Talkin’ Oil Spill

By now, all of my sixth graders have read the book Flush by Carl Hiasson and we have talked and worked around environmental themes in the book. Yesterday, we talked about the Gulf of Mexico, oil spills, and the habitats and ecosystems that were being affected. I had deep, insightful questions and concerns from my students, most of whom were aware of the spill but not the extent.

I began the lesson with a listening of an NPR story from back in April, about a week after the spill happened, and I had a sheet of basic questions ready for them to fill out as they listened. What is the name of the company? How much oil is coming out? What was the name of the oil rig? etc. Then, we talked about what has changed since April.
Back then, the estimate was around 1,000 gallons a day coming out. Now, of course, the estimate is around 500,000 gallons per day. I shared with them the running Oil Spill Ticker to get a sense of how much oil is now in the gulf (estimated: 22 million gallons).

A quick glance at the popular live stream of the oil piqued their interest, too.
Streaming .TV shows by Ustream

We then looked at an interactive map from NY Times that shows the area of the oil spill as it progresses over time. Most noticed the outlines of the Gulf Stream, which sparked the discussion of oil moving towards Florida (where Flush is set and where endangered turtles are at the heart of the story) and whether the oil will move up the eastern seaboard towards our neck of the woods (possible).

At another site about wildlife in the Gulf, we gathered information about the pelicans and seabirds, the turtles (again), plankton and other animals in the Gulf ecosystem, and how both the oil and the chemical dispersants might impact the area for decades to come. A slideshow of images, including birds drenched in oil, sparked outrage among my students, who asked all sorts of questions about attempts to contain the oil (I did my best).

Finally, to give them a sense of the scale of the spill, I took them to a website called If It Was My Home that overlays the spill’s geographic contours on a map of where you live. For us, the spill would cover most of Massachusetts, parts of Connecticut, New Hampshire and Maine, and into New York. I could hear some gasps as students began to comprehend the scale of things.

All of this brought us to discuss the need for alternative energy and ways that people can help the disaster relief effort (a handful of kids came up to me afterwards and asked for ideas for summer projects to raise money to send to Gulf Relief. I wish we had more time in the school year to launch something ourselves, but I don’t think we have time).

The message I sent to them: pay attention to current events and be engaged in the world, as the decisions being made today by politicians and companies will impact the world they are moving into as young adults. I hope — I think — they have been getting the message. Sometime, you plant a seed and hope for the best.

Peace (in awareness),


Gaming the World

Here is an interesting video — when old video games take over the world. It’s called “Pixels” by Patrick Jean.

Peace (in the pong),

It’s About Time: Ning Archive Tool


One of the frustrating elements of using Ning (besides the fact that they are making a huge shift soon away from free) is that there didn’t seem to be any easy way to save or archive your content on a Ning. That meant that unless you painfully copy and pasted your content, it would all get lost when you closed your network.

Today, Ning announced that it will be releasing a tool soon that runs on Adobe Air which archives content from a Ning site. I’ll be interested in seeing how well it works, since I have a couple of sites that I won’t be continuing under the new Ning plan but still don’t want to lose the work that has been done there.

Peace (in the save file),


Student Stopmotion Movies

Yesterday, the real deadline for my students to complete their Figurative Language Stopmotion Movies came and most (alas, not all) of the groups finished up, some in a big hurry. I’ll be reflecting a bit as a teacher on the project another day this week, but I thought I might share one or two of the short movies with you. Over the next week or so, I’ll be posting a handful at the collective Longfellow 10 site.

Here is a movie about alliteration.

Here is a movie about hyperbole.

Here is a movie about personification.

Here is a movie about metaphor.

Peace (in the shows),

Why We Write: WMWP Responds

Yesterday, I wrote about as Wordle created from responses to the question of Why Do You Write which was posed to incoming teachers at our Summer Institute for the Western Massachusetts Writing Project. A few weeks ago, at an executive board meeting of WMWP, I asked the same question as a writing prompt (we write at every meeting) and then used my Flip camera to capture the remarks. The result is the video here, which I think is a powerful statement about the way writing gets at the heart of learning, for our students and for ourselves.

Peace (in the writing),

Tinkering with Dropio with a Song of Mine

I know a lot of folks are touting Dropio as a way to share files, so I figured I would give it a try. I am working on recording some new songs and this one is almost complete (still needs some bass).

I am going to try to embed the Dropio for this mp3 file here. (Note: there is few seconds of silence at the start of the file).

Discover Simple, Private Sharing at

Peace (in the sharing of songs),


Why We Write at the Western Massachusetts Writing Project

Yesterday, I played a small role in the orientation day for incoming participants of the Western Massachusetts Writing Project Summer Institute. It was a day for orientation and for folks to begin connecting with each other. There are 17 teachers who will spend almost all of July together, sharing teaching ideas, launching classroom research projects, writing and offering peer feedback, and coming together as a community.

My role as technology liaison was to bring them all onto our social networking site for the Summer Institute. We returned to Ning, although I know changes are afoot with the company. Next year, we won’t be with Ning, I am sure. But yesterday, they were all quickly signed up as members, creating profiles and exploring our private network. No one in the room had used or heard of Ning, but almost everyone is on Facebook, so the concept was easy to understand (which is different than just a few years ago. Believe me!)

We had a writing prompt ready for them: Why do you write? Their responses were powerful on many levels, so I took what they wrote and put it into Wordle to create a collaborative word cloud of their ideas to share with them at our site. It’s pretty nifty. (see above or go here for the large image).

Tomorrow, I’ll share out the results of the same prompt when I used it at an executive board meeting of the WMWP folks. (hint: we made a video collage of our responses).

Peace (in the writing),

For all those HS grads … 18 Years in Rap

I love the Week in Rap, where the news of the day is transformed into a rap song with images. I have to use it more in my classroom. Well, the most recent post is not just a week, but 18 years in rap as a way to celebrate all of those kids graduating high school. What a great idea and watching it is like stepping back in time … to a beat.

Peace (in the times),

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),