Saturday, February 25, 2012

Reading Comprehension via Silent Film App

When we discovered the Silent Film Director app we knew we had to find a way to use it.  And, luckily enough, one of our fourth grade teachers was game.  She was reading The Green Book by Jill Paton Walsh to  her students and wanted to find a way to help them dig more deeply into the text.  Rachel chose to read this book to her class in part because of their study of Jamestown and all of the ways people needed to adapt when settling a new colony (another layer is that in science her students are studying animal adaptation.) 

Here's the description of the book from Amazon:  "We are at Shine, on the first day, " says Pattie, when, as the youngest member of the group, she is given the honor of naming the new settlement. Refugees from the dying planet Earth, they, along with other ships, have been sent into space in the hope that some of them will survive to continue the human race. But the success of Shine remains doubtful as crops fail and provisions brought from Earth dwindle. Even the excitement surrounding the hatching of the giant moth people from the "boulders" in Boulder Valley doesn't make the group forget the hopelessness of the situation. It isn't until Pattie and her sister Sarah make an important discovery that survival becomes a certainty.

Rachel had her students focus on the obstacles the characters had to face and how they overcame those obstacles.  They selected the major obstacles in the book, divided into groups, and began to plan for how to recreate their scenes as silent films.  This began with teaching the kids how to write effective summaries.  Then we taught them about mood, tone, and symbolism.  Finally, we taught them some cinematic terms, particularly those that would allow them to select their camera angles (wide shot, close up, pan, shoulder shot, double shot, etc.).  We also showed them many examples of silent films and analyzed how these films made meaning without dialogue.  The students planned their costumes, selected their setting, and mapped their shots using a storyboard.  They were deeply immersed in an analytical study of the novel.

Friday was shooting day.  The students demonstrated so much enthusiasm about their scenes and so much understanding of the book.  And they had fun with the filming of their silent films. 

The app offers a lot of choice in terms of effects and sounds.  Check it out!

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Lego Friends: Friend, Not Foe

There's been a lot of talk about the new Lego Friends collection recently.  I've heard several interviews on NPR with angry commentators and bloggers who argue that these new Legos, designed for girls, are perpetuating gender stereotypes and negatively impacting the girls who choose to build and play with them.  For a few days it felt like whenever I turned on the radio I heard another angry woman bemoaning this new Lego line.

Why?  Because some of the blocks are pink and purple.  Because the people are not boxy--they have curvy figures and more human-like features.  Because one of the sets is a beauty shop. 

I think these arguments are silly.  There are plenty of blocks that are white, brown, black, and blue.  And Lego people have come a long way since the early robot-esque figures.  Most of the sets are interesting with lots to play with--a vet clinic, a tree house, a cafe, and a dog show, to name a few.  These Lego sets are not harming my daughters; they are inviting them to play with a toy that was otherwise not very interesting to them.  And best of all, they build these sets with Daddy.

I'm glad that my girls have the choice to play with Legos that appeal to them, especially since these sets do not involve weapons, tanks, or other forms of devastation as so many of their other collections do.  Where are the angry bloggers complaining about the violent Lego toys?

Friday, February 10, 2012


I just finished reading Nothing by Janne Teller and I'm not sure what to do with it.  The book or the ideas in it.  Nothing is a Michael L. Printz Award Honor book and a Batchelder Honor book.  Both awards are given to notable young adult and children's books.  It is a small book:  just 227 pages and a lot of white space on each page.  But the message is weighty.  Here's the first page:

Nothing matters.
I have known that for a long time.
So nothing is worth doing.
I just realized that.

From there the narrator, Agnes, explains that her classmate Pierre Anthon walks out of school on the first day of seventh grade pronouncing that life has no meaning.  He spends each day in a plum tree on the road to school, taunting his classmates from high in the branches.  Desperate to prove him wrong, Agnes and her classmates decide to collect items of meaning to show Pierre that life has value and to get him out of the tree.  Item by item, the meaningful contributions become more serious.  What begins as a pile of Dungeons and Dragons books and a fishing rod becomes a gruesome heap of mortality:  the grave of a two-year old, the head of a dog, one boy's finger, and one girl's virginity.  And still Pierre won't come out of the tree to see the collection.  Not until things turn really ugly.

So I don't spoil the book, I'll leave it at that. It's worth reading to see what happens.

What I'm wondering is, should I put this book in our seventh and eighth grade classroom collection, available to any student who wants to read it?  I want to.  I really do.  The Printz and Batchelder people want me to.  But this is not the sort of sci-fi dystopian novel our kids love so much these days.  There's nothing magical or fanciful in it that can leave a comfortable distance between its message and their minds.

If I don't put it on the shelf, then Pierre may be right.  I want the kids to think about life's meaning and find what matters to them, even if the book will be disturbing.

There's my decision.  Wish me luck.