3/16/08 (aka The First Day of the Rest of My Life without Musicals)

OKAY...where to start?
My students are bright and easily bored. They are my anomoly class. My other three classes are predominantly concrete thinkers who need time to be poked into thinking, reflecting, reaching for and having confidence in the concept that their ideas matter. These kids know their ideas matter, but they don't think they matter in school (at least this is my impression). They know the "game"-- a teacher gives you an assignment, tells you how to do it, gives you a rubric, tells you how they'll score it, and you just give the teacher what they want. I hate that this is the expectation they have of school. School is about people teaching you HOW to use your thoughts, not telling you WHAT thoughts to have.

The only light that goes on is when I throw them a curve ball. Second Life was a curve ball. Finding themselves described in Edutopia magazine was a curveball. My telling them to stop reading a book if they don't relate to it was a definite curve ball. It's the only time I feel like I truly have their attention. They expect me to zig, but they love when I zag.

ANYWAY, let me be more concrete-- this is what I see for this week:
Monday--- Student groups need to be formed. I need them to find their strengths for the project-- Who is an expert at iMovie? Who loves to use Comic Life? I'd hate for them to use Second Life as the comfortable crutch, but if that's the case, so be it. We will then work on grasping the literal content of the poem.

Tuesday--- This is a day to unpack the emotional content of the poem. I'm thinking of showing them an example I saw on Bernajean's website (regarding the novel Number the Stars, which most of them have read). If they see an example of digital storytelling, perhaps we can talk about how one builds emotional content that reaches beyond mere words. I'll mention to them the idea of thinking up stories they might like to tell through this medium...

Wednesday--- Peg tells me I need them to have their resources together by this point. On this day, hopefully the kids will feret out some music clips, some images that speak to them, some items that may help them evoke an emotional response that ties into Frost's poem.

Thursday and Friday--- I am hoping that this will be enough time for them to work out the practical end of turning their resources into a product. Since we'll have my computers in the classroom, as well as some laptop access, I imagine we should be able to develop something that fits the bill. I admit to being a bit gray on the proficiency my students have with iMovie, so I am waiting to see how this develops. Having had a crash course in iMovie last year, I have some experience, and I hope it's enough to help my kids realize their visions.

This is as far as I've thought. I will continue to ponder and roll items around in my brain today in the hopes that I'll make much more sense after I've spoken to Bernajean.

Later that same day...
I've established a wiki for my kids-- teamsigmasnowflakes.wikispaces.com This way they can journal as I do.

I imagine accessing the wiki will be easier for them than it will be for me. I'm not a digital native, but I play one on TV.

Okay...with any luck, I'll have this wiki space decorated and detailed with an overview of the project by later tonight!

3/17/08 (Top o' the Mornin' to Ya!)

Okay, first, a response-- Fruhling, you are not out of the loop. The loop hasn't been defined yet. We ARE the loop. And I'll be loopy with you anytime you wish.

NOW, on to the good happy news:

My kids did a REALLY good job today. The lesson plan was structured as is listed below:

I. Do Now: In "The Wizard of Oz," what does Dorothy follow to leave Oz? What is the reason she does this?

II. View Video Clip: "The Wizard of Oz" (clip 9 "Follow the Yellow Brick Road")

III. Discussion: How many roads were in the video? What would have happened if Dorothy had follwed the red brick road?

IV. Introduction to "The Road Not Taken" (review vocabulary)

V. Think-Pair-Share: Read the poem with a partner. What is the LITERAL meaning of the poem?

VI. Discussion: What is the METAPHORICAL meaning of the poem?

My reflections:
When we started today, the kids were baffled. CURVE BALL! I love it! However, they quickly caught on, and really got involved in debating what happened in the Wizard of Oz. All agreed that she took the yellow brick road, but the why part was subject to some controversy.
Once we watched the video clip, the discussion about the red brick road really took off. Here are the notes I took as we discussed:

What would have happened if Dorothy had followed the red brick road? I LOVE THIS!!!! JF

- "It would have gone to the Witch's house" (I asked what would make someone believe this, and the student said she inferred that red is an evil color).

- "It would have gone the opposite way" (I asked what would the outcome have been, and the student speculated that she might have gotten home faster)

- "It would have taken her home" (I asked why this was the student's belief, and she said that the red shoes connected to the red path)

- "It would have taken her to an evil Wizard"---Tommy (I asked why and the student again cited red as an evil color)

- "It would have taken her to the Twilight Zone"--- Amanda (This was based upon our prior adventures in Second Life using the scripts from "The Twilight Zone")

- "It would be a dead end" (I asked if a dead end was really 'dead.' She said no, so I asked if a dead end was worth taking, and she said yes, if there is adventure at the dead end).

I asked students to observe their own comments and see if they can notice a general theme of their conclusions. They said they'd divided things up into yellow and red, yellow being more positive, red being more negative. I asked if the road is really just a road. Gabby inferred that the road represents choices-- Good versus Bad. I then asked if all choices can be summed up as Good versus Bad. Students responded with the following:

- "Choices aren't always clear. They're based on your experience"
- "We don't always pay attention, so we don't always see the good versus bad in decisions"
- "Some choices are always good or bad, but most choices aren't clear cut"

Then Tommy insisted that there are no choices that are always good or always bad. Raquel countered that there are some "always bad" choices. When Tommy asked for an example, someone threw out the idea of taking drugs as an "always bad" choice.
While on the theme of choices, I handed out the poem with an attached vocabulary annotation sheet. I told them to keep their discussions of "The Wizard of Oz" in mind while they read the poem. Peg told them that the poem would work on MANY levels, so I told them to start with the LITERAL question-- What is this poem about?

Students read and discussed with partners. As we reconvened, this is what they said:

Literal Meaning/ Metaphor (what it represents):
Two roads / Two choices
Narrator doesn't know which to take/ Narrator needs to make big decisions
Chooses a road that is something new/ Road = the consequences of a decision
Narrator decides to take the road no one else does / Narrator can't see down both roads because you can't always see the consequences of your choices when you make them

I started to prod them with the FEELING questions, and they told me that the sigh in line 16 can either be a sigh of negativity (according to Eric), or a sigh of relief (according to Noah). The difference can be either positive or negative.

Overall, I'm really proud of what they've done here. I think we're moving in a good direction and at a decent pace. Tomorrow, I'll work on the emotional piece....don't know exactly how just yet, but I'll iron that out tonight. THEN we can talk about how emotions are created in different types of media.
Until later, "I'm off to see the Wizard, the Wonderful Wizard of Oz..." ;-)

3/18/08 Starting the Taffy Pulling...*WHEW!*

Today was difficult. I'm not going to even try to lie. Here was the journal prompt...

I. Do Now: Based upon your thoughts of yesterday's poem, describe a time when you've had to choose between two situations, friends or options in your life. How did you feel about making this choice?
I asked a simple journal question, and they clammed up. This is uncharacteristic. I had to backtrack-- "Why are we afraid to share today?" Gabby told me, "Lack of self esteem, insecurity-- what if our answers aren't good enough?" I reassured them-- "There are no wrong answers here, only stories about you and your life." Finally, a few brave souls shared their tales--- Raquel, Ashley, Paige...none of the boys. I offered to share my story with them (I had written it last night) if someone else would volunteer. Here's my original story:
When I was in college, I left the education department for six months. One of my education professors told me I looked too much like the kids. She refused to take me on school visitations to observe classrooms. When I turned in a paper two days late, she refused to grade it. She pulled me aside and told me that I was never going to be able to become an effective teacher because I was too immature. I became angry. She recommended to the head of the education department that I be removed from the program. Rather than fight with her, I dropped my education major and took up jewelry making and photography. After one semester outside of the education department, I decided to appeal to the head of the education department. I cut my hair off, and with a renewed conviction, I rejoined the education department.
After I read, I said, "See? I almost wasn't a teacher at all!" Tommy said, "GOOD!" which is typically Tommy-ish sarcasm. Then it was his turn to share, and something very interesting happened. Normally, Tommy is a Hockey Player-- capital H, capital P, ALL Hockey, ALL the time. Tommy told us very briefly about being six years old and choosing to play hockey for the first time with a travelling team. He talked about getting up at 4 AM, going to practices early in the morning and late at night. He talked about having no time for family and no time for friends. In that moment, Tommy became more than just a Hockey Player-- Tommy became a scared, insecure human being. This is not the boy his classmates are used to-- wise-cracking, quick witted and wise. This person sounded like he wasn't so sure that being ALL Hockey, ALL the time was the best choice. This person sounded unsure. It wasn't in his words-- it was in his voice.

I wanted to push my students more explicitly into an emotional direction, so I shared with them a second version of my story. This time, I read this as a performance piece, full of fear, anxiety and anger. This is what I read:

Dr. Lila Fowler Morse looked down her narrow pointy nose at me. "Why do you want to teach?" she growled.

Because I taught Michelle how to tell time when I was in second grade. Because I taught Samantha how to speak Spanish last summer. Because I don't know how not to be a teacher. My stomach seized up into a knot. None of these answers would be enough for her. "I don't know," I muttered, intimidated by her icy stare.
"Then there is no reason for you to waste your time in this department." She turned away from me with a dismissive tone.

Anger boiled in my head. Who was this woman to dictate my future? A lifetime as a teacher had left her a brittle, resentful shell of a human being. She was human beef jerky-- dry, wrinkled and pungent.
"You do not have the disposition of a teacher. Your behavior is no better than that of the children." Because Hope Ann and I smile in your classroom? Because we giggle and chat with students in the hallways? I LIKE children. They're happy! Why is it a crime for me to be, too? I shrugged helplessly.

"IF you are permitted to stay in this department," the emphasis on IF intimated that the likelihood of this was as possible as filling the Grand Canyon with Jell-O, "I will not take you on any future visitations to schools. You look like the students, you dress like the students and you act like the students. You are not fit to be in the classroom."
My mind reeled in desperation. My family has no money. I'm here working three jobs to pay my way through college. I can't afford "teacher" clothes, I can't afford a new haircut, and I can't change my wardrobe because Laura Ingalls Wilder here thinks I need to look different. And WHY does my APPEARANCE have ANYthing to do with my ability to relate to STUDENTS??? Stunned and outraged, I only managed a passive nod. "But my unit paper..." I began, my hoarse voice trailing off...

"IS LATE!" she snapped, outraged. "Do you have ANY idea what would happen if I turned in a lesson plan to my principal LATE when I was teaching? I would have been FIRED!"
I am defeated and humiliated...wandering over the placid green hills of the Geneseo landscape, I arrived at my advisor's door. I handed him my second semester registration form with "Fine Arts" scrawled in my shaky handwriting across the top next to the word MAJOR.

He signed his approval.
I then asked my students what the difference was between the first and second version of the story. They told me that this time, it felt like they were there. They could feel the emotions I felt, they thought they experienced it much more clearly the second time around. "The first one is just a summary, like the back of a book. It's telling what happened, but not really telling it completely," Jon said.

Then I turned back to Tommy. I asked, "Do you still feel like saying 'good' after this one?" Tommy looked puzzled. "No, think about it-- after the first passage I read, you said good and we laughed, but do you feel like doing that now?" "No," Tommy said. "How do you feel about it?" I asked. "Sad," someone called out. "Different...it's just different," Tommy said.

I explained to the students that we want to mine into the emotional level of our stories. It's not just enough for Ashley to think about whether she should go on her family vacation or go to her best friend's birthday party-- she has to think about the feelings behind it. What is she afraid of in this decision making process? "That I'll hurt someone," she said. "Then THAT is what I want to hear," I responded.

As I explained the part about using Frost's words, the students seemed confused. Peg jumped in to help clear that up. "You're in two parallel places--- here's Frost's poem, and here is your story. We'll hear Frost's words, but the pictures, the sound effects, the emotion, that is all coming from your story."

We then showed the "Number the Stars" example from Bernajean's website. About two thirds of my students had read this story, so they were familiar with it. The first time through, we discussed the emotional content of the piece. I pointed out that the person who made this did NOT write the book-- she had to use someone else's words, but infused her own emotions into it. The second time through, Peg challenged them to start looking at the technical aspect of the piece. "They start and stop the music," Raquel said. "They build suspense with the choice of music," Gabby said. "And they keep it in black and white, because that was what the time period was like," Gabby added. "Is that why they chose to use black and white, or is there another reason?" I asked. "When I think about the two sides-- Nazis versus the Jewish people, it seems pretty polar, pretty black and white. For all we know, this is a choice the creator made in order to remind us of the two opposite sides." The dog barking in the piece made Karoline jump (even though she swears it didn't...but I saw her!), and the kids liked the sound effect of the foot steps. "Your project will be different," I told them, "Because this one shows pictures that match the words...yours will show the pictures, sounds and feelings of your individual story, not just pictures to illustrate the poem."

We broke up into groups. The students began comparing stories. Now in smaller group, they weren't as hesitant to share. I spoke with one group, in which Jenna told me that her choice is one she is making right now. "I can either play soccer or tennis," she said. "So what?" I responded (Peg had encouraged them to find the emotional level of the story by prodding each other with "So what?"). "So, I don't know which to do." I asked her what was holding her back from making the choice. "Well, I take tennis lessons, so it's kind of a waste if I don't do tennis," she said. "Ah, and you're good at tennis. How are you at soccer?" I asked. "Not good..." she laughed. "So there is your emotional level. You can either be secure and confident that you'll do well in one sport, but part of you wants to try something new and exciting, something that maybe you aren't so good at. THIS is where your story is," I told her.

At the end of the period, I pulled Tommy. I told him that knowing him as I do, I couldn't imagine him not playing hockey. I told him this is the reason I find his story fascinating. "You do?" he seemed surprised. "I think you sacrifice an awful lot for that sport, and I think there is a seriously interesting emotional level to your story that other people can relate to. Consider doing it in your group." He smiled, "Okay."

I had mentioned that tomorrow, each group would have to pick ONE story. Tomorrow, I am sans Peg, so I'm releasing my darlings into World so that they can chronicle the discussions they have about their story. I will be pushing them to boil down the story they choose to find the emotional level of it. Then we will begin the awesome task of storyboarding. I need to email Bernajean and ask if she can be in Second Life tomorrow with the kids. I'd like for them to meet her.

I'll structure a Do Now in World later today. This way, they can log in and get started on their group discussions. Bernajean can hopefully group hop and get a sense of who they are.

*yawn* I am very grateful to have a free period after this class. They're lovely, but LORD do they wear me out! :-)

3/19/08 And Chaos Ensues...

Ah, the best laid plans of mice and men...
Today, our laptop cart arrived at 8 am, and Eleanor diligently slaved away to make sure we would be okay. The only problem? Second Life hadn't been updated. The tech guy (I am awful with names and suffer guilt over not knowing the moniker of one of the men who make my work possible) came in and after much commotion, we seemed to be in business. Until...

The kids went in and discovered they were still in American Revolution garb. I begged, pleaded and cajouled, but much like mud wrestling with a pig, we all got dirty and they didn't mind. At any moment when I wasn't hovering, I saw arms spread out and EDIT APPEARANCE over the heads of my precious little snowflakes.

Once we got over that hurdle, they found the spinning assignment orb and settled down into their pods. We had the usual issues of someone needing a teleport, someone falling out of the pod, and someone not being able to see anything ("ESCAPE! HIT ESCAPE!" they cried to their frustrated classmate). When I reminded them that the conversation has to be in world, the work really started.

Group 3 decided fairly quickly that they were going to use Emma's story. Emma has several dogs, but recently, the family had to decide whether or not to put one to sleep. Emma seemed a bit reluctant at first, but she is working with some friends, and I think their ability to empathize with her situation really won her over.

Group 2 shared their stories, trying to see which one is going to work best. Brian's family let him decide which of two houses they should live in. I found that to be an amazing responsibility for a child. I still want to hear the background of this story. Noah makes the constant choice to save his money rather than spend it on comic books and video games. I asked him why this matters? What lesson does this teach him? He said it matters because one day he might need his money. It teaches him to be responsible for himself. The group collectively said that Will's story was the best, but Will wasn't willing to share. And then the bell rang...
There is never enough time to do what I plan. However, I did send the kids away with this sheet to help them grasp the overview of what needs to be done by Tuesday when they meet Bernajean...

Digital Story Telling Project

STEP ONE: Decisions, Decisions, Decisions
1. Select which story you will use for your parallel digital story. It should NOT literally connect to the Frost poem, but should connect metaphorically with the larger theme of struggling with a decision.
2. Discuss with your group what emotions the writer felt in the moment of the story. List them in the space below, along with the reasons why the person felt as he/she did:

3. Discuss a lesson that can be learned through the sharing of this story. Describe it in the space below:

STEP TWO: Getting Tech-y
1. Create a folder on the desktop where you can store the materials you find.
2. Search for image resources for your story, including: pictures, drawings, photographs, maps, or charts. Once you have found them, save them to your folder.
3. Locate audio resources such as music, speeches, interviews, and sound effects. Once you have found them, save them to your folder.
Remember as you search that the goal is to create a parallel story with our Frost poem that leaves the audience with a clear impression of YOUR story and the emotions behind it!
STEP THREE: Creating a Story Board

1. Go back to the Frost poem and the original parallel story. Decide which parts of the poem coincide with the parallel story, so you can illustrate the poem appropriately.

For example, if your story is about choosing between two friends, the line that says “Two roads diverged in a yellow wood, And sorry I could not travel both” should be the part of your story where you are thinking of the two friends. This can be represented by a picture of each friend.

2. Based upon the emotions of your story, decide where you would like to use your sound effects or music. You can use several different audio clips. You are not stuck with just one song or sound.

3. Map out which lines from the Frost poem will be represented by the images and audio that you have found.

Remember that the lesson learned also needs to be represented visually in your presentation!

Once we have completed all of these steps, we will be ready to work with Bernajean and our Tech Team next week!

3/20/08 Creative Disorder…

Okay, so today things were messy, as they usually are when a project really picks up steam. I handed out a story board graphic organizer today that looks like an empty box, a rectangle with a line of the poem embedded inside, an oval shape underneath, and lastly, a bottom line. The directions are as follows:

Digital Story Telling Story Board
In the boxes below, brainstorm what images you will need. In the ovals, brainstorm music and sound effects. On the bottom line, write the feelings you are trying to convey through the images and sounds. Remember that your lesson learned should be shown through the last 2-3 slides!

The idea of story boarding threw some of my little pets, so there was a fair amount of hand holding through this step. Tommy’s group became convinced that his story wasn’t long enough to suit the poem. I pointed out that the graphic organizer is just a guideline, and that the images and sounds can carry over several lines of a poem. Michael was not convinced. “I’m fond of this story, but it’s just not long enough.” I told him, “You guys are telling this in a way that is very logical and economical. You need to think about the second example I showed you—your story needs to be emotional.”

Jon, Justin and Matt seemed surprised that we were already ready to story board. They couldn’t even agree on a story. Finally, they came to rest with the idea of using Jon’s story—a choice between going to Suffern Middle School at the end of fifth grade or somewhere else. Jon seemed to have a really firm grasp of the emotions that he felt, but I pushed at Justin and Matt a bit to see if they were understanding that this now is their story, too. “Jon’s emotions matter, but so do yours. How would you feel in his situation? Put yourself in his shoes and tell me what feelings you would have. Those feelings, along with Jon’s, need to drive the look and feel of the project.”

Emma’s group became preoccupied with taking pictures of themselves on the computer. As I pushed them along, though, they made good progress, but I had to remind them not to be so literal. “We’re getting pictures of Sammy (her dog who was put to sleep) from my mom,” she said. I told her, “That’s a good idea, but what other images do you need? How else can sadness be conveyed? What other pictures come to mind?”

Jenna, Gabby and Sam are some of my brightest students who were oddly quiet today. They’re using Samantha’s story, but I sense some hesitation on their part. I’ll have to dig deeper this coming week—I know Gabby is very set on giving teachers what they ask for. However, since I’m not asking for something specific, I think this is throwing her just a bit.

Amanda, Paige, Jenna, Karolina and Ashley are working with Amanda’s story, about choosing to take a “Thrill of a Lifetime” ride up the mountains in Colorado (Amanda is afraid of heights). Their group really seems to have it together, and were almost done story boarding by the time they left me. Amanda has a very specific vision of things, so I just have to make sure her group recognizes that they have ownership of this story, as well. They need to be free to make suggestions and incorporate their own thoughts and feelings.

Brian, Eric and Noah jumped right to the computers to use Garage Band. They are heavily into the idea of music being a part of the story. When last I checked, they were trying to invent music to go under Brian’s story. AND, I finally found out about the house moving at the core of Brian’s story—Brian’s dad flips real estate for a living. While I thought the idea of moving would have been exciting, it turns out that it actually makes Brian angry. He says they’ve moved at least five times over the past few years, and he is tired of unpacking and repacking. Brian is usually so quiet and so introverted, to see him open up like this really makes me feel like this project has the power to draw incredible things out of students.

Lastly, I visited with Raquel, McKenzie and Jessica. Raquel’s story of auditioning is the focus for them, and they are coming in at lunch to story board it today. It seems they spent a little time spinning their wheels, trying to figure out how this works in Second Life. They think it’s the medium they want to use, but they’re a bit intimidated by it. I tried to explain that it’s like directing a home movie, only you’re filming avatars and landscapes that are animated. I don’t know if this was a detailed enough explanation to quell their nervousness. I’ll have to spend some more time with them during Period 6 to see how they’re progressing.

Overall, I’m really pleased with the fact that we will have multiple visions in our classroom. Thus far, it seems no two stories are alike. In addition, it really does make my students consider the elements of story telling in a way they have not been challenged to before.

It’s been a long week…luckily, it has definitely been worth it! J

3/25/08 Racing with the Clock...
The song in my head is "Racing with the Clock" from the Pajama Game. Hurry up! Hurry up! Can't waste time! Can't waste time! When you're racing with the clock, when you're racing with the clock, and the second hand doesn't understand that your back my break and your fingers ache...

HOWEVER, the tempo is catchy and I'm glad to keep up with it.

So, today was the first day that we are all in one place. This is good for many reasons:

1) Bernajean will not fall out of the sky here.

2) My kids no longer think I'm imagining these people.

3) The ante has been upped, and the stakes are raised. The kids have a renewed sense of purpose because they are not just being pushed along someone else's path, but are being challenged to create their own.

Today we started in Room 122 with the question: "Which is more important-- what you say, or the way in which you say it?" This was food for thought as we hiked up to the library.

When we arrived, I came to the startling realization that Jen's class doesn't end until about 8 minutes after mine starts. However, this was kind of handy today, as my students watched the end of Bernajean's presentation for the 6th grade group. They were able to see a powerful example of a story without words, and grasp what an overall finished piece can look like when you ponder the power of images.

When the 6th grade left, my kids came to the conclusion that the way in which you say something is more powerful than what you actually say. Amanda said that when I tell them, "Go to the library," in one tone of voice, it sounds positive, but when it's a command, it sounds negative. Tommy brought up sarcasm (surprise, surprise) as an example of the power of saying words in a certain tone. Overall, I hope they get it-- it's not enough to read the Frost poem, it has to have emotional resonance.

Bernajean talked to them about the details that need to be involved when looking at a topic. She then introduced them to a creative storyteller who uses his voice as his main mode of conveying meaning. My kids giggled at the muppet voice, but did not seem impressed by the Zeus Greek-god type voice. The students were then challenged to read "Mary Had A Little Lamb" in a way that was decided for them on a card. Tommy and Mike swore they didn't know what triumphant meant. Even after prodding them for a few minutes, they were reluctant to participate. Stereotypically adolescent-- I can't do anything that lowers my "cool" factor. Matt did an amazing job being annoyed with Mary's state of lamb ownership. I was surprised. He's usually so quiet in class! It was so much fun to see him run with that idea. Noah and Eric argued over who in their group was going to attempt this. How Brian and Will weren't even part of the discussion is beyond me. By the time we were done, however, I'd done my impression of being afraid of the lamb, Gabby did her take on Sara's prompt ("Mary had a little lamb, and you don't! SO THERE!" *sticks out tongue*) and the ice was broken. They were willing to share their thoughts with the new grown ups in the room.

So this is the point where things get a bit nerve wracking. They all had their story boards done to varying extents. Raquel's group was, according to Maryanne, much further along than she had expected-- even being able to imagine shot for shot what it is that they would use in Second Life. Noah's group is relying on Noah's SL saavy to help them build the homes for Brian's story. I admit, I think this one will translate beautifully to Second Life, and am anxious to see how this will work.

Meanwhile, Jenna G is stepping up to narrate Amanda's tale of Colorado heights. Not surprisingly, Jon does not want to narrate the story, so I encouraged Matt or Kevin to step up, since they seemed the most willing to go the extra mile during the "Mary Had A Little Lamb" enterprise. Emma was absent, as was the story board, so Sara and Kira tried their best to reconstruct an emotional outline for Emma's story. Samantha is doing the narrating for her group, which surprised me, because Gabby is usually the performer in that circle. Tommy's group of course throws a curve ball by asking if they can all narrate. Tommy would like to represent anger and read only the angry lines. Peachez (apparently, Dan will only answer to this new moniker now) would like to be sadness, and Mike would like to be confusion...he thinks...he isn't sure. David was silent, so I'm assuming David would just like to remain that way. Bernajean raised a vaild point for this group-- you don't want it to seem like a patchwork quilt when it's done. You want it to be one voice and one vision. However, I reminded the boys that they are doing Tommy's story with Tommy's voice-- over the next few days, all of their fingerprints need to be represented on this project. We shall see what develops...

...and your constitution isn't made of rock! It's a losing race when you're racing with the, racing with the, racing with the clock-- CAN'T WASTE TIME!

3/26/08 GRRR!
I regret to say, I have a cold. That is not helping my disposition. I apologize to all of those at whom I have growled...

However, the kids were engaged today. I think the biggest triumph, however, was the Do Now task. While we waited for 6th grade to finish up, I told my students to write down the lesson learned on a note card. It sounded simple enough, but it generated really good quality conversations. At the end, the lessons included:

Group 1:
Topic: Picking a private or public school
Lesson: "Decisions aren't always easy, but what matters is if you make the right one."

Group 2:
Topic: Choosing which house a family should move into
Lesson: "Don't judge a house by its size."

Group 3:
Topic: Putting a pet (dog) to sleep
Lesson: "If you really love something, you have to let it go or do what is best for it."

Group 4:
Topic: Going to an audition or a best friend's birthday party
Lesson: "Make sure you really think about a decision before you make it."

Group 5:
Topic: Going for a drive in the mountains of Colorado and overcoming a fear of heights, or staying safe
Lesson: "...Sometimes you have to take the risky path and have a good time. You never know what you're missing if you don't take a chance."

Group 6:
Topic: Choosing a sleep away camp or a day camp she'd attended for years
Lesson: "Listen to yourself and your heart, not just your friends."

Group 7:
Topic: Deciding to play on a travel hockey team
Lesson: "Sometimes you have to sacrifice things to do what you love."

Obviously, I was not thrilled with the answer from Group 2. I know these guys would have gladly glossed over this part and jumped right into machinema because it's what interests them, so I had to stop them. As I redirected them, I asked, "What lesson do you want people to walk away from this project understanding? It's not just the lesson that Brian learned, but what lesson could other people learn from exposure to this? What reason makes this story worth sharing?" AMAZINGLY, a mere three minutes later, Noah, Brian, Eric and Will produced this:

"Don't pick a choice based on if you like it. Choose based on the effect it will make in your life."

Usually, I hover. That may not be a good thing, but I own it. I do it. I didn't today, and this new response took me completely by surprise. That lesson is well worth learning...it's one that I am still trying to learn as an adult.

Looking back, I wish I'd made the lesson the focus of our discussion on Day 2. For us to be looking at it this late in the game makes me feel like I've confused the issue for the kids. So many of them have pictures and images and sounds in their heads, but if it doesn't drive the lesson forward, what is the point?

ANYWAY, then I took Tommy and Jenna to record their voices. I love the ease of the Audacity software. I'm always looking for a way to record books for kids, and this very well could be it. Jenna and Tommy were reluctant at first, and it took three recordings each to get the first stanza the way they wanted it. I admit...I'm worried. I don't know if they quite get what this is supposed to sound like. They're coming in to work during lunch, and hopefully that will help clarify things further. Bernajean noticed with Sammy and Jess that they wanted to pause at the end of every line. Listening back to Jenna, that's what she did as well. We'll have to correct that before we move forward.

My only regret is that I am missing out on what the rest of my kids are doing. I had another group jump into machinema today, so that's roughly half of the class that will be acquiring a new skill. I told them I'm counting on them to show it to me and teach me how to do it.

Ah, to be able to clone myself and be multiple places at once! But, alas, the sci-fi unit isn't until next month...

3/27/08 How many licks does it take to get to the Tootsie Roll center of a Tootsie Pop?
Seriously, this is what the process reminds me of today. Everyone is going at their own pace, and some are ready to chomp down into the center or meaning of their projects. And for others...as the commercial says...the world may never know...

Today was a true testament of the fortitude and flexibility of my kids. We had a wacky time of it-- I pulled two for voice work during Period 1, they went to Period 2 class, went on a trip to Westchester, came back, ate lunch and worked with Bernajean, Kevin, Marianne, Peg and I or the afternoon. I don't know how they can change gears so fast, but hallelujah, they can do it!

During Period 1, Tommy's vocal work was hugely improved over yesterday. He'd lost the self consciousness, and really tried to modulate his voice to fit different moods. Jenna also worked so hard-- taking two or three takes sometimes. She really listened to herself in playback mode, and was more constructively critical of herself than I ever could have been.

During class time proper, I was locked up and handling voice coaching, which I know is important. I enjoy doing it, but it makes me nuts to know there is so much else going on! Therefore, the more I think about this, the more I know that when I do this again, I will want to set up appointments to do the voice work so I don't miss time to work with the groups.

I am worried about what happens next week when I attempt to continue our pace, but don't have the gift of six extra hands in the mix. I am particularly concerned about the machinema groups. I stayed after school to see if I could learn some of the iShowu software, and I just couldn't focus on it today. I have to make that a priority tomorrow. I don't want my kids to be limited by my lack of knowledge and experience.

The best part of today for me happened after classes ended, however. I saw Bernajean present to the few brave high school souls who'd ventured down to see her. Anytime I can see a high school person down in our neck of the woods, curious about what we do, the way we do it and what our rationales are, I am THRILLED silly. We do so much work that would be powerful at the high school level. Plus, I am encouraged when our ideas get some consideration outside of our own little bubble.

Tomorrow, as our Do Now during overlap time, I want to ask the kids to list the things they have learned through this process so far. I am intrigued to see the answers they'll have, and am hopeful that they'll delve beyond the technical stuff they've learned into the more enduring understandings at play. If I can just get them to realize that in their stories lies their immortality, in their voices lies the power to reach each other's souls, and in their hearts lies the courage to be their true selves in the world, then I will be satisfied. Then they will be armed with the knowledge that they are powerful in this world.

As GI Joe says, "Knowledge is Power," but the ability to acknowledge your own power to create, invent, connect and inspire, that is PRICELESS!

3/28/08 The Long and Winding Road...

Alas...today is the end of our REAL LIFE time together, and I will admit, it saddens me. There is so much to do and I am spoiled by my current ability to call out for help and receive it on the spot. HOWEVER, that being said, we will press forward so that my students can walk away from this with a gem stone to put into their memory pouches.

Today was started off as I'd set out-- with kids brainstorming what they had learned. However, I also added a component where I asked for them to bring up any questions they still had unanswered. It was an interesting exercise, to say the least. As per the usual, Noah was insistant on making me play dentist...

"So, what do you think, Noah?"
"That's easy...we learned machinema."
"So what?"
"SO, now I know how to use it."
"Which means...?"
"Which means...now I can use it?"
*sigh* "No, Noah...you're trying to bail on me, and I'm not letting you off the hook. Think about this-- what makes this valuable for you as a person." I wandered away.

When I returned, Noah (who was suddenly very smug and self-satisfied) said, "I have learned how to solve problems within machinema. I can now get rid of avatar names in my view, so I can make things look real and therefore, more relatable." He's such a smarty-pants.

The questions they asked were very pointedly about the technology. No one seems to be hesitant or questioning the process right now, which is good. As long as they are clear on why we are persuing their vision in this way, we are capable of keeping up the pace.

I did hit a brick wall with Audacity today, and so the kids who I'd hoped to record all morning have gone without. I told them to practice this weekend, and proceed in helping their teammates with the project in the way that each group has determined.

NOW, the trick is going to be getting us more structured and focused. As Bernajean said to me today, "Some are just muddling around with their team members, so they aren't as productive as we would like." The Do Now for Monday will have to be about ownership. They will need to step up and say, "I am the Image Collector, I am the Editor, I am the Sound Engineer." This way, we can proceed confidently into next week. Note to self: Assign these FIRST in the future.

The key to making this all come together next week will have to be keeping the inspiration and focus levels high. With Peg's help, I am sure this is last leg of the journey will be successful.

Later that same day...

I just said goodbye to everyone...*sniffle* And now I'm ALL ALONE! *SOB*
Just kidding. I'll miss you, but hey, you're still here...kind of...sort of...as long as the server doesn't crash.

Um...good things...Fruhling and I are talking about a time table, so hopefully our kids will be finished (or as finished as they are going to be) by one week from today. Challenging? Yes, but as Bernajean said it, we don't want a bunch of Neverending Stories. We also talked about having our kids get together to share their work. I think it would be enlightening for my kids to see the way the same resources and energy have been molded into different visions and projects. Lastly, I've volunteered Tech Support for Fruhling's kids as they enter Second Life for the first time. I am looking forward to being able to help kids with something at which I consider myself to be proficient.

And you will be relieved to know that, at long last, there WILL BE STRUCTURE!
Below is the job list I created for next week (I hate job lists...I feel like being creative is so much more organic and about finding each other's strengths, but hey, I'll be practical and very Harvey Daniels about this). It is my hope that this will impose some order and focus on my little snowflakes as they drift along the path of project Zen.

Digital Storytelling Job Sheet

Today you must decide what you will be responsible for within your group. Once you’ve decided this, we can proceed with our project in a way that is focused, efficient and EFFECTIVE! Read the descriptions below with your group. Take time to discuss who has the strengths needed to do the best job at each task. Once you have decided, write down the names below. Turn your paper in to Ms. Sheehy when you are finished.

Group #

Project Topic:

Lesson Learned:

A Visual Visionary:

This person is in charge of images. For those doing an iMovie, this means finding pictures, saving them, then importing them into iMovie. For those working on machinema, this means finding locations in which to shoot on Ramapo Islands, building “sets” or scenery, arranging the props, and directing the avatars as you film. Remember: the core of your job is to bring out the emotions of your story with IMAGES only. If you’ve done your job well, the images will bring a whole new meaning to the poem, as well as the parallel story.

A Sound Smith:
This person is in charge of the sounds that be placed into the piece. This means finding sound effects on line or creating them within Garage Band, saving them, then importing them into iMovie or Second Life. Remember: the core of your job is to use music that will create the feelings you want in the piece. This means thinking about tempo, rhythm, and tone, as well as when to stop and start the music. You MUST NOT use a song without having its copyright.

A Noble Narrator:
This person needs to provide the voice for the piece. This may sound easy. It isn’t. It involves knowing the emotions your group has put into each part of the story board, trying to bring those emotions to the surface as you read the poem, practicing, and being willing to perform the poem as it is recorded, not just read it. Remember: the core of your job is to use your voice as an instrument to bring life to the piece. This means thinking about the emotions in the piece and bringing them out using volume, speed, pauses and tone. You MUST do more than just read—you need to ACT!

An Energetic Editor:
This person (or people—you can have two) needs to make sure the piece is a unified vision, meaning that it looks like it is from one person, not three, four or five. This involves looking at the piece as a whole and making certain that it brings about the emotions that your group originally wanted in the story. Remember: the core of your job is to make certain that the piece is fitting together on all levels—vocally, musically and image wise. This includes thinking about the lesson learned and making certain it is clearly represented at the end of your presentation!