A Quick Peek Inside Our Stopmotion Work

stopmotion (1)


My students are in their last week, engaged in making a short stopmotion movie.

Oh never mind. They can’t hear you anyway. They’re too engrossed in what they are doing.

The question is: do we have time to finish?

Peace (in the frames),

PS — I love the shot of the two boys using the study desks. There’s something about that middle dividing line between the computer and the scene that just seems to perfectly capture the small scale of stopmotion work.

Two Writer/Teachers Chat About Twitter

Here, in this podcast, writers/teachers Katie Keier (Catching Readers Before They Fall) and Kassia Omohundro Wedekind (upcoming Math Exchanges) talk about using Twitter as a tool for professional development and for extending connections from our classroom to the world. (If you want to follow me on Twitter, I am @dogtrax).

At the Stenhouse site, where I found this, they list a bunch of folks they suggest you follow:

Katie: @bluskyz
Kassia: @kassiaowedekind
@ColoReader (Patrick Allen)
@WriteguyJeff (Jeff Anderson)
@spillarke (Lee Ann Spillane)
@justwonderinY (Cathy Mere)

Peace (in the tweets),

Scenes from a Benefit Concert

I had some time yesterday to make a compilation montage video from our Benefit Concert which I am sharing at our class website and with our school community, and here. The kids who were on stage had some great talents.

Peace (in the rock and the roll),

Playing Saxophone in the New Band

We don’t quite have a name yet, since this formation of the band is really that new (the bass player just joined us two weeks ago), but this is a short video montage of us playing the Benefit Concert at our school earlier this week. It’s a rough cut for now.
That’s me on the saxophone, stage right.

Peace (in the music),

Sharing the Musical Stage with Students

rock concert in gazette
(a blurb in the local newspaper earlier this week)
Last night, we held our benefit rock concert to support the American Red Cross in the wake of tornadoes here in Western Massachusetts and in the South. It was extremely hot on the stage — the heat outside was in the 90s — and I wasn’t sure what the audience would look like. But it was OK — there were about 60 people or so, I think.

We raised more than $500 for the Red Cross, which is better than I expected and indicates a high level of generosity by the audience.

On stage, we had a mix of teacher and student acts, and I was so happy to be able to watch my current and former students shine in the spotlights on the stage as musicians and performers. I was up there, too, playing with my new configuration of our band, but it was watching my students that really made the night.

There were about a dozen student performers who performed everything from the Beatles to Kanye West to Lady Gaga to Green Day. It reminded me of my time in high school, when a band I was in took part in a talent show of bands, and although we were not all that great, I still remember that magical feeling of taking the stage and looking out, and playing before people.

Sure, our event (which was organized and run by a student of mine, with a little help) was designed to raise awareness and money for families hurt hard by the weather, but it was also a chance to turn the night over to the students, some of whom don’t shine in the classroom but do shine on the stage.

Peace (in the songs),

PS — I do have a video of the night and will work on a montage one of these days.

Student Poetry Podcasts: Inside This …

I am finally getting around to sharing some of the poetry podcasts we did last week with our iPod touches. Here are some “Inside This ….” poems that used Figurative Language techniques to get at the essence of inanimate objects.

I like this one because you have to know the child — full of energy and off-beat ideas and a creative thinker. His poem is entitled “Inside this Lightbulb.”

Take a listen

And here is a folder with some of the other poems.

Peace (in the sharing),

Speaking out the Essay on the iPod

I walked into a room the other day, thinking my son was talking to me. He wasn’t. He was talking to his iPod.

Using the free Dragon Dictate app, he was doing his “final version” of an essay about Sparta for class, moving from a rough draft on paper to a final version on his iPod. I watched as he read his piece, and then edited the text on Dragon (for Greek towns and words that it didn’t know), and when done, he emailed it to me to print off for him. I have to admit: the final product looked pretty decent.

I had to ask him — why use Dragon instead of typing?

His reply? “It’s easier this way. I can get it done faster.” Of course, I would have preferred something along the lines of “This captures my voice in ways writing can’t!” or “My writing improves when I use this device!” or something that teachers want to hear. But the 13 year old boy is seeking the quickest path to completing the project.

I know of one of my own students who has some writing difficulties who also uses Dragon at home for some projects. So, I asked him if he had used the app to create any final versions of projects for me this year. He told me he had done his entire environmental essay on it, moving from his rough draft outline and notes to a final version.

I would never have known, and I guess that is the point. The app and device — and others like it — are available for students with and/or without learning difficulties and if the final product looks good and reads well, does it matter how it came? It might for some teachers and I am unsure about it, too.

It raises the question: Is it writing if an entire piece of writing has done orally?

Peace (in the impact of the app),

From Poetry to Collaborative Rap and Hip-Hop

I’m looking at my calendar and yikes, we’re almost done with the school year.

We’re about to wrap up our unit around poetry this week and I often shift into songwriting for a day or two. This year, I might do something a little bit different. I am mulling over the idea of having each of my four classes collaborate as a class on a rap/hip-hop song, using Garageband as the recording platform. I haven’t done much of this full-class collaboration nor used Garageband much for looping sounds, so I can’t quite say how it will go.

But I started to compose some opening lines that will guide them forward, and then see what happens. I am hoping that I can get at least two or three students from each class to come on up and “sing” the rap they write as a class. And if we find a good chorus, maybe everyone can chime in.

I was recently inspired by this blog post entitled How and Why to Write a Class Rap. If they can do it, why not us? And as for a theme, since we are at the end of the year, why not a rap that captures the identity of them as a class?

Here’s how I may go about it:

  • Look at some lyrics and listen to a song (I may use Kris Allen’s Live Like You’re Dying — which is pop and not rap, but still … a useful song because of its message and rocking beat). This will give me a chance to talk about couplets and also, the concept of verse-chorus with them.
  • I may also turn to The Week in Rap to show how it can be done. I see they have “The Last 18 Years in Rap” compilation up.
  • Brainstorm some main ideas and messages they want to see reflected in their class rap.
  • Play them a beat loop in Garageband as well as my own introduction, which may be something like this: “I want to introduce to you/the kids with mad rhymes/they’ve got some crazy mad skills/and they use them all the time/They’re the writers and the readers/and they’re tearing up the scene/They’re the up and coming class of 2017.”
  • Write at least 10 new lines — as couplets and with inner rhymes, if possible. Have them pay attention to the stress and rhythm of the lines.
  • Record and publish.

What do you think? Anyone done collaborative songwriting with their students?

Peace (in the hip, in the hop, in the hip-hop-hip),

From Japan to Joplin to Just Down the Road

For a few months, a student and I have been working to organize a live music benefit concert at our school featuring staff and student acts. We were motivated first by events in Japan, and then by the devastation in the areas around Joplin, and now local events have overtaken us as a tornado hit hard right down the road from us here in Western Massachusetts, causing significant damage to homes and businesses and families. As a result, our focus is now to gather donations to support the American Red Cross in its efforts to help local families.

The concert is this Wednesday night at our school.

I am playing music with a lot of people that night, and I just realized that I have quite a few songs to learn, along with the songs I am doing with my new R&B band, where I am playing mostly saxophone on songs like Midnight Hour, Do You Love Me, and Johnny B. Goode. But with other groups of teachers and students, I am bouncing around on guitar and bass. I am doing one original song — Innocent Boy, written for my sons when they were just little dudes.

Here are some of the videos I am trying to burn into my brain for this Wednesday night:

Peace (in the reaching out),