Friday, May 30, 2008

When I am the Perfect Teacher

I wrote this during a summer at the Iowa Writing Project. I dedicated it to my wonderful wife. Today, on the occasion of our 47th Graduation party (most of them for my everybody's-favorite-teacher wife) I present it to her again.

When I am the perfect teacher
I will have time for every student
I will listen to their problems
I will look for the good in them
They will tell me about things that are important
I will share parts of me that will help them feel normal

When I am the perfect teacher
I will forgo my planning time to talk and listen
I will watch for sports scores to good-naturedly joke
I will watch them play countless basketball and football games
I will only know a few of their parents, but I will support them
I will admire all the pictures from prom and other events adults find meaningless

When I am the perfect teacher
I will have patience for hours of talk about things I am not interested in
I will get up each morning with the thought that I can make a difference
I will know what I teach is not always the most important thing
I will ignore the people around who approach their job without passion
I will smile when people say that at least teachers have three months off

When I am the perfect teacher
I will realize that there is no such thing as perfect, though it doesn’t hurt to try
I will not let principals or parents dampen my spirit
I will know what I do is important
I will see some students as they are, damaged, and treat them with care
I will understand that I may be the most important person of the day to someone

When I am the perfect teacher
I will hold their hand at funerals
I will bring presents to their wedding
I will hug when it is needed and not wait until it’s deserved
My smile will be easy and my temper slow
I will hold dreams for my students bigger than those they have for themselves
When I am the perfect teacher -- I will realize that I may not be as imperfect as I thought.

Life RAFT's

OK, I'll admit it, I used to have kids do 'reports' on instruments and on music history and learned the brutal lesson in reality that is hard to recognize at the time or recover from....If you give a lame assignment, you get a lame (and heavily plagiarized) result. In fact, in my opinion, you deserve lame results. Did kids complete the assignment? Yes. Did they learn any lasting information? No. Did I begin to recognize the exact same citations from the encylopedia? Yes. "Beethoven was born in Bonn, Germany..."

A few years ago, I learned in the 6+1 Writing Traits training a strategy of having students write stories in the RAFT format (Role, Audience, Format, Topic Sentence). A great big light bulb went off and I realized that I could have students learn a great deal more about any topic by having them do an assignment that they could not just copy from an encyclopedia or website. The first assignment was a replacement for the 'instrument unit' in which they take on the role of an instrument. The kids had to know a lot about an instrument in order to complete the assignment. The results were really funny and great.
  • Role- Instrument
  • Audience- Other sixth grade students
  • Format- Diary
  • Topic Sentence- About my life
Kids are very creative. Several of the stories described their life in the case and being lugged to school. Other kids talked about the breath of the kid that was blowing into them. Spit was a common topic (hey, they are in 5th grade--what did you expect?) But, along with the humorous bits, there was good solid information. Valves and mouthpieces, reeds and keys; knowledge that even if the words had been copied out of the book, had to be processed in some way and recreated in story form.

If you have been having kids right 'reports', try hopping on the life RAFT and escape to some great learning experiences!

Thursday, May 29, 2008

Fast Third Grade Projects with Animation-Ish

On the last day of music for the two third grade sections this year, I had them do a quick animation as a class. The parameters were that the animation had to be about music and they had to teach something. I think they are both cute. Since every student had a part, the notes are a little jumpy, but the concepts are solid. I hope you enjoy them.

A comment yesterday asked about the program, Animation-Ish, so I will discuss that more after the movies!

Animation-Ish is a brand new program from FableVision. It is geared toward K-12 students and has an education version. I was fortunate to be able to contribute some lessons for the educator's guide. There is a 7 day trial available at FableVision if you would like to try it out at home or school. While a Wacom type tablet is helpful, many of my students prefer to use a mouse instead, either way works!

I am ambassador for FableVision, but am not an employee. I can offer anyone who wishes to purchase a 10% discount. Use code AMBSHAY at checkout.

Wednesday, May 28, 2008

More Fifth Grade Song Animations

To me, nothing is more satisfying as a teacher than to just get out of the way and let kids demonstrate their vast amount of creativity. I have a tiny lab just off my classroom with four computers. I let students choose a partner and then take turns using lab computers to create animations of songs we sing in class. The students were completely on their own as I led the rest of the class in the main room. Today, I went in to watch their creations. In a very short amount of time, they came up with some that make me smile.

Fifth grade students using Animation-Ish to animate songs from their textbook.

Catch a Falling Star

The Lion Sleeps Tonight

A Smile is a Frown Upside Down

Tuesday, May 27, 2008

The North Star and North Star Musical Journey

My friends at FableVision have an amazing company. Ever wonder why I am their biggest fan? Here is just one example. I love the story of The North Star by Peter H. Reynolds. I think it is an amazing book with a great lesson for kids (and adults too.) One of the first amazing things I learned was that you can read the North Star book on-line....for free! What author or company lets you do that? They sell the book and it is a beautiful book that I highly recommend, but you can read it online for free. The reason they do that is that the company believes in its mission and the potential of children and the educators that guide them.

The North Star Musical Journey, which is the musical based on the book, was performed during my elementary school's Winter Concert on December 19, 2007. As a small, rural school, the North Tama Winter Concert is typically filled with traditional Christmas music. Since the story of Christmas uses a star as a main symbol, it seemed like a good fit to feature the North Star’s story about a journey toward a star.

The show began with all 225 students in grades one through six singing “Journey,” followed by combinations of fourth through sixth grade classes performing the remaining songs. Five sixth grade students played the main characters and the narrating duties were divided between three different students.

Before beginning to learn the music, I read each class The North Star. The students’ reactions to the story were extremely positive. With every class, after I read the story I asked, “What kind of story ends with the words ‘the beginning’?” The classes immediately understood the concept of life as a journey and that although the book had ended, life was just beginning. When they began learning songs, it was unlike any previous concert preparation experiences, the students were excited to sing the songs time and time again.

My blog title is a reference to The North Star as I am truly on a journey..."a remarkable journey." How are you traveling on your journey?

Monday, May 26, 2008

Big NECC News!

My friend and Stationery Studio creator Peggy Healy Stearns will be presenting at NECC in San Antonio! The big news is I will have the honor of making a brief appearance with Dr. Stearns, in my opinion the World's Greatest Software Designer, to demonstrate some of the projects I have created with my students.

Beyond Testing: Project-based Learning, 21st Century Skills, and ISTE Standards
Tuesday, July 1, 2008, 12:30pm–1:30pm

Please make plans to join us at the session and make an effort to stop by the FableVision booth and get acquainted with a great company and wonderful products.....and meet me while you are at it!

By the way, there is a demo of Stationery Studio online...Check it out!!! (Thanks for the idea, Scout)

Saturday, May 24, 2008

My Favorite Stationery Studio Activity

Want a quick way to know if your students are learning during an activity? I use the "Message Center" activity in Stationery Studio (with slight modification) for use in my room. Below you will see the note I use. I have a few hundred of them printed and in my desk drawer at all times. Whenever I want a quick idea if students have grasped a concept, I hand each one of them a message sheet and have them send me a memo. A lot more real than giving a pop quiz and takes only a few seconds!
Also, when I have my high school kids listen to a recording of the choir sing, I sometimes give them these notes and have them send a message to their section or to the whole choir. Great feedback and the fact that it comes from their classmates is very effective.

Friday, May 23, 2008

Animate a Song

I gave my fifth grade music class the challenge to create an animation of a song we sing in class. The results were very good and sometimes funny. Here is one fifth grade example of "There's a Spider on the Floor."

Be ready for more in the next few days!!
The students used the recently released program "Animation-Ish." Check it out, it's a great program.

Thursday, May 22, 2008

Stationery Studio

I received an email from "World's Greatest Software Designer", Dr. Peggy Healy Stearns ,which made me realize I needed to blog about my favorite software ever, Stationery Studio. My first experience with FableVision was when I went to the Iowa Technology Education Connection conference and went to a session on the AlphaSmart. The speaker was demonstrating how the AlphaSmart could put text in any word processor, her example was Stationery Studio. I went away from that session without an immediate desire for the hardware....but I had to get my hands on the software!

It is immediately apparent that Stationery Studio is software from a developer and a company that thinks differently. One example of the many features in the program that captured my attention was that before you print, you have the option of changing the wonderful, Peter H. Reynolds, artwork to black and white. The original intent was so that kids could color the pictures, but it allows me to print great looking prints on my laser printer. The program also allows for the creation of half sheets and quarter sheets.

One of the ways I use the program is with second graders. I print out half sheet blank templates of different animals and then pass them out to students. On the back of the sheet, the student brainstorms everything they know about their animal. On the front side, the student writes two sentences that rhyme. The end products are then put together and a rap song is created. Below are some examples:When I met Dr. Healy Stearns, I learned that she worked with teachers for an entire year developing the Stationery Studio software. I think the results show that the time was well worth it!

Wednesday, May 21, 2008

Today in Second Grade

On Wednesdays, I teach a double section of second grade students, 38 kids. Today, I decided to try a new Twitter directed mini-lesson. I put out a Tweet asking for where the
'follower' was located and the kids added a music related question which was to ask if they had ever played an instrument. The results were amazing:

My students who live in a rural town of 1500 people are able to connect virtually with educators around the country. We extended the lesson by a trip on GoogleEarth to some of the more distant locales.

In case you are wondering, between Tweets we sang songs and had regular music class. Twitter during the day can be slow and it's always good to keep the kids on track!

Tuesday, May 20, 2008

Animation-Ish Part 2

More high school student political cartoons...

Monday, May 19, 2008


I am an Ambassador for FableVision, a software/media company. I have had the great fortune to represent FableVision at a few conferences and I am thrilled to use their products in my classroom. Last November, I was asked to be on the Beta-Test group for a new piece of software called, "Animation-Ish." Based on the concept put forth in the excellent book, "Ish" by Peter H. Reynolds, founder of the company.

At first, I will admit I was skeptical about my artistic abilities. Although Peter thinks that everyone can draw, I had decided that he didn't mean me. A few moments into playing with Animation-Ish, I realized that even a person who was not good at drawing, could be successful! Over Christmas break, I was honored by the invitation to add some lesson plans to the Educator Guide that will be available with the education edition. One of the lesson plans I created was "Create a Political Cartoon." When I found out that I would be attending NECC, I decided that I needed some student examples to demonstrate at the FableVision booth, so I asked the History teacher (Thanks, Brent) to have students do a political cartoon as an assignment. Check out the "Animation-Ish" video section for the results.

In case you are wondering what an ambassador is, it is an evangelist for FableVision products. It is not a paid position, just one that takes passion. If you check out FableVision products, you will catch the passion. I do have the ability to give a code for 10% off. If interested, email me.

The examples from high school students: