Composing on Multiple Tracks

Yesterday, I pulled out my acoustic guitar and began to fiddle around with some melodies and rhythms. I’ve been wanting to do a bit more on Audacity with layering guitar tracks. Usually, I do my demos with one guitar track and that’s about it (partially because of the limitations of my playing abilities).

But I was inspired to do a bit more and composed this song out of layered acoustic guitar.  I tried to add some effects here and there, and doubled up some tracks along with recording single notes. I was trying to explore sopme different ways of creating sounds. I also tried to use the stereo effect here and there.  I kind of like it, although it is a bit off in parts. Doh.

Listen to One Morning in May

Peace (on the tracks),

The Massachusetts New Literacies Institute

Should I or shouldn’t I? That’s my question right now as I have been asked to be a teacher-leader in an upcoming New Literacies Institute being hosted by our state Department of Education. It certainly seems intriguing and it’s exciting that our state is dipping its toes into New Literacies.

The description of the week-long event, with scattered other activities throughout the year, includes:

To compete in a global information age, students must develop the ability to effectively read and comprehend information on the Internet and to use other information and communication technologies well. Reading comprehension skills such as understanding search results or critically evaluating information laden with social, commercial, and political motives are essential for any student wishing to skillfully comprehend information online for content area learning. So, too, are effective communication skills including e-mail, video, and other digital tools, as well as inquiry models for learning. This Institute will help participants enhance their own skills in these areas and develop effective instructional strategies, using online tools, to promote skill development and academic knowledge acquisition in their students.

Also, on the flier:

Teachers will:

• Develop expertise with teaching the new literacies of online reading comprehension and learning in your grade level or subject area.
• Design and produce video and new media learning products for student learning.
• Adapt innovative social networking environments for use in 21st century classrooms.
• Explore dynamic instructional models for teaching 21st century skills.
• Learn how your class can collaborate with other classrooms around the world.
• Become an instructional leader for change.
• Engage a pioneering community of teacher leaders who continue to collaborate after the Institute.
• Gain access to the latest technology and facilities of the Microsoft New England Research and Development Center in Cambridge, MA
• Have fun!

The institute will be headed by Professor Don Leu, of UCONN, who has extensive work in the field.  There are guest keynote speakers (including Sara Kajder Bridget Dalton,  and Yong Zhao) and the work of the 10 state-wide teacher leaders, like possibly me, will be to partner up with institute leaders and work with small groups of teachers. Sort of like a helper.

Sounds cool, eh?

BUT, my trepidation is that the Institute takes place during the very last week of our school year, meaning I would miss the last few days of school with the kids I have had all year. I would also miss our Recognition Night ceremony — our formal “good bye” to the kids. I am strugging with this because I want to be part of those events.

So, I am not sure. I am leaning towards the Institute — it’s hard to pass up — but I want to ask some colleagues what they think and get some more feedback from my principal.

Stay tuned …

Peace (in the decisions),

Adding in Some Drums …

I’ve been working with a friend to record a song of mine and documenting the process with my Flip camera. A few weeks ago, I posted the first session and last weekend, I got together with my drummer friend and he helped lay down some drum tracks.
Now, I need to do some more with the keys (or sax) and record the vocals.

Peace (in the process),

Getting Inspired by Longfellow 10

Yesterday, after our vocabulary quiz, I took my students onto the computers and had them tour around the Longfellow 10 stopmotion movie site. Next week, they will begin their own movies and I want them to get inspired by the work of other students. And, I told them, some of their Figurative Language stopmotion movies might make it to the Longfellow 10 website when they are done.

It was a guided activity, with an easy sheet to help them think a bit about what they were watching, and they were pretty impressed by the movies they saw. I also challenged them to try to find some of the movies last year’s sixth grade class put up at the site, and a few them took that as  viewing challenge and had fun with it.

This sheet by a student showed some of the thinking going on as they viewed the movies. It’s OK for them to be critical, because once they start filming their own movies, they will have that in the back of their minds. And they will come to appreciate what they viewed once they realize how tricky it can be to produce a quality movie in stopmotion.

I realized once again, too, what a great resource the LF10 site has become — not only for the stopmotion but also for the wide range of concepts in projects developed by youths for youths. Some of the video streaming got gummed up by all of the wireless computers, so I had them team up, if they could (one of the best investments I ever did: purchasing some dual-headphone jacks that allow two kids to listen or watch at the same time. I’m serious!).

Peace (in the viewing),

It’ll be Cartoon-a-palooza With Mo Willems

Tomorrow, I am bringing my little guy to a benefit show that features the wonderful and talented Mo Willems. I just realized this week that Willems now lives in my small city (along with a host of other illustrators, writers and artists) and he is donating his time, and  few of his animated shorts, to this event to raise money to revamp the children’s wing of the city library.

Willems has created the Pigeon books, which will bring the giggles to just about any little kid (or big kid with little kid still inside)  and the Knuffle Bunny picture books, and more. He has a great sense of humor and his off-kilter stories hit you in the heart as well as the head. They are simple, but great.

As it turns out, I am reading a book by Willems called You Can Never Find a Rickshaw When It Monsoons, which is a day-by-day travel journal from when Willems spent a year in Europe and Asia, traveling mostly on foot and without much money. He drew a comic each day, and years later, he he wrote a short narrative. The comic journal is hilarious, and insightful about an American in different cultures.

Peace (in the cartoon/picture book world),

Storyboarding Stopmotion Movies

We continue to inch along towards the filming of our stopmotion movies around Figurative Language and my students are raring to go. But not yet. I had then storyboard out their ideas yesterday. I explained to them that these storyboards will become like a “roadmap” for the filming, guiding them along their story.

Here are a few pages of storyboards as a Flickr slideshow:

Peace (in the boards),

“Playtime” with Stopmotion

(This shot seemed cool — it’s from my demo of using the software. You can see the set I have on the ground, the laptop and then the whiteboard.)

I always set aside a full class period for my student to play around with the technology they will be using for a project. Right now, we are about to begin a movie project in which they film a stopmotion movie around  a Figurative Language term.

Yesterday, after showing them how to set the up the webcam and how to use the Stopmotion Animator program, I gave them each a WikiStix and let them be creative. They did not have to save their work yesterday, but many did. They were really jazzed up about the possibilities of stopmotion and were calling each other over to watch what they had done. Lots of energy in the room yesterday!

Here is a short one that I grabbed off a computer. This student used crayons as props. Remember: this is the first time she has ever even attempted a stopmotion video and this was done in about 30 minutes.

Peace (in the frames),


The “Pitches” for Stopmotion Movies

I am hoping to end our school year on a creative note, launching a unit around Figurative Language through Stopmotion movies. My students are right in the starting stages. They have been given a Figurative Language term and now are working on a story idea around that term.

Yesterday, I had them working on a “movie pitch.” I told them to imagine that I had a few million dollars handy (as  if …) and am ready to invest in a good movie idea. Their task was to convince me of their idea through the writing of a “pitch.” They had to submit their “pitches” at our weblog site as a way of sharing out their ideas.

Here are a few intriguing ones:

  • Our figurative language is personification. In our movie we are going to have Oreo’s talking. One is saying that Oreo’s are Milks favorite cookie. Then another one says that milk doesn’t have feelings so they can’t have feelings. And that’s personification.
  • Our movie pitch is an idiom. Our idea uses the idiom “Against the clock”. We plan to make our film about a kid who is last at taking a test and his teacher tells him he is going against the clock. So he starts daydreaming about a cheetah clock and him running in a race. Then his teacher tells him that what she said was just a idiom and he has to hurry up he feels relieved that he doesn’t have to race anyone so he finishes and gets a A on the test!
  • This movie has alliteration in it. It starts off with two turtles walking on a trail. A person watching says an alliteration sentence involving the two turtles. Another person asks what he’s saying. The person then explains alliteration to the other person and walks away.
  • Our movie is about personification. In our movie there are going to be two people talking about the wind and giving it characteristics. After, another character will appear and ask them why they are giving human like characteristics to the wind. The two characters will then explain what they are saying and what personification is.
  • Our movie is about personification. There are going to be two kids talking,about the wind, giving it human-like characteristics. Then another character is going to ask them what they mean when they give the wind the human-like characteristics. After the two characters are going to explain what personification is.
  • The figure of speech we got was Hyperbole. We are making a spoof on Free Willy. We are thinking of when Willy gets freed we would have Willy jump on a jet ski or into a random taxi. It is a hyperbole because we are stretching the truth by having him jump in a vehicle as he’s leaving, like a fairy tale.
  • Our movie is about Imagery. We are focusing on a doctor’s office of terror. The main character is going to the doctor’s office and needs to face the cold, hard stethoscope. He starts to have a nervous breakdown from the sights and smells of the doctor’s office. In the end, he has a great appointment and gets a lollipop, which will get him a trip to the dentist. And that’s another story …
  • Our movie is an Onomatopoeia. We plan to have a family of 5 that live in Southampton. The 3 kids are triplets named Nathan, John, and Alex. For the special occasion of the triplets birthday the parents take them to I Hop in Philadelphia. Alex orders a banana pancake in the I Hop when suddenly it rolls out of the restaurant. Alex and his family run outside curious of the pancake and see it as transformed to a giant ninja pancake that shouts rawr! The family starts to see sounds in words around Philadelphia and have to stop the banana pancake before it terrorizes our beloved Philadelphia.

Today, I will show them how to use our webcams and the Stopmotion Animator freeware and let them play around. Playing is a crucial part of this project at this stage. I want them to become comfortable with creating scenes in stopmotion.

Later, we intend to publish some of the best of the movies over at the Longfellow Ten website. If you haven’t checked that site out, do it. It’s a collection of student-created stopmotion movies.

And if you are interested in stopmotion, I have a website resource that I created with all sorts of resources. It’s called Making Stopmotion Movies (very creative, eh?)

Peace (in the frames),

In Praise of Teachers …

Yesterday, I wrote about a workshop I was to give during the afternoon in a school in the large city down the road (I have another one this afternoon). My idea is to show free/no-cost tools to teachers in hopes of giving them time to play in the workshop and envision use in the classroom.

I sing in praise of the 20 teachers in the session because, despite emails back two weeks and urges from me to the administration and tech person to check out the sites and unblock the filter, there were hurdles galore.

First, the filter was full-on, blocking most of the sites that we intended to use. I had to run through the halls and offices to find the administrator, who had to call the tech support person (in other building) and then finally, most of what I needed was unblocked.

Then, the browsers on the computers in the lab where we were located were not updated and had no Adobe Flash software. You realize when Flash is not there how important it is to so many sites (maybe Steve Jobs has a point!). And of course, I did not have any administrative access so I could not load Flash myself. Yikes! I asked for patience from the group of teachers and began tinkering around and came up with a solution that worked, but was confusing: we needed to use one browser (Firefox) for one site, and then another browser (Internet Explorer) for the other sites.

For many of us, this does not seem like a big deal.

But I know from experience that the last thing you want is for teachers who little technology background to have too many hurdles. It just reinforces in their heads how difficult it is to do this “tech stuff” and they quit before they start.

That didn’t happen.

This group of teachers was game for whatever I threw out there and were ready to play and explore. I bounced around a lot, helping navigate browsers and websites, but it worked. No one stormed out of the room. No one threw up their hands in frustration. They stuck with it, and soon, they were putting up notes on a Wallwisher, making a webcomic and creating a Glog.

We’ll see how it goes today …

Peace (in the sharing),