(video) Slice of Life: in the movies

(This is part of the Slice of Life project)

My oldest son had grand ambitions this week to make a movie that combines live action with stop-motion animation. The concept involves a monster that has eaten our cat and then our youngest son and requires the help of a group of characters he has invented — the Pea Detectives. Somehow, he talked me into having a main role in it (OK, so I was happy to do it) and he is using one of my Flip video cameras to shoot the live footage and then using stopmotion software to shoot the Peas in action. Later, he will use Moviemaker to edit it all together.

He really wanted to know how you layer in animation on top of live action and I said, “With millions of dollars worth of equipment that we don’t have.” But if you know a way to do it on the cheap, let me know, please. So, his work-around (love work-arounds) was to take some photos of me and then print them, cut them out and use them in the stopmotion sequence. He’s also been composing some soundtrack music with SuperDuperMusicLooper and even wrote a song with lyrics (to the melody of We Three Kings of Orient Are) about the group of bumbling Pea detectives.

It’s fascinating to watch his mind working on it all and how excited he is about the project. I told him about a local Youth Film Festival that he should consider entering a film in this year. He seemed intrigued by that.

Here, then, is a glimpse of a stopmotion sequence in which I meet the Peas, with his Looper music. In the movie, this is where his original song will go, but it was more entertaining to have it as a sort of nusic video for now.

Peace (with the popcorn),

(video) Slice of Life: the Webcomic Convention

As some of you know, I publish a webcomic about education and the so-called Digital Divide between kids and adults. I call it Boolean Squared and it is an experiment for me that I have been enjoying. Recently, I learned that there was going to be a huge Webcomic Convention in the town next door, so how could I not at least check it out? I thought I could get my older son — himself, an avid comic reader and creator — to come along, but he wasn’t interested.

It was a massive geek fest, to be true. It was jam-packed with people — hundreds had registered in one day, shutting down the registry system. (another indicator of the power of comics as literature). But I was on a mission as well as driven by curiosity. As a staff writer for The Graphic Classroom, I review graphic novels and comics with an eye to the classroom. So, I took along my fairly new Flip HD video camera and decided to interview a few of the webcomic creators about what inspired them to begin writing comics, what support did they have in school and what advice they might give to young writers. I intend to show this to my students as well as share it out at The Graphic Classroom.

Plus, it was the first time I used this Flip camera (I have others, not High Definition video, though) and my impression is, again: wow. It is simple to use (although the view window is too small), simple to edit with the Flip software that comes with it, and makes a high quality video. I uploaded it into my Vimeo account, which allows some HD video uploads (although I took quite some time).

What do you think?

New England Webcomic Convention: advice and inspiration from Mr. Hodgson on Vimeo.

Peace (in comics),

(Video) Slice of Life: the one-lane bridge

(This is part of the Slice of Life project)

Each weekday morning, I drive my youngest son to his preschool before heading into work at my school, which is a few towns over. The easiest way to get there is over a small, one-lane bridge. For much of the past year, the bridge was closed down for repairs and I wondered if it would ever be opened again. One-lane bridges seem passe and more than a few communities just shutter them forever, or for pedestrian traffic, rather than invest in them.

But the bridge finally re-opened a number of weeks ago, cutting down my commute by a good ten minutes and allowing me to avoid downtown Northampton altogether. That’s good.

One thing I like about this bridge — although it was only later that I realized it — is that you have to make eye contact with other people on the road. Since only one vehicle can pass at a time, you have to slow down, gauge where the other car on the other side of the bridge is and either pull over to let them pass or wait for them do pull over for you. I am almost always pleasantly surprised by how often we move aside for each other.  Only rarely does a driver take advantage of the situation and hog the bridge. The other day, for example, some idiot tried to pass me on the left (narrow street that gets narrower as it leads to the bridge) as I was slowly making my way forward. I’m not one of those “flip the bird” kind of people but that guy almost got it that morning.

After coming over the bridge, almost everyone looks the driver of the waiting vehicle in the eye, gives a little wave to acknowledge the kindness of waiting, smiles and then continues onward. I love this part of the bridge. Too often in our cars and vans, we are just mindless drones (remember those overweight space humans in WallE?) but this tiny bridge forces some humanity upon us, moving us to recognize each other as people. As I drive to my school, I often wonder where those other people — the ones who smiled — are going and what their day will be like, and whether they are wondering about me.

Peace (in the waiting),

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),