Wow! Two Weeks of Tech with Students

My sixth grade students and I have been totally immersed in technology these past two weeks but it hadn’t really dawned on me how much until I had a moment to reflect. So, here is a quick recap of the past two weeks:

  • We used our class weblog — The Electronic Pencil — to post their short stories that were inspired by the picture book, The Mysteries of Harris Burdick by Chris Van Allsburg. We worked on the laptops for a few days, editing stories and using the computer for writing. The blog was our publishing venue and about 20 students sent their stories into a contest being sponsored by Van Allsburg in which students use Harris Burdick for inspiration.
  • We used the comic creating site (thanks, Bonnie) Make Beliefs Comics to create comic strips around the theme of the PeaceBuilder’s Pledge. Our school is part of the PeaceBuilder network, which is built around positive social interaction among students. We then took their comics and created a website (using Google Page Creator and Flickr) that we shared with the rest of our school. Incidentally, I used the Make Beliefs Comic site in a workshop that I gave around technology and writing across the curriculum, and the roomful of teachers were having the time of their lives.
  • We went to our Youth Radio site and tried to listen to some of the programs there, but our wireless network was being a bit funky so only a few students got to post comments. We need a return visit. Soon.
  • We began to create avatars that I hope they will use for a future project. We used two sites — Portrait Illustrator and Lego Mini-Mizer. The Lego site was easier to use but harder to save. The Portrait site was harder to use but easier to save. Go figure.
  • We used a wiki to build a collaborative dictionary of made-up words (we are studying the origins of the English Language) that now has invented words from the past four years. The Crazy Dictionary now has close to 300 words from my sixth graders and they use the wiki to add their own. That blows me away and gives them quite a thrill to know they are contributing to a “living” document in a virtual world. This is the site for just this year’s words.
  • We did podcasting, as they recorded their invented words and definitions. The audio files were then attached to the entries at the wiki, giving a new dimension to the dictionary. A couple of favorites:
    • Toxf – The act of growing a sixth toe on your left foot! Listen
    • Zwig– An orange ostrich, wearing a pink tutu and eating a frozen mash potato TV dinner. Listen
    • Jujuba— A giant piece of bacon used as a weapon. Listen
  • They were also creating their own music loop songs, with my Super Duper Music Looper program, and they loved it!
  • Next week: I want to begin to teach them how to build their own websites and I just need to find the right tool. (Anyone have suggestions?)

Peace (in the classroom),

Hugo Gets Award

Some of you may remember how much I loved the book, The Invention of Hugo Cabret, by Brian Selznick. In particular, I thought its use of mixed media made it an unusual book that told a very powerful and intriguing story. The audio book is also pretty amazing and it comes with a DVD interview in which Selznick talks about writing the book, which I show to my sixth graders.

Well, Hugo netted the esteemed Caldecott Medal for 2008.

What? Never heard of Hugo? Maybe this award will serve notice on this great book. (See the Hugo Cabret website too.)

The Invention of Hugo Cabret

Peace (in picture books that are not quite picture books),


Day in a Sentence (in six words!)

In the spirit of fostering the creative spirit amongst us, I am proposing that we try to use the six-word-story format for our sentence this week. The Six Word Story is a way to tell a tale in just six words. Not easy but interesting. You can see the Six Word Story project that I did last year with some folks in the National Writing Project, using a wiki site to allow folks to add their own stories.

Day in Sentence Icon As always, podcasts are welcome and encouraged.

If you are new to Day in a Sentence, the process is relatively straight-forward:

  • Boil a day or your week into a sentence (in this case, a sentence of just six words)
  • Use the comment feature on this post (comments are moderated)
  • I collect them all and publish them on Sunday (when the Giants beat the Packers, says this avid and nutty Giants fan)

I look forward to your words. (Look — I just wrote that in six words)

Here is my Six Word Day in a Sentence:

Snow, plus kids, equals complete craziness.

Peace (in brevity),

A good intro to XO

This librarian, Robin, has created a very nice intro video about the XO laptop computer. She is very thorough and clear in her explanations, which is always welcome in the world in which I live. She’s lucky to have other XO users near her, of course. My neighborhood view is awfully empty.

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Peace (in XOs),

My Annual Report: 2007

There was a contest of sorts going on over Dy/Dan’s blog in which people are sharing information about their prior year in the form of an annual report. Interesting, and inspired (yet again) by Alice Mercer, I gave it a go (although it turns out I was one day late in submitting my report — oh well):

(I used Letter Pop — a Web 2.0 site — to create these reports in a newsletter format)

What would be in your report?

Peace (in sharing),

Day in a Sentence: new faces, new words, new year

It’s always a thrill to peek into my comments bin during the week to see what words are coming forth for the Day in a Sentence and, as much as I love seeing the returning names (please keep contributing), I also love that new folks are joining in as our community slowly expands. It’s a wonderful thing.

With further ado, here are your words:

Ben, who lets us know he is new to blogging but invites us to visit his blog, had this to say about his week as politics began to take center stage across the nation and in our classrooms: “The moment I heard my kids argue about Obama’s experience and Clinton’s capacity for change, the poetry and prose of each campaign and the effectiveness of either on leadership, I knew I had my hook for the rest of the semester.

Barb, who is part of a past Collaborative ABC Movie Project, had week of highs and lows. “Excitement comes in the form of an emotional rollercoaster with the loss of two of my students who were removed to South Carolina after the death of their caregiver on Monday to the high of my daughter’s wedding and the gathering of family on Saturday.”

Melinda finds herself in a reflective mood. “Expectant: I am sitting in a still, warm summer evening in Sydney ready for a gorgeous week’s holiday with my children and extended family (beginning tomorrow) with a year of work close on its heels – where did Christmas go?

Angie started the new year out on a positive note, even though a few of her students apparently had a difficult time keeping track of their papers (maybe they used them for airplanes?). She writes, “New (and improved) schedule, two new (pleasant) students and positive signs of improved organizations skills in three paper-loosing boys in my class has made my first three days into the school year uplifting and refreshing!

Connie continues to blaze a trail in social networking with her students (and with the world). She explains: “My students, who are completely immersed in their ning net-work, have happily settled into a collaborative learning community, sharing their multi-media, multi-linked current events productions; we’re viewing each other’s work with awe.”

A friend from the Dakota Writing Project (no name left in the trail but anyone from the writing project is a friend) shared this thought (although I think there may be a typo — is it an eight-year-old uncle? who has money to loan?): “A trip to North Carolina (organized by my eight-year-old uncle, who gave money to my son for college) in the midst of completing our Writing Project site grant really added spice to my week.

Liza worried about the Grumpy Teacher Blues as she returned from holiday break, but what she found was the opposite. “I was so worried that this week would be too hard with tired, whining students and a grumpy tired teacher but the break left me energized and ready to work and seems to have left the students with a need for structure and learning — hurray!

Delaine had to scramble with a field trip fiasco that apparently turned out OK in the end (for one group of students, anyway): “The senior marketing class did not get their permission slips in on time for a field trip next week to our local baseball stadium thus causing us to cancel their trip and offer the same thing to the junior class who immediately took us up on the offer.”

Poor April suddenly realized that she is not a superhero after all, although her thoughtfulness and reflective nature should qualify her for a nice cape and mask, in my book. “Cramming grant writing, night classes, and letter of recommendation writing into one short week, I realize I’m not superwoman; in fact, I’m not even Lois Lane — which means, of course, that I need to concentrate more on teaching and not the myriad of tasks surrounding the education field.

Matt, who graciously hosted the Day in a Sentence last week, had a strange epiphany in the lunch room. “Back from break, I sat around the lunch room with a bunch of teachers and found out that the favorite vacation activity of each of us at the table was cleaning our houses.

Elona admits that her week was so crazy, she almost forgot her sentence, so she emailed it off to me. I hope she buckled up. “I was reminded again that life is a roller-coaster ride — sometimes you’re on that exciting ride to the top and then suddenly you’re on that scary ride down.

Bonnie had one of those experiences as a presenter that you hope never happens (but it also happened to my friend, Susan, this week) — a sea of blank faces. “Generally my moments are high points but this week the climax on Friday was truly low, working with a group of teachers who did NOT want to be working with me, with our writing project; it was hard to get beyond the frozen faces who refuse to believe that reading/writing connections will move the formulaic essays to a new place and imagine, elementary kids come to their classrooms without any life experiences beyond TV watching…a tough crowd for sure…but the sun is shining and snow is on the way…

Mother Nature and the Guv are conspiring against Gail. “Last week’s big storms across California caused major power outages and zapped a few school systems and servers, including the gatekeeper and border controller that allow me to do videoconferencing from my district’s K12 classrooms. That, on top of the Governator’s prosposed $4 billion cut to schools, has not made for a great week…ah, but the sun is just now making a spectacular appearance in the Sierra foothills, bringing with it the promise of a better week to come.

Sue has been tinkering with recipes as metaphors for learning (I’m not sure I want to try her recipe but a few friends in college were on that diet). “To be creative is to live life with an open mind and in return receive the opportunity to more fully experience the unfamiliar and grow from it! (The example I share with my students…Who would have thought that ketchup and mayo would make Thousand Island dressing!)

Yes to RSS! Michaela discovers its potential. “Discovering and utilizing the ease of an aggregator this week has helped me restructure my daily stay-at-home-mom routine radically- here’s to being a late bloomer in technology’s garden!

Nina has her hands full of the Web 2.0 World. “After chatting at Tapped In and Skype for over an hour with webhead friends while doing laundry and drinking delicious coffee provided by my dear husband, I plan to participate in the EVOnline kickoff at Worldbridges/Skype, after which I will take a Greek artist friend to Washington, D.C. to visit the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception, but sometime today I also have to help my daughter prepare for her upcoming exams, so it’s going to be a busy day indeed!

Jeff is in the same time zone as me, watching the weather channel and thinking that a snowstorm would be wonderful and awful (for me and my week of activities). “It’s so hard to grade projects when there’s a forecast for a major winter storm tonight.

Nancy is cleaning up, getting her memories together before her BIG transition out of the classroom. “One week to go and I’ve been cleaning out my classroom, and wrapping loose ends before my last day with the kids.

Christine also had a California story (like Gail) and not so sunny. (She also provided this link for us to enjoy): “Teaching in California is discouraging; it’s like playing for the Cubs.

And Larry, who almost passed this week, added his sentence at the last minute and we are richer for the experience. “I took my grandkids to see the movie ‘The Water Horse: Legend of the Deep,’ which is the only movie ever made which shows a fictional seat monster suffering from wartime-inflicted post-traumatic stress syndrome.


That seems like a record number of entries!

Peace (in sharing),

XO as eReader

I’ve been exploring my XO computer as an eReader, although I didn’t quite know how to begin. Then, I found this very cool (free) eBook site called WOWIO that has a growing list of free titles for registered users (the collection does not seem to include many new novels, etc, and the selection is kind of iffy at this point).

But I have been checking out a few graphic novels from the site on my XO. I like the eReader mechanism on the XO. The lighting is nice, the resolution is pretty good, and the ability to swivel the screen to multiple positions is pretty nifty. Plus, the entire laptop is very light and easy to hold and balance on your lap or stomach (if you are reading while in the sleepy prone position).

My sons were getting a kick out of reading some comic strips (Peanuts, Garfield, etc) that I downloaded as a comic book collection from the WOWIO site. I have also added a Beowulf graphic novel, and a book about myths from around the world, and a few other odds and ends into my Queue bin (you can only download three books a day).

Right now, I am reading a Stargate graphic novel (I have a sci-fi interest).

I recently installed a little 4 gig memory chip into the XO so that I could store a bunch of books and other data without sucking up the memory on the hard drive. I continue to explore this little machine but feel stymied by my inability to get deeper into the Linux programming through the Terminal application. I need to peruse the user forums a bit more and figure what they are all talking about (ie, geek speak translation for dummies is what I really need)

Peace (in the world of eBooks),

LiteBrite: A completely fun waste of time

My youngest son was coughing in the night, so I am up early (even for me) and I find this link to a memory from my own childhood: Lite-Brite. Remember that one? All those little translucent pegs going into little slots with a back light and you make shapes and strange designs? (Or do you remember losing the little pegs or fumbing with your fat fingers to get them into the slots? That was me, too).

So of course, there is now an online version of Lite-Brite, and it is easy to use and fun way to kill some time in the morning when you should be sleeping.

As a kid, I created saxophones everywhere I went, so this is my morning Lite-Brite design:

And of course:

Give it a whirl!

Peace (in colored pegs),

CommonCraft Does it Again

Another great video has come out from CommonCraft. This time, the focus is on online photo sharing sites (such as Flickr).

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Peace (in clear and simple explanations),

The Story of Stuff

A few weeks ago, I came across this project called The Story of Stuff. I was intrigued. It was this minimalistic video that talks about how the consumer-driven world is impacting our planet, and moves from one aspect of creating “stuff” all the way to disposing “stuff” in landfills and incinerators. There are some political parts, of course, including a few swipes at President Bush (for urging us all to go shopping in the aftermath of 9/11) and Wal-Mart (for artificially keeping prices low by paying low wages and buying goods from developing countries)

I wanted to show it to my students and bought the DVD (10 bucks).

Yesterday, after an introduction and conversation about this disposable world that we live in, my students watched the movie and they were fascinated and a bit shocked by the message in the movie. It really sparked some interesting discussions and I made sure to end it all on a positive note: they are going to be leaders in our world and they have the opportunity to make a difference and this issue of sustainability is going to loom large in their lives as young adults.

Here is the last part of The Story of Stuffmovie as a Youtube version:

[kml_flashembed movie="" width="425" height="350" wmode="transparent" /]From a moviemaking perspective, I found the minimalistic approach fascinating and the kids were riveted by the combination of illustration and this woman just talking to us about these very deep concepts. It reminded a few of the students of the more recent UPS commercials (see? everything is commercial-driven) with the interactive whiteboard and I was reminded of the CommonCraft videos on blogging, wikis, etc.

At the Story of Stuff weblog, there is also a post about how educators can use the video and some other related links for kids.

Peace (in a world with less stuff but more compassion),