Slice of Life: Riptide returns and more Quidditch Stuff

(This is part of the Slice of Life project)

This week, there was some development on our Quidditch symbol situation (see earlier posts). The kids seemed to have moved onward and they came up with a new design — that of a wave enveloping a golden snitch. I like it and think it shows power, and yesterday, we had some time in class set aside just for working on posters and banners (today, they start on t-shirts).

Meanwhile, the phyical education teacher and I had about 16 kids stay after school yesterday (it was a half day due to conferences) to help us make a video that celebrates our game of Quidditch and explains some of the rules and equipment of our game. It was fun and the kids were excited about it. I am working on the editing of it right now, so expect that in the near future.

I got to ride a “lift” in the gym that took me up to the top of the gymnasium so I could get a few video shots of the students playing the game. The lift was a bit shaky and it felt strange. The kids kept yelling: “Go higher! Go higher!” as if I were going to bump my head on the roof.

Peace (in the view from above),

Slice of Life: A visitor

(This is part of the Slice of Life project)

I was delighted to have a visitor to class yesterday — Maureen T., a friend from my Twitter network who works just west of me, came to my school to hang out for a bit and see what was happening in the classroom (and then she went down the hall to hang out in Gail P.’s kindergarten class). Maureen came at a good time, as we were working on our digital story projects. She got a good glimpse of some of the work now unfolding at a pretty good pace.

It’s nice to know that the virtual connections can sometimes evolve into something richer and we had some excellent conversations about teaching at our schools, about how difficult it can be to get teachers to integrate technology into the classroom, and how much students stand to gain from using digital tools to express themselves. It’s true — we were a two-person choir singing to ourselves, but still …

And here is a little gift: some of the memory objects that my students have brought in and are using for the core of their digital stories.

Peace (in connections),

Slice of Life: When Stories Go Digital

(This is part of the Slice of Life project)

Yesterday, my classes began their Digital Story project in earnest and it was a bit hectic, but wonderful to watch them so engaged. In a nutshell, they have written a personal narrative paragraph about an object that holds special memories and now they are merging the image, the audio of their writing, and music into a short video with PhotoStory3 (a free download from Microsoft, folks, and well worth the effort).

There are stories about pets, about blankets, about gifts from long-lost relatives, about stuffed animals, about awards, and more. Wonderful, rich topics.

This is my first time with this project, so it is worth reflecting a bit, right? Here are a few things that cross my mind:

  • We’re building off prior knowledge. They have been working on writing paragraphs for a week or two and we have used technology plenty this year. The leap to a new software platform, which might cause adults to stumble, is no big deal for them. They get it, quick.
  • Writing is at the heart of the story. It may be digital, but the writing comes first. Today, I explained that the writing is the center of this piece and that they should see themselves as “composers” — drawing the pieces of music, audio and image together in one coherent piece of work. I think most of them got it.
  • Make the story personal. These narratives are rich for them because they chose the object, and they have the memories. The subject matter really comes from their heart and they are invested in telling a good tale.
  • Show a sample. I showed them the Grandmother’s Tea Cup story last week and then shared another paragraph sample that I wrote about the first saxophone I ever got and how it moved me into music in a way that remains with me to this day. They need to know that we are writing with them, exploring the same terrain.
  • Give them time to play. Last week, I showed them the software and let them go at it. I gave them some photos and told them that they were to play, tinker, experiment and have fun. Get it out of the system. Explore. Then, when we began the project, they could focus.
  • Share the scoring rubric. It’s not all fun and games. To help focus their learning, I shared out the rubric that I created so they will know exactly what I am hoping for. The rubric’s areas include writing, voice, and production (as in, just because you can do something cool and snazzy doesn’t mean you should do it — make sure the music and the production “fits” the story and complements it, not takes away from it.) I never want the grading to be a secret to them.
  • Time to work. I allocated plenty of time this week, I think, knowing that technology takes longer than we suspect. But, I was surprised at how much progress was made in one single class period. Some of them will be done sooner than I anticipated, I can tell.
  • Alternative Activities. I need to come up with this one. No doubt, I will. Let’s see now …

Peace (in stories),

Slice of Life: The Writers!

(This is part of the Slice of Life project)

I finally found some time yesterday morning to begin creating a stop-motion movie series using some little Writer figures that I got in the mail a few weeks ago. It’s a collection of writers — Shakespeare, Woolf, Poe, etc — and they are the perfect size for stop-motion movies.

I spent about 90 minutes on it — I can get things started pretty fast these days — from start to finish, so it is a bit rough-edged. But I liked the concept of these writers finding the XO computer and watching it write for them.

So, here, I present: The Writers!

Peace (in movies),

Slice of Life: Slicing into Saturday

(This is part of the Slice of Life project)

For something a bit different, I decided to document small slices of my Saturday. I made notes during the day on paper.

5:24 a.m. — Damn cat purring. Loud. Cats don’t know about Saturdays. They think every day is Monday, apparently. Get up, feed cat, start coffee. Liberal use of side of foot to boot the cat out into the cold.

6:03 a.m. — Writing, blogging, reading. Quiet in the house.

7:07 a.m. — Youngest son is up. Playing with Spiderman toy. He sends it to me across dining room table and I send it back. Repeat. Again. I tell him, no, he can’t send it flying off the table — it will dent the floor. Sad face. Too bad.

8:10 a.m. — Scrape ice off the van, drive to neighbors’ house where other sons slept over last night. Grab middle child and head off to Smith College indoor gym, where baseball evaluations for Little League take place. I hope to be spectator but get unexpectedly roped into being a catcher for what seems like an endless line of eight year olds, throwing cheese at my face. My god. My knees hurt. And my back aches. I must be getting old and want to hug the high school volunteers when they arrive. I don’t.

10:30 a.m. — Exhausted and muscles hurt. I play it up at home as best as I can. I am reminded that we have a bright orange dumpster in our driveway and that we need to start clearing out the garage (for a huge tear down, rebuild project). Ignore it and get some snacks.

11:00 a.m. — In the garage, moving junk out. Where did all this stuff come from? Good lord. It’s like Fred Sanford moved into our garage, and brought all of his junkyard with us.

Noon — Lunch. Grilled cheese, chips and salsa, raisins. Plus, a glass of flat Diet Coke, but I can live with it. Need a little sugar rush.

12:30 p.m. — Back in garage, now on the second floor. I don’t even know what most of this stuff is. Honest. Break down a boarded up window that opens up towards the dumpster. Come in handy later.

1:00 p.m. — Sugar from soda not enough. Lay down with youngest son. I am reading White Tiger and he has a stack of picture books. I doze off. I open one eye and he is staring at me. Are you done napping now, Daddy. Sigh.

1:54 p.m. — Look out back window. Oldest is digging a hole in the lawn. What is he doing? I see his metal detector on the couch. He’s digging for buried Indian treasure. All I think is that my foot is going to get twisted a month from now when I am out there with the lawn mower. I hope the value of the treasure covers my medical bills.

2:10 p.m. — Little one and I visit Look Park for the first time this calendar year. The playground is pretty dry, but snow and slush and mud is everywhere else. Some of the Christmas display lights are still up. He asks, Does Santa die? No, I answer, startled by the question.

2:49 p.m. — Quick. Buckle up. Rush home. Little one has potty emergency and the park restrooms are not yet up and running. Good thing we live about five minutes away. Phew. We made it.

3:12 p.m. – Up in the garage again. This time, I pretend I am an olympic champion, using my javelin toss to throw boards, planks, siding, gutters, poles and all sorts of stuff out through the new opening (see above) and into the dumpter with a satisfying “clank” that echoes through the neighborhood. I won the gold medal, of course.

3:39 p.m. — On the floor, making a Thomas the Tank Engine train track. Inspired by the sleeping train at the park. I realize that we have a lot of cool tracks. My son wanders away and I am still there, on the floor, not realizing he is gone. Luckily, no one sees me (and you won’t tell, will you?)

4:10 p.m. — A bit of reading.  I just got a new book about making comics and graphic novels — great insights.

4:18 p.m. — OK, inspired. I start drafting out a comic about an adult neighbor I had when I was a kid. He called himself Scarecrow and he almost torched our entire apartment complex down when he used a can of RAID and a lighter to get rid of some mud wasps. (Don’t try that at home)

5:20 p.m. — Dinner: chicken, mac and cheese, salad.

7:00 p.m. — Babysitter arrives, kids are happy-crazy, so we leave for a fundraiser for the boys’ elementary school. It’s a silent auction, adult-smoozing-time.

10:04 p.m. — Arrive home carrying a bucket of audio books, kid toys and other things we really didn’t need but won anyway in the auction. It’s for a good cause, right?

10:45 p.m. — Bed.

What was your day like?

Peace (in the hours in between),

Slice of Life: The Riptide Argument

(This is part of the Slice of Life project)

So, we are in the beginning period of our Quidditch season and I expect to write more about it as the weeks move onward here. (Essentially, we have a non-magical version of the game at our school and the four sixth grade classes square off in a full-day, all-school tournament in April before the entire school population — it’s crazy fun). There are many connections to our curriculum (honest) and the art element is huge.

Each team comes up with an original name and symbol. Most year, because my class color is “blue,” our name is something icy: arctic this, frozen that, etc. This year, my kids chose the best name: Riptide, and the story of its genesis comes from a book we read this year — The Lightning Thief — in which the hero is given a magical sword that is harmless to mortals but lethal to magical creatures.

The sword in the book is called Riptide. So, they chose that name to connect our class to a book. It was a name they apparently had agreed upon about three months ago, but never let me know. The naming process is often contentious. Not this year. They all had already agreed.

And for the symbol, of course, they all wanted a sword.

And thus began their encounter with adversity, as our school frowns on weapons and symbols of violence. They appealed in person to our vice principal, who has been open to their arguments and has gone out of her way to listen to them. The class collectively wrote a persuasive letter, arguing that the Riptide sword does not harm people, that the sword is a symbol of their connection to the book, that they would never encourage anyone to harm anyone else. I did not help them with the letter. I only delivered the letter. (I really wanted it to be their own mission)

The vice principal admitted she was not convinced, so a group of boys huddled around the Lightning Thief book one morning this week, marked out passages that showed the sword could not hurt people and read it to her. Still: no go.

So a group of girls went home and did research on swords and came in bearing printed-out evidence that swords have been used for peaceful means in history (for military weddings, etc) and included our the official state Seal of Massachusetts, which features a sword.

But, still, no go, although our vice principal remained very reasoned and open.

I had hoped to use the last part of the day yesterday to help my class deal with the failure to sway our administration, let them know (again) how proud I was of their resourcefulness and get working on an alternative symbol (such as a water-themed picture with a strong current). But my son got sick, I had to leave early from school and now I know they are all going to stew on the matter for the weekend. Oh well.

I’m still proud of them and feel sad that I could not help them process it before the weekend.

Peace (in student initiative),

Slice of Life: how to be an expert

(This is part of the Slice of Life project)

This week, we are fully immersed in paragraph writing in my writing classroom and yesterday, my students shared out their expository assignments on how to do something. They are the experts and their job was to explain to me — I called myself the Alien Mr. H. which you can imagine brought some funny guffaws from my students — the steps to a process.

It was a hoot. While some chose such things as shooting foul shots in basketball, others were really imaginative: how to trick your parents into allowing you to stay home from school, how to walk, how to be weird (quote from this student: “As my prop, I present … myself” and the class cheered playfully), how to pretend you are reading a book in class, etc. I was chuckling most of the day.

Here is one that I gave to them as an example — I wrote it:

Writing a song is not as difficult as it may seem at first. To begin, it helps if you play a musical instrument such as the piano or guitar, so that you can accompany yourself as you begin writing. If you don’t play a musical instrument, a good idea might be to find a partner for songwriting who can help you. Second, you should consider a theme or idea for your song. Some examples might be believing in yourself, the power of friendship or overcoming difficult times. Third, you should know that most songs have a verse and a chorus. The verse is often four lines long, held together with rhyming words. A rhyming dictionary can often help you find words that go together if you run into difficulty. The chorus is usually the catchy melody of a song and it is often repeated many times in the song. Next, in songwriting, it is important to practice the new song many times, revising your words and melody as often as needed. Finally, you may want to perform your song for friends or family to get a sense if they like it as much as you do. The sense of accomplishment you will feel in writing an original song is something that will stay with you for a long, long time.

I asked them if anybody wanted to record a podcast and there were a handful of volunteers from each room. Here, then, are a few of the How to Do Something paragraphs.

The first one is about playing Mario Kart (see my post from the other day, as I took some notes from this student), and others include how to blow bubbles with bubblegum (she was smart to ask me if she could chew gum and show how to do it. I said yes, and then others were regretting not thinking of that, too), the aforementioned How to trick your parents, and more.

Listen to the podcast

Peace (and knowing how to achieve it),

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),

Slice of Life: On the other side of the fence

(This is part of the Slice of Life project)

I found myself on the other side of the fence last night. I was in a room with other parents, listening to teachers and administers at the middle school talk about the program. Next year, our oldest moves from the small elementary school to the larger middle school and it was informational night. I could not help reading into what the presenters were saying (I surely hope Language Arts is NOT just about grammar and mechanics, which is the message that I got) and comparing their sixth grade curriculum to our sixth grade curriculum. Why does that competitive streak come out? (Note: our report card, which is in the midst of transition as we speak, is far better than the sample report card they gave us last night, which said so little about learning that I wonder if it worth the paper it is printed on but they run a before-school Open Gym program and an after-school enrichment program that I wish our school had available).

What I loved is that they have exploratory blocks, so all kids get six weeks of Spanish and French, technology (engineering class), computers and more. I love the team concept that breaks the 200-plus kids into smaller teams where they can create an identity. I thought the message from the principal and counselors was right on – very child-centered. So, I was not disappointed overall, but excited for my son and the year ahead.

And wondering, where did all those years go?

Peace (in moving up),

Slice of Life: on the virtual racetrack

(This is part of the Slice of Life project)

A few weeks ago, we finally got a game system for our house. A Wii. This came after years of asking (by the kids, I swear) and after plenty of negotiations (they chose the Wii over cable television, which we don’t have) and then with parameters (they earn time with chores). This weekend, we got the Wii version of Mario Kart, which is a hopped up load of software fun.

Yesterday, I played it with my kids and the experience brought me back to my early days of Atari. It helped that I read an interesting article in the Boston Globe about a professor who studies the Atari phenomenon from the 1970s and how that little game changed our view of computers, technology and gaming. As I zoomed around the virtual Mario race track, avoiding all sorts of mushrooms and monkeys and things I don’t even know what they were, I realized that the Wii and the old Atari share a common trait: they are social games. There was a whole world of gaming systems that were designed for solitary play. Oh, you could get a friend to come along, but the design itself was clearly for single players. Not the Wii. It wants you to play with others (after you dole out cash for another Wii control, of course).And the old Atari, too. Pong and others were made for two people. You had to find a friend.

As we rode our virtual carts, I liked that we were all together, laughing and shouting encouragement with each other, in the same room. We were not inside our brains, but outside in our lives. It has been some time since I played a video game console and the Wii, with its odd controller system, seemed strange, yet it isn’t. The developers were smart — they made a game that is an extension of your physical self. We played Mario Kart with little steering wheels. We bowl with real bowling movements, etc.

On the flip side, I have too many students who come in the morning, eyes red and tired, who admit to being up into all hours of the night (and sometimes, mornings) on their Xbox, or Wii, or whatever, and I know (from my childhood) all too well the lure of the screen. We have a system in place here that we hope avoids those problems. Meanwhile, we are having some family fun.

Peace (in games),