Using Wikispaces — sixth grade collaborative story

I have begun tinkering with Wikis with my sixth grade student writers and over winter break, I started a short story and gave all of my students the link and told them they had the option of continuing to the story, if they wanted. I have used Seedwiki before but I wanted to give Wikispaces a chance, and I think I like it better than Seedwiki now that I am using it.
About 12 students took me up on the offer and the result was a rather strange story with lots of twists and turns, and I read the story to all four of my sixth grade classes, who laughed and listened with much attention to their creation. Then, I thought, we should audiocast this story. So yesterday, two students narrated the Wiki story for our class websites.

Head off to read the Wiki story called The Mole in the Hole

And you can listen to the story, too, via this audiocast. The Mole in the Hole

external image mole.gif

We are now working with a Wiki to create a Crazy Dictionary of made-up words as part of our study of the origins of words in the English Language. I’ll provide those links in the coming days.

Peace (with collaboration),
Kevin

Thelonius Transformed

Winter break is almost over and so I made one last StopMotion movie experiment with my character, Thelonius, in which he is transformed from strange-looking puppet into bizarre-looking clay figure (go figure).

Along the way, I thought about some things to think about for using StopMotion in the classroom:

  • Lighting is key. I need to find a way to have consistent lighting for my students because it really effects the entire piece when lighting goes astray. I had shadows all over the place and I never really found a good set-up for the movies.
  • Plan out the project. I had a pretty good conceptual idea for what I was doing but I can see that we will need pretty extensive planning. Storyboarding will be even more important with stopmotion animation.
  • Be careful with your fingers. I lost an entire movie because I accidentally saved it some wrong way. Students would lose all of their patience if they lost an hour’s worth of work. I just started over again (cursing all the time).
  • I think clay figures will need some internal support — wooden armetures (is that the phrase) to provide support, so that when kids move their characters around, they won’t crumble. I am using a mannequin body but the weight of the clay is tipping Thelonius over and so I need to revisit my clay structure.
  • The question of how to sync narration with the video is vexing and one I will have to think about. That will take some practice. I used a mix of audio, music and text — just to see which one might work, and I am not sure of the results.
  • Movement of character is slow but cool to watch when done. You really have to take it one step/one motion at a time. If you rush the movement, it shows in the movie. When I was slow and deliberate, it made all the difference in the world.
  • A good site for insights into this process was put together by a friend, Glen, out in Oregon. Here is his site.

And now, for Thelonius Tranformed:

[googlevideo]-4348980722186051150&hl=en[/googlevideo]

Peace (in slo-mo),
Kevin

Puppets on Display

My sixth grade classes spend much of the end of November and into December working on their own puppet play performances, starting with mapping out a story along a plot arc, developing character, and integrating a moral into the story. They must also invent a winter holiday and use that as the setting for their stories.

Then, they work with the art teacher and myself to make puppets, and use a wonderful hand-carved puppet theater at our school to perform for younger grades (which actually begin today!). This year, I video-taped each small play (there are 20 total plays this year) and will be publishing the videos online in the coming days via our classroom Weblog and the Homework Weblog site we use for families.

For now, though, I created this short teaser for parents and students.

[googlevideo]-3383272868010521141[/googlevideo]

Peace (with puppets),
Kevin

Traveling in our Town

This is a project my sixth graders did in collaboration with our school librarian and the Youth Radio project. My students reflected on what makes our town special for them and then they worked to profile local businesses and areas of interest for a travel brochure. I then handed off my MP3 player to a student and asked him to interview his classmates as podcast, and then we converted that into a videocast.

 

[youtube]StEhv0m0sYE[/youtube]

Peace,
Kevin

 

The Math Wars: Oh No!

An editorial column in Time Magazine by Claudia Wallis about the emerging Math Wars in this country resonated with me, as our school district is in the midst of this battle raging in the classrooms and in the minds of our students.

Walls notes that, in a move that eerily echoes the whole language-phonics debate of the 1980s, educators and administrators, and government officials, are beginning to toss out the idea of creative and critical mathematical thinking skills (what Wallis calls “fuzzy math”) in favor of more rote learning and memorization of facts. This confusion over direction of a national math curriculum has led textbook publishers to packing their books with tons and tons of learning objectives to be covered over the span of a year … with impossible results for both teachers and students.

In my school district, a group of teachers spent years meeting and discussing and formulating an approach that balanced creative thinking and basic math facts, only to have the central office do a top-down move that is shifting us towards textbook-centered classroom instruction (read this page, do these problems, take this quiz, move on). This shift has not been viewed as positive by many classroom teachers. But the administration is under significant pressure from our state to increase our standardized math scores and they see this as a way to solidify the curriculum across all of our schools.

Wallis urges school districts and teachers to look to the National Council of Teachers of Mathematics for guidance. The NCTM has begun issuing some grade-level guidelines for math skills, and they are streamlining expectations so that one year builds upon the next.

“If the script follow the Reading Wars, what comes next will be dreary times-table recitats in unison, dull new text books that faily to inspire understanding, and drill, drill, drill much like the unhappy scenes in many of today’s ‘Reading First’ classrooms . And that would be just another kind of fiasco … Kids will learn their times tables for sure, but they will also learn to hate math.” — Wallis, Time Magazine, November 27, 2006.

Peace (in numbers and words) ,
Kevin

Student Newspaper: Tigger Talk

Three years ago, I wanted to find a way to spark leadership in my sixth grade students and so I decided to start up a Student Council for fifth and sixth graders. The group has been very successful and popular. They have organized rock concerts, overseen toy drives for needy families and fostered school spirit.

This year, they decided that they wanted to publish a student-written newspaper — and they did a fine job with the first edition. The Student Council leaders (with only some direction from me):

  • Held a naming contest for the entire school and came up with Tigger Talk (a playful variation of the school newsletter, called Tiger Talk)
  • Went on morning announcements and encouraged young writers
  • Decided on which articles and cartoons would make it into the newspaper
  • Added original artwork to the pages
  • Did the lay-out the old-fashioned way — scissors, glue sticks and paper
  • Took pride in becoming real newspaper publishers

You can view Tigger Talk at our Student Council website (or click on the picture)

Peace,
Kevin

Peace Posters: A Short Movie

My students have just completed a big art project around the theme of Celebrating Peace and their work is now hanging all around the hallways of my school. We also have them writing about why peace should be important to young people and to explain the symbolism of their art. It is very interesting to see sixth-graders tussle with the idea of a peaceful world in a time of war.

I thought I would capture some of that work through video and so I am sharing that video with parents at another Weblog site but I figured it would be nice to share it here, too.

[googlevideo]4263936435492206329[/googlevideo]

Peace (in every way possible),
Kevin

Youth Radio: Teachers Teaching Teachers

I took part in a skypecast this week with Paul Allison and Susan Ettenheim on the Teachers Teaching Teachers network (which is a wonderful and insightful weekly program) and they just put the link up on their site. We talked about podcasting and the Youth Radio project that I am helping to lead with upper elementary students from my own school in Massachusetts and other schools across the country.

Take a listen to the podcast Teachers Teaching Teachers

Peace,
Kevin

Why Use Tech: Composition Considerations

In a few weeksl, I am heading to Nashville for the National Writing Project Annual Meeting and I am taking part in a workshop about writing in the digital age. (Here is my slide presentation using SlideShare — a new favorite) I will discuss a Digital Math Picture Book Project that I did with my sixth graders last year that used Powerpoint as the platform.

But the question is: Why use the computers to compose a picture book? Why not just stick to paper and pen?

Here are my thoughts:

One guiding question that I went into this math picture book project with was, how will the composing process change for my sixth graders as they create picture books using technology (Powerpoint) as opposed to previous years when it was all paper and pen? They had to write a story that taught a math theme to an audience of younger students.

First of all, the planning did not change much at all. We still did all of the brainstorming work and storyboarding on paper before the computers were even turned on. But early in the process, some students began to think about the various aspects of PP (images that can move in and off the screen and transitions and the integration of audio) as possible ideas for complementing their writing. (They had been introduced to PP earlier in the year). They also had to integrate their own art into the picture books — they could scan in images they drew or they could use Paint and then import. (Most of them used Paint, although that was a struggle for some).

The result was an interesting combination of old and new for my students.

Some composed “shows” that allowed the reader to listen for clues to math problems embedded within the story. Once the reader has some ideas of an answer to the question, they could use the mouse click to “remove” a picture and reveal the answer. Sometimes, the audio file was merely a word of encouragement and sometimes the audio was a narration of the story. We invited younger grades (mostly k-3) to our classrooms and set up computer stations. My students then not only shared their work but they also explained to the younger ones how they made their books on the computer and how the tricks were accomplished (such as moving images). Some made changes to the books after getting a reaction from one round of readers. Unlike paper, they could make changes immediately and in a few minutes time.

We did not go into hyperlinking to other pages in the book or outside of the books but that is something that might provide an even more powerful platform for extending their knowledge base (and the reader’s base of understanding) from the local (their book) to the global (the world).

The final step was publication. We actually printed out two paper copies of every book (one for the student and one for the school) and then I converted the books to PDF and posted to our Weblog site for families to view. (There were too many and they were just too large to post as PP shows but that would be have been ideal). What happened, of course, is that I had to flatten everything out to two-dimensional space, which meant that the audio files were deleted and any hidden answers had to be revealed or else they would be missing from the printed page, which led to an interesting discussion about the differences between composition on paper and composition on powerpoint. Many of the writers were disappointed but I encouraged them to bring in a blank disc or flashdrive to save their shows as originals, and some did just that.


Peace,
Kevin