A Tour of Clay

Yesterday, at our claymation camp, we started to get down to work on coming up with ideas for the movies (built around the concept of fractured fairy tales) and the students started to make their clay characters. Today will be a jam-packed day of writings scripts and filming scenes. Tomorrow is the last day (already!) and we have invited family to come in and see what we have created.

At the end of class yesterday, I filmed this:

Peace (in clay),

Slice of Life, Weekly Challenge, Chapter 15

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

Yesterday marked the first day of the Claymation Animation Camp that I run in partnership with the Western Massachusetts Writing Project and the local vocational high school (as part of their summer enrichment program). I have 15 middle school students and they are so cool, and so eager to learn about moviemaking and technology. I am also fortunate to have a co-teacher (shout out to you, Tina) and a visiting teacher who just wants to learn more about claymation for her school (Maria).

We started off the day with a talk about animation and then launched into a morning of hands-on work with Pivot Stick Figure software, which they just eat up. I showed a few how to use MovieMaker to create titles and do some editing and we will be using it more extensively today. They were just working so hard, and being so creative, it was quite a joy to just be in the room with them. This picture shows one of my students working on a movie with the laptop hooked up to the LCD screen and I loved the image.

Here is one little movie by a boy who was one of my students this past year. The title is longer than the movie, which can be typical at this juncture, particularly with Pivot.

Meanwhile, I followed the lead of a new blogger friend, TJ Shay, who has been espousing the virtues of an animation program called Animation-Ish and he is encouraging folks to download a free version of the program and give it a try. I did. And I gave it a try. I wasn’t quite impressed on the initial look. It has a nice interface, but the software seemed very simplistic in what you can do and not all that intuitive to use, in my opinion. I did like that you can draw your own pictures and the move them around. That is cool. I’m not making a final judgment on the software, just an initial reaction. It does not seem to be worth $60, however.

Here is a quick movie that I made:

TJ suggested I try the more advanced function of the program (there are three different levels for different age and experience levels of students), which I did, and again, I did find it all that intuitive or easy for me to use. I checked out the website for more help or at least ideas, but it appears to be under construction and the one tutorial did not do much to help me out. I don’t know. My feeling with software is that if I can’t see the “wow” in it or get my hands right into the act of creation within a short period of time, I don’t see how it will engage my students, particularly if it costs me something.

Peace (in frames),

Memoir Mondays: Fairtale(s) of New York

This is part of a project at Two Writing Teachers

When I was a kid, I would spend a week or two most summers with my grandmother who lived in New York City, just near the Hudson River. She was a little eccentric, as most kids think their grandparents are (right?), but I loved the sense of adventure that I would have with her in the Big City during my visits.

New York was so completely different from my little suburban town in Connecticut and I used to be thrilled to stand out on the balcony of her 17th floor apartment and feel as if I were standing on a cloud, just floating across the skyline. The highest I could get in my neighborhood was a big tree in the woods and the view was nothing like my grandmother’s balcony.

In 1976, during the huge Independence Day celebrations, her hi-rise apartment complex had some great events down at the in-ground community pool, where we would go just about every day during my stay. I can still smell that chlorine of the water and the wonderful freedom that I had there as my grandmother would gossip and doze on the lounge chairs while I swam, played video games and wandered around.

On that July 4, we watched from her balcony as fireworks for the Bicentennial Celebration lit up the skyline with an incredible array of lights and dazzling displays of pyrotechnics that rattled my bones and shook my teeth. It was a wonderful night.

During the days, we would wander around the city, sometimes going in cabs but more often, traveling around by bus. Sometimes, she and I would go to the Radio City Music Hall to catch a movie (I saw Pete’s Dragon there and a movie called Bite the Bullet, I remember) and we would often be late, coming in halfway through a movie and then sitting through the second showing to catch the beginning of the movie. It was stran I triedge and disorientating asarrative to piece together the n. (I am still not sure what Bite the Bullet was all about except that someone in pain had to chomp down on a bullet as they performed some kind of surgery).

I was in awe of the skyscrapers above me and wary of the dog poop that seemed to be everywhere on the sidewalks in her neighborhood (or at least, that was my perception and her constant warning: Look out for the pile). I was fearful of the grated subway vents that shook if you walked over them and in tune to the sounds of the city — the blasts of car horns and street musicians.

I had never seen so many people, of such different colors and languages, in my life.

I like to think I am a better person because of those visits to my yes weregrandmother — that my e opened to possibilities that my little town would never have presented to me. I was thinking of this the other day as the local newspaper had a series of articles about some high school students who come to my neck of the woods from New York City to get away from their troubled neighborhoods for an education that is, we are told, out of their reach where they live.

I wonder if there are reverse programs — sending rural kids into the city for a school year program — or if that just goes against the stereotypes of inner city kids lacking for something that a suburban town can provide.

Peace (in changes of scenery),

(PS — Anyone get the reference to The Pogues in the title of my post?)

Another Writing Adventure: The Graphic Classroom

Who am I to pass up another call for writers?

I’ve been following the blog The Graphic Classroom as a way to get some ideas and reviews about graphic novels and comics. Chris, who runs the site, is a great resource, as he breaks down his reviews of books into tangible ways, including the potential use for teachers in the classroom. He pays close attention to the appropriateness of language and violence, giving teachers a critical heads-up that I always appreciated.

Not long ago, he asked if anyone else wanted to review books with him. I figured that since I already read a lot of graphic novels and since I have begun using them in the classroom (but only in a minimal way so far), it might be a nice way to delve a bit deeper. I am hoping to go deeper with graphic novels next year but I haven’t quite figured out how. Maybe reading and analyzing more novels will be helpful.

And so, here I am:

This file has been created and published by FireShot

You can read my first review of a comic called The Dreamland Chronicles over at the Graphic Classroom (and another one all ready about Radio: An Illustrated Guide, which is a look inside the production of This American Life).

Chris is still looking for other writers. There is no pay involved but he can hook you up from time to time with books to review from the publishers. And you get to be part of a community of folks who are thinking of this popular genre for kids for classroom use.

As an aside: the city where I live was home to the creators of Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles and they both lived here for many years during the high points of that comic and then television show and then movies, merchandise, etc. One of the men, Kevin Eastman, invested some money in our downtown and created the Words and Picture Museum. It was a fun place, with three floors dedicated to the art of the comic book. The museum only stayed open for two years, but I used to bring my little guys in there. The kids were too small to know what it was, but they liked the colors and the artwork, and the winding staircase. These days, my older son, in particular, is into comics of all genres and it would be nice to have the option of seeing comics in a museum. However, the museum is just online and it doesn’t seem to be much to talk about, in my opinion.

Peace (in art and words),

Leadership Day 2008

This file has been created and published by FireShot

Today, Scott McLeod launches the second annual Leadership Day as a way for teachers and educational bloggers to offer some advice to administrators — principals and superintendents and others who might be wondering where this Web 2.0 and technology fits in their school. McLead notes that many administrators don’t quite understand the scope of the digital world and that we, the teachers and others, have a responsibility to help administrators understand what is happening out here.

I have a few points of advice that I would make:

  • Break Down the Walls — All too often, the technology specialist is removed from the classroom experience. It’s true that schools need someone who can troubleshoot, but teachers need someone who can come in, work with them on technology integration into the curriculum and be a partner in engaging students. This idea of a wall between the tech and the teacher is a recurring theme in conversations with teachers that I work with.
  • Let Them Play — Give teachers time to play around with new tools. It’s not wasted time. It is during this exploration process that so many teachers not only come to understand how an application might be used, but also how it might be used in unintended ways. If you shove an application at someone without time to explore, you won’t get anywhere.
  • Ask the Students — Students have a pretty decent knowledge base about technology. They just don’t know how to use it for learning. If we can make students our partners, and let them become leaders of other students, then they not only advance forward with the curriculum but also with crucial life skills in leadership and discovery.
  • Don’t Block the World — I understand the need for filters. There is a lot of junk out there. But use some judgments. If a teacher can connect with students from around the world, then open up your filters for that kind of collaboration.

I am sure others have more ideas, but those are some thoughts off the top of my head. We depend on our administrators for leadership and that means having an open mind about possibilities that have not yet become reality.

I made this quick ToonDoo to lighten things up a bit:

And this comic I created a few weeks ago for Web 2.0 Wednesday that seems appropriate, too:

If you have advice, be sure to head over to Scott’s Blog (Dangerously Irrelevant) and post a comment, or create your own blog post on the topic.

Peace (in the schools),

Ants: An Angry Poem

Darn those pesky little ants. They’ve found our home. My only response was to write a poem about them.

Ants — A Tirade
(listen to the poem)

The ants invade
these days
in waves
and my brain is just crazed
with ways to contain them —
stop them
although, I’m afraid,
that that can of Raid is no longer part of
our chemical brigade
and while finger-crunching-kids may play
the role of the Giant,
it remains a fact that more and more ants
are coming in out of the shade
to stay
and our only hope
is to sweep the crumbs from the counter tops
Be gone, ants,
I’ll make you pay with another of my
terrible, awful, insubstantial

Peace (in little things),

Planting Some Day in a Sentence Technoseeds

The Day in a Sentence is on the move again. This time, we hope you will follow the bread crumbs over to Barb K.’s blog called TechnoSeeds. Barbara is part of the National Writing Project and she was also a participant in last year’s Collaborative ABC Movie Project. She is working with some teachers this week and we hope they will become interested in Day in a Sentence and join our growing community of writers.

Here is how it works:

  • Head over to Barb’s Technoseeds Blog
  • Boil down your day or your week into a single thoughtful sentence
  • Use the comment feature on Barb’s Blog to post your sentence
  • Consider sending a photo or a link to a photo to Barb (her optional twist this week)
  • Barb will compile and publish all of the submissions over the weekend
  • That’s about it

I was happy that so many people responded to my call for Guest Hosts of Day in a Sentence and so over the next few weeks, you will be shown some fine blogs and meet some fine people as part of this weekly venture. Feel free to explore the sites and engage in other conversations while you are there at the guest blog, too. I am sure they would love that.

Peace (in words),

Using YouTube Annotation: Beware of the Head!

I was messing around with claymation today on a laptop that we will be using for next week’s claymation camp (and have some glitches that have me stressed out) and I created this short little claymation movie, using clay and legos and other assorted toys.

But I was interested in using the new YouTube Annotation feature, which allows you to add to text to videos as overlays. It seems perfect for claymation movies where you don’t necessarily want to add an audio narration, and I didn’t. I created a quick soundtrack with my Super Dooper Music Looper software, uploaded and added the words right there in YouTube.

It’s pretty neat, I think.  I am embedding the claymation movie, but the embedded version won’t have the narration annotations. You need to go to the Beware of the Head video at YouTube to see the words on the video itself.

The whole process took me about an hour, but I have done enough stop-motion to get into the swing of things pretty quick. I like this little demented movie, though. The set looks cool, and the head — well, the head without a body is a horror story classic, don’t you think?

Peace (in stopmotion),

Slice of Life, Weekly Challenge, Chapter 14

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

You would think that the makers of a movie that has at its center the preservation of the Earth’s ecosystem would be more attuned to the concept of “junk.” But if you, like me, were one of the folks who saw Wall*E this opening weekend, you too probably got handed a plastic bag with a bunch of advertising crap (known as schwag in the industry) from the Disney/Pixar company.

A neighbor of ours warned me about this, and he may even write a letter to the newspaper editor about it, but I was still surprised to find myself with a throw-away watch with a blue plastic rubber band (sort of like Lance Armstrong’s Livestrong bracelets but without the meaning of giving and awareness), some tattoos and other little cards advertising yet another upcoming Disney movie about dogs.

The movie itself was fantastic and it was a nice summer outing with my three boys on a hot summer day. Much of the movie is without dialogue but the animation and action, and just pure scope of the screen, held us all in rapt attention as we watched the little robot single-handedly cleaning up the junkpile known as Earth falls in love with a robot probe looking for signs of life on the planet. There’s a real message here about taking care of the planet and about avoiding over-reliance on machines to run our lives. Plus, Wall*E is a cutie-pie.

So why did Disney pass out a handful of trash to everyone?

Clearly, the marketing department forgot to talk to the creative talent or never watched the movie previews. It would be offensive for any movie, in my mind, but to do this during a movie about saving the environment just seems so strange and reminds us that many (but not all) movies are not really about entertainment of the audience, but about money and marketing power of the corporations.

Peace (in the dark),