Stuffed Animals: Remember to Value and Nurture Childhood

Stuffed Animal Day

Look at this picture. Isn’t it cute?

I took it the other day during our Stuffed Animal Day in writing class, after my sixth graders had gone off to Library. I love how they left their animals in their seats. We have a Stuffed Animal Day as part of a prompt around descriptive writing — they have to use good descriptive details to describe one of the animals in the room, and we have to guess which one it is. (Gets tricky when there are 20 or 30 animals lined up along the shelf).

But there is another reason, too, and it is one of those things that I forgot about until the day arrived. You should have seen how excited these sixth graders (soon to be seventh graders) were when they arrived with their stuffed animals. Some were very protective of them; others tossed their animals around.

It reminded me of how we really need to continue to value the connections to their childhoods. This often gets lost in the need for pushing through our curriculum, driving them to do their best on standardized testing, and working hard at learning all year long. This connection to the innocence of their age gets lost in all that, and yet a simple activity like Stuffed Animal Day …. it brings it all right back into the classroom.

Peace (in the stuffies),


Game Review Podcast Reviews

We’re winding up our unit around paragraph writing, and the final assignment (related to persuasive) was to write a review of a game. It did not have to be a video game, but many chose to go that route. Initially, we were going to do podcasts with Garageband, but the computers were needed by another teacher (and I did not want to be a complete laptop hog), so we went to Plan B and used Voicethread. Participation in the podcasting was optional, but even so, it showcases a range of games (although Minecraft continues to have a leg up on other games, particularly with the boys)

Or go to:

Peace (in the game),

Exploring and Creating Visual Town Histories

I have a group of students just finishing up Kate Klise’s Regarding the Fountain, which is a small novel with a story told entirely through artifacts. My kids are always intrigued when we pull this out because it is so different from the kinds of books they are used to reading (straight narratives). Part of the story involves students in the fictional town of Dry Creek researching and writing about the history of their town. They then provide a pretty nifty visual history of what they discovered.

So …

I had my students do some research on their town (culled from some historical artifacts from the town archives) and I had them create their own visual history of Southampton, Massachusetts. I love this connection to the book because it allows for wonderful discussions about where they live and how their town came to be, and various events that took place (Ted Kennedy’s plane crashed in the town; the movie Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf? was filmed here; and the town’s water was designated the tastiest in the country in 2008). All these connections to history are important.

Here are a few of the projects:
Visual History of Southampton2

Visual History of Southampton4

Visual History of Southampton6

Visual History of Southampton

Visual History of Southampton3


Peace (in the history),


How to Use Memory Objects for Digital Stories

Yesterday, a visitor asked a bit about how I teach the Memory Objects/Narrative Writing/Digital Story assignment, and I am happy to walk through what we do.

First, this writing is part of our unit around paragraph structure and paragraph writing. The emphasis for this particularly piece of writing is “narrative” and telling a story. I begin by reading the picture book Wilfred Gordon McDonald Partridge by Mem Fox as a way to talk about memories. This delightful picture book tells the story of a young boy who helps his elderly friend recover her memories through a series of gifts. It’s a perfect segue into our discussions around not just memories, but the artifacts and objects that we collect to remind us of events and people and experiences.

Second, they begin their writing. Since this is a lesson around paragraph structure, we emphasize through graphic organizers some of the main ideas, and how to develop the body. This paragraph later becomes the script for their digital stories. I share my own examples with them, and show them a few digital stories from prior years. For some, the hardest part is figuring out what to write about. So, I give them a few days to mull it over.

Third, we jump into iMovie. Since most have not used iMovie before, I give a tutorial and then they had a  good part of two days to play around with the program in ways not related to the digital story. I showed them how to add titles, use transitions, embed music, drag in photos, etc. This is not wasted time. This play time gives them a chance to explore, try out techniques, fail and try again, and more. I have found they need a good grasp on the possibilities before the real project begins.

Finally, they either bring in their objects or they bring in f lash drive with images of the objects. If they have brought them in, they use PhotoBooth to take photographs (hint: use the “reverse image” feature if the object has writing, since PhotoBooth takes mirror shots). What is nice is that iMovie integrates PhotoBooth and other applications seamlessly into the program. We talk about using Garageband to create a soundtrack and Free Play Music as a source for music (which leads to a longer discussion about “mood and tone” of music working in conjunction with the mood and tone of the writing.)

When they are done, they have the option to upload to our class YouTube site, or just export to the desktop.

The whole project takes about a week (of about 30 minutes a day), although I continue to have some stragglers. That’s always the case.

This is one of the projects that I do not grade. Surprisingly, of my 80 students, only two have asked me that question (will this be graded?). Instead, I see this as a way to value writing, introduce a useful bit of technology, and offer up an authentic publishing venue for them to tell a story. The level of engagement is very high across the board. It reminds me that if the activity is enriching as an experience, the need to grade every little thing seems a little less important. At least, it does for this particular kind of writing/technology adventure.

I hope that helps you think about how to bring digital storytelling into your classroom.

Peace (in the sharing of memories),


Memory Objects, Narrative Writing and Digital Stories

My sixth graders are knee-deep in iMovie this week, as they use a piece of narrative paragraph writing as a script for a digital story. Their assignment is to find a tangible physical object that sparks strong memories for them, and then write about the object and the memories. Then, we move over into iMovie to create a digital story about the narrative memory. For most students, this is their first experience with iMovie (but not with digital storytelling, as we worked with Photostory 3 earlier this year on the PC).

I scheduled in a few “play days” last week, to give them time to explore such things as titles, transitions, adding music, and more. This week, they are getting to work. There are a lot of things that I like about this Memory Object Digital Story Project, including the tapping into memories, the use of an object to represent an abstract idea, technology for a meaningful purpose, a short doable project (stories are about a minute long), and engagement with media in a variety of ways (some are moving into Garageband to create their own music soundtracks).

Here is one of the first digital stories to get done this week. It’s a great showcase piece, as she crafts a gem of a digital story.

And, here is the piece that I had done to show them what a Memory Object story looks like, and also, to share with them a piece of my own childhood. They really loved it, and got a kick out of seeing the “younger me” in some of the photos.

Peace (in the memories),


Teachers Who Rock the Stage

At our school talent show this week, a group of us teachers learned the Philip Phillips’ song, Home, and performed it live (with bubbles!) on the stage after all of the students had performed their own magic. The kids love seeing us teachers in the lights, and in a different light, too.

Peace (in the live music),
PS — That’s me on the left side of the screen, playing guitar.

The Entire Fox News Piece: Your Secret’s Out

Some of you know that my sixth grade class was featured in a recent Fox News Special about Big Data, privacy and digital citizenship (that’s where we came in), and I shared out the edited clip that featured us. But here is the entire hour-long special on Hulu, in case you are interested. It certainly has that paranoid Fox slant, but some of the findings about the reams of data being collected on all of us is eye-opening, and always worth remembering.

Peace (on the screen),


The Morning Make: Creating Creatures

WikiStix Makes
My sixth graders come into my room in the morning, with a routine that begins with lunch count and morning work. I’m always divided on morning work, so I try to give them critical thinking activities and problems to sort through as a way to get their brain pumping before the day really begins. This week, as they ended their last two rounds of state testing (math), I decided to do something different.

On each desk, I put a handful of Wikistix bendies, and their instructions were simple: create a creature. That’s it. I didn’t explain anything more, nor did I elaborate when asked. I just let them go at it. And boy, they were jazzed up about making something. Some had used Wikistix before; Others, never. But the buzz in the room was palpable as they twisted, cut, re-arranged, traded colors and started to … make.

I overheard one student saying to another:

“Just invent something. You’re making something that doesn’t exist. It’s fun.”

How great is that quote? It really hits home with the idea of the need for creativity in our classrooms, to imagine something out of  nothing. We lined up all the creatures along the shelf near the window, on a sort of impromptu display, and when the other sixth grade classes came in during the day, boy, were they jealous.

Peace (in the make),


Poetry, Songwriting and the Goo Goo Dolls

We ended our poetry unit last week by connecting the work we had done around writing and reading poetry (figurative language, rhyme, stanzas, theme, mood/tone, etc.) by looking at some pop song lyrics. As I told my students, I don’t suspect many of them go home and curl up on the couch regularly with a book of poetry (although, they should). But most of them do listen to music on a regular, daily basis, and songwriting is poetry put to music. They readily agreed to my assessment.

I love this connection, not only a teacher and musician, but also as a writer, and the students get excited about thinking about the music they like to listen to in terms of the artistic approach. Here, we use two songs from the past few years: The Goo Goo Dolls and their song, Better Days; and Kris Allen’s Live Like You’re Dying. Both songs offer up good examples of pop music structure — the verse, chorus, bridge pattern is in full display, and there are noticeable rhyming schemes, and the overall “message” of the lyrics combined with the pop sensibilities of the music is strong.

Plus, we rocked the classroom with the music.

I then remind them of the real lesson: when you are listening to the songs you love, do you notice patterns? Rhyming? Themes? My hope is that they begin to make connections to poetry, but also that the lesson sparks the skill of active listening. What is that songwriting trying to say? How are they saying it? How does the rhythm of the words work in partnership to the rhythm of the beat? Why did the songwriter do that instead of this? These are all things to notice.

When we did a poetry freewrite on Friday, one of my students wrote and then performed for us a rap song that he wrote, with lots of internal rhymes and a theme about picking yourself up when you are done. If you knew this student, you would not expect to hear flowing hip-hop coming from his lips, but there he was … writing a song and rapping it for us. Nice.

Peace (in the songs),