This week, we at the Western Massachusetts Writing Project finally received enough registrations for our Digging into Digital Storytelling workshop planned for Saturday, April 4. Earlier this week, we only had five people signed up and it was looking as if the event might not even happen. But then five came trickling in yesterday and last night, at a meeting of the WMWP Executive Board, I heard of others that are also on the way. Phew. We have a limit of 30 participants but would not do it with less than 10.
This is an event put on by the WMWP Technology Team (including some of the readers here – hey guys!) and we intend to have two components — one session for those interested in online tools (such as Voicethread) and one for those interested in desktop tools (such as Photostory3) with plenty of time built into both sessions for discussions and implications for the classroom. This is being designed for beginners, so I hope that the hands-on exploration and discussions will fuel some excitement for folks to try it out with their students.
For now, though, I am just happy to know we are a “go” and now the team needs to get down to some planning for the sessions.
As our digital story project wound down last week (and as I slowly watch them for assessment), I had my students take a quick online survey (using Google Docs) to get some feedback about the project. This was the first time I have done this digital story (using narrative paragraph writing about a memory object) and I wondered what their perceptions were about the creative work they had accomplished.
Here are the results:
My reactions: the results show that there was a high level of interest and engagement in this project (something I saw clearly in the classroom), that many students prefer working within the realm of multimedia, that the end product brought them satisfaction, and that some of them are now making movies and digital stories on their own.
In fact, in parent teacher conferences last week, a number of parents remarked on the positive remarks students were giving and how many of the kids were going home to make their own digital stories on the home computer. I love how the skills from school can transfer to home because it shows that the learning has meaning and value for them.
I also had a box for advice to me on how to improve this project. Most talked about wanting to make their own music and not have to choose from PhotoStory (yeah, I understand). Others said they could have used more class time. A few suggested longer stories next time. But this one comment hit my heart because it shows the power of the story this student told (and it was powerful):
To have to memory be happy not sad. When I was recording I had to keep from crying. It was hard. When I listened to the final story, I was crying.
My oldest son had grand ambitions this week to make a movie that combines live action with stop-motion animation. The concept involves a monster that has eaten our cat and then our youngest son and requires the help of a group of characters he has invented — the Pea Detectives. Somehow, he talked me into having a main role in it (OK, so I was happy to do it) and he is using one of my Flip video cameras to shoot the live footage and then using stopmotion software to shoot the Peas in action. Later, he will use Moviemaker to edit it all together.
He really wanted to know how you layer in animation on top of live action and I said, “With millions of dollars worth of equipment that we don’t have.” But if you know a way to do it on the cheap, let me know, please. So, his work-around (love work-arounds) was to take some photos of me and then print them, cut them out and use them in the stopmotion sequence. He’s also been composing some soundtrack music with SuperDuperMusicLooper and even wrote a song with lyrics (to the melody of We Three Kings of Orient Are) about the group of bumbling Pea detectives.
It’s fascinating to watch his mind working on it all and how excited he is about the project. I told him about a local Youth Film Festival that he should consider entering a film in this year. He seemed intrigued by that.
Here, then, is a glimpse of a stopmotion sequence in which I meet the Peas, with his Looper music. In the movie, this is where his original song will go, but it was more entertaining to have it as a sort of nusic video for now.
I am participating in Slice of Life over at Two Writing Teachers, and more than a few of those folks have wandered over here for Day in a Sentence, and perhaps some of our Day in a Sentence folks have wandered over there. It’s like a cross-pollination of writers, minus the allergic reactions.
Here are the sentences this week:
“My stomach was growling after Pilates, so I took a detour to Angelo’s Civita Farnese on the way home from work where I devoured a delicous meatball grinder with cheese.” — Stacey, of Two Writing Teachers.
“Just two words: Spring Break. (edited to add: AHHHhhhh….)” — Mary Lee
“Our incredible Archive Project with the Library of Congress was rejected by the newspaper because they only do one story a year on any one classroom…grrrrrrr…..” — Paul B.
“High School Exit Exam schedule gave me 7 hours of extra class time with my senior marketing class to perfect their business plan presentations.” — Delaine
“Can’t wait ’til this hectic week is over and the parade steps off in Holyoke.” — Gail P.
“i am a burnt out teacher, ready to focus more on my husband and less on school; one gives me so much, the other drains me dry.” — sara
“I’m still waiting for Spring. Did I miss it?” — Bonnie
“My thoughts are with the thousands of teachers receiving pink slips in my district and wondering where I’ll be next year even though I didn’t get one.” — Matt N.
“It’s good to be out
and network again.” — Ken
“Experienced a very enjoyable day today, in Melbourne, meeting educationalists who have just been awarded a Department of Education and Early Childhood, monetary grant, in order to experiment with using “games in education”, including wiis, secondlife, gamemaker etc.” — Anne M.
“I spent the day motivating my students to write reflections on Stixy.com only to have them lose my whole classes learning in one heart tearing rip, don’t use Stixy is my reflection.” — Shaun
“It’s March Break and a week away from school, and I’ve hardly spent any time at all in the Web 2.0 world. I’ve been making lots of pots of green tea, getting caught up on my reading and finishing off several knitting projects. It feels good!” — Elona
“I must say, that this assignment/request/challenge–that of writing a Slice in one sentence–reminds me of a term at grad school, when the professor (an amazing poet of some reknown) declared that we would write poems, and not the usual free verse we’d been used to as undergrads, but rather would attempt (her words, not mine) to write them in a certain form that only she, as the professor, would choose because after all, we were there to learn, weren’t we, and at this we all nodded and took to writing in villanelles, sonnets, blank verse, Shakespeare’s favorite of iambic pentameter; we slaved over these forms, willing ourselves to be swept up! taken up! transformed by the sheer rigor of form, rather than letting our messy selves be untidy and unkempt–for form championed all, and it gave a structure for which to tackle the difficult, as did Browning in his romantic and oft-quoted sonnets–and in our puny lives we figured our difficulties would move us to write transcendent pantoums, ballads and sestinas and so eagerly did we attend to our task that we were completely surprised, that final week of class, to learn that our assignment now was to lay aside the form and write from the heart, not being restrained by either ancient or modern verbal shackles, as she felt that we had learned our lessons and now would write better for having tried, we would write better for attempting the difficult, that we would write (so she hoped–and so did we) . . . better. ~or~
The scent of orange blossoms fills the air, competing with freesias and wisteria for my attention.” — Elizabeth
“My week was short, but the days were long and filled with so many different types of moments: stressful, fun, contemplative, productive, counter-productive, and even a few teaching moments (when I really FELT like a teacher).” — Karen McM.
“Spring has arrived at last with daffodils on the desk and daffy kids dancing in the halls.” — Mary F.
“Grandbaby leaving, cousin dying in her sleep, playing for her funeral, reuniting with family from across the country=a week full of ups and downs.” — Cynthia
As some of you know, I publish a webcomic about education and the so-called Digital Divide between kids and adults. I call it Boolean Squared and it is an experiment for me that I have been enjoying. Recently, I learned that there was going to be a huge Webcomic Convention in the town next door, so how could I not at least check it out? I thought I could get my older son — himself, an avid comic reader and creator — to come along, but he wasn’t interested.
It was a massive geek fest, to be true. It was jam-packed with people — hundreds had registered in one day, shutting down the registry system. (another indicator of the power of comics as literature). But I was on a mission as well as driven by curiosity. As a staff writer for The Graphic Classroom, I review graphic novels and comics with an eye to the classroom. So, I took along my fairly new Flip HD video camera and decided to interview a few of the webcomic creators about what inspired them to begin writing comics, what support did they have in school and what advice they might give to young writers. I intend to show this to my students as well as share it out at The Graphic Classroom.
Plus, it was the first time I used this Flip camera (I have others, not High Definition video, though) and my impression is, again: wow. It is simple to use (although the view window is too small), simple to edit with the Flip software that comes with it, and makes a high quality video. I uploaded it into my Vimeo account, which allows some HD video uploads (although I took quite some time).
Each weekday morning, I drive my youngest son to his preschool before heading into work at my school, which is a few towns over. The easiest way to get there is over a small, one-lane bridge. For much of the past year, the bridge was closed down for repairs and I wondered if it would ever be opened again. One-lane bridges seem passe and more than a few communities just shutter them forever, or for pedestrian traffic, rather than invest in them.
But the bridge finally re-opened a number of weeks ago, cutting down my commute by a good ten minutes and allowing me to avoid downtown Northampton altogether. That’s good.
One thing I like about this bridge — although it was only later that I realized it — is that you have to make eye contact with other people on the road. Since only one vehicle can pass at a time, you have to slow down, gauge where the other car on the other side of the bridge is and either pull over to let them pass or wait for them do pull over for you. I am almost always pleasantly surprised by how often we move aside for each other. Only rarely does a driver take advantage of the situation and hog the bridge. The other day, for example, some idiot tried to pass me on the left (narrow street that gets narrower as it leads to the bridge) as I was slowly making my way forward. I’m not one of those “flip the bird” kind of people but that guy almost got it that morning.
After coming over the bridge, almost everyone looks the driver of the waiting vehicle in the eye, gives a little wave to acknowledge the kindness of waiting, smiles and then continues onward. I love this part of the bridge. Too often in our cars and vans, we are just mindless drones (remember those overweight space humans in WallE?) but this tiny bridge forces some humanity upon us, moving us to recognize each other as people. As I drive to my school, I often wonder where those other people — the ones who smiled — are going and what their day will be like, and whether they are wondering about me.
This week, there was some development on our Quidditch symbol situation (see earlier posts). The kids seemed to have moved onward and they came up with a new design — that of a wave enveloping a golden snitch. I like it and think it shows power, and yesterday, we had some time in class set aside just for working on posters and banners (today, they start on t-shirts).
Meanwhile, the phyical education teacher and I had about 16 kids stay after school yesterday (it was a half day due to conferences) to help us make a video that celebrates our game of Quidditch and explains some of the rules and equipment of our game. It was fun and the kids were excited about it. I am working on the editing of it right now, so expect that in the near future.
I got to ride a “lift” in the gym that took me up to the top of the gymnasium so I could get a few video shots of the students playing the game. The lift was a bit shaky and it felt strange. The kids kept yelling: “Go higher! Go higher!” as if I were going to bump my head on the roof.
I guess the week got away from me. But here is the call for words …. for Day in a Sentence. How is your week going? Your day? Consider joining us by boiling your reflection down to a single sentence and sharing it out with the comment link on this blog post. I will collect and publish sometime over the weekend.
I was delighted to have a visitor to class yesterday — Maureen T., a friend from my Twitter network who works just west of me, came to my school to hang out for a bit and see what was happening in the classroom (and then she went down the hall to hang out in Gail P.’s kindergarten class). Maureen came at a good time, as we were working on our digital story projects. She got a good glimpse of some of the work now unfolding at a pretty good pace.
It’s nice to know that the virtual connections can sometimes evolve into something richer and we had some excellent conversations about teaching at our schools, about how difficult it can be to get teachers to integrate technology into the classroom, and how much students stand to gain from using digital tools to express themselves. It’s true — we were a two-person choir singing to ourselves, but still …
And here is a little gift: some of the memory objects that my students have brought in and are using for the core of their digital stories.
Yesterday, my classes began their Digital Story project in earnest and it was a bit hectic, but wonderful to watch them so engaged. In a nutshell, they have written a personal narrative paragraph about an object that holds special memories and now they are merging the image, the audio of their writing, and music into a short video with PhotoStory3 (a free download from Microsoft, folks, and well worth the effort).
There are stories about pets, about blankets, about gifts from long-lost relatives, about stuffed animals, about awards, and more. Wonderful, rich topics.
This is my first time with this project, so it is worth reflecting a bit, right? Here are a few things that cross my mind:
We’re building off prior knowledge. They have been working on writing paragraphs for a week or two and we have used technology plenty this year. The leap to a new software platform, which might cause adults to stumble, is no big deal for them. They get it, quick.
Writing is at the heart of the story. It may be digital, but the writing comes first. Today, I explained that the writing is the center of this piece and that they should see themselves as “composers” — drawing the pieces of music, audio and image together in one coherent piece of work. I think most of them got it.
Make the story personal. These narratives are rich for them because they chose the object, and they have the memories. The subject matter really comes from their heart and they are invested in telling a good tale.
Show a sample. I showed them the Grandmother’s Tea Cup story last week and then shared another paragraph sample that I wrote about the first saxophone I ever got and how it moved me into music in a way that remains with me to this day. They need to know that we are writing with them, exploring the same terrain.
Give them time to play. Last week, I showed them the software and let them go at it. I gave them some photos and told them that they were to play, tinker, experiment and have fun. Get it out of the system. Explore. Then, when we began the project, they could focus.
Share the scoring rubric. It’s not all fun and games. To help focus their learning, I shared out the rubric that I created so they will know exactly what I am hoping for. The rubric’s areas include writing, voice, and production (as in, just because you can do something cool and snazzy doesn’t mean you should do it — make sure the music and the production “fits” the story and complements it, not takes away from it.) I never want the grading to be a secret to them.
Time to work. I allocated plenty of time this week, I think, knowing that technology takes longer than we suspect. But, I was surprised at how much progress was made in one single class period. Some of them will be done sooner than I anticipated, I can tell.
Alternative Activities. I need to come up with this one. No doubt, I will. Let’s see now …