explore how to do a simplified Illuminated Text project. As I mentioned yesterday, it was through some colleagues at the National Writing Project’s Digital Is site that gave some insights, some inspiration and a direction for me to proceed into this unknown terrain.

The writing came first, although I wrote the poem knowing that I would be using the text in some sort of animated project. I worried less about more poetic elements such as meter and rhyme and flow, and more about the message of the poem. The theme put forth by Bud was a warning, and I knew I wanted it to be about shaking up life to get to the things that are important. The lines came fairly easily, and I was revising them as I was creating the project. The last line was most important to me, and I changed it a few times to get it to how I wanted it.

Next, I opened up Powerpoint. I’ve done lessons around animation with Powerpoint before with my students, although it has been some time since I dabbled in there myself. I decided to use a plain white background, and to use just one single slide. This narrowed my working space and limited some choices, but that was fine. I debated the black-text on white-background, and even tried some other colors. In the end, I liked the simplicity of the design. I wish I had more time to spend with font, though. I feel as if that area of text choice might be more deliberate than I was.

I then slowly added each line of the poem as text boxes. Here, though, I made some decisions about which words should be separated from the line — which words should be their own individual block of text.  The word “go” seemed to need to move, right?  And I wanted to make the word “door” its own text, as if it were a doorway of sorts.  The stacking idea came later, as the text became the door. I knew that later, these planned separation of text would give me more flexibility in the animation. I didn’t want too many words like this. Instead, I tried to break off pieces that had meaning on their own in the lines of the poem.

Once the words were there, then I began the rather difficult task of animating the words and lines. There were about 20 pieces of animation in the poem, and synchronizing them to work one after another, or in tandem, took some time and trial-and-error. I wish I could say that I was very, very deliberate in every movement that I chose. For some lines, I was very purposeful.  The line that ends “shake it up” was a line I wanted to shake up — connecting the visual to the words. For others, I wanted it only to look good. I’m not sure why I made one line vertical, and then added multiple “open it” texts around the piece. I had some vague concept of the phrase making connections with the poem. I don’t think it worked, even though it looks cool, visually (although I should have staggered it more). In fact, not every animation here is completely in sync with the meaning of the text it animates.

More than once, I made some mistakes in the animation design and had to step back in time, and rework the sequence and flow. This is where the structural weakness of Powerpoint came into play — it is not designed for this kind of project, I concluded. The management overview of my workflow was weak. But I always like the idea of using a platform for something other than what it was designed for.

I knew I wanted to convert the Powerpoint into a video, and I have this software program that I bought a few years ago to do that. But I guess I hadn’t updated it recently, and it would only create a video with a watermark. I didn’t want that, and so I turned to the web. I found the AuthorStream site, which converts slides to video and then kicks out an embed code and hyperlink. I wasn’t happy, to be honest, because I didn’t want to the poem to be silent. But I could not find a way to add audio with the site.

Later in the day, I finally figured out how to update my Powerpoint conversion software. I took that raw video, and dumped it into MovieMaker, where I added some music from Freeplay Music. Then, I added in a narration audio track, which is what I wanted all along. I want voice in my poems. The result is pretty decent, and I could not host it myself at my Vimeo video site, which I am now doing.

Given the limits of the tools I used, I am pretty happy with the results. I think the technology helped make the poem very different than I would have been as just lines on the page. The animation, and the choice of words that get animated, and the sequencing of animation — plus the audio tracks — really make this a very different kind of poem.

Could I replicate this in the classroom? Yes. It would require time and mini-lessons around the deeper levels of Powerpoint — particularly around structuring a page of animated text (which requires organizational skills) — but on a smaller scale, this is doable. And there is no real need for the conversion to video, either. You can add audio right into Powerpoint slides and share the project out as a PP Show. The quality is not as good, in my experience, but it is workable.

What do you think?

Peace (in the poems),
Kevin

Warning: An Illuminated Poem

For a while now, I have been interested in the idea of “illuminated text” and how to create a project that uses this concept. Over at the NWP Digital Is site, Elyse has been offering suggestions on how one might proceed. She suggested Powerpoint might be one cheap option (and gave a link to a site with various projects that might be models), and a light went off in my head. Of course!

This morning, for Bud’s poetry prompts ( with the concept of a “warning” as the theme), I dove into Powerpoint and using just a single slide, with custom animation, created this poem. I converted it to a video online with Authorstream. I wanted to add music, but it didn’t quite work right. (And I am a little frustrated that a software program that I bought a few years ago to convert PP to video no longer seems to work right.)

So it is a silent poem.

And here is a screenshot of my Powerpoint, just to give an idea of the complexity of animation. Still, I think this could be done with students, on a smaller scale.
Illuminated poem screenshot
Peace (in the poem that moves),
Kevin

Poems All Over the Place

I write poetry throughout the year, but April rolls around and suddenly I am writing every day because so many of my friends and connections are also writing poems. They inspire me. Since the start of the month, I have been writing just about every day with Bud the Teacher, who posts an image as a writing prompt. I’ve also been sharing the poems, and others, over at our iAnthology network for National Writing Project folks. And I have been dabbing with Twitter-sized poems and Prezi poems, and more. In many cases, I have also been using Cinch to podcast my poems (see my Cinch site to listen to poems)

I’m not going to say that all of the poems are very good. A few are just a possible start towards something else. A few are written, posted and then discarded (recycled?). Here, then, are a few poems from the last two weeks that I think have some legs.

First, Lisa posted a call for poems about teaching on Twitter and her blog site, and I wrote this one not long after our standardized testing. I call it “The Muted Mind” because I was trying to get inside the head of a particular student.

Second, in the iAnthology, I was having a discussion with someone about ee cummings and the off-beat style of poetry. When Bud posted an image about “play,” I decided to play with a poem myself.
Playtime Poetry
This is a haiku that I wrote on the first day of April, hoping for warmer days.

Springtime whispers love
I sit here waiting for you:
a flower, blooming

One day, Bud posted an image of the Periodic Table of Elements. Here is what I came up.

Atomic Structure

electrons fuel me
as i circle around you;
where you desire equilibrium,
i desire movement;
they say i am nothing
but negative energy,
as if i am sucking the life
out of you;
they say you encompass
the positive energy,
as if that were the path
that lights the way forward;
we know better:
you are what fuels me
and I am what fuels you
and no chart on the wall will ever
uncover the magic of that.

Also on the iAnthology, a weekly writing prompt asked us to the concept of Hate with metaphor. This was difficult and I had trouble finding a way in. I decided to use Prezi again, and center my ideas around a giant version of the word Hate, and then end with a positive message.

And finally, this poem is inspired by the circular nature of math — a sort of poem that folks in on itself. It’s a Mobius Strip of words.

(start at the end)…. the particles
of the chalkdust that appear to be
rising exponentially,
mathematically creating wonders
that only imagination might otherwise
discover ….

…. i arrive at the chalkboard
in order to hold you off
with your rectangular eraser
so that my calculations and your expectations
might find a way to resolve
themselves …..

…. instead, the quarry of calculation eludes us,
so i stumble back through the cloud
to find my seat,
watching the sunlight from the window
reflect and refract inside … (return to the start)

What poems are you writing?

Peace (in the words),
Kevin