Days in a Sentence: The Great Sharing Out

In a week of expressing thanks (here in America, anyway), I want to shower all of the contributors to the weekly Day in a Sentence with praise for sharing their words. I am always heartened to see what comes into my blog bin when I put out a call for sentences. So, thank you – each and every one of you, whether you contribute each week or just when time permits.

And now, on to this week’s sentences:

First, Ken gets double-duty. He was the only one to contribute a sentences two weeks ago and I decided to hold onto his poem for this week. And then, he sent forth another sentence for this week, and both are wonderful (as usual):

a week on reports
hammered words into shape for
deserving learners

(and then)

Could you believe it –
from the millions on the Net,
just one sentence – mine?

(Yes, Ken, yours …)

David, who sometimes gets stuck inside my spam filter (which used to happen to me when Day in the Sentence was hosted over at The Reflective Teacher years ago), was engaged in a bit of digital clean-up that had me looking over my system, too. I asked, but he could not come here to help me out.

Added an extra 250 gigabytes of hard drive to my laptop, imagine how spacious that feels, give me a couple of months and it’ll be cluttered up and almost full though…

Both of The Two Writing Teachers (Stacey and Ruth) posted their own Days over at their terrific blog and so, since they are such a team and close partners, it only seems right to share their sentences here, together, as writers.

Stacey: I’ve come to realize that I’m truly blessed to have a friend and a colleague who pushes my thinking and makes me a better teacher of writing.

Ruth: I’m thankful that my very favorite holiday season is upon us.

Bonnie made the attempt to use Vacaroo but the platform didn’t work out so well for her, so maybe it’s not such a hot application after all. But, as always, she took the plunge, gave it a try, gave it a second try, and pushed herself forward. This week, a sentence was not enough and time was a crunch.

Just got home from San Antonio last night. I’m unpacked and happy to be back at the Hudson.
I did have my computer with me for the week of course, but in the world of NWP and vacation, there was no time to Boil Down the Week, barely enough time to chat with friends, but, last night I enjoyed reading through Tech Friends on ning to begin my own conference debriefing. Good to be home and experimenting with yet a new tech tool, thanks Kevin.

(You are welcome, always, Bonnie)

Nancy has some traveling in her bones as teeth move into the mouth of her adorable daughter. Ouch.

Putting some miles on the car last weekend and this, while Alice gains some miles of her own, rolling to and fro, between bouts of teething discomfort.

Conferences over, Liza reflects on things she is thankful for. I am sure the parents are thankful for her as their children’s teacher.

Focused on gratitude this week, I am aware of how grateful I am to be a teacher but also how grateful I am to be finished with Family-Teacher conferences!

Breathing is … good. And having a time to catch your breath … even better. Delaine also tried Vocaroo and came up empty. Methinks I sent forth a bad application to test. I apologize.

Good morning from rainy California. I am so thankful to have a week off to spend with family and friends and to take a moment to breathe.

Deb explains about her Thanksgiving tradition, which  is to tell what people are thankful for at the table. She writes, “I appreciate the tradition. I love hearing the three year-old saying what she is saying, but also what the quiet brother in-laws.”

I am THANKFUL for time with 17 relatives at my Thanksgiving table who will say, ‘I am thankful for…’.

Twelve hours of sleep! My gosh … just look at Karen McM’s list and you’ll understand. I wonder what she dreamed about?

My week as a list (if you don’t mind): report cards; internet safety presentation; Giver project presentations; disaster drill planning; clueless parents; wonderful parents; happy students; cranky students; overachieving students; underperforming students; chatty students; rude students; downright (oohhh…vocab word) disrespectful students; why do I do this job?; God, how I love my job!; a day off from school, slept for 12 hours = priceless!

Nina reminds us to remain grounded in the real world and to not take anything for granted.

In this time of global financial crisis, I am so very thankful to have a job, and one that (despite my frequent complaints) I enjoy doing!

My friend, Ben, whom I wish I could have seen in San Antonio (why didn’t we connect, Ben?) found his thoughts in between two places.

While I feasted on National Writing Project presentations, my students devoured Night, by Wiesel, and Copper Sun, by Draper. (This would be my second sentence if I could have two: I am glad to be part of Kevin’s tribe, but I am sad that I didn’t get to hang out with him there at NWP.)

Anne M. went out and connected. And she returned renewed with ideas. Isn’t that the best part of going to a conference of substance and meaning? (Of course, nothing is worse than the opposite — returning home from a conference that was meaningless).

My week was a thought provoking one as I attended three days of conferences – giving me many wonderful ideas, challenges and the best of all, new and existing connections with some wonderful educators.

The heart of what is important is the center of Sheryl‘s thoughts this week.

Talking of food, friends and family together on Thanksgiving made light work of the weekly chores, duties and responsibilities leading to the day.

Thanks, Art, for reminding me that being in a roomful of hundreds of other teachers who care about writing, and share a similar philosophy, is not an isolating act but one that connects us with others.

Being around the other concerned interested teachers at NWP made me feel more normal than I usually do.

sara looks around and sees a possible ending to passing the buck and she hopes, it will be the students who gain from this change of heart.

it is infinitely satisfying to see my teaching team step up this year and really hold the students accountable, instead of just saying “oh well, it’s easier not to deal with it,” thus saving my stomach from more potential ulcers. : )

Cheryl is thinking downhill (or is it cross-country) with winter and cold weather now upon us but friends and family to keep us warm.

Relaxing with family and friends over a day of skiing and an evening of good food, thankful for these moments.

Pig roast! Not just a pig roast, but a Barbarian Pig Roast! Angie fills us in.

Our second annual Barbarian pig roast at the Texas RenFest with over 30 of our friends followed by Thanksgiving with our son and our close family friends made this past week busy but absolute fun!

Tina also had food on her mind (not pig, but shellfish) and the break in the action that comes with Thanksgiving.

The blackened scallops I ate last night (at the Gill Tavern) were, so far, the highlight of what has been a perfectly pleasureable four-and-a-half-day vacation.

And finally, Amy can breathe a sigh of relief and give some true thanks that the health care system worked for her and her family, and I send out our collective thoughts of support her way, too.

This year we gave thanks for Blue Cross Blue Shield HMO of Illinois. Why? Because we just received word that they will cover the ENTIRE cost of a computer/communication device for our autistic 10 year-old.

Thanks to everyone who submitted a sentence this week. I am truly thankful for your words.

Peace (in sharing),

Making StopMotion Movies, part 4

This is my final reflection on the movie project that I did with my students recently, using stop-motion moviemaking to demonstrate a literary idea. Part one dealt with student reactions to the endeavor; Part two was how I implemented the project; and Part three was how I published the videos.

This is about how I am going about grading these 31 movies. I think it should be stated outfront that assessing digital projects can be difficult, as technical difficulties can sometimes get in the way of executing even the most perfect idea. So, I do try to keep an open mind, even though I lay out parameters of expectations to my students from the very start. I remind them that this is all fun and exciting, but it is also a learning experience and they need to show what they have learned.

Before we even began, I went over my expectations with them:

  • Their movie would demonstrate a literary term that I would provide them (worth 50 points);
  • They would storyboard their idea out and conference me about their concept (20 points);
  • Their title would center on the literary term and a written definition of the term (or a very clear narration) would be required (20 points);
  • Effort and imagination and patience would be rewarded (10 points).

This weekend, as I looked the movies over more critically than I have before, I realize that some groups just got caught up in the movie aspect, and gave only a head-nod to the actual assignment. Others found a story with a focus and told it through a movie as best as they could. Still others … well, they just created odd movies.

I know almost every student loved this project and now understands something more intangible: how to manage a complicated project with many layers of composition, work with others in a cooperative venture, and publish a movie to the world. I didn’t grade these aspects, but they are as important as the area that I give points for, in my opinion. In the ideal world, the grade would not be required.

So, the average grade hovers around a solid “B” range for the classes, but the memories of making a movie will last long after the report cards go out and get lost in the dust bin of history.

Peace (in experiences),

Making Stop-Motion Movies, part 3

This is the third of a four part series of posts on how my  class went about planning, writing and producing short stop-motion movies on the theme of literary terms (see part one and part two). My idea here is to allow me some space to reflect and hopefully, nudge a few of you into moviemaking.

In my last post, I talked about the actual making of the movies. And now that they are done, what do you do with them? Well, many of my students now have their own flash drives (and our class has a few that we loan out), so getting copies of their productions is easy enough. It used to be a lot more difficult — burning DVDs, etc. Flash drives are wonderful.

Our movies are being made for a wider audience, however (including a few that will become part of The Longfellow Ten project). SO, we wanted to publish the movies to the web for a potential world-wide audience. This is a tricky decision — where to host the videos and where to publish them. I have tried all sorts of services over the years and to be honest, I find most of them lacking in one way or another. My own goals are for a site that hosts videos, with no links back to the site, no advertising and ease of use. Does that seem like too much to ask for? In this vein, I have worked with YouTube (no need to say a thing), Google Video (better but not great, and I don’t expect it to last as a separate entity from YouTube), Edublogs TV (it has potential but slow to upload, in my opinion), TeacherTube (unless it has been fixed, it had become incompatible with Edublogs), Blip (it’s fine), Flickr (you can upload and share short videos under the plus account) and more.

Luckily, my friend, George (of the Longfellow Ten), had been on the same path and he found Vimeo. It turns out that more than a year ago, I had checked it out too and forgotten all about it. Vimeo is like a typical service except you can really adapt the embedding option. This allows you to remove any and all links back to Vimeo itself. All the students will see is the video and the play/volume buttons. This is exactly what teachers need, I think.

Both George and I upgraded our accounts because we both know that we will be using it for larger video projects down the road, but the free version seems fine. It’s also nice because you can save a preset for embedding — you don’t have to revamp the embed code each time.

So, I now had a reliable and useful host for my videos. But I don’t want to direct my students to Vimeo to view the movies. I want to create our own space for publishing the video collection. (George is using for the Longfellow Ten project, which is nice because Vimeo is incredibly easy to embed in WordPress blogs).  I thought about using our classroom blog — The Electronic Pencil — but with 31 videos, that seemed like too much (particularly when Edublogs suggests you don’t publish more than one video per post). I thought about whipping up a quick webpage with html/dreamweaver. But then, I would have to host the page.

Finally, it dawned on me that a wiki might be the best option. Easy to use, a wiki also allows for multiple media files per page. So, I went to my wiki companion site for The Electronic Pencil (over at Wikispaces), and started to embed the movies. It worked like a charm, and it also allowed me to show my students a wiki, which we will be using later this year for our Crazy Dictionary Project (now four years running).

Last, I made a link to the various movies from our class blog site, had my kids view them one class period (so they could see what their classmates have been up to), and then I had them reflect about the movie project at our blog, thinking about what they liked about making the movies, what they didn’t like and what they would do differently if we started over again (maybe later this year).

In my last post (part 4), I am going to talk about how I am grading and assessing the movies.

Peace (in little movies),

Making Stopmotion Movies, part 2

This is the second post around making stopmotion movies with my sixth graders (see the first post) and I want to talk about how we actually did it. My hope is that one of your (dear readers) may want to replicate or build on the experience and so my path may help you along on your own movie-making journey.

First of all, I launched into this project because I received an email and a phone call from George Mayo, another middle school teacher who has done some wonderful collaborative work in the past (see, Darfur awareness project). He and I have communicated about claymation and I showed him a few ways to get started. Now, he runs a movie club and his kids began making stopmotion movies around literary terms as part of a secret collective called The Longfellow Ten. He wondered if I might want to have my students join in the fun. So, I scrapped one of my projects and moved into moviemaking. How could I not?

But I knew with four classes of students (about 75 kids), it would be hectic. And a bit crazy. And also a great time. (It helps that I have done claymation a number of times now, including summer camps. I would not have launched into something this big without those experiences under my belt).

I began by showing my students the short films that George’s students had already published and talked about what stopmotion is. Luckily, just about everyone has seen Wallace and Gromit, so there is a common thread to talk about (and, one day when I was out, the sub showed them the Behind the Scenes of the Making of The Curse of the WereRabbit movie — an incredible documentary of the work that goes on — it’s on the movie DVD).

My students then either got into small group, or worked independently (no group bigger than three — that’s my rule). I handed out slips of paper with literary terms (such as plot, setting, foreshadowing, etc) and their job was to build a movie that discussed, defined or demonstrated that term. This all begins with storyboarding out their story, conferencing with me, and having a clear plan of action before they even touch the computers.

Once they are ready to start shooting their videos, they either brought in their own toys from home or used the box of my own sons’ toys (shhhhh … they don’t know the box is missing). We use a freeware program called StopMotion Animator and inexpensive webcams for the initial frame-by-frame shooting. I like the software because it is pretty basic to use. It saves the video as an AVI file, which then later, the students bring into Microsoft MovieMaker for editing. (Although, you may need to use a Codec encoder in order to move the raw footage into moviemaker. If so, I use this one called Xvid)

Here is what I preach every single day, ad nauseum: patience. If they can be patient, and move their objects slowly, and capture a lot of footage, then their final movie will be of higher quality. I also tell them to film more than they need, since they can always edit out footage but adding new footage in is difficult (you have to reset the scene, etc).

In MovieMaker, they edit out their inadvertent hands, add titles and credits, and insert transitions between scenes. Then, we plug in microphones and they begin their narration. The syncing of voice to video can be difficult and it requires … more patience and also, some editing on the fly. I often show them how to use video effects to slow down footage or to capture a still image to insert into the video in places where more dialogue is needed.

We then gather up their project (usually only a minute or two long at most) and create a video (use the DV-AVI setting in Moviemaker for highest quality). For some groups, they are done. For others, however, they can make their own music soundtrack and we use a software program that I bought called Super Dooper Music Looper, which allows them to use loops to create songs. They love this software! (But George has also shown me a few sites that allow use of music, too: CCMixter and Freesound).

If they want to add music all the way under their movies, they need to re-import their video (with narration, titles, etc) and then layer the music, and then make the video a second time. Phew. There are a few steps to this process, aren’t there?

The result? A student-created movie from start to finish. In part 3 of this reflection, I will talk about how George and I are posting the videos online (hosting and publishing) and then, in part 4, I will talk about the task I now have of assessing their work — for this is a graded project, with parameters that I established at the very beginning of the process.

Peace (in sharing),

Stop-Motion Movies, part 1

Now that my project to create stop-motion movies around literary terms is over, I thought I would reflect a bit on the experience in the classroom. First of all, this is the first time I worked on movie-making with all four of my sixth grade classes (about 75 kids) and it was a bit daunting. There ended up being 31 short movies created by small groups of students — that is a ton of movies! Most days, I felt like a headless chicken, running from one group to the other, helping sort through technical issues. In fact, I never really got to even see the movies until they were done.

This was the first time that many students ever did any kind of movie-making (I think three of them have some experience) and considering this fact, my students were stellar at the art of patience, and working out problems, and thinking of solutions to technical issues when they arose. In the course of the week, they learned about webcams, the freeware Stopmotion Animator software, Windows MovieMaker and also a music creation program called Super Duper Music Looper.

BUT — no one gave up, a few had to restart all over again (one group: restart twice) and as I let them view all of the movies yesterday and reflect on their experiences at our class blog site, they expressed real gratitude in being able to make movies in the classroom. One student came up to me and said, “This is the best project I have ever done in school … ever.” How can you beat that?

Here are some excerpts from the blog:

What I really like about the project is that you were free to be as creative as you wanted to be. All the movies had origanalallity and character which was great to see. What I would want to change the next time when I do a stop motion video is put a lot more filming in so we don’t have to worry about talking fast and find a back drop that doesn’t show the shadows of people going by.

This project was a great experience for me because i don’t know a lot about technology and what’s possible. I had never done anything like it before and what was great was doing it with Sam. We tried to make it humorous and laughed through the entire process!!! Even when we disagreed, we got a solution for every problem, mostly from the help of our awesome computer-wiz teacher, Mr. H!!! THANKS!!!!!!!

I think making the movies were really fun! All the hard work for like a 50 second movie, but it was still fun to see our movies come to life. you have to have a lot of patience to do this project. If I could change anything I would use less characters because it was hard to move them all. Also try to balance the work between every member of the group. Over all it went very well!

The making of the movies was fun but there was a lot of things that made out movie less awesome because we didn’t notice till editing. We had a lot of technical difficulties and our movie wasn’t as great as it could have been which made us kinda of mad!

I had a really fun time making the movies. But it was also a lot of work. Working in a group really helped. It was frustrating to always think you are running out of time. I hope everybody will enjoy my movie.

If you want to view the movies, go to categories:

In part 2, I will talk in more detail about what we did, how we did it, and how you might be able to replicate the project (the Longfellow Ten are still searching for other classes to join the secret initiative to create movies)

Peace (in movies),

Day in a Sentence: seeking writers

If you are wondering what happened to last week’s Days in a Sentence, well, I was away to the National Writing Project conference and I think many others were at either NWP or the NCTE conference, because I received only one reply to my call for sentences — from Ken (thanks!). although Gail P. did try out Vocaroo (she is ever so brave).

So, I am hoping everyone got home safe and sound, and now has a rich sentence to share.

Please considering boiling your week or your days down into a sentence, then use the comment link on this post to submit your sentence. I will gather them up all and release them as a collective post sometime this weekend.

Here is mine:

Sitting in a room with 1,000 other teachers from the National Writing Project is like being part of a tribe that learns and shares and grows together.

With Vocaroo:

And if you are in the US, have a nice and relazing Thanksgiving break.

Peace (in stuffing),


Boolean and the Star Tech Team

The latest in my Boolean Squared comic is that Boolean has been asked to join his school’s Student Council and has launched a student-led Star Tech team that helps implement technology in his school (props to Steve, my school’s tech guru for giving me the idea).

See Boolean Squared and also, grab the RSS feed.

Peace (in little frames),

What Writing Means … to me

One of the workshops I attended at the National Writing Project’s annual meeting in San Antonio was about a new venture called the National Conversation on Writing. A group of mostly college professors is trying to change perceptions of writing in the public mind and one of their ideas to collect vignettes from people about what writing means to them. In particular, they would like to have a collection of short videos, in which teachers and students and others talk about writing.
I decided to give it a go, sort of as a rough draft approach, and recorded some of my own thoughts.

What about you? What does writing mean to you?
Peace (in reflection),

A NWP/San Antonio Reflection

I made it back from San Antonio on time, and with no fuss, and still brimming with the experiences of connecting and re-connecting with so many wonderful teachers in our National Writing Project network who openly share ideas. (I will be posting some podcasts from the main session later and share out the workshop that I co-presented on The Writing Processes of Digital Stories).

When we return home to our Western Massachusetts Writing Project, we are asked to write a one page reflection on our experiences, so here is is mine (as a Scribd file):

A Report From NWP San Antonio

Get your own at Scribd or explore others: Education wmwp NWP

Peace (in sharing),