Wednesday, October 31, 2012

The Chronicles of Harris Burdick

I wrote about a Harris Burdick writing unit a little over a year ago.

Here are the pictures that are at the heart of this unit:

A couple of days after I created that post, The Chronicles of Harris Burdick came out. I picked it up this summer. Here is a really cool and really poorly acted trailer for this new book:

I love all the authors this features! I loathe their acting! But I still enjoy watching it.
I started reading this book yesterday and I'm about half way through. What gave me an idea for this post though is my favorite story so far, "A Strange Day In July" by Sherman Alexie.
The story that Sherman Alexie created comes from this illustration and caption:
"He threw with all his might, but the third stone came skipping back"

There are a few reasons why I'll use this story as a mentor text when teaching this fiction unit.

Character Development
The first is character development. The characters in this story are superb. Their strange and mean. They terrorize animals and old ladies. Their twins but pretend to be triplets. So this story used in conjuction with Nancie Atwell's Main Character Questionnaire could help children think of great characters to fill their stories:
1. What’s your name?
2. How old are you?
3. What’s the problem you’re facing?
4. What’s your family background?
5. Where do you live?
6. What do you like to do?
7. What’s different about you?
8. What do you care about? What do you want?
9. What do you fear?
10. What are your dreams?
11. Who are the important people in your life?
12. What are the important things in your life?
13. How will you change through confronting your problem? Possibilities:
14. What will you understand about yourself and your world at the end of
the story? Possibilities: 

Author Craft
The voice of this story is fresh and original, full of author craft that can be pointed out and emulated.
Here is an example passage:

Heck, if they had discovered severed thumbs in the middle of their ice cream Timmy and Tina would have just licked them clean and dropped them into a fish tank.
Okay, that's not true
When Timmy and Tina walked in the woods, the birds would shake their tail feathers and flutter their wings and sing, strange kids, strange kids, strange kids. 
Okay, that's not true, either.
But Timmy and Tina scared birds. And they scared dogs. Heck, the lions at the zoo would cover their faces with their paws whenever Timmy and Tina came to visit.
Okay, that's not true at all.

The playfulness of the description, oscillating between something true and something false throws off the reader. They don't know what to expect, and what to believe. It also gives a creepy, mean story a much needed sense of lightness.

The Ending
In the few years that I've taught this unit, I've never had a student make the caption to the picture the last sentence of the story. But it makes perfect sense, leaving the reader with as much wonder and curiosity as the potential writer has when they first see the illustration. It's an extremely effective craft for this type of project.

Tuesday, October 30, 2012

A Teacher's Guide To The 9 Best Halloween Animation Shorts For Children

While looking for a short Halloween film for a movie station during our Elementary Halloween Harvest Fest this Friday, I found a lot of good short films for the occasion. The criteria given to me were:
1) It has to be under 10 minutes
2) It has to be age appropriate. Our audience is second to fifth graders.
So here is a list of my favorite animated shorts that I found, in no particular order. Some are age appropriate, and some just out of reach. I'll let you decide which is the best... Besides Alma. Alma is the best.

The 9 Best Halloween Animated Shorts

9) "Scary Smash"
I've never heard of WBAK (Written by a Kid) before yesterday, but apparently they're influential enough to grab Joss Whedon and Dave Foley for their pilot episode. I love the concept. I watched some of the other episodes, but none of the ones I watched used the same combination of animation and live actors like this one uses. The style works very well and they should have stuck with it. That is why out of all of the episodes this first one is my favorite.
It's a 4 minute story made up by a 5 year old. It's appropriate for all elementary students.

8) "Alma"
The best in this list because it's amazingly creepy, but appropriate for any age. That's amazing! How does that happen? What's even more amazing is that it seems the older you are, the creepier this short is.

Alma from Rodrigo Blaas on Vimeo.

7) "The Passenger"
This is another fantastic short, and it probably features the scariest goldfish in cinema history. This would be my selection for this year, if I can convince myself that the goldfish isn't too scary for 2nd and 3rd graders.

6) "The Lady and the Reaper"
This one is pretty good. Perhaps it's not a super great choice for lower elementary. The lady in question kills herself at the end. And that's after the Reaper killed her about 739 times already. Somehow the suicide is slightly more unsettling.

The lady and the reaper from Hormoz Zamanpour Siahkal on Vimeo.

5) "Granny O'Grimm's Sleeping Beauty"
"Alma" may be the best, but this one is my favorite. It's hilarious. And unfortunately probably over the heads of elementary students.

Granny O'Grimm's Sleeping Beauty from Darragh O'Connell on Vimeo.

4 )"This Way Up"
I like this one a lot, especially the Rube Goldberg machine that caused the boulder to fall on the hearse. I could have done without the trippy dream sequence. It's a tough call on appropriateness because the dead body the two men are transporting is your grandma.

3) "Something Left, Something Taken"
Probably a bit too wordy for a younger audience, this is a fun animation. The filmmaker has a strange obsession with the concept "something left, something taken," as it is mentioned over and over- even after the film has ended.

Something Left, Something Taken- Full Version from Tiny Inventions on Vimeo.

2) "Before Sunrise"
I like the idea of shadows and flames at the heart of a story. I don't like that heart of this story is love. Bleah. Still, the animation is too pretty to not include.

1) "The Maker"
This one is magical. It's magical because I didn't think much of it until the last few seconds. Then it blew me away. It's an amazing idea, and not at all like the love story you think it is... which makes it a ton more interesting than "Before Sunrise."

The 4 Best Almost-But-Not-Quite Halloween Animated Shorts 
These Aren't Strictly Halloween, But These Darn Good Animations Have Aliens, or Alien Allusions, or a passive obsession that almost kills the protagonist.

(after the jump)

Hook, Line, and Sinker: A Unit On Electricity

I'm going to try something slightly different in this post. It's the first in a series that I unoriginally call "Hook, Line, and Sinker." The premise, which I literally made up 30 seconds ago is this. I'll show a unit of study by illustrating three parts:
1) The initial "hook, that is what will get kids excited about the unit.
2) The "line", which is, I don't know...  maybe what I want everyone to get out of the lesson. Let's call this the essential questions/enduring understandings portion.
3) Finally I can include a "sinker", which is an extension of the unit that allows students to "go deeper" in their exploration of the subject.

Hmmmm.... I'm sure this has been thought of a million times over before. But not by me! Let's try it and see how it shakes out.

Today I started teaching "Electricity" in science. Here is my hook, line, and sinker for this unit.

The Hook
To be fair, the perfect hook for this unit would be to drive out to my grandparents' farm in rural Kansas, and drop off my students in front of the electrified cow fence with varying sizes and girths of wooden sticks. That's how I first experimented with electricity. And it taught me that so-called insulators like wood and internal organs are actual partial conductors.
 And throwing a stick at this bad boy does not actually demonstrate if it's electric or not.

But in absence of a farm and an instinct that borders on gross negligence, this is the next best hook I have. It's from the Annenburg Learner videos- that great series that looks like it was filmed in the 1950s, yet still has a lot of hidden gems.

The hook is not just the video of course. It's the video and a bulb and a battery and a wire.
In other words, once we watch the video, we try it ourselves. And if we can figure out one way to do it, there are three other ways we can do it! It's an awesome hook, and the kids become instantly curious and frustrated and in love with electricity.

The Line
There are a lot of essential questions for electricity which rises exponentially when we throw magnetism into the mix. But leaving magnetism out for the moment, there are two questions that are sufficient enough to sustain an entire unit: How does electricity flow? and What is a circuit?

The Sinker
After constructing series and parallel circuits with various batteries bulbs and dough, we can do it all over again with various batteries, bulbs, and dough. Squishy circuits expand are definition of what a circuit is and how electricity flows.
Squishy circuits are amazing. Last year I gave one of my students the recipe for the different doughs to see what he could make. He based his science fair project on it. I'll look for the photos I took and add them later.

So how did that work? Should I continue with this series? Let me know.

Monday, October 29, 2012

ISS and Animoto: A Window Into Bad Behavior

One of my mottos that I try to teach by is, "Only use a technology for its intended purpose." Granted, I sometimes fail in this because I get excited about a new web 2.0 application, but as a whole I'm pretty good at following my own advice. With that in mind, I'm trying hard to wrap my brain around the new ISS (International School Services) gimmick to promote its candidates to existing schools.

ISS is a big, clunky umbrella that, among other things, holds job fairs and allows teachers to set up an online portfolio for potential schools to see. Since I registered with them in August, this is what is featured on my ISS Dashboard:
A good 70% of my dashboard is filled with an Animoto promotion. For those of you that can't read mico-text, the plug is this:
Use Animoto to show why you are the perfect candidate for the job you are looking for! Look what one candidate has already done to distinguish herself as a candidate. Her Animoto (see below) is now available at the top of her profile for all the recruiters to see. You too can make the most of this new recruitment technology. It is easy to do – even for non techies - and we have created step by step instructions to show you how. Go to create your own slide show and give your candidacy a boost.

My first reaction when I initially saw this in August was...
Except I Wasn't Wearing Garfield Boxers

Why? Because ISS is not following my motto! Here is what Animoto is extremely good at: Creating slideshows. That's it. But there's a reason why I don't go into interviews with a slideshow presentation. Because no potential employer wants to see that. 

How do I know? 
                             I don't. 
                                          I'm just guessing.

But if I was an administrator that needed to do a hunk-of-hirin', I would assume that anyone, no matter how excellent or how poor of a teacher they really are, could throw together a bunch of photos with smiling and studious children.  It tells you absolutely nothing.
For This Photo, I Googled "Children Studying" 

But ISS seems to have fallen into that infamous trap of using a web 2.0 tool just because it exists, regardless of the intended purpose. To support that groundless accusation, I present the subject line of an email they sent me a few days ago:

ISS launches new members' portal featuring cutting-edge technology!

One of the cutting-edge technologies is Animoto, of course (Even though Animoto is a relatively old web 2.0 technology, created around 2006 or 2007, I believe). 

As a counter to this push, I tried last night to make a reasonable counter argument to ISS filling up 70% of my dashboard with an Animoto plug. I decided it would be best if I used Animoto to make my counter-argument. But because I wasn't strictly using Animoto for it's intended purpose, the results are mixed:

The inconvenient truth is that I've might have made this too late. As hip as ISS wants to appear to be, it's Dashboard is ugly and static. In fact it's so static that there doesn't seem to be a way to go back and change any aspect of my profile. Everything I entered (or didn't enter) in August seems to be permanent. So now that I have jumped on the Animoto bandwagon with my own Animoto video that points out why ISS should not be promoting Animoto, there doesn't seem to be a way to update my profile with the new video.
So in a way they're not doing exactly what I'm asking them not to do.

*Update: Did I call ISS clunky and static? What a strange, baseless accusation! And on a totally unrelated note, here is my email correspondance with them while trying to figure out how to update my profile.

  • Editing My Profile

    by Ryan
    Sent:  4:36 AM
    Hi, My name is Ryan and my ID is *******. I would like to make changes on my profile but I can't find where to do that. Please help. Thank you.
  • RE: Editing My Profile

    by Tajuan
    Sent:  12:31 PM
    Dear Mr. Malone, Greetings from ISS. Since your file was already approved you are unable to edit it yourself. If you want to make a change you must let us know exactly what you want changed and we will be happy to assist you. Kind Regards, Tajuan

    So because my profile has been approved, I've been locked out of it. Apparently I might make a change that ISS does not approve of on my profile? I'm not sure if I"m following the only possible logic I can come up with to rationalize this. 

Saturday, October 27, 2012

iPad and Animoto: A Window Into The Classroom

One of the changes I've made this year is using Animoto more frequently to create monthly slideshows of our class photos, and publishing them to our class web page. It's easy to do but adds an extra virtual window into our classroom.
A Window That Apparently Opens Up To An Upside Down Map

It's easy because I am using iPad to take the photos, and rely on "Photo Stream" to synch the photos with my computer. It would be even easier if I liked the Animoto iPad app, but I abandoned it because it doesn't allow me (as far as I can tell) to change the photo speed rate, which I find is critical in making a slideshow.

It's not a big deal though, because "Photo Stream" makes photos taken on my iPad magically appear in iPhoto on my laptop. Then it's just a quick upload and a slow, agonizing decision on the music, and voila! A new slideshow every month:

The August Slideshow
(I should have chosen this style and music for spooky October, but I was fascinated in using extremely intense music to show something that was the opposite)

The September Slideshow

The October Slideshow

Thursday, October 25, 2012

"Material World" & "Where Children Sleep" (Part 2)

An evolving bulletin board I started this year combines the photo collections of Peter Menzel's Material World and James Mollison's Where Children Sleep. The quote, "There are seven billion people in the world, and each one deserves a closer look," is paraphrased from something Rosie O'Donnell told Michelle Trachtenberg in the movie Harriet The Spy.
A More Subtle Performance Than "Another Stakeout"

I set up the outside bulletin boards at the beginning of the year like this:

After we study "Material World" and "Where Children Sleep", the children combine the two types of photos to create photos of their bedrooms. Then, keeping the same quote the photos are replaced with the children's own work.

 The self-portrait is an art project where the children
1) Draw half of their face, envisioning what they will look like in 15 years, and
2) Draw representations of what they value now, and what they think they will value 15 years in the future.
Their bedroom photos are attached below their self-portraits. My TA had the idea of making a "stand" for the self portraits using the bedroom photos so that the self-portraits could be easily opened and closed, which is why they look like they are curved.

Wednesday, October 24, 2012

"Material World" & "Where Children Sleep" (Part 1)

In the early 1990's Peter Menzel created a photo expose of "average" families in several countries. He asked these families to take out all of the possessions from their house and arrange them with the most important items in the foreground. The result is his remarkable "Material World" and a few of the photos are featured below:

James Mollison recently published a photo book called Where Children Sleep. Once again it takes selective subjects from all over the world and photographs them and their bedrooms. A few of those photos are featured below:

I try to combine both of these projects into part of a values unit that teaches us about ourselves and our classmates. After choosing a Material World poster and studying it, the children create their own "Material World" photo, but instead of hauling everything outside, they arrange it in their bedrooms:

The photo then becomes a piece of a much larger project of tangible values using Fotobabble, which we publish on our individual websites and share with each other. It's also part of an evolving bulletin board, which I'll feature in the next post.

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