A ToonDooSpace Testimonial

A few weeks ago, I got an email from the folks over at ToonDooSpaces, asking if I might consider putting together a short video testimonial about how I am using the closed networked Webcomic Space with my students. My class was a beta tester last year and I have used it this year, too.

Then, I lost the email and forgot about it. Sorry, ToonDudes! They are presenting at a conference and were looking for videos to run in their booth or something. Given the support and help they have provided me, and the openness to ideas from my students, I wanted to help them out.

I was reminded of this when I saw Mary over at A Year in Reading showing the video that she and her students did. Ack. I scrambled to pull something together which I hope shows my very positive view of ToonDooSpaces.

Peace (in the comics),

Slice of Life: Preschool Explorations

Slice of Life(This is part of the Slice of Life project at Two Writing Teachers)

I love the school where my five year old goes, and we have been sending our kids to the same preschool for the past, eh, nine years (holy cow, how times flies) and my youngest son now has the same two male preschool teachers that his oldest brother had when he started at the school. These two guys — Paul and Scott — are amazing, and engaging, and really know how to reach the imagination of four and five year olds.

Lately, the class has been working on all sorts of projects ranging from Space (which was an offshoot on a boisterous Star Wars kick that my son and others suddenly got into that began to get a bit out of control) and Greek Mythology. That’s right. Greek Mythology for the five year olds! They are reading aloud (with Paul and Scott editing as they read) Mary Pope Osbourne’s young people’s version of The Odyssey and they are creating their own Greek clay sculptures (one of the teachers has access to a professional kiln.)

I had my camera with me yesterday and spotted this Greek Temple that the kids helped to build and then all around it are clay medallions that the children have been creating. It’s very cool, and we are a bit sad that this is our last year at this school that has nurtured our three boys with love and kindness and exploration.

Peace (in the minds of kids),

The Reflective Principal

I don’t often give enough credit to my principal for allowing me a lot of freedom for many of the projects that I do with my students, but I should. Over the years, as I have had my students blog about the Darfur Crisis, or podcast with other students from around the world, or publish stopmotion movies, or use wikis, or Glogster, or whatever, he has been totally supportive.

This topic came up in a conversation the other day with some folks who are planning an inquiry research project around technology and media in the classroom, and we were talking about the constraints that many teachers have in integrating technology. I noted that I have been lucky in this regard, in that I have a principal who supports technology.

He “gets” that technology and multimedia is part of the changing landscape of learning, but he also knows that much of our staff is not quite there yet (example: our website is full of completely blank pages for teachers, even though there are volunteers willing and ready to post things for teachers, if they just give the volunteers a newsletter or note or whatever.)

We all (including him) like to joke that his use of Survey Monkey for gathering data from us is close to an addiction, but I like that he trying to use the technology himself and not just talking about it.

This morning, we received an email from the principal, in which he explains that he is going through his own reflective process as an administrator, and it occurred to him that he should gather input from us, the staff. Of course, he turned to Survey Monkey, but I think the very act of asking the staff — even if he is not required to do so — for an evaluation of his performance as our principal is admirable.

He ended his note with this: “I  will use the results to reflect and improve my

How many of us teachers ask our students to do the same kind of evaluation for us? And what would that show, do you suppose?

Peace (in the support),

Slice of Life: Baseball Hits Again

Slice of Life

(This is part of the Slice of Life project at Two Writing Teachers)

As I was thinking about how to write about the topic of youth baseball for my slice, it occurred to me that this is the third year in a row that I have reflected on my sons entering into the Little League season. The time falls perfectly in sync with Slice of Life and baseball will soon start to consume our days and nights.

Two years ago, I wrote about my trepidation of my oldest son, at age 1o, moving up into the older league with 12 year olds, even though he was and is pretty talented. Last year, I wrote about coming on as an assistant coach with my middle son’s team and sitting at the draft night table, sorting through names.

So, last night, after agreeing to be an assistant coach (and recruiting another assistant coach to help) for the team where both of my sons will play (probably the only time they will be on a team together in any sport, given the spread of years, and the middle son — like his brother two years ago — is moving up at a young age), I once again found myself at the Little League Draft Table with notes and names and wild guesses about kids’ abilities and personalities. The idea of a Draft for Little League is odd, but I have become convinced that it may be as fair as a system as any to provide fairly equal teams of talent.

I think we pulled together a pretty strong team over the 90 minutes of choosing and talking, and we seem to have a collection of kids who have good personalities. But of course, you never know. Our team had the first pick of the draft (our team was dead last last year) and we chose a kid that we don’t even know, but he seems like a great ballplayer.

We don’t know him because our small city is divided by baseball — and I am not talking about Red Sox and Yankees (no, that would be my home). Before my time in the league with my sons, a group of parents who were disgruntled with Little League branched off and started a rival Cal Ripken League. That means that the pool of talent is now shallow and small for both leagues, which seems unfortunate. Our top pick played in Cal Ripken, but shifted back to Little League this year because he and his family were unhappy with the experience in the other league.

Our head coach is the coach of the high school varsity team, which means he knows his stuff and we have easy access to the high school ballfield and pitching machines and more, so my sons are excited about that. And of course, baseball in april (an aside: the name of a collection of short stories by Gary Soto) is a time of possibilities and y0uthful dreams of home runs, shut-out pitching and spectacular fielding.

Everyone has the potential to have a good season right now (even the coaches).

Peace (on the field),

Slice of Life: Ukulele and Drum Sticks

Slice of Life

(This is part of the Slice of Life project at Two Writing Teachers)

“Dad, how do you write your songs? Do you make the music first or the words first or do you just randomly write something?” my older son asked. I looked him over to see if he was serious or just pulling my leg (yeah, sometimes, that happens with 12 year olds), and, seeing he was serious to some degree, I gave him the honest answer.

“There’s no set way to do it. Every song starts somewhere different, I guess. I start with an idea, usually, but sometimes, I just play and see what comes out of my head.”

He complained in a good-natured way that his brother was all about “the random,”  left and the middle child (the one he was complaining about) came walking in.

“We’re starting a band.”

“Ummm. Really?”

“Yep. We’re the Egregious Tigger-oos.”

I spent a few seconds showing him how to pronounce “egregious” and noted, with support, the nice juxtaposition between those two words and the ring when you say it out loud. Egregious Tigger-oos!

The song they had first been planning a few hours earlier (I was eavesdropping) was called “Polka dot Bathrobe” but apparently, they were now moving on to other songs on a possible future  iTunes album tentatively being called “Cheesy Strawberries.” They weren’t making music, you know, just planning the whole project out. More like producers with big ideas than musicians with chords.

“And we rock,” said the older one. “Of course, we only have a ukulele, a keyboard, and some drum sticks.”

There have been bands with lesser talent on fewer instruments. I think. Anyway, who cares. Just go create music! I was about to give them fatherly support and maybe some musicianly advice when they walked away, mulling over the art work on some future album.

“It has to look good on the iTouch,” the older one said, as the middle one nodded. Kids, these days, it’s all about the device.

Peace (in the tunes),


Slice of Life: The Wimpy Kid, Jam Session and Blackout

Slice of Life(This is part of the Slice of Life project at Two Writing Teachers)

Today’s slice is a full load — three slices in one.

Slice One

I’ll admit it: I went into the theater with my older sons prepared to diss the Diary of a Wimpy Kid movie because they turned what I thought to be a comical graphic novel into a live-action flick (and to be honest, I feel like I’ve been a grouch reviewer lately). But I have to say — the movie was OK and an enjoyable diversion on an afternoon. They did weave some animation in there, which nicely kept the flavor of the books intact, and there was a sweetness to the story that came through (but not too sweet, and they wisely avoided a Kumbaya moment at the end).

I do think, though, that the movie is probably better for elementary kids than middle school kids because although the movie is set in middle school, it is probably better if the audience is not there yet and can only imagine the hassles of that age. That is my opinion, and one I got from my older son who is in middle school. My fourth grader, meanwhile, really liked it.

In a way, the movie resembled Meatballs — remember that one? With Bill Murray? There was this fun underpinning to the entire thing and just enough goofiness to keep you interested. If you miss it in the theaters, no worries. The movie will be fine as a DVD.

Slice Two

Three hours flew by in early evening as I got together with a bunch of friends from school (plus, a drummer who is a friend of a friend) to play original songs and jam out. One of the guys writes tons of songs and I was able to crank on the bass, which is something I am trying to do more of (and my fingers hurt today, so it’s clear I have not done enough).

I played a few of my songs (the new one sounded very cool) and before I knew it, it was time to go home. I love how time goes by so quickly and unnoticed when you are full involved and engaged in an activity.

Here is a recording of us doing my new song, Ease Your Mind.

Slice Three

I got home and took our dog for a walk (he’s having some stomach problems … blech). We were down the street when suddenly I heard a loud BAM and the electrical wires overhead started shaking like mad. Everything lit up for a second and then we were plunged into total darkness. The entire neighborhood — completely black.

I stared down one of our side streets to the main road and knew something bad had happened. I could see cars slowing down and then, there is that eerie silence after an accident. I heard some shouts and maybe some cries. Not sure. I bolted home to get my cell phone but by the time I arrived, we could already hear sirens on the way. It was pretty scary.

And we spent the night in complete darkness, worrying about the accident and our food in the fridge and the sump pump in the cellar, until about 3:30 am, when the lights finally came back on. I walked the dog again this morning, and I could see the flashing yellow lights of utility crews still at work at the scene. I am avoiding that intersection this morning.

Peace (in the many slices),

“Free” but not taken

I am a bit disappointed that a morning conference/workshop that our Western Massachusetts Writing Project was planning for teachers in our region later this month sparked almost no interest whatsoever from anyone (it was open to anyone, not just WMWP folks). Only six people signed up (two of those are colleagues at my school) and so we made the decision this week to cancel the event.

I am trying now to think about why this is.

In the past two years, we’ve had about 25 people sign up for similar technology events and this year, we had the theme of “No-Cost Technology” for teachers and classrooms, thinking it dovetailed nicely with the state of the economy and the limited resources of teachers.

Our WMWP Tech Team was going to show how to use Glogster EDU, and Open Office software, and Voicethread, Wallwisher and more.  It was advertised as a hands-on workshop, full of play with these tools and guidance on the possibilities in the classroom. These tools are all parts of the tapestry of the Net that are so easy to use and cost no money. I hoped there would be interest and thought there would be.

But maybe the time of year is not so good (we are in the midst of state testing), or folks are not interested in “free” but in a special focus (in other years, for example, we focused in on digital storytelling and technology across the curriculum). Maybe the location wasn’t convenient for folks. Did the token registration fee of $30 drive some people away? (Did the fact that there was any kind of fee for a conference billed as free tech strike folks as odd?)

Or maybe technology integration into the classroom just is not a priority for many folks these days, which alarms me a bit.

So, we canceled the event and now we, the WMWP Tech Team, have another Saturday to spend with our families, which is not such a bad thing, right?

Peace (in the reflection),

Slice of Life: A New Song on the Mind

Slice of Life(This is part of the Slice of Life project at Two Writing Teachers)

I spent much of the morning yesterday writing a new song because late today, I am going to be getting together with some colleagues from school to jam and write songs and make music. That prospect always gets me fired up and this will be our first time together, for the most part (a few of us played at our recent benefit concert).

So, I figured I would challenge myself by writing a new song. I had the words and rhythms floating around my head all day and through the night, too, which is how I write. I get sort of obsessive about it. OK, not sort of. Very obsessive. The song becomes the inner soundtrack of my days.

I am always afraid that I will “lose” the song (which has happened more than once) and so, repetition is key, and also, that repetition (even in the comfortable silence of my own mind) allows me to try out new words and phrases.

For example, I later thought that “ease” should be “change,” as that would be a more powerful story — asking someone to change their mind about a relationship is much different than trying to ease their fears. The narrator here (it’s not me) would be a bit more desperate in their message if they knew they had to change their lover’s mind about the relationship. I’ve kept it as written, for now, but I thought a lot about how that one change would change the entire mood and meaning of the song.

Here is it:

Ease Your Mind
(listen to the demo)

You sound so lonely
I can hear it on the phone
Baby, if only
I were there to hold you
I’d take you in, so let’s begin
to ease your mind

We’re walking on the tightrope
and we might fall
I’m holding out for hope
Hope that we stand tall
inside this place where there’s some space
to ease your mind

Hold out your hand
and watch as the world slips away
We can talk about it later
While we’re living here today
and I need you here

I hear the distance
and silence of the days
I’m lost in the whispers
coming through the haze
I keep you close just like a ghost
and ease your mind

Peace (in the muse),

Slice of Life: Lock-Down

Slice of Life

(This is part of the Slice of Life project at Two Writing Teachers)

It’s not easy to keep a room of antsy sixth graders quiet, and sitting in the corner of a room, for 20 minutes, but we pulled off this feat yesterday as our school rehearsed an Emergency Lock-Down Drill in the morning. Near one of my walls, there is a smiling flower on the wall — the safety zone — and we all crammed into the space and waited.

And waited. And waited.

Have I ever mentioned that I have students who rarely ever stop talking? Sure, during quiet reading, with me strategically locating them around the room, we can do about 15 minutes of silence.

But 20 minutes? In a small corner of the room? Together?

We did it, though, and when the police officer pounded on our door and then unlocked the door, we all jumped a bit, but then, relief washed over us as he told us we were free to continue on with what we were doing. They made up for the silence with a burst of chattiness, and I didn’t mind a bit.

We have at least two more drills coming which the kids will not know about (this one, they did) and so, we will see how that goes. I don’t mind our school being prepared, although I had a few students stressing out about it all, watching the clock for the time of the drill.

Today, however, they all shone like quiet stars.

Peace (in the silence),