A Rafting Adventure

We took our sixth graders on a white water rafting adventure last week and it was a blast! We taught them all about teamwork and cooperation and working towards a goal (the Class III rapids). The weather was perfect and the trees were in the midst of Autumn change.

Here is a video I made for them:


Peace (in the rapids),
Kevin

Getting Them to Think, Write, Create

Yesterday, in hopes that it would draw my sixth grade students’ attention to the first presidential debate, we did some work around thinking about the elections. Our school will be doing a Mock Election for the first time (ever?) and I am determined to provide my students with enough information to not only make a good choice but also to filter out the influence of parents, teachers and others (yeah — this is going to be tough).

I started out the lesson with this great video from Common Craft and we talked about the complicated voting system in this country and why that is important (and the day before, we chatted about the balance of power among the branches of government).

Then, I had them brainstorm issues that they consider important and hope to be addressed in the campaign. Our list included:

  • Global Warming
  • Protecting Animal Habitats
  • The War in Iraq
  • Fuel Prices
  • Offshore Drilling
  • Health Care
  • The Economy

Next, my students did some stick figure drawing for a comic strip in which they, as a comic character, ask a question of the candidates. We then moved onto the computers and headed off to Make Beliefs Comics, which is an easy and isolated comic strip making site. They loved it! The comic site is limited in scope, but you can email the link to the comic and I intended to take all of the comics and use Google Sites to create a little website of their comics.

Here is my example:

BUT — the Make Beliefs site has something strange going on with scripts (I emailed the creator, Bill, and he is working on it — he is very responsive). So my web idea will have to wait and I hope they get it all resolved out very soon.

Peace (in the election campaign),

Kevin

Riding the Wave into the Future

I love the fertile imagination of my students. Give them a push and they leap forward. I presented them with a prompt in which they had to create a Vehicle of the Future that would run on something other than fossil fuels. This led to an interesting talk about the Earth’s resources and innovation.

Then, they got to work, using informational text/expository writing to label and explain their vehicles. I took their images and went into Animoto and … came up with this. I showed it to my students today and they were enthralled with it (and a few who had not yet finished their vehicles are now inspired to complete it soon before I do a revision of the video).

See what you think:


Peace (in green beans — which was my vehicle),
Kevin

Writing With My Students

As much as possible, I try to write with my students, and share out what I am doing — talking through my writing process and asking them for feedback. This week, we brainstormed a long list of possible short story titles that we will draw upon in the weeks ahead for writing prompts. It was quite a creative adventure and the list has already provided some nice inspiration for students.

Here are a few:

  • The Day Cows Drove Cars
  • My Homework Ate My Dog
  • Personalities
  • Never Put 200 Pounds of Salt in Your Locker
  • A Demon Named MCAS
  • The Greatest Robot Ever
  • Magic Window
  • CRASH: A Journey into the TV
  • Alien Friend, Where Are You?
  • I Wish I Could …
  • Holy Monkey Muffins
  • Lord of the Springs

(The MCAS one is funny. The MCAS is our state test.)

Meanwhile, I took one of their titles and wrote this story over four periods of writing classes during one day (I teach four sessions). The title was one of my student’s ideas and it just intrigued me.

The Eye in the Hourglass

Who knew the genie would be so cruel? And would bring such bad luck? Surely, three wishes would change my life for the better. But, it turned out that I found a bad genie, a wicked genie, and he twisted my words around like a tornado until the meaning of what I really wanted disappeared into a storm of unfortunate events. My first two wishes should have given me some clues. First, I asked for a bag of gold. What he gave me was bag of stones, with one flint of gold at the bottom.
“It has gold, does it not?” the genie sneered.
My second wish was for a new house. I was thinking of the shack where my father and sisters lived. A new home would be a perfect for my family — a chance to start anew. So what did the genie provide? What was the answer to my wish? A house that fit in the palm of hand. No bigger than a pencil, really.
“Very nice structure,” the genie laughed as I gasped in astonishment.
I should have quit there, but I didn’t.
Instead, I wished for the one thing I always wished I could control: time. I wanted to be able to stop the hands of time and hold off the disease that was raging through my father’s bones. I wanted to hold back time so that I could find a cure for him.
“Done,” said the genie, and before I knew it, he had blinked his eyes, muttered a few words and — boom — I found myself trapped inside some glass compartment. It was curved, with the top being wide and the lower end being narrow. A hole was right in the middle of the floor and there was sand all around me, pouring past me, down the hole into a chamber below me. I realized with a gasp that I was inside an hourglass. I looked up at the genie, who was done with my wishes now. His huge eyeball was pressed near the hourglass, making me feel tiny and powerless.
“So, boy, stop time,” he thundered.
“What?” I asked, confused. “Get me out of here!”
“Oh no. I can’t do that. This is your wish, come true, boy. Stop time. Put your foot in that hole and hold back the Sands of Time. All of time will come to a halt if the sand stops. Your wish has been granted.”
The genie started to laugh again. I stared down at the hold, watching the sand drop. This was my wish? Stuck in an hourglass? I bent down and glanced through the hole to the chamber below. Something else was down there, I realized. Something buried in the sand. It moved and I jumped back. But I could not resist. I bent over again. The movement continued, as if something were shaking off the dust of time. I gasped. There, beneath me, was an eye. An enormous eyeball. And it was staring up at me. I was not alone.
In a panic, I looked for the genie. Surely, he would get me out of here. But he had left the room, apparently, so I scooted a little closer to the hole to get a better look at the eye below me. The sand kept on pouring past me. It formed a powerful current, like a the undertow the ocean, and I must have stepped too close because I suddenly felt myself being caught up in the motion. I started to slip and before I knew it, my foot had become lodged right in the opening itself. I felt another wave of panic and then noticed that the sand was rising up at my foot. I knew I was in serious trouble.
“Genie! Genie!” I yelled. “Get me out of here!”

Either he couldn’t hear me, or he was ignoring me. In either case, the genie was not going to help. That much was clear. I struggled again, trying to free my foot. I turned and twisted, with no luck. That’s when I felt it. At first, it was just a nudge. Almost gentle. And I sense some movement of the hourglass. A ripple, almost. Then, there was a sudden and powerful thud against the bottom of my foot. Then, another. Something was pushing up into me. Something strong. I realized what it was: the eye.
I was frantic now and feeling every more helpless. The eye kept pushing upward. Amazingly, I felt my foot starting to get free of the hole. There was now a bit space, just enough for me take advantage and wrench my body backwards, falling into a pile of sand. My foot was free. And then sand now continued its journey downward. I could now hear the grains of sand hitting something with a thwacking noise.
It must be the eye, I thought. It was getting pummeled by the falling sand. By helping me get free, the eye had put itself into danger. I ran to the hole and looked down. The eye was looking up, sort of sad and mournful, if that was possible. I realized that it had saved my life. And now I was watching it die.
“Hold on,” I screamed. “I’ll try to save you!”
I began digging fiercely to keep the sand from heading into the hole. It was fruitless. Time was running out.
That’s when I noticed the genie. He bent down his head until his eye was just outside the glass window.
“Having fun?” he asked, in a cruel voice.
I was just about to yell at him and demand he free me and the eye from this prison when he reached out, grabbed the hourglass and turned it upside down. My entire world spun around and I bounced from side to side, banging my head and getting sand all in my mouth. Suddenly, the hourglass was reversed. Sand was now pouring down on top of my head. And I could just make out the eye from above, looking down at me just as I had been looking down at it minutes before.
I opened my mouth to scream but sand came in and choked me. Yes, I realized with the cruelest of ironies: Time was most certainly coming to a stop.

As I was writing this, it occurred to me that this would make a great graphic novel story and maybe it is something I will try (someday). Short, sweet but creepy.

Peace (in short fiction),
Kevin

Gathering Student Voices

We did some podcasting in my classroom yesterday with a portable voice recorder. Their first writing project for the year was a Biopoem and I had them take a line or two from their poems and read them out loud, creating a classroom collective audio Biopoem as they were sharing their words with the class. They were very excited about podcasting and I will play the files for them today in class (and remind them they can go to our classroom site – The Electronic Pencil – to hear all of them, and I will direct parents there, too).

Here is my homeroom class:

A Collective Class BioPoem

Peace (in voice),
Kevin

Collecting Their Dreams

I wanted to share the Dream Scenes that my students have been creating in the first days of school this year, using PhotoStory and MS Paint to capture their voice and vision for themselves. (They have loved this project, much more than when we did the paper version — they have been so fully engaged in what they are doing).

I used the new Edublogs TV as host of the video, since it now integrates pretty nicely with regular Edublogs and has not advertising or outside questionable links.

Here is the video:

This text will be replaced

Oh, you can see my dream at the very end of the video.

Peace (in dreams),
Kevin

First Days … Wordle

I experimented with a Google Docs Survey Form this week with my students. It allowed me to gather some interesting information, although I am still struggling with how to look at it in a meaningful way. One thing I did was take all of the student responses from a question on things they are looking forward to this year in sixth grade and popped them into Wordle.

Here is what came out:

We play a game of Quidditch at our school, which is very popular, and I like that writing is pretty big, too.

Peace (in word games),
Kevin

And so, the year begins

Our school year began today and although I had a fitful night of sleep (which included a middle-of-the-night inspiration for an opening day activity with tech), I have to say: I have a wonderful class of sixth graders. Wow. They seem wonderful in so many ways that I figure I am a lucky duck.

So, what was my inspiration?

As with most teachers, I try to do opening activities in which students identify their goals and dreams for their lives and then think about why those dreams are important and how they might be achieved. These activities give remarkable insight into our students. In years past, I had my students create a Dream Scene —  an illustration of levels that lays out elements of their dreams for themselves.

But, what, I wondered, if we could do it on the computer. What would it look like? And how hard would it be to introduce? My insight was this: have kids illustrate a picture of their dream, or a symbol, in MS Paint with at least three complete sentences explaining what the dream is, why it is important and how they will achieve it.

After completing the illustration, students could move that picture into PhotoStory 3 and narrate their picture as a video, with some “sweeping” across the illustration. I could then bundle them together and share out at our classroom blog.

And it worked. My kids LOVED working with technology on Day One of the school year and many are already moving into PhotoStory. They were helping each other with the programs, and giving advice on using Paint, and showing each other how to use PhotoStory. I walked around, but let all of this unfold around me, quite pleased with my idea.

Here is an illustration for a movie that I made as a sample (which is too small to upload in either YouTube or Edublog TV or Flickr, I guess). But I wrote about my dream of playing with my band on the stage of the local music hall.

Peace (with breaking the silence),
Kevin

PS — This week’s Day in a Sentence is over at Deb’s Blog. Come on over and participate. We know you have deep thoughts to share.

Now that the school year has ended …

I was trying to gather up some of the links from projects that my students did this past school year, now that they have left for summer vacation and another school as they make the big leap up to a combined middle and high school.

But looking at the list of these projects, and thinking of the ones not even listed here (such as prompts and exploration over at The Electronic Pencil), I realize how much they did while with me in writing class. I just completed the web pages for the Claymation and Digital Picture Book projects because the pieces seemed scattered all over the place and I wanted to bring them under one webby roof.

Here are some of our shared adventures this year:

I think my push into using more technology to showcase their work was worth it, although it inevitably led to troubleshooting, work-arounds, and other headache-inducing periods of time. Still, as a collection, I think this list shows my students as creators of content and creative thinkers.

One of my regrets is that Youth Radio did not take off this year and there are a variety of reasons for this. But we saw, and see, the possibilities for podcasting across the world for young people and we need to figure out if it is worth re-launching the project for next year. Any ideas?

Peace (in sharing),
Kevin

Claymation in the Classroom, part three

This is the last part of a series of posts I am doing around claymation animation in the classroom and I wanted to talk about what you can do once the movies are completed. Although students enjoy making movies just for the sake of making movies, I do try to instill the values of an authentic audience in their minds. This way, they understand that someone else will be watching their work. The idea of audience gives focus.

Once the movies are done, we showcase them in a variety of ways:

  • On our classroom weblog, all of the claymation movies get their own post, allowing the rest of our sixth graders to see what my homeroom students have done and also giving access to the movies to families and friends from any location in the world;
  • We burn the movies onto a DVD and every student received their own copy of the DVD in the final days before the end of the year. We spent an afternoon, watching the shows and laughing at the funny things you can do with clay;
  • We show the DVD over our school’s internal television network for all classrooms. This is done a few times during the day, so that teachers have different opportunities to show it to students. We also provide a DVD to any teacher who wants it;
  • We create a webpage with all of the movies on it, to show the work as one collective unit.

This file has been created and published by FireShot

And just to end on a nice collective note, here is an Animoto movie of images from the claymation projects:

Peace (in frames),
Kevin