Mentor Media Text: A Short Story Trailer

Here is an example of a “movie trailer” media project for a short story project my students are working on to end the year. The premise is that someone famous is stuck inside a game (board game, video game, whatever) and the narrator of the story has to get that person out. Students will be creating “media companion” pieces to the short stories, and they have choice on what they want to do.

One option is a “movie trailer” for the story, using digital storytelling. So, I created this one for my own story about rescuing King Arthur, who is stuck inside the game of Risk.

I used a free app called Adobe Voice on my iPad to create a trailer for my story, Risking It All for the King. We don’t have iPads in our classroom, so some may use iMovie, or work on other things.

You can read my story, too, if you are interested.

Peace (in the trailer),
Kevin

A Page from a Student Comic

Homer Figg comic
I’m writing more about a project in which my class constructed a graphic novel version of a novel we are just finishing reading. This page really blew me away with the sense of artwork. So, I am sharing it out, with little context. (More to come later …)

Peace (in the frame),
Kevin

PS — Bonus points if you can figure out the book …

When the Woodcarver Came to Town

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Respect.

Persistence.

Responsibility.

Creativity.

Focus.

As local woodcarver Elton Braithwaite began working with our sixth graders on what has become an annual woodcarving project, he spends less time at the start talking about carving and more time talking about life itself, and how one needs to carry oneself as an artist at all times. I love this part of Elton’s visit, because has a fine way of connecting the themes we discuss all year into a meaningful art project that requires students to do all of the above.

Of course, safety with sharp tools is in there, too, but Elton, who grew up poor in Jamaica before staking out his name as an artist in this country, has many stories to tell of struggle and opportunity, and I am always grateful that our suburban kids get a chance to hang out for extended time with him, learning about making wood sculptures, yes, and also learning more about themselves and the possibilities of their lives ahead of them.

Plus, they make beautiful art.

Peace (in the carving),
Kevin

Parsing Data at the Museum of Science

link station
We took our students on a field trip to the Boston Museum of Science yesterday (long day!), which is a wonderful space of interactive displays and special exhibits (The Grossology Exhibit, in particular, was a huge hit with a certain kind of kid).

I was particularly interested in a special exhibit around math that had all sorts of interactive engineering technology activities (design a skyscraper, build a song, determine probability of a huge flipping coin, etc.) and something known as the Hall of Human Life.

In the hall, you had the option of collecting a wristband, and as you did a series of activities, it showed you your data in relation to 200 other museum visitors. There were activities around nutrition, calories burned with each step, how light affects your sleep and depth perception, focus and attention, flu symptoms, balance and more. I suspect that many of these “activities” are really research projects for some grad students in the Boston area. The results shown are often broken down into categories, such as age and sex and other factors (which you put into the computer when you pick up your wristband).

hall of human life data

What is cool is that you can come home, and check out your data from the online site, too (anonymous, as we are only a wristband number – no name was ever asked), and the chart above shows one of the data pools from a set of questions around social networks. I found it intriguing that the museum found a way to engage us in a series of interesting activities, probably as a anonymous research subjects, and the spit the data out for us to examine as part of a larger collection.

We had a blast at the Museum of Science, and this was just one small piece of the day that stuck with me as I looked at my own data this morning via the website portal (I am the red dot).

Peace (in science),
Kevin

Considering the Composition of a Selfie

Comic Selfie Collage

I had an interesting moment recently with two of my classes. We were watching the movie version of Tuck Everlasting (after reading the novel) and there is a scene where the Stranger (played by Ben Kingsley) stops alone in the woods and pulls out a handheld mirror, holding it up and examining his own facial features for signs of age.

I wish I could share a screenshot of the scene. He’s holding the mirror up high in the sky with his left hand, staring up at it with a stern expression while touching his face with his right hand. I never thought twice about it because it seemed obvious what he was doing.

Students in both classes, however, said the same exact thing as soon as they saw what he was doing, and their reaction was immediate and spontaneous, shouting out:

“Selfie!”

This is the first year that this has happened with the movie, and it reminded me again of how fast pop culture and technology is flowing through our world. A year ago, only a scattered few might even have heard of a selfie. Now, it’s become a youth touchstone, an automatic response to anyone who holds any kind of screen in front of them.

“Selfie!”

We had some time after state math testing yesterday, so I did a mini-lesson around selfies. We looked at the famous one from Ellen at the Oscars and talked about some elements of composition of the selfie:

  • face(s) in foreground
  • some sort of background visible
  • smiling, happy selfies are more likely to be viewed than sad, depressing ones
  • faces are off center, and shown on upward angle (because phone is held up, facing down)
  • some faces are closer; others farther away — giving the viewer multiple points to examine (more interesting than a single selfie, they agreed)
  • famous people are more likely to become viral
  • Instagram is the reason why selfies are so popular

Then, I brought the students into Bitstrips and told them: “Create a webcomic selfie and feel free to make it crazy.” Most were very excited about the assignment — they love making and using avatars in our comic site.

But one kid dropped his head.

“Do I have to? I am so sick of selfies.”

Maybe the tide is already turning.

Peace (in the mirror),
Kevin

Bringing Voice Front and Center: Student Haiku Podcasts

I don’t know of a better format for class podcasting than the haiku poem. It’s a theme that is short, focused and allows for easy sharing of words as a group. We continue to work on poetry, even after April ends, and yesterday, some students shared their poems as podcasts as National Poetry Month came to an end. We used our class Soundcloud account to share out.

Peace (in the poems),
Kevin

 

It’s Quidditch Day (for us)

Icy Revolution Collage
Today, we play our annual Quidditch Championship between the four sixth grade classrooms. I don’t know if my homeroom team — Icy Revolution — will win or not, but I do know that the day is going to be crazy, hectic fun. And loud. Real loud.
(and tonight, the kids play teachers in a Quidditch match. So, yeah, tired bones … here I come)

Peace (with a snitch),
Kevin

Slice of Life: Teaching to the Test

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(This is part of the Slice of Life Challenge with Two Writing Teachers. We write about small moments each and every day for March. You come, too. Write with us.)

Like many of you who are classroom teachers, we are in the midst of “state testing season.” Or at least, we are entering round one (round two comes in May with Math). This week, my sixth grade students will be diving into the state reading assessment in two two-hour blocks.

There was a time, years back, where I did very little to prep them, feeling that “teaching to the test” was against everything I believed in as an educator. I  changed my mind over time as I realized they needed more overt help in navigating the test. I could not ignore the data showing how much my students were struggling and how glaring some of the weaknesses were.

I felt guilty about not helping them.

So, yes, I now teach strategies all year — good, solid reading and writing strategies, I hope — with an eye towards the state testing, which will be undergoing change in the years ahead with PARCC. I still feel a bit odd about teaching a lesson with overt references to our MCAS (Massachusetts Comprehensive Assessment System) and the kids groan when I mention MCAS. But I’ve come to realize that this is now part of my job. I don’t drill and kill about it. I teach strategies for approaching unknown reading passages and questions. I frame these lessons in a real way — these are the strategies that readers use all the time. I am just making them more visible. I hope.

Literary terms

Yesterday, we did a review of literary terms, partly as a way to lodge some ideas into their heads and partly to connect these terms to the novels we have been reading all year. Still, I have to admit: the timing of that review was designed to align with this week’s testing.

It’s hard to shake the feeling that, even with all of my intellectual defenses outlined above, that this is bad teaching and is still something I don’t believe in, as something that won’t help my students become stronger readers and better writers and more engaged citizens of the world. I walk away from these kinds of lessons with tinges of guilt that I just can’t shake — a different kind of guilt than I felt in the early years after looking at test scores and realizing my silent protest was hurting my students. On any day of the week, I’d rather have them be writing what they want to write, and being creative in a variety of ways with media, technology and words. That is why I got into teaching in the first place.

And so, I still feel guilty about the strategic moves into teaching for the test, even though our scores have gotten better over the years and I now pour over data to see where weaknesses might still exist, and I wish I could in good conscious return to my days of silent refusal, to focus on teaching for learning, not teaching for testing. But I fear those days are now gone.

Peace (in the silent protest),
Kevin