Using Wikispaces — sixth grade collaborative story

I have begun tinkering with Wikis with my sixth grade student writers and over winter break, I started a short story and gave all of my students the link and told them they had the option of continuing to the story, if they wanted. I have used Seedwiki before but I wanted to give Wikispaces a chance, and I think I like it better than Seedwiki now that I am using it.
About 12 students took me up on the offer and the result was a rather strange story with lots of twists and turns, and I read the story to all four of my sixth grade classes, who laughed and listened with much attention to their creation. Then, I thought, we should audiocast this story. So yesterday, two students narrated the Wiki story for our class websites.

Head off to read the Wiki story called The Mole in the Hole

And you can listen to the story, too, via this audiocast. The Mole in the Hole

external image mole.gif

We are now working with a Wiki to create a Crazy Dictionary of made-up words as part of our study of the origins of words in the English Language. I’ll provide those links in the coming days.

Peace (with collaboration),

Claymation — the final chapter

And now for the grand finale of the claymation adventure with my 8-year-old (wait — he turned 9 today) and 6-year-old sons. With the addition of this final chapter, the entire movie is now just under 10 minutes long. I estimate it took us about five hours to do everything, over the course of four days (including a few rainy days, which was helpful). I am going to burn the movie onto DVD for family.

My kids are so proud of their work and I am proud of them, too. My role was mostly technical advisor and voice-over help (I am the cat), but there were plenty of times when the 8-year-old took control of the computer when I was busy with our 2-year-old and did it himself.

And so, here is our final installment, entitled Finding Mouse:


Peace (with clay thoughts),

More Movie Magic

My sons wrapped up their holiday break by finishing the last two segments of their claymation movie. I’ll share one segment today and the final one tomorrow.

This is called Capturing a Thief:



A Writer is …

In a touching memoir of his relationship with his father (and the suitcase of writing that his father bestowed upon him and asked to read after he died) that was delivered as a Nobel Lecture and then published in The New Yorker, Orhan Pamuk tries to get at the heart of what a writer is. (Pamuk won this year’s Nobel Prize in Literature).
Here is one section of his description of a writer, as he sees it:

“A writer is someone who spends years patiently trying to discover the second being inside him, and the world that makes him who he is. When I speak of writing, the image that comes first to my mind is not a novel, a poem, or literary tradition; it is the person who shuts himself up in a room, sits down at a table and, alone, turns inward. Amid his shadows, he builds a new world with words.” — Orhan Pamuk, in The New Yorker (Dec. 25 2006/Jan.1 2007 edition)

I like that description because it touches a deep chord with me and my own personal writing process. I know it is not the same for everyone and Pamuk even acknowledges that for his father, the writing process was completely different — more social in nature.

Peace (with words),

Tagged and Released

I’ve been observing from afar a “tagging” game going on among edubloggers, who are asked to write five things about themselves that other bloggers may not know (are there really other bloggers out there in the world?) and then spin the game to five other people (reminds me a bit of six degrees of seperation — minus one). Cheryl Lykowski — who is part of our Youth Radio initiative — got me this morning and so here I go:

Five Things about Me

  1. My nickname Dogtrax comes from a childhood nickname — Red Dog, which is a football play. We played some tough tackle football in my apartment neighborhood and I was a blocker for my best friend, Chris, and he named me Red Dog (my hair was red back then). The name got shorter as the years went on, and was reduced to Dog, and then when I started doing some independent recording with a four-track machine, I named my “company” Dogtrax Studio.
  2. I have written more than 200 songs — most of which stink and many of which I have the lyrics (archived) with no chords, so the words are alive but the music is mostly lost. Except that I have on cassette tape about 100 songs from the last 20 years sitting around, gathering dust and losing their magnetic strips, no doubt.
  3. I was in the Connecticut National Army Guard for six years as an infantry soldier — I was a Wire Dog, which meant running communication wire through the dead of winter from one command center to another. I got a low degree of frostbite on one of my fingers to remember the experience by.
  4. A friend and I are working on a movie script that centers around our college days and an interest in Buckminster Fuller — the man behind the geodesic dome and many other scientific advancements.
  5. I have composed and played music for my family’s church and listened with pleasure as a huge pipe organ and a full choir belted out two of the songs I wrote here at home, with a guitar and a computer notation program. On one of the performances, I even had my wife play her violin and a friend play his guitar, while I played my soprano saxophone on the song. Glorious indeed.

Hmmm. Now who shall I tag?

I’m not quite sure how this whole venture progresses from here but my National Writing Project friends can consider themselves tagged.

Peace (in at least five ways),

PS — So I began tracking the meme project backwards, just because I had a few minutes, and phew … the links track way back with this Five Thingamabob Project. I grew exhausted just following the leads.

My Kids, the movie producers

My two older sons (ages 8 and 6) were so enthralled with my StopMotion experiments with Thelonius and the short movies that I made that they pressured me to let them produced their own movies, too. And who am I to resist that kind of pressure? 🙂

First, they made a short film about a mouse who gets chased by some creatures (including an owl who slowly emerges from a hole in a paper tree — first the beak, then the eyes, and then the head). Then, they decided to create a second movie in which the stars of the first movie get interviewed by reporters, only to find that a thief has stolen all of their money right from under their noses.

My only roles in these projects were to run the computer and help with the voices. The boys did everything else, and the older one is now (with no push from me) creating his own style of storyboard for the next few chapters of the story and he was hard at work on the writing right up until bedtime last night. (One interesting aside: one of the characters fell over during a sequence but only for a frame or two, and it led us to a discussion about “subliminal” images in movies because the three of us can see the flicker where the fall happened but it zooms by so fast that no one else would likely catch it).

Should I mention how exciting it is for me, as a dad and a teacher and a writer, to see my kids so involved in something so creative?

Here, then, is the premiere of Mouse Chase and Movie Star Friends:


Peace (one frame at a time),

Thelonius Transformed

Winter break is almost over and so I made one last StopMotion movie experiment with my character, Thelonius, in which he is transformed from strange-looking puppet into bizarre-looking clay figure (go figure).

Along the way, I thought about some things to think about for using StopMotion in the classroom:

  • Lighting is key. I need to find a way to have consistent lighting for my students because it really effects the entire piece when lighting goes astray. I had shadows all over the place and I never really found a good set-up for the movies.
  • Plan out the project. I had a pretty good conceptual idea for what I was doing but I can see that we will need pretty extensive planning. Storyboarding will be even more important with stopmotion animation.
  • Be careful with your fingers. I lost an entire movie because I accidentally saved it some wrong way. Students would lose all of their patience if they lost an hour’s worth of work. I just started over again (cursing all the time).
  • I think clay figures will need some internal support — wooden armetures (is that the phrase) to provide support, so that when kids move their characters around, they won’t crumble. I am using a mannequin body but the weight of the clay is tipping Thelonius over and so I need to revisit my clay structure.
  • The question of how to sync narration with the video is vexing and one I will have to think about. That will take some practice. I used a mix of audio, music and text — just to see which one might work, and I am not sure of the results.
  • Movement of character is slow but cool to watch when done. You really have to take it one step/one motion at a time. If you rush the movement, it shows in the movie. When I was slow and deliberate, it made all the difference in the world.
  • A good site for insights into this process was put together by a friend, Glen, out in Oregon. Here is his site.

And now, for Thelonius Tranformed:


Peace (in slo-mo),

I Can’t Dance … But My Mannequin Can

This another entry into my stopmotion animation adventure — I bought this little stick figure with intentions to turn my Thelonius puppet into a clay figure (still working that out) and decided to get the little guy movin’ to an old song of mine called “Dance Hall Fool.”


Peace (through dance),

StopMotion Animation: Thelonius and the Saxophone

I am once again on the road of experimentation — this time with StopMotion Animation. Every year, I do a claymation movie project with my sixth graders but to call it “claymation” is not quite accurate. They take single digital photos, add narration, and use MovieMaker to edit and produce short movies (in collaboration with second graders). Here is a link to last year’s collection of movies.

But this year, I want to try real stop-motion animation with them and my friend, Tonya, showed me some free software this summer at the National Writing Project’s Tech Matters seminar that I only now got around to downloading and checking out. (Here is a link to the wonderful site that has the software and a load of other resources for animation projects)

If I want my students to do something, I guess I better try it myself and figure it all out from the ground level (a mantra of mine — do it yourself! do it yourself! do it yourself!) So here is a character I created called Thelonius — he’s a puppet because I didn’t have any clay around the house and Thelonius is trying out a saxophone.


I hope to make a Thelonius clay figure and set him off on some small adventures with stopmotion animation.

Peace (with animation),

PS — the music is by my old band, Big Daddy Kiljoy, and that’s me on the saxophone!

200 Posts Old and Counting

The other day, I suddenly realized that I had broken the surface on my 200th post for this Weblog endeavor.

Happy Birthday Flickr!!!I began this Blog back in the summer as an experiment to enter the world of writing from another doorway, as I had been writing poetry, songs and fiction on my own and getting some of it published in little corners of the world periodically.

I named this site Kevin’s Meandering Mind because I didn’t want to just focus on the art of writing, nor the art of teaching, but I wanted it to be a place where I could exist in words, sounds and images (and now video, too) and I think it has been quite a lot of fun and quite a lot of learning going on here.

I want to give great thanks to Jim Farmer and this Edublogs network. It has had its hiccups since I joined the community, but overall, the work here to provide free and creative blog structure to teachers has been wonderful.

So, if you are reading this, thanks for your time and help me celebrate by blowing out the candles on the cake. (ready? one, two three … whoooosh).

Peace (with posts),