Search Stories and Story Writing

My students are going to be handing in an adventure short story project today that they have been working on for about two weeks. We began with a lot of brainstorming around characters, and setting, and plot development. We’ve worked on proofreading and editing and writing dialogue in the correct format (something that never seems to have been taught in other grades, it seems to me).

Today, after they go through a self-assessment rubric, I am going to take them one step further with their characters. We’re going to be using Google Search Stories as a way to bring their characters to life a bit.

Their task: create a Search Story from the view of your main character. What would they be searching for that will tell the basic framework of the story? This has as much to do with inference (which is a theme we are working on) as it does with narrowing down a story to some basic elements. Ideally, after watching one of the Search Stories, a viewer should have some sense of the story, even if they haven’t read it. And if they have read the story, the Search Story should complement that experience.

Is that asking too much of 11 year olds?

I don’t think so, although last year when we did a Search Story project, I could clearly delineate those students whose critical thinking skills were finely developed and those who have not yet taken that step forward. The “missing elements” of the Search Story — what you leave out — is the key.

Here’s my sample from a story that I have shared with my students. The story — called The Machine — is about a brother and sister who have inadvertently constructed a robot that is now on a rampage around town, and the two siblings have to stop it by finding missing engineering plans that will tell them how to turn the robot off. Both get hurt in the process. But they are successful.

And here are the Search Stories from last year. These are not centered on a story project. They just had to create a Search Story that told a tale about something.

Peace (in the search),

PS — I should note that I make a big deal out of the fact that this is a Google site, designed to get people to use Google for search, and that Google makes money out of every search query. I want to use the tool — it’s ease of use makes it manageable in one class period — but I also want my students to know what they are using. We all use my classroom YouTube account, by the way.

The NWP Search Story Playlist

I’ve been experimenting with the new Google Search Story creator and wanted to see how I could collaborate with folks in my network of National Writing Project folks.
So, I put out a call and got some pretty neat stories. I do notice that people struggle with the “telling a story” as opposed to connected links around a topic. In my view, it has more power when the viewer (reader) is trying to determine the mind of the person (character) doing the search queries. It reminds me a story I once wrote that only used personal checks (it was inspired by a published story that did something similar). The storytelling was more about what you leave out than what you put in. This search story idea is similar — how can you leave enough gaps in the narrative for the viewer to figure out what is going on?

Anyway, I tried to find ways to share out the stories that my NWP friends and I were creating, and Matt Needleman suggested a YouTube playlist, which made sense (no video editing on my part) and I realized that you can embed the entire playlist in a blog post, which is pretty neat.

The playlist is here, if you need a direct link: or watch the embedded videos down below.

What’s your story?

Peace (in the search),

Collaborative Drawing in Google Docs

You may be aware that Google rolled out a revamped version of its Google Docs system this week. I haven’t had time to explore all of it, but I was interested in the launch of a drawing option that would allow you to collaborate with others. So, I set up a simple picture, published it to the world and asked folks in various networks to try it out. At one time, I noticed there were about 30 people with access to the file. Not everyone added to the drawing, but it was pretty interesting.

I could see some possibilities in the classroom around shared drawing, or maybe a shared art project with someone else in the world. The tools in the drawing program are pretty limited but I think kids could still be very creative.

Peace (with the pen),

PS — Here is the video announcing the revampled Google Docs.

Much abuzz about Buzz

I don’t have¬† a strong opinion yet about the new Google platform called Buzz, although it is better than Google Wave, as far as I am concerned. Buzz is an Twitter-like tool that is integrated into your gmail account, allowing people in your connections to share thoughts, links and more (including elements from Google Reader).

There is also a security issue brought up at a blog site, which noted that since the Buzz conversations are defaulted to “public,” then all of one’s contacts can also be seen by the public.¬† (Read the article and see what you think. I know some folks have now turned off Buzz as they wait for Google to make a fix.)

But, so far, I have been following some interesting conversations among very smart people in my Buzz and I like that it sits right there in my email, and Buzz threads even show up in my inbox, so I can easily keep track of the conversations. Will it replace Twitter? Seems unlikely, but you never know and we should never count Google out of any game.

Some are wondering about the possibilities of Buzz for the classroom. It would require kids to have gmail accounts and it could be a way for encouraging conversations and sharing of resources. But I would worry about oversight, since the teacher would not have much control over the Buzzing. And, who wants to say in the hallway, “I let my kids get buzzed today?”

Peace (in the buzz),


Thumbnail View in Google Docs

Finally … Google has added a thumbnail view to its Google Docs. For visual people, this is a nice way to “see” your files, particularly now that you can upload and share any kind of file now.

In the upper right corner of your Google Docs dashboard, just click the icon for thumbnail view.

The Wonder of the Google Wonder Wheel

I don’t mean for this to be an advertisement for Google, but I has been hearing about the Google Wonder Wheel for a few days now and decided I wanted to see what it is. Although still in the beta stage (I think), the Wonder Wheel is part of the search engine, showing semantic connections in a search query. In other words, you can see concepts branching off from the main query.

For example, I used Google to search for “Graphic Classroom” and the wheel expanded in any number of directions — showing me sites with lesson plans, books for reluctant readers and more. As I began to journey on the wheel, I found “adult graphic novels” and followed the thread to Neil Gaiman.

How do you get to the Wheel? This blog site gives a nice overview, but essentially, on the Google Search page, type in your keyword, and then one of the links at the top of the pages will be “show options” and then down on the left column, you can find “wonder wheel.”

Pretty nifty use of visual search technology.

Peace (in the wheel),

A Great Series of Resources

Tom B. has created a couple of amazing slideshows about using Google Docs, Google Earth, Interactive Whiteboards and Flip Video cameras in the classroom. The ideas are rich and if you are wondering about these programs, Tom’s slideshows should point you in the right direction.

I found this one about the flip/portable video cameras to be very helpful:

Peace (in sharing),


Snow … in six words

Sometimes, you stumble upon interesting things in the networked world. A few days ago, I noticed on Twitter that @roswellgirl was seeking collaborators from her various wired networks for a collaborative Google Presentations project on the concept of snow. Using a photograph, participants added a slide to her presentation, write a six word narrative about snow, and passed the show on to the next person.

How could I resist?

On this day, with sleet and freezing rain descending upon us, I decided to open up the screen of our window in the dining room and take a shot of an old and decaying snowman (featured on PhotoFridays a few weeks ago), and then added six words about the fate of snowmen when the freezing rain arrives.

I believe that the project is still open for contributors (email Martha at t56linc(at)gmail(dot)com to get invited into the Google Docs presentation).

Here is a direct link to the presentation (I had trouble embedding the presentation here — it kept doing strange things to my blog). Here is my picture:

And my sentence was: Sloppy snowfall means death to snowmen

Peace (in pictures),

Two Cool Things

Here are two neat things that I found this morning in my RSS reader.

First, I went to a site called Create Your Own Snowflake. I know. A waste of time. But a fun waste of time and something that kids might get into. You create the snowflake by clicking in the circle and it makes symmetrical patterns. Nice enough. But here is the thing that was fun: you can then put the snowflake into motion in either 2D or 3D (which is very cool).

(go to Build a Snowflake)

Next, this video from the Google Docs Weblog (which you should put into your reader if you use Google applications at all) is just an amazing thing to watch, as some Google-ites collaborate in a Google Spreadsheet on the creation of a holiday picture. I was fascinated by the movement and wondered: how could we replicate this somehow? (pushing that to the back of my mind for now)


Peace (in sharing),

Digging Into Google Sites

Maybe I am just lazy, but I am liking how easy it is to create websites with Google Sites. They really get the simplicity down for users. And my list of sites keeps growing, as I added a place for all of my book and graphic novels reviews that run elsewhere first but needed a home under one roof. I have used Google Page Creator, but that seems more and more clunky and I think Google is phasing it out (although I may be wrong about that).

Want to see some of the Google Sites I have created?

And here are a few that I have created for my classroom or with students in other programs:

So, why does Google do it? Their philosophy, from what I have read, is that the more people who are online, the more people who may click on their advertising links in their Google Search, and the more money they get. I understand all that and I can live with that, as long as my sites don’t become home to a barrage of advertising.

Do you use Google Sites? (And see her for information from Google on using its tools for the classroom)

Peace (in building footprints),