In less than a week, I will be heading off to Ohio for the Dublin Literacy Conference and one of my sessions is with parents and kids around creating stopmotion movies. I have handouts, but I really wanted a website resource that I could direct people to if they were truly interested in creating stopmotion movies.
Yesterday morning, I worked for a bit on a site, got feedback from my Twitter friends and others, and I think it is just about ready. My aim was to provide some inspiration for those wondering about how to make movies, access to the free tools that I use with my students and my own sons, and insights into what I have learned from doing claymation and other stopmotion movies with young people.
This morning, I put some finishing touches on the site, adding a few more movies. There is still some tinkering to do, but mostly, I think it is a good resource for people, and something I am proud to have created, particularly for the large numbers of parents and kids who will be attending my session on Saturday in Dublin.
Feel free to pass the site along through your network. If you are inspired, and you get your students making movies, give me a shout because our Longfellow Ten site is always on the lookout for more student work. The LF10 is a stopmotion moviemaking syndicate (sounds devious, doesn’t it?) that features student films.
Yesterday, the day before our February break, we gathered all of the the sixth graders together to begin discussing Quidditch season at our school. Yes, we play Quidditch and it is both exciting (all paths lead to a sixth grade tournament in April) and frustrating (all brains seem to fixate on the tournament). The key for us teachers is to use the excitement for learning, and we do all sorts of art, writing, math and other curricular activities.
So, what is our game of Quidditch? Glad you asked. Last year, I created this video that shows the way we play our game. And I wrote a song about Quidditch, too, called The Q Rap.
During our last tumultuous here in Massachusetts (ie, Republican Scott Brown), our phone was overwhelmed with robo-calls. Every hour, it seemed, we were getting some recorded voice, touting the candidate. It got so bad that we didn’t even want to pick up the phone. My students were complaining about the robo-calls at their homes. It was nonsense.
Which makes it a good topic for my comic strip, as Boolean decides to enlist his cyborg, Cylene, in some daytime robo-calling to earn some extra scratch to buy a Saxophone Hero (hey, if guitarists and DJs can have their own Wii game, why not us saxophonists?).
My science teacher colleague was so jazzed up about how our students used Glogster for our Three Cups of Tea project that she asked that I show her how it worked. That took about, oh, five minutes, and she was off, crafting an assignment for her Bridge Engineering Unit for our students. They had to choose a style of bridge and create a glog resource about it. She was impressed, the kids were engaged, and it laid a great foundation for their toothpick bridge construction venture now underway.
I don’t have a strong opinion yet about the new Google platform called Buzz, although it is better than Google Wave, as far as I am concerned. Buzz is an Twitter-like tool that is integrated into your gmail account, allowing people in your connections to share thoughts, links and more (including elements from Google Reader).
There is also a security issue brought up at a blog site, which noted that since the Buzz conversations are defaulted to “public,” then all of one’s contacts can also be seen by the public. (Read the article and see what you think. I know some folks have now turned off Buzz as they wait for Google to make a fix.)
But, so far, I have been following some interesting conversations among very smart people in my Buzz and I like that it sits right there in my email, and Buzz threads even show up in my inbox, so I can easily keep track of the conversations. Will it replace Twitter? Seems unlikely, but you never know and we should never count Google out of any game.
Some are wondering about the possibilities of Buzz for the classroom. It would require kids to have gmail accounts and it could be a way for encouraging conversations and sharing of resources. But I would worry about oversight, since the teacher would not have much control over the Buzzing. And, who wants to say in the hallway, “I let my kids get buzzed today?”
Some of you may know that we have a new senator in these parts — Republican Scott Brown to replace Democrat Ted Kennedy — and this is the first time I am going to be contacting his office (Sen. John Kerry is next). This comes as the National Writing Project is concerned about the reorganization of funding for educational programs. NWP receives substantial funds from the federal government for its work with teachers across the country. There’s a worry that the reorganization may cripple the NWP.
So, I composed this letter to my new senator:
Dear Senator Scott Brown,
First of all, congratulations on your election. I hope you get settled soon and act in the interests of all your constituents in our state in your work as our United States Senator.
I am writing to you today as a sixth grade teacher and as a constituent with three young boys in the public school system. I am writing to you also as someone who cares deeply about the children who come to my classroom every day. I am a member of the Western Massachusetts Writing Project, which is based at the University of Massachusetts and a site of the National Writing Project network. The National Writing Project is an organization that I have been part of ever since I began teaching seven years ago and it has changed the way I approach my students as learners in countless, positive ways. The Writing Project has become a second home to me as I continue to develop my skills as a teacher of writing and literacy, and of technology, and its support of my endeavors have been invaluable over the years.
In case you are not familiar with it, the National Writing is an organization with teachers at the center of its work and it empowers us teachers to share our best practices with other educators, to network with each other, to learn from each other, and to make share classroom research around what works best to teach students in all the content areas. We strongly believe that writing is a crucial way that students learn, whether it is in the Language Arts, the math or the science classroom.
Here in the Pioneer Valley, the Western Massachusetts Writing Project provides professional development for schools by tapping into the expertise of teachers themselves. Our writing project hosts a four-week Summer Institute where teachers conduct research, examine the teaching of writing and become writers themselves. We host numerous conferences for teachers and we have established ourselves as a leader in emerging technology in the Pioneer Valley.
I am writing to you because of proposed changes in the federal educational budget that could negatively impact this work. As you may know, President Obama and his administration are proposing a revamping of the educational funding system. The National Writing Project has been consolidated in the administration’s budget proposal with five other education-related projects as part of a proposed competitive funding stream directed toward State Education Authorities. Money would flow from the states to organizations that the state’s deem worthy.
My concern is that support for the National Writing Project could be in danger under this umbrella plan for block grants. While our Western Massachusetts Writing Project has worked hard to forge connections and partnerships (and run joint programs) with our Massachusetts Department of Education, not all states and not all writing projects have the same bonds. I worry about the competitive nature of the block grant concept and question whether the approach is the right one for educational organizations that work directly with teachers.
If funding dries up for National Writing Project sites, then proven initiatives that improve instruction and put effective tools of literacy learning into the hands of students might be in jeopardy. The mission statement of the Western Massachusetts Writing Project centers on access and diversity issues for all students and teachers. We work hard to reach those classrooms in urban and rural areas, places where resources are already limited. The strength of an organization like the National Writing Project is that we, the teachers, and our students are tied together with a desire to use literacy for authentic learning.
Let me give you an example of a project that the National Writing Project funded here in Western Massachusetts.
A few years ago, the Western Massachusetts Writing Project launched an initiative known as Making Connections. The goal of our venture was to use technology (weblogs and podcasting) to create an online writing space for middle school students in urban (Holyoke, Chicopee) and rural (Athol) and we had about 20 teachers in a half dozen school districts involved over the three years that we were funded by the National Writing Project. More than 200 students wrote about, and learned about, what it means to live in a rural community or an urban community. Some classes did shared science experiments and collaborated on scientific abstracts. Other students wrote poems and stories. High School students in Chicopee were mentor writers with elementary students in South Hadley. The NWP grant also funded a free summer writing camp for students in Holyoke and Athol. These were opportunities that many of these students would never had had without the vital support of the National Writing Project, and that support began with funding from the United States government.
Here is another example. In the past year, I have helped launch an online social networking site for teachers in writing projects in the New England and New York area. Our aim is to find ways for teachers to connect through tools that break down the geographic barriers. We now have almost 200 members on our site and teachers are using this technology to share lesson plans, to ask questions about classroom activities, to share their own writing and to connect with other teachers. This project is funded directly from the National Writing Project. Without that support, our site might never have gotten off the ground.
The National Writing Project provides numerous other opportunities for teachers right here in our state to to conduct research on the best methods for teaching writing, to write for professional publications, to interact with experts in the field as well as expert teachers from all 50 states. This active network of teachers allows us to share and learn innovative and improved ways of teaching, and I fear that the loss of funding under President Obama’s plan will, at the least, make those opportunities for connections much less likely.
Senator, I am asking for your support in efforts to continue direct appropriations for the National Writing Project and to support the work of teachers in classrooms across the state. By supporting the National Writing Project, you are showing support for teachers and for children. Even teachers who are not part of the National Writing Project benefit, through exposure to best practices at conferences and through discussions with colleagues. If improving schools is a goal, then the National Writing Project deserves your support. Please urge your colleagues in Congress to support the National Writing Project.
We’re just ending our unit on the Origins of the English Language, with discussions ranging from Shakespeare (we talked about Hamlet being the foundation for The Lion King and used Shakespearean insults) to the guillotine (an eponym word that catches the attention of the boys, at least) to examining the prefix-root-suffix nature of most words (they didn’t know that ET the movie and creature was really short for extra-terr-atrial) and inventing new words. We use Frindle as a way into the fun of inventing words (I read aloud sections to them).
We use a wiki to create an online dictionary each year but it goes beyond that (I wrote about this project recently for the Choice Literacy online magazine). Each year, since 2005, my students add one new invented word to an ever-growing wiki dictionary that now has about 400 invented words. Some students today are collaborating with their siblings and friends from years ago. It’s pretty neat and the wiki is the perfect platform for this work, too.
Here are a few words from this year that I found interesting: