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),

Your Days in a Sentence

It’s difficult to express the wonder and amazement that I get when I put out a call for Days in a Sentence and receive back such a wealth of words. There were more than 20 contributors this week! The vibrancy and giving of our writing community, and the way that a sentence pinpoints the act of reflection, is really quite something.

Thank you.

Here are your Days in a Sentence, traditional-style:

Bonnie as salmon? Naw. But in her role as a leader and mentor of teachers, she admits that the classroom is getting more distant, particularly as a heat wave pounced on her (and my) region last week and fried plenty of brains in the schools.

I am moving upstream from the rest of the fish in my river, as teachers I know melt in their classrooms while I am in my AC planning for work this summer and finally taking on the projects demanding my attention. I still hold my memories of school in June but they are fading.

Paul had a sudden realization of the balance between what he carries around in his hand from place to place and what carries him around from place to place. Until he thinks about the debt. It’s a skewed financial equilibrium (OK, that has to be a good band name, right? Skewed Financial Equilibrium!)

I think it is scary that my laptop is worth more than my car, or my truck, or all of my clothes, or my living room furniture, but not as big as my student loan.”

Ken composes poems that are not of this world. Spend a moment reading this one aloud and you’ll see what I mean. Thanks, Ken. (Note: Ken and I crossed many paths during the Comment Challenge and he is one of the finalists for prizes for that event. Please consider casting your vote. First, read the nominations and then consider voting — Bonnie is also a nominee, as is Kate — see below)

Somewhere between dreaming and waking,
when least expected,
there’s a turning point
with no life going into it,
no usefulness coming out of it,
where cogent thought
carries no weight
for sensibility
and idiocy
are in dispute –
its hand
held out to meet you,
its limbs
spread out to greet you,
night and day,
life and death,
till passage
is complete.

Kate had weather on (and in) her mind this week as the term neared its end for her. (Kate is also a nominee in the Comment Challenge)

Rain and sunshine, wet and dry as mixed as my feelings in the last week of term.”

Connie sees the virtues of continuity with an initiative she is part of. That would be nice, since most of us know that continuity in education rarely happens unless there is a solid base underneath it to support and nurture it. And if anyone is good at nurturing folks, it is Connie. (See the Fireside Ning for examples)

Ah, here I am, the last day of school, weary but emotionally elated from having broken new educational ground; the funny thing is we’re now so completely networked, I know we’ll just continue on from here–and that has never happened before.

Amy makes the quick and seamless (?) transition from the classroom to camp, with barely time to catch her breath. She must love kids!

School is over but my camp director job has already begun – no rest for the weary! It would be nice to have a break in between the two jobs, but it is a change of pace anyway. Camp tours begin today so I will be meeting many nervous parents (and kids).

Lynn cites “frozen brains” in her post. To be honest, a frozen brain would have felt nice in my head this past week. Lynn also talks of renewal — that way in which we have in finding new energy and motivation in our life.

Frozen brains will melt soon enough with respite, roaming, rare family-time—ah, renewal!

Illya has had quite a week — from sports to teachers to climbing walls (in a good way, it seems).

It’s been a full 3 days of teaching baseball to a group of eager young boys, showing eager teachers how to teach with their new book and tomorrow I’ll be helping eager young children to climb walls – now that is a fulfilling week!!!”

Matt appreciates the fact that we threw no curve balls (continuing with Illya’s reference to sports here) with Day in a Sentence this week. Sometimes, we need solid footing in our lives.

This week I’m finding change is hard. I’m glad my day in a sentence remains the same.”

Barb‘s part of the world got hit hard with Mother Nature, but does anyone in the outside world know about it in this Age of Media? Not if you live in a small market, unfortunately.

Southern Indiana fields plowed, planted, and flooded with devastating flooding across the state get very little press.

Janice (who joins us for the first time, I think) pushed herself hard this week in a physical way. She may have paid the price with a sore body but, hey, she got a sentence out of it! (Thanks for participating, Janice)

My brain, which believes it is still twenty, had great difficulty convincing my almost fifty year old legs, lungs, and heart that they COULD keep going when I filled in as the extra player in an intense game of Ultimate, and then, later, on a lengthy hike to release salmon back into the Credit River.

Can you hear them? The kids? They are calling you out to the playground.The monkey bars and swings await. Delaine heard them and is on her way. (Me, too. See you there).

Just like small children, my friends are anxiously waiting outside, ready to play, for me to come running from the house after all my chores are done. The end of school is very near, and the playground is calling.”

Michelle feels her feet sinking into the Earth that once was solid but which now has absorbed the rains. May she soon find solid ground again!

Rain-soaked nights and rare sunshine make me feel as if I am sinking into a very spongy clay earth here in Vermillion, South Dakota.”

Sara can find some space this summer to breathe and to talk as a married couple. Her single life is behind her now (good thing, right?). I love that she has big dreams. I hope she achieves them (I know she will)

my thoughts lately are of freedom, sustainability, choices, and the tenacity of my first summer of married finances – discussing big dreams with my husband and taking the first journeying steps to reach them. (and god forbid i write “baby” steps, or both mothers will sense something grandchild-ish in the atmosphere…)

Warm, gentle and nurturing thoughts go out to Nina, who clearly has had a difficult time. I hope these words find you with some sunshine peeking through the clouds, Nina.

I feel surrounded by cancer; it has been a cruel week.”

Alice‘s sentence reminds me of the song from Semisonic that goes “Every new beginning starts from some other beginnings end.” I always liked that line. And the prospect of summer brings that idea forth for many of us.

Welcome to summer vacation, where ends become a beginning.”

Mary got a gift of cooler temps as she headed to Beantown to explore the Freedom Trail with her students this week. If she had gone any earlier in the week, she and her kids would have melted into the sidewalk and ended up in the Charles River.

With temperatures above 90 in the classroom on Monday and Tuesday it was ironic that on Wednesday we were walking the Freedom Trail in Boston celebrating the cooler temperatures and the change in venue. The Boston Massacre was refreshing after the South Hadley Melt Down.

Brandi (Welcome!) is new to Day in a Sentence, I believe, and her blog, Lead by Example, is very cool and worth your attention. She’s a bit tired from the technology, but I appreciate that she found the energy to contribute here.

As I watch the week come to an end, I am exhausted from trying to catch up on all of my digital communication.

Anne was one step ahead of her principal in a cross-world journey this week.

It was announced at morning briefing that our principal was leaving for USA, but I reported that I would be there before her, taking my kids with me, as we were using skype to participate in an amazing videoconference for a “show and tell finale” with the New England students we had connected with through blogging.

Amy P. is having one of those unscheduled moments of blissful confusion. I think it is blissful, but it may not be.

This week brings randomness due to no established summer schedule.”

Cynthia always packs a handful into a sentence and this time, she realized how she could use a tool to explain a tool. Great insight and I would love to see her movie.

I spent all week working on my presentation on Photo Stories for the 21st for the MWTI Writing conference, and then Wednesday night I had an epiphany about what I should have done, so I spent Thursday re-vamping and re-creating a Photo Story on how to use Photo Story. Whew!

I also redid my Wordle experiment from the other day, adding in the newest sentences and then editing out my own introductions to each sentence. Here, then, is a gift to everyone who participated this week: Your Days in a Wordle.

You can go right to the Wordle Gallery to get a better view of the design, too.

Thanks for participating this week. Be on the lookout for a guest host for next week.

Peace (in our connective words),

Claymation in the Classroom, part one

As I did with my Digital Math Book reflections, I am going to break my reflection about our recent claymation projects down over a few days.

With the school year ending in just a few days, my students were rushing to finish up their Claymation Movies this past week. More time would have been helpful and I was frantically carving out small blocks of time here and there just to get them some space for editing and adding audio. It didn’t help that we had a few kids absent on a few days.

But eight small movies are now done, with mixed results, I think. On one hand, my sixth graders loved working with the clay and with the stop-motion animation software. They “got” it pretty quickly, although my constant preaching for patience doesn’t always resonate with all students. Patience is key to claymation and the more raw video they can gather, the more flexibility they will have later.

The theme this year was Climate Change and I will detail a bit further how we went about things in another post. Essentially, they had to work in some aspect of the environment into their stories. In the past, I have had groups of students work collaboratively with second graders, but that didn’t work out this year due to scheduling difficulties. So we were on our own.

I also experimented with a different approach: I let the students create characters out of clay first and then they developed the story second, via storyboarding and concept mapping. I had hoped that the characters might infuse the stories and I do believe that happened, for the most part. I wish I had forced more time on them to develop scripts, but I wanted to see how it would turn out if I was not quite as vigilant. That didn’t work out so well, I think, as the stories in the movies seem weaker than usual this year. The script-writing process gives them focus.

I will detail the unit planning and the resources, and how we publish the movies, a bit further later this week. Plus, I will give a lowdown on a summer camp for kids that I am helping to run again this year that focuses on stop-motion movie making.

Here is one of the movies from the classroom:

Peace (in stop-motion),

Wow! Wordle is Cool

I found this site via Larry (always a good connection) and it is called Wordle. Wordle takes your words and then reforms them as a Word Cloud, giving prominence and good placement to words that are repeated or used most often in the text you provide it.

As an experiment, I took all of my own Days in a Sentence from this year (since January — I keep them in a Google Docs file) and created this:

I love that Students is the biggest word on my cloud. (Although why the word Goo is bigger than some others has me pleasantly puzzled)
Then, I grabbed all 20 (so far) submissions for this week’s Day in a Sentence feature, and gave Wordle another go.
Check this out:
The word Week is pretty big, but I also see Summer and Teachers and Students in our collective Wordle Mix. I love transforming words, you know?
What can you do with Wordle? Let me know.
Peace (in word clouds),

The Summer Goals Meme

I was tagged a few times for a Summer Goals Meme (that started over at A Year of Reading, I believe, and then made its way to Two Writing Teachers, and beyond) and it does seem to be a good time to think about the weeks ahead. Summer is certainly here, weather-wise, in New England. We’ve had some real scorching days out there.

Here are my five goals:

  • Figure out ways to have meaningful technology at our Western Massachusetts Writing Project even though it seems as if our computer lab may be off-limits due to renovations to the building. I worry that the promise of technology instruction will not be realized this year;
  • Help middle school kids create some fun movies at the Claymation Movie Camp that I am co-leading this summer (with my friends, Tina). This is the second year of offering the venture and I believe the camp was filled up early with eager kids;
  • Find time to write for myself — poems, quickfiction, etc. — in a meaningful way. I would like to keep exploring hypertextual space as a way to write;
  • We joined a community swimming pool this year and we hope to use it a lot this summer. It’s not far from our house and will be a nice way to cool off this summer. And we want all of our kids to have swimming lessons;
  • Read Harry Potter, the last, which has been sitting on the floor next to my bed since last summer when the rest of my family read it without me.
  • Bonus: I want to take home one of our school’s new Mac Computers and dig a little deeper into its software. In particular, I want to know the ins and outs of Garage Band for making student podcast projects. (Anybody have a good web resource that I can use?)

(from a Mac-based Comic Life lesson the other day)

Instead of tagging other people, why don’t I just open up this comments area for your goals, if you have time.

What are your plans for the next few weeks (I won’t say Summer, since not everyone who stops by here is in my hemisphere).

Peace (in plans),

Day in a Sentence is only a Sentence

Welcome to Day in a Sentence — your weekly adventure with words and reflection.
After a wonderful visit to Nancy’s blog, where books were all the rage, Day in a Sentence returns home this week and we want you (and you and you) to consider joining us.
The premise is simple:

  • Consider a day in the past week or the entire week itself
  • Write a single sentence that captures the spirit of your day or week
  • Use the comment feature here on this post to share your sentence
  • Over the weekend, I will gather up everyone’s words and post them together as one big collective Days in a Sentence

This is an open invitation to anyone passing through this neck of the Bloggery Woods or anyone who happens to collect my blog in your RSS.
Please consider joining us this week.

Here is my sentence (and you can listen to it as a podcast, too)

The early summer heat wave that hit this week has melted my brain to the point that I almost need to stick my head inside the freezer in order to plan out lessons that will take my students and I through the final days of our school year.

Peace (in words and deeds),