Now that the school year has ended …

I was trying to gather up some of the links from projects that my students did this past school year, now that they have left for summer vacation and another school as they make the big leap up to a combined middle and high school.

But looking at the list of these projects, and thinking of the ones not even listed here (such as prompts and exploration over at The Electronic Pencil), I realize how much they did while with me in writing class. I just completed the web pages for the Claymation and Digital Picture Book projects because the pieces seemed scattered all over the place and I wanted to bring them under one webby roof.

Here are some of our shared adventures this year:

I think my push into using more technology to showcase their work was worth it, although it inevitably led to troubleshooting, work-arounds, and other headache-inducing periods of time. Still, as a collection, I think this list shows my students as creators of content and creative thinkers.

One of my regrets is that Youth Radio did not take off this year and there are a variety of reasons for this. But we saw, and see, the possibilities for podcasting across the world for young people and we need to figure out if it is worth re-launching the project for next year. Any ideas?

Peace (in sharing),

Claymation in the Classroom, part three

This is the last part of a series of posts I am doing around claymation animation in the classroom and I wanted to talk about what you can do once the movies are completed. Although students enjoy making movies just for the sake of making movies, I do try to instill the values of an authentic audience in their minds. This way, they understand that someone else will be watching their work. The idea of audience gives focus.

Once the movies are done, we showcase them in a variety of ways:

  • On our classroom weblog, all of the claymation movies get their own post, allowing the rest of our sixth graders to see what my homeroom students have done and also giving access to the movies to families and friends from any location in the world;
  • We burn the movies onto a DVD and every student received their own copy of the DVD in the final days before the end of the year. We spent an afternoon, watching the shows and laughing at the funny things you can do with clay;
  • We show the DVD over our school’s internal television network for all classrooms. This is done a few times during the day, so that teachers have different opportunities to show it to students. We also provide a DVD to any teacher who wants it;
  • We create a webpage with all of the movies on it, to show the work as one collective unit.

This file has been created and published by FireShot

And just to end on a nice collective note, here is an Animoto movie of images from the claymation projects:

Peace (in frames),

Photo Fridays

I had come home late, with the house very dark, and in the morning, as I awoke before everyone else, I stumbled upon this scene on the floor of our sun room. The boys must have had some elaborate imaginary activity going on, and the lego people were all standing, alert, and ready for action. I felt a bit like King Kong coming into New York.

This my week’s entry into the Photo Fridays project.

Peace (with little people),

The Rise of the Stick People

Today is the last day of the year for my sixth graders — which makes me both happy and sad (you teachers know what I am talking about). For the past three days, the kids have been working on the laptops for the last time, using Pivot Stickman Animation to create little animated movies.

I mostly let them have fun with it and showed them the basics of Pivot, and then some lessons on MovieMaker for those who were not part of my homeroom class (which worked on Claymation movies), and also Super Dooper Music Looper. They loved Pivot and they loved Music Looper, and some were able to do all three programs and created tiny movies.

I gathered the ones I could collect here for this little collection:

The best part for me? The credits one of the students put (on the last flick) that thanks me for helping her improve as a writer this year. Yeah.

Peace (in sticky people),

What is Web 2.0?

Over at The Bamboo Project Blog, Michelle is launching as Web 2.0 Wednesday venture, and today, she is asking folks to come up with a way to explain what Web 2.0 might be in about a minute (using any media — audio, video, words, whatever). I went over to ToonDoo and cooked up this quick comic to try to explain how I see Web 2.0 along the lines of community, connections and exploration.

This file has been created and published by FireShot

(click on comic to get bigger version over at ToonDoo)

What do you think?

Check out Michelle’s blog and consider taking part in this exploration of connections within a community (see how it works?)

Peace (in blogs),

Claymation in the Classroom, part two

This is the second in a series of posts about my claymation project this year. The first post was just a basic overview of the project. This post will deal a bit more with some of the resources that I used and how I went about launching claymation with my sixth graders.

First of all, this is the fourth year that I have been doing claymation. The first two years, I used simple digital still images and MovieMaker to add narration and titles. Last year, following the lead of my friend Tonya W., I shifted to using a freeware program called Stop-Motion Animator. This software uses a webcam to capture “frames” as an .AVI video file. This shift to Stop-Motion Animator allowed my students to create moving movies, and not just still images. This was a big leap forward for us, although now it required more patience from my students and increased video editing skills.

On the technical side, too, I found that I had to download a video Codec (called Xvid) in order for MovieMaker to recognize the AVI files created by the stop-motion software. Every move forward seems to require some kind of trouble-shooting, but that is the way of the world. In MovieMaker, students can add titles, transitions, audio narration, music and some features of movie production. The most valuable? The ability to slow down a video segment (through MM’s video effects) because all too often, students have not shot enough frames to match their narration. This gives them a little leeway.

For the writing element, we often focus on some aspect of writing. One year, it was how setting informs a story. Another year, it was integrating science by having students invent a new creature and how the habitat that it lives in affects its development. This year, I decided to focus on Climate Change.

First, we used a book called “The Down to Earth Guide to Global Warming” by Laurie David and Cambria Gordon. It’s a kid-friendly look at climate change. I used some of my collected points via Scholastic Books to purchase about seven of the books for the classroom. We also did some research around global warming, just to ground the students on the issue.

Down-to-Earth Guide To Global Warming

Next, students created clay figures and we use the cheap clay you can get at any department store. The clay is a bit messy but it is cheap and they can use as much as they need. I also provide a box of craft supplies, such as googlie eyes, sticks, etc. This creation of clay figures made the project character driven and I have often had the story done first before the characters but this year, I did the reverse. The result? I think it helped students when considering a story idea to have a character they could put into action. They could tangibly hold it in their hands as they were writing.

From there, they used both a storyboard and a concept mapping sheet to plan out their stories. The storyboard allows them to think about the “scenes” in the movie and the concept map provides a structure for a framework of story sequencing — from start to middle to end.

Here are the templates that I use:

(here is big version of storyboard)

(here is big version of concept map)

Normally, we then move into writing the script, but this year (as I mentioned in my last post), I decided to see how things would fare if we shifted into filming and letting them use the storyboard and concept map to create dialogue and narration (a mixed bag, I must say).

The filming takes time — I would guess this part of the project took some groups three 45-minute sessions to seven 45-minute sessions. My job is to encourage and push them along, otherwise, some groups would never get the filming completed. Once they have the raw footage, we move the video into MovieMaker, edit out fingers and hands that crop into the footage and begin to piece things together with narration. Getting good audio levels from a group of students is difficult, as microphone placement is crucial. But some kids like to pull the microphone almost into their mouth and others try to keep as far . As they are adding titles and credits, I remind them that credits should probably not be longer than the movies (which run anywhere from one minute to three minutes long, total).

This is a key point for me: I show the students how to edit, but I don’t edit for them (unless there is some emergency). I have to resist the urge to take over their project. I really want the movies to be theirs and theirs alone, and sometimes that means I wince a bit (to be honest) at the final product, and think about how I could swooped in and done something differently. But, that moment passes, and I realize that they have complete ownership over their movies.

Finally, we “create” the movies as video files and share them out. I’ll write more about publishing the movies in my next segment.

Here is another of the movies from this year:

Peace (in slowmotion),

Slice of Life, Weekly Challenge, Chapter 12

(This is part of a weekly feature called Slice of Life Project)

I was sitting at the table, in a meeting at the end of the school year and thinking: although I am no meeting lover, this group of people is really special. There were such smart, dedicated people in here and it made me glad (once again) to be part of an organization like the Western Massachusetts Writing Project. Our work as part of the National Writing Project is to connect with teachers and think of ways that best practices in the classroom around writing and learning can bubble up through the system to create positive change in schools.

At this particularly WMWP Executive Board meeting (where I sit as the technology liaison for our writing project), we were reaching a vote on a new mission statement. We have been on a year-long endeavor to craft a mission statement that reflects not only our core values but also our vision for the future of our organization. For the past two years, we have been working to view our writing project through the lens of social justice and equity, and now we are re-aligning much of our work in that direction. We’ve had to ask tough questions about what we are doing and why we are doing it, and we’ve had some interesting discussions on topics ranging from race to diversity to the role of our organization as a face of social change.

The vote for the new mission statement was unanimous. Here is our statement, which is a wonderful endorsement for the purpose and power of education in the fabric of life.

“The mission of the Western Massachusetts Writing Project, a local site of the National Writing Project, is to create a professional community where teachers and other educators feel welcomed to come together to deepen individual and collective experiences as writers and our understanding of teaching and learning in order to challenge and transform our practice. Our aim is to improve learning in our schools — urban, rural and suburban.

Professional development provided by the Western Massachusetts Writing Project values reflection and inquiry and is built on teacher knowledge, expertise and leadership.

Central to our mission is the development of programs and opportunities that are accessible and relevant to teachers, students and their families from diverse backgrounds, paying attention to issues of race, gender, language, class and culture and how these are linked to teaching and learning.”

Isn’t that a great missions statement? We worked to make it inviting to all teachers and educators and also for students and their families. Now, as one board member noted in our meeting, we have an obligation to follow through with this vision and work hard to become the force for change that we envision. We hope this mission statement is a guide for the future, and not some emblem of the past.

And I can’t resist another Wordle, using our mission statement as text:

Peace (in change),

Pivot Animation: Icarus Climbs Up

I am curious if I can upload and embed an animated GIF file that I created this morning with the Pivot Stickman Animation program from my Flickr Account. (I’ve been reading aloud the latest in the Lightning Thief series with my kids, so Icarus came to mind for a title of this character making its way up into the sky)

I guess it does work, although you have to be sure to grab the “original image” code from Flickr, otherwise it is just a flat picture with no animation. I also needed to change the size within the post. Interesting — I am going to have my students work with Pivot today and tomorrow and sometimes we try MovieMaker, but it does not like Pivot Gif files and can crash.

I made the background in Paint and then brought it in, as I want my students to do.

So, Flickr may be an alternative to sharing the movies out at our classroom blog site.

Peace (in frames),

Memoir Mondays: Songs as Political Protest

This is part of a project at Two Writing Teachers
We used to take the stage late at night, armed with a few guitars — an acoustic (me), an electric (JD) and a bass (Bert). A drummer would come in the future. Hooligans, a hangout for two different universities, was one of those dark-lit establishments that has the rank smell of beer all over. Tables were shoved so close to each other that patrons were just as likely to be engaged in a conversation at their own table as the ones next to them.

One night a week, the place opened up the stage for Open Mic Night and our ragtag trio (we named ourselves Behind Bars first and then later, Rough Draft) would join the assortment of other pseudo-musicians in playing to an audience that would waver between interested and disinterested, and you had to really engage them or you’d lose them. We hardly knew what we were doing, except we knew we had original songs that we wanted to play. If there was an open stage, we wanted to use it. We were as rough as our name suggested, but confident that music was important to us.

This was during the heart of the Reagan years and all of us were feeling very disenfranchised by the political scene and the willingness of our administration to support covert wars in order to advance its aim of ending Communism once and for all. Central America was often a battleground for these proxy wars between the US and Russia, but there were many other hot spots around the world and Iran-Contra wasn’t far off. We spent one of our summer fixed to the TV screen, watching Oliver North testify about the inner workings of Casey’s CIA operations that pushed legalities aside in order to further political aims. Things were happening in the world that made us angry, yet we had no way to express that anger or vent our frustration.

As a result, I was writing very political songs at the time for the band, trying to reach some heart of understanding of this world we were soon set to move into. I alternated between disguising the venom of my thoughts with rhythm and melody and being forthright with my aims. Music, I was sure, could change people’s hearts and if not, then at least it was a legitimate way for me to protest the unfolding world in a language that I could understand: music. My bandmates were right with me on this.

On this particular night, we launched into a song called “It’s Another War,” which is about sending kids off to fight a war while the leaders stay home behind desks. I was writing from the perspective of the lessons of Vietnam being ignored while covert operations were taking place in Central and South America.

The song begins: “So we’re off in another, though we didn’t start it, we’ve seen it before,” and builds into a condemnation of Reagan and his staff, although never named. (Later, Bert made a video of the song that I have on VHS somewhere — need to dig it up).

Midway through, at the chorus, suddenly I hear a voice that is swearing at me to get off the stage and leave America if I don’t like it so much. I kept playing and singing, eyeing this person and wondering what might happen in this bar tonight. That’s when I noticed one of my roommates — the one with completely different political views than me, the conservative man all the way through — jump to his feet, and move towards the table where the heckler is sitting. Even as we play, I can hear my roommate shout: “Keep quiet. They have a right to their song,” with slightly more profanity than that. The heckler glared back and then backed down. I was saved by the token Conservative in our Liberal midst, as about ironic as you can get, I suppose, and a reminder not to judge someone by their political leaning.

This all came back this week as I pulled out my acoustic guitar (the same one I used to play at Hooligans, it turns out, although now it has about 25 years of travel on it) and I wrote a new song about Bush and his presidency. I realized how strangely similar things had become and how I was still trying to sort out my political feelings through music.

So, here is the (ahem) rough draft of the new song.

Farewell to King George

Listen to the song

We’ve been held up forever
as you take what you want
Not knowing what we need

We might be in this together
But only if the world
is crumbling at its knees

You look so tired
And we’ve been brought down low
Your time’s expired
With the clock ticking slow
And when the history books
Give you a second look
I know you’re gone

You find forgiveness for your sins
When death is but a battle cry
waiting in the wings

This world may never be the same
You threw the match that drew the spark
and stoked it into flames


Now that the day has come and gone
I’ll meet you out on the roof
to celebrate the dawn

We’re held captive to our fears
But this chance to end the bitterness
may wash away the tears


The song’s title will have to go — it’s too overt and makes me a bit uncomfortable. And the song may never move to another stage. Many don’t. But for now, it works for me as I await a change in our leadership that may make a positive difference in the world, although how to reverse the damage done by this administration is beyond me.

Peace (in all respects),