The Many Voices for Darfur Project, Part 2

“Why are we doing this?

The question came from a student who was not trying to challenge me. He really wanted to know. What do kids in a small suburban town of Massachusetts, USA, have in common with the crisis in the Darfur region of the Sudan? Why should he care?

For the entire day, my students were fully engaged in learning about the situation in preparation for participation in the Many Voices for Darfur Project (see yesterday’s post of my lesson plans and thoughts going into the discussions). They were outraged by the information they gathered. But some, like this student, were wondering why this was part of writing class.

But I was ready.

In fact, I had hoped students would ask such a question and had mulled over what to say as a sort of pep talk.

My answer, not quite verbatim but close:

“Why? Because there is a crisis going on in this part of the world and there is suffering going on and if anyone, anywhere, has the power to confront evil — not the evil you see in the movies but the evil that takes place in reality — then they should have an obligation to do what they can to confront that evil. We have talked all year about how your writing has power and your language is more than just words on paper. Young people can make a difference and here is a project in which your writing, and the writing of other young people around the world, could influence those people in power to choose peace instead of war. We’re lucky to live in the United States, where this sort of thing does not happen. You should always count yourself lucky. But you still have an obligation to be informed and to get involved. If you can make a difference, you should make a difference.”

My student nodded in agreement and got back to work. A few minutes later, a group of girls came up to me and said they want to do some kind of fundraising activities to help the refugees in the camps in the Sudan.

“We want to get them tents and warm blankets and food,” one said to me. “We’re going to plan something.”

Now that is what I am talking about: social action through writing and through action.

Peace (shall rise),

Crisis in Darfur overlay on Google Earth

(found this map)

The Many Voices for Darfur Project

The image “” cannot be displayed, because it contains errors.A few weeks ago, I began following the progress of a project to get young people to have a voice in the genocide taking place in Darfur. Called Many Voices for Darfur, it is spearheaded by by DC 8th grade teacher George Mayo and Tampa 3rd grade teacher Wendy Drexler, and their intent is to use a blog to connect as many young people as possible over a 48 hour period (next Thurs and Fri) to write about why the world should step in and stop the violence in that region of the Sudan.

This week, I took the plunge and decided that a unit on persuasive writing that I am doing with my students was just too good an opportunity to pass up and that the Darfur situation — while no doubt tricky to discuss with 11 year olds — will give them some insight into the world beyond their suburban homes. I am not sure how it will all go, to be honest. Tomorrow, I am going to use an online scavenger hunt that someone developed to gather some information about the situation and show part of an online video showcasing the history of the situation and what the world is doing, or not doing, as hundreds of thousands are dying. week, we’ll begin writing our persuasive pieces, from a couple possible angles. I am running into the difficulty of timing our work, and access to computers, with the 48-hour window of opportunity. And I just realized that the Friday is a half-day for us with the students (the other half: professional development). I would love to podcast my students reading their pieces, too, but am unsure if I can pull that off.

My principal is fully on board and loves the idea. I sent an email home to parents today, alerting them to the project. The kids were silent and thoughtful as I introduced a bit of what we were going to be doing and some asked if what was going on in Darfur was like what happened in Germany under Hitler. They were already making some connections that will allow me to frame their understanding in some interesting ways.

I know they are looking for as many teachers and as many students as possible, so head to the blog site or the wiki planning site and get involved. When we talk about Web 2.0 and the power to put meaningful writing and social action in the hands of our students, this is the kind of project we are all talking about and advocating. It can be as simple as a blog post, or a petition, or a podcast, or a video. You decide.

I found this video from the band Mettafix that is interesting. It’s a great song:

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The first stanza:

See the nation through the people’s eyes,
See tears that flow like rivers from the skies.
Where it seems there are only borderlines
Where others turn and sigh,
You shall rise (x2)

Peace (it’s the least we can do),

Twittering Around on 2008-02-27

  • Incredible multimedia video on Darfur — gave me tears this morning. Wonder how kids will react? #
  • @theother66 Snitter? What is Snitter? The words we stumble upon on our networks …. 🙂 #
  • Alerted principal to the Darfur Project and he is on board with full support. "We need to give them opp to write for the real world." Yeah! #
  • When I explained the word "genocide" to my sixth graders, the room went completely quiet. Our work to understand Darfur begins tomorrow. #
  • I’m doing virtual arm-wrestling with other teachers to get access to laptops for next week. Good so many want it. Bad that I want it, too. #

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Day in a Sentence (with students)

This week’s Day in a Sentence will be hosted over at the new TeachEng.Us collective blog that Ben D. has started up in hopes of creating a site where many teachers (you are invited) contribute ideas for the classroom and technology hacks that can make all of our lives better and easier (always a good thing, right?)

So please, head on over to TeachEng.Us for this week’s prompt.

Meanwhile, I decided on Monday that I wanted my students to do some blogging (we were just back from a week vacation and I wasn’t quite ready to go full-bore into paragraph writing). I thought, I should have them write about a day in a sentence and then post on our classroom blog.

So we did. It was interesting because so many of them (I have 80 young writers) write so literal that my coaxing to get them to get at the “essence” of the day seemed to be a flop. I wish I had had a better explanation or plan. They definitely enjoyed the writing and the posting and the reading of everyone’s sentences, so it was worthwhile.

Here are a few of my favorites:

  • We stayed at home watching the snow fall from the sky. –Paige
  • I met a new friend named Scott. — Kevin
  • I quickly learned how to ski, and I won a $20 bet against my parents that I would not fall while going down the beginner mountain. — Ryan
  • Last Saturday, in Okemo, it was cold like the arctic but fun — Matt
  • …. I got lost in the woods and it was scary — Katrina
  • Yesterday I gambled. (on the computer) — Sarah
  • On Friday I stayed up till 3:o0 and my dad caught me, so I stayed up later and I fell asleep at 3:30. — Dan

Peace (in brevity),

Twittering Around on 2008-02-26

  • Is programming the new literacy? Interesting article by Prensky in Edutopia. #
  • Ben is seeking Day in a Sentence from all of you I hope you consider participating. #
  • @blkdrama I use a flip vid camera for web-based stuff. Not quality for DVD, but very simple to use and easy to transfer (USB connect) #
  • Found some interesting Darfur videos from band, Mettafix maybe helpful to engage kids in project #
  • @blkdrama Advantage of Flip is ease of use. No tape involved. All flash memory. Light as heck, runs on AA batteries, etc. #
  • @alexragone Is that my personality profile you are reading? hahahaha oops, got to go. Another entanglement on the way. #
  • Students working on expository paragraphs "how to raise a kid" — some struggling, some have funny advice. #
  • Gosh, my students were noisy as heck this afternoon and I was thinking that earplugs are a great technology innovation (if I had them) #
  • More Snow!!!!!!!!! And sleet on the way!!!!! Good lord, when will winter end? Ready for flowers. #
  • @pkittle Time to hit the Sierra Nevada (brewpub) #
  • @courosa Just added some thoughts to your VT. It seemed to be there and working. Are the gremlins after it? #

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What If … video

This video was part of the site for the Learning 2.o Conference that was held last weekend in Colorado and co-organized by Bud the Teacher (who did a nice “braindump” — his term — podcast reflection of the event). I believe the video was created by The Fischbowl Blogger?

Interesting use of facts and hyperbole.

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Peace (in the end of writing … again),

Twittering Around on 2008-02-25

  • Going to try out Day in a Sentence idea with my sixth graders. Boil down a day into a sentence and post to class blog. Maybe podcast. too? #
  • interesting to watch 6th graders try to condense a day into a sentence and then blog #
  • @mmkrill No — regular edublogs. But we do use Edublogs Community for the Western Massachusetts Writing Project and love it. #
  • @kolson29 Thanks for visiting (and commenting on comics). #
  • @mmkrill Oops, meant to write Edublogs Campus, not Community (altho I love the community, too) #
  • Nothing like a tech hiccup in edublogs to try the patience of 11 year old bloggers. We got through it. But barely. #
  • The kids and I started reading The House of Dies Drear today and they already started getting creeped out with imagery and setting. Good. #
  • @kolson29 "Universal access" – yes! But so many schools use computers for testing & not for exploration (it seems to me as I work w/teachrs) #
  • @teach42 If you mean Twitter, it was James Farmer, as TwitterTools at my edublog gave me a launch pad (& push from Bonnie K. helped) #
  • Thinking about meeting on Wed with new National Writing Project ExDir Sharon Washington. Great opp. to talk convergence of tech and writing #

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Rock and Roll in the (Jam)Studio

Years ago, when I used to write music, I would dig out my old Tascam Four-track machine, dust it off, set up a room full of my low-quality recording equipment, and immerse myself for hours (literally) in running the tape. I do miss those days but these past few weeks, I have been tinkering with an online music site called JamStudio.

I wasn’t prepared to like it. I love music and I love live music, and I love the possibilities of making a mistake and discovering something new. A computer application is not the same, although I am no Luddite (obviously). With three kids and a busy schedule, it is difficult to have my guitar sitting around the house, as in the older days, and the burst of creativity can be a bit more difficult to channel. Still, it is strange not actually PLAYING the instruments. My hands feel empty.

JamStudio has given me another channel for songwriting. As a result, I have written and recorded five new songs in the past three weeks. A few of these are going to my rock band, The Sofa Kings, and a few are just for me. I always keep a few songs just for me.

Here is how I have used the site:

  • I paid for the All Access Pass (this is crucial for receiving high quality MP3 mixes of your songs from the site). This may not be a viable long-term effort but for now, I am OK with it.
  • The site is incredibly easy to use, although it has limitations. Everything is in four-four and there are limited sounds, but those possibilities get a lot longer with the All Access account.
  • For the most part, I have started with the music forming in my head and then worked the lyrics around the music. I flip back and forth on this (lyrics-music, or music-lyrics) when I write, so this is no big deal.
  • After working on a variety of sections of a song, I then have JamStudio mix it and email me a link to the MP3 file.
  • I move the music into Audacity (free!) and use my Blue Snowball microphone to record. I usually tweek with some compression and a bit of reverb. I can’t do background vocals to save a life, but I wish I could.
  • I then share the songs with my band or friends via
  • Or I use FlickrCC to search for Creative Common photographs and use MS PhotoStory3 to craft a little music video. And then it is upload time into Google Video.
  • And now? I don’t know. I may try my hand at setting up an online site at one of the music sellers and see what happens. This will be helpful because The Sofa Kings now has finished our CD and we are looking for a way to sell tracks online. Or I might just create my own website for my own songs.

Here is my latest song, called Tomorrow’s Never Gone, as a political video. It actually started out as a spurned lover song but that didn’t feel right (I am very happy, thank you very much) and then it was about one of the candidates, and then I realized that it needed to be more general in nature:

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Or you can listen to the MP3 track.

Here is a video tutorial about JamStudio, if you are interested.

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Give it a whirl — write a song — get creative.

Peace (in music),

Twittering Around on 2008-02-24

  • @JLWagner Hot cocoa (spiked?) might be just the thing. Glad to see you are still keeping a smile, Jen. #
  • Pulling together contributed Days in a Simile for publication tomorrow. #
  • Woke up way too early and so what do I do? I write. Full of ideas for an article on RSS for National Writing Project. Focus, focus, focus. #
  • @NCavillones I like the sonogram image of the little person. Go ahead and regale us with tales, and we’ll celebrate along with you. #
  • @kevinessdack Just starting to hook kids on Star Trek. I have DVD collection, with older & newer mixed in. They clamor for Spock! #
  • Is there (silent) glory in whipping 7 yr old’s butt in Chinese Checkers? Ummm. Yes. (payback for rotton behavior yesterday) — the bad dad #
  • PS — I let him win the second game. — not so bad dad #
  • @mrmayo This scavenger hunt from site is perfect: #
  • @garageflowers perhaps you humble him by winning big (see my earlier twitters, re: Chinese Checkers) — advice from bad dad, part deux #
  • I just spent 50 minutes getting interviewed about tech work by Natl Writing Project. I hope my thoughts were clear through this stuffy head #
  • Finished music video for new song. – working on reflecting on process #
  • @whatsit81 I’ll post my reflection on songwriting tomorrow (on blog). Still thinking it through. Thanks. #
  • Heading off to the theater downtown to see Moscow Circus — 3 year old is sooooo excited, he could do a flip and tumble right now. #
  • Older son’s HW: Watch TV & track violence. BUT we don’t let our kids watch TV (only vids now & then). Feels strange writing to teacher. #
  • The Moscow Circus was fun, altho a little cheesy. How did that girl bend her body like that? Yikes! My back aches just thinking about it. #
  • @LParisi The comment there made me chuckle. I thought it was brooding but not sad. And yes, big hair day! #

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Your Days Are Blooming Like a Bed of Flowers

This week’s Day in a Sentence became Day in a Simile, and everyone was wonderful (again!) with their entries. There is such a thrill to peak into my moderation bin and see all of the submissions and know what great quality writing and reflection is going on in your lives. Flowers to everyone this week!

Without further ado, here are your Days in a Simile:

Larry boiled his week down to this: “Teaching my Tuesday ninth grade English class was like experiencing the Five Stages of Grief — denial, anger, bargaining, depression, and acceptance — in an hour-and-a-half.

But he also explains, “I’m sure all of us teachers have experienced that, often, when we get a new student if it’s a boy the girls want to show off, and if it’s a girl then the boys want to do the same. Well, on Tuesday I got a new boy and a new girl in my ninth grade English class.”

Yep — been there, had that, Larry, although not two new in one day.

Bonnie wonders if her simile makes sense. Sure. It certainly has imagery to it, don’t you think? (poof)

My week is has been a clean blackboard, just waiting for exploding chalk dust to bury it until spring.”

The Great Thaw is on the minds of many in the winter regions, including Michelle, a friend from the National Writing Project.

My week is like black ice that cannot be melted or cracked–at least, not until a good thaw comes in the form of spring break (mid-March).

Matt is busy … with his Wii, and writes a simile as beautiful as a poem. (now move that arm and get that controller swinging, Matt!)

My week walked in beauty like a stone. We found and purchased a Wii which was like going to the dentist, getting a free toothbrush, and finding out you don’t have any cavities.”

Illya had a hill to scale but conjured up breakfast for a simile.

With my brain sizzling like bacon in the pan, I try to climb the mountain of preparation which will lead me to a successful course week of preparation of English teachers.

Ben B. was a bit, well, literary in his submission. Let’s hope his week ended better than it began.

This week’s Totalitarian unit was like Shakespeare — ‘a tale told by an idiot, all sound and fury, signifying nothing.

Janelle is seeking tasty treats and new terrain.

My week has been like experimenting with new cuisine. There are some tastes you like, and some that you could do without…. but at least, you’re trying it!

Ann O., a friend from the Twitterverse and Delicious network, is new to Day in a Sentence and I welcome her words and her presence.

My week is like a marathon race with a long stretch ahead and much pacing needed but a clear eye on breaking through the ribbon at the end.

Eric compares his day to a movie and maybe he has some major stars lined up for the parts?

Today is like a slow motion moment in the middle of a movie action scene.

Karen is all about variety this week.

My day is like a Levenger catalog, with my pens moving me from my journal, to my Circa class notebooks, to my journal again, and then to a book with the page carefully marked with a Levenger bungee bookmark.

Alice‘s sentence comes via Tumblr, a microblogging application that I have not yet ventured into (just starting to Twitter, you know?). She had a terrible day and she had to recast her original entry (a bit of profanity filtered in) before settling on this culinary comparison.

Today was like a sandwich of filet mignon on buffalo chip bread: my desktop o/s was fried last night when the server crashed, so I had to be re-imaged; the school day went great; I got my cell phone lost/stolen at the end of the day.

Donna was playing some virtual “red light green light” due to weather conditions and the cancellation of many events in her life.

My day is like a traffic light because I start off in one direction and opps! the light is red so I can’t go.

Sara’s blog detailed her sick week with the flu (sounds like my house).

My Tuesday was as tipsy as a tilt-a-whirl, because getting over the flu is not as easy as it sounds!

Ouch! Dentist simile coming up from Cynthia. Bring on the laughing gas!

Teaching the Codys and Treys of the world is like having impacted wisdom teeth extracted without anesthesia day after day after day.

Ann M., a friend from Australia who just awarded me a Thinking Blog Meme Award (thank you!), had news from a parent:

My week has been like a merry-go-round, with the highs including a statement from a grade6 parent that her boy no longer plays computer games, but now just at school 4 weeks.

Tina, who is part of my Western Massachusetts Writing Project, composed her simile late at night, she says, and as vacation week was winding down.

Sleeping in during February vacation is like breathing underwater.”

Elona found her week in a jar in the cupboard.

My week was like a jar of crunchy peanut butter- most smooth but crunchy in a few places to keep it interesting.

Thanks to everyone who submitted a sentence. Next week, the Day in Sentence (in its traditional format) will be hosted over at the TeachEng.US site that Ben has set up as a collective resource for classroom teachers. He is always looking for new writers, so feel free to peruse the site during the week and give him an email holler if you are interested in contributing. NOTE: Ben has a classroom photo contest going on and you can get more info at the site.

Peace (in community),