My two older sons (eight years old and six years old) got into a superhero kick this weekend and they began making a ton of Superhero trading cards based on our family. What was interesting to me is how closely they figured out both the genre of superheroes (they all have a strength and a weakness, and an alias) and playing cards (complete with a picture on one side and some stats and info on the other). I wonder what kind of cards my students would make in writing class? (hmmm)
Here are some of our Superhero Family stats:
Name: SuperDad (who carried a guitar as a weapon)
Power: Playing anymusical instrument
Weakness: Having his instrument destroyed
Name: SuperMom (whose picture shows her having about 6 arms)
Power: To make 1,000,000 suppers at once
Weakness: A messy room
Name: SuperBella (our dog)
Power: To run faster than light
Weakness: Taking a bath
Name: SuperColtrane (our cat)
Power: To scratch
Weakness: Not being let in the house in the morning
Peace (through the use of superpowers),
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) ,
I’ve been following (through Bloglines) a feature of TechLearning.com called School Site of the Week that provides a wonderful glimpse into the web presence of schools.
The archive page goes back to 2002 and is a great resource for any teachers or administrators seeking to gather ideas about a meaningful web face in the world of increased interactivity.
The most recent feature is Rockburn Elementary School, which is located in Elkridge, Maryland. The description says: “Originally designed as a fifth grade student project in 1996-97, this site continues to reflect student contributions in every area and serves as a place for them to showcase a variety of work.”
Head off to the Techlearning school website archives.
Three years ago, I wanted to find a way to spark leadership in my sixth grade students and so I decided to start up a Student Council for fifth and sixth graders. The group has been very successful and popular. They have organized rock concerts, overseen toy drives for needy families and fostered school spirit.
This year, they decided that they wanted to publish a student-written newspaper — and they did a fine job with the first edition. The Student Council leaders (with only some direction from me):
- Held a naming contest for the entire school and came up with Tigger Talk (a playful variation of the school newsletter, called Tiger Talk)
- Went on morning announcements and encouraged young writers
- Decided on which articles and cartoons would make it into the newspaper
- Added original artwork to the pages
- Did the lay-out the old-fashioned way — scissors, glue sticks and paper
- Took pride in becoming real newspaper publishers
You can view Tigger Talk at our Student Council website (or click on the picture)
Jim Gray founded the National Writing Project in California in the early 1970s as a way to gather teachers together to share best practices in the teaching of writing and to become writers themselves. He passed away in the past year. (He published a wonderful book called Teachers at the Center about the early days of the writing project).
The Voice, a publication of the NWP, recently published some wonderful reflections on Jim Gray’s impact on our network of teachers, and this retrospective included the so-called unwritten Gray’s Laws that seem very insightful.
|The First Law:
No one, in any way, at any time, or under any circumstances, likes criticism.
|The Sixth Law:
If you become defensive, you lose.
|The Second Law:
Everyone, without qualification, is starved for recognition.
|The Seventh Law:
When issues are controversial, communication between opposing sides is mostly impossible.
|The Third Law:
Incompetence flourishes in all fields and in all walks of life.
|The Eighth Law:
The Macbeth Family Factor — It pays to consider the consequences, lest you go mad.
|The Fourth Law:
No one can see ‘the truth’ unless predisposed to see it.
|The Ninth Law:
The Iago Factor — There really are a lot of mean-spirited people in this world.
|The Fifth Law:
No one wants to be told what to do or what to think.
|The Tenth Law:
Anyone who has made up nine laws will add a tenth.
You can read some of the stories about Jim Gray through the Bay Area Writing Project site.
I just got a poem of mine published at a site called The New Verse News.
The poem, called Incognito: Front Lines, was written for a friend of mine who was in the Middle East as a military police officer and the poem was inspired by the publication of some written memories of soldiers in The New Yorker magazine. Thousands of soldiers are taking part in a large project to document the experience of the war in Iraq through writing and the magazine published bits and pieces of some of that writing. It was very powerful and shocking, and emotional unnerving.
I wrote my poem this summer and then used the e-Anthology to get feedback from the National Writing Project teachers to revise it, and so I thank everyone who helped me along the way.
You can read a copy of my poem or listen to it, too. Incognito
Peace (for real),
While I was in Nashville, wandering around the aquarium-like Gaylord Opryland, I picked up a flier for this show, which is called The Teacher: A New Musical by Ken Stonecipher. Apparently, Ken, who is a teacher, wrote a full-length musical around the act of teaching (!). I tried to find a web presence for the musical (which Ken says will soon be moving on to Broadway) but I came up empty.
In the flier, this is how Ken describes it:
“For those who love teaching, it is the most exciting career of all. Where else does one get to play the role of educator, creator, counselor, baby-sitter and prison guard all in one day? In what other profession does one have to balance the behavior of 165 hormone-raging adolescents with their need for quality education?”
Well said …
I guess Ken also presents pieces of his musical as a professional development tool. The flier calls the sessions “… a brutal yet honest look at the evolution of teaching … ” Now that would be different, wouldn’t it?
I love the idea of intersecting music, arts, writing and teaching all in one — although I can’t comment on the quality of his writing (the flier was a bit sketchy) or the production values (I didn’t see any of it).
While I was in Nashville for the National Writing Project Annual Meeting, I decided I would create an audio postcard for some of our writing project fellows back home in Western Massachusetts. These audio files are also being linked to our WMWP Online Newsletter for others to listen to.
Here are the two audio postcards:
- Day One: some workshop presentations, interviews and reflections Day One
- Day Two: general assembly of NWP, interviews and reflections Day Two
Here I am with a Jason, a good friend and colleague from Colorado, who is part our Youth Radio Project.
I returned home from Nashville yesterday afternoon from the annual meeting of the National Writing Project armed and ready with new ideas and full of questions about which direction our Western Massachusetts Writing Project site and my classroom should be going, given the influx of new tools and ideas that are out there.
I will be podcasting some of my audio postcard that I created this past week at Nashville for our WMWP Newsletter site but until then, here are some insights:
- Once again: What an amazing group of teachers we have in the NWP network and it is at all levels. I am most closely connected with the Tech Liaisons but this annual meeting really drives home the passion and energy of teachers who view writing as central to the learning process. I am not alone in the woods! 🙂
- I took part in three workshops, including one about writing in the digital age. I presented a case study about digital picture books but other presenters showed a virtual museum, video storytelling, audio and writing connections and the change in audience, and others. I am not convinced writing has changed in these studies but it was fascinating and inspiring work.
- With the launch of the second year of our large Weblog project called Making Connections (using technology to connect students in rural and urban districts), I suddenly became aware of how the Manila blog platform just isn’t what we need and now I am scrambling to find a better platform (Elgg is one under consideration). It’s a bit scary to change, considering we have intended to launch Year Two in the next six to eight weeks. But the NWP network will do that to you — inspire you to reach out in new directions. And, I figure, if the goal of our project is to build community among writers and the Manila just isn’t cutting it, then let’s be bold and find the right platform to accomplish our goals.
- Finally, it was great to connect with fellow technology powerhouses from both Tech Matters (this past summer) and to connect faces and voices to blogs on my aggregator (Bud the Teacher, etc).
More to come later …. until then, peace.