The Power of the Digital Refrigerator

Over the first 13 days of school, the students have been learning to make book trailers on a book that they read over summer vacation.  It hasn’t been the smoothest of processes as having to accomplish numerous beginning of the year assessments took precedent.  I started by showing the students some book trailers made by past students.  We talked about the goal of the project was not to write a summary, but to instead try to entice viewers to read by the book by making it exciting and/or suspenseful.  The tool to plan out these book trailers was a sequencing brain frame for their storyboards.  Students needed to have between 10 and 15 “slides”.

So, the project felt like it was dragging until this past Tuesday.  I needed to review each storyboard, and in many cases, needed to send the student back with some direction on revising their first storyboard.  On Tuesday, I was able to give a minilesson on finding

Our iMovie Genius helps out a fellow student

pictures.  I had some help with this; the students who aren’t in band, have been hard at work becoming iMovie geniuses.  So, they also had some good tips for the other students.  By Wednesday, about half of the students had moved onto the iMovie part of the project.  As a teacher, this was extremely hard since I needed to review storyboards and wasn’t able to provide a lot of instruction on iMovie.   But, that’s where the summer “Tech Boot Camp” paid off big time.  One of my new students had taken what she had learned from a now sixth grader and had gone home and spent a lot of time really perfecting iMovie.  So, I set EC5 off to being the iMovie consultant.  She was confident and took her teaching role very seriously.  She was invaluable.  She was able to give quick minilessons to students who had never used iMovie and she was able to problem solve.  So, the morning was very successful due to the help of our iMovie Genius.

The next day, Thursday, I declared this was the last day to get this project done as I needed to move onto new activities in writing and reading.  The room took on a room of seriousness as students were totally engaged in either trying to finish their storyboards, working on iMovie, or putting the finishing touches on by adding music from Incompetech.  I still had a huge line of students clutching laptops.  Now, we were onto the part where I needed to review/edit their movies.  Once the movie passed “muster”, I uploaded the movie onto our YouTube Channel.  When the students reached this point, I think I asked them to just read quietly.  I couldn’t take the time to figure out what the finished students were doing as I had too large a line of students to still edit their movies.  I looked in the back of the room where two students were looking at one of our desktop laptops.  What were they doing, I wondered.

This is were the magic came into play.  What those two girls were doing was that they were looking at our You Tube Channel.  These girls wanted to see what everyone else had done. One of them said,  “It was cool to see what everyone had done.”  Suddenly, the rest of the students as they finished, rushed over to the computers, or stayed with their laptops and were watching each other’s work.  It was a magical moment.  Suddenly these “newbies” weren’t

Looking at a classmate’s book trailer

consumers, but producers.

After lunch, we processed what the students were feeling about this experience.  Some of their comments included:

  • “The whole world could see our book trailer and it could go viral.”
  •  “It’s kind of cool to think that people all over the world could see our work.”
  •  “I liked it because you could see your work and others’ work and admire what you did or other people did. You could learn from them.”
  • “It made me really giddy to know that everyone out there could like it or not like it.  We are letting people look at our work, not just other peoples’ work.”
  • “It felt good making a book trailer, anyone in the world who has a computer can see it and maybe it would convince them to read the book.  A book publisher may like it if this convinces people to buy more of that book.”
  • “It feels good to have my book trailer on You Tube, It is really exciting to share something with the whole world.”
  • “When I grow up, I want to be a director, so this is good practice.”
Our youtube channel

As the afternoon went on, and Friday morning and afternoon came and went, students kept on going over to the desktops to see how many views they now had.  This type of “digital refrigerator” that was discussed at BLC12 had come to life in our classroom after 14 days.  I have to admit I feel “giddy” too with this type of response from the students.  This is a great start to our school year for sure!


Ready…Get Set….Go

August 31st — one day before the “official” start of the teachers’ school year.  I am doing something very different today.  My goal is to have three meals out on my “veranda”, walk with a friend, and not go into school.  So, I sit here on a purple plastic Adirondack chair and ottoman, shaded by my twin Red Maples, watching Kyla bark at the chirping red squirrels and write.  This is not an approach that I have tried before, taking the day before school starts “off”.  It feels strange actually.  I feel that nervous energy building.  This is my “tapering” off period before the big race begins.  Before, only tried before when I used to be a competitive runner.  It worked pretty well then, so I thought I would try it in a different light, to taper before teaching.

The Teacher as a Runner

Back in the day when I use to run track, cross-country, and then road races, the day before a big race is traditionally a pretty light day.  Some stretching, maybe a very light jog, a few windsprints, and early to bed.  After some hard training, you want to give your legs a break, so they will be ready to react to the starter’s gun.  You wanted to feel antsy at that gun, not so tired that you couldn’t envision running 800 meters, 5K 0r 10 miles.  You needed that day to let your muscle fibers heal up a bit.  I remember back in 1982 when I was running between 55 to 70 miles a week, that this “off day” felt very strange.  Your body was at loose ends, use to the high mileage, but “forced” to run maybe only two to three miles.  You wanted to go further, but knew that in your best interest for the race tomorrow, that you should not.  So, here I sit on this lilac chair, wanting to go in and put up that last piece of bulletin board border, wanting to futz around with my opening day challenge, but knowing I should not step foot in the door today.  I did my “light” training, running (rather driving) to Staples to pick up a few last things and then over to the Natural Resources office to pick up my Conservation Land Use Permit.  I finished reading Teach Like Your Hair is on Fire, worked a tad on my graduate class that I teach, and basically soaked in as much natural Vitamin D that I could stand.  Just like the day before a race, when I use to envision what that race may look like, I did the same analysis of my school year.

First and foremost on my mind is that I am looping with 21 out of my 22 students from last year.  Back a few moons ago, I have been a looping teacher before.  I went from being a 4th grade teacher, taking 12 students with me in a 4/5 combination.  The following year, I took 11 out of 12 4th graders in that combo class, and became a 5th grade teacher again.  While a good percentage went forward, 21/22 is a really high percentage.  These students know my tricks.  They totally will know what I expect from them, but they know my tricks.  I totally need to switch up my beginning of the school year activities.  I agonized over my letter to them.  Always before, they received a bag of sand.  But I didn’t want to repeat that this year.  I needed to switch my race strategy.  I’ll let you know how this switch turned out after our first week.  This reminded me of when I was a 800 runner in high school.  I liked to take it out from the gun.  This strategy went well, I was undefeated heading into our last dual meet.  Didn’t work so well at that meet, I was caught by another runner, ending my quest for an undefeated season.  With the League Championship a week away, I needed to change my strategy.  And for that race, coming off the final turn behind the runner who had just beat me a week earlier, I was able to sprint by her, winning the Midland League Championship.

I thought back to another race, the Yankee Homecoming 10-Miler in Newburyport in 1982.  I went out extremely hard,

Pre-Race Taper Strategy

going through two miles in 12 minutes and 36 seconds.  Then my legs “fell asleep” (this resulted in my having surgery 4 times in the ensuing years).  Around 7 miles into the race, they came back to normal again, and I finished in a very respectable time of 68 minutes 2 seconds.   So, how do I start this long race (180 days to be exact plus weekends for me) on the 6th.  Do I go out hard?  Do I go out steadily?  Do I go out slowly?  I have two new students to add to the 21 students, so I probably need to go out a tad slower than full speed ahead.  In a long race, you certainly don’t want to crash and burn during the first two months.  How do I maintain some semblance of an exercise program, of some down time with family?

Then there’s the challenge of your other competitors.  In my teaching case, the challenge is to be a learner along with your students. What direction will they push me this year?  (and that is in totally a good way!) What new things will light my fire this year?  The best projects are usually those that are not totally planned out.  My “pre-race” guess is that the students will want to take another crack at DPC this year.  I’m a bit worried about that as I don’t want it to be a “forced” project.  I want it to be just as exciting a process as it was last year.  So parts of the race are somewhat worrisome to me.  This is like when you don’t know the race course.  You’re not quite sure where the hills are, where the turns are.  To me, teaching is like this as well, you are never quite sure until you actually get going.  Even when you get going, there are obstacles along the way.  I have a new learning space to “learn,” new curriculum, several new students, and even those returning students have grown over the summer.  Just like the day before a race, my mind races with the possibilities.

13 years into this “race”, and the same insecurities exist the day before.  This is not a race that seems to get any easier as the years go by.  But one thing that still exists is the excitement of getting started, the excitement of watching my students grow, the excitement of learning along with them.  It is that excitement that gets me over that steep hill, that keeps me hanging on to the finish line.  I’m ready and raring to go.

“It’s All About Qi”


One of my favorite songs by Billy Joel is “It’s All About Soul”.  During this school year, I’ve decided to change the title to “It’s All About Qi (Ki in Japanese).  Earlier in the year, I blogged about “Feeling Genki” after learning the true meaning to the word Genki in Japanese class.  A lot of the Japanese calligraphy originated from China, so it makes good sense that the Chinese word for “the flow of energy that sustains living beings” (Wikipedia) or qi (older spelling is chi) was formally introduced to the students during our last fall Chinese Poetry Workshop.  It’s also interesting that in Korean, this energy is “gi” and in Vietnamese, it’s “khi”.  This week during our workshop, Steven Ratiner introduced this workshop as “The Way of the Brush”.  He went on to explain the difference between clerical style calligraphy, which is beautiful, neat, and clear to painting with qi.  Painting with qi means that it is spontaneous, on the spur of the moment, making it up on the spot.  You need to be so open-bowled that the energy flows out of you and into your brush.   A mistake or error in this type of painting is seen as a positive thing.    Throughout these workshops, students have learned poetry associated with different dynasties and philosophies.  Today’s lesson was centered on Zen Buddhism.

Steven Ratiner demonstrates the beauty of the calligraphy brushes

After discussing the four essential elements for producing this type of art — brush, paper, ink, and inkstone, students first practiced strokes that make up all of the symbols before moving onto practicing writing some symbols.  Then, “Autumn Reflections at the Dressing Table” was played to the class.  When they felt something, their ink-loaded brush was put onto the rice paper.  Stepping back, they evaluated their first stroke and decided what to do next.  This went on until the students felt they were complete.  Now, looking at their drawing, students created a poem to go with the drawing.  These poems will be edited, and then written onto the scrolls.  This will all be mounted and we will have a wonderful memory of this workshop.

Back to more “Qi” — several weeks ago, I started to do a blog after the mile run.  I’ve been meaning to get back to it, so here’s the beginning:

“This class totally energizes me on most days.  However today, another verb can be used: inspires.  Today was our mile run at the Emerson Track.  I always love to go along, being a former track athlete and coach, to watch the students run.  Today, all 19 students participated in this activity.  For most, they were finished in the eight to nine minute range, some below that range, and some above it.  But for one student, it took 42 minutes and 37 seconds to do 1/4 of that distance.”

Here’s the end now to this unfinished entry.  “The “qi” that I felt in participating in that full 42 minutes and 37 seconds once around the track was incredible.  This student truly personifies the utmost qi of anyone I’ve ever met.  Never complaining, never saying “I can’t do this.”  Nearing the end of this 400 meters, the two 4th grade classes lined both sides of the track, cheering this student on.   The energy present was simply incredible.  Tears were streaming down my face as we neared the finish line.  To say this was a moving experience doesn’t do it justice.

Last thought on “qi” as I finish this entry up.  A colleague said to me late Friday afternoon over a cup of tea, “I heard you and your class singing on the way to lunch.”  A student had put on a pair of “Skeleton-like” gloves and we all spontaneously broke out into “Bones, Bones, Bones, Rattle-Rattle.”  I thought back on what Steven said about painting with qi and thought this is what “qi” is all about — the spontaneous collection of just doing anything with joy (I knew I could get back to my Billy Joel song) — whether it be singing a song from Monster Madness, cheering on a classmate, or being totally engaged in learning.  There’s a good abundance of “qi” going on in Room 305B these days and this makes every day a delightful experience!

Hope everyone is getting healthy or staying healthy!