Front Page News: My School

Norris tiger

Normally, when your school is featured on the front page of the local newspaper, you can expect the worst. But when the headline is “How a Southampton School Teaches the Meaning of Respect,” you know some good vibes are coming your way. That was the headline of our newspaper last week as a columnist with a project dealing with bullying and respect issues in our area visited our school to see what we are doing on these issues.

“As I walked through the school’s foyer, I was greeted by a hand-carved wooden sign with ‘Welcome’ in nine languages … the philosophy of this school was clear to me in minutes — development of character is as important as development of knowledge. After all, both play equal parts in who we become,” Christine Wu wrote, near the start of the article.

She then learned about our schoolwide efforts with two different social development programs — Response Classroom and Peacebuilders. While slightly different, both programs not only make students accountable, but also find ways to teach nurturing of community, and respect for everyone around them.

She ends her piece by noting that, “I’m sure that Norris school is not free of student conflict. No school is. However, they appear to be taking positive, constructive steps to address social awareness in their school.”

Yes, to both points. And I am proud to teach in a school like mine, whether we get these kind of headlines or not. There’s a lot of positive energy, and lots of great teachers, all around me every day, and the students respond to that in kind.

Peace (in peace),

PS — you can read the entire article here at the online site of The Daily Hampshire Gazette.

NWP Annual Meeting: Even if you’re not there, you can be there

nwpam2010Yesterday, I wrote a bit about what I will be doing when I head down to the National Writing Project’s Annual Meeting in two weeks. But I know that not everyone can attend, whether you are with the NWP or not. Luckily, in the last few years, the NWP folks have been branching out ways to stay connected to the Annual Meeting work, even if you are not there.

First of all, NWP encourages all bloggers and writers who are going to post any work to use the nwpam10 tag (such as I am doing here with this post). The tagging architecture of the Web allows people to search for all work that shares a similar tag. So, using the Google Blog Search Engine, if you were to search for the tag of nwpam10, you should theoretically get access to those various posts.

Second, if you are on Twitter, then NWP urges the use of the hashtag #nwpam10, which will collect all tweets about the Annual Meeting together. I use a platform called Tweetdeck, which conveniently puts all of my hashtags into columns, so I can easily view all of the #nwpam10 tweets in one place. See what I mean: head to #nwpam2010 tweets so far.

Third, if folks are using Flickr, then there is a space there, too, for photos. Again, this happens because folks are encouraged to use the nwpam10 tag on their photos. The photos should end up here in this nwpam10 Flickr space. (Tagging is such an interesting structural device, isn’t it?).

Fourth, there is a similar tagging infastructure at YouTube, so if people tag their videos with nwpam10, then they should end up in this search query for nwpam10 at the video hosting site.

Fifth, there is another tagging space at Slideshare for folks to share their presentations from the various workshops. Again, the same tag is being used, and the search at Slideshare is for nwpam10.

Finally, NWP has been using a Posterous blogging site to make it as easy as possible for folks to report from various workshops, conferences and meetings. You can follow that work at the NWP Walkabout blog.

All of this information, and more,  is available at the NWP website, by the way. And thanks to Andrea for reminding me of it all.

Peace (in the tag to remember: nwpam10),

My Muppet Testimonial

A blog that I follow that is about all-things-Muppets was asking for testimonials from readers about their interest in The Muppets, so I wrote a bit about my role as a teacher using puppets.

I’m lucky to be a teacher. No one will likely think it odd or strange that I have Muppet stuff all around my sixth grade classroom. (read the rest of my testimonial at The Muppet Mindset).

I also created a podcast of my piece. Take a listen, if you want.

Peace (in the world of Henson),

The 2010 National Writing Project Annual Meeting

nwpam2010It’s that time of year again — the time when I leave my classroom for a few days to join all of my wonderful National Writing Project colleagues for our Annual Meeting. In about 10 days, we head to Orlando, Florida (same place as NCTE) and convene together to learn, discuss and debate the many intersections of writing, technology and learning. (And I am doubly lucky because my wife is joining me again this year. She is part of a NWP venture to develop curriculum for the writing-centered Common Core Standards that is being funded by the  Gates Foundation).

I am presenting with two NWP sessions in Orlando.

The first session is about how technology can help some of our rural NWP sites connect with their teachers when geographic barriers exist, and also how those teachers and their students can connect with others in the world through technology. I’ll be talking about some of the various projects, such as Voices on the Gulf, Longfellow 10, the iAnthology, and more. Although access to computers will probably be an issue for many rural teachers, there are plenty of ways that classrooms and teachers can open up the learning experience to the world.

Here’s the blurb for Providing Writing Project Access Across Geographic Boundaries:

Participants will examine solutions that provide Writing Project access and programs to rural teachers when participation is hampered by geographic barriers. Participants will analyze current practices of outreach to rural teachers, explore promising site practices and technological tools for providing access, and create a plan for making their sites more accessible to rural teachers.

I am also a presenter at the NWP Makes! session that teams up the writing project with Make Magazine for a fun, interactive session around technical writing. I’ll be walking my group through a stopmotion animation project, and then they’ll be documenting what we did. (see my sample) I think the artifacts from this session will eventually be part of a collection at the new NWP Digital Is site.

Here’s the blurb:

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 am also attending a handful of interesting sessions as a participant.

I am going to be part of a Digital Literacies Roundtable.

In this roundtable session, multiple presenters will share a range of innovative digital practices—from multimodal composing in the classroom, to working with families to explore the digital literacy practices of youth, to being a writer and learner in virtual worlds and communities. Together, presenters and participants will use these examples to think and talk about the role of digital literacies in our lives and the lives of our students. We will participate in a shared inquiry about what digital literacies afford in terms of identity, participation, and community, and explore what it means to be digitally literate citizens today.

And I am going to be in a two sessions around gaming in the classroom.

The first session: Games for Education and Social Impact

Alan Gershenfeld is founder and president of E-Line Media, which has helped build some of the world’s leading game and digital comic franchises and which supports social entrepreneurs committed to harnessing popular media for impact. In this session Gershenfeld will demonstrate video games that can be used to tap into kids’ natural passion for play while harnessing that passion toward games that have positive social impact.

The second session: Building Video Games for and in the Classroom

This session, which builds on the lunchtime presentation “Games for Education and Social Impact,” will introduce specific platforms that help students and teachers alike make games to support learning in the classroom. In particular, Alan Gershenfeld from E-Line Media will introduce Gamestar Mechanic, a browser-based game specifically built on leading pedagogical research in the areas of systems thinking, 21st century digital literacy skills, and STEM learning.

And, I am going to be learning more about the upcoming NWP Social Networking Project called Going On, which is in a beta stage right now. The idea is to create a sharing space for NWP teachers.

The blurb:

NWP has developed a new social networking and social media space, GoingOn, connected to our website. Find out how your local Writing Project site can develop its community within this space, which features blogs, wikis, and the ability to share images, audio, and video.

Plus, the keynote speaker is Donalyn Miller. I attended a workshop of hers last year as she talked about her idea around reading and literacy (she is the Book Whisperer, and author of the book with that title), and we connect on Twitter now and then. She will no doubt be fantastic, and inspirational as hundreds of NWP teachers come together for the General Session.

And I am hoping to reconnect with some NWP Twitter friends in a tweet-up that my friend Paul Oh is organizing for Friday night. So, plenty to keep me involved and engaged, and then also, of course, I’m carving out time to be with my wife. (We’re staying an extra day!)

Phew. That’s a lot going on in just a few days. I’ll be blogging about my days here, of course, and also, when I have access, putting stuff up on my twitter account (we’re going to be using the #nwpam10 hashtag for those who want to follow along).

Peace (in the magic kingdom of writing),

Using Art to Promote Peace

GK Peaceh Poster
Each year, our fantastic art teacher conducts a project known as Peace Posters, in which students must represent the concept of peace through art. I have always loved this project because the range of work and the symbolic representation is often so creative and wonderful to see, particularly when the posters are hung all around the school.

Today, the posters are due to the art room. Yesterday, one of my students proudly showed me his poster and it really is quite detailed and intricate, showing sports all around the world. (They can’t use words — only images). I’m looking forward to seeing what others have done with their poster projects.

Peace (on the poster),

Saving some turtles, one leaf at a time

turtle adoption nov10 (2)
I teach four classes of sixth graders and right now, two of those classes are finishing up the novel Flush by Carl Hiassen. This engaging and often-funny book centers on pollution of waters off the Florida Keys by a gambling boat and the efforts of a boy and his family to stop the pollution and protect the beach where endangered Loggerhead Turtles come to lay eggs.

We’re on a year-long inquiry around the environment, thanks in part to our participation in the Voices on the Gulf Project, and I saw an opportunity here with this book to try to do something constructive. So, we agreed that we would “adopt” a loggerhead turtle that is being cared for by the Loggerhead Marinelife Center in Jones Beach, Floriday.

The catch was that my students could not just go home and ask for $2 for the turtle project. They had to earn it, and the suggestion that they came up with was raking leaves (we’re in New England and leaves are everywhere right now).

The packets of information for our turtles (each class adopted one) came in yesterday and the kids were very excited. Sure, there were some jokes about “why didn’t they ship the turtle?” But overall, I could tell they were satisfied that they had some something good for the environment with this simple turtle adoption project, and it connected perfectly with our reading of the novel and our research around turtles.

Now, I’m thinking: they might need to invent a story with our adopted turtles — Andre and Gilda — as characters. Hmmm.

A Bit of Me on Glogster

We haven’t begun using yet this year but we will soon. Last year, I became a Glogster Ambassador, which basically means that I am available to talk about how I use Glogster in the classroom and share out any resources that I might develop for teachers in workshops, etc. What I get out of that designation is a free upgraded account, which has been nice. (Note: is dropping its number of free student accounts for teachers from 100 to 50 very soon).

The other day, we were asked to consider making a Glog about ourselves as they try to showcase some Glogster Ambassadors. So, here’s what I came up with (direct link to the Glog):

Peace (on the Glog),

Presenting: The Resources of NWP’s Digital Is

nwp digitalis
About a year and a half ago, I went out to California for a meeting about a National Writing Project venture that was be entitled Digital Is. Supported in part by the MacArthur Foundation, the Digital Is concept involved a web portal to explorations of technology, writing and learning in ways that would go beyond the “how to do it” of typical websites.

Yesterday, the NPW Digital Is site launched to the public, and it is a wonderfully rich potpourri of teacher reflections on the “why” of technology as much as the “what we did” of technology. There are plenty of examples of student work, too, and discussions will hopefully revolve around our changing ideas of what writing means when it comes to multimodal composition and the classroom.

Elyse Eidman-Aadahl,who directs the national programs and site development for NWP and whose insights into technology and learning are worth their weight in gold, explains in her blog post on the site about the launching of Digital Is:

…  there’s no mistaking the impact of both the development of new digital tools for composing and of the internet as a global communications and collaboration space. What it means to write, to research, to publish, and to work together has changed dramatically in the last few decades.  As educators, we know our teaching must change too.

As a start, I want to point to a few “collections,” which are curated resources that are constructed around themes. This idea of collections is a great idea, as it pulls together projects and frames them in an importance concept or question by the curator.

So, check these curated collections out as a starting point:

The site is designed to keep growing and you don’t need to be part of the National Writing Project, either. I encourage you to take a tour of Digital Is, become a member and join the conversations around what writing and composition looks like in this midst of technological change, and where our teaching might be going in the years ahead.

Peace (in the sharing),

Creative Writing with Invented Artifacts

This week, I intend to introduce a new book that we just bought this year: Regarding the Fountain by Kate Klise. It’s a short, fun book told with humor and in the style of using “artifacts” from the characters in the story — mostly memos, letters, and notes. I also considered Avi’s Nothing But the Truth, which is another powerful story told through emails, phone messages, etc., about a high school boy who hums along with the National Anthem, gets in trouble with his teacher and sparks a media frenzy. But, some of the language was a bit too much for my sixth graders, and the themes were more high school than elementary school. Still, it’s worth reading.

What I like about the concept of Regarding the Fountain is that I can really teach inference with my sixth graders, as you need to make connections between what is being shown and written, and what is not. And, of course, point of view is critical, too. What are characters not saying?

I am working on my own short story with artifacts, too, because when we are done with the book (it won’t take long to read), I want to have them try their hand at their own. It may be tricky and some of my young writers will be in a better place with their critical thinking skills than others. I know that I am struggling a bit with how to leave out important information so as to not give the story away too early.

Here’s what I have so far:

And if you have never heard of Regarding the Fountain, check out this glog review I did last year when I stumbled onto the book.

Peace (in the inferential thinking),