Using a Complex Science Concept for Writing

This week, as my sixth graders move forward with planning out a digital picture book that uses the concepts of a fictional journey/adventure story while also explaining the phases of Cellular Mitosis, I have to admit I was worried that the complexity of the science would overwhelm the writing of the story.

I guess I was wrong. Yesterday, after looking at some digital books from past years and a few other mitosis-related works (see this fun music video and also this voicethread sent to me by my friend, Maureen), they were incredibly excited about getting started. The air was buzzing with ideas and storyboards began to take shape.

What are some of the ideas?

  • A mad scientist uses an invention to shrink characters, who enter into a cell and must experience the phases of mitosis;
  • Contestants on a game show have to not only answer questions about mitosis, but they also get zapped into a cell to experience it, and only a few contestants make it out alive — kind of like Mitosis Survivor;
  • One team is doing a Mitosis Musical, based on Grease, High School Musical and some other movie and they are going to write songs for each page of the book;
  • A few stories revolve around a boring teacher blabbing on and on about mitosis so that the character snoozes and dreams they are in a cell and that’s where they learn from experience, only to “ace” the test when they wake back up in class;
  • and more … much more.

Wow! I was pretty impressed, and these are just a few of the ideas. The storyboards will be done in the next day or so, and then they get to work on the laptops, designing their own art, writing the story first in Word and then, after mini-lessons with animation and other interesting things in Powerpoint, moving to construct their story as a digital document.

If you are interested, you can view the project overview, the project checklist and the scoring rubric that we are using for the project.

More to come next week …

Peace (in cell division and creation),

Free Comics for you!

This Saturday is Free Comic Day, which means that if you have a comic book store in your area, they will probably have a boatload of free comics to give you when you walk in the door. No catch. Just free comics. Now, to be honest, they’re not usually the best comics out there, and often, they have short story lines and agonizing cliffhangers. BUT, for teachers, it is a way to get free comics for your classroom and most stores will sort them out for appropriateness of age level (mine does, anyway).

Last year, I grabbed about 25 comics and used them for lessons around figurative language and use of dialogue with my sixth graders. They ate them up!

The Free Comic Book day is another reminder that graphics and words can be a powerful incentive for young readers. (see The Graphic Classroom for reviews on graphic novels for the classroom — I am one of the reviewers there, keeping a focus on appropriateness for age levels).

And, just to make it exciting, here is Hugh Jackman in support of comics (and also promoting the Wolverine movie, of course, so really, just watch the first 30 seconds or so if you are not interested in the movie):

Peace (in free comics!),

Day in Sentence, traditional-style

Please consider joining us with Day in a Sentence this week. Here is how it works:

  • Reflect on a single day or your entire week;
  • Boil that reflection down into a single sentence;
  • Use the comment on this blog post to submit your sentence;
  • I moderate all of the submissions and collect them and publish them together sometime this weekend (or Monday, as I am out of town this week)
  • Be part of the group! Everyone is welcome!

Peace (in days),


A Policy Brief from NWP: Teaching in a Digital Age

The National Writing Project provides a wealth of information and experience and connections and this policy briefing/report just got published on the NWP site. It is a research briefing from a company hired by NWP to look at data from technology work at sites within the NWP. (A disclosure: our Western Massachusetts Writing Project site was one of the sites included in this study of a project known as the Technology Initiative).

You can read the full report — entitled “Keeping the Promise of the 21st Century: Bringing Classroom Teaching into the Digital Age”here but I thought I would share out some of the findings, in my own words:

  • Teachers learn best from other teachers who are using technology, not from some canned professional development;
  • It takes time for teachers to think about and integrate technology, so one-shot professional development is less effective than long-term supportive work;
  • Technology is best used and most effective when students are engaged in real classroom projects with authentic learning standards;
  • Teachers who effectively use technology are engaging and motivating their students;
  • Access to technology is a real issue – either to the equipment or through “firewalls” set up by school districts;
  • Students in poorer school districts often have the least access to technology and technology-inspired curriculum, although they may need it the most;
  • State and federal standardized mandates offer little incentive for teachers to engage in use of technology.

The report also adds some “policy implications” for its findings:

  • Teachers have to be the leaders and demand more professional development and access to technology for their students. It can’t rest with administrators;
  • K-12 teachers should connect more with Universities and other institutions for access to technology and expertise;
  • Teachers need hands-on experiences using technology themselves and then time to consider the implications of the classroom;
  • Provide students in underserved communities with access to technology and related curriculum opportunities;

And more …

This report is worth the read and it once again makes me proud to be part of the NWP, as it moves to think about writing in new ways that engage our young learners and makes writing relevant in their lives.

Or, as the report notes:

NWP is distinctive among professional development providers. It is a network of teachers who build leadership and knowledge of teaching and learning from systematic study of their own classroom practices and the practices of colleagues, as well as from research. These leading teachers—called teacher-consultants—share their professional knowledge and practices with other teachers through local NWP professional development programs. . . .

Peace (in-between the numbers),


An Easy Webpage Creation Tool

This resource comes via Larry Ferlazzo (I get a lot of ideas from Larry and you should, too): this site will convert an uploaded file into a static webpage and then host it. I like the concept because I sometimes struggle with how to get my students’ work online when they don’t have email (we don’t provide email for them in our school). I have used Google Docs and also Weebly, but it always such an administrative headache for me.

This site — called (catchy, eh?) — allows you to upload without any registration, and then it converts your material into a static page and gives you the web address. I experimented this morning with one of the poems I am doing with Bud the Teacher this month and it worked pretty easily. I created a Word file, added my poem and the picture from Bud’s site, and uploaded and within 20 seconds, I had a webpage created with my poem.

Take a look at my Hope Flower poem on the web

When we get to poetry, I can see this as an easy tool for my students to use to publish their own work.

That said, I read through the FAQ of the site and note that there does not seem to be advertising (but that may change, so that is something we should keep an eye on) and that if a site does not get enough hits (not sure what the sweet number is), the page can be automatically taken down to make room for other pages on the site. So, this may be just a temporary home for writing, which is fine if you view it that way, right?

Peace (in publishing),


Cellular Mitosis Digital Picture Books

Today, I began the initial work with my sixth graders on creating digital picture books that will integrate knowledge of Cellular Mitosis into a fictional adventure story. They will be using MS Powerpoint as their platform, with animation, audio, hyperlinks and video embedded into the books.

Today, we looked over Magic School Bus books and talked about the use of layered literacy (I didn’t use that term, of course, but that was what I was getting at), and then we watched a video of one of the Magic School Bus shows, and we talked a bit about the difference in media. I want them to think critically as viewers, so that we can then make the shift to critical composers/writers.

Tomorrow, I hand out a packet with instructions and they will begin some initial brainstorming on story ideas and maybe even push into some storyboarding. I will even show a few samples of digital books from past years. In the past, my students had more freedom for curriculum topics, but I am working more closely with my science teacher partner this year to get deeper into understanding mitosis, so we’ll see how things fare as we move along.

Here are some math books, turned into videos, from a few years ago:

Peace (in pictures),

More Poems and Podcasts

Somehow, I am still writing and recording a poetry podcast every day over at Bud the Teacher’s blog, although I have to admit that it feels as I am forcing more than a few (and that I am in a friendly competitive tangle with fellow poet, Ken Allan, as he and I are the regular contributors — way to go, Ken!).

Here are a few of my poems from this past week, although it may be helpful to remember that these are inspired by photographs that Bud is providing. I hope they can stand on their own, but how knows …

Fried Like Chicken
(listen to the poem)

This heat came suddenly,
so we’re in the oven right about now,
wondering when the cold might snap back
into place —
even as we know this change is exactly
what we had been hoping for
and to wish otherwise seems like
Sunday morning blasphemy.

Justice Served
(Listen to the poem)

When the gavel talks,
the world falls silent
but what happens to justice
when no one is watching?
Is the law an invisible backbone
that keeps us standing straight
or just another broken authority figure
to be ignored when the lights go down?
You decide,
as I take minutes from my squeaky chair
just outside the circle.

Colored Pencils
(Listen to the poem)

You presume me: green–
light and soft on the spring grass beneath the warming sun,
when in fact I am red,
dripping dark with the dried blood of effort and exertion —
while you, blue,
drink in the ocean’s vast horizon stretched out before us.
Here in this space,
I compliment you and you, me,
even though the color-blind few of us
assume these shades of difference don’t really matter.
They do,
for you remain my favorite hue.

Peace (in poems),

We Find Love — a song about love

I am really happy with this particular new song, which is part of the storu/poem/song cycle I am working on (OK, so I need to come up with a catchy name for this thing). I was trying to find a way to end the whole story on a positive note, in which the main character re-connects with his real love as they both near the end of the their lives and fate brings them back together. This song — We Find Love — captures that positive energy of love tying us to others, I think, and so I made this video with Animoto after a simple recording with a mic and Audacity.

Peace (and love),

Your day in 140 characters or less

This week, Day in a Sentence becomes all a-twitter as Jo takes over a guest host with the theme of Day in a Twitter. This means that your sentence is going to be limited to just 140 characters or less. If you don’t Twitter or don’t even want to think in terms of Twitter, that’s OK, too — just write a short, concise Day in a Sentence and head on over to Jo’s Blog — Mrs. Hawe — and add your reflection to the mix.

And if you are someone who keeps hearing about Twitter but you’re not quite sure what it is, here is a neat video explanation:

See you over at Jo’s place!

Peace (in sharing in short bursts),
PS — you can find me on twitter, too, at

Everyone’s a Comic …

This is vacation week and my older boys have been working with a neighbor friend to create their own “newspaper” of events in our ‘hood. It’s been fun to watch them talk about what they will report on (creating a new bike path through our back woods, a profile of a neighbor who promotes baseball, the ‘dirt pile’ on a neighbor’s yard, etc.) My older son worked on a few comics yesterday that we will be putting up on his blog — Crazy Cartoonz — in the next few days. He did the layout on ComicLife and then he drew the artwork by hand, and I just laughed at his comics.

And just for comparison between dad and son, here is today’s Boolean Squared, in which Urth is trying to figure out which tech pioneer to do his research project on and Boolean takes a nice dig at teachers in the “lounge”:

Click on the comics to get the larger versions
(PS — the follow-up to this comic will be Urth creating an entry on Wikipedia about their beloved teacher, Mr. Teach, and causing a bit of … well … concern).
Peace (on the funny pages),