Using Videos in Animoto

I’ve used Animoto many times in many ways over the last few years to showcase work of my students, but I had not yet tried the ability to upload videos into Animoto, and create moving project. Our recent name movies seemed a perfect fit, since Animoto only allows for small chunks of video (I think it is about 20 seconds) which you can edit down to smaller pieces at the site itself. The process was fairly intuitive.

I guess if you had a larger video, you could upload it and then duplicate it a bunch of times, editing different moments to create something a little different. Seems like a lot of work, but it could be done.

I like this new theme they have at Animoto. The folding boxes seemed a nice design fit for a movie of stickfigures.

Peace (on the small screen),

My Son’s Teacher’s Blog

Finally … a teacher of one of my kids has a blog. I know not every teacher needs to blog nor desires to, but I was hoping that with three kids in the public school system, eventually someone would have a blog that I could follow.

My oldest son — now in seventh grade — came back home with a slew of forms and papers from his first day, and in there, there was a nice welcome letter from his history teacher, who included the web address of a blog that she uses called A Place in the World. It seems more like a place of news than a place of student work, but it’s a start.

I posted a comment for her, wishing her a good year, and then put her RSS feed into my reader. I feel like the parents of my own students, hopeful that I will get some information to spark discussions other than “nothing” when we ask what is going in school.


Peace (in the blogging),

Reflect, Connect with Day in a Sentence


It’s been quite some time since I have launched Day in a Sentence, the collaborative venture where I ask you, dear reader, to boil down your entire week or a day in the week (your choice) into a single reflective sentence. Then, you post your sentence as a comment to this blog post. My job is to collect all of your sentences and then publish them together over the weekend.

So, what do you say? Do you have  a pocket of reflective energy? How can you capture your week or a day in your week in a single sentence? Add your sentence to the comments here, and spread the word.

Day in a Sentence is back! (albeit on a somewhat irregular basis).

My podcasted sentence:

I can barely express how different the climate of my new class of students is from my old class, where “walking on eggshells” was my daily mantra and I was as much traffic cop as teacher.

Peace (in the sharing),

PS — What is the value in teachers becoming writers in places like Day in a Sentence? I tried to address this earlier in the year with this article over at LEARN NC.

Starting the Year with Names in Motion

Names in Motion 2010 (1) from Mr. Hodgson on Vimeo.

I like to start the first day of school with some fun technology and last year, I had my sixth graders jump headfirst into Pivot Stickfigure to make a movie that included letters in their name. I love that when parents ask “what did you do today,” they can answer, “we made a movie.”

Their only instructions from me are that I want them to include the letters of their name in their short stopmotion movie. What am I looking for? Time to chat with my new students and a sense of who is pretty comfortable with the computers and with trying something new (only one of my students had used Pivot before). I smiled when I heard a boy shout out from the back of the room, “I’m the expert. I can help.”

That’s what I want to hear!

I then grabbed finished movies (a few are still in process) and put them together into longer collections.

Here is one such collection:

Peace (in the names),

Do we need an “E”?

Last year, our school district moved to a standards-based reporting system. Well, that’s not quite right. The middle and high school in our district apparently had the choice to opt out and they did. That’s another story altogether, really. But we in the elementary schools are in the second year of standards-based reporting, which is sure to change again next year with the Common Core standards coming into play in Massachusetts.

One area of contention has been the “E” designation for student achievement, where students are assessed based on how they progressing or meeting the individual curriculum framework standard. The “E” stands for “exceeding the grade level standard.” My sixth teaching team has had many discussions about the E and when it might be warranted. We were very stingy with it and I think I may have given out two or three E’s all of last year. Total. And even there, it felt like I was rewarding students for their overall work and not that they were exceeding the sixth grade expectations. It didn’t feel right to me.

During district-wide meetings last spring about thestandards-based report system and how it was going in year one, a clear message emerged from the upper grades: let’s get rid of the “E” since none of us are teaching curriculum that goes beyond the grade we teach, and figuring out how to justify an “E” makes it trickier than it is worth. Plus, parents of students who traditionally received straight A’s in the old system expect to see straight E’s now.

But the “E” remains in place this year again, as one grade level in particular apparently argued for it to remain (and the designation of achievement levels is standard across all grades). I’m not sure why that one grade has more sway than the rest of us, but I guess it does.

I’m curious to know what others are doing on this issue. Do you have a designation that shows student achievement beyond the standards that are being taught in a grade? How is that determined? Please share your thoughts.

Peace (in the mulling it over),

Dipping our toes into the Gulf

oil spill question
I started out Day One of the school year with a discussion around what my sixth graders know about the oil spill in the Gulf and what has been happening in the recovery and recapping efforts over the summer months (later that same day, I found out about the explosion of another platform). I shared with one of the interactive maps online that shows the spread of the oil from May to August.

I explained to them that throughout the course of the year, we will be doing inquiry projects and environmental-themed writing that centers around these issues as part of the Voices on the Gulf endeavor. My hope is to touch a wide range of issues as we move forward. I explained this to my principal the other day, and he was very excited about it, wondering how we could use Skype or videoconferencing to connect with other students, particularly those who are involved who live along the Gulf Coast region. I’m going to work on that, I told him.

But first, I asked my homeroom class: What questions do you have about the oil spill? I took their answers and created a Wordle of the responses, which is now posted up at the Voices on the Gulf.

You, and your students, are also invited to join us on this collaborative project. You can read more information about what is required (it all depends on you) and how to get started.

Peace (in the starting),

PS — I’ll leave you with a song that I wrote during late August about my feelings around the Gulf’s recovery. I shared it at Voices on the Gulf, but I was on my blogging vacation back then.

Listen to Ocean Dreams

Wordling Our Way into Day One

I am always curious to know what my new sixth graders are looking forward to and what they worry about. I had them use a Google Survey to gather responses to those two questions and used their answers to generate a few Wordles.

fears 2010

looking forward 2010
Can you tell which is which? Hint: MCAS is our state standardized test and Quidditch is our version of the Harry Potter game.

Peace (in the wordling),

And Now Some Inspirational Words from Colleagues

Today, our students arrive. Yesterday, all of the staff in our district convened for our Convocation Ceremonies as a way to getting the year off to a start on a united front (we are a regional district) and the superintendent this year invited fellow teachers and administrators to be the speakers. Hearing those voices was a great way to begin the year, I thought, so kudos to our superintendent for passing the buck to the staff to motivate, inspire and lead us into the new school year.

Here are a few highlights:

  • My own building principal talked about coming into education as an idealist (and jokingly admitted how that idealism sometimes runs smack into reality when trying to bring ideas to fruition). He noted that no other professional addresses the needs so such a diverse population, and no other profession has a more meaningful goal in our society. Every day is a challenge. Yes. But that challenge is what we relish. “I pity the cubicle dwellers,” he said, to laughter.
  • A mom, who teaches kindergarten, and her daughter, who teaches third grade, took the podium collaboratively and in a very down-to-earth way, they talked about becoming inspired to be a teacher. The daughter: “I thought she (the mom) was the best teacher ever and I wanted to be just like her.” There were more than a few “awwws” in the audience. The two also did a funny bit about teaching styles today (ie, checking out lesson plans online) versus slightly more older teaching styles (ie, pulling out the old mimeograph copies).
  • Another third grade teacher, who had a career in the environmental sciences, told his story of how he went from that career into teaching, mostly because “it’s fun.” But that’s not all, he admitted. “Doing meaningful work has always mattered to me. One thing that charges me up … is knowing what happens in my classroom matters. I know this is a cliche, but what you and I do is important.
  • A high school math teacher took the stage to admit she is a full-fledged “math geek” who was a student in our district and came back as a teacher. She noted the many ways that colleagues helped her during her first years, and how she now tries to return the favor to her younger colleagues. And she loves seeing that spark with her students, noting: “I love to see students finding success where they don’t think it is possible.”
  • Another high school teacher, who teaches social studies, winged his talk a bit, and told of teachers from his Catholic school days who made impressions on him. One teacher was brilliant, and he still draws on those memories to inspire him as a teacher. Another was brilliant but could not connect with students, and was unfair in grading and unhelpful in nurturing young minds. “He expected a lot of his students but he did not expect a lot of himself. He had the ability but not the desire.”
  • Finally, a retired superintendent who now works for our state department of education concluded the Convocation with stories of her teaching days in Texas, and noted that so much of teaching is desire and drive. She also said that building a supportive school community, for staff as well as students, is crucial. “Our job is to be there for each other — to hold each other up. And when we take that as inspiration, we hold up all of our kids up, too.

What a great way to start the year!

Peace (in the words),

Making Webcomics before the School Year Begins

Normally, as the start of school approaches, I include instructions in my summer letter home that asks my incoming students to write at our classroom blog a bit about what they did over the summer. This year, I am going to have us use Bitstrips for Schools webcomics, and so I changes my writing venue from the blog to our classroom webcomic space. It’s been pretty fun to see what they can do, particularly since they are on their own (for the most part — we don’t start school with kids until tomorrow).

Here is a snapshot of our “classroom” page. You can see that many of them are already creating avatars of themselves.
comic classroom 2010

I hope they view the activity as fun and engaging.

Peace (in the comic world),

Balancing Concern and Possibilities

Like most schools in Massachusetts, where there is a new law around bullying issues, we spent much of our first day back in professional development sessions centered around bullying and cyberbulling. Under our new state law, there will be detailed reporting procedures, a trail of action taken by administrators, and introduction of a bullying curriculum. It’s an important issue and we need more discussions. But I wonder about the message that was sent yesterday to the elementary teachers by our first speaker.

Cindy Boyle, who is a community educator with the regional District Attorney’s team, was energetic, engaging, funny and clearly has talked a lot and worked a lot with kids. She cares about young people. That was evident.  She was also upfront, letting us know that her perspective on the use of technology to engage in bullying behavior (through messaging, comments, etc.) is seen through the prism of the justice system. She urged us to see the issue through the eyes of an educator, too.

She also made it clear that the fears over predators scouring the Internet for victims is so statistically rare, and happens in certain situations, that those fears are not what should be worrying us. It’s the regular kids that need to be in our field of vision. The kids with a cell phone, or a computer.

Then, she launched into a presentation about how prevalent technology is in the lives of young people, how often clueless many young people are about their “digital footprints,” how she works in small groups to help youths see what digital detritus they leave behind, and how technology can be used to decrease the social interactions of people to such a degree that bullying can take place easily enough. She also took gaming to task for its use of cheating by sharing codes, violence in first person games and anti-social behaviors of users.

A few things she presented were not quite correct. She used a recent Kaiser Family study in which young people were show on average to be consuming media about 7 hours a day. Boyle told us that the study showed that kids use the Internet for 7 hours a day. There were some gasps around me. And she told us that when you load a video to YouTube, anyone anywhere can write a comment saying whatever they want (she had a slide with some vicious comments to demonstrate her point). Another teacher questioned her on this, and she started to backtrack about privacy controls. Just to be clear: you can shut off all comments, all video responses, all ratings when you load your video, just to be clear. And the news articles she shared made their point dramatically, all right, with reports of teachers being penalized and students being reprimanded, etc.

I imagine that the majority of my colleagues probably just shut the door on the possibilities of using web-based technology with that one single presentation because even though Cindy Boyle made it clear that education is a key component to stopping bullying online, I imagine a lot of teachers thinking the easiest way is to not even bring technology into the classroom.

Although she had asked us to view the talk through our own eyes, I think the fears that she put in place may have overwhelmed any considerations of possibilities for Internet-based work, including writing for an audience, connecting with global partners, composing in multiple media, etc. Those positive learning elements seemed diminished in the shadow of worry that she cast over us.

Peace (in the balance),