Using Google Sites

I discovered Google Sites this week. You know, it was one of those applications that I read about when it launched, scrolled through some posts about the merits of it, and then never checked it out. Instead, I kept using Google Page Creator for some school website projects, which has been fine and dandy and all that.

But this week, I finally explored Google Sites, which allows you to create an entire website that feels a bit like a modified Moodle (with not nearly all the bells and whistles) and just like so many other Google applications, it is relatively easy to use.

The downsides?

  • I love Google but they are giving this away to increase their own content on the web under the banner of Google
  • The URL of your site defaults to a Google Site extension
  • There are limited themes and options

The upsides?

  • It’s incredibly easy to use
  • You can set up a website in minutes
  • You can replace the Google Banner with your own
  • I have not seen any advertising anywhere on my Google Site (always a concern with freebies)
  • You can control what features are active on the site (such as comments, etc)
  • You can share administrative control and collaborate with others (similar to sharing in Google Docs)
  • Easy integration with Google Video, Google Docs, etc.
  • You can layer pages in different ways, such as under a parent page or not

All in all, if you are searching for an easy way to make a classroom website, Google Sites might be one option to consider. (Here is an example of a teacher website that used Google Sites). I worked with Weebly to show students how to begin to make a website last year, but I think Google Sites might be easier and have more flexibility for kids.

So what am I creating? It’s an eZine for the three youth programs that the Western Massachusetts Writing Project has been running this summer. We’ve never done an eZine before, but we wanted to showcase the writing and movies that were created by kids at three different sites this year.
This file has been created and published by FireShot

You can take a sneak peek at our site, if you want, and any feedback on it would be most appreciated as we continue to build it in the next week or two (one camp is still running).

Peace (in development),

Days in a Sentence

Welcome to Days in a Sentence — an ongoing Web 2.0 feature in which teachers and educators and others from around the world boil down their week or their day into the essence of a sentence and then share it out via this Weblog or a guest site.

It’s a great way to connect and share your writing with the world.

Please consider joining us this week. To do so, just:

  • Think about your week
  • Write your sentence
  • Share via the comment link on this post
  • On Sunday, I will collect and collate all of the sentences and publish them all
  • Come on back and read what others have written

Here is my sentence this week:

Why haven’t I used Google Sites before? is the question I pose to myself as I pull together my first attempt at an eZine for summer youth programs within the Western Massachusetts Writing Project. — listen to the podcast

Peace (in your days),

Slice of Life, Chapter 16

 Slice of Life, Weekly Challenge, Chapter 15

(This is part of a weekly feature called Slice of Life Project)

I spent the weekend with a group of friends that I have known for at least 20 years: shooting billiards, debating politics, playing music and catching up on various aspects of our lives. (We also “compete” in what is known in our small circle as the Pool Championship of the World, complete with trophies and heartache and glory. I haven’t won in years. Darn it.). We’ve seen ourselves get married, have kids, get divorced and all sorts of things. Once a year, we gather together (usually in Connecticut, but not always) for a long weekend of re-connections and reminders that friendships don’t need to die off — they need to be nurtured and drawn upon, even when separated by geographic distance.

This weekend, as part of our gathering, we also went to the nearby military base, where two of my friends serve the country and work, and we all toured both a helicopter hanger (one of my friends is a pilot of a Chinook Helicopter) and the air guard base (where my other friend is part of the security detail and a small arms instructor). All of us got to sit inside the helicopter and check out the controls. It was pretty impressive to consider the amount of details that go into flying such a craft. Over at another part of the base, we handled rifles and machine guns (which I have shot before when I was in the National Guard many years ago).

But sitting in the pilot’s seat and feeling the cold weight of the guns also reminded me that we are a country at war. Both of my friends have done tours overseas in military hot zones (one year, we made a video of our annual gathering and sent it along to one of our friends who was in the Middle East on assignment) and the helicopter pilot is off in February for a year-long tour in Iraq. He seems non-plussed about it and says it is what he is trained to do, but the rest of us are nervous for him. This made our late-night discussions about world affairs (we are pretty much a divided group among Democrats and Republicans) interesting and heated and all the more important. We didn’t solve the problems of the world, but we sure as heck got deep into the issues.

Peace (in peace),

Memoir Mondays: Remembering Tom

This is part of a project at Two Writing Teachers

Remembering Tom

It was in the first week of school last year, and I was right in the middle of a lesson, when (out of the blue) one my students yells out: “Hey, Mr. H. Your friend, Tom (last name), says to say hello.”

It was one of those jolting moments that comes right out of the blue. All I could say was, “Oh. Tell him I said hello, too” and then I moved on with the lesson while a picture of Tom floated in my head. Later, I pulled my student aside and she said Tom was her counselor and he had told her that we had both been in a rock and roll band together.

We sure had.

In our band, Big Daddy Kiljoy, Tom was one of the lead singers, a fanatic bass player and my fellow songwriter, and when the band broke up, Tom and I spent many hours together, writing songs and thinking about this world of music and what it means. It’s not quite right to say that Tom and I were kindred spirits — we were pretty different people — but I found his inquisitiveness about the world and his love for writing and playing songs such a wonderful thing.

When it come to listening to songs, Tom didn’t pull too many punches. If he liked it, he told you. If he didn’t, he’d let you know, but then he would encourage you to consider this chord change, or this instrument, or maybe even revamp the entire thing into something completely new. You could see the wheels spinning as he talked.

He played bass like he thought: full speed ahead, thumping like a madman and drawing up energy from that fretboard. His bass lines were like a railroad car, just on the verge of crashing and yet always right on track. I loved that sense of abandon in his playing.

Later, Tom built a recording studio in hopes of creating some sort of collective of musicians that could come in, record songs and demos and even commercials, and that would be his gateway into the music industry. I worked for a while with him on that project, but it never really went anywhere. He also had plenty of tales to tell of his younger days in rock bands and some brushes with fame that never quite went anywhere but still infused him with a love of the scene.

Then, as things in life do, Tom and I moved in some different directions and I only saw him now and then. I’d see his daughters around town every now and then, and I run into his ex-wife periodically, too.

This weekend, after a long illness, Tom passed away and I feel a bit as if some music died, too.

I’ll have to pull out the Big Daddy Kiljoy CD that we made as band in the days before everything imploded and fell apart on us, and maybe I can find a few of the other demo tapes, too, and give it a listen and remember Tom in all of his glory.

Somewhere, Tom has an electric guitar plugged into an amp and he is writing himself one doozy of a song. I just know it.

Peace (in bass riffs and rock and roll),

Just One More Book Bash

My friends over at Just One More Book are celebrating their 400th podcast. That’s pretty amazing, isn’t it?

Go give the 400th podcast a listen as they reflect and share their love of Picture Books with the world (oh, yeah, and I sent them a short piece on a book with a summer theme that I love called Weslandia by Paul Fleischman).

This file has been created and published by FireShot


And consider sending in your own review of a favorite picture book. They are very open to guest reviews and encourage your participation in the friendliest of ways.

Peace (in celebration),

The World of Web-based Comics

Over at Smith Magazine (which runs a regular Six Word Memoir project and other interesting writing adventures), they have started to publish a web-based comic called Graphic Therapy that seems pretty interesting as a non-fiction comic memoir. It traces the life of a writer in the midst of, well, some confusion about life.

Then, I started browsing around their site for other comics that Smith Magazine is publishing and I realized they have some pretty neat stuff there. There is an incredible comic about the world following Hurricane Katrina called AD: After the Deluge and another one about the world of the future when a videoblogger becomes the central character of a story called Shooting War. And there is a collective comic series called Next-Door Neighbor about what we think is happening in the homes around us.

But I was looking at the After the Deluge comic and saw this interesting video of the behind the scenes creative process behind the project, which is told through the eyes of six characters in New Orleans following the disaster:

What is interesting about Web Comics is that, just like many other web applications, you can leave a comment or idea for the writer right at the site. I think this opens up so many doors for readers to become more involved with the writers, although how deeply those connections will be is something to be seen as the future unfolds.

Meanwhile, a friend and colleague of mine (Glen) has just completed a long comic that he has been doing about politics and life in the place he lives called Nota Bene (he created 100 comic strips, which is pretty great and he has used photographs altered by technology — see example) and now moves on to a new comic venture called Benny and Sid`s Your Public Service Announcements and Glenn will be doing all of the artwork himself, so I look forward to that one, too.

I love that Glen and others can find a way to publish their work in this wired world and I love that I can follow their work, wherever I am. The comic world has always been under the control, of sorts, of newspaper publishers, who decide what strips will hit our breakfast table in the mornings. Not anymore — and this is another reason why newspapers are worried sick about their future. Perhaps some of them should look to Smith Mag and Glen’s partnership with the Seattle newspaper as models.

As part of my work with the Western Massachusetts Writing Project, I am trying to show some teachers different technology tools and comics seem to be a simple, yet engaging, avenue for creativity. So I created this comic over at ToonDoo and put it on our social networking site. It took me only 10 minutes to make and share.

Peace (in frames),

Another Insider Look at Clay Camp

Today marks the end of the four day Claymation Camp and I have to say, this has been a great group of kids to work with. Most of them have been very engaged in their movies. Yesterday, they made great progress, although only one of the movies has actually been completed. This morning, we put the pedal to the metal, so to speak, and finish up the rest before parents arrive at 11:45 am for a premiere showing of the work these past four days.

Many of you know I am loving Animoto as a way to showcase still images.

So, check this out:

More to come as the movies get completed. And you can always venture over to our Claymation Camp Weblog site, too.

Peace (in funny little creatures),

Day in a Sentence with Illya

My good friend, Illya, is the guest host this week of Day in a Sentence, where we ask folks to boil down their day or their week into one sentence or thought and then share with the world. Illya has two possibilities for you: you can do it the traditional way at her blog site or you can follow her directions to use an application called Chinswing (which is new to me) that seems to be an audio discussion thread site.

Happy explorations!

Head to Illya’s Blog Site for Day in a Sentence.

Peace (in connections),

A Tour of Clay

Yesterday, at our claymation camp, we started to get down to work on coming up with ideas for the movies (built around the concept of fractured fairy tales) and the students started to make their clay characters. Today will be a jam-packed day of writings scripts and filming scenes. Tomorrow is the last day (already!) and we have invited family to come in and see what we have created.

At the end of class yesterday, I filmed this:

Peace (in clay),

Slice of Life, Weekly Challenge, Chapter 15

(This is part of a weekly feature called Slice of Life Project)

Yesterday marked the first day of the Claymation Animation Camp that I run in partnership with the Western Massachusetts Writing Project and the local vocational high school (as part of their summer enrichment program). I have 15 middle school students and they are so cool, and so eager to learn about moviemaking and technology. I am also fortunate to have a co-teacher (shout out to you, Tina) and a visiting teacher who just wants to learn more about claymation for her school (Maria).

We started off the day with a talk about animation and then launched into a morning of hands-on work with Pivot Stick Figure software, which they just eat up. I showed a few how to use MovieMaker to create titles and do some editing and we will be using it more extensively today. They were just working so hard, and being so creative, it was quite a joy to just be in the room with them. This picture shows one of my students working on a movie with the laptop hooked up to the LCD screen and I loved the image.

Here is one little movie by a boy who was one of my students this past year. The title is longer than the movie, which can be typical at this juncture, particularly with Pivot.

Meanwhile, I followed the lead of a new blogger friend, TJ Shay, who has been espousing the virtues of an animation program called Animation-Ish and he is encouraging folks to download a free version of the program and give it a try. I did. And I gave it a try. I wasn’t quite impressed on the initial look. It has a nice interface, but the software seemed very simplistic in what you can do and not all that intuitive to use, in my opinion. I did like that you can draw your own pictures and the move them around. That is cool. I’m not making a final judgment on the software, just an initial reaction. It does not seem to be worth $60, however.

Here is a quick movie that I made:

TJ suggested I try the more advanced function of the program (there are three different levels for different age and experience levels of students), which I did, and again, I did find it all that intuitive or easy for me to use. I checked out the website for more help or at least ideas, but it appears to be under construction and the one tutorial did not do much to help me out. I don’t know. My feeling with software is that if I can’t see the “wow” in it or get my hands right into the act of creation within a short period of time, I don’t see how it will engage my students, particularly if it costs me something.

Peace (in frames),