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:
In a touching memoir of his relationship with his father (and the suitcase of writing that his father bestowed upon him and asked to read after he died) that was delivered as a Nobel Lecture and then published in The New Yorker, Orhan Pamuk tries to get at the heart of what a writer is. (Pamuk won this year’s Nobel Prize in Literature).
Here is one section of his description of a writer, as he sees it:
“A writer is someone who spends years patiently trying to discover the second being inside him, and the world that makes him who he is. When I speak of writing, the image that comes first to my mind is not a novel, a poem, or literary tradition; it is the person who shuts himself up in a room, sits down at a table and, alone, turns inward. Amid his shadows, he builds a new world with words.” — Orhan Pamuk, in The New Yorker (Dec. 25 2006/Jan.1 2007 edition)
I like that description because it touches a deep chord with me and my own personal writing process. I know it is not the same for everyone and Pamuk even acknowledges that for his father, the writing process was completely different — more social in nature.
Peace (with words),
I’ve been observing from afar a “tagging” game going on among edubloggers, who are asked to write five things about themselves that other bloggers may not know (are there really other bloggers out there in the world?) and then spin the game to five other people (reminds me a bit of six degrees of seperation — minus one). Cheryl Lykowski — who is part of our Youth Radio initiative — got me this morning and so here I go:
Five Things about Me
- My nickname Dogtrax comes from a childhood nickname — Red Dog, which is a football play. We played some tough tackle football in my apartment neighborhood and I was a blocker for my best friend, Chris, and he named me Red Dog (my hair was red back then). The name got shorter as the years went on, and was reduced to Dog, and then when I started doing some independent recording with a four-track machine, I named my “company” Dogtrax Studio.
- I have written more than 200 songs — most of which stink and many of which I have the lyrics (archived) with no chords, so the words are alive but the music is mostly lost. Except that I have on cassette tape about 100 songs from the last 20 years sitting around, gathering dust and losing their magnetic strips, no doubt.
- I was in the Connecticut National Army Guard for six years as an infantry soldier — I was a Wire Dog, which meant running communication wire through the dead of winter from one command center to another. I got a low degree of frostbite on one of my fingers to remember the experience by.
- A friend and I are working on a movie script that centers around our college days and an interest in Buckminster Fuller — the man behind the geodesic dome and many other scientific advancements.
- I have composed and played music for my family’s church and listened with pleasure as a huge pipe organ and a full choir belted out two of the songs I wrote here at home, with a guitar and a computer notation program. On one of the performances, I even had my wife play her violin and a friend play his guitar, while I played my soprano saxophone on the song. Glorious indeed.
Hmmm. Now who shall I tag?
I’m not quite sure how this whole venture progresses from here but my National Writing Project friends can consider themselves tagged.
Peace (in at least five ways),
PS — So I began tracking the meme project backwards, just because I had a few minutes, and phew … the links track way back with this Five Thingamabob Project. I grew exhausted just following the leads.
My two older sons (ages 8 and 6) were so enthralled with my StopMotion experiments with Thelonius and the short movies that I made that they pressured me to let them produced their own movies, too. And who am I to resist that kind of pressure?
First, they made a short film about a mouse who gets chased by some creatures (including an owl who slowly emerges from a hole in a paper tree — first the beak, then the eyes, and then the head). Then, they decided to create a second movie in which the stars of the first movie get interviewed by reporters, only to find that a thief has stolen all of their money right from under their noses.
My only roles in these projects were to run the computer and help with the voices. The boys did everything else, and the older one is now (with no push from me) creating his own style of storyboard for the next few chapters of the story and he was hard at work on the writing right up until bedtime last night. (One interesting aside: one of the characters fell over during a sequence but only for a frame or two, and it led us to a discussion about “subliminal” images in movies because the three of us can see the flicker where the fall happened but it zooms by so fast that no one else would likely catch it).
Should I mention how exciting it is for me, as a dad and a teacher and a writer, to see my kids so involved in something so creative?
Here, then, is the premiere of Mouse Chase and Movie Star Friends:
Peace (one frame at a time),
Winter break is almost over and so I made one last StopMotion movie experiment with my character, Thelonius, in which he is transformed from strange-looking puppet into bizarre-looking clay figure (go figure).
Along the way, I thought about some things to think about for using StopMotion in the classroom:
- Lighting is key. I need to find a way to have consistent lighting for my students because it really effects the entire piece when lighting goes astray. I had shadows all over the place and I never really found a good set-up for the movies.
- Plan out the project. I had a pretty good conceptual idea for what I was doing but I can see that we will need pretty extensive planning. Storyboarding will be even more important with stopmotion animation.
- Be careful with your fingers. I lost an entire movie because I accidentally saved it some wrong way. Students would lose all of their patience if they lost an hour’s worth of work. I just started over again (cursing all the time).
- I think clay figures will need some internal support — wooden armetures (is that the phrase) to provide support, so that when kids move their characters around, they won’t crumble. I am using a mannequin body but the weight of the clay is tipping Thelonius over and so I need to revisit my clay structure.
- The question of how to sync narration with the video is vexing and one I will have to think about. That will take some practice. I used a mix of audio, music and text — just to see which one might work, and I am not sure of the results.
- Movement of character is slow but cool to watch when done. You really have to take it one step/one motion at a time. If you rush the movement, it shows in the movie. When I was slow and deliberate, it made all the difference in the world.
- A good site for insights into this process was put together by a friend, Glen, out in Oregon. Here is his site.
And now, for Thelonius Tranformed:
Peace (in slo-mo),