Mulling over the Heroic Journey Map Project

I’ve been sitting on this project for at least a week or so, thinking about how it all went. In a nutshell: after reading The Lightning Thief novel and then a graphic interpretation of The Odyssey, my sixth graders created their own heroic journey home, using Google Maps and Picasa photo sharing. The “monsters” they could encounter came from an entirely different project that we had just done, which was handy.  I had never done this project before and it came to me as a sort of inspiration one day.

So, how did it go?

Let first say that my students were really into this project, once they grasped it all. There were certainly a number of steps (write your journey, learn about Google Maps, learn how to embed pictures from Picasa into Google, etc.) But they were game, and the few who “got it” wandered around the room with me, helping the others. In fact, one day when I was away, I bravely let the sub give them access to the computers to work on the project, and they did a wonderful job on their own.

The difficulties mostly lay in the fact that my students do not have email, so I created an umbrella Gmail account that we all shared. On the positive side, this meant that I had access to all of their maps (there were 17 maps in all) at all times. The negative side is that sometimes, students would accidentally click on someone else’s maps (I will say “accidentally” here and give them the benefit of the doubt) and made changes, which then had to be fixed.

But some of the maps were just fantastic and I put the entire collection into a Google Sites that I set up to showcase the group of maps. See a couple of examples here:

We also talked about moving their project into Google Earth, so that they can see their projects on another scale, but we sort of ran out of time. (This took a lot longer than I had planned, as usual, and I am hoping they are accessing the project at home, too).

As a final reflection, I had them take an online survey about reading The Odyssey as a graphic novel and creating their maps. Here are their overall responses:

(see larger version)

As part of the reflection, I posed the question: why in the world did I assign this project to them?

Here is what they wrote:

  • To get us to use new software and also to have us learn how to make maps about the two the books
  • So we could have fun and we could explain our own sorta journey meeting with Greek gods or mythical creatures IT WAS SO MUCH FUN THANKS SO MUCH MR HODGSON YOUR THE B-E-S-T
  • Because you wanted to see how good we were with technology.
  • I think you had us do the project so we could learn to use new tech stuff, help us learn about the book more, and to have fun.
  • It goes along with the story
  • You had use us do that because it is like the Odyssey.
  • I think you wanted use to do that because we can make anything up.
  • To be more creative and be able to think of our own journeys that are like the books we just read. THANKS MR.HODGSON THIS PROJECT WAS AWESOME.
  • So we could become more familiar with the c.o.w.s, have fun,and be able to use the monster exchange project in a creative way.
  • Because either you just felt like it or this was like our version of Odysseus’s journey.
  • I think you gave us this project because you want us to become good writers and you wanted us to think about how would it be if we went on a journey.:-)
  • Because the Odyssey has a journey
  • I don’t know, but it was fun…….
  • I think you had us do this mapping project because it shows how to use technology and make our own journey.
  • I think you had us do the mapping project to almost relate to Odysseus and to look how a journey is spread across the world. I also think the mapping project helped us write our own adventure, which related to both the Odyssey and the Lightning Thief.
  • So we could have a chance to use technology.
  • I think you had us do this because so we would understand it better.

I also asked them what advice they would give to improve the project.

Here are their responses:

  • We could have our own accounts.
  • to make your own username and password
  • A way we could make the mapping project better is if you looked up pictures of mythical creatures like hellhounds and hundred handed ones so we could encounter those on our journey. other than that it was A-W-E-S-O-M-E!! <3
  • Make us not have to write so much
  • I think if we added some pictures of say Poseidon and other gods it would make it better.
  • Making us do the project on Google earth
  • More gods.
  • IDK! IT WAS ALL AWESOME I WOULDN’T CHANGE ANYTHING!!!!!
  • Nothing. It was awesome!!!!!!!!!!!!
  • It’s fine. No changes needed, but you might want to scan the monsters, not take photos of them.
  • This project was too awesome that there was no possible way it could have been better!:-)
  • I don’t know. It was good
  • Making a separate account for everyone so that only the student and their teacher know the password to their account, so that no one else could change their map, as we experienced, and found it not to be a good thing.
  • We could have more pictures so we have our monsters then the monster exchange ones. 😀
  • I think that we could have taken a blank map and drawn our adventure. I would have rather had it be more artistic; I love technology, but sometimes art is better to explain a story. Google Maps was cool to look at, by I didn’t like the whole setup that much. I didn’t enjoy watching other people changing other people’s maps, it was extremely frustrating to watch this.
  • I think that the projects could be better if we did not have to copy and paste pictures on to Google Maps.
  • Battle a lot more monsters.

Yes, this project was very worthwhile and engaging, and not only did it use technology to connect them to reading and writing, it also allowed me to talk about the use of technology platforms they knew nothing about before.

Now, I need to grade them, and I am thinking: I wish I didn’t have to. I wish we could let the experience be the learning and not assign a number/letter to the experience. But we are not there yet, and they are expecting a grade.

Peace (in points on the world),
Kevin

What I would say …

One of the superintendents in our system asked me, and some others, for some video for a presentation he is giving to elementary teachers on how and why to think about technology in the classroom. I sort of whipped this together this weekend and if he uses it, great. If not, that’s fine, too, but it allowed me to reflect on some of the projects I have been doing with my students this year.

Peace (in reflection),
Kevin

Making Stop-Motion Movies, part 3

This is the third of a four part series of posts on how my  class went about planning, writing and producing short stop-motion movies on the theme of literary terms (see part one and part two). My idea here is to allow me some space to reflect and hopefully, nudge a few of you into moviemaking.

In my last post, I talked about the actual making of the movies. And now that they are done, what do you do with them? Well, many of my students now have their own flash drives (and our class has a few that we loan out), so getting copies of their productions is easy enough. It used to be a lot more difficult — burning DVDs, etc. Flash drives are wonderful.

Our movies are being made for a wider audience, however (including a few that will become part of The Longfellow Ten project). SO, we wanted to publish the movies to the web for a potential world-wide audience. This is a tricky decision — where to host the videos and where to publish them. I have tried all sorts of services over the years and to be honest, I find most of them lacking in one way or another. My own goals are for a site that hosts videos, with no links back to the site, no advertising and ease of use. Does that seem like too much to ask for? In this vein, I have worked with YouTube (no need to say a thing), Google Video (better but not great, and I don’t expect it to last as a separate entity from YouTube), Edublogs TV (it has potential but slow to upload, in my opinion), TeacherTube (unless it has been fixed, it had become incompatible with Edublogs), Blip (it’s fine), Flickr (you can upload and share short videos under the plus account) and more.

Luckily, my friend, George (of the Longfellow Ten), had been on the same path and he found Vimeo. It turns out that more than a year ago, I had checked it out too and forgotten all about it. Vimeo is like a typical service except you can really adapt the embedding option. This allows you to remove any and all links back to Vimeo itself. All the students will see is the video and the play/volume buttons. This is exactly what teachers need, I think.

Both George and I upgraded our accounts because we both know that we will be using it for larger video projects down the road, but the free version seems fine. It’s also nice because you can save a preset for embedding — you don’t have to revamp the embed code each time.

So, I now had a reliable and useful host for my videos. But I don’t want to direct my students to Vimeo to view the movies. I want to create our own space for publishing the video collection. (George is using WordPress.com for the Longfellow Ten project, which is nice because Vimeo is incredibly easy to embed in WordPress blogs).  I thought about using our classroom blog — The Electronic Pencil — but with 31 videos, that seemed like too much (particularly when Edublogs suggests you don’t publish more than one video per post). I thought about whipping up a quick webpage with html/dreamweaver. But then, I would have to host the page.

Finally, it dawned on me that a wiki might be the best option. Easy to use, a wiki also allows for multiple media files per page. So, I went to my wiki companion site for The Electronic Pencil (over at Wikispaces), and started to embed the movies. It worked like a charm, and it also allowed me to show my students a wiki, which we will be using later this year for our Crazy Dictionary Project (now four years running).

Last, I made a link to the various movies from our class blog site, had my kids view them one class period (so they could see what their classmates have been up to), and then I had them reflect about the movie project at our blog, thinking about what they liked about making the movies, what they didn’t like and what they would do differently if we started over again (maybe later this year).

In my last post (part 4), I am going to talk about how I am grading and assessing the movies.

Peace (in little movies),
Kevin

Making Stopmotion Movies, part 2

This is the second post around making stopmotion movies with my sixth graders (see the first post) and I want to talk about how we actually did it. My hope is that one of your (dear readers) may want to replicate or build on the experience and so my path may help you along on your own movie-making journey.

First of all, I launched into this project because I received an email and a phone call from George Mayo, another middle school teacher who has done some wonderful collaborative work in the past (see, Darfur awareness project). He and I have communicated about claymation and I showed him a few ways to get started. Now, he runs a movie club and his kids began making stopmotion movies around literary terms as part of a secret collective called The Longfellow Ten. He wondered if I might want to have my students join in the fun. So, I scrapped one of my projects and moved into moviemaking. How could I not?

But I knew with four classes of students (about 75 kids), it would be hectic. And a bit crazy. And also a great time. (It helps that I have done claymation a number of times now, including summer camps. I would not have launched into something this big without those experiences under my belt).

I began by showing my students the short films that George’s students had already published and talked about what stopmotion is. Luckily, just about everyone has seen Wallace and Gromit, so there is a common thread to talk about (and, one day when I was out, the sub showed them the Behind the Scenes of the Making of The Curse of the WereRabbit movie — an incredible documentary of the work that goes on — it’s on the movie DVD).

My students then either got into small group, or worked independently (no group bigger than three — that’s my rule). I handed out slips of paper with literary terms (such as plot, setting, foreshadowing, etc) and their job was to build a movie that discussed, defined or demonstrated that term. This all begins with storyboarding out their story, conferencing with me, and having a clear plan of action before they even touch the computers.

Once they are ready to start shooting their videos, they either brought in their own toys from home or used the box of my own sons’ toys (shhhhh … they don’t know the box is missing). We use a freeware program called StopMotion Animator and inexpensive webcams for the initial frame-by-frame shooting. I like the software because it is pretty basic to use. It saves the video as an AVI file, which then later, the students bring into Microsoft MovieMaker for editing. (Although, you may need to use a Codec encoder in order to move the raw footage into moviemaker. If so, I use this one called Xvid)

Here is what I preach every single day, ad nauseum: patience. If they can be patient, and move their objects slowly, and capture a lot of footage, then their final movie will be of higher quality. I also tell them to film more than they need, since they can always edit out footage but adding new footage in is difficult (you have to reset the scene, etc).

In MovieMaker, they edit out their inadvertent hands, add titles and credits, and insert transitions between scenes. Then, we plug in microphones and they begin their narration. The syncing of voice to video can be difficult and it requires … more patience and also, some editing on the fly. I often show them how to use video effects to slow down footage or to capture a still image to insert into the video in places where more dialogue is needed.

We then gather up their project (usually only a minute or two long at most) and create a video (use the DV-AVI setting in Moviemaker for highest quality). For some groups, they are done. For others, however, they can make their own music soundtrack and we use a software program that I bought called Super Dooper Music Looper, which allows them to use loops to create songs. They love this software! (But George has also shown me a few sites that allow use of music, too: CCMixter and Freesound).

If they want to add music all the way under their movies, they need to re-import their video (with narration, titles, etc) and then layer the music, and then make the video a second time. Phew. There are a few steps to this process, aren’t there?

The result? A student-created movie from start to finish. In part 3 of this reflection, I will talk about how George and I are posting the videos online (hosting and publishing) and then, in part 4, I will talk about the task I now have of assessing their work — for this is a graded project, with parameters that I established at the very beginning of the process.

Peace (in sharing),
Kevin

Stop-Motion Movies, part 1

Now that my project to create stop-motion movies around literary terms is over, I thought I would reflect a bit on the experience in the classroom. First of all, this is the first time I worked on movie-making with all four of my sixth grade classes (about 75 kids) and it was a bit daunting. There ended up being 31 short movies created by small groups of students — that is a ton of movies! Most days, I felt like a headless chicken, running from one group to the other, helping sort through technical issues. In fact, I never really got to even see the movies until they were done.

This was the first time that many students ever did any kind of movie-making (I think three of them have some experience) and considering this fact, my students were stellar at the art of patience, and working out problems, and thinking of solutions to technical issues when they arose. In the course of the week, they learned about webcams, the freeware Stopmotion Animator software, Windows MovieMaker and also a music creation program called Super Duper Music Looper.

BUT — no one gave up, a few had to restart all over again (one group: restart twice) and as I let them view all of the movies yesterday and reflect on their experiences at our class blog site, they expressed real gratitude in being able to make movies in the classroom. One student came up to me and said, “This is the best project I have ever done in school … ever.” How can you beat that?

Here are some excerpts from the blog:

What I really like about the project is that you were free to be as creative as you wanted to be. All the movies had origanalallity and character which was great to see. What I would want to change the next time when I do a stop motion video is put a lot more filming in so we don’t have to worry about talking fast and find a back drop that doesn’t show the shadows of people going by.

This project was a great experience for me because i don’t know a lot about technology and what’s possible. I had never done anything like it before and what was great was doing it with Sam. We tried to make it humorous and laughed through the entire process!!! Even when we disagreed, we got a solution for every problem, mostly from the help of our awesome computer-wiz teacher, Mr. H!!! THANKS!!!!!!!

I think making the movies were really fun! All the hard work for like a 50 second movie, but it was still fun to see our movies come to life. you have to have a lot of patience to do this project. If I could change anything I would use less characters because it was hard to move them all. Also try to balance the work between every member of the group. Over all it went very well!

The making of the movies was fun but there was a lot of things that made out movie less awesome because we didn’t notice till editing. We had a lot of technical difficulties and our movie wasn’t as great as it could have been which made us kinda of mad!

I had a really fun time making the movies. But it was also a lot of work. Working in a group really helped. It was frustrating to always think you are running out of time. I hope everybody will enjoy my movie.

If you want to view the movies, go to categories:

In part 2, I will talk in more detail about what we did, how we did it, and how you might be able to replicate the project (the Longfellow Ten are still searching for other classes to join the secret initiative to create movies)

Peace (in movies),
Kevin

Joining the Longfellow 10: moviemaking

My friend, George, is up to something interesting again (last year, it was the inspiring Many Voices for Darfur project) and it reminds me that what goes around, comes around. Last year, George asked about integrating stop-motion animation in the classroom as my class was engaged in claymation projects. Now, he has a group of kids calling themselves The Longfellow Ten who are creating and producing stopmotion films around literary terms. And he asked if my students might be interested in joining his students, and possibly others, in building up a site of short stop-motion films on certain themes (George, can we do Math in the spring?).

I looked at my schedule, cleared out a few things and today, I began working with all four of my classes on stopmotion movies. I just let them play today and they had a blast, using the freeware (StopMotion Animator) and webcams and a few even made it into Moviemaker to start messing with titles. Tomorrow, we move on to the real lesson. They will be working in small groups to develop a short movie on a literary theme that is part of our curriculum:

Antagonist

Protagonist

Foreshadowing

Dialogue

Setting

First Person Point of View

Third Person Point of View

Plot

Characterization

Fiction

Non-Fiction

Here is a picture of them at “work” today.

And here is a little movie that I made with one of the classes to show how it is done.

More to come in the future …

Peace (frame by frame),
Kevin

The Hero Journey/Google Map Project

I am putting the finishing touches on the tutorial I am going to show my students as we launch into the Hero Journey Project that I have been writing about. Take a look and steal from it what you need:

Peace (in journeys),
Kevin

The Desks Will Hover

I like to pose some tech-related questions to my students each year, just to get a sense of where they are at with their own use of technology. I usually tack on this question: What will a classroom of the future (say, 50 years from now) look like? The answers are always amusing and interesting. This year, a big theme — floating chairs and desks.

Check out some of the student responses:

  • The desks will hover
  • Floating desks and robot teacher
  • High-tech pens.
  • A bunch of jet packs.
  • Exactly the same, but all electronics smaller.
  • The same
  • It might have floating desks, electronic chalk boards,and other things like that
  • I think they wouldn’t have chalk boards anymore; they would have the kind of board we have in the library — the “Alive” board or whatever; and they would have a computer attached to every desk and an electric pencil sharpener. The children would have personal white boards so they could envision what they’re learning. They would also have better heating and Air conditioning. 😉
  • A classroom in the future will have a robot teacher. Hmmmmm, maybe we can break it.
  • Cool with hats that tell you stuff
  • The walls might be made of slate and instead of desks we could have the teachers desks.
  • The desks will float, the chairs will have rockets on the bottom of them, and everything will be chrome.
  • robots take over the world
  • An old cob web place like very haunted house
  • There will not be school so there will not be one (classroom of the future)
  • There would be lots of Mac’s and no chalkboards. (there would be no chalkboards so teachers couldn’t write down homework :D:D:D)
  • It might be all white, have solar panel windows and desks and chairs that hover in the air
  • Flat screen computers that hang on the wall, floating desks, and animated teachers
  • Who knows what it could look like? It will be surprise. Hopefully the fab Mr.H will still be teaching.
  • White walls — fake windows — robot teachers —  smart-boards in every classroom —  all desks will also be computers
  • I hope Dr.cool is still teaching!!

I also took all of the answers and threw them into Wordle:

It’s nice to know that teacher will still be needed, although a few of them have converted us into robots.

I wonder what your kids think if you pose the same question.

Peace (in a robotic voice),
Kevin