Friday, October 31, 2008

Darius Goes West --- Part Two

A few months ago, I blogged about a YouTube video I had watched on the advice of Karen Janowski. It was about a young man who had taken a journey from Georgia (starting in Florida) to California to try to get on MTV and have West Coast Customs 'pimp' his wheelchair. I immediately ordered the DVD.

I finally had a chance to watch the movie and I can tell you that my life will be forever changed. Darius is an amazing young man who faces a very tough past and tougher future. What you see is the journey across the country filled with smiles and laughter. What could be a sad and depressing movie is uplifting. OK, I will admit it, I was moved to tears on several occasions. I am not a person who cries easily...but it is THAT wonderful. The 'Crew' take Darius for his first swim in the ocean and on some amazing experiences. The 'crew' are an amazing bunch of guys that anyone would be proud to know. The unparalleled passion these men have for life and for their journey is refreshing.

If I had to characterize the biggest change in the 23 years I have been teaching, it would be that kids do not have a lot of passion about things in the world. What blew me away about the boys in this video is their amazing passion for their cause. With every DVD purchase $17.00 of the $20.oo video will go to finding a cure for Duchenne Muscular Dystrophy. Darius and friends are trying to sell one million DVD's in one year.

Please check out the Darius Goes West website and store. Buy a DVD...Host a party...Share the passion for life. Probably the most touching thing about this story is that Darius knows that this effort will not help him. . . It will undoubtedly be too late. But it is not too late to put a stop to this disgusting disease for future generations.

I promise if you watch the video and support the cause....Your life will be changed....and you can change the life for generations to come.

Darius Goes West. One Year. One Million DVDs.

Thursday, October 30, 2008

"Free To Be....You and Me" Anniversary Edition

Thirty-five years ago, a ground-breaking book hit the shelves. It was called, "Free to Be...You and Me." Marlo Thomas and Friends put together an amazing book that takes a look at gender roles through stories and songs. I remember this from when I was young and purchased the movie and soundtrack. One of the highlights of the video and soundtrack was Rosie Greer singing, "It's Alright to Cry."

Imagine my surprise when Peter Reynolds told me in San Antonio that he and Marlo Thomas along with some other amazing artists and writers were doing a thirty-fifth anniversary edition!!! One of my favorite books re-imagined by one of my favorite artists. The book arrived today and it is MORE beautiful than I imagined. I know Peter does great work, but this is absolutely phenomenal.

If you remember the book as a youngster or if you are new to it, you MUST check it out. It comes with a CD features the great Rosie Greer singing "It's Alright to Cry." I ordered mine from the Reynolds' family book store, The Dedham Blue Bunny. It is available everywhere.

It's Out!!!!

Based on a comment I left on Sylvia Martinez's GenYes blog, I was asked by to write an article for "Learning and Leading with Technology" magazine. The issue arrived in my mailbox yesterday! It is also available online.

The section is called, "Point/Counterpoint" and the article is called "Are Free Tools Worth the Price." Check it out (revised link).

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Why I Blog! A Great Teacher Quote

Saw this quote made me think a lot. For some reason, it reminded me of why I blog. I may never know the people who read this blog....But I hope at least one time, it makes you think or smile and, just maybe, it creates a tiny change in your view of the world of education....just a little bit.

"Many of us carry memories of an influential teacher who may scarcely know we existed, yet who said something at just the right time in our lives to snap a whole world into focus."
Laurent A Daloz

Monday, October 27, 2008

Meet Maribeth from UCando

If you read the comments on my last blog post, you noticed one from Maribeth Bush, a great person who has a great website. I got to know Maribeth through my friends at FableVision and if you haven't been to her website and blog, you need to check it out. is a website that encourages people who have challenges to have a 'Can Do" attitude. According to the website, "The overall mission of the Can Do! is to help people, especially kids, develop a more positive attitude and perspective about themselves and the people in the world around them." There are great activities and posters from Peter H. Reynolds on the site for download. There are profiles of other famous 'can do' people. There is also the Can Do lunchbox with ideas for educators to use in the classroom.

Maribeth is an amazing advocate for children and is an elementary guidance counselor. Seeing the need in her school for a book on friendship triangle, she created a book available online or in print form.

Please check out Maribeth's site and blog. We all need to get behind those people who inspire us and inspire kids!

Sunday, October 26, 2008

The Story on the 'Doggy Box'

Friday night, my wife and I went out to eat at a local establishment. The waitress was phenomenal, a rarity these days, and when we could eat all of our meals, she decorated our take-away boxes. On my wife's box, she drew a ribbon. On mine she told the story of the armless man who was chased by bees. I was so impressed by her story, I animated it and it appears below.

The waitress explained that she loved drawing, but she had to be a waitress to 'pay the bills.' A very sad story, but I was impressed how she could bring a little of her real passion into her job. So the lesson for me is that even if you are not doing exactly what you dreamed you would be doing, keep dreaming and find ways for your passion to shine through what you are doing until that big dream comes true.

Speaking of storytelling, Peter H. Reynolds has a great idea for getting your stories out on his blog today

The original puppy on the box--

Animation made with Animation-Ish, of course.

Friday, October 24, 2008

Custom Search Engines!!!

Another great tip I picked up from Alan November on Tuesday is that Google allows you to create custom search engines! Today, in a few very easy steps, I created a custom search engine for my elementary students to use. NT Music Composer Search Engine was born.

Mr. November explained that it can be a collaborative way for groups to work and select decent sites for the group to explore. Up to 100 people can collaborate on one search engine. I saw a different potential in my situation....Kids in my room are currently discovering "The Greatest Composer of All Time." Each group picked a composer and the only criteria is that the composer has to have created music before 1900. Students were allowed to change the person they chose at any time, providing that no other group was looking for the same composer. In the end, the students will 'present' the composer and explain why he/she should be named the greatest composer of all time. They give arguments, but there doesn't have to be a written component.

The problem is that I only see the sixth grade students twice a week for thirty minutes. As you know, kids can get lost on the Internet and find a lot of sites that won't help them. Also, although I don't want to get into the merits of Wikipedia on this blog, it is just easier to give kids a choice of quality websites than to argue the merits of the site. I believe we all should talk about reliable sources, but I don't want to give up a ton of class time to do it. Mr. November taught us that Wikipedia is usually in the top five or so of search results because of the number of sites that link to it.

Where I disagree with Mr. November is that one of his main points was that students need to be exposed to other ways of thinking. It seems to me that having high school kids come up with their own search engine might have the opposite effect. They might only find things that support their own views. It is interesting to think about.

Finally, in case this is not new information just to me, a how to! In Firefox or Flock (It apparently doesn't work in some browsers), go to the Google page and choose "more."
Choose "even more"

Then choose, Custom Search Engine.You must have a Google ID. Then name your search engine, add sites, and you are on your way.

Thanks, GOOGLE!!!! (and Alan November).

Now, go try out our new search engine. Try Beethoven, Bach, Mozart, etc.

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

November is a Great Time for Learning

(If you are looking for Animation-Ish post, it is here.)

Alan November, that is....

I watched Alan November present the second day keynote at the Iowa Education Technology Connection Conference held in Des Moines, Iowa. This home state conference has grown over the last few years. I was intrigued by a few ideas that Mr. November presented and I would like to share the first one here today.

One of the big ideas I gained from his talk was that our Internet, like our television and radio, can give us a skewed sense of the world. A heavily paraphrased quote from Alan was, "The Internet isn't necessarily a place to find a new perspective. You may find things that strengthen your current beliefs." Sorry Mr. November if those weren't the exact words, but I believe that was the intent of the words. (Like he reads my blog :-)

He suggests that we add site:(country code) to a search and then get search results from that country. So, today I tried it. I searched for information about the Boston Tea Party, and I will be posting the most unusual results. I don't know if I have representative sites on either continent, but it was interesting to me the differences in the material.

Part of the UK version
"In the early evening of 16 December, a band of men, some disguised as Mohawk American Indians (Hewes recorded that he darkened his face with soot), assembled on a hill near the wharf. Whooping Indian-style war cries, they marched to the wharf, where they boarded the ships one after another, hoisted the tea on board deck, split open the chests - 342 in total - and threw all the tea into the sea. The whole affair took about three hours, and it was not a violent protest - the ships’ crews attested that nothing had been damaged or destroyed except the tea - and the protesters swept the decks clean afterwards. The Massachusetts Gazette even reported that when it was realised that a padlock that had been broken was the personal property of one of the ships’ captains, a replacement was procured and sent to him."

Part of the US version
"We then were ordered by our commander to open the hatches and take out all the chests of tea and throw them overboard, and we immediately proceeded to execute his orders, first cutting and splitting the chests with our tomahawks, so as thoroughly to expose them to the effects of the water."

Most of the parts were the same...but the savagery of the US version really set it apart from the gentleness of the UK version which went so far as to have the hooligans tidy up after the big 'party.'

Mr. November's assertion was that we need to help kids think more globally and a great way to do it would be to give them some tools to find information of varying viewpoints.

Picture source:

Sunday, October 19, 2008

All About Animation-Ish

Tomorrow, Monday, October 20, I will be presenting the amazing program Animation-Ish at the Iowa Technology and Education Connection Conference. I was very lucky to be on the Beta-testing team for this program last year. In addition, I wrote fifteen of the lessons that are included in the Activity Guide as part of the Educational Edition.

This blog post is going to attempt to answer some questions. Windows and Mac!
Wacom tablet or not? Actually, as it says in the system requirements, a drawing table is not required. Most of my students prefer to use a mouse. I LOVE to use the Promethean Board!!! You can draw on the board and it is "what you see is what you get." Currently, there is an issue with Macs and Promethean board, but they are working on it. It works great on the PC.

I use it in my classroom, if you go here, here, here, or here, you can see things my students have done with the program.

Wait....There is more! When you are done creating your amazing animation, it can be saved in a variety of formats, like Flash or QuickTime.

Here are some screenshots and notes so you can get an idea of what the program looks like. The program comes with AWESOME video tutorials by Peter H. Reynolds and the animators at FableVision.

Hey, do you think I am the only person who thinks the program is the best? Nope! Here are the awards the program has won so far.

Give it a try! Free 15 day download.
Make my day and send me your animation!!!

If we met at ITEC, please send a comment!

Monday, October 13, 2008

Discipline--Everything I ever needed to know, I learned in my classroom

Today I want to brainstorm a list of strategies that WORK in the field of discipline. I want your help!

First, I have to say that my ideas come from twenty-two years in the classroom and a lot of error and trials. Mostly errors. I am not an expert, I only play one in my classroom.

Second, we must agree that what works for me would absolutely and positively work for you, but ONLY if you had the same kids, with the same background, and the same rapport with said children. So, in other words, one size does NOT fit all.

Third, we will have to agree that nothing works if we are not fair and consistent. And I MEAN IT! The kid has to know that whatever you do, you do it to everyone and you do the same thing everytime. No exceptions.

After sitting through (enduring really) a Harry Wong video, I will agree on one thing. Routine is important. Harry and I agree that having a routine for what you do will help kids get going. In high school chorus, when the attendance taker begins, the talking stops. When the piano starts playing the warm-up, the kids stand and begin. No words necessary. Please note that this took approximately three sentences to share and not a half hour of video time....but I digress.

Here are some things that have worked. Oddly, this year I have tried something new with the big kids...which is to point out that some of their behaviors are disrespectful to me. Now, if they didn't want to demonstrate their respect, this obviously wouldn't work....And it doesn't work for every kid. Most kids really want to please a positive adult who cares about them.

Explain why the rules are important TO YOU. I worked with At-Risk kids for the past few years and I noticed that one thing that seemed to really make them stumble was when a rule seemed arbitrary. So, when explaining rules, I let students know why it is important. For example, one of my rules is to keep the chairs on all four legs. The reason I have that rule is because every year, a kid leans back and goes all the way over and smacks their head. The explanation makes the rule make sense. No one wants to be embarrassed. Without explanation, it is just the cranky teacher making up rules.

Some really strange things I have tried.... I have an advisee group. They meet 15 minutes per day. They are supposed to work on homework and make sure they have it all written down. I used to H A T E that time because it was me trying to corral 8 sets of raging hormones. No grade to hold over their head and most of them had very little rapport. So, I made the deal that if they went X number of days without talking, we would have a game day. Number of game days?? 1 It took too long for them to earn a day and so they stopped trying. So, I then decided that the last 4 minutes would be game time if they got the required things done. Now it works almost every time! Immediate gratification.

The time I got in the greatest amount of trouble?? Well, I had an advisee group a number of years ago that was TERRIBLE to one kid. I tried everything I knew how to do and I couldn't make a difference. Then, I decided to hit them where it hurt. (No, not there). In the wallet. Every time someone said something mean to that kid, they owed a quarter. If the fund was less than $20, I would chip in money and we would have an amazing pizza party at the end. If the amount was more than $20, all of the money went to charity. I ended up making up the difference and celebrating with the group. . . Wait, are you wondering how I got in trouble?? The new teacher next door tried to do the same thing with her group....unfortunately she didn't have one student that all the others picked on, and therefore it caused parents to question why the new teacher needed the money of children. Obviously, one size does not fit all and I was given a pass by the parents of students in my room because the parents knew me. I was actually criticized (loudly) on the phone by the parent from the other room.

My last point here, is sometimes it is good to know the root of the problem and sometimes, there is a clear cut root. Problems at home, with other classes, or problems that occurred before they got to me can all be in full bloom in my room. I don't always take the time to get to the root of a problem, but I have learned to look for some warning signs along the way. Frequent misbehavior is often a sign of deeper trouble. Ask or refer to someone qualified for deeper understanding.

What tips do you have for newer professionals? What works for you? Maybe even share what didn't work so we all might learn.

Saturday, October 11, 2008

Go Hear For Yourself- Peter Reynolds at NHCMTC

2008 Christa McAuliffe Technology Conference

The Link is HERE

I promise you will not be disappointed! The author of "The Dot," "Ish," "So Few of Me" and many more amazing books, the illustrator of the "Judy Moody" series of books, and the founder of FableVision
will inspire more creativity in you than you ever knew you had!

Since I won't be able to be there, be sure to tell him I said "hi."

Thursday, October 9, 2008

Obstructed View

Wow, sometimes the journey is tough...and then something makes you look in a different direction. Today was absolute rock bottom in my regular job. Not going into it here, but it was not a good day. If you know me well, even from just reading this, you know I am all about kids. The situation today, as it almost always is, was about adults and not kids.

The big lesson for me today came at the end of the day. My best friend at school was helping me deal with "THE" situation. Wow, couldn't ask for a better friend. Then, the phone rang...It was the state sports office asking my students to sing the National Anthem for the state volleyball tournament.

Just when the star is the farthest away, something happens that turns you in a different direction and the star is as close as it ever has been...It was me that got turned around.

You might have to go read The North Star if that doesn't make sense. The art above is from Peter H. Reynolds.

Saturday, October 4, 2008

Prometheus--Thief of Fire

In Greek mythology, Prometheus was the person who stole fire from Zeus and brought it to the people. A few weeks ago, a great guy named Nate (ultimately with help from Kathleen, Scott, Anna, and Joelle) brought fire to my classroom....A Promethean interactive whiteboard.

This Wednesday, the UPS truck brought the gas for the fire...Activotes. For those who haven't used them, Activotes are devices that each student uses to interact with the lesson (other people in my school call them the clickers). If you want to see a lesson come alive, hand out electronics!

So, you are wondering how things have changed since the introduction of this amazing technology. First, a little about me. I haven't been a paper-pencil person for at least a dozen years. I never saw the need to quantify things in the music classroom. I have kids write stories, as previously discussed, but I don't do tests. I like to have kids SHOW me that they understand what we are learning.

The addition of the whiteboard has changed a lot in my classroom, but not the basic fundamentals. The kids spend eighty percent of the time in front of the board (if not more). I do my twenty percent is mostly setting up the activities and a little instruction. In fact, since the Activslate arrived, I have spent even less time in front of the board! The focus of my instruction is still the children, but now the kids have ramped up motivation...they are on fire!

Adding the Activotes this week has changed the atmosphere in my room...I am still dreaming of ways to make it better. We have been talking about naming the notes the kids will have to know to play the keyboards in February. The interesting thing to me is that I had the votes in "Anonymous" mode and the kids still wanted to know how they were doing... The quest for learning was apparent. Perhaps more than in the past, the students wanted to get the 'right' answer and were eager to listen better to instruction so taht they could get the answer right. I am not sure what all the implications of this are. I am not sure if the motivation is intrinsic, which has always been my goal. For now, I am going to go with the on-fire excitement and find ways to transfer that assignment to an instrument.

From my early experiences, I have decided that Promethean is correctly named for Prometheus, the one who shares fire. My classroom is definitely on fire!!!

Friday, October 3, 2008

"The Stellar Cafe" and the Stellar Illustrator!

If you haven't visited the great Peter H. Reynolds at his Stellar Cafe Blog, you need to! Today he shares that the Telefable for "Rose's Garden" will premiere tonight in Boston at the Gala for the Rose Kennedy Greenway.

Every blog post from Peter is an inspiration! If you have ever seen him at a conference, you will understand that just being around him inspires you to be more creative and to "Be Brave"

Be sure to leave him a comment!