Six Sounds in Search of an Author

I saw a contest in my RSS called Six Sounds in Search of an Author and followed the link to the ISTE site and was intrigued.

The task: take the six sound clips and create a podcast story of some sort. The whole thing can’t be more than a minute long. Interesting, for sure. I began by looking at what the sounds were, and then listening, and then trying to make connections between them.

The story came to me quickly — a person trapped in a cave — and composed this story. I then recorded it in Audacity– mixing in the sound clips —  and sent it in. I like it.

Here is my audio story. I’m not asking you to vote, but if you do — thanks.

You should give the Six Sound story a try, too. Go to: and check it out.

I imagine you could easily bring this kind of contest into the classroom, given enough time.  The art of constructing a sound story is amazingly complex thinking — from planning, to writing, to production. And of course, this is the whole idea of the contest — trying out something yourself and thinking in terms of classroom practice.

Peace (in the cave),

Do you write with your students?

I write with my students all the time. Sometimes, I pull up to an empty desk and plop myself down and just write. And I share what I write. Not just what I write, but I talk through my writing process — about what I stumbled on, where my idea came from and what I would do if I were to revise my writing. My goal is to make my writing process transparent to my students.

The Exquisite Corpse As an example, we are following the development of a story called The Exquisite Corpse, which was started by Jon Scieszka and every two weeks for the next year, another published author is adding a chapter to this funny, bizarre adventure story (this week, Katherine Patterson added a chapter). Scieska put forth a whole bunch of strange characters that must be included before the the story ends. Here is what Scieszka writes:

If the train makes it over the last treacherous gorge, there is a good chance that you and Nancy and Joe will have to deal with werewolves and mad scientists, real ninjas and fake vampires, one roller-skating baby, a talking pig, creatures from another planet (possibly another dimension), killer poetry, clues from classic children’s books, two easy riddles, several bad knock knock jokes, plenty of explosions, a monkey disguised as a pirate, two meatballs, a blue plastic Star Wars lunch box (missing its matching thermos), three ticking clocks, and not just one bad guy – but a whole army of villains, cads, scalawags, sneaks, rats, varmints and swindlers. Also several desperados, a gang of evildoers, and one just plain bad egg.

We’re using these chapters as inspiration for our own version of the next chapters, and then comparing what the published writer did compared to what we did. It’s been great fun already.

The other day, this is what I wrote after Katherine Patterson left us dangling with a cliffhanger, in which a shadowy figure approaches the two main characters, who have just tightrope walked across the mangled remains of an exploded train bridge. This is where I picked up the story:

The voice struck a nerve with the twins. Like Boppo the mad clown, the Pirate King was like some bad memory that they had tried to forget, but could not. And here he was, standing before them with his sword in one hand and his feather-plume hat flapping in the wind like a bird’s wings.

“You two kids are not easy to track, but thanks to my spies, I found you,” the Pirate King shouted.

“Spies,” Nancy whispered.

“Yes, spies. Porters on the train.. They’ve been keeping track of you all this time. When the train stopped, I knew it was time to act.”

The Pirate King said this in such a way that the kids knew he was not the one who had planted the explosives on the bridge. He seemed as surprised by the turn of events as they were. The Pirate King and Boppo were not in cahoots together.

‘What do you … want?” Joe cried out.

“The map.”

“What map? We don’t have a map,” Nancy said.

Off the distance, something was taking shape in the sky. Joe could not be sure what it was. It a small speck, growing larger. The Pirate King had his back to the object. But Nancy gave Joe a look, as if to say, “What is that?”

Joe shrugged. The Pirate King was still talking about the map and as he rambled on, Nancy suddenly realized that what he was describing was the card they had received from their parents. That’s it! The birthday card was really a map! And the dark shape – the one they share on their own feet – that was where the treasure lay that the Pirate King wanted!

She barely had time to think of this when the dark shape was now visible. And both of them could see what it was – a hang glider with a large bowling ball dangling down on a rope. The glider was being guided by baby, whose feet were covered in a large pair of pink roller skates.

By the time the Pirate King realized something was coming, it was too late. The bowling ball smacked him hard on the head, knocking him to the ground. It was the moment Joe was waiting for. He grabbed his sister – who was too stunned to do a thing except watch the hang-gliding roller-skating baby float past them – by the arm and dragged her forward.

“We need to find the birthday card,” he shouted. He turned back to see the Pirate King coming back to life, rubbing his head. “And we need to do it before he does!”

The two kids took a deep breath and began to tightrope their way back across the ravine, going right back the way they came. They never expected the gust of air to come so suddenly, and so violently, and so, they had little time to react when both lost their footing on the rail and felt themselves begin to tumble downward towards the dark river below.

Such fun. And I see that Kate Camillo is the next author on tap. I can’t wait to see what she did.

Peace (in the story),

Mr. Teach and the Imagination App Challenge

Here, in this installment of my series of comics around developing an app for a MeTouch device, Mr. Teach gives the overview and criteria for the work ahead (Why do we always have to suck the fun out of learning with assessment, eh?). The boys, of course, are not even listening. They are too excited about the project.

(Thanks to folks in my networks for giving me ideas for potential apps. The Teacher Detector idea here is based on some ideas from Joel Malley.)

Peace (in the drone of teachers),

Launching into Webcomics

Today, I am introducing my four classes of sixth graders to our closed ToonDooSpace site that I intend to use throughout the year. We beta-tested the site last Spring and my students absolutely loved the ease and creativity of creating their comics on this platform. (ToonDooSpaces is different from the public ToonDoo, by the way, as it is closed and secure. I would not bring my students to the regular ToonDoo site, as it often has inappropriate content.)

I’m going to get them started with a quick tutorial and then, they are creating a comic that uses at least three of the vocabulary words from this week’s list (We use Wordly Wise as our vocab study). Yesterday, I handed out a comic rough draft sheet (basically, a page with empty boxes) and their homework was to do a rough version of the comic they will make today.

I have created student accounts for everyone, and their first step will be change the password I generated for them. Then, they get to launch into creating comics. After I mentioned it yesterday, a number of students came up and asked how to get on the site. I love that excitement.

I worry about time, and having enough of it, but we’ll see how it goes.

Here is the sample that I made with four of our words (arid, humid, terrain and inhabit):

Peace (in the frame),

Taking apart the device

This is the second installment of my comic story about the Imagination App Competition. Mr. Teach left the boys alone with his MeTouch device and Boolean has taken advantage of the time.

Peace (in the insides),

Toying around with Domo Animate

I finally had time to check out the Domo Animate site, which allows a user to easily (yes, it is easy to use) create animated comics, which can then be shared or embedded into other sites. It’s free (always a plus) and great fun. I haven’t thought too deep about how to use it for the classroom (I am stymied again by email registrations, since my school does not have email for students).

But, check out my creations: Interplanetary Games by dogtrax

Like it? Create your own at It’s free and fun!
and one that I made for my Tech Friends: A gathering of Tech Friends by dogtrax

Like it? Create your own at It’s free and fun!
Peace (in the animated world),

The Imagination App Challenge

In a recent poem project with my students, most listed one of the things they would like to have as an iTouch. This is the first year I have seen that device listed on any of the start-of-the-year projects. So, I thought it would make sense to poke fun at using the iTouch with Boolean Squared.

I sent out a call through some of my networks, asking for some ideas on what application for the iTouch/iPod/iPhone we think students would create, if we ever gave them the opportunity.

And so, this begins the first of a series of comics about Boolean’s entry into the Imagination App Challenge.

Peace (in the App),

Shifting into a Literacy Initiative and More

A few things about teaching this year:

Last year, I wrote about our school district planning a two-year Literacy Initiative as a way to address a worrisome trend of flat or falling Language Arts test scores in our district. Not long ago, I took part in a day-long training on the Fountas & Pinnell benchmark assessment system, which we will be piloting this year and probably moving full-steam into next year.

The idea of having some coordinated assessment system across our district is a good one, I think, as I get students all across the board with their reading skills, although in the past, I have made the assumption that all of my students are independent readers (I teach sixth grade). This, of course, is a wild assumption and I have plenty of struggling readers who are not getting special education services. It will be helpful to have a better handle on where they are as readers, instead of just making some assumptions based on my own observations and assessment.

The Fountas & Pinnell is a combination of fluency and comprehension and the assessment is a series of small books that have been categorized based on established reading levels. At this point, I am going to assume they know what they are doing and the levels are correct. I read through many of the small books yesterday and was pretty impressed. The stories — fiction and non-fiction — are at least somewhat interesting: survival stories, friendship, family, etc.

I brought the box of materials home this long weekend, with hopes of assessing my own children. I’ll still need to bribe them with a movie or something just to get them to sit for the 15 to 20 minutes. My older son said, “No. Not those tiny books! Ahhhhh.” I guess he has been assessed before.

For me, though, I need to learn how to keep a running record and I guess that will take practice. My principal is giving me a substitute on Friday so that I can pull kids over the course of the day to begin initial assessments and get used to the new system. In November, we bring our data to another workshop and learn more about how to make sense of what we have assessed from students.

From there? It’s clear that I am going to have overhaul the literature component of my class. We do class novels, which make no sense in a class full of readers of various levels, although I work hard to make sure everyone is making progress. Once I know where my students are, I am going to have to go full-bore into Literature Circles, which I have used from time to time in the past, but never all year long. Clearly, though, if I want students to be reading at their own levels, and then moving up, I need a new system of having multiple books going in a single classroom.

On top of all this, this year, I am teaching literature to all four sixth grade classes. In past year, we divided up literature among homerooms and I could focus mostly on writing. We could not do this system this year because every student needs at least one hour of math instruction every day and that messed with our schedule. The result is that I am teaching a few different books to a few different classrooms and already, my writing curriculum is taking a hit to make room for more reading in that block of time. I am not regretting the reading instruction, but I am missing the writing.

I need to keep finding more balance.

The third thing is that I am co-teaching a Language Arts class with a special education colleague this year. It has been wonderful so far. We really do click as a team, but I wish we had more Professional Development around co-teaching strategies and more common planning time together. As it is, we grab each other in the mornings before school starts to talk for five minutes about the day. That’s not really proper planning. And I wonder what it would be like if I DID not get along with my co-teacher. It would be horrible.

Thanks for letting me spew out a thousand thoughts.  If you use Fountas & Pinnell, I would appreciate any and all advice that you may have on its successful implementation.

Peace (in the box),

Any publicity is good publicity

This is the final installment of “Mr. Teach’s Chin” in which his principal is not so upset about the viral video of him smashing into the Smartypants Board as Mr. Teach expected. And, just like me, when the bandage comes off, Mr. Teach will have healed completely and have no last marks.

Peace (in the unexpected),