Watching Twilight Zone with my Son

The past three nights, my wife and older son were out town, meaning the other two boys I were on our own. When the younger dude went off to bed at night, my 11 year old and I pulled out a DVD box set of The Twilight Zone that I had received at Christmas but never really watched. In fact, the only time I had watched an episode was with him, and it was not a very good one — it had no dialogue and the pacing was glacial. I was afraid that would turn him off to the series, which I love and want him to at least respect for its storytelling, but he was game to give it another try.

We had a long discussion first about what is the Twilight Zone — he had this idea that it was a place, or a setting, and not a frame of mind. I think he understands it now. Not sure. Then, he asked about how the episodes had twists in the narrative — those little turns at the end of a show that make you go “hmmmm” when it is over. He asked about Rod Serling, and then as we watched the dates of when the episodes aired, we thought about how old my father (his grandfather) was. I think this helped give him some sense of how long ago this show was on the air, and maybe some sense of how revolutionary it was for its time.

We started on Friday with Time Enough At Last about the desire for our own space and what happens when our dreams come true.

And then went into Saturday with The Monsters are Due on Maple Street about how mobs are formed and then how fear turns us on ourselves.

And finished up last night with Steel about machines taking the place of men, and then men taking the place of machines.
(ACK — no video available)
I wanted to show him the classic — To Serve Man — but it is not in my DVD set. What’s up with that? However, thanks again to our trusty friend, the Internet, the episode is right here to be watched.

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It was interesting, because the last one we watched — Steel — was towards the end of the Zone run, where Serling was no longer the writer or producer. The footage was clearer, the pacing was faster, and the acting was slicker. But the story did not hold up to the earlier ones. And my son, when the show was over, turned to me and asked: What’s the twist? There was none, and we were both disappointed.

Peace (in the Zone),
Kevin

Adios, Google Video, Adios

To be honest, I thought Google Video had long ago gone away and become part of YouTube, so I was surprised yesterday to get an email from Google, letting me know that “Later this month, hosted video content on Google Video will no longer be available for playback.” A few years ago, we could no longer upload videos into Google Video and now playback is packing its doors.

For many years, I loved Google Video. It provided me with a relatively safe place to upload and share videos, and then embed them, with very little worries about students clicking back to an inappopriate site. I do remember when Google bought Youtube, and I figured, that would be it for Google Video. It took longer than I expected, but long ago, I made the shift over to Vimeo (which gives me much more flexibility on embedding, although I pay an annual fee).

Google is allowing us to download any videos from Google Video. By the end of the month, the videos will be gone and the site will disappear from the video landscape. As I was looking over the nearly 100 videos that I still have on Google Video, I had some nostalgia flashes around various projects during that time period, which began for me in 2006. I was just learning about video and about hosting video, and it was all experimental for me (maybe it still is).

Three of the videos are claymation stories that my three boys and I made here at home, as I was toying with how to bring stopmotion into the classroom. The stories were written by my oldest son and the movies were a collaborative venture by the family.

Although these videos will expire in about two weeks, here are some of the videos that I uncovered from my files:






Peace (in the last gasp of Google Video),
Kevin

Remembering the Collaborative ABC Project

Has it really been almost three years since Bonnie and I invited teachers and educators to join us on a collaborative digital storytelling project? I realized that last night when I was doing some work on another project and stumbled across the website of all of the videos we created for that project.

The Collaborative ABC Movie Project began because I wanted to learn how to dig into the concept of digital storytelling; Bonnie wanted to expand her knowledge of the work by tapping into the collaborative nature of the Web; and others came along with us for the ride.

The structure of the project was an ABC book. We randomly doled out letters to about 15 “friends” from various online networks (including the National Writing Project) who were game to give digital storytelling a try. Most of them, like me, had never created a digital story before but could see the potential for learning. We wanted to nurture ourselves as learners first, as we mulled over the possibilities for the classroom. Our friends were assigned letters and asked to construct a short digital story around that letter. How they did it, and what they did it ab0ut, was entirely up them. We only asked that they share the video on either Google Video or YouTube, and add it into a video site (no longer around because it got swallowed up by Yahoo) called Jumpcut. (Actually, Google Video doesn’t quite exist anymore either, but the videos are still there if you know where to look.)

We used Jumpcut because it allowed you to string videos together under various themes. So Bonnie and I took the 26 videos and made one large piece, and then smaller pieces that developed around themes that emerged from people’s work. It was fascinating to be part of that adventure and I learned as much from creating a digital story as I did about overseeing a collaborative project of folks I didn’t really know.

Bonnie captured our experiences nicely in a … digital story.

And during a presentation we created for the K12 Online Conference a few years ago, we created this voicethread for anyone to add their own letter-inspired story to the collaborative mix. The thread is still open and the invitation is still there for you. What story will you tell?

You can view all of the stories at the Collaborative ABC Movie Website.

Peace (in the adventures),
Kevin

My Life in a Day digital story



Yesterday, I took part in the global Life in a Day project, in which people from around the world documented July 24 through video. I took along my Flip with me all day, grabbing pieces of the day. I also use a time-lapse program on my Mac for a few sections in the video (making breakfast, counting coins, playing guitar) for a something a little different (other than me, talking).
I had to re-edit the whole darn thing because I included music in my original (which I am sharing here) and the main site wants non-music videos (prob because they are going to piece sections together).

If you took part, let me know. I’d love to create a YouTube playlist of folks I know who were part of the adventure. Drop me a note here in the comment section with the link to your video.

Peace (in the sharing),
Kevin

The Life in a Day digital adventure

Grab your video camera and document your day. Today (it already started!) is the official Life in a Day video project in which folks from around the world are going to be submitting a video document of this single day in their lives (July 24) to form sort of a canvas of the world’s activity in a 24 hour time frame.

Later, the producers of the Youtube-based site — Kevin McDonald (who did the One Day in September project) and Ridley Scott (Yep, of Hollywood fame) — will create some sort of montage of the best of the videos. Good luck with that, fellows. You’re going to have to pour through a lot of video content, I bet. But it will be interesting to see the world through the eyes of regular people.

The website notes:

Life In A Day is a historic global experiment to create a user-generated documentary film shot in a single day, by you. On 24 July, you have 24 hours to capture a glimpse of your life on camera.

Am I going to do it? Sure. Why not. I have my little Flip camera, although it is possible the day is going to be boring. We have a Little League All-star baseball game on tap (if we win, they go to the finals tomorrow) and that’s about it.

If you run out of ideas,producer Kevin McDonald proposes a few things to consider creating a video about:

  • What do you love?
  • What do you fear?
  • What makes you laugh?
  • What’s in your pocket that has meaning?

Give it a try.

Peace (in the world),

Kevin

Why isn’t Wimpy Kid movie a comic?

I’m feeling a bit like a movie grouch today, what with my sour review of Percy Jackson and all. But while sitting through a series of previews yesterday, we watched the trailer for the upcoming Diary of a Wimpy Kid movie. Now, here is another series of books that my sons adore being made into a movie. Good enough. These days, we expect popular books to make the shift to the big screen.

But here is my question: why in the world didn’t they transform Wimpy Kid into a movie as a comic or cartoon or whatever animation term you want to use? Why turn one of the book’s most charming elements — its simple and delightful artwork of Greg and his family and friends — into live action? Sure, the young actors seem cute enough, and they might even find the sweet spot with Jeff Kinney’s humor (I hope so, since I surely will have to sit through it with my sons). But it seems to me that this is a flaw in the process of taking a graphic novel into the realm of the visual.

It reminds me of how Persepolis made the powerful transition from graphic novel to movie. Marjane Satrapi, who wrote and illustrated the books, also directed the movie and she successfully (I would say) shifted her story to the screen by keeping the story centered as animation. Granted, the tone of the stories are completely different. But she has showed us the way.

So, it can be done.

I admit: I am disappointed in Kinney here for not forcing the issue of animation for his books (although, who knows what factors go into such decisions and he may not have had a voice in the matter once he sold the rights, or he may not have wanted to spend the time overseeing such a production, or whatever … so, I forgive you, Jeff Kinney.)

Peace (in the rant),

Kevin

The Percy Jackson/Lightning Thief Movie Review

Percy-Jackson

I took my older boys to see Percy Jackson and the Olympians yesterday (better known as The Lightning Thief in our house, for the first book by Rick Riordan) and I came away disappointed. Yeah, I know. Movies from books will do that to you.  And director Chris Columbus has created a popcorn event here with Percy Jackson and the Olympians. It’s a good flick for the drive-in.

But what is most disappointing is that Columbus didn’t have to do what he did in creating the movie from the book. They could have stayed true to the book and had a killer movie on their hands that went deeper with characters, deeper with the story, and deeper with the Greek mythology that seeps through the pores of Riordan’s books.

Here are some things that stood out for me after the movie:

  • The monsters are pretty incredible, except for Medusa. I don’t know. She didn’t seem fierce enough for my tastes, given who she is, but the other creatures were pretty scary and a good use of computer graphics. Uma Thurman as Medusa was a good choice, but I was disappointed. Hades in his full glory, in particular, was nasty as was the Fury who first attacks Percy. The kid sitting next to me almost jumped into his mom’s lap when the Fury made its appearance.
  • One of the joys of the book is that Percy only slowly comes to understand who his father is (Poseidon) through actions and events that happen to him. The film dispenses with all that and hammers the viewer over the head with the fact that Poseidon is Percy’s father. Talk about taking the mystery out of a whole section of the story and not allowing the viewer to have to think. So much for foreshadowing.
  • Ares, the God of War, and a central figure in the theft of the Lighting Bolt is nowhere to be found in the movie. Not a mention. In the book, when Percy battles Areas, and wins, it’s a moment of triumph and power for the young demigod. We see the potential of Percy in that moment (and also, we learn the truth about the theft of the bolt through Ares). That seems like a pretty significant omission, except …
  • No  mention of the Titans, Kronos or Tartarus either, and the whole concept of the book is that the lightning bolt has been stolen from Zeus to start a war between the gods that will allow Kronos and his kin to come back together (they were chopped to bits by the Olympians and tossed into Tartarus) and overthrow the Olympian gods. This is such an incredible omission of the story that I still can’t believe it. How could you leave out this central part of the story tht underlies, well, everything? And why would you? If they plan on making movies of the other books in the series, this emergence of the Titans lays the groundwork for future stories. My gosh.
  • I liked the character of Annabeth a whole lot better in the book than in the movie.  Sure, the actress is cute and all that, but in the book, she is a formidable foil for Percy, and their banter (easily transferred to the screen, I would think — what, not one “seaweed brain” comment?) is fun to read. I guess I am just glad that Annabeth and Percy don’t kiss, although they clearly have the hots for each other (did I mention that they bumped up the age level of the characters, too? Percy is no sixth grader in the movie.)
  • I also can’t fathom the omission of the Oracle of Delphi in the movie. The prophesy is what drives Percy forward on his quest and what makes him think twice about everything he does. In the movie, he just decides he is going to head out and find his mom, and goes.  In the book, the prophesy opens the doors to the quest and its echo is part of the narrative of action. It’s a personal journey in the movie as opposed to an Epic Quest.
  • They moved a scene from the St. Louis Arch (a classic moment in the book) to Nashville. Huh? Was it too hard to construct a scene at the Arch?
  • I really do love the character of Percy in the book. He is funny, full of spunk, recognizable to any sixth grader, and his hubris is a character trait that my students learn to track throughout the story. His snubbing of the gods in the book is what drives the story in different directions (such as, mailing off the head of Medusa to Zeus with a little note of love from Percy Jackson). None of that in the movie. While the actor playing Percy did a decent job, I missed the depth of the book character. I didn’t find myself cheering Percy on in the movie so much as I did in the book.
  • Last thing. Mrs. Dodds is the Fury that first attacks Percy. In the book, she is Percy’s math teacher. In the movie, Mrs. Dodds is the English teacher. An English teacher? Whoever heard of a demon English teacher? (Kevin says from his perch as an English teacher)

Next week, we take our entire sixth grade class to the movie, as we read the novel as part of our curriculum (with emphasis on Greek Mythology). I’ll be interested to see what they think. I am sure that, like my own sons, they will enjoy the spectacle of the movie and get a head rush from the action. But will they see the holes in the story? Will they care?

The Oracle of Delphi tells me that they will.

Peace (in the prophesy),
Kevin

Monsters on the Wall

As part of our unit around descriptive writing, we do something called the Monster Exchange. There are variations of this project all around (including some cool online sites) but we keep it non-techie because I have four classes with about 80 students. We have plenty of ways to exchange our creatures and writing.

Basically, students create a monster on paper and then write a one paragraph story with descriptive language. On the day of the Monster Exchange, I hang all of the monsters — and some decoys — around my room, and students get a story from another student from another class. Their job is to use the descriptive writing to find the monster on the wall. (I assign numbers to each piece of writing and a master list of monster names and numbers).

Then, they go back and write their own reflections on the experience (Questions: what words did the writer use that made it easy to find the monster, what made it difficult and what advice would they give to this writer …)

Here is a handout that I give to my students.

It turned out that we had our exchange yesterday, just before Halloween, and that was a nice way to end the week. After students found their first Monster and reflected on it, they rushed up to me to get another story, and another, and another. They were really jazzed up about it. I’ve done this project for a number of years, and it is a great way to talk about descriptive writing in a fun way, and it gets them up and moving around.

Plus, I re-use all of their monsters later on for a project around The Lightning Thief novel, where they create their own Heroic Journey using Google Maps. The creatures they encounter are … the Monsters from the Monster Exchange (now, I have a bank of two years’ worth of monster, which is even better.)

Check out this Animoto video of this year’s crop of strange creatures:

Peace (in the howl),

Kevin

More Dreams …

This is another digital story created by a student for our Dream Scenes Project. They really impressed me with their visions and their digital stories.

Peace (in the future),
Kevin