A PhotoFriday Tag Galaxy

I have no idea what practical use this application might have, but TagGalaxy allows you to use tags from Flickr to create an entire world of photos. I used the photos from our collective PhotoFridays project (launched by Bonnie to great success) and, although there are not quite enough photos there yet to cover the entire TagCloud world, it was still pretty neat.

I used screenshots to capture the PhotoFridays TagCloud because I can’t find the way you might embed the actual world into a blog. But you can do it yourself. Just go to TagGalaxy, write in the tag “photofridays” into the prompt and give the world a spin. I think it will be cool to come back and do it again later this summer, when the pool of pictures gets larger.

Peace (in pictures),
Kevin

Photo Fridays with Coltrane

This is part of a Photo Fridays project over at Flickr that is overseen by Bonnie. You are invited to come on in and add your photos to the collection.

This is Coltrane, my cat (named after the legendary jazz saxophonist John Coltrane). I was taking a photo of something else entirely when he poked his nose right into the lens of the camera. I kind of like it.

It sort of looks like he has a milk beard, doesn’t it? But that is just the flash of the camera dancing off his face.
Peace (in purrs),
Kevin

The 31 Day Comment Challenge

external image comment_challenge_logo_2.png

The 31 Day Comment Challenge was a project designed to reinforce and introduce some good commenting habits. Through a series of activities presented and explained by the challenge hosts ( Sue Waters, Silvia Tolisano, Michele Martin and Kim Cofino), participants not only engaged with other bloggers on a series of conversations, but we cast a critical eye on our blogs.

I thought the challenge was a wonderful experience and a great way for me to move out beyond my own networks.

Last week, I learned that I was one of the “winners” of the prizes being offered by the challenge organizers, who were being supported by Edublogs (my preferred blogging platform) and CoComment, which is a tool that I began using in the Comment Challenge, as per the organizers’ recommendation, and have come to rely upon as a way to keep track of my blogging conversations.

Here is the news announcement from Michelle’s blog, The Bamboo Project Blog:

I’m very pleased to announce the winners of the 31 Day Comment Challenge! They are:

  • For the most high quality comments that thoughtfully reflect on the topicCarla Arena
  • For the comments that provoke and promote the most learning Kevin of Dogtrax.

Each prize winner will receive:

  • From coComment: US$100 to the winner in each of the four categories
  • From Edublogs: $50 in Edublogs credits to the winner in each of the four categories

Thanks to everyone who participated, and to everyone who voted, and most of all: thanks to the organizers for making us think and reflect and connection. I see a nice dinner with my wife in the cards sometime down the road.

Peace (in comments),
Kevin

Web 2.0 Wednesday: A Sense of Place

Michele, over at The Bamboo Project, had an interesting idea for this week’s Web 2.0 Wednesday and that is to capture a sense of place of where you live.

So, I did, in a poem and podcast in honor of my city:

This City Moves
(listen to the podcast)

You can find yourself in this place —
where Sylvia Plath
buried herself beneath layers of lines of poetry
while wandering along the paths and ponds of Smith College;
where Jonathan Edwards first preached religious revivalism
in a voice that still echoes through time
in the brick church at the city’s center;
where the Teenage Ninja Mutant Turtles sprung to life
with a slice of pizza in hand and attitude in mind
that brought a green tint to everything;
and still, it teems with life:
from the punked out kids hanging on the street corners —
to the musicians singing harmony with a collection cup at their feet —
to the artists with easels set up to capture life like a camera —
to the uplifting vitality of the Young at Heart Chorus looking life in the eye:
this place flows beneath you
and into you.

The older ones remember the downtown as deserted —
a boarded up ghost town of shops where no one shopped
and storefronts adorned with broken windows —
but I only know my city as the place where the arts have come to grow,
and me, too,
as I moved from a lost soul wandering
to this man with my feet on the ground,
and kids in the yard,
and the vision of this place as one that nurtures us into our truest selves.

The sound of the Mill River dances in our ears
as it meanders down from the north,
bringing with it the ice melt of Vermont and New Hampshire,
and making it possible for the daring boys of summer to make the girls gasp
as the boys plunge
with leaping prowess into the pools below the waterfalls.
We’re content to drop sticks and watch our boats float,
catching the current as the river cuts around our city,
through Look Park, along the Rail Trail,
and feeding into the Oxbow — a huge swath of water created by glaciers–
before flowing down into the Connecticut River,
and then, out to the Atlantic Ocean.
Somewhere, we know, our sticks continue,
buoyed on by boyhood dreams of adventure
and cast about like messages in a bottle.

Between Boston and New York City, this small city of ours thrives
although not without its problems
and not without its own burdens
of drugs,
and politics,
and even violence from time to time.
This place is no snow globe that remains stable and anchored
as the Gods shake things loose —
our city moves
and we move right along with it.

Peace (in poems),
Kevin

Day in a Sentence in Six Words

Wanted: Six Words. Your story. Here.

It’s that time again — we’re looking for your Days in a Sentence and since so many of us in North America are entering summer vacation/break (but not everyone, of course), I thought we could return to the Six Word Story format in an effort to keep things brief and to the point.

So, please consider boiling down your week or a day of your week into six words. You can use the comment feature on this post and then I will collect and redistribute the Six Word Sentences over the weekend as part of our growing network of writers.

Here is my Day in Six Words:

Thunderstorms wreak havoc on family activities.

I look forward to your words this week.

Peace (in brevity),
Kevin

PS — If you are interested in guest hosting Day in a Sentence, please let me know. I love having other folks take it on from time to time.

The XO Laptop: NYC Classroom Study

I haven’t written much about my XO Computer these days because I haven’t used it much and I am kicking myself for not getting my local XO Group up and running (I have an email list of about six folks from my area and all of them would like to meet, but I haven’t scheduled the meet-up due to busyness).

I still follow the news from the One Laptop Per Child organization, which, to be frank, appears from the outside to be on a rollercoaster ride as the leaders grapple with the mission of the organization. Such topics as adding Windows XP to the operating system (along with Sugar) and the development of the next generation of XO computers is thankfully coupled with stories of how the XO is being used in countries around the world.

And not just around the world.

In New York City, a group from Columbia University sought to use XOs with sixth graders this year through a project called Teaching Matters. They have just released a qualitative report on the project, which they deem a success in terms of integration into the classroom. What I find interesting is the results of a survey they conducted with the two dozen students who used the XO in the project.

According to the report (which you can view here), students liked the XO because:

  • They liked it for writing because typing was faster and more legible than handwriting, and they felt that this allowed them to write more;
  • They liked it for going on the Internet;
  • They liked it because they could take work from school to home easily, especially to do homework:
  • They liked its physical characteristics, including that it was made for kids (“extremely cute”), that the keyboard was quiet, and that it was not as heavy as a regular laptop;
  • They liked the hardware and software that allowed them to share, including the camera (which, as they pointed out, came with the XO so you did not have to buy it) and the chat software;
  • They liked that it was theirs, which meant that they could always find their work;
  • And finally, they liked the novelty of it.

If you go the report, you can also read some of the supporting comments from the students.

And of course, there were things the students did not like about the XO:

  • They disliked that it seemed slow, even compared to their school laptops;
  • They disliked the frequent freezes, which sometimes meant they lost their work;
  • They disliked the consequent need to reboot frequently;
  • They disliked the “jumpy” cursor;
  • They disliked it when the journal disappeared;
  • And they really disliked the firewalls that prevented access to sites like YouTube and MySpace–a school issue, not specific to the XO, but annoying to the students nonetheless.

It seems to me that much of their complaints is a hardware issue and one that should be resolved by OLPC if the project is to succeed. My kids and I also run into these same issues with our XO but we just roll with the punches. In a classroom full of XOs, that might be more difficult, particularly if you are in the midst of a lesson or project.

The report also lays out three insights into the use of XOs in the classroom:

  • Students used the XOs more than they used the laptops (owned by the school), which means they spent more time doing research, wrote more, revised more, and published more.
  • Students took much more responsibility for the XOs than they did for the laptops, which means that they that they did not begin work only to find there were missing parts or that the battery was dead.
  • Students were less likely to lose their work, not only because they always used the same machine but also because the XO has an automatic save feature that takes the user back to where he/she left off.

Also mentioned is that students used their XOs in other classrooms beyond the English Language Arts classroom where the XO project was situated; students enjoyed the “share” function of the XO; and they were intrigued to be part of a pilot project. The report also contains some solid recommendations for improving the XO as an educational tool, with advice from students, parents and the teachers.

Read the report

Peace (with XOs),
Kevin

Slice of Life, Weekly Challenge, Chapter 13

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

Yesterday, I had a few hours of empty time. A luxury. My school ended last week and my kids were still in their school for one last half-day of the year. I did some errands (of course), then some reading and then I pulled out this little musical instrument that I have had sitting around for a few weeks.

It’s called a Kaossilator and it is a handheld synthesizer that uses a touchpad. It’s mighty strange and I need more time to get a good feel for it. It reminds me a bit of the Theramin (know what that is? If not, think of the eerie sounds of horror movies of old or check out this Wikipedia link).

So I shot this little video for this week’s Slice of Life, featuring my thumbs getting a work out on the Kaossilator.

Peace (in musical movements),
Kevin

Memoir Mondays: Golden Notes

This is part of a project at Two Writing Teachers

Golden Notes
(listen to the memoir)

In fourth grade, when she entered our classroom to tell us about the music program at the elementary school, the music teacher, Mrs. P, picked me out special. She knew me anyway. Her husband was my brother’s private trumpet teacher.

“I have a saxophone for you,” she told me that day.

She had remembered our conversation so many years ago when I had been sitting in their living room, listening to my brother’s lesson. She had asked me then what instrument I wanted to play (she never had a doubt that I would not play something) and I had told her the saxophone.

She brought me down to the music room that day. She took me behind the stage, where cases of instruments were stacked precariously, as if one blow from a tuba would send everything flying. I watched breathlessly as she opened up the hard case.

Inside, gleaming in the overhead lights from the stage, was an alto saxophone, a golden Bundy saxophone. It was the most beautiful sight I had ever witnessed. It was golden, with white ivory keys, resting in its black padded case. I touched a key and it clicked. It felt as if Christmas had come early and I had been the best boy in the world for the past year.

My smile went from ear to ear.

“This is yours to use,” Mrs. P said.

I didn’t want to even touch it, as if I might tarnish it or ruin it forever with my clumsy, dirty fingers. It was too perfect. Mrs. P showed me how to put the pieces together: how to use the neck strap so that the saxophone dangled out in front of you, perfectly weighted; where to put your fingers; how to wet the wooden reed and attach it to the mouthpiece.

“Try it,” she said, after putting the sax together for me, so I did.

It was an awful first sound, and I opened my eyes wide in surprise. If I wasn’t so excited, I might have given up right there on that first goose honk.

“The saxophone is challenging,” she assured me. “You’ll have to practice. It’s a lot of work. Don’t give up. Go on, try it again.”

Those were the first steps I took to learning something that was so completely and utterly new to me. Yet, as the saxophone was cradled in my hands, I knew I had found something that belonged to me, and only me. It felt completely natural, even as I screeched out another squeak from the golden bell.

I wanted to shout it out through the hallways of my school that day: I am a saxophone player and I wouldn’t give up.

Peace (in music),
Kevin

Now that the school year has ended …

I was trying to gather up some of the links from projects that my students did this past school year, now that they have left for summer vacation and another school as they make the big leap up to a combined middle and high school.

But looking at the list of these projects, and thinking of the ones not even listed here (such as prompts and exploration over at The Electronic Pencil), I realize how much they did while with me in writing class. I just completed the web pages for the Claymation and Digital Picture Book projects because the pieces seemed scattered all over the place and I wanted to bring them under one webby roof.

Here are some of our shared adventures this year:

I think my push into using more technology to showcase their work was worth it, although it inevitably led to troubleshooting, work-arounds, and other headache-inducing periods of time. Still, as a collection, I think this list shows my students as creators of content and creative thinkers.

One of my regrets is that Youth Radio did not take off this year and there are a variety of reasons for this. But we saw, and see, the possibilities for podcasting across the world for young people and we need to figure out if it is worth re-launching the project for next year. Any ideas?

Peace (in sharing),
Kevin

Claymation in the Classroom, part three

This is the last part of a series of posts I am doing around claymation animation in the classroom and I wanted to talk about what you can do once the movies are completed. Although students enjoy making movies just for the sake of making movies, I do try to instill the values of an authentic audience in their minds. This way, they understand that someone else will be watching their work. The idea of audience gives focus.

Once the movies are done, we showcase them in a variety of ways:

  • On our classroom weblog, all of the claymation movies get their own post, allowing the rest of our sixth graders to see what my homeroom students have done and also giving access to the movies to families and friends from any location in the world;
  • We burn the movies onto a DVD and every student received their own copy of the DVD in the final days before the end of the year. We spent an afternoon, watching the shows and laughing at the funny things you can do with clay;
  • We show the DVD over our school’s internal television network for all classrooms. This is done a few times during the day, so that teachers have different opportunities to show it to students. We also provide a DVD to any teacher who wants it;
  • We create a webpage with all of the movies on it, to show the work as one collective unit.

This file has been created and published by FireShot

And just to end on a nice collective note, here is an Animoto movie of images from the claymation projects:

Peace (in frames),
Kevin