Using iMovie’s Movie Trailer Tool

This is the first time I have tried out the “movie trailer” option in iMovie. Here is a teaser from my son’s upcoming movie project — Robbers on the Loose. He wrote the story and directed the scenes, with friends and family in the movie itself. I was behind the camera (with our Flip HD) and we are working on the editing. (Volume of voices … very tricky)

Oh, my son is seven years old, as is everyone in the movie. They’re all seven and just about all of them are in first grade.

The movie trailer option is interesting because iMovie does much of the work for you, after you choose  style. My son chose the adventure theme, of course, and then we dropped video segments into the system. We added the text, too. It got a bit cumbersome at times to figure out which video segment would work where. The tool could be a little better designed … BUT, he loves what the trailer looks like. And his older brothers’ snarky comment: The trailer is better than the movie. Ouch.

But the work on this piece for my son got me thinking about the possibilities for my own students, creating short trailers for books or short stories.

Peace (in the little screen),


Book Review: The Berrybender Narratives

The Berrybender Narratives

It’s been a long time since I dipped my eyes into a good Western but I was in the mood for a little change of pace, and one should always rely on writer Larry McMurtry for good storytelling. The Berrybender Narratives, which was originally four books now brought into one large collection, is a fine example of McMurtry’s incredible talent: interesting and quirky characters, a non-romantic look at the American West during expansion, and a sweeping saga of one family’s endurance in history. There’s humor, danger, violence, compassion and true love within these covers.

American history is the underpinning, too. The impact of the travels of Lewis and Clark play out in the background and the war with Mexico at the Alamo comes into play. Historical figures come and go, or are references, in such a way as to place you in a time reference. This is history unfolding, but not from your typical diluted and sterile history textbooks.

The main story centers mostly on the Berrybender clan, a highbrow and rich family who have come from Europe to travel through the new frontier of America as tensions between the American Indians and the American government are shifting into high gear. The family is led by a drunk, and completely unpredictable, father who wants to hunt buffalo and Grizzly bear but the book really centers mostly around his eldest daughter, Tasmin, and her new American husband, Jim Snow — a trapper and frontiersman also known as The Sin Killer for his religious outbursts and justice-seeking violence. Even the indians fear The Sin Killer.

The relationship between Tasmin and Jim Snow is complicated. He is all about survival and quiet. She is all about understanding the world, and talking it through. She represents Europe; He, America. There is a kind of love but it doesn’t last, and the twists and turns in their interactions makes you never quite know where their relationship is going.

McMurtry wisely also brings us into the narrative minds of the American Indians who encounter the Berrbenders, particularly those whose suddenly realize that their time is almost up, and that the white Europeans — with their guns, and their plagues, and their sheer numbers — are about to change everything they have ever known. There’s a sadness to their plight (which we know from our historical perspective), but there is plenty of honor, too, in many of their stories. The rich tapestry that McMurtry weaves here is engrossing and powerful.

The Berrybender Narratives is no cowboys-and-indians story. It is a story with human suffering and human emotion at the center, but it is the rawness and roughness of the American West – the land, as character — that is both breathtaking and formidable to behold. The humans — of all races — never stand a chance, and yet, McMurtry allows us to see some energy of individualism bubble up through the narratives. It seems as if he is saying that partnership with the land itself will be the key to our survival.

Peace (in the wild west),


Resources from WMWP: Gaming, Digital Storytelling and Social Networking


Participants at our recent Western Massachusetts Writing Project event around pop culture, technology and the Common Core were asking that we presenters share out our resources, so they can share them out with colleagues. Of course, we agreed, since the writing project is all about the sharing of ideas. We had three main sessions: video game design, digital storytelling with online tools, and social networking with Edmodo.

Feel free to peruse the resources.


Peace (in the files),


A Box of (Graphic Novel) Books

Graph Novels Box

One of the perks of being a reviewer for a site like The Graphic Classroom is that every now and then, a box arrives and it is filled with books that a publisher hopes I will read and review. The other day, this large box arrived and it was full to the brim with new graphic novels. My sons plunked down and began reading. (They get the first shots at the books that come in — a deal I am happy to have made with them.) Later, I will bring appropriate ones to my classroom and maybe donate some to our school library, or to other teachers in my building. Gotta spread the graphic love.

Peace (in the box of books),


YouTube: It’s Where Bullying Happens

I try to look for trends with my students around technology, which is why I am periodically giving them surveys to gather data about them, as a class. I’ve been posting about how we have been talking about cyberbullying in our Digital Life unit. We covered a lot of ground — mostly, how to address an issue if it happens to them and what to look out for. In the past, when I have asked where this kind of cyberbullying behavior might take place, the majority response was “instant messaging.”

Not this year.

This year, when I asked where they see this kind of behavior, the response from my sixth graders was immediate and loud: YouTube.

Many of them have their own YouTube accounts, or at least, they spend a heck of a lot of time there, watching videos. And they have clearly noticed how the comment section on videos has become a breeding ground for insensitivity, rudeness, profanity, bullying and more. One student said that a certain somebody (not anyone he knows) always puts a raw comment on his videos. Another student laughed off a remark left by someone,  but it was too profane to share in class. A third said people “attack him at YouTube” for his videos around gaming. And if you just wander around in YouTube, it is clear that the kids are right about their impressions of YouTube, and it’s no wonder so many schools and teachers fear YouTube.

To their credit, YouTube and Google have a page on YouTube called Harassment and Cyberbullying that defines the problem and gives out some practical solutions (but who reads that kind of informational page other than teachers and parents? There is a another page for teachers, too, at YouTube that is also worth checking out).

Some of the ideas by YouTube on dealing with bullying:

For teachers who want to share videos from YouTube in the classroom, but want to avoid students seeing the comments and also other video previews, I suggest using Quiet Tube — which shuts off and hides everything except the video itself. It’s a wonderful tool that I use all the time when tapping into YouTube for its rich resources.

Finally, there is a “safety” switch at the bottom of the YouTube browser, which is designed to filter out inappropriate videos. (You have to look for it — it’s in the bottom menu area). YouTube doesn’t claim that it is 100 percent effective, but it is worth “turning on” if you are using YouTube at school, or at home with your children. That, plus some helpful knowledge, might go a long way to avoiding an uncomfortable and unfortunate situation for your students, and mine, too.

Peace (in the tube),


Slice of Life: It’s Movie Time!

(This is part of the Slice of Life activity over at Two Writing Teachers).

My seven year old has this vision: he wants to make a movie.

No doubt, this inspiration comes from watching his older brothers and friends shoot a movie just about every year in our neighborhood (and one was even featured in a local film festival). But he is determined, and excited, so I have been helping him talk through the storyline, gather up his friends, and I’ve been running the Flip video camera for him. I’ll also do much of the editing.

But it has been fun to watch his mind at work. The story — called Robbers on the Loose! — is about the theft of a jewelry box from the Queen  of France (played by my niece) by a fortune teller/robber (my son, with too-big fake beard), and the police (friends) chasing the robbers (my son and friends) to recover the stolen piece. Oh, and our dog is in the movie, too.

Yesterday, we shot the first scenes with my son and my niece in the woods near our house. While they know the storyline, they are ad-libbing the dialogue. So, well, many calls of “cut” and “let’s try that again!” They were so cute! And they were psyched about the footage we got. They think it was the best video ever created, and we’re not even done (gotta love the enthusiasm of a seven year old). The hardest part is to make them speak loud enough for the camera.
fortune teller and queen

At home, I moved the video that we got into iMovie and we began a little editing. Then, I decided to try out the tool in iMovie to create movie trailers. What a blast! We set the whole thing to the ‘adventure setting’ and the movie trailer came out like a Steven Spielberg production. We just need some more footage to liven it up a bit more. That will come today, as we are gathering together about seven 7-year-olds for the cops and robbers scenes.

It will, do doubt, be chaos. Hopefully, fun chaos.

Peace (in the movies),


Student Webcomics and Cyberbullying

I sent inside our webcomic site the other day, just to get a glimpse of the work my students started around their cyberbullying comics. (The activity is to create a webcomic featuring something they learned from our work around the issue). Some of the comics are developing nicely. These are two collages that I created from a handful of student work.
Cyberbully Collage 1

Cyberbully Collage 2

Peace (in the frames),


Book Review: Gregor and the Prophecy of Bane

My son and I ripped through this second book in the Gregor the Overlander series (by Suzanne Collins). Gregor and the Prophecy of Bane kicked up the story a notch, as Gregor is called on yet again to the save the Underland. This time, the threat is a white rat named The Bane and the prophecy seems to suggest that the killing of the rat will save the odd humans and allies who live in the land beneath the surface. The story begins with the kidnapping of Gregor’s baby sister and for much of the story, he is driven by revenge for her death (which doesn’t quite turn out to be true).

Collins nicely begins to reveal more of Gregor’s character and situation. Here, he learns he is a “rager,” or a creature with innate fighting abilities. Ragers are feared in the Underland for their indiscriminate fighting powers, and Gregor loses all control of himself when he is put into a raging situation. The moment when Gregor finally confronts the white rat — with his rager instincts almost in full gear — Collins throws a twist into the story (which I won’t reveal) that gives Gregor more complexity as a character than we had seen previously.

So, now we venture into the third book of the series: Gregor and the Curse of the Warmbloods.

Collins does a lot right with this series. Although the initial scenario has been done before (a world below), she really gives you that claustrophobic feeling, and provides tension at every corner of the adventure. She’s not afraid to kill off a character and the use of giant spiders, cockroaches, rats, bats and more are enough to give you the shivers at times. And her use of prophecies to guide the plot is wise, since the interpretations and misinterpretations give just enough twists to keep you on your toes.

My son and I are hooked and along for the ride with Gregor, although the action here can get a bit violent at times.

Peace (in the Underland)


Talkin’ Cyberbullying and Makin’ Comics

cyberbullying activity

We’re nearing the final lessons in our Digital Life unit and the other day, we focused in on cyberbullying. You would think that students would be getting an earful about this kind of bullying every year, but … no. When I asked how many of my students had ever had a teacher talk about it with them, only a few hands went up. Yikes. More hands went up when I asked if parents talked about it. But not too many more.

We began with an activity around a scenario that involved using a website to attack someone else, and discussed the situation and the possible responses. Then, I shared three videos: a Brainpop video about cyberbullying that did a fantastic job of explaining not just what it is but also strategies for victims (but you need a Brainpop account to access it), and then two videos from the CommonSense Media site. The two videos were personal vignettes from two girls who had been the target of cyberbullying, and how they responded and how they felt.

You could have heard a pin drop in the room as they girls talked about their situations. It was powerful. (And I can’t say enough about the CommonSense Media resources and curriculum around digital citizenship and digital life. I’ve been very impressed.)

Next, we went on the laptops and went into one of our communities: Bitstrips for Schools. Students have now begun a comic activity that is supposed to represent some ideas on how to prevent or deal with cyberbullying. They didn’t get too far and we will pick it back up after our February break (although I suspect some of them will work on the site over vacation). But I am going to poke around in the site and see what they have been up, and share out a bit tomorrow.

Peace (in the panels),


Comic Book Review: I Smell a Pop Quiz (Big Nate)

Big Nate is great.

I mean, as a teacher of sixth graders, the lead character in the Big Nate comic and books is like a collection of quirks from my own students (in a smaller body). This collection — I Smell a Pop Quiz! —  from creator Lincoln Peirce is another funny look at school through the eyes of Nate, who seems immune to most criticism, engulfed with big ideas that rarely pan out, and engaged with his odd assortment of teachers whose patience is continually tested.

Every now and then, I make copies of educationally-related comics and put them up anonymously through the areas where teachers go: in the copy room, in the mail room, etc. Hopefully, it generates a little levity with my colleagues.  I have a few panels from I Smell a Pop Quiz earmarked and ready to go. If you are a teacher, you can find plenty to laugh at here. And your students will enjoy this collection, too. While Peirce has also tried his hand at making novelized versions of Big Nate, they don’t work so well, in my opinion.

Big Nate belongs on the very small stage — in those three or four panels of funnies where the confines of the writing actually brings out the very best in Peirce’s writing and art.

Peace (in the panels),