The Roc: A Cool Music Loop Creator

Here’s another free tool in the Aviary suite of tools: Roc. It allows you to create short loops and I had blast working with it yesterday. I think the loops you create here can later be added into the Myna audio editor (note to self: check on that).

The interface is built on the idea of dragging tracks to the editing station, where you then click your mouse to add “beats” of that sound to the loop, so you can visually see the sounds you are layering (sort of like a musical cake, but not quite as filling).

Here is what I created:

Peace (in the roc),

A “Play”-ful Artifact of My Beliefs

As I get ready to head off as  a teacher-leader of the New Literacies Initiative next week in Cambridge, MA,that is sponsored by our state Department of Education and features some bigwigs in the field, we are being asked to bring an “artifact” that represents our views on learning and working with teachers.

I thought about how I might do that. Honestly, I wasn’t interested in bringing a digital piece of work. It seems disjointed to have an artifact as a file on my computer. Or am I caught in some conundrum of the digital world of wanting something that doesn’t exist in my hand? No, I want something physical. But what? What represents my views? (And what is easy to travel with?)

It dawned on me that I could bring a Wiki Stix dude, which symbolizes (for me) the use of “play” with students in the classroom and with teachers during professional development sessions that I lead. I always view the work and learning through the prism of having time to play and explore. With teachers, that time set aside in a session is invaluable. Often, we teachers are lectured to by PD folks and then told to implement, but we rarely are given time to just explore a tool or technique or whatever.

Just like kids, adults need time to play around, and through that sense of play, we can try to figure out the possibilities of a tool or idea for the classroom.  If I want my students to make movies, I should be making movies, too. If I want my students to create a collaborative document, then I should, too. Glogging? Podcasting? All of it — I do it, too, so that I can share my experiences with my young learners.

My Wiki Stix guy — OK, I need a name here — is a representation of that concept because if you put some of this bendable material (often, I have used clay) in someone’s hands, it is unlikely they will be able to resist the urge to “create” something and that is what learning is all about.

I’m interesting in seeing what the other folks bring and whether or not my off-kilter artifact will fit right in. Or not.

Peace (in the sharing),

Teaching Online Reading Habits

Here is an area that I am weak in as a teacher — how to successfully guide students to read accurately and appropriately on task and with clear reading intent when it comes to online documents that integrate multimedia, hyperlinks and more. I was thinking about this yesterday as I was reading through a research article co-written by Dr. Donald Leu, who is one of the main leaders of a New Literacies Institute that I am taking part in next week as a teacher-leader.

The article is entitled New Literacies and Online Reading Comprehension and it quite interesting. The authors note how quickly the world of literacy has changed, and how we don’t really know all that much about how young people are learning not just to navigate content online, but how to read and comprehend the information there. Like many of you, I talk to my students about authenticity of content — to be critical readers online — but I don’t often guide them through how to read a webpage or a multimedia document.

Why is that? Do I think they just know how to do it? (a rationale that too many of us teachers make when it comes to kids and technology) I don’t make the same assumptions when it comes to thinking about theme and character development and point of view when it comes to our novels? Why don’t I do the same for the world where they spend most of their time — the online space?

The authors of this study adapted a reading comprehension strategy called Reciprocal Teaching, which has steps that move from teacher-centered work towards independent student work, and it seems to center around making reading comprehension strategies visible through talk-outs and other activities. Their Internet Reciprocal Teaching method does the same, through guided reading and questions around online reading activities with a push towards student inquiry around what they are reading.

In the article, the authors point to the difficulty of assessment, but give out two resources. The formative assessment tool known as Formative Assessment of  Students’ Emerging Knowledge of Internet Strategies (FASEKIT). It is referenced here in this book, but I could not find an actual tool online (kind of odd, eh?). This has to do with students verbalizing the strategies they use when they go online to read or encounter text. A performance-based assessment can also be developed along the lines of multiple choice and short response answers, according to the authors, who cite the ORCA test as one model (which I am not familiar with, but may be in line with the concept of the Fountas & Pinnell Benchmark System?)

So, I look forward to chatting with Dr. Leu next week and maybe, even as a teacher-leader at the institute, I need to come up with my own action plan that puts some of these ideas into motion for next year.

Peace (in the mulling of ideas),

Woodcarving as Lessons of Life

This is the tenth year that our art teacher has been able to secure funds to bring a local woodcarver to our school to work with the entire sixth grade on a large project that is their “legacy” to our school. It is such a phenomenal concept — getting kids to learn about art while using their hands to create something majestic and beautiful.

But Elton Braithwaite, originally from Jamaica, turns it into something more. He teaches them about life — about hard work, and success, and disappointment, and about keeping a focus on the goal. He inspires our students beyond the woodcarving project, and he reaches kids who are often difficult to reach with that message.

Meanwhile, the carving is done in the cafeteria, so the entire school has a view of the work underway, inspiring the rest of the students and creating a positive spotlight on the sixth graders. It’s fantastic.

This short video documentary is part of a larger DVD project that I did over the course of the week for our art teacher so she can show our PTO what their generous donation and funding of Elton has done for the school and the students. The art they are making this year is part of a multi-year project around the Arts and the six panelled woodcarving will eventually hang over the school stage.

Peace (in the arts),


WMWP Colleague is Mass Teacher of the Year

(Wilma Ortiz, on the left, with friend, Karen)

Yesterday, I received the news that a colleague of mine in the Western Massachusetts Writing Project has been chosen as the 2010 Massachusetts Teacher of the Year. Wilma Ortiz, who works at a local middle school, certainly deserves the recognition. She is compassionate and passionate about kids, particularly around English Language Arts. She will be a fierce advocate for social justice, too, and for making sure that the issues of equity will be in the minds of all the audiences she addresses.

Of that, I am sure.

See the news article about Wilma and another article

Peace (in inspiration),

Writing and Singing Songs with Students

Listen to “I Fall Apart”

We’ve been working on songwriting this week in class. I usually do it right on the tail end of poetry, but I pushed it off and almost did not get to it this year until one particular student kept asking, and asking, and asking until I realized: he really wants to learn about writing songs! So, here we are, working on songwriting.

We analyzed some lyrics this week and listened to music, cranking it up on the whiteboard speakers. I chose Kris Allen’s Live Like We’re Dying and Goo Goo Dolls’ Better Days and Green Day’s Good Riddance (Time of Your Life), which we also sang together with me on my acoustic guitar. These three songs speak well to developing a “theme” and follow a traditional “verse chorus” pattern. I tell my kids to listen closely to their favorite songs and notice the techniques of writing — structurally and also, as a piece of writing.

Yesterday, I shared with them a song that I wrote earlier this year in the aftermath of Haiti. The song — called “I Fall Apart” — is told from the view of a character whose love is trapped in the rubble, and the character is telling them that it will be all right, even as they fear the worst. I then handed out my lyrics, with notes on some ideas that I wanted to draw their attention to, from the writer standpoint. Then, I performed for them. (They mostly seemed appreciative)

We then moved into a song that I wrote a few years ago. This song — “Just Believe” — has a missing verse, and their job is to write it and then, next week, to sing it with me. I have my electric guitar, amps, PA system, and drum machine in the front of the room, and I use all of my cajoling skills to get everyone up there to sing into the microphone, even if they can’t sing. I tell them, this may be your only chance to play with an electric guitarist and sing words you wrote.

Yeah — I wish I had had a teacher who had done that.

Peace (in the muse),

Some Reflective Thoughts on Stopmotion and Students

Yesterday, all of my students watched a DVD of our short stopmotion movies that were created around themes of Figurative Language. Well, not all. A few of the movies are still not done, but another teacher has the laptops for a stretch, and I am not even sure if those uncomplete projects will get done before the school year ends on us.

Not one of my students had ever tried to make a stopmotion movie before, so this was new territory for all of them.

I’ve been thinking about the project and had some reflections about what worked and what didn’t work.

Completely Hooked and Completely Engaged: There is no doubt in my mind that bringing moviemaking, including stopmotion, into the classroom is a huge hit with most students. During the two week stretch — from storyboarding to editing — almost every single student was fully engaged in what they were doing. They were jazzed about making a movie and they rushed into the classroom every day, wanting to get started. You can’t beat that kind of enthusiasm.

It Pays to Have a Theme: Each group was given a term of Figurative Language, and their film was supposed to reflect that term. One year, I gave a lot of latitude to what they could film and it was a near disaster. Chaos and infighting ensued. While I stepped aside  most of the time with this project, I was definitely the teacher at the start, assigning the basis theme of the movie. This gave structure to the project, and of course, made it a learning experience as much as a movie-making experience.

Prep Pays Off: I had my students brainstorm story ideas and then create a “movie pitch” for me to look over. Then, they had to use a storyboard to map out their story. This was all done before the computers were even turned on because once the power button is pushed, they are off to the races.

Mentor Movies: We watched some Wallace and Gromit shorts (including a behind the scenes video), and also a documentary around stopmotion movies. While this took time away from the project, it was invaluable for talking about the effort and patience that goes into stopmotion. They were amazed at the scale of things — how small the sets were and how patient the filmmakers were. I preached that patience every day. But for some 12 year olds, that word doesn’t always register.

First, Pivot: I had then using Pivot Stickfigure for a class period. This simple program is great for introducing the concept of “frames” of stopmotion. You can literally see the movie unfold along the stop of the screen. Kids love Pivot, too. What I noticed is they learned to slow down the movements of characters, which then translates into smoother actions. Pivot allowed them time to experiment a bit because if you make a mistake, it is easy enough to fix.

No Scripts, Bad Move (for some): I looked at the calendar and counted the days that I would have the laptops in my head and realized that I needed to push things along. I made the decision to allow groups to use the storyboard as a script and not write out dialogue. I’m not sure this was a good decision, as some of the movies became slightly incoherent and just a jumble of footage, as opposed to a story. I think the script would have helped provide a framework for the narration of voices. I’m second-guessing myself on this one.

Corrupt Files: This was frustrating and I think it is a result of our laptops now getting older and not working as well as they once did. Some groups spent a long time shooting a scene, saved the raw footage and then … the video file became corrupt. For the most part, I was pretty amazed at how well they took it (no one threw the computer out the window). They would sigh, shrug and get back to work re-filming the scene. I think my students are more resilient than I would be in the same circumstances.

Wiki Stix Rock: In years past, I have used clay with students to create characters. Honestly, it gets messy with 80 students and the clean-up time takes away from the filming time. This year, I went with Wiki Stix — little bendable sticks — and they were a huge hit. A lot of groups brought in props, too, but they loved the wiki stix. And I loved that there was no mess! Plus, the size of the wiki stix were perfectly scaled for the frame of the stopmotion movie.

Staying on Topic: I mentioned how every group had a figurative language theme. Not every group was successful in keeping on topic, and there are a few movies (all from groups of boys) that make no sense at all. I tried to get around to help as many groups as I could, but as one teacher in a room of up to 10 different projects going on at once, I was not always able to get everywhere, all the time. And some groups nodded their heads when I came to help them and then continued what they were doing as if I had not even been there. The strange thing is that even as we watched them on the DVD, these group members continued to think that their movies were clearly the top of the crop, even as peers were asking “what was that about?”

Ungraded Project: Partially because this was an end-of-year project and partially because assessing moviemaking is difficult, I decided that this would not be a graded project. I never told my students this and only one student (out of 80) even bothered to ask if they would be graded. I wonder now, though, about those groups who could not find focus and whether the grade incentive would have kept them better on track. Perhaps not. But, after we watched the DVD yesterday, I asked a few questions about figurative language and they mostly had a good understanding of their own term (from their own movie) and terms shown in other movies. So, that works for me. (Plus, there is no line on our new standards-based progress report for “making movies.”)

Girls versus Boys: This is an observation across a few years of experience. Girls stay much more on task with this project and are more likely to start over if something doesn’t go right than boys are. Boys rush things and are easily wowed by some cool effect. Boys are more likely to try something new — like holding the camera at odd angles — and then they live with that in their movie, even if it doesn’t help the story. Girls are all about the story, and they patiently construct the movie around the story. I think, too, that in this project, the groups of girls were more attuned that their movie might get a world-wide audience (via our blog and Longfellow 10) while the boys were more interested in impressing the friends in the room. The result? The girls’ movies are more refined than the boys’ movies, and that is pretty much across every single class. It’s interesting.

If you want to learn more about stopmotion, I created the Making Stopmotion Movie site to help teachers. And some of our movies are being published over at The Longfellow 10 collaborative website. If your class makes movies, you are invited to join us at the LF10.

Peace (in the reflections),