There is no easy way to teach young people how to understand the experiences of others, but writing is at least one avenue for such investigation. This past week, my students studied the Underground Railroad in preparation for reading the book, The House of Dies Drear by Virginia Hamilton. We talked about the history of our country and how skin color still seems to create walls between people. It’s difficult because the town where I teach is small, very insular, and mostly white middle-class. My students eyes are barely open to the real world.
Our inquiry into ways that slaves found the courage to escape and the people who helped them along the way led to a project in which we created paper quilts using patterns that represented messages for those making their way to freedom. I then had them write a first-person narrative of someone running away and using patterns from quilts as a guide.
Here are their stories, told in a digital story format:
Peace (I mean it),
PS — here is just the audio version of their stories.
In my Bloglines account, I have a number of humorous feeds (I hope you all do, too) and one that continues to make me think is called Indexed, and it uses Venn Diagrams and other charts to make simple, yet intriguing, insights. It is as if the artist has a few minutes to spare, doodles some cool idea, and then graphs it out (I am thinking math concepts as a storytelling device here).
Here is the post from the other day:
This morning, the Indexed site had a link to a very neat movie that uses some of the same concepts in a very intriguing way, drawing connections to thoughts through lines, diagrams and other concepts of math.
Check out the movie from Le Grand Content
Peace (in numbers),
The singer-songwriter Tom Chapin (with help from John Forster) has written a very insightful (and funny) song called “Not on the Test” about all the things that you won’t find on standardized test.
You find the song at National Public Radio’s site.
I particularly liked a few verses, such as:
“Each box that you mark on
Each test that you take
Remember your teachers –
Their jobs are at stake
Your score is their score
But don’t get all stressed
They’d never teach anything
not on the test.”
” Debate is a skill
That is useful to know
Unless you’re in Congress
or talk radio
Where shouting and spouting
and spewing are blessed
‘Cause rationale discourse
was not on the test.”
Peace (in multiple choice options),
The Student Council, which I helped form a few years ago for fifth and sixth graders, recently published its second edition of a student-centered newspaper at our school. Students do all of the writing and illustrations, and Student Council leaders lay out the newspaper and then deliver it around the school.
But the newspaper is also available online (that’s my only real job with this project).
Click here to view the December 2006 edition of Tigger Talk!
Today was our monthly staff meeting and our principal surprised us with popcorn and water, and showed us this documentary from PBS called The Hobart Shakespeareans, which is about a teacher in Los Angeles who uses Shakespeare with his elementary students as a way to foster collective spirit, literacy and understanding of self. It was amazing not just to watch the kids perform, but to listen to them reflect on the meaning of the words and language.
The movie was well-done and offered an uplifting insight into the power of a single teacher (which is a familiar story, I know, but powerful all the same) who sees a light in some kids that others have ignored, or not raised the bar of expectations high enough for them to push, reach and succeed.
It was the best use of staff meeting time in many a year.
Peace (to be or not),
This is my first poem of 2007 for my One Poem Every Month for a Year adventure and I guess it was inspired by my recent experimentation with StopMotion Animation and my use of a mannequin in a dancing movie.
Mannequin (January 2007)
Listen to the poem
I am the mannequin
Sinewy thoughts all aflow
Dancing on the edge of the stage
just inches from disaster and audience intrigue
as the invisible hand caresses me into shape,
and guides me forward into the spotlight.
I can hear the harmony, the melody, the music,
somewhere in the back of my mind
the growl of the ever-expanding universe
so bones begin to pop, skin falls away,
my mask comes undone
until there is nothing left of me but soul
I am the mannequin
who believes in self-determination
yet fears the unknown hand at my back
which wields the majestic power and authority
of preordained fate.
I slip the string
loosen the knot
and fall off the stage
with the resounding crash of independent thought.
Peace (with string),
As part of my students’ study of how words enter the English language, they were given the assignment of coming up with three of their own made-up words (See the book Frindle by Andrew Clements for some inspiration). I have done this each year and have had my students share their words via our class Weblog.
This year, I decided that a Wiki makes the most sense, particularly if we are creating a collaborative document, which we essentially are doing as a dictionary. So I used my Wikispaces site and, with a brainstorm that hits in the middle of the night, first moved all the invented words from 2005 and 2006 students to the space. With the 2007 student words added, there are now more than 200 invented words in the dictionary.
Yesterday, my students were on the Wiki, adding in their words. We also decided to add an audio version of the words, so everyone sat down and read their words and definitions, and then I linked the audio to their entry. Very neat!
Head to the Crazy Dictionary of the Norris Sixth Grade
Peace (with invention).
I have begun tinkering with Wikis with my sixth grade student writers and over winter break, I started a short story and gave all of my students the link and told them they had the option of continuing to the story, if they wanted. I have used Seedwiki before but I wanted to give Wikispaces a chance, and I think I like it better than Seedwiki now that I am using it.
About 12 students took me up on the offer and the result was a rather strange story with lots of twists and turns, and I read the story to all four of my sixth grade classes, who laughed and listened with much attention to their creation. Then, I thought, we should audiocast this story. So yesterday, two students narrated the Wiki story for our class websites.
Head off to read the Wiki story called The Mole in the Hole
And you can listen to the story, too, via this audiocast. The Mole in the Hole
We are now working with a Wiki to create a Crazy Dictionary of made-up words as part of our study of the origins of words in the English Language. I’ll provide those links in the coming days.
Peace (with collaboration),
And now for the grand finale of the claymation adventure with my 8-year-old (wait — he turned 9 today) and 6-year-old sons. With the addition of this final chapter, the entire movie is now just under 10 minutes long. I estimate it took us about five hours to do everything, over the course of four days (including a few rainy days, which was helpful). I am going to burn the movie onto DVD for family.
My kids are so proud of their work and I am proud of them, too. My role was mostly technical advisor and voice-over help (I am the cat), but there were plenty of times when the 8-year-old took control of the computer when I was busy with our 2-year-old and did it himself.
And so, here is our final installment, entitled Finding Mouse:
Peace (with clay thoughts),
My sons wrapped up their holiday break by finishing the last two segments of their claymation movie. I’ll share one segment today and the final one tomorrow.
This is called Capturing a Thief: