Dream Scenes, Nearing Completion

Dream Scene: Vet from Mr. Hodgson on Vimeo.

It seems like with every digital project, there comes a time when the teacher has to crack the whip and tell his young composers: the deadline looms, so stop chatting and get working. I made that statement yesterday, letting my sixth graders know that the end of class on Monday is our deadline for completing their Dream Scene digital stories.

Thus, a few projects began to trickle in yesterday, and I am quite pleased with what I am seeing so far. The aspirations are terrific, and the digital stories are coming along quite nicely. This year, I am really pushing the editing of the music levels with the narration levels.

I am trying to see if I can create an Animoto of a collection of Dream Scene videos and will share that out when it gets done, if it works. I am running into the problem of Animoto requiring music underneath the video, but I don’t want that: I want to use the narration/soundtrack of the kids. Hmmm.

Peace (in all of our dreams),

Tending to the (Answer)Garden of Dreams

dream answergardenMy students are in the midst of creating a Dream Scene Digital Story Project (which I can outline another day) and yesterday, as they were making the transition from creating an image in Paint to trying out Photostory (not one of my 80 students has ever used it before), I had them add their “dream or aspiration” to an AnswerGarden I had set up at our classroom blog.

AnswerGarden is a word cloud site that collects words and phrases. I noticed some new features at AnswerGarden that seem new to me. I can now create an administrative password and get the information sent to me via email. I can remove any words from the cloud (a source of concern for us teachers). I can now even send the final information over to Wordle, and let it create one of its beautiful word clouds with the AnswerGarden information (wow — I love that connection!)
dreams wordle 2010
We all got a kick out of how many budding chefs and musicians are in our midst, but I also loved seeing words like “doctor” and “architect” and “lego designer” in there, too.

Peace (in the rich earth),

Defending Public Education (by my principal)

My principal, Bill Collins, delivered this address to the entire faculty of our school district at our Convocation just a few weeks ago, and then it was printed in the newspaper yesterday. I asked his permission to reprint it at my blog because I think the message of the value of public education is worth sharing. Bill points out that we take on a wide range of students, and educate and nurture them. He notes that a colleague in a class he is taking is at a private school, and often scoffs at his public school colleagues. But Bill will have none of that. He stresses the role of a leader as a “mirror” to the “candles” around him, and that our task and passion is for keeping all students, whatever their background and ability, in the forefront of our teaching and caring.

He gave me permission to share this with you. Thanks, Bill.

What motivates, rewards, and challenges me to work in public education? The easy answer is that I want to make a difference.The deeper answer is I am an idealist. I deeply believe in the art of possibility. I believe that any child can grow up to be president. I believe that our nation’s founding fathers were on to something. I believe in being a part of something larger than the sum of its parts. I believe that the seeds we sow today will be reaped some day, even if we are not around at harvest time.

Back when I was first a middle school guidance counselor, a troubled boy was assigned to me. I struggled to help this student get back on track. I failed miserably and so did he. The principal gave him a social promotion to high school. Late December of the following year I was working after school finishing up at the end of the term before the holiday break, when who should appear in my office doorway but this boy. He had come to show me his report card, for he was passing his high school courses. I told him I was proud of him and do you know what he said? You were the only one who never gave up on me. So yes, I am an idealist.

I became a principal with the hope of having an even greater influence; I wanted to make a bigger difference. I came to the Norris School with the notion of influencing the culture and upon reflection I am amazed at how much the Norris culture has influenced me.

I believe in the art of possibility because I have repeatedly witnessed it at Norris. I have seen the seemingly impossible become possible. I have met some of the most generous and selfless people that I have ever encountered.

Recently, a Southampton student with special needs didn’t qualify for summer camp and his parents couldn’t afford to send him. Do you know how he attended? Two Norris staff members personally financed it.

Edith Wharton once said, “There are two ways of spreading light: to be the candle or the mirror that reflects it.” I see myself as a mirror who is surrounded by candles.

I have returned to school myself in the hopes of expanding my influence. I have the ambition to one day become a superintendent of schools. I am about half way through a doctorate program. In my group there is an administrator from a very exclusive private school. This classmate is always saying, “Come over to the light – where there are no special education issues, few behavioral or disciplinary problems and almost no fiscal constraints.”

I have given his repeated invitation much reflection because it irks the heck out of me.

I have concluded that public education is a noble profession and Massachusetts is its birthplace. It pleased me to see that Superintendent Craig Jurgensen’s back-to-school letter referenced our state constitution. It may surprise you that in Massachusetts there is not a right to education but rather a “duty to cherish.” Interesting phraseology.

There exists a bit of a debate about whether public education exists to level the playing field and provide every individual with the opportunity to succeed or if public education exists for the common good to have an educated citizenry to preserve the democracy, not leaving decisions in the hands of a privileged few.

I think it was the latter but has evolved to include the former. Whether it is one or the other, or both, it still makes those in our profession the great equalizers who do not limit access by wealth or religion or race.

Even as an idealist, I recognize that there are other countries that do a better job of educating some of their students. The operative word being “some.” No nation does a better job of educating all of its students. We recognize that parents are sending us their best students (they are not hoarding the good ones in the cellar). We educate them, all of them, no matter their economic status, whether they don’t speak a word of English, the color of their skin, their religious convictions, their level of disability.

No matter if the private schools have invited the students to unenroll, we at the Norris School say “bring ’em on!”

— Bill Collins, principal of Norris Elementary School, Southampton, Massachusetts

Peace (in the sharing),

“Comic” Book Recommendations

I started using Bitstrips for Schools this year and there are a lot of things I like about it. I’ll write about that another time. But one activity I did over the last few days was to ask students to volunteer to create a webcomic book recommendation. Most took me up on it. A lot of them were writing at home. The comics are pretty basic and you can see they are still tinkering with how to use the site. Still, I liked the range of books being recommended and that gives me a bit of insight into what they like to read.

And they got to make comics, which they just loved. Particularly the boys. it seems. The girls got bogged down in creating their own characters. This, I think, is interesting.

Peace (in the frames),

TFK Comes Through with Gulf Cover Story

Magazine Cover

I am inching towards getting my 80-plus students involved in the Voices on the Gulf project. We have a lot of begin-the-year activities going on (reading Rikki-Tikki-Tavi in order to talk about protagonist and antagonist, creating Dream Scene digital stories, etc.) and I have been searching for something to read about the Gulf Oil Spill to slowly ease our way forward into what I hope can be a year-long inquiry and community action project.

It arrived in the mail yesterday, with the first issue of Time for Kids magazine. The cover story — After the Spill —  is all about the recovery efforts and endangered turtles and more. That article, and a related video about the process of saving oil-covered pelicans, will be perfect. It reminds me that one thing I want my kids to do is clip newspaper/magazine articles about the Gulf for a News Wall in the classroom.

One writing activity that I often do near the start of the year can be re-aligned a bit with the Voices on the Gulf project, I think. I often have students create designs of Vehicles of the Future that do not run on fossil fuels. It’s a mix of expository writing (informational text on the picture) and descriptive writing, and I am going to get them started on it this week, I think. What I am wondering is how to showcase so many of the designs. I might use Animoto or create a slideshow or something. Hmmmm.

Peace (in the news),

Sometimes, the Crowd need help

I’m all for collaboration and bringing many brains together, and I love how technology makes collaboration so much easier. But some recent developments with a project made me realize that there is a limit to “many hands on deck” that I need to keep in mind in the future.

I am part of the Massachusetts New Literacy Teacher-Leader Initiative, which began last June with a week-long institute in Cambridge, and which is set to continue through the course of the year with three professional development sessions. There area about 100 teachers, administrators and technology coordinators involved, and I am one of the ten teacher-leaders who are trying to run and organize the initiative, which is sponsored by our state. (We had help last summer from the New Literacies Collaborative folks, but they have moved onward and left the project in our hands.) The other teacher-leaders are smart, interesting and are on top of things. It’s a good group to be part of.

Since mid-summer, we have been working on coming up with a plan for an October session. Since the ten of us leaders live and work across the state, it seemed to me to make sense to do the planning virtually.

First, I created a social networking space on Grouply, which wasn’t that popular, I guess, since very few of us used it for much at all.

Then, I started up a Google Doc for us to use, but soon realized that there just too many of us to keep track of the changes and ideas floating around.  To me, it became chaos. And even then, not all ten of us were even using the document.

Someone suggested Elluminate, but none of us followed up on it.

We were then left with a wall of silence for a bit, as I think we were all bit confused about where to go now. Plus, school was starting up.

We’ve now reverted to good ol’ email, with two of our team (not me) designated as “project leaders” setting the agenda options and allowing the rest of us room to add ideas (around showing new tools, and allowing the teams time to connect and share out, etc.) in email responses. I like that approach much better, even though I have to give up an amount of control, and tracking the emails can get nutty.

This experience had me wondering: where is that Golden Limit on number of people collaborating where collaborative flexibility transforms itself into chaos and too many voices make a muddle of things?

I think the number for me is about five people trying to plan a document together. After that, the best option is to designate some leaders and resign yourself to the role of a follower-collaborator. And this seems to be one of the ongoing weaknesses of the Crowdsourcing movement, right? Chaos reigns easily. Even Wikipedia has editors or gatekeepers.

Peace (in the organization),

Daze in a Sentence

dayinsentenceiconThanks to everyone who contributed to the re-emergence of Days in a Sentence!! I appreciated all of the comments tumbling into my blog box this past week.

First of all, Tracy wrote me a very nice note about the value of Day in a Sentence as a reflective activity that is important to her. She wrote: “As reflection, boiling down my ‘take away’ from a day into a sentence helps me to focus in on what is important, what is prevalent in my mind, what I need to work on. It is also helpful to read other teachers concise reflections – learning and sharing in community is never bad.” — Thanks, Tracy. I could not agree more.

Her sentence:

Starting a new school year in 3 hours and 10 minutes as a wandering teaching with no classroom, homeless yet liberating in a way

I loved the way Illya phrased her sentence:

Am busy exploring volcanoes and preparing for eruptions with my lovely 6th graders.

It seems like Sheryl is waiting for you to invite her into your classroom. Do you have a sword in a stone anywhere?

I’m a knight errant looking to serve in a 21st century school environment.

my good friend (and former classroom pen pal partner),  sara, became a mom recently. it’s great great to hear from her and all of her lower case letters.

another school year started last week, and i’m not teaching 5th graders until after christmas – instead, i’m the dedicated teacher and mama to one gorgeous, silly, smiley student, my 7-week-old daughter.

Delaine has changed careers, I guess, and is doing something very interesting. Good luck, Delaine!

Having left the classroom in Fresno, I am attempting my third career in microfinance in San Francisco.

Paul writes poetry, even if he didn’t know it. The words here dance in my head at the start of the school year.

Each year I get to meet 100 new kids never knowing which ones I will have an impact on, or what will be their impact will be on me.

Amanda sent me her sentence via email. It’s more than a sentence but I am never, ever a stickler for rules.

As our first week of school we spent a great deal of time looking.  We looked ahead at what we’ll cover this year, we looked inside (our brains) to share about who we are as learners in our first writing assignment, and we looked back to remember and honor the lives lost and the bravery of those who continue to fight for our freedom.

The Teacher’s Pets mourns the loss of a dog. We’re glad to have you here in Day in  a Sentence and are sorry for the loss.

After hearing that a beloved Schnauzer client, Bo, passed away unexpectedly in his sleep on Saturday night, I was unable to enjoy the holiday weekend as I originally planned.

Jim seems like he started on a high note (and for those of you starting a new year, I hope you did, too).

I had a fantastic first day today, I hope the rest of the year stays just as energetic.

Hear that sound? That’s Matt. He’s breathing easier than ever.

For the first time in a long time I am returning to school without a mound of obligations on my back.

Ben’s sentence sounds like he just ascended from the movie Inception. I bet it was a heck of a journey.

I teased brains, rang bells, bent minds.

Yes, Nancy, those were cows!

My hiatus from teaching is over, and instead of a view of the dirty, smelly Bruckner Expressway, I get cows walking past my classroom windows!

Uh oh. I sense some tension with Lynn. Maybe she needs a few cows walking past her window. Are there cows in Chico?

The process of calming the twelves is wearing me thinner than I like.

Not sure what to make of Penny‘s sentence. Maybe she was stuck in a staff meeting …

Death by meeting or inspiration crowd-sourcing?

Get thee to the Starbucks! Barbara needs a shot of something.

The amount of energy spent today interacting with students (in a very positive way) left me exhausted and anxious for my 4-shot caramel macchiato—mmmmmm—so satisfying!

Cynthia, retiring? in May? Oh my.

Mandalas, PhotoStories, sociograms, Anglo Saxon boasts, resumes, accusative case–oh, my: our days are full of new and exciting experiences; I wonder if I will miss them when I retire in May.

And Bonnie left this note for me (as did Tracy above), as I mentioned that I was not sure how to keep this feature a regular ongoing thing.

I just reread Kevin’s article about teacher as writer and I for one call to keep Boil Down Your Week regular. What Can I Do To Help? That’s my new mantra this year.

Thanks to everyone who participated. I appreciate your words this week. I’ll be enlisting hosting help for Day in a Sentence. Leave me a note here if you might be interested in hosting Day in a Sentence at your blog.

Peace (in the daze of our days),

Talkin’ 9/11

Last year, I took some heat from an administrator at my school for showing a Brain Pop movie explaining what 9/11 was and its impact on our lives today. The video was well-done and informative, and a perfect fit for sixth graders. Or so I thought.  I was told I should have warned parents and that the images of planes crashing into buildings was not appropriate to show (even in cartoon). I don’t know. I teach sixth grade and they need to be ready for the world.

Yesterday, I just had to talk about 9/11, even if I didn’t show a single image or movie. And we had a great series of discussions around tolerance and current events, particularly around the uproar over the Mosque/community center project near Ground Zero  (most of my kids did not know what a mosque was) and that pastor in Florida who wants to burn the Quoran. When we made the connection between the Bible and the Quoran, most of the students were very offended (and one student from Turkey was already outraged). We talked about the ongoing war in Afghanistan and its roots in 9/11 (we live near a reserve air base, so many folks in our area have been to the Middle East in recent years).

As it turns out, two of our vocabulary words this week are immigrant and persecution, both of which also gave us an entry point into the diverse nature of our country and how many people have come here to avoid their governments, and the result is that there are many different people, with many different religions, and many different cultural heritages.

And then I told them that, in my family, September 11 is a day of celebration, too. My youngest son turns six years old today and I told my students that in this world, you need to find a balance between the good and bad, and while I will be remembering those who lost their lives in the terrorist attacks, I will also be cherishing the joy that my son brings to us.

Peace (in the love, not hate),

The Great Rust-Eating Bunny Hoax

bunnies news
My classroom does not have a water fountain or a sink. It is without water. When my students ask why, I tell them the truth: my room is right at the point where an addition was put to our school many years ago and somehow, the pipes got crushed. By the time the school figured it out, it was too late and too expensive to fix (or so I am told).

This year, one class said that story was boring and couldn’t I come up with anything better. Well. That’s a challenge, right? I let a few days pass, and then yesterday, I shared out a “news clipping” I found about an invasive species in our area that eats rust and pipes. I showed them the, ahem,  newspaper article (which I created with the Fodey image generator site).

When I got the end of the article, there was some stunned silence. Rust-eating bunnies? Underground in our town? Most of them believed the article was true (it looks like an article, so it must be an article), which led to an interesting discussion about not everything you see on the Web is real.

Then, they really loved the story. And I got their attention.

Peace (in the burrowing bunnies of Crowtopia),