Step Back Stickman: Using Stykz for Stopmotion

Mac Interface

The other day, I wrote about the technology hemming me in, and I use a song that I had written and recorded as a demo as an example of why I was feeling that way. Today, I wanted to share what I did with that song, and maybe reversed things a bit. I still liked parts of the song, even though it had been changed irrevocably from what I had first envisioned it as for my band. And I didn’t want to lose it completely. As it turned out, I had also finally gotten around to downloading and toying around with the free Stykz software — which is a sort of updated version of Pivot Stick Figure stopmotion software (both are free).

I wondered: what if I created a stopmotion video in Stykz that used the chorus of the song? Yeah.

Here’s what I ended up with:

Peace (in the dance),


Considering Text Features: Narrative Versus Informational Text

The opening activity of a workshop that I gave on the Common Core on Friday to my colleagues had us moving around the room, thinking and talking about the text features of narrative text versus information text, which I broke down further into the content areas of science, math and social studies. The carousel activity was designed to spark our thinking about content area reading, in particular, as that was the focus of a lot of our discussions that day.

Here are the charts we ended up with:
text features narrative

text features info math

text features info science

text features info history
Peace (in the share),


App Review: Marble Math

My son and I tried out the free, limited version of Marble Math Multiplication on the iPad. Here is one example of an app that functions better on the smaller screen, in my opinion. Given that the math skills game works mostly via the twisting of the device to move the marble to the right answer in a maze, the larger iPad seemed to be more of a pain in the neck than an optimized playing experience. We’d twist the iPad to put the marble in play, and then lose sight of the play. (You may feel different, and there is an option to use your finger to “guide” the marble instead of tilting the device, but really … what kid will choose that?) An earlier version of Marble Math on our iPod Touch was easier to play, since the Touch is there in the palm of your hand at all times.

The free iPad app is a taste of the larger Marble Math app (two versions — one for younger kids and one for older kids). The larger app has more options for creating avatars and choosing the math operations that will be featured, which is handy. While the concept of the app is clever enough — you have to solve a math problem and then move the marble through a maze to the right answer, avoiding various obstacles along the way — the arcade-style app loses its flavor after a while. In this situation, the app really is more of a skill re-enforcer than a game that keeps kids coming back for more and more. The developer certainly tried to bring in elements to make it more engaging — the ability to redo a level that you do wrong, a scoreboard, levels of increasing difficulty, etc.

What I did notice with my 8 year old son, however, is that he gave up on solving the math problems and instead, began moving the marble randomly around the screen, hoping to bump into the right answer and purposely hitting the obstacles. When he failed at that a few times, he quit the app altogether. In the classroom, you’d be wise to set up some system for kids making progress, I suppose. In the end, Marble Math is one of a growing stream of skill-related apps that are a notch above worksheets, but will not likely keep all kids busy for long stretches of time. For parents, it is a game that can help reinforce some basic math concepts.

Peace (in the app),


Book Review: The Secret Ginger Mice

Now, here’s a book that my 8-year-old son and I chose from the library shelves for a read aloud based entirely on the cover: a watercolor illustration of two mice on a raft tumbling over a waterfall. Plus, the title intrigued us. The Secret of the Ginger Mice. We had a whole discussion about that word “ginger” and he guessed it had to do with ginger ale, the soda.

Well, not quite, but Frances Watts’ first installment in a series she is calling The Song of the Winns is a fast-paced adventure that tells the story of a mouse who gets kidnapped (perhaps), and then whose brother and sister set off to find him, only to run into trouble left and right. The book shifts back and forth between two different stories — that of the mouse who has disappeared, who begins making his way south to come home with a companion, and that of the siblings, who head north to rescue their brother. Plenty of cliffhangers ensue!

The larger story is that of a country that is in rebellion against a monarchy, and the mice kids’ family has some roots as rebels, although our protagonist mice — Alistair, Alice and Alex, plus a friend, Tibby Rose — don’t quite know that until near the end of the book after they are reunited, make their way home, and then realize that they are in danger and must leave again (just in time for book two). Oh, and ginger refers to the color of the fur of Alistair and Tibby Rose, and that shading is important to the larger context of the story, for reason I will not give away.

My son and I really did like this book, and it is a perfect read-aloud. Plenty of adventure (even pirates!), intrigue and mystery, and the weaving of the stories works nicely, too The use of mice as main characters connected us back to The Rats of NIHM and other stories, which was a nice connection to make. My only complaint is that as the designated reader-alouder person (!), I kept stumbling over the names Alice, Alex and Alistair when they were together (go ahead, read those three names fast a few times and tell me you aren’t stumbling, too. Hrumph).

Peace (in the adventure),


Technology Boxed Me In

I’ve written about this a few times here and there, and to be honest, I am having trouble finding the right way to explain what I mean. So, bear with me here. I love using technology for creative projects. I think the digital tools that I find and play with have pushed my writing and creating in new directions. But, every now and then, I run into a wall and realize: as much as technology helps me to push boundaries, it is also limiting what I am doing. Even as I think technology is opening doors, it is also closing them. Partly this is due to the limitations of the technology I happen to be using. Partly it is my own inability to push around those limitations or abandon a project midstream when it isn’t working for me.

Let me give you an example.

I play saxophone in a rock and roll band — Duke Rushmore — and I am one of the songwriters. We’re just now moving more into original material, which I am happy about, and I have been sharing some songs with the band, and thinking of how to get back into songwriting with more energy than I have in the past few years. (I sort of took a step back). The other day, on the way home from the grocery story, a melody line and the first two lines of a song came into my head. I spent the entire car trip, working mentally on the song, “hearing” it as a soul/pop groove with a chorus all ready to go. I came home, passed the bags of food to my wife, and ran upstairs.

Unfortunately, my guitar was out of tune and a string had snapped, so I booted up a music loop program that I like to use, and began the task of “writing” the song on the computer. What happened was this: the song completely changed as a result of using the loops, and when I was done and could take a breath, I realized that not only was the song not right for the band, I had also completely lost the thread of the original groove as a result using the prefab loops. The technology had reshaped my song, and the original idea had not only been supplanted, but it disappeared completely. And oddly enough, I only realized this when I was almost done with the writing.

It was frustrating, to say the least, and I blame myself, not the technology. But the technology had a role, right? It brought to my mind the thinking of Kevin Kelly in his book, What Technology Wants, and how technology seems to be shaping our thinking more than we are shaping our technology. My songwriting experience here is a clear example for me. It’s not the first time I have come out of a project and thought, my vision was not realized — either because of the limitations of the technology or my inability to wrest control of the technology to meet my own creative needs.

I’m not sure if that makes sense or not, but it is something I struggle with. The songwriting process that I described above is just one example, although it is very concrete to me. The song that I ended up with was very different from the song I wanted to write (and heard in my head), and that is because I allowed the technology to shape the process instead of my ideas.

Peace (in the thinking),

PS — I am still thinking about what to do with the song, but here it is:


eBook Review: Bartleby’s Book of Buttons, Volume 1

I am on the hunt for interactive books on the iPad that really use the technology of the device to create a different kind of reading experience. Perhaps I err in having The Fantastic Flying Books of Morris Lessmore as the ebook/Holy Grail that I compare others to, but I figure: isn’t it about time that companies push the development of interactive books in new and interesting directions? (or am I being unrealistic?). Just adding some sound to a book doesn’t make it much of an interactive experience.

That said, Bartleby’s Book of Buttons (today, I review the first volume, The Far Away Island, and another day, I will review the second volume in the series) does a pretty decent job of pulling the reader into the experience of the story. Simply put, Bartleby is on an adventure to collect more “buttons” for his book of buttons, and that leads him to Mystery Island where danger rears its head. (When I first heard “buttons,” I thought of shirt buttons, and wondered why anyone would collect those. I soon realized that “buttons” are literally buttons that you can press and make things happen. Perfect for a game, right?). The narrator’s Australian (I think) accent gives the story a different kind of “feel” to it, at least for my son and I.

The story here, such as it is, moves along at a good pace, and it’s not always obvious what the reader needs to do to advance the story. That’s not a criticism. In fact, it is a plus. You have to think, and listen, and follow clues that don’t always appear to be clues. There’s a solid mix of sequencing activities, discovery via touchscreen, and more. I’d rank The Far Away Island near the top of the some of the interactive books I have been experiencing lately (volume 2 is even better)

I suppose the challenge for developers is how to match the possibilities of the technology with the development of a good story for a wide age group audience.

Peace (in the touch),

PS — check this interview with the developers of the book:




Inventing Words; Playing with Language

We’ve wrapped up a study of the English Language along a number of lines (borrowed words from other languages, how roots interact with prefix and suffix parts, etc.) Our culmination is when students invent their own words, which are then added to an online dictionary that we have been doing since 2005. (I’ll share that link another day when I get this year’s words into place — they did the initial wiki work yesterday but I need to do a bit more).

They also podcast their word and definition. Take a listen and check out the word cloud:

Here are the podcasts of your invented words:

Peace (in the word),


We Are Our Information: The Digital Dossier Idea

I am starting to plan out a unit around digital citizenship for the upcoming Digital Learning Day on February 6. We did a longer unit on digital citizenship and digital footprints last year but I am narrowing the scope a bit this year, and focusing on information, privacy and footprints. I found this video as part of an excellent lesson plan at the Digital Learning Day site. Using a fictional person — Andy — the video tracks the information of a person from babyhood through adult. It’s eye-opening to think about, and the metaphorical concept of a digital dossier is poignant, I think.

Peace (in the digital),

App Review: HistoryMaps

One of the major shifts in the Common Core is the move towards reading informational texts. This includes charts, graphs, maps and more. So when I noticed this free app — HistoryMaps — I was curious. Maps can tell amazing stories, but students of course needs strategies for learning how to “read” a visual display of information. This particular app can be helpful, although you should know that its name tells you exactly what it is: a collection of historical maps (and very Europe-focused). There’s almost no text, and very little historical reference to the maps (other than some time periods).

But that lack of information is what makes this app so fascinating. What can we infer from the map of Omaha Beach from the WW II section? Where do troops land and what was the landscape like? How about Waterloo in 1815? Or the layout of the city of Paris during the French Revolution? And what did the European continent look like in 814 after the death of Charles the Great? Pull up the map and see. One of the more fascinating maps is the Map of Discovery, which shows the paths of explorers from 1340-1600.

Sure, you can probably find many of these maps with some online searching. But why bother? This free app has them all, handy and ready to be “read.”

Peace (in the map),

PS — it’s free but you have to put up with some banner ads at the bottom of the page. Just thought you should know that.