Is it summer (planning) already?

We still have snow in our backyard, yet I am thinking of summer. (Spring should happen in there somewhere, too, I hope).

Last year, my wife and I led two four-day summer camps around the idea of Claymation Movie Making, to great success. (See the camp blog here, with the movies). This year, I am leading a one-week Claymation Camp with Tina, who is part of our new Western Massachusetts Writing Project Technology Team and is avidly exploring the blogging world herself in the last month. The camp is a partnership for middle school students between our writing project and the local vocational high school.

Here is our Claymation flier:

Last year, I also worked up an overview of the camp to share out, providing some structure to our work and also links to programs, etc. If you are interested in claymation or stop-motion animation, then perhaps this website might help you.

In my classroom, I am just now introducing the software to my students and we will be tinkering with Legos later this week, I think. In years past, my sixth graders have teamed up with second graders for a movie project, but this year, we may do it on our own, as I want them to create a movie on the theme of Global Warming.

Peace (in sculpted clay figures),

Day in a Sentence, released

This week’s Day in a Sentence was a bit more than a sentence. I suggested that we slice into a period of time and share that out, and many of you took me up on the offer.

Again, I love reading your thoughts and I feel privileged to hold onto the words before releasing them all together. Due to the extensive nature of the writing this week, I don’t feel the need to do my usual introductions. The writing tells the tales.

Without further delay, then:

From Alice (who has offered to host Day in a Sentence next week):

This week was when the ideas and expectations created in the timelessness of Spring Break, ran into the brick wall of tasks and expectations required by my job. In addition, I tried to add an exercise routine into the week (new gym that we joined opened in neighborhood). I discovered that time and energy are finite resources. In addition, fate seemed to conspire against me in that any instance of poor planning on my parts was instantly met with chaos from others, leading to, well this is too nice a blog to use that type of language here). This left me both exhausted, angry, and cranky at the end of the week. Since I still have to get up early for CR 2.0 conversation, and have events at church both days of the weekend, I’m not sure how refreshed I’ll be. Thank goodness Battlestar Gallactica is back so I have some solace for my over-scheduled/planned life.


Great week in that my last two seniors passed the CaHSEE so they can graduate with their class; my two sophomore boys who entered their video in the Career Skills Challenge took third place; and all went smoothly on our fieldtrip to Sacramento. Bad week in that there were too many absences and we learned that our department is being cut by two teachers.


During April and May it is quite difficult to have any continuity in class, especially after lunch, because of all the spring sports my students are involved in. I used to obsess over the loss of class time, but now I just go with the flow, teaching whoever is in class. No use getting my–well, you know–in a wad over something I can’t control. This week has been no exception. So, on Thursday and Friday, putting Macbeth and Julius Caesar aside, I hosted Scrabble tournaments for my English students. I kibitzed, played some, won some, lost some, and learned lots of new words, thanks to our Scrabble dictionary that we allow ourselves to consult when we get strange letters and don’t know what to do with them. The last game of the week ended with Tom-Tom yelling at Todd, “You can’t leave yet. I get one more turn. You were supposed to stop when the bell rang. I have another word to play.” Todd just walked out of the door, ignoring Tom-Tom, who picked up the Scrabble board (so I wouldn’t put it up), and rushed out the door. “Come back. We’ve got to finish this.” Actually, they were finished; Todd was the last player, and it was Tom-Tom who had stalled until the bell rang, thinking Todd would pack up and leave, and he would be declared the winner of one more Scrabble contest. I guess you can tell Tom-Tom does not like to lose at Scrabble, and until this match, one of his major claims to fame was, not only had he beaten Mrs. Cynthia (me) in Scrabble, but, until this last match, he was also the undefeated Scrabble player of Room 13. Well, Tom-Tom, guess you’ll just have to snap out of it. And, besides, there’s always next Thursday to start a new string of wins, or maybe even defeats. I’ll be waiting for you.

Sara P.:

This week was our state tests – 6th grade Math and Reading, three 90-minute sessions each. So our mornings were stuffed with testing, and our afternoons were just 6th-grade-wide free time and recess. It bothers me that our kids are so low, but hopefully the test scores are much better than last year’s. The highlight of the week, though, was just getting to know most of the other 6th graders – we’re self-contained classrooms, so my 24 are my focus most of the time. I also liked making one of the badass kids sit out for hitting another kid, and having him apologize to me when his five minutes was up. “Really? Anthony apologized? He *never* does that for me,” says his regular teacher. I like knowing my take-no-prisoners approach to discipline works!

Jane S.:

Our yard is a war zone for birds. The first casualty was the bluebird kamikaze that flew into our picture window. Today’s victim is the American Goldfinch. A hanging thistle basket, made especially for goldfinch feeding, proves to be a dangerous platform for our hungry comrade. An errant toe is hooked into one of the tiny openings on the mesh basket and he can’t get away. A trickle of blood brings out my rescuing instinct and I call my husband. The wounded is soon released from his prison and we plead armistice but the birds are silent to our truce.

Ben B.:

At least weekly, my sophomores remind me something I apparently shouldn’t forget.

“You aren’t a real teacher.”

Like clockwork. How do I respond to this? They already have it in their very, very little heads that I’m just a student teacher and that, because my master teacher is in the room, that I do not have any authority.

I don’t blame my master teacher. When he isn’t there, they’re worse.


I’m thrilled that this week, after having recently received a large influx of new ninth-graders into my mainstream class, I feel that I’ve finally been successful at getting a good handle on class management. I’m particularly excited that I was able to do this through using much more of a positive and affirming approach instead of a threatening and punishing one. I wonder how class management issues in an inner-city school compare with those in other places?


Wow. Here we are clear across the continent…and my student teacher introduced idioms to (her) my 9th grade class. She wanted them to find the origin of the phrases and rejoice in their interest, but many simply found them sort of silly. Being mostly polite, they withstood her enthusiasm.
I wondered how often idioms become cliche and why that seems to be part of the process.

Meanwhile, AP and 11th are doing research papers which I always use as the opportunity to look for new ideas and sources myself. In my friend Carol Jago’s new book on teaching writing, I discovered a positively wonderful essay entitled “Your Brain on Baseball” by David Brooks. Carol’s book comes with a CD with handouts (how great!) so if you are interested, I could send it. Cheers.


This week my great moment working with a teacher is all about Moodle and creating a drop box. The teacher was totally amazed, as was I, to add this simple tool that can do so much. How great to have a drop box for an assignment that takes the assignment and funnels it through your grading book in Moodle. The teacher’s eyes were sparkling as she realized that all the assignments would now be on her laptop, not the USB key, not in a pile of papers, not getting lost. The Moodle date and time stamp indicates which enrolled students have dropped off their assignments. How slick! That is what I call technology with purpose! Oh, and saving on paper is still another bonus. Celebrate Earth Day! Over and out. Cheryl Oakes


Friday. Gray morning, but the birds are chirping. Just a half day left on the course I’m teaching. Participants are antsy, want out, want a final day of holiday, want some sun. Finally, we say our good-byes. Then I pack up, clean up, clear out. Out for lunch at last! Then back home I’m smothered with kisses by my littlest one. Weekend begins.


Spring’s finally here and so are my allergies that leave me brain dead.

Anne M:

My week has been tinged with sadness, due to the loss of my mother and her funeral taking place. However, it has also been a time to reflect on cherished memories and remember all the wonderful times we have shared together. The week ended on a high, with the arrival home of our two sons from London, who flew home suddenly to spend 2 weeks with us at this sad time.


A week ago we were just back from Israel sitting around this kitchen table at 3am eating breakfast without milk and a week later, after suffering though a bout of jet lag and accepting some powerful NWP/HVWP challenges, I am poised to begin my first grounded week at home. Any sign of spring?

If you like this idea of slicing into your day, you should wander over to Two Writing Teachers, where the blogging team there has established a regular Tuesday Slice of Life feature that offers yet another way to integrate writing, reflection and community.

Peace (in connections),

Another vision of today’s students

Here is yet another intriguing video on why we should consider technology as integral to education:

[kml_flashembed movie="" width="425" height="350" wmode="transparent" /]

Notice the desire to create, remix and use technology to explore the world.

Peace (in illumination),

Alliteration, Personification and Quidditch: A classroom tour

Every now and then, I like to share out some of the projects my students are engaged with in the classroom. The past two weeks, we have been working on Figurative Language as we gear up for poetry, and then songwriting. I wrote a post about the use of hyperbole for tall tales over at TeachEng.Us last week. We also looked at comic books for Onomatopoeia, did some games around Idioms, reviewed similes and metaphors, and listened to color poems for Imagery.

For Alliteration, we worked on tongue twisters, using Dr. Seuss as an entry point into the crazy ways that words can make your tongue jump, twist and turn. Some of the students participated in a podcast of their tongue twisters, after I first shared out the twisters that I wrote for myself and the other three teachers on my team. I used a little Olympus voice recorder to move around the room.

Take a listen to our Tongue Twister Podcast

Then, for Personification, we talked about how it can be used for an entire story (Shel Silverstein’s The Giving Tree, for example) or in a sentence. We created some sentences, got on the computers, and they had to illustrate one of the four Personification sentences that we composed. Here are some of the illustrations:

Created with Admarket’s flickrSLiDR.

Finally, our school is in the middle of Quidditch season, and one art activity that we do with them is the creation of team t-shirts. I went into the art room with my camera to capture some of the work they were doing for our team: The Ice Legend.

Created with Admarket’s flickrSLiDR.

Here is the shirt the kids are working on for me. I let them do what they want and hope they won’t embarrass me too much.

Peace (in student work),

Technology and Changing Teaching Practice

Thanks to Bud the Teacher for this one.

I am a co-editor on a book (which will be published sometime in the future by Teachers College Press in partnership with the National Writing Project) on how technology is changing teaching practice in the writing classroom, and how teachers are assessing such work in light of national and state curriculum standards. It’s been very interesting to read the chapters as they filter in (mine is about a digital picture book project).

The NCTE is also looking for stories of how technology is impacting our teaching practice and what it means. Here is what they write on their website:

We’re interested in how your teaching has changed—in how you have altered, adjusted, or shifted your habits and expectations—since the time you began teaching. For example, what has changed in your approaches to reading? Writing? Evaluation of students? Use of technology? Confidence level? Rapport with parents? Balance of personal and professional life?

Whether you are a 30-year classroom veteran or a new teacher, you have a story, and we’d like to hear it!  Email us 150 words or less describing changes you have made in your teaching and your teaching life. Please include your full name, school name, years of teaching, and a preferred email address or phone number in case we need to contact you. Send stories to

You might want to consider writing up a piece about your classroom. I, for one, am thinking of something along the lines of podcasting.

Peace (in reflection),

Six Trends of Emerging Tech

(Note: this is an old post that has been sitting in my bin. Doing some spring cleanup)

The 2008 version of the Horizon Report shows six possible trends in emerging technology that is worth a look. (You can download the full report here).

The report identifies:

  • Grassroots video
  • Collaborative Webs
  • Mobile Broadband
  • Data Mashups
  • Collective Intelligence
  • Social Operating Systems


Peace (in the future),

Sketching out my head

Stacey, over at Two Writing Teachers, had this link in post this week (sent forth by her mom) and I just love it. It’s called Sketchcast and it allows you to draw and embed into your blog (and with the new freedom of Edublogs, you can embed it right into a post now with going through hoops and hurdles).

Here is a sample I made about a look inside my cluttered head:

I am wondering how to bring this into the classroom, as my kids don’t have their own email addresses. I might be able to use the Google Email Hack, though. Or maybe I can set up a classroom account and just let multiple kids create multiple sketches at the same time.
Peace (in sketch form),

The World of Comics


I was prowling around the web, searching for some comics that I might be able to use for a lesson on Onomatopoeia today when I found this site called


I love comics and I always have loved them, back from the days of delivery newspapers as a kid. I used to spend hours with the newspaper and comic books when I was young, and I still wrestle with my own kids to get to that section of the paper. I think the web, like so many things, has the ability to make content more available in our own time frame, for our own interests in a way that is changing the delivery and discovery of comics. (There are downsides to that, too, including the lack of serendipitiously stumbling on something cool that you did not know was there).

When I travel to other cities, I always buy the local newspaper. It’s part of the old journalist in me to see how things are faring in the local newspaper market.  You can often tell the status of a community by the quality of its newspaper. I also turn to the comic page to see what comic strips I am missing.


This comics site has a lot of comics that you might find in various daily newspapers, but what I found it interesting is how they sort them and break them down by age and gender. It made me truly wonder who designates what age a comic is appropriate for? Whose to say that I don’t like a little Reality Check in the morning? Or that Lola’s joke about ebay dentures this morning won’t be funny for a man?


I know everything out there is just waited to be sorted and indexed and put into little small piles of information. But I kind of wish they would let me, and not them, do it for myself.


I noticed that they also have a category just for web-based comics, although I wish comics would begin to push the envelope a bit, using hyperlinks and embedded audio and video, and other elements of the web. I think it is possible to push beyond the frames.


Peace (in little square stories),



A Poem a Day

Bud the Teacher showed me this, via Twitter.


You can sign up for a poem to be delivered to your email inbox every day for the month, and I already have two wonderful gems come my way. This is just one way to celebrate the art of poetry, which hopefully extends across the year.

You can sign up here.

Peace (in poetic delivery),

Day in a Sentence: slicing into your week

Day in Sentence Icon

The Day in a Sentence has always been purposefully minimalistic.

It’s about narrowing down your reflection to its essence. But the recent Slice of Life project (kudos to Two Writing Teachers) that I have been part of has demonstrated how insightful it might be to pull back a bit and broaden that focus.

So I am going to suggest that we consider doing just a bit more writing than a sentence this week.  I ask you to consider writing a few sentences or a short paragraph that brings us inside your classroom and sharing that experience with us.

Of course, you still have the option of a single sentence (that is always the default, given the lack of time that so many of us have).

As usual, please use the comment link here at this post. I will collect all of the submissions and then post them together on Sunday. If you decide to podcast your writing, just provide me with a link or email me your audio file at dogtrax(at)gmail(dot)com and I will host for you.

Here is my submission:

The toolbox of figurative language can be fun for writers and readers, I assured my students, and then we launched into the realm of hyperbole. They caught the exaggeration bug quickly, easily telling tall tales about their lives. The alliteration was also a blast, as we tied up our tongues with our own twisters and read from Dr. Seuss’s Oh Say Can You Say. I had more volunteers to read from that book than pages and more laughter than time. But idioms? Oh my. Perhaps it is their age but idioms confused so many of them. And for my few students whose second language is English, idioms are like some bastion of imprecise phrases. One even asked, what do you mean, they don’t mean what they say? We took it slow, but not slow enough.

Peace (in slices),

PS — Alice M. has agreed to be host of Day in a Sentence next week. If you think you may want to host, please just let me know. It is simple, yet informative.