Regarding “Regarding the Fountain”

Regarding the Fountain, by Kate Klise

Sometimes, you just stumble upon a gem and that was the case this week with the book written by Kate Klise and i llustrated by M. Sarah Klise called Regarding the Fountain. I found it on a shelf in our library, thinking it might be right for one of my students, but during some quiet reading times in class, I opened it up and was hooked.

The subhead gives you a clue as to what is in store: “A Tale in Letters, of Liars and Leaks.” Yes, the book is full of puns, so be warned.

The book tells the story of a town where the main river dried up thirty years prior when a new school was constructed. In the current time, the school water fountain has gone kaput and the principal wants to hire someone to design and install a new water fountain. He gets more than he bargains for when he contacts Florence Waters, who has a spirit and vision all of her own, and she enlists a fifth grade class to help her. Meanwhile, the kids uncover a mystery about what happened to the river.

And the entire novel is told entirely through letters, memos and notes.

I loved how Klise makes you read between so many lines (just when you think the teacher is proposing marriage to Waters, you learn this is not the case at all, and that makes you chuckle at your own assumptions), and infer what is happening that has not been written. She injects so much humor, too (the communications between Waters the designer and the principal are priceless). And she empowers the kids at the school, who write an opera, dress up in elaborate costumes and play with the two pet monkeys she has sent them from Africa. There’s more, but you get the point.

This small book (check out part of it at Google Books) is a great example of non-traditional text and as we think about ways to use digital media to tell stories — through hyperlinks, videos, audio tracks, etc. — it is useful to be reminded that words in a linear sentence is not the only way to tell a story and engage a reader.

It reminds me of a story I once wrote that was told exclusively through the concept of canceled checks. You leave out as much as you put in, hoping that the reader can fill in the gaps of the story.

I see that Klise also has other books like this one out, including Regarding the Trees: A Splintered Saga Rooted in Secrets and Regarding the Bathrooms: a Privy to the Past.

Don’t you just love coming across a new book series or author? That makes my day. I might need to create a glog about this book for my students.

Peace (in the fountain),

Make Beliefs Comix got a bit better

Bill Zimmerman’s Make Beliefs Comix site is one that I suggest teachers use if they are interested in having their students create webcomics. It is a site that is easy to use, is cute and kids get it right away. Bill just added a handful of new characters to the site and also added objects to be used in the comics.

And I want to point out that the site is also a good resource for Second Language or ELL instruction, as you can compose in English, Spanish, Portuguese, Latin, German or French. Pretty neat.

Peace (in the strip),


A Technology Manifesto for our School District

I wrote a few weeks ago about a meeting that some of us had in our school district around angling technology towards the center of the identity of our school district. I kept thinking about it and worried that if no one followed up on the meeting, the whole idea would just sputter out to nothing. There is still that possibilities, but I wrote down my own ideas for the school district administration and shared them this week on an Etherpad document, urging the principals and superintendents to collaborate on it (nothing yet).

Here were some of my main points of my manifesto:

Goals: How we do make our use of technology in the Hampshire Regional Schools more visible to the public (inside and outside of Hampshire Regional) and continue to integrate meaningful technology into the classrooms?

Rationale: We have invested, and continue to invest, significant funds into technology purchases in our school district. We “earn” significant money from School of Choice students electing to come here but we also lose significant funds from our students going elsewhere, too. By branding our district as one that is infused with technology and innovation, we have the opportunity to create an identity as a district that is preparing students for the world of the future. Beyond the marketing concept, the creation of this identity might help more teachers take the first steps into using technology in meaningful ways because they want to identify with the goals of the district. Finally, this shift might open the door for more grant opportunities for our district, as most organizations want to see the groundwork already in place before handing out money.

Audience: the public

  • Better public relations: Contact newspapers about technology-infused projects that showcase student engagement. Don’t be afraid of the press. Reporters love an easy story, and technology is still flashy for the newspapers. And if they can see kids doing something, creating something — that is even better. Make the reporter’s life easier by getting everything set up and ready for them, and positive stories will get written.
  • School websites — There should not be a single empty webpage on any of our sites. At the very least, every teacher should have a headshot and a welcome message. An overview of their curriculum would be helpful, too. And any sample projects gives more content to a site. An empty page sends a message that the school is not yet made its way into the 21st Century. Remember: for some teachers, even this step is difficult, but we need to create the illusion at least that we are all tech-savvy.
  • A unified technology mission statement: It would be nice to have some district-wide mission statement around our views of technology. In my view, the statement needs to be student-centered (remember, our audience is parents here) and engagement with technology for meaningful reasons that enhance our curriculum and prepare students for a world that does not yet exist. The tools are not nearly as important as the students.
  • I suggest we also create a short, five-minute video documentary of technology in our district that could be placed front and center at our district website and perhaps even on our individual school websites. It could showcase some student projects, some teachers talking about technology integration and give a flavor of some of the work going on. Quality will be the key here.
  • What about an App? I know this is a stretch, but some schools are starting to develop an App for iTunes that provides a feed of news from a school district. (see this article: Even if the response is not overwhelming, a Hampshire Regional School District App puts the notion out there that our district is leap-years ahead of other school districts. Of course, then there is the issue of who would be responsible for putting news out there. We don’t want a dead App like we have dead Webpages.
  • Family Technology Night: Given the rise emerging technologies, it might make sense to have a night for families to come in to our schools and use the technology themselves. We could have parents and students work on a digital story together, for example. It would also provide yet another opportunity to talk about the pros and cons of kids and technology — a realistic view that technology is not the answer, but another tool for engagement.

Audience: the staff

  • Create a database/collection of successful technology: We know colleagues are using technology but we never get a chance to share or learn from each other. Why not find a simple (ease of use is key here) to collect ideas, lesson plan ideas, websites and contacts from within our district where folks are doing these ideas. We make our teachers the leaders.
  • Sharing tools/resources: This is similar to the last item. If there are resources out there that are useful, let’s share them with each other. What have my colleagues used that has been successful?
  • Technology coach/partner: This is a critical piece of the puzzle here. In my experience, there is a group of teachers who may never see the value of technology, and there is a group of teachers who are doing all they can to use technology. It’s the middle group that we want to make the shift — they see the value, but are not ready to do it on their own. We need to find a way to create partnerships or have technology coaches (like a literacy coach) to work with teachers in their classrooms for an extended period of time to plan and implement technology integration into the curriculum.
  • Technology Across the Curriculum — Teachers need to know that technology is a tool for any curriculum area. It is not a drop-off class, or some enrichment activity for high-achieving students. Technology can have a place in science, in social studies, in math and more. And this technology across the curriculum might lead to more collaboration among teachers, too.
  • Grade-level Teacher Collaborations — Perhaps the easiest way to begin is to have teachers at a common grade level work together on some unified tech-related project that starts first with collaboration among the teachers, and then extends out to the classroom. For example, students could do a community-based action project that involves some research of the place where they live that has a community service component to the project, and then use a blog or wiki site to post writing, podcasts, video tours, etc, for students in other towns. We could open it up for peer feedback across the schools. (note: this would also be good public relations moment)
  • Technology as part of any curriculum initiative — Instead of treating technology as an add-on, let’s make it a central part of any curriculum initiative that we do — even if it is as simple as sharing reflections through a collaborative site after a workshop session. I always want to know what my colleagues have taken away from a session. For example, our Literacy Initiative should have a technology component built right into the planning and into any offerings for our teachers.
  • Professional Reading Groups: It would be helpful if teachers could be encouraged to come together to read articles, books and websites in the form of a reading group/circle. This would allow for more connections among teachers as well as expose more teachers to the developments around technology in education. Ideally, a small stipend would be available for teachers, who would be expected to share out what they learning with colleagues in some fashion. Some recommended books might include: The Digital Writing Workshop by Troy Hicks; The Socially Networked Classroom by William Kist; or Blogs, Wikis, Podcasts and Other Powerful Web Tools for the Classroom by Will Richardson. These groups could be a hybrid of face-to-face meetings and using online sites for discussions. A potential bonus: most of these writers will agree to Skype into reading groups to talk about their books with teachers reading and using them.

Ideas to keep in mind:

  • Equity and access issues for all of our students, not just those with financial means;
  • Recognize that students communicate/write/read in ways outside of our schools that don’t always translate to learning we do inside of our schools — that is what we want to tap into;
  • Sharing among colleagues is a critical way to learn and implement new ideas;
  • Maintenance and upgrades of existing equipment must be worked into any long-range planning. It does us no good to push with technology on machines that are broken or antiquated.
  • Administrators need to utilize technology to reach parents and community members (I know this is another equity issue, re:hilltowns)

What am I missing here? Is there something your district does that makes a difference in creating a sense of technology integration?

Peace (in the sharing),

Calling for Days in an Alliterative Sentence


Hello. I want to invite you all to join us for this week’s Day in a Sentence, with an alliterative twist. Please boil down your week or a day in your week to a single sentence, but use some fun alliteration with your words. Be creative and be reflective!

To participate, just add your alliterative day in a sentence to the comment section of this blog post. I will collect the sentences during the next few days and then release them to the wild on Sunday.

I look forward to reading your sentences. Every0ne is invited to participate. Come join the fun.

My sentence (and as podcast in Vocaroo):

We’re wandering around the world of words this week as we probe the origins of our laughingly liquid English language.

Peace (in the perspectives of all you people),

The walking, talking, teaching man

Our physical education teacher was able to get about 25 pedometers donated to our school as part of a data-gathering exercise challenge. He has handed off the pedometers to us teachers, asking that we record how many steps we take for each day, over four days, while in school. Later, the sixth graders in math will use the data in Excel spreadsheets to talk about mean, median and mode, I think.

So, of course, this new pedometer strapped on my belt provided a nice morning activity.

First, I asked the kids about the word “pedometer” and we broke the word down into its parts (root and suffix) and began making new words from “ped” and “-meter”, which dovetails nicely with our work in Language Arts this week around the Origins of Words.

Then, I asked my students to estimate how many steps I would take before the end of the school day. I did give them a hint, as I had already been wearing the device for 30 minutes before they arrived. Some, not all, used that information to think about the hours of the school day and base their number on that information.

We wrote all of the estimates down and in the afternoon, I announced my step count — roughly 4,000 steps — and we all cheered the winner.  A lot of students asked when they can get a pedometer (that’s is phase two, I think). I’ll be putting the pedometer on again today as I teach.

According to some websites that I found, approximately 2,000 steps equals a mile. That all depends on your foot size and your stride, but I am about a size 12 and I think I have a normal stride.

So that means that during the course of my school day, I amble about the classroom and hallways (mostly the classroom) for about two miles per day. Interesting …

How far do you walk?

Peace (on the peds),

Getting Ready for the Concert

I’ve been trying to learn some bass lines for a few songs that I am playing in an upcoming Benefit Concert (to get books for New Orleans and donations for Pennies for Peace). I am the bass player in a quickly-formed band that includes a colleague, a drummer, two former students (one on guitar and the other on vocals) and a daughter of a teacher at our school (we named the band after her since she has such a wonderful voice).

I like the bass, but I haven’t played it much. Ever. It’s a whole different view of a song and I keep resisting the urge to get fancy. Keep it simple and keep it solid, I keep telling myself, and let the vocals be up front. I think my mindset as a sax player is to jump in front of the sound. And of course, hitting the right notes is always a good thing.

The other day, guitarist Steve set up his portable recorder and grabbed these from practice. The concert is next week and we are hoping to get the crowd singing along with the Fireflies song. They certainly all know it — I hear the melody down the hallways.

Collide (by Howie Day)

Fireflies (by Owl City)

The third song we will be doing is an original song written by some former students, but we didn’t record it that day. The song is called Hourglass.

Peace (in the muse),

Playin’ Jazz

I wrote a few weeks ago about my invitation to play with some musicians of high caliber for a jazz-infused service at our church. I was nervous because I was out of my league with these guys.

Yesterday morning was the service and, although I screwed up a few beginnings, I think I held my ground and kept up with the group as we made our way through about five songs, including God Bless the Child, When the Saints Go Marching In, A Child is Born and We Three Kings. I could feel that real intense concentration in my brain and I tried to remember where I needed to come in, what notes to transpose to the key of my saxophone, where to not play, where to play and more.

I’m glad I did it but I am also glad that it is is over.

Again, I am reminded of those student we put into a position of expectation but still need a support structure.  We know they can do something, even if it right now beyond them, but we can’t just let them sink or swim. We need to be there to help. I would not have done as well as I did without guidance from our piano player, who gave me visual cues and coaxed me along in some of the songs. I looked to him for that help, even though I was on my own when the song began and my saxophone was in my hands. It helps, too, that our church is so supportive. You could not find a better audience.

The best part? My wife is in the choir, and we got to stand near each other and play a few songs together  when the jazz group provided the music for a few hymns.

Peace (in the church),

How to Collect Glogs Together

Now that most of our Three Cups of Tea glogs are done (a few still need more work by the students to clean them up with proofreading), I decided to create a space where they could all be collected together for viewing by the world (and parents and family). I know a number of people are using wikis for embedding glogs, but I decided to try out — which allows you to construct five free websites and it is built on using widgets.

If you are wondering about this process of creating a website for these kinds of projects, here are some brief steps:

  • I registered at (actually, I already have an account there because I have used it for other projects.) I followed the steps there to create a website, chose a theme and was ready to begin building my site in a few minutes.
  • I went over to my “classroom” at the edu-glog site andwent through the glogs that were ready to be brought from the “private” setting to the “public” setting. Only a teacher can do this step.
  • I then found the “embed into page” link below the glog, grabbed the code and went back to my Yola site. There, I inserted an html widget, and copied the embed code.
  • Now, here is where I fiddled a bit. For some reason, the embed code is always too large, so I tinkered with the settings in the html  code — I reduced the percentage to 70 and then adjusted the width and length accordingly. You need to do all three for it work right. I wish there were more embed options on the glogster side of the world.
  • Once that is done, you can save and check your work. If it seems OK, then go through the process again. And again. I stacked a handful of glogs per page on the Yola site and divided up my four classes into parts so that there were not too many glogs on one page.

If my description doesn’t help, you can also view this video tutorial someone made about embedding a glog into a Google Site website, which is pretty close to using Yola.

But please take a few minutes to check out the glogs of my students — I am pretty impressed with what they were able to accomplish.

Peace (in the sharing of tea),