The introduction to our Making Connections Weblog project (through the National Writing Project) involves an entrance survey, just to gather some data about student perceptions and use of technology. My students took the survey the other day (online, through Survey Monkey) and it is quite interesting to see the results.
- Almost 80 percent of my students say they are on the computer more than two hours every day (that’s a lot of time — too much time, if you ask me — they should be outside, playing football or tag or something)
- Almost 60 percent say they regularly use Instant Messaging to communicate with friends (and we often see the results of this IM in the morning, with hurt feelings and rumors run amok)
- 50 percent said they enjoy writing (whoo-hooo) and almost 20 percent said they love to write (double whoo-hooo). Four percent said they don’t like to write at all (boo-hoo)
- 78 percent said they think they write better on computer than on paper (interesting and not sure how to interpret that, although we talked about it in class)
- 86 percent that schools SHOULD teach how to appropriately use technology to communicate with others.
All in all, interesting, and it will be even more interesting to compile the data from all six school districts involved in our project. I’ll share that out when it comes together (now I need to learn Excel)
Peace (choose A, B, or C),
There is no easy way to teach young people how to understand the experiences of others, but writing is at least one avenue for such investigation. This past week, my students studied the Underground Railroad in preparation for reading the book, The House of Dies Drear by Virginia Hamilton. We talked about the history of our country and how skin color still seems to create walls between people. It’s difficult because the town where I teach is small, very insular, and mostly white middle-class. My students eyes are barely open to the real world.
Our inquiry into ways that slaves found the courage to escape and the people who helped them along the way led to a project in which we created paper quilts using patterns that represented messages for those making their way to freedom. I then had them write a first-person narrative of someone running away and using patterns from quilts as a guide.
Here are their stories, told in a digital story format:
Peace (I mean it),
PS — here is just the audio version of their stories.
The Student Council, which I helped form a few years ago for fifth and sixth graders, recently published its second edition of a student-centered newspaper at our school. Students do all of the writing and illustrations, and Student Council leaders lay out the newspaper and then deliver it around the school.
But the newspaper is also available online (that’s my only real job with this project).
Click here to view the December 2006 edition of Tigger Talk!
As part of my students’ study of how words enter the English language, they were given the assignment of coming up with three of their own made-up words (See the book Frindle by Andrew Clements for some inspiration). I have done this each year and have had my students share their words via our class Weblog.
This year, I decided that a Wiki makes the most sense, particularly if we are creating a collaborative document, which we essentially are doing as a dictionary. So I used my Wikispaces site and, with a brainstorm that hits in the middle of the night, first moved all the invented words from 2005 and 2006 students to the space. With the 2007 student words added, there are now more than 200 invented words in the dictionary.
Yesterday, my students were on the Wiki, adding in their words. We also decided to add an audio version of the words, so everyone sat down and read their words and definitions, and then I linked the audio to their entry. Very neat!
Head to the Crazy Dictionary of the Norris Sixth Grade
Peace (with invention).
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
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),
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),
Last week, I video-taped all of the puppet shows from my sixth grade class and then I converted them into web-based movies for families to enjoy.
So break out the popcorn and crank up the volume because here you go …
Head to the Puppet Movie Showcase
Peace (with glue sticks),
My sixth grade classes spend much of the end of November and into December working on their own puppet play performances, starting with mapping out a story along a plot arc, developing character, and integrating a moral into the story. They must also invent a winter holiday and use that as the setting for their stories.
Then, they work with the art teacher and myself to make puppets, and use a wonderful hand-carved puppet theater at our school to perform for younger grades (which actually begin today!). This year, I video-taped each small play (there are 20 total plays this year) and will be publishing the videos online in the coming days via our classroom Weblog and the Homework Weblog site we use for families.
For now, though, I created this short teaser for parents and students.
Peace (with puppets),
This is a project my sixth graders did in collaboration with our school librarian and the Youth Radio project. My students reflected on what makes our town special for them and then they worked to profile local businesses and areas of interest for a travel brochure. I then handed off my MP3 player to a student and asked him to interview his classmates as podcast, and then we converted that into a videocast.
An editorial column in Time Magazine by Claudia Wallis about the emerging Math Wars in this country resonated with me, as our school district is in the midst of this battle raging in the classrooms and in the minds of our students.
Walls notes that, in a move that eerily echoes the whole language-phonics debate of the 1980s, educators and administrators, and government officials, are beginning to toss out the idea of creative and critical mathematical thinking skills (what Wallis calls “fuzzy math”) in favor of more rote learning and memorization of facts. This confusion over direction of a national math curriculum has led textbook publishers to packing their books with tons and tons of learning objectives to be covered over the span of a year … with impossible results for both teachers and students.
In my school district, a group of teachers spent years meeting and discussing and formulating an approach that balanced creative thinking and basic math facts, only to have the central office do a top-down move that is shifting us towards textbook-centered classroom instruction (read this page, do these problems, take this quiz, move on). This shift has not been viewed as positive by many classroom teachers. But the administration is under significant pressure from our state to increase our standardized math scores and they see this as a way to solidify the curriculum across all of our schools.
Wallis urges school districts and teachers to look to the National Council of Teachers of Mathematics for guidance. The NCTM has begun issuing some grade-level guidelines for math skills, and they are streamlining expectations so that one year builds upon the next.
“If the script follow the Reading Wars, what comes next will be dreary times-table recitats in unison, dull new text books that faily to inspire understanding, and drill, drill, drill much like the unhappy scenes in many of today’s ‘Reading First’ classrooms . And that would be just another kind of fiasco … Kids will learn their times tables for sure, but they will also learn to hate math.” — Wallis, Time Magazine, November 27, 2006.
Peace (in numbers and words) ,