The Return of the Massachusetts New Literacies Institute

Tomorrow, I am off to a follow-up session of the Massachusetts New Literacies Teacher-Leadership Institute, which began in June with a week-long exploration of technology, writing, and reading across the content areas. I am one of 10 teacher leaders of the institute, which has been funded by our state’s Department of Elementary and Secondary Education. (The voicethread above is a collection of my reflections from the summer. I’ll be adding to it after tomorrow’s sessions, too).

The focus of the institute has been to help teams of teachers from across the state to undertstand the possibilities of technology, plan out curricular units, plement those units and then reflect on how to share that expertise with other teachers. The week in June was exciting but I wonder how the follow-up sessions (this is one of three over the year) will go. Will folks have dropped out of the program? Will they have begun implementation of their ideas? Will they have met hurdles that are insurmountable? Or seemingly insurmountable? (Read this great post by Troy Hicks about dealing with technology issues when trying to use technology.)

Tomorrow, the day begins with a keynote address by Tom Daccord, of the EdTechTeacher site and organization.  He seems like someone with an interesting background — history and technology — so I am hoping he sets the day forward with a positive message.

Then, we shift into a Cool Tools Smackdown (I hate that term and lobbied to have something different) so that the folks can choose which tool they want to learn more about. I am doing a bit on Prezi. Others are doing Glogster, Voicethread, Dabbleboard, Weebly, Animoto, Voki and others.

Finally, the afternoon will be time for some reflection and planning for the next phase of the project. Hopefully, we’ll be able to re-energize the crowd and inspire them to inspire others back at their schools. That’s the whole idea behind the Massachusetts New Literacies Teacher-Leader Institute.

Peace (in the follow-ups),

Trying My Hand at an Infographic

(go to infographic directly)
If you’re like me, you’ve no doubt noticed not only the influx of infographics all over the Web which highlight the power of sharing data in a visual way. I find many infographics fascinating and I keep trying to figure out a meaningful way to bring that concept into my classroom. I know you could do it easily enough in math, and probably in science, too, but it’s not always an easy fit in Language Arts. So, I keep thinking and mulling, and I know we can do something later this year around the Voices on the Gulf project.

The other day, I thought I would give the creation of one a try with some results of a survey I took of my sixth graders, a site on the web that turns data into graphs, and Glogster as my presentation platform. The Infographic I created is all about the sleep patterns of my students (we are going to read an article about sleep and young people and digital devices next week). I’m not completely happy with it, but for the first attempt, I think it came out good enough. It’s not as snazzy as those I often see in my RSS reader.

Meanwhile, Larry Ferlazzo had a great link to a post entitled “Some Awesome Free Tools to Make Infographics” (there is something to be said for straight-forward blog post titles, isn’t there?). There are some great tools there, as well as at Larry’s long list of Infographic resources.

Peace (with information),

A Stopmotion Workshop Teaser/Prototype

I’ve been invited to be a presenter at what could be a very interesting session at the National Writing Project‘s Annual Meeting in November down in Orlando. NWP is teaming up with MAKE Magazine to offer a session on technical writing and Do-It-Yourself exploration.

Here’s the blurb from the three-hour working session called NWP Makes! Making and Technical Writing (which I see is now completely full):

A special Saturday event hosted by the NWP Digital Is project’s partnership with Make magazine. Participants will be invited to explore the connections between making and technical writing through hands-on projects and shared reflection. Come to learn about the making/crafting/tinkering/DIY movement and explore connections to your own practice.

I’ve been asked to do a one-hour session on stopmotion moviemaking. After my small group makes their movie, their task is going to be to document what we did in technical, expository writing. So, they experience it and then explain it for others.

Yesterday, I used some wiki stix (actually, they were knock-off stix and were a pain to use — note to self for workshop: get the real ones) and made a prototype movie that also became a teaser of sorts for the NWP Makes! session. I was trying to make the dude talk (I used Audacity to change my voice) and that is hard to do, I found out!

Right now, I am trying to come with “story” scenarios for 10 people to make a movie around in an hour. An hour is not long when you are shooting frame by frame. I have some ideas, though.

Peace (on the make),

PS — If you are interested in stopmotion animation, I created a website with hints for teachers and students. Go to Making Stopmotion Movies.

Sparking the Creative Side of Teachers

For the past few summers, a group of teachers at our school have gone off to a professional development seminar at the University of Connecticut entitled “Confratute” — which is a mix of conference, fraternity and institute. The whole concept of the Confratute is built around creative thinking and gifted learners, and it is an institute I have mulled over but have not yet gone to.

Yesterday, during a half-day professional development, the principal turned the afternoon for upper elementary teachers over to our colleagues who have gone to Confratute, and they, in turn, gave us a bit of a taste of the activities that can push the classroom in creative directions.  It’s interesting to note that in these times of high-stakes testing, Massachusetts has new legislation that will require evidence of creativity going on in classrooms, too.  The state is now forming a “creativity index” for schools.

Yesterday, our large gathering was broken down into several smaller groups, which were then broken down further for activities. My own group was one of three that was given a Scavenger Hunt.

Using a digital camera, our task was to document, as creatively as possible, such things as “something that has not changed in 100 years” (we photographed a flute, whose design has remained constant), “something important people would not consider beautiful” (a compost pile), and more. The pictures here are answers to the questions of “something that is larger than life” (the big pencil) and “something that would inspire a rap song ( Mr. Brown Can Moo, Can You? book).”

We then came back together and all of the groups on the hunt shared their own visual interpretations of the questions. That was fascinating to see what others saw through their lens as we saw it through our slightly distorted lens, too. (By the way, one other larger group had to use recycled products to create an “invention to help a teacher or principal” while another had to build a paper Yeti based only on the dimensions of its footprint).

It was fun and informative professional development, and I stored away some of those ideas for my classroom. Plus, I won a lottery drawing from the session and came away with a book of interesting picture puzzles from Tin Man Press. (It’s hard to explain, so check it out.)

It’s a reminder that the best professional development sessions:

  • are active experiences;
  • engage the teachers creativity;
  • allow for collaboration;
  • and provide time for reflection.

Peace (in the creative sparks),

Whitewater Rafting: The Case for Experiental Learning

I know there are schools whose entire themes and philosophy is built on the concept of outdoor adventure and experiential learning. They work year-long curriculum around the idea of students engaging in nature. I wish we could do more of that, but really, our main attempt is our annual Whitewater Rafting trip on the Deerfield River, which took place yesterday.

We began doing this trip eight years ago now (wow!) when another event (Nature’s Classroom) ended for us, and I wanted to find some way for our students to come together as a group at the end of the year, push them in unknown directions, and have a lot of fun that would spill out into the months ahead. So we went rafting.

It’s a 10-mile rafting trip with one area of Class III rapids (the Zoar Gap) and lots of places for cooperative games and activities, and even swimming (it’s too cold for me, even with the wet suits). The kids on the rafts have to work together to get through the various rapids, and they have to listen and communicate. These are critical learning skills.

There’s plenty to talk about on the river, from nature (we saw flocks of geese, the leaves in the midst of Autumn change, beaver dams and even an Osprey flew over us in search of lunch) and history. The river flows by the legendary Hoosic Tunnel, which was once one of the longest man-made tunnels in the country, and is considered haunted (the kids love that).

What I love to see are the informal friendships that begin to form on the rafts and the giddy excitement when we all come together for lunch, and the confidence even the most timid student seems to have when we finally get off the river. There are plenty of nervous students, but this kind of structured event allows them to confront those fears and deal with them with support of others.

Today, we’ll probably do some writing about the rafting trip, and there will be pictures floating in over the next few weeks as cameras gets developed, but we teachers know (from talking to former students) that the memories of rafting on the river for a day is a memory they will cherish for a long time to come. I know the group of kids on my raft came together as tight team, naming themselves the “River Ninjas” and inventing a chant for rowing and then remixing some popular songs to celebrate our raft. At one point, their singing voices were echoing off the banks of the river and all I could do was smile.

Peace (like a river),

Bassman Webcomics: Inspired by John Cage

In college, where I was a music minor (and an English major and always wanted those two to flip), I had a professor who was deep into the New York avante garde scene of composition. John Cage was a god to these guys. The other day, I read an interesting profile of Cage in New Yorker and thought I might bring his ideas into my Bassman webcomic.
Here’s what I got so far:
You can peruse the entire Bassman collection (if you dare) here.

Peace (in the silence),

US Senate Resolution: National Day on Writing

The second annual National Day on Writing is coming up on October 20th. It’s an event sponsored by the National Council of Teachers of English (NCTE) to celebrate and make visible the importance of writing in our lives. There are events and celebrations that take place across the country, and there is an online gallery for submitting writing into an archive.It’s a great way to write, get published and join the festivities around writing.

The United States Senate got into the act and recently passed a Resolution, supporting the National Day on Writing.


Expressing support for the designation of October 20, 2010, as the `National Day on Writing’.

Whereas people in the 21 st century are writing more than ever before for personal, professional, and civic purposes;

Whereas the social nature of writing invites people of every age, profession, and walk of life to create meaning through composing;

Whereas more and more people in every occupation deem writing as essential and influential in their work;

Whereas writers continue to learn how to write for different purposes, audiences, and occasions throughout their lifetimes;

Whereas developing digital technologies expand the possibilities for composing in multiple media at a faster pace than ever before;

Whereas young people are leading the way in developing new forms of composing by using different forms of digital media;

Whereas effective communication contributes to building a global economy and a global community;

Whereas the National Council of Teachers of English, in conjunction with its many national and local partners, honors and celebrates the importance of writing through the National Day on Writing;

Whereas the National Day on Writing celebrates the foundational place of writing in the personal, professional, and civic lives of the people of the United States;

Whereas the National Day on Writing provides an opportunity for individuals across the United States to share and exhibit their written works through the National Gallery of Writing;

Whereas the National Day on Writing highlights the importance of writing instruction and practice at every educational level and in every subject area;

Whereas the National Day on Writing emphasizes the lifelong process of learning to write and compose for different audiences, purposes, and occasions;

Whereas the National Day on Writing honors the use of the full range of media for composing, from traditional tools like print, audio, and video, to Web 2.0 tools like blogs, wikis, and podcasts; and

Whereas the National Day on Writing encourages all people of the United States to write, as well as to enjoy and learn from the writing of others: Now, therefore, be it

    Resolved, That the Senate–
    • (1) supports the designation of October 20, 2010, as the `National Day on Writing’;
    • (2) strongly affirms the purposes of the National Day on Writing;
    • (3) encourages participation in the National Galley of Writing, which serves as an exemplary living archive of the centrality of writing in the lives of the people of the United States; and
    • (4) encourages educational institutions, businesses, community and civic associations, and other organizations to promote awareness of the National Day on Writing and celebrate the writing of the members those organizations through individual submissions to the National Gallery of Writing.

It’s nice to see references to the influence of digital media in our lives in the resolution.

I am working with my friend, Bonnie, to gather up writing from National Writing Project teachers at our iAnthology site around “writing that we don’t often think about” — the various ways we use writing through the day.

But I am still mulling over if I can do something at my school, too. Last year, we did a HUGE comic strip that students from all over the school wrote on, answering the question: what do you like to write?

What will you do?

Peace (in the writing),