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),


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),

Dreaming the Future

Most teachers have a Dream Project for their students at the start of the year. It can be a valuable way to work closely with our new students and get to know them better. We find out a lot about a young person by their aspirations. Mine is a digital story called Dream Scenes and we finally … finally finished the digital stories up yesterday.

They are fantastic stories and I am impressed by not only the dreams, but also the way they quickly adapted to technology they have never used before — Photostory. And most have never used Paint for a real art project. Only a handful have ever recorded their voice.

There were many mini-lessons along the way but also, I actively encouraged students helping each other and once again, I am always moved by how much they are willing to share what they have discovered, even to people outside of their friend networks.

I’m going to share a few Dream Scenes over the next few days. Enjoy!

Peace (in the dream),

A Tree Grows

As part of a new network adventure called iAnthology (for National Writing Project teachers in the New England/New York area), we are hoping that teachers will share their writing. Of all forms. Including digital compositions.
This morning, I tried my hand at using some photos of a tree at our school as a metaphor for watching my students grow and change over the course of the year.
Does the metaphor work?

Peace (in the leaves of time),

Sharing Songs: Katrina Blows In

Here is the first of three songs that my friend, John, and I have been practicing for a local open mic night. This one — called Katrina Blows In — was written in the aftermath of the hurricane and I performed it at huge fundraising concert that my school put on to support survivors. I was trying to get at a first-person narrative of someone stuck up on the roof.

I’ll share the other two videos in the coming days.

Peace (in songs),

The Writers’ Saga, continued

Mark Twain arrived home this week, safe and sound inside an envelope. He is part of a group of Writer figurines making their way around the country by visiting various Summer Institutes of the National Writing Project. We’ve packaged the concept as a spy story, in which The Writers have been instructed by President Obama to investigate the National Writing Project and report back. The reporting has been done at a Ning site for technology-minded folks within the NWP.
What I’ve been doing, other than overseeing The Writers’ various journeys, is creating little stopmotion movies to keep the concept fresh and to poke fun at The Writers. Yesterday, I gave Twain his own feature, arriving home in one of my son’s Pirate Ships, floating along the blue waters of one of our futon couches. Meanwhile, we still have no word on the whereabouts of Edgar Allen Poe, who seems to have disappeared in the US Mail system.
I decided to try something a little different with this movie, using ComicLife to create the dialogue on images and then mixing up images and video. It was tricky and I am not sure I kept enough time for the reading of the lines. Let me know. I can always go back and re-edit, if necessary.
If you want to see the other segments of The Writers, go: First here and then here and then here. That should bring you up to speed.


Peace (in the fun),

Making Math and Science FUN

One of my neighbors — a high school student who sometimes babysits for us — and his friends recently won a top prize in a competition with the National Math and Science Initiative for the music video they created that celebrates math and science, in a goofy geeky way. I get a kick out it, and they did a fine job with the production.

Check it out:

Peace (in numbers),

(video) Slice of Life: So you wanna play Quidditch?

(This is part of the Slice of Life project)
This is a slice, a few days removed, as I have finished up the Quidditch video project that we shot with kids last week. The idea here is to begin to share our game of Quidditch with other schools and to celebrate playing the game for 10 years at our school. This project was fun to edit, if a bit time-consuming, but I like the final product. I realized early on that the video footage of the kids playing the game was too hectic to really understand from an outsider’s standpoint, so I moved to use still shots with the voice-over from the book.

Eventually, this will find a home at our school website, with written explanations to go along with the video.

Peace (in golden snitches),

Slice of Life: remembering my great-grandmother

(This is part of the Slice of Life project)

Next week, in our final lessons around paragraph writing, my students are going to be creating short digital stories around narrative paragraph writing. Their aim is to find a physical object, and write about the strong memories attached with that object. It could be a souvenir from a vacation, something handed down from a family member, a trophy or medal from a competition, etc.

Yesterday, I began by reading Wilfred Gordon McDonald Partidge by Mem Fox, a wonderful picture book about a little child who helps an eldery friend “find” her memories by giving her a series of objects. OK, the book is for younger kids, but mine were quiet and interested and attentive as I read this one aloud to them, and talked about our own relatives who have lost their memories over time.

This led to me sharing my own narrative paragraph story about a tea cup that used to be my great-grandmother’s. It reminds me still of her, many years later.  This was first a podcast from last year, but I merged that old audio with some pictures. My students loved it and I hope it moves them to create their own wonderful narratives.

Next week, we move into Photostory for creation. This week, they find their objects, and their memories.

Here is my story:

Peace (in memories),

The Poem in your Head: Animated Movie

I am experimenting with a site called Xtranormal to see what it is all about. It’s a movie-making site in which you choose a character, type the dialogue and then have some controls over the movie screen, including the scenery, music and movements of characters. Essentially, though, the site takes your words and puts them into the mouth of one or two avatars that you choose.
It’s a bit disorientating, to be honest, but neat fun. You can then export the movie into YouTube or keep it at the site. It seems like it is all free for now, but there are hints that they will move to a pay-per-movie model at some point, so I am not sure if it is viable for the classroom.

I am working on one for the call for Year in a Sentence, just for something different.

Here is a short movie I made this afternoon called “The Poem in your Head.”

Peace (by putting words into the mouths of others),