Using Closed ToonDoo Comic Spaces

Since the spring, I’ve been beta-testing a new site with my students called ToonDoo Spaces for the ToonDoo organization. The open/public ToonDoo site is a social networking site for comic creators of all ages with easy-to-use tools and loads of clip art, backgrounds, options for creating your own characters, tools for compiling comics into an ebook format, and more.  It’s really fun to use. But the public ToonDoo site is not really appropriate for my students, as it features risque humor, language and more. I’ve often used Make Beliefs Comics because it is a closed site. But Make Beliefs has many limitations at this point (but it is free).

So when ToonDoo announced that it was experimenting with closed comic networks for schools, I signed on to beta test it. All spring, my sixth graders (11 and 12 year olds) were fully engaged in the use of our ToonDoo Spaces site. They would walk in the door and immediately ask: Are we going to make comics today, Mr. H? And they give a little shout of “Yeah!” with a fist pump when I say “yes” (after we do whatever other work we have planned).

In the summer, I used the site again with a Webcomic Camp, and again, the kids loved it.

As of this morning, my students had created almost 1,800  comics.  (Yes, you read that number correctly, 1,800 comics.) That’s a lot of writing and creating!

Here are some of my reflections:


  • I love the ease of use of ToonDooSpaces. It really is quite simple to use, both as a user and as an administrator. I had my site up and running in no time at all, added 75 student users in the time it took me to type their names, and we were ready to go. Simplicity is beautiful.
  • The closed nature of the site allows you to foster a creative community of writers, without the outside world looking in. And, like other networks, this closed community is not bound by physical space. So you could easily collaborate with others in the world.
  • There is a separate site for the administrator, where they can do such things as add elements to the homepage, monitor users, change passwords, block inappropriate comics, highlight comics for the entire network, remove clip art from the gallery that students have access to and add new users in seconds.
  • I like the various options that students have as writers. Comics can be collected into ebook collections. Students can create their own cast of characters for their comics. They can even use the drawing tool to add their own art. They can leave comments on each others comics. The site using the framework of a social network, but with comics as the main focus of the writing.
  • The clip art collection is extensive and features many different artistic styles. And ToonDoo keeps adding more art to the sites.
  • Comics created in the closed site can be easily embedded in other online spaces. You just grab the flash code and embed it. It’s a nice way to move from the closed work area to a public sharing of student work.
  • Students have access to the site at home, and many of mine were eager to keep writing at home. You can’t beat that, can you?
  • The ToonDoo folks are using a Ning for gathering feedback and offering support. I’ve been trying to post some reflections there as we go along.
  • A new filter also flags comics with inappropriate content and allows you to either freeze a student (no one else can see their work) so that you can talk with them, hide the offending comic from sight so the creator can fix it, or remove it from the site completely.

The Possibilities

  • I’ve used the ToonDoo Space for Comic Strip Poetry. Haikus and other short poems are a natural for this format, and it really led us into a discussion about “design” and how backgrounds and art must complement the writing and not come into conflict with the words. Some of my students “got it.” Others? Not so much.
  • I love that students can collect comics into ebooks (flash-style, with pages that flip). I’d share one but that is one of the bugs they are working on. When I try to embed a book from our closed site, the code reverts to a book from the open ToonDoo site. But some have already created books of their poems and others are creating longer comics by stitching together a series of comics in the ebook format.
  • At my summer camp, students were making all sorts of comics around characters that they created in the ToonDoo tool that allows you to invent and create a character. They had a lot of fun with that.
  • You can also upload photos and, like Photobooth, morph and mix the photo on the site and then use it in your comic. It’s strange fun.
  • This kind of comic creation could be used across the curriculum. Comics could be used to explain a math problem; to investigate a moment in history; or to demonstrate a science experiment. I think there are a lot of possibilities here.

Some Final Thoughts

I think ToonDooSpaces and others are on the right track. Comics seem to be a natural platform for all levels of writers. My advanced students move into complicated stories and poems while my struggling writers are interested in the art-writing element of comics. It really reaches across different levels.

If you are interested, I notice that the ToonDooSpaces site is offering a 15 day trial period and you can use their chart to see how much it would cost to get a subscription for a longer period of time. Whether it is worth it is up to you and your budget. But as someone who used the site and watched my students ask every day if they could make comics,  I think ToonDooSpaces is a great asset to the Language Arts class.

Peace (on the funny pages),

Boolean and the Smartypants Interactive Board

I wrote recently how I now have a Promethean Interactive Board in my classroom. Did I mention that not all the parts have come with it? Or that my Mac to run it might not arrive until October? There’s plenty of things to poke fun at with my webcomic.

Here is the second Smartypants Board comic, which returns to Boolean’s obsession with the elusive Dancing Chicken video that he always wants to play on school computers:

Peace (with smarts),

Wordling Obama’s Education Speech

President Obama gives his speech on education today and the White House released the text of the talk yesterday. I grabbed the words and put them into Wordle and created this image:

My aim is to show this to my students in context of the speech and talk about some of the themes that will emerge today. Of course, “school” is a theme but also responsibility, education, and knowing are there, too.

This speech actually is a perfect fit for my first project with my students called Dream Scenes, in which they must articulate an aspiration for themselves for the future, think about why it is important and explain how they will achieve it. We then move over to Photostory to create a digital story, with their voice and their own pictures (from Paint).

Here is a piece of this speech:

That’s why today, I’m calling on each of you to set your own goals for your education – and to do everything you can to meet them. Your goal can be something as simple as doing all your homework, paying attention in class, or spending time each day reading a book. Maybe you’ll decide to get involved in an extracurricular activity, or volunteer in your community. Maybe you’ll decide to stand up for kids who are being teased or bullied because of who they are or how they look, because you believe, like I do, that all kids deserve a safe environment to study and learn. Maybe you’ll decide to take better care of yourself so you can be more ready to learn.

Thanks, Mr. President!

Peace (in speeches),

What Obama Will Say

Last night, we received one of those automatic phone calls from our community’s School Superintendent, informing us that she is asking principals to show President Obama’s speech tomorrow. At the school where I teach, we are planning the same thing and my principal sent home a letter on Friday, alerting families.

This whole thing is crazy but it makes sense: when we showed our sixth graders the presidential inauguration, we got an angry phone call from a parent who was passionately opposed to his son watching with the event in school.

I know politics is alive and well, but to complain when the president wants to talk to kids about staying in school, show respect to teachers and other kids, and also to study hard for a better life — that seems absurd to me. I would not have complained if my kids watched a Republican Rightwinger President talk about those things.

My aim is to grab the text of the speech, pop it into Wordle and have my students examine themes and phrases that Obama uses, so that we can talk about rhetoric. Talk about a learning experience, right?

On Friday, I showed this interview with my students and they were impressed by the student reporter and by the president’s responses.

Peace (in the message),

Creating a Storybird Book

I found out about this site called Storybird via my Twitter network and decided to give it a try. Songbird is a collaborative story builder in which you are given some illustrations and you can build a flash-style book. You can also add collaborators, which I did not do (this time). Instead, I tried to fashion a story about the start of school and the magical power of books and reading.

You can read my book — called The Book and The Frown — here.

I found the experience interesting and I loved the illustrations. I did have some trouble finding the illustrations that I wanted, as they kept getting buried underneath the pile. It’s hard to explain, but I felt as if I spent as much time finding a pictured I wanted to reuse as I did writing the story. That might cause some frustration for young writers.

See what you think. Storybird has some great possibilities. (I do wish I could embed the book right here at my blog, but I did not see a way to do that from the site).

Peace (in stories),


Stopmotion Name Movies

We dug right into technology in our first days of school as I had students use Pivot Stickfigure to create short stopmotion animation movies using the letters of their first name. You should have seen the engagement and concentration, and heard the laughter. And you should have seen students reaching over to show another a trick they discovered or share their movies in progress with each other.

It seemed like a real “bonding over technology” period of time and I can already gauge who is comfortable with working on the computer, who is not, and who can meet deadlines and who will have trouble with deadlines. That was part of my learning experience.

I also began showing the movies to the other sixth grade classes (this particular project was just with my homeroom class to start the year) as  way to signal that we will be getting creative this year. And my class got raves and applause from the others. Nice.

Peace (in the motion),


Wordling our Way into the New School Year

In the ongoing efforts to get to know my 77 students, I decided to tap into Wordle to show some brainstorming we were doing around the things they are excited about and the things they worry about now that they are in sixth grade. This was a simple activity. I gave them a notecard, they drew a line down the center and on one side, they wrote what worries them and on the other, what excites them.

I then took their notes and put them into Wordle, using the Wordle Advanced option so that I could weigh responses, as there were many that were multiple student lists.

Just so you know, Quidditch is a game that we play at our school with sixth graders that culminates in a huge tournament in the Spring. (See our video about our game of Quidditch.)

Here are the things that excite them (I like that writing class was on many lists):

Here are the things that worry them:

Peace (in the new year),

Back to School Funnies

Today, we start the year. I found this link to a collection of funny school cartoons in my RSS feed. It’s worth a look and a chuckle.

Peace (on the first day, the second day ..)


Making My Writing Curriculum Visible

I’ve been working for a few weeks on a website that shows the progression of my writing, reading and technology curriculum for my sixth graders. In the past, I used a basic Curriculum Map that I shared with parents at our Curriculum Night and left a link on our blog page, but I was never really happy with it. With a website (which I created using Yola — fantastically easy to use, by the way), I think I can better show student work and make the projects and skills being taught a bit more visible.

What I still intend to do is to link in the standards of our new report card (we’ve moved into a standards based reporting system this year) so that projects and activities are better aligned with the progress reports. But I think our administration is still tinkering with the progress report document, so I will wait on that.

And sometime, I will go through and connect with the Massachusetts Curriculum Frameworks, too, so that I can show alignment to what I am teaching.

One thing I did find is that creating this kind of document really forced me to rethink the rationale of what I am doing and placed me in a very reflective mode. That’s always a good thing.

Take a look at my site. I would love to get some feedback on the project.

Peace (in the year),