Darfur Project: An overview and a launch

The Many Voices for Darfur was the focus of a recent Teachers Teaching Teachers webcast in which students and teachers talk about the blogging social action project that launches today and tomorrow to gather many posts from young people around the world.

Listen to the TTT episode.

If you want to learn more, or if you want to get your students involved, you can head to the Many Voices for Darfur Project.

Peace (with students taking action),
Kevin

The Revised Darfur Video

My students were singing today, helping with a revised version of my Darfur protest song entitled “I’m Still Waiting (for the world to get it right)” and they (and I) had a blast with it all day long. I have four different writing classes and all listened to the song, and then practiced it, and then we recorded it.

I used Audacity and then mixed all 80 student voices together as backing vocals. Tomorrow, I show them the video and get to work on writing their persuasive writing projects as part of the Many Voices for Darfur project.

[kml_flashembed movie="http://video.google.com/googleplayer.swf?docid=7768949726610095025" width="400" height="326" wmode="transparent" /]

But you can also download the MP3 version of the song by using THIS HYPERLINK or you can just listen in.

Peace (in the world),
Kevin

Darfur Protest Song/Video

I wrote this song about the Darfur situation and I hope to bring the song into my classroom and have my students sing some back-up. Will it work? I have no idea but it could be pretty cool. I’m interested in having them think about how songwriting and music can be used as a platform for political protest and outrage. It’s just another way to demonstrate how writing has the potential to make a difference in the world.

If Iget some good recordings of my students singing, I will remix this video and see if we can add it to the Many Voices for Darfur project in some way.

[kml_flashembed movie="http://video.google.com/googleplayer.swf?docid=-4323540144778393547" width="400" height="326" wmode="transparent" /]

Peace (in all points of the globe),
Kevin

The Many Voices for Darfur Project, Part 2

“Why are we doing this?

The question came from a student who was not trying to challenge me. He really wanted to know. What do kids in a small suburban town of Massachusetts, USA, have in common with the crisis in the Darfur region of the Sudan? Why should he care?

For the entire day, my students were fully engaged in learning about the situation in preparation for participation in the Many Voices for Darfur Project (see yesterday’s post of my lesson plans and thoughts going into the discussions). They were outraged by the information they gathered. But some, like this student, were wondering why this was part of writing class.

But I was ready.

In fact, I had hoped students would ask such a question and had mulled over what to say as a sort of pep talk.

My answer, not quite verbatim but close:

“Why? Because there is a crisis going on in this part of the world and there is suffering going on and if anyone, anywhere, has the power to confront evil — not the evil you see in the movies but the evil that takes place in reality — then they should have an obligation to do what they can to confront that evil. We have talked all year about how your writing has power and your language is more than just words on paper. Young people can make a difference and here is a project in which your writing, and the writing of other young people around the world, could influence those people in power to choose peace instead of war. We’re lucky to live in the United States, where this sort of thing does not happen. You should always count yourself lucky. But you still have an obligation to be informed and to get involved. If you can make a difference, you should make a difference.”

My student nodded in agreement and got back to work. A few minutes later, a group of girls came up to me and said they want to do some kind of fundraising activities to help the refugees in the camps in the Sudan.

“We want to get them tents and warm blankets and food,” one said to me. “We’re going to plan something.”

Now that is what I am talking about: social action through writing and through action.

Peace (shall rise),
Kevin

Crisis in Darfur overlay on Google Earth

(found this map)

The Many Voices for Darfur Project

The image “http://z.about.com/d/worldnews/1/0/T/1/-/-/Darfur_map.png” cannot be displayed, because it contains errors.A few weeks ago, I began following the progress of a project to get young people to have a voice in the genocide taking place in Darfur. Called Many Voices for Darfur, it is spearheaded by by DC 8th grade teacher George Mayo and Tampa 3rd grade teacher Wendy Drexler, and their intent is to use a blog to connect as many young people as possible over a 48 hour period (next Thurs and Fri) to write about why the world should step in and stop the violence in that region of the Sudan.

This week, I took the plunge and decided that a unit on persuasive writing that I am doing with my students was just too good an opportunity to pass up and that the Darfur situation — while no doubt tricky to discuss with 11 year olds — will give them some insight into the world beyond their suburban homes. I am not sure how it will all go, to be honest. Tomorrow, I am going to use an online scavenger hunt that someone developed to gather some information about the situation and show part of an online video showcasing the history of the situation and what the world is doing, or not doing, as hundreds of thousands are dying.

http://www.worstedwitch.com/pix/2006/11/27/darfur.jpgNext week, we’ll begin writing our persuasive pieces, from a couple possible angles. I am running into the difficulty of timing our work, and access to computers, with the 48-hour window of opportunity. And I just realized that the Friday is a half-day for us with the students (the other half: professional development). I would love to podcast my students reading their pieces, too, but am unsure if I can pull that off.

My principal is fully on board and loves the idea. I sent an email home to parents today, alerting them to the project. The kids were silent and thoughtful as I introduced a bit of what we were going to be doing and some asked if what was going on in Darfur was like what happened in Germany under Hitler. They were already making some connections that will allow me to frame their understanding in some interesting ways.

I know they are looking for as many teachers and as many students as possible, so head to the blog site or the wiki planning site and get involved. When we talk about Web 2.0 and the power to put meaningful writing and social action in the hands of our students, this is the kind of project we are all talking about and advocating. It can be as simple as a blog post, or a petition, or a podcast, or a video. You decide.

I found this video from the band Mettafix that is interesting. It’s a great song:

[kml_flashembed movie="http://www.youtube.com/v/qQwCCm-H-sU" width="425" height="350" wmode="transparent" /]

The first stanza:

See the nation through the people’s eyes,
See tears that flow like rivers from the skies.
Where it seems there are only borderlines
Where others turn and sigh,
You shall rise (x2)

Peace (it’s the least we can do),
Kevin

How to Stop-Motion Animate

Wow

This video from YouTube is exactly what I have been looking for as an introduction to my students about stop-motion animation. I love the world of viral videos!

[kml_flashembed movie="http://www.youtube.com/v/ZuUGO898_GU" width="425" height="350" wmode="transparent" /]

Peace (in frame by frame by frame),

Kevin

What to do with Parts of Speech

Glazed eyes often accompany my unit on Parts of Speech and I don’t think it is my teaching style (he says, confidentally). It’s that the concept of how words act within the structure of a sentence is so incredibly abstract for my sixth graders that they can’t connect it with their own base of knowledge. I’m not sure how learning about nouns, verbs, etc, helps them progress as writers. Yet, it is part of what I need to teach, so we do activities (such as using a Nerf Brain Ball as a devise for showing prepositions – I threw the brain ball across the room and hit Mr. Hodgson in the head, etc).

Our final project is to write a short piece about themselves and then use color-coding to identify a set number of Parts of Speech within their own writing. I hope this brings some ownership to them, but I am still not so sure. (They also can do a bonus of writing and performing their own Grammar Rock song, which are still underway).

Here is a student sample of a Parts of Speech project:

Nouns are blue
Verbs are red
Adjectives are yellow
Adverbs are green
Conjunctions are orange
Prepositions are pink
Pronouns are purple
Interjections are brown

Feel free to use my project handout, if it interests you.

Peace (in dissecting our language down to its bare bones),
Kevin

Giving Students Political Voice

I teach writing to 11 year olds but that doesn’t stop me from injecting some political current events into our activities. I remind them that they need to pay attention to the world, as it is their world that is being developed right now. The political season in the US provides us teachers with an opportunity to talk about leadership and the ways of our government and I sure hope that teachers are using this opportunity.

Yesterday, our state held its primary election (Hillary Clinton won). Last week, I had a long discussion with all of my students about the differences of a primary and a caucus, and what those results mean.

I decided that I wanted to give my students some voice and so we held a modified “Mock Election” using Survey Monkey to allow my 80 students to cast a vote for major candidates in both parties and to answer some questions about the state of our country and the priorities facing our nation.

First of all, the voting:

They are really struck by the youthfulness of Barack Obama and that appeals to them. It also is a surprise to them that we have never had a woman run for president. Or maybe it is shock. The girls, in particular, seem to connect with the concept of Clinton and it makes me wonder, regardless of her politics and chances of winning, if she isn’t making a substantial impact on young women right now just by being in the race and having a powerful voice.

McCain has appeal because of his time in the military and they know that he was a POW and they believe that gives him some fortitude in leadership.

I then asked them to consider which issues are most important to them:

I thought for sure that the environment was going to win but the war continues to be a focus. We live near an Air Force Base and there are a number of families with relatives in Iraq, so the war and its impact is very close to home for many of my students.

Then, I wondered if they thought they should have the right to vote.

I guess the graph says it all.

Peace (in politics),
Kevin

PowerPoint as Movie

In the spring, my students will once again be creating digital picture books, using Powerpoint as a platform for creation. In the past, I have grappled with how best to present the final products in multiple forms — as a slideshow, as a PDF and on paper. I wanted to make them into videos, too, but couldn’t quite figure it out.

I took the plunge this weekend and purchased some software from Wondershare that does take Powerpoint and converts it into a video, complete with animation and voice left in. It’s not so bad and I am thinking of how I can try to experiment with this in my classroom before the picture book unit rolls around.

Here is a book that I made last year:

[kml_flashembed movie="http://video.google.com/googleplayer.swf?docid=-8690927707479293668" width="400" height="326" wmode="transparent" /]

Here are a few of the stories from students from last year:

[kml_flashembed movie="http://video.google.com/googleplayer.swf?docid=6898363634712354140" width="400" height="326" wmode="transparent" /]

[kml_flashembed movie="http://video.google.com/googleplayer.swf?docid=-1300180233155542124" width="400" height="326" wmode="transparent" /]

I wish the audio were better quality but PP does a terrible job with audio, I have found.

Peace (in PP),
Kevin

CyberSurvey 2008, part two

 

Yesterday, I shared out some of the results of a survey that I gave to my sixth graders. Today, I am sharing out some of the comments they added for two questions:

First, if they said that schools should teach them how to use technology to connect with other students, then I asked them to write why that is important to them.

Here are some of their comments:

  • Yes and only if the teachers teach you to be very careful on how and what your saying to interact with friends online, and if someone you don’t recognize thats trying to communicate with you,you should just tell a parent or teacher you trust. Also never, ever give out personal information!
  • Yes, because it good to know how to communicate with each and other. It is also become very common and it would be helpful if you were taught about it.
  • I would like it because,when you grow up to get a job.The owner would see ask you if you know alot about technology.That is why teachers should teach kids how to type and read!
  • I think that because we should now properly how to communicate with others so that if there was ever an emergency and you did not have a phone you would have to be able to get in touch with somebody fast and I don’t really now how to do that and I’m sure that most other people do not now how to get in touch in other people. Like my grandparents. They have a phone but if they did not and one of them had a heart attack the other would not now what to do.
  • I think yes because teachers can teach us how to start IMing and emailing and teach us not to trust or talk to people you do not know.
  • sometimes kids don’t have computers and need to learn how to write to others. they also might not have the best handwriting. That’s why I think schools should teach how to write on computers.
  • Yes, it would give kids more introduction to what happens on the internet.
  • If the teacher teached us how to use technology for communicating we could what to do and it would help with social skills. I also think we should learn other technology also because technology can be very important. Me myself would like to have a class that could learn about things like video making and editing because it is important to me.

Second, I asked them envision a classroom of the future (Always an interesting question to pose to students).

Here are some of their thoughts:

  • There should belarge computers with a 300 gb hardrive and memor
  • I think they’ll have a tiny computer that teaches them everything. Everything will be used in technology.
  • Robots as techers and mini laptops
  • I think that they will have laptops on every desk, and high tech stuff to use because later 30 years from now if people now are good with technology they should be wicked good with using it 30 years from now.
  • Mind reading pencils
  • I think that they will be using computers that wrote down what they wanted to write. It would a be voice activated computer. I know that they have them now but, they have not reached the schools quite yet. Also they would have these robots that do the homework for the kids.
  • No keyboards, faster use, no lag, more information, and easier to learn
  • High powered scooters — 2 min school with thinking helmets — and better food
  • Super-high tech computers, with almost immediate signal. I also think that Apple(Macintosh computers) will be more advanced and more popular.

Interesting, eh?

Peace (says the robotic teacher),
Kevin