Reconnecting with the Western Massachusetts Writing Project

I am really looking forward to the Western Massachusetts Writing Project‘s annual conference today, where I have been asked to give a keynote address on digital literacies (which is our inquiry theme this year). This was the teaser that I had made a few weeks ago, as I began to think about the areas that I wanted to explore in my keynote.

We’re going to have video cameras about, too, as we try to connect our conference to the National Day on Writing’s theme of “What I Write” and we are going to feature a group of WMWP alumns as they talk about the influence of the National Writing Project on their lives as teachers and writers, and we will film the keynote, too. (Usually, I am the one filming someone else).

Peace (in connections),


Video Talent: My Son and Friends Take First Prize

My older son has really become a whiz with shooting and editing video. He does it for school projects; he works on short movies with his friends; and he does it to enter contests to gain recognition and cash. While I can take some credit for getting him behind the camera at an early age with our stopmotion movie adventures, he is at the age where I barely know what he is up to. (so far, so good, though).

Last night, he and three friends won first prize in a local contest to celebrate our city’s bike/rail trail. They shot and edited and submitted two videos — one with interviews of folks riding the trail on a summer day and the other is a tongue-in-cheek video about “what you can do on the rail trail.” That one ends with a friend playing dead. Turns out, that is the one that won first place (so at least the rail trail folks have a good sense of humor).

The boys will get a nice cash prize, which I assumed they would split up, but they have already decided to re-invest the money into the “full length” feature they are working on. The script has been in the works for about a month, and they are using Google Docs to write collaboratively. The cash will be used for props for the movie (not sure of the plot, but there was some talk of how they could stage a scene in a nightclub … hmmm). Look out, Hollywood!

Peace (in the vid),


Walking the Web: The End of the Line (for now)

And so, it ends. Sort of. The boys in my comic — Walking the Web — have made it back home. I wanted to reference the movie, Looper (and if you know the movie, you know how this last comic could have gone), but could not bring myself to go that far. So, I do have the boys meeting themselves, and left it at that. But it made sense to have the soundtrack of Timbuk 3 running in your head as the series comes to an end. (Depending on your interpretation of the lyrics, that could be good or bad.)
Walking the Web Comic 17
Peace (on the web),

PS — I have one more comic to run tomorrow. It’s not technically part of the series, and yet … it is.

A Skyping Adventure with Graphic Novelist Stephen McCranie

Stephen Mccranie2

One of the items on my teaching/technology bucket list was to use Skype as way for my students to interact with published authors. But, for whatever reason, I had never gotten around to it. Luckily, graphic novelist Stephen McCranie reached out to me as part of my online network (via The Nerdy Book Club), and as part of his own journey to bring comic art into classrooms and work with young people, he visited my sixth grade class yesterday afternoon. McCranie writes and illustrates the wonderful Mal and Chad series, which is about a boy trying to fit in with peers even though he is brilliant, and Mal (the boy) has a talking dog (Chad) as his best friend and companion. The two graphic novels that McCranie has published so far (a third is on the way) are perfect for the elementary school age, capturing both the imagination of the age and the difficulties of fitting in without losing our own sense of identity. Oh, yeah, plus there is a lot of adventure and humor in Mal and Chad.

stephen Mccranie

During his visit to my classroom, McCranie did a few important things: he talked about the development of story and character in partnership with the use of art, and he explained how important those two elements are in a graphic novel. He also discussed comic art as he drew in front of us. We were all pretty much mesmerized as we watched characters and ideas to come to life on the screen, even as McCranie chatted and answered a barrage of questions from my students (some more on topic than others). He created this character — Ninja Cat — with suggestions from the audience. He also nicely sent me a PDF of the work that he did with my class, so that I can distribute that out to them this morning. That was nice touch!

Stephen McCranie Ninja Cat

As my students got ready for the bus to go home, they were still buzzing with energy, and both of my Mal and Chad books were “borrowed” for the night.  I also reminded them, after McCranie talked about how he used to publish his comics on the web (which how he got noticed by  publisher), that we have our classroom Blog site and it is open for any and all of them to create and publish their own comics. I’m hoping a few take me up on that offer.

Stephen McCranie welcome comic

Now that this Skype experiment is over, I admit that I am hungry for more. Time to jump into the Skype for Education site and see who is out there, and how I can bring more of the world into my classroom. I feel like this is one of those areas that I could easily (with some scheduling and organizing) make happen and as a result, extend out my students’ sense of the world and their place in it.

Peace (in the visit),


Students as Pollsters: What They Found

Student Polling Data
As we move into a research project in which my sixth graders will write a short piece about a topic that they consider important to the country, I had them become political pollsters. All of my students spent the last week, asking 10 people questions about the issues that they consider to be most important for the next president to deal with. (Note: the polling sheet was from Time for Kids, and had the categories you see above). Yesterday, we collated our data (from about 700 total responses) and I won’t even venture a guess on the margin of error, here, but it was a fruitful endeavor for teaching them how to ask questions, how to gather data in a chart and a graph, and how to notice trends in information.

I had struggled a bit with how best to collect all the data, and in the end, I had them work in groups to collate numbers, and then, as a class, we used a Excel spreadsheet on the Interactive Board to bring together each class’s numbers, which then tallied up all four classes into a nice compilation.

It won’t be a surprise to see that the economy was clearly the top at the end of the day. This led to discussions about why that is, and they were surprisingly insightful about the struggles that are going on and how people (including their parents) are looking to the next president to boost the economy. As one of my students thoughtfully said, “If the economy is fixed, then they (the president) can turn their attention to those other things (education, health care, etc.). But if the economy is not good, then that’s all people talk about. ”

I agreed with my student. You?

Peace (in the polling data),


Walking the Web: Oh, Those Darn Portals

If you spend enough time reading articles or watching interviews with the folks behind the major sites in the Web’s history (most of which lines data ghost towns), you realize that one phrase keeps popping up in the mouths of the site leaders, and often, it spells the beginning of the end of the site. (Are you there, Friendster? AOL? Yahoo? MySpace? And will you survive, Facebook?) The boys in my comic — Walking the Web — notice it, too.
Walking the Web Comic 16

Peace (outside those portals),

Walking the Web: That’s Ruby

I won’t claim to know all that much about programming but clearly, the Ruby on Rails suite of web developer tools has opened a lot of doors for interactive web-based ideas. So, it made sense to introduce a personified Ruby to the boys in my comic, Walking the Web, as they explore the history of the Web.
Walking the Web Comic 15
Peace (on the rails),

Introducing Research: A Teacher Writing Sample

I often try to bring my own writing into the classroom as a way to not only share my process, but also, to give examples. This week, my students begin a short research project in which they examine an issue in the presidential campaign, and write an opinionated piece that uses research, along with citations of sources. (We’re using Instagrok for research and Easybib for citations). I struggled to find a good topic that my students can’t also write about (I don’t want them to emulate me), and decided on a short piece advocating the end of talk around a manned mission to Mars.

I try to use the comment feature in Word to help articulate the strategies that I am using, and this document becomes a talking point in class with my students. “Did you notice …” is a common phrase, and we can refer back to this as they begin working on their own.
Let’s Leave Mars Alone with teacher notes

Peace (in the sharing),