Webcomic Camp Comes to a Close

And so, the final frame has been inked.


Yesterday, our four-day Webcomic Camp for middle school students came to an end and even though it is a lot of work to plan for the camp and sucks up half of a summer day, I was pretty sad to see our artists/writers walk out the door yesterday. They had accomplished a lot in four days.

One idea that my colleague Tom had was to have each student present to the rest of us some of their comics, even if the comics were still underway and uncompleted. They could use any platform they wanted — digital or not — and it was nice to see a whole mix of comics and graphic stories underway or completed. This idea of a presentation of some work really gave the kids focus during the last two days of camp, as did the use of some forms around character development and plot design. Tom also set up a table where he regularly checked in with kids (while I was doing tech work).

There was a whole range of talent, from just beginning to one kid who clearly has incredible talent as an artist and illustrator and was completely engaged when watching The Cartoonist documentary about Jeff Smith and his Bone series.

This eighth-grader has already created an entire world for a graphic novel, complete with characters with back stories, and although he did smaller pieces for camp, he “sees” a much larger story unfolding for a graphic novel in the future. This kid has talent, and luckily, he already knows Hilary Price (of Rhymes with Orange fame) and will work with her a bit.

Me? I was so wrapped up in helping kids and gathering their work for our camp website (which we used as our presentation platform) that I never got to even start a comic with them. Tom did, though, and I hope he keeps going with it. I did finally figure out how to use iPhoto this camp, however, and how to resize photos (How come I can’t do it directly in iPhoto?) that allowed me to work on our camp website right in class as they were completing their work. (The Mac is still my learning curve).

We had them leave camp with our style of exit slip: they had to draw us a final comic on paper, and when they handed that in, we gave them a camp t-shirt and another free graphic novel (from my pile). And since we have our Bitstrip site up for at least another month, they can continue to make comics on their own. I hope they do.

Peace (on the funny pages),

Report: The Tech Divide

tech survey report

Another report — another glimpse into the chasm between the kinds of media and technology composing, creation and use being done by our students outside of school and inside of school. I don’t think there is too much new in this release of the  “21st Century Classroom Report: Preparing Students for the Future or the Past?” by CDW Government LLC, which is a company that seems to sell technology products and plans to educators (so, view the data through that lens).

A press release about the report notes that the survey of 1,000 students and teachers:

“… found that just 8 percent of high school teachers said that technology is fully integrated into the classroom; and the technology that is available is primarily used by teachers and not students.”

That use by teachers, and not their students, is something that is pretty widespread in my experience and we need to do a better job of filtering the tech out of the hands of the teachers (once they understand the tech themselves) and into the hands of students.

The report offers up a few suggestions on moving forward.

In order to successfully prepare students for their future, the 21st-Century Classroom Report recommends that districts:

  • Understand student needs: Just one-third of students say their high school seeks student input on classroom technology. Consider using the 21st-Century Classroom survey tool to get an accurate picture of student, faculty and IT staff needs. Use the results to discuss 21st-century skills with students to determine what technology they find most beneficial and seek guidance on how to effectively incorporate technology into the curriculum
  • Improve faculty resources: Districts should bring together faculty and IT staff to discuss must-have resources and implement professional development that aligns and reinforces the district’s technology plan
  • Look to the future: Focus on professional development and 21st-century skills to create a curriculum and classroom environment that promotes learning and seamless technology integration. Consider how today’s students learn and how to bring their native technology into the classroom

All good advice, even if it comes from a technology business.

Peace (in the data),

Character and Plot in the Webcomic Camp

Comic Camp in Bitstrips

(I made this in Bitstrips with all of the student avatars, which is a neat feature of the site)

Yesterday was Day Three of our Webcomic Camp for middle school students and after letting them play around with our Bitstrips site, my colleague, Tom, guided our comic creators through a focused session around developing either a character they will use in a series of comics or a plot for a larger graphic story, and then, we had them fill out some brainstorming sheets around their choice of focus.

(This is how we continue to weave lessons around writing into the fun of comics, but don’t tell the kids!)

We will also be having each student do a short presentation today about the comics or graphic story they are working on. Tom and I hope this will give a good sense of focus to the group of students, who are wonderful and creative but can get off-track at times. Our aim is for them to “complete” something, even if it is part of a story or a few comics in a series of possible strips that they will continue after camp ends today (yikes!).

While we continue to show them a bunch of tools (ComicLife, Bitstrips, Make Beliefs Comics, traditional paper, and today, our ToonDoo space), they have complete freedom on their work, so we do have kids working on all sorts of different ideas in different formats. While this is billed as “webcomic camp,” there are at least three kids working with pencil and paper right now.

One more note: After every tool we use, we spend about ten minutes reflecting on what they liked about it and what they didn’t like about it, and how it might be improved. We’re trying to build in this reflective practice, particularly when it comes to online sites, so that they don’t feel “locked in” by what a site offers and conform to the site’s limitations only.

Peace (in the frames),


A Peek Inside the Webcomic Camp

I’ve been taking pictures and grabbing comics as we go along through our Webcomic Camp for middle school students. It seemed logical to stuff all of those images into Animoto and see what came out (and I wanted to use their new Earth theme, too).

Here is a brief overview of what we did yesterday:

  • We started the day off with an idea from the Adventures in Cartooning activity book, in which the kids were given a comic that had all of the dialogue but was missing the artwork (a reverse from the first day of camp). It was pretty interesting to see how engaged some of them became when they were just being the artists.
  • I then showed them how to use ComicLife software. We have the 30 day trial on the computers we are using, and after a quick tutorial about using MS Paint for creating images and the basics of the software, we set them loose for about an hour or so. I was surprised at how quickly they got it and understood the platform. Not that it’s all that tricky, but it is a bit complex.
  • We transitioned into using one of our Webcomic sites — Bitstrips for Schools — and they worked on creating avatars of themselves in the site. It’s neat that once they have created their comic representation of themselves (which is a huge hit as an activity), Bitstrips populates the “classroom” on our homepage with their avatars. We all got a kick out of seeing what each other made.
  • We took a break when visitor Bryant Paul Johnson arrived and Bryant, who has published his own webcomics and is working on a graphic novel,  did a fantastic job of working on the concept of comics as a combination of words, images and time. The concept of “time” is tricky because it involves the sequence of the story as it unfolds outside of the field of vision (what happened before this frame, what happened after this frame). Bryant then worked on a few comics on the whiteboard, with ideas from the students.
  • They then had some time to choose what they wanted to work on — ComicLife, Bitstrips, Make Beliefs Comix, or just regular paper and pencils. A little of everything was underway when the day came to a close.

Peace (in the camp),

What’s Goin’ On At Webcomic Camp

Hilary Price visits2
(Hilary Price of Rhymes with Orange works with the camp on a brainstorming activity)

Yesterday was our first day of Webcomics Camp, where we have 13 middle school students with a passion for comics learning about the world of art and writing and sequential art. The four hours flew by, but here is a taste of what they did yesterday:

  • They started off with a comic I provided them from Bill Zimmerman’s site in which they had to fill in some dialogue. We talked about the nature of a one-frame comic, and how you use humor and punch lines to make a joke.
  • I had them take a survey about their interest in reading and writing comics. I’ll share the results tomorrow. It’s a small sample, obviously, but still, interesting results.
  • They spent some time on Make Beliefs Comics and had to create a comic, which they could email to me, if they wanted it published at our Webcomic Camp website, where each camper has their own page that will become populated with comics and art as the week progresses.
  • We started a discussion around character development and the use of a “defining feature” that sets the character apart and allows the writer to use that feature for humor. Then, they began creating some characters for a “character” wall in our classroom. There are some amazing artists in this group!
  • We had a special guest — Hilary Price, of Rhymes with Orange comic (syndicated in about 150 newspapers — came in to work with the kids on how to brainstorm creative ideas and develop a comic out of those ideas. Together, the class created a comic about Carmen Miranda as a thief who nails people in the head with a pineapple from her hat. Don’t ask. You had to be there.
  • They spent much of the last part of class working on their characters or beginning to work on a comic. (One example: the tale of a battered stuffed animal that uses a time machine that always goes wrong and he ends up in places like the belly of a dinosaur, etc.)
  • We ended the day by watching the first part of The Cartoonist documentary, about Jeff Smith and the Bone series of graphic novels, which most of the kids had read.

More camp today ..

Peace (with the kids),

Checking out iStopmotion on the Mac

(A quick sample done in minutes with iStopmotion2)

I took my classroom Mac home with me this summer and am trying out some new things with it. I do love the Mac now (Bonnie will be proud) and I wondered about making stopmotion movies on it. I know you can import digital photos into iPhoto or iMovie, and do it that way by laying in images. But I wondered about programs for the Mac, so I gave iStopmotion2 by Boinx a try.

I am pretty impressed with the possibilities of this software. It’s easy to use, creates files that pretty much seamlessly integrate with iMovie, where you can add voice and music and titles, etc. If you have an upgraded version of iStopmotion, you can add audio and titles and more right in the program itself. (I would not recommend this for the classroom because of the cost of the licensing. But if you have deep pockets, well, it would be perfect for kids to use because it is just so darn easy to use).

I did splurge on a home license because I figure my own kids will give it a shot. They liked using the foregrounds and backgrounds, but I guess those features don’t export with the video. Or at least, I can’t figure it out. Or it may be that my license does not allow it.

What I need to now figure out is how to use something other than the tiny video camera in my Mac to capture frames because the location of that camera (on the top of the laptop) limits what we can do. And my five year old says he wants to make a movie! So …

Peace (in the frames),

Checking out Stripgenerator (again)

bass player

A few years ago, when I was first thinking about making my own comic strip about kids and teachers and technology, I turned to a site called Stripgenerator to begin work on the comic. Stripgenerator has an odd feel to it, and the comic that began as something called Outerworld Web later emerged as Boolean Squared when I decided to shift over to using Comic Life for the layout. I wanted to own the content and the process from the start to finish, so Comic Life seemed better suited for my needs.

This morning, I got one of those “our sites have been updated” emails from Stripgenerator, so I wandered over there. It doesn’t seem all that different from when I was there last (more than a year ago) and it still has an odd feel to it, thanks to the strange characters.

But, I made a quick comic, poking fun at bass players. You can give Stripgenerator a try without an account, if you want. It’s easy enough to use. I would not bring students to the site, however, as some content is not quite suited for kids. Which is too bad. I bet that teenage boys, in particular, would have a lot of fun with the punk-rockish tone of the characters.

Peace (with the stripping),

How to Archive a Ning Site

Yesterday, I went through the steps to downloading and archiving a Ning site. It’s a networking site that I have used with a handful of people on our Western Massachusetts Writing Project Technology Team and, while it has been useful, it is not worth paying for. But I didn’t want to lose everything. So I decided to try out the new Ning Archive tool. And I took some screenshots along the way.

First, you will need to have Adobe Air installed on your computer. It’s a quick process and Air is used by other programs, so you might as well have it on your machine. Platforms like Tweetdeck work off Air, by the way.

Ning Archive 1

Second, you need to go into a site you created (the archive tool only works for site creators, I think) and go into your administrator tab. Down at the bottom of the page, you should see an icon for “Archive Content.” This is what you want. Click on it.

Ning Archive 2

Third, the site will give you the option of downloading Adobe Air and then launch the Ning Archiver. The archiver will ask you for the URL of your Ning site, your email and your password. This will verify that you are the owner of the site.

Ning Archive 3

Fourth, the application will ask you where you want to create a folder with all of the files.

Ning Archive 4

Fifth, you go through a series of options on what you want to download, including member information (only the most previous 400 folks, apparently); media files;  events; discussions; groups and more. The downloading was quick for my site, but then again, it did not have a lot on there to deal with.

Ning Archive 5

The folder now on your computer has all of the files from your site.

Ning Archive 6

The archive is stores as a .json file, which I had no clue about. So of course, I googled it. A JSON file is “is a lightweight data-interchange format. It is easy for humans to read and write. It is easy for machines to parse and generate.” I hope that means it is easy to upload into another network, if I choose.

I’m hoping my process helps you, if you decide to archive and move your Ning network somewhere else. Even if you don’t move it now, you may want to save the content for another time.

Peace (in the transfer),
PS — These are the screenshots as a slideshow, if that helps:

Troy’s Digital Writing Workshop Shift

Image  from Heinemann
Image from Heinemann

I’m a huge fan of Troy Hicks and his book, The Digital Writing Workshop. It is an incredibly helpful and useful and thoughtful guide to the ways that digital tools can help teachers make the shift with student composition. This morning, I saw an email from Troy that the online component to his book is shifting platforms from a Ning to a Wiki now that Ning is changing its ways.

It’s not too late to join Troy and other teachers at the Digital Writing Workshop wiki and engage in conversations about the digital writing world.

Here is a video that might pique your interest as teachers from the Central Arizona Writing Project and Chippewa River Writing Projects talk about the impact of technology on writing.

Peace (in the shift),