Another fine Glog Project

I am working on building a Yola website for all of my students’ Three Cups of Tea online posters, via Glogster. Some are just so well-done and interesting that I feel that I might be sharing here now and then. I gave them some final time yesterday to complete their work and all of the projects are now graded and most are ready for publishing.

One thing I did like about the closed glog network is that I could message the students directly, note any spelling errors or content omissions or general comments, and then they could work right from the site to edit their projects.

Here is an examplar project, in my mind. The design works for the project, their audio was a nice touch, the video complemented their work and they were thoughtful in their answers.

Peace (on the poster),

Getting ready for Dublin (Ohio)

In a few weeks, I am off to Dublin, Ohio, for an exciting weekend event — the Dublin Literacy Conference. I have been asked by the wonderful folks over at A Year of Reading (Franki and Mary Lee) to come as a presenter, which is a great honor. And the event looks fantastic, too.

I like the conference tag line:  “Celebrating 21st Century Literacy as part of our 21st Year Hosting the Conference.”

Presenters and speakers at the conference include  Tim Tyson, Katie Van Sluys, and Ann Marie Corgill.  Children’s authors in attendance will include Melissa Sweet, Patrick Carman, David J. Smith and Denise Fleming.

I’ll be doing sessions around digital picture books and using webcomics in the classroom. But I am most interested in a family session that runs at the conference for parents and their children. I offered to show how to create stopmotion movies.

Imagine my surprise (good surprise) when Franki mentions to me that about 150 people have signed up for that session, with about 2/3 of them being kids. Wow. Now, I need to think of ways that not only can I get info out to the crowd, but also get the crowd working on something that we can quickly make into a movie. I am leaning towards handing out Wiki Stix, having people make characters and then create a parade of strange people (the wikistix folks, not the participants) as a movie.

This will be an interesting experience, for sure.

Peace (in the stix),

Making Change Through Music

I am knee-deep in planning a pretty large concert in two weeks that was spurred on first by a request from a student to conduct some community service and then by our reading of the Three Cups of Tea book.

First, a student of mine came to me to say that his church was talking about the great need — the continued great need — of schools in New Orleans for books, as many have not recovered from Hurricane Katrina. I told him that in the past, we did do a big benefit concert for Katrina and we raised a lot of money for disaster relief.

We both thought: maybe another concert?

Then, we read Three Cups of Tea, and the fifth grade at our school read it, too, and our school became involved in collecting coins for Pennies for Peace. It is a tangible way for our students to engage the book beyond the page and make a difference.

So, as we talked about Pennies for Peace and the book, the concert idea popped up again. What if we pulled together student and staff musicians and asked folks to donate a gently-used book and some coins, and then, put on a night of music?

Let it be so.

Our Concert for Change comes up in less than two weeks and I love the mix of performers — from staff colleagues, to current students (one of my students even wrote an original song for the event), to past students coming back to get involved. I am even trying to get a large group of fifth and sixth graders on stage for the grand finale, singing the song “Three Cups of Tea,”  which our music teacher has spent time teaching them all. It’s a gamble, but I think it will work, and I figure, even if it doesn’t come off completely in tune, it will be a great way to end the night.

I love how music can really galvanize a community.

Peace (in the songs),

The Kids are Ready! The Teachers?

A number of us gathered yesterday afternoon at our school district office to discuss the role of technology in our vision for our students. I’d call it a first step but I am not sure anything really got done in the 90 minutes. We talked a lot. We threw some ideas out.  We’re going to meet again in five weeks.

But I don’t think we really know where we are going with it.

For my part, I tried to make a few points:

  • We need to make sure that the concept of student learning is at the center of any vision plan. As we went around the room and each school talked about the elements of their five year technology plan, I heard a lot about “hardware” and “administration” and other ideas that are important (for sure) but we need to shift our language to more student-centered ideas.
  • After a discussion about what students are doing outside of school as compared to what we are doing inside the school (ie, a disconnect between the literacy and media they use in their lives and the literacy we teach them), I mentioned that, when it comes to using new technology, “The students are ready. The teachers are not.” I am referring to the fact that so many teachers have not yet  made the leap into using technology beyond gathering information from websites. We need to help our colleagues.
  • Thus, the concept of a technology coach, who could work directly in the classroom with a teacher to weave technology into the curriculum, and not have technology as some stand-alone cool concept. But teachers need  a helping hand. If we want to really transform teaching practice, this coach concept would make a huge difference.
  • Access for all students — whatever their socioeconomic level — is critical and we can’t rely on our students learning these New Literacies outside of our door. The kids with families of means will be fine, but the ones without means — those ones we really need to reach, in fact — will fall further behind. This means that technology-infused work has to be done in school and we need the tools and the know-how to make that happen.
  • And finally, technology need not be some new initiative on its own — technology should be woven into the curriculum work we are already doing (such as our two-year Literacy Initiative). If we do this, then teachers will see our district values this push and that it is just part of what we do. It isn’t right now.

I’m sure my friend and colleague, Gail, will add her own thoughts. She was there and I was glad — too often, the early elementary grades get completely left out of the conversations around technology. She made sure the kindergarten set had a voice.

I often have to bite my tongue at these gatherings, for fear of taking over the discussions. I am pretty passionate about it and have strong ideas. And when it is a room of principals (nice people, all, and open to ideas), I need to be careful of what I say. I don’t want to inadvertently step on toes or give the wrong impression about what our schools are doing. We’ve made a lot of progress in the last five years — light years of progress, actually — but I find myself impatient.

A few years ago, when I was paid a stipend for some tech work, I drafted a vision statement for our school that continues to be part of the evolving plan. The vision began:

Emerging technology continues to play a vital role in the modern industrial society in which computers and software are integral to success in the life of our citizens.

The William E. Norris Elementary School Technology Team views its role as important in integrating technology into the classrooms in ways that will help prepare students to succeed in this rapidly changing world. The primary goal of all technology initiatives within this plan will be the positive impact such endeavors will have student learning.

I still believe in that.

Peace (in the vision),

Thumbnail View in Google Docs

Finally … Google has added a thumbnail view to its Google Docs. For visual people, this is a nice way to “see” your files, particularly now that you can upload and share any kind of file now.

In the upper right corner of your Google Docs dashboard, just click the icon for thumbnail view.

That book on the shelf is a dictionary

Yesterday, we began our unit on the origins of words, with me using my Prezi show to engage the students in discussions about where they think our language comes from. Most had never even thought about it, so they were pretty focused on our discussions. They all laughed at the high school that has banned the word “Meep” because of overuse (or disruptive use) by students.

I finished the overview up with a talk about the dictionary. I asked: how many of you have used a book dictionary to look something up in the past two months.

Out of about 75 kids (in four classes), about a dozen raised their hands.

Then, I asked: how many of you have used an Internet-based dictionary in the past two months to look something up?

I got about 95 percent of the kids with hands in the air, although one student reminded us that “you can’t always trust what you find on the Internet.” We had a discussion about the pros and cons of online versus paper dictionaries.

  • Online: you can click the speaker and hear the word
  • Paper: You can stumble across unknown words
  • Online: You use a search engine
  • Paper: It’s always available
  • Online: Links to other resources
  • Paper: a reliable source

I acknowledged that most of us now turn to the Net for ways to gather information but that a dictionary is still an important source and we then spent some time going over how you “read” a dictionary — skills they clearly were lacking. We talked about guide words, pronunciation, syllables, parts of speech and even the origins of words.

The activity they had was to spend a few minutes looking through the dictionary and find a word they did not know, figure out the pronunciation and read the word and definition to the class. You would not imagine how much fun they had with this simple activity. They were laughing, looking and sharing left and right. It was a blast.

As an interesting side note: at the end of the year, when our sixth graders move on to our regional middle/high school, they are presented with a gift from the local Mothers’ Club: a beautiful dictionary. We’ve been trying to decide if this is still a useful gift, given the times, and after yesterday, I still think it is. They need to know and understand the dictionary, even if their use of online resources grows.

In case you missed my Word Origins presentation the other day, here it is:

Peace (in the book of words),

Planning a No-Cost Tech for Teachers Conference

Our Western Massachusetts Writing Project is in the midst of planning our third Spring Technology Conference and each year, we try to find a theme. One year, it was Tech Across the Curriculum. The next, it was Digital Storytelling. This year, we are trying to provide time to explore some of the free platforms that are available for teachers and students. We are calling it Unlock the Power of No-Cost Tech Tools for Teachers.

For us at WMWP, this easily falls under one of our main missions of providing access to resources to as many students and teachers as possible. Our hope is that teachers will play and explore, and then reflect on the possibilities for the classroom.

Here are the tools we intend to showcase during the conference, which takes place in late March.

  • Voicethread, for digital storytelling and sharing ideas;
  • Glogster, for creating multimedia posters;
  • Wallwisher, for brainstorming;
  • Open Office, for an alternative to costly software suites;
  • and a few more things here and there.

If you live or work in Western Massachusetts and are interested in more information, leave me a note here and I will contact you. Or you can keep an eye out at our WMWP website for an upcoming announcement.

Peace (in the free stuff),

I Fall Apart: a song for Haiti

I had a friend ask me if I was going to write a song about the devastation and crisis in Haiti. He knows that this is the way I often find myself addressing my emotions on these issues through songwriting.

Yes. I wrote a song and quickly recorded it just after writing it. I wish it were more upbeat but the situation is not, is it?

I Fall Apart
Listen to the song

When the ground is shaking
and the buildings fall
It’s you I hold in my arms

I’ll tell you stories
I’ll sing you songs
I’ll keep you protected from harm

But in truth
I fall apart

We’ll wait for the sun
and I’ll hold your hand
We’ll talk of the distant stars

I’ll listen for voices
I’ll hope for the best
and pray they know where we are

But in truth
I fall apart

If there’s a heaven above
then take us in
‘Cause we need some shelter and love

I sit by your side
I’ll stay here all night
Let my tears be the last thing you touch

in truth
I fall apart

Peace (please),