Cellular Mitosis Digital Picture Books

Today, I began the initial work with my sixth graders on creating digital picture books that will integrate knowledge of Cellular Mitosis into a fictional adventure story. They will be using MS Powerpoint as their platform, with animation, audio, hyperlinks and video embedded into the books.

Today, we looked over Magic School Bus books and talked about the use of layered literacy (I didn’t use that term, of course, but that was what I was getting at), and then we watched a video of one of the Magic School Bus shows, and we talked a bit about the difference in media. I want them to think critically as viewers, so that we can then make the shift to critical composers/writers.

Tomorrow, I hand out a packet with instructions and they will begin some initial brainstorming on story ideas and maybe even push into some storyboarding. I will even show a few samples of digital books from past years. In the past, my students had more freedom for curriculum topics, but I am working more closely with my science teacher partner this year to get deeper into understanding mitosis, so we’ll see how things fare as we move along.

Here are some math books, turned into videos, from a few years ago:

Peace (in pictures),

The Quidditch Rap Song

Today is the Quidditch Tournament in our school. A few years ago, I wrote a song to celebrate our game and last week, I updated it, using a music loop software for the music. Then, I made a music video. Yesterday, I had all of my students listen to it and I had all 80 of them help me sing the chorus. Yeah — it was messy, but messy fun.

Here is the video and then below, you can listen to the song with my students singing the chorus:

Listen to the Q Rap with Students

Peace (in flying snitches),

Blogging Across the School District

Next year, my students leave the comfy confines of our elementary school to attend the big regional middle/high school. For some, this transition causes much worry and concern. They wonder about lockers, about bullies, about the food, about getting lost in the building, and more. (Funny — it’s the same worries I had when I was going into middle school).

Last year, a teacher at the high school and I talked about finding some ways to use technology to allow my students to ask his older students questions about the transition to the bigger school and connect them together some way.  We are both teachers in the Western Massachusetts Writing Project network, which made our collaboration all the more easier to get moving along.

This week, we got the project off the ground. We’re using a WordPress blog and his tenth graders began some introductions, and then my sixth graders did some responding and questioning (such as, in which class do you dissect the rat?).

We’re hopeful this blog will help ease the transition, but also open up doors for more collaboration among them as writers. I know my pal, George Mayo, is about to launch the SPACE online magazine again this year (see last year’s version), focusing in on poetry and multimedia verse, and I can see using our shared blog space for some collaboration and review before publication.

It’s exciting to be using technology not just for global projects, but also for local projects. And I had a great time remembering many of my former students who are now in that tenth grade classroom, remembering their sixth grade year.

Peace (in connections),

Quidditch Artwork and Student Imagination

I shared this over at PhotoFridays (a day late) but this is a photo collage of some of the artwork being done by my students for our upcoming Quidditch Tournament (in two weeks!). I love how it all looks together.

My motto for our team: Riptide — a force that you can’t resist.

Peace (in art),


(video) Slice of Life: So you wanna play Quidditch?

(This is part of the Slice of Life project)
This is a slice, a few days removed, as I have finished up the Quidditch video project that we shot with kids last week. The idea here is to begin to share our game of Quidditch with other schools and to celebrate playing the game for 10 years at our school. This project was fun to edit, if a bit time-consuming, but I like the final product. I realized early on that the video footage of the kids playing the game was too hectic to really understand from an outsider’s standpoint, so I moved to use still shots with the voice-over from the book.

Eventually, this will find a home at our school website, with written explanations to go along with the video.

Peace (in golden snitches),

Student reflection on digital story project

As our digital story project wound down last week (and as I slowly watch them for assessment), I had my students take a quick online survey (using Google Docs) to get some feedback about the project. This was the first time I have done this digital story (using narrative paragraph writing about a memory object) and I wondered what their perceptions were about the creative work they had accomplished.

Here are the results:

My reactions: the results show that there was a high level of interest and engagement in this project (something I saw clearly in the classroom), that many students prefer working within the realm of multimedia, that the end product brought them satisfaction, and that some of them are now making movies and digital stories on their own.

In fact, in parent teacher conferences last week, a number of parents remarked on the positive remarks students were giving and how many of the kids were going home to make their own digital stories on the home computer. I love how the skills from school can transfer to home because it shows that the learning has meaning and value for them.

I also had a box for advice to me on how to improve this project. Most talked about wanting to make their own music and not have to choose from PhotoStory (yeah, I understand). Others said they could have used more class time. A few suggested longer stories next time. But this one comment hit my heart because it shows the power of the story this student told (and it was powerful):

To have to memory be happy not sad. When I was recording I had to keep from crying. It was hard. When I listened to the final story, I was crying.

Peace (in reflection),

Slice of Life: A visitor

(This is part of the Slice of Life project)

I was delighted to have a visitor to class yesterday — Maureen T., a friend from my Twitter network who works just west of me, came to my school to hang out for a bit and see what was happening in the classroom (and then she went down the hall to hang out in Gail P.’s kindergarten class). Maureen came at a good time, as we were working on our digital story projects. She got a good glimpse of some of the work now unfolding at a pretty good pace.

It’s nice to know that the virtual connections can sometimes evolve into something richer and we had some excellent conversations about teaching at our schools, about how difficult it can be to get teachers to integrate technology into the classroom, and how much students stand to gain from using digital tools to express themselves. It’s true — we were a two-person choir singing to ourselves, but still …

And here is a little gift: some of the memory objects that my students have brought in and are using for the core of their digital stories.

Peace (in connections),

Slice of Life: When Stories Go Digital

(This is part of the Slice of Life project)

Yesterday, my classes began their Digital Story project in earnest and it was a bit hectic, but wonderful to watch them so engaged. In a nutshell, they have written a personal narrative paragraph about an object that holds special memories and now they are merging the image, the audio of their writing, and music into a short video with PhotoStory3 (a free download from Microsoft, folks, and well worth the effort).

There are stories about pets, about blankets, about gifts from long-lost relatives, about stuffed animals, about awards, and more. Wonderful, rich topics.

This is my first time with this project, so it is worth reflecting a bit, right? Here are a few things that cross my mind:

  • We’re building off prior knowledge. They have been working on writing paragraphs for a week or two and we have used technology plenty this year. The leap to a new software platform, which might cause adults to stumble, is no big deal for them. They get it, quick.
  • Writing is at the heart of the story. It may be digital, but the writing comes first. Today, I explained that the writing is the center of this piece and that they should see themselves as “composers” — drawing the pieces of music, audio and image together in one coherent piece of work. I think most of them got it.
  • Make the story personal. These narratives are rich for them because they chose the object, and they have the memories. The subject matter really comes from their heart and they are invested in telling a good tale.
  • Show a sample. I showed them the Grandmother’s Tea Cup story last week and then shared another paragraph sample that I wrote about the first saxophone I ever got and how it moved me into music in a way that remains with me to this day. They need to know that we are writing with them, exploring the same terrain.
  • Give them time to play. Last week, I showed them the software and let them go at it. I gave them some photos and told them that they were to play, tinker, experiment and have fun. Get it out of the system. Explore. Then, when we began the project, they could focus.
  • Share the scoring rubric. It’s not all fun and games. To help focus their learning, I shared out the rubric that I created so they will know exactly what I am hoping for. The rubric’s areas include writing, voice, and production (as in, just because you can do something cool and snazzy doesn’t mean you should do it — make sure the music and the production “fits” the story and complements it, not takes away from it.) I never want the grading to be a secret to them.
  • Time to work. I allocated plenty of time this week, I think, knowing that technology takes longer than we suspect. But, I was surprised at how much progress was made in one single class period. Some of them will be done sooner than I anticipated, I can tell.
  • Alternative Activities. I need to come up with this one. No doubt, I will. Let’s see now …

Peace (in stories),

Slice of Life: The Riptide Argument

(This is part of the Slice of Life project)

So, we are in the beginning period of our Quidditch season and I expect to write more about it as the weeks move onward here. (Essentially, we have a non-magical version of the game at our school and the four sixth grade classes square off in a full-day, all-school tournament in April before the entire school population — it’s crazy fun). There are many connections to our curriculum (honest) and the art element is huge.

Each team comes up with an original name and symbol. Most year, because my class color is “blue,” our name is something icy: arctic this, frozen that, etc. This year, my kids chose the best name: Riptide, and the story of its genesis comes from a book we read this year — The Lightning Thief — in which the hero is given a magical sword that is harmless to mortals but lethal to magical creatures.

The sword in the book is called Riptide. So, they chose that name to connect our class to a book. It was a name they apparently had agreed upon about three months ago, but never let me know. The naming process is often contentious. Not this year. They all had already agreed.

And for the symbol, of course, they all wanted a sword.

And thus began their encounter with adversity, as our school frowns on weapons and symbols of violence. They appealed in person to our vice principal, who has been open to their arguments and has gone out of her way to listen to them. The class collectively wrote a persuasive letter, arguing that the Riptide sword does not harm people, that the sword is a symbol of their connection to the book, that they would never encourage anyone to harm anyone else. I did not help them with the letter. I only delivered the letter. (I really wanted it to be their own mission)

The vice principal admitted she was not convinced, so a group of boys huddled around the Lightning Thief book one morning this week, marked out passages that showed the sword could not hurt people and read it to her. Still: no go.

So a group of girls went home and did research on swords and came in bearing printed-out evidence that swords have been used for peaceful means in history (for military weddings, etc) and included our the official state Seal of Massachusetts, which features a sword.

But, still, no go, although our vice principal remained very reasoned and open.

I had hoped to use the last part of the day yesterday to help my class deal with the failure to sway our administration, let them know (again) how proud I was of their resourcefulness and get working on an alternative symbol (such as a water-themed picture with a strong current). But my son got sick, I had to leave early from school and now I know they are all going to stew on the matter for the weekend. Oh well.

I’m still proud of them and feel sad that I could not help them process it before the weekend.

Peace (in student initiative),

Stuffed Animal Daze

I shared this over at PhotoFridays. This week, we held a Stuffed Animal Day for descriptive writing. When the kids went off to gym, I noticed my room full of stuffed creatures at the desks of my students, so I took this shot:

Peace (with lovin’ stuffin’),