March Book Madness Ends; Now, Read

And so, I end the March Book Madness feature, where I have been trying to highlight both books that my students have been reading and the projects they created in an independent book unit. (and I tossed in a few of my own reviews here and there). Most of my students used Glogster; some went a more traditional poster route. All worked hard to show their understanding of the books and to create a visual recommendation of the book they had read.

Here are all of the Glogster Projects again. I hope you enjoyed it all. Now, go read.
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Peace (in the pages),

Slice of Life: From Quidditch fields to Baseball fields

Slice of Life 2011I would be remiss not to write more about Quidditch and baseball before the Slice of Life challenges ends today. I’m somewhat avoided these topics because I felt like it would be Groundhog Day — echoing what I have written for SOL in the last few years in March (it’s amazing how much of our life really does repeat itself, if we take a close look.)

First up, we took our students on a field trip yesterday to an indoor soccer arena, where we had an entire (and exhausting) day of sports activities. There was soccer. There was dodgeball. And there was our game of Quidditch. We (Atomic Blur) played against two other sixth grade class teams in scrimmage, without keeping score. We’ll play our third team in scrimmage in two weeks, just days before the 2011 Quidditch Tournament at our school (where all four sixth grade classes compete for the Quidditch Cup). Next week, we’ll be doing artwork and coming up with plays.

I know I have written this before but: I truly do have one of the nicest classes I have had in years. I see it in the classroom, of course. I see it in the hallways. But on the Quidditch field — where they get very passionate and we have to temper some competitive spirit when it gets too intense — they were marvelous to coach and wonderful to watch. They were supportive of each other. They were cheering each other on. High fives, everywhere. The game seemed to bring out the best in just about everyone.

I know some of you may be wondering: what is this game of Quidditch you play? Here’s a video we made two years ago (for our tenth anniversary of the game) to show others how to play it.

Second, my middle son had his first little league baseball practice yesterday. Once again, I am one of the assistant coaches. Really, I am just “helper man.” We had our “draft” the other night, which I usually write about but didn’t this year, and we got a good crop of kids, it seems. The strange twist this year was that there were not enough little league kids to field all the teams (more are playing lacrosse than every before) so our team got folded into another team.

My son was fine with that shift (except for losing his team name and the color shirt, which used to be yellow and now will be green), since now he is on a team with two of his best friends, and we have more older kids who have played this level than any other team. I think we may be the favorites this season, which would be nice, since it has been a few years of awful, terrible records (but still fun). We have more talent this year than ever.

My arm is a bit sore from throwing the ball for the first time since last summer, but it was fun to see the kids tossing the ball, hitting on the diamond, and catching fly balls. That sound of the ball smacking the glove, and the laughter of young players back on the field, is spring to me.

And now — a winter storm might be rolling in. Just in time for April …

Peace (on the fields),

Success, Struggles with Digital Storytelling

The post I would like to share today is about how smoothly everything went with our digital storytelling project (see my first and second posts about the project).  I’d like to say how wonderfully productive the day was, and how prepared I was for anything that might happen.

I can’t do that.

There were good things. Just about every single one of my students (that’s about 80) now have their images and narration layered into iMovie for their digital story. They worked hard; they helped each other. I was zooming around the room, offering on-the-spot help and tutorials, asking them to explain what they were doing.

But, the struggle was with going online to use FreeplayMusic to download some soundtrack music. It’s a longer story, but we ran out of IP addresses, and more than two-thirds of the classes were unable to connect, leaving their digital stories without music. And here, I did this whole lesson around choosing a piece of music that is emotionally connected to the tone of your digital story. Lack of music is now a huge gap in their stories.

And, I was frustrated because I had no back-up plan. I didn’t have time to download a bunch of songs onto a flash drive, and I wouldn’t have had time to run around dumping the folder onto laptops.  And it would have gone against the grain of what I had told them — the choosing of their music is personal and emotional, etc. I was flustered and for kids who were done and left with little to do, I had then play around with ComicLife and PhotoBooth. I had no plan for them, and I was still working with others on their digital stories (I did recruit some helpers.)

Our tech person was able to show me how to delete old IP addresses from the server (and a fix is coming, with an upgrade to our network in April), and I thought that would be fine for my last class. But we ran into the same problems, until the very end of the class, when a student suggested we just click on the wireless icon and reset the connection. Doh. That worked, but it was too late. Class was over.

I had hoped to be done, but it seems like I need another class period to get this last step completed. I am proud of the work they are doing and I am amazed at how resilient they were in the face of difficulties. They were frustrated, but they shrugged it off – quicker than I could. I guess technology fails regularly enough in their lives that they accept it as a possibility.

Which isn’t to say that there weren’t digital stories created. Some of the kids who were on the Internet were able to complete their projects. A sampler of some of them is at the top of this post.

Peace (in the digital age),

Slice of Life: Singing with the Band

Slice of Life 2011My new band is really coming together. We’re still working on a name (but have it narrowed down to some finalists) and we need some gigs down the road (our first outing may be a benefit concert at my school), but the rock and roll groove is there. We’re working on songs from Creedence, to Motown Soul, to The Outsiders, to some original stuff.

Mostly, I am the saxophonist, and one of the songwriters as we slowly mesh some original material into the mix.

Last night, our lead singer was absent and I had to step in and do the vocals, so we could at least practice through some songs (including a medley of Johnny B Goode, I Saw Her Standing There, Summertime Blues, and Runaway — way out of my range for most of those). Man, I’ve sort of lost my voice this morning and taking on that role of lead singer was more difficult than I remember it. It also brought me some renewed appreciation for our singer, who has a wonderful voice and a wide range.

It was fun, but strenuous, and I am going to need my voice today. If you see it, can you remind it to come back home. Thanks.

Peace (in the band),

Scenes from the Digital Storytelling Project

Yesterday, we launched right into using iMovie for digital storytelling around narrative writing. I gave another brief overview of iMovie, which followed some visual tutorials last week, and then I turned them loose on the laptops for the rest of the period. For the most part, it was successful, with me jumping around the room, helping kids and kids helping kids (I always encourage them to help each other).

Every student was well underway with turning their narrative paragraph about a memory object into a digital story. Everyone had some sort of image (if they forgot a picture, they had to draw one) or they were taking pictures of their items (baseballs, trophies, stuffed animals, pocket watches, heirlooms, scrapbook pictures of pets, etc.) and they were layering their voices into the mix. The most difficult and time-consuming part of this project is syncing the time of the narration with the time of the photos.

Today, I will be showing them how to use Freeplay Music to add a soundtrack and my goal is to have them complete the bulk of the project today. My original intent was to have another full day tomorrow, but we have a field trip planned (the date got changed suddenly) so I am rushing them along a bit faster than I would have liked.

I am still mulling over how to share out the final projects, so they can view each other’s digital stories. I teach four classes, and friends want to know what their friends in other classes are doing. one option is to burn a DVD. Another is to use our class YouTube account and upload directly from the Macs into that account, and then create playlists. I am open to other options, if you have any ideas.

I want to emphasize that this began as a writing project — the narrative paragraph — with the digital story as a final step. The writing came first. Here is an example of the narrative paragraph from a student, which has become their “script” for the digital story.

I have only had one dog that I actually remember. Her name is Bella and she is five years old (her sixth birthday is coming up- April 1st). She is a black lab. We got her at a place where the owners (one of the owners was my soccer coach) kept having the mom dog give birth and then they would sell the puppies. So, she came from a big family. All her brothers and sisters were either black labs, yellow labs, or chocolate labs, and the mom was a yellow lab. We got her because my brother and I wanted a dog really badly. We kept asking and asking our parents if we could get a dog but they kept saying no. But finally they told us we were going for a ride to give my coach money that we owed her. When we got there we realized we were there to get a dog. My brother and I got to play with the dogs, but mostly the one that my parents had already picked out a few days back. When my parents were secretly there days before when they were deciding on what dog to get Bella (who had the name “no collar” at the time because she was the only dog without a collar) was on my mom’s lap and she started chewing on the zipper to her purse. At that time my parents knew that was the right dog to get. She is important to me because my family and I love her very much and I wish she would be able to live as long as I will. When I see Bella many memories from when we first got her (and other memories from after we got her also) come to mind. Now you have learned about the history of my dog, do you have any memories form an animal like mine?

Peace (in the story),

Slice of Life: Wild Chives

Slice of Life 2011“Ahh. The first chives of spring.”

I was tossing the baseball around with my middle son, who is breaking in a new glove. The younger son was chasing the dog around the yard with a large stick in his hand, yelling out some sort of battle cry. The older son had bent down to pluck something off the ground. He popped it into his mouth and chewed slowly.

The chives are back.

Each spring and into early summer, our yard becomes a wild landscape of wild chives. When that first day of mowing the lawn arrives, the air will be sweet with chives. It’s enough to sometimes make you gag. A little bit of chives goes a long way. A lot of chives goes too far. The kids love to munch on the pungent weeds. I worry about what the dog has been doing, if you get my drift.

My son reached down to pluck another tender green shoot. The dog lumbered over and he fed the chive to the dog. Now, both of them were chewing, rather thoughtfully. The temperature here in Western Massachusetts is still hovering around the mid-30 degree mark, so spring is taking its time.

The chives tell us that we won’t have much longer to wait. I can smell it in the air.

Peace (in spring, please, come),


Narrative Writing as Digital Storytelling

I’m pretty excited about today and tomorrow because my sixth graders are going to be using their narrative paragraph writing (they wrote about a concrete memory object that represents a strong memory) as the script for creating a digital story on iMovie. They are excited because they haven’t used the Mac cart much this year (the PC cart is in our room and the Mac cart is in high demand for the younger grades).

On Friday, I walked them through a bit on how to use iMovie. A show of hands indicated that only about 12 of my 80 students have ever used iMovie, so it will be a real experience for them. We have used PhotoStory3, the PC version of digital storytelling, so they have some understanding of the meshing of image, and narration, and music.

But iMovie is another level. It’s more sophisticated, but still, pretty easy to use. Lucky for me, I immersed myself in iMovie recently for a Digital Storytelling Workshop that I led. (see website resource).

What I worry about is whether they will remember to bring in their photos, or their flash drives, or the object itself (we will use Photobooth to take pictures, if we need to). They need to have their resources in order to begin the project and we only have the cart for a few days. We’ll see ….

What I like about the project is that it:

  • reinforces paragraph writing;
  • shifts from concrete to abstract;
  • gets at an emotional center for the students;
  • adds true voice to the mix;
  • allows them to use another technology tool for creative composition;
  • is limited in scope and therefore, is doable in short amount of time.

You can see my sample at the top of this post (about the tea cup). And this video collection is from a few years ago and they were done with Photostory. Pay attention to the voices. You don’t get that emotional connection with words on the page. That’s the power of digital storytelling.

Peace (in the story),