Wednesday, October 29, 2008

More Animoto Video Poems: Based on "The Red Wheelbarrow"

We have made more amazing poetry videos using the animoto website. First we looked at our third William Carlos William poem of the year. Previously we wrote poems based on "A Locust Tree in Bloom" and "This is Just to Say". This time we had fun with "A Red Wheelbarrow".

Who know what is so special about the red wheelbarrow in the poem, but it is fun to speculate. The mystery behind the wheelbarrow and why "so much depends upon it" makes the poem enjoyable. We discussed the "rules" that the author followed to write the poem primarily describing something seemingly insignificant as important without telling why. We also looked at the structure of the title, stanzas, and lines.

Here is a Library of Congress recordings of William Carlos William reciting the poem in 1945.

William Carlos Williams - The Red Wheelbarrow
Found at bee mp3 search engine

Here William Carlos Williams talks a bit about the poem (from 1952).

William Carlos Williams - The Red Wheelbarrow
Found at bee mp3 search engine

Next I reminded the class about the story I have been reading to them: "The Tale of Despereaux". We then wrote about something from the story that wouldn't seem that important at all to someone who may have not have read the book but carries loads of tragic meaning to a person who does know the book. The poem we wrote together is called "The Red Tablecloth".

In the story a rat steals a red tablecloth from a man sent to a dungeon and in doing so takes away his only comfort. We later learn that the man had earlier traded his daughter for that same tablecloth. It ends up being an object in the story that "so much depends on".

I then gave each student a photograph that I had cut our from old "National Geographic" magazines. I had them look for an object to write about and to write a creative poem of their own inspired by William Carlos Williams. Then I used my digital camera to get close up images of the photograph as well as lines from the poem that had been printed out by each student poet. What do you think of these "poetic" videos? Please note that I am using the music on the Animoto website. I try to match tunes to poems, but there is only a limited number of songs and it is hard to find songs without words. However in most cases the songs match up wonderfully to the poem.

In a couple of weeks I will be reading the class one of my favorite children's books, "Love That Dog", by Sharon Creech. In this excellent book a boy learns to enjoy and write poetry with the help of his teacher. The teacher uses famous poems to model poetry writing to her class. William Carlos Williams' poem "The Red Wheelbarrow" plays an important role in this book. The class will be thrilled when this connection is made!

"The Big Mustache" by JB

"The Black Dog" by AA

"A Girl Catching Fish"

"A Sweaty Working Man" by WP

"An Old Cow" by IM

"The Brown Gourd" by TE

"The Brown Wooden Swing" by LE

"The Head Band" by JP

"The Big Paper Umbrella" by EV

"The Red Flowery Dress" by SV

"The Walking Stick"

"A Sitting Down Dog" by CA

"A Hole in a Wall" by JR

"A White Furry Goat" by JS

Thursday, October 16, 2008

The Simple Truth Found in a Rubik's Cube

William Wissemann is an 18 year old college freshman who used a Rubik's Cube to teach himself some valuable life lessons. You can listen to or read his "This I Believe" speech called "Accomplishing Big Things In Small Pieces" here. It originally aired as a NPR segment.

William had to leave his public school after fourth grade because of a language-processing disorder. Solving a Rubik's Cube helped William understand that he had to first break problems down before he could solve them. It mirrored his own progress in breaking down language in order to use it effectively. A simple Rubik's Cube taught William many other important lessons about dealing with frustrations and reaching goals. It is a wonderful essay.

"This I Believe" is an international project engaging people in writing, sharing, and discussing the core values that guide their daily lives. These short statements of belief, written by people from all walks of life, are archived here and featured on public radio in the United States and Canada, as well as in regular broadcasts on NPR. The project is based on the popular 1950s radio series of the same name hosted by Edward R. Murrow.

Here a school administrator starts his own "This I Believe" list. What an interesting way to reflect about what is important to you as an educator or person.

I have never been able to solve the Rubik's Cube on my own, unless you count the time I took the stickers off and just rearranged them by color! After I graduated from College I worked for a summer at a day camp run by The Stony Brook School, the college prep boarding school I had attended for three years. There was one fourth grade boy attending the camp who could consistently solve the Rubik's Cube (it was new then) in a very short amount of time. I even watched him solve it in under a minute a few times.

Friday, October 10, 2008

The Maple Tree: Creating Videos from Student Poetry

On the first day of school this year I introduced my class to William Carlos Williams' poem "A Locust Tree in Flower". I found the poem a few years ago while using some other of his poems in my class. I found it to be an unusual and simple poem, but there was something about it that begged me to ask, "What is this?"

I decided to use it in my class as a lesson on words and how we use them, as well as a clever introduction to poetry. In subsequent lessons I use "This is Just to Say" by William Carlos Williams to teach poetry form versus paragraph form and "The Red Wheelbarrow" for creating meaning from insignificant details.

This year I handed out a sheet to every student with each word from the poem printed in random order on small squares that they could cut out. I asked them to try to put these words into some kind of written form and make sense out of them. I told them they could even add words if they needed to in order to give the words some meaning. The class played around with the words for a bit and discovered what they could or couldn't do with the words.

Later I showed them the poem, "A Locust Tree in Flower.

The class now saw the words expressed in a poem, but they still had a hard time making sense out of it. I have never studied this poem or read about how William Carlos Williams created it. Maybe there is a story behind it but I just tell the class that this poem reminds me of a puzzle. Each word is like a puzzle piece and some pieces are missing and the pieces may even be out of order, but they are jumbled up together to make this poem. We try imagining which words go together and what words could be missing to help create sensible phrases. By playing around with the words the students start making some meaning as well as have a fun time with words and language.

Then we talk about why I find poetry interesting. They know writing as something that you have to do in school and where the teacher forces them to follow rules. I tell them that poets are "rebels" who like to make up their own rules. That catches a few students off guard a bit (hopefully the boys!) and I hope that they start seeing poetry as more then just writing for "sissies" and something that can be fun, creative, and a bit rebellious as well as an exercise that is more about playing with words then about "making rhymes". Who knows if this is a correct approach to poetry, but at least it makes it interesting and understandable for me.

We talk about how poets can make their own rules and come up with rules for "The Locust Tree in Flower". We decided that William Carlos Williams only put one word on every line. He had four stanzas of three words each and one last word at the end. He gave it a title and placed his words randomly so that they didn't make sense when first reading it, although we can assume that he put great thought into the choice and placement of his words

Then we went outside to observe a Maple Tree on our playground that the kids are all familiar with because it stands right next to the school's playground equipment. We went outside with clipboards and observed the tree and they wrote words and phrases about what they observed

When we came inside we wrote out own "Maple Tree" poems following Williams Carlos Williams rules for writing his poem. A simple poem may take only minutes to write

I took digital pictures while we were outside and when the students later typed the poems into a computer (for their first simple typing exercise in the computer lab) I inserted a picture of the tree on their poem so that they could print it out and show off their first writing assignment of the year

I left the project behind and moved on as the year progressed until a found the Animoto video slideshow program. Within a few minutes of seeing how this program worked I thought to myself that this poem would lend itself wonderfully to being presented with Animoto. After playing with the program a bit and seeing how it worked I tried describing to the class my vision of what we could do with their poems. We didn't have much time so I had them write out the words to their poem on paper and use "tree" colors to color them in. Rather than cut them out I had them rip out the words. Then we went outside with those who completed the task quickly enough and took photos of each word on the wood chips underneath the maple tree. I wish I had more photos of the tree without the students in the photo from the first day, but I didn't know back then that I would be doing this project. I took the photos and uploaded them to the Animoto site and arranged them very quickly into some kind of order, chose a piece of music off the Animoto site, and then let the program perfrom its magic of arranging the poems into a digital-musical slideshow.

I think the results are wonderful and each video has its own flavor and design. At some points in the videos the photos, music, and transitions are just perfect for the poem the student wrote

Take a look at the results. Don't you think these are great.









While I was looking up information on the poem online, I found another interesting video presentation of "The Locust Tree in Flower". This is from a museum installation by Jason Freeman of the Georgia Insitute of Technology. At his installation people can read the poem. He writes, "The installation invites a single person at a time to create and perform a musical setting of the poem by simply reading it. A short piece of music is generated in real time by applying digital processing, mixing, and looping to the user's voice.". The results are very unusual! You can view a sample recording here. It is very interesting to see the different ways a simple poem can inspire others.

This blog post has now been included in the Carnival of Education's "The Debate Issue" hosted by Eduwonkette. You can read all sorts of educational blogger's posts that have been formatted by Eduwonkette into an entry that at first looks like the presidential candidates debating policy. What a fun and creative way to present all these diverse blog entries. You can find a reference and link to this post by reading what "Sarah Palin" adds to the debate!

Teacher Language

I am not sure where I got this from, but I found it in my things recently. It is a handout titled "Teacher Language" and it has some simple starters to sentences that teachers can use when talking to students. It helps to get to the point clearly.

I noticed...

I heard you...

Thank you for...

I see that...

I appreciate...

Show me...

You need to...

How can you...

Tell me what you will need to...

Your choice is to...

How simple is that?

Wednesday, October 8, 2008

Playing Around with Animoto

I have been playing around with a nifty little program called Animoto. It is a program that easily makes custom slideshows using your digital pictures and music. Teachers can use this program for free after signing up with Animoto (just be warned if you are a Nashua teacher that the emails from Animoto went into my spam folder- I had to send an email to the company to get it straightened out).

The other day I took my class on a stroll around Mount Pleasant School. I explained the photos I was taking as I walked around the school. I told my class what I wanted to do with the photos. I was suprised when one boy said, "So you are basically making a collage!"

I said, "Yes that is right, but it will be a photo-video collage on the computer." I realised after awhile that I was taking photos of round things, signs, numbers, and different views of the school. Here is one of the videos Animoto put together for me. What do you think?

Hopefully this program will work on the district's computers. I have some ideas for my class that would be very fun to work on together.

Sorry for the music. I have to find some appropriate tunes.

Sunday, October 5, 2008

Common Ground: A Simple Look at Changes in our World

This is a wonderful piece of visual journalism as a 100+ acre cattle farm in Illinois is torn down to make space for a new housing development.

Why might you show this to Elementary school students? I think students can understand the highly visual juxtaposition of images, video clips, and sound bytes to get the "big picture" that is created in this piece. It shows the changing of land use from rural to suburban, it tells about the loss of family farms (with a non judgmental tone), it displays human emotions brought on by change in the world, and it does so with a simple creativity. It also show how many things we hold in common. Check out how the pictures of the farm family and the new residents are compared and contrasted by similarity of images. My favorite is the photo of the cattle with their heads in the feeding pail next to the photo of a girl riding her toy bike on the driveway with a plastic bucket on her head. I think children would thrill to see how a creative person put these together with purpose. Some of the images on the screen are worth stopping this presentation for so as to discuss with a class. I like the quote at the end of the piece, "Farmland changes. You still see the same qualities of life even though it is no longer a farmland."

I can see how a short piece like this could fit in a Social Studies unit on regions of the US or on rural areas becoming suburban areas. It could also fit in a literary unit such as stories on the prairie like my class is reading now. It might also be used after reading a book like "What You Knew First" by Patricia MacClachlan about a family leaving a farm on the prairie behind. It is almost like a modern sequel to the simple children's book.

A Simple Way to Create Dancing Animations

Here is a simple and fun online program called pictaps. You can design and create a 2D character and then watch Pictaps turn it into a 3D character that will dance with clones of itself. It takes minutes to draw a character and the animations are fun and artistic. Children may have fun designing with this program which delights the imagination. Here is a simple alien that I drew. It is also fun to revisit the drawing process as your character is redrawn in the animation.