Teaching/Tech Tuesdays--Google Lit Trips

When I first discovered Google Earth in 2005, I spent a lot of time making myself nauseated by zooming all over the place, clicking on random pictures, looking up my home address, and making the Earth spinning wildly with a sweep of my mouse.  I didn't really think of the educational implications.  Kind of like when my friends and I were at a dinner party in 2000 and heard of a cool search engine called Google that could find every mention of our names online. Who knew it would take over the world in less than a decade?  

A year later, a high school English teacher named Jerome Burg wanted to see if he could use Google Earth to help his students map characters' journeys.  This idea blossomed into Google Lit Trips.  

This phenomenal resource allows students to create lit trips for the books they are reading.  They span every grade level:  K-5 (fifteen books, including Make Way For Ducklings and Priscilla and the Hollyhocks), 6-8 (fourteen books, including The Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants and Chasing Lincoln's Killer), 9-12 (twelve books including Candide and The Kite Runner), and Higher Ed (seven books, including Blood Meridian and Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man).  Please note that each Google Lit Trip is available in the upper right hand corner.  You will see a link says "Download" and then the title of the book and/or ".kmz file."  

I've used the Google Lit Trips for Macbeth and Night in my classes.  This first screenshot of Google Earth shows an aerial view our planet as  you look at Norway and Ireland.  You can see Dunsinane in the center.

Students can click on different areas and learn more about each location.  When you click on "Ireland," a pop up window appears that includes a mention of Ireland and lines from Act 1 that graphically explains how Macbeth killed the traitor, Macdonwald.  When you zoom in, you can also see pictures that people added of the landscape and nearby towns.  This creates an accurate idea of setting for the play.

Dunsinane is given the Google Sketch Up treatment.  Students created this 3-D version of the castle where Macbeth awaits his fate.  

If you click on Dunsinane, more information about the play and a photo of Dunsinane Hill appears.  

This is also a great resources for younger students.  Here's a screenshot from the Google Lit Trip for Make Way for Ducklings:

I've used Google Lit Trips and Google Earth on occasion in my classroom, but I'm very excited that I will be learning a lot more about these tools at the Google Geo Teacher Institute in a few weeks.  I'm looking forward to sharing about that experience in a future post.


Teaching/Tech Tuesdays--Easy To Make Videos that Impress (Animoto for Education)

Note:  All screenshots are from the Animoto website.  Click each pic for larger image.  
Additional note:  This is a completely unsolicited review of a website that I love.

I like it when students choose to create video presentations in my class--as long as they're not poorly thought out, rushed, and sloppily executed.  My students have made some amazing videos in the past including a Lego-mation version of "The Pardoner's Tale" from The Canterbury Tales (complete with ketchup blood and cool special effects using dental floss) and a movie trailer for Antigone (filled with eerie sound effects and impressive costumes).  I also like to integrate visuals on occasion when I'm lecturing or summarizing plot points for whatever work of literature we're studying.  I was getting really tired of the old standby, Powerpoint, so I was thrilled this past summer when I learned about Animoto at a HVWP workshop.  Animoto takes videos and video-making to a totally different level...PLUS it's free for educators.  

From their website:
"In the works since 2005, Animoto was founded to help people better share their stories and express themselves through online media by innovating technologies in the field of video production.  It analyzes and combines user-selected images, video clips and music with the same sophisticated post-production skills and techniques that are used in television & film."

It is so easy and the results are professional and impressive.

Step 1:  Choose your video style.  You can select from seventeen different looks or pay an additional $39 to become a Pro member to have access to eight additional looks for your videos.  Different looks also have different transitions from frame to frame, so make sure you click on "Preview" to see how the photos and text are displayed in video form.  

Step 2:  Upload the pictures/short video clips/text that you want to include in your video.  You will also have to arrange them in order of presentation.  The one thing that's tricky about adding text is that you can only type in two lines per frame.  The title fits up to 22 characters and the subtitle fits up to 30 characters.  If you only have a few pictures or even no pictures of your own, that's totally fine.  You can use Animoto's image gallery to create an animated version of a poem or other piece of writing.  I whipped up a quick video for the first two stanzas of William Blake's The Tyger here using some nature and scene images provided by Animoto.  You can use the video to generate discussion about layers of meaning, use of imagery, author's intention, etc.  

Step 3:  Select a song from the library to use as a soundtrack for your video.  There is a decent variety of songs from thirteen different genres including electronica, indie pop, Top 40, and hip hop.  You can also upload your own MP3 file(s), but you do need permission from either the artist or label to use them in your video.

Step 4:  Choose the pacing of your video images and the length.  You can also finalize the look you want.  After you click on "Continue," all you have to do is type in the title and description.  

That's it!  The first time I tried to create a video, it took me about an hour or two.  I needed to present the minutes to my fellow HVWP participants after the first day of workshops, so I put this video together.  This is something you can definitely do with your own students if you want them to review what you've been working on in class for the past few days or weeks in a creative manner.  Enjoy and have fun with your Animotos!


This Used To Be My Playground

When I first heard that song from A League of Their Own, I realized that I actually kind of liked Madonna...well, at least her sappy side.  Can you believe the movie was released in 1992?  

For some reason, when I go home and spend time in my old childhood room, that song drifts into my mind.  It's also kind of neat/weird that my own kids are jumping on my old four poster bed (unfortunately, my Peanuts Belle canopy has been taken down) and asking me questions about old knickknacks I collected in my teens.  

  1. High school graduation tassel, teddy bear piggy bank, The Corrs CDs (I used to play "So Young" on repeat all the time in college), Precious Moments mini plate
  2. My figurine collection...included Pochacco, Mickey and Minnie Mouse, Wade Tea figurines, and more Precious Moments dolls.
  3. Stickers from Botan Rice Candy boxes 
  4. Painting of roses I did in middle school...with a lot of help from my art teacher.  A lot.  As I've mentioned before, I am not a crafty or artistic person by nature.  
  5. Feather masks...I vaguely recall buying them through a catalog that my middle school art teacher had, but that sounds really strange.  
  6. Marble collection in a turtle shaped box...the tenant downstairs had a big water jug filled to the brim with marbles.  These are a few that she gave me as a gift.
  7. Old dresser drawers with faux gold trim.  It appealed to the princess in me, what can I say?
  8. Little Twin Stars jewelry box filled to the brim with self-made wire jewelry, '80s style neon plastic earrings and bracelets, and costume jewelry that my mom gave me.  There might even be a jelly bracelet or two in there.  

What are some things you still have from your childhood?  I keep most of my things at my parents' house, but I've brought a few treasures home with me.  The feather masks can stay in my old room though.


Fashion/Fun Fridays--Summer Shakespeare

Ever since I heard King Lear's voice boom out of my English teacher's cassette tape player (Blow winds, and crack your cheeks!  Rage!  Blow!) my senior year of high school, I have always enjoyed Shakespeare performances.  Listening or watching skilled actors take command of the language and infuse it with meaning is always a treat.  

If you love Shakespeare, views of the Hudson River, rose gardens, fountains, and picnicking with good friends on beautiful summer nights, make it a point to catch a performance or three at the Hudson Valley Shakespeare Festival on the Boscobel estate in Garrison, NY.  

This year, I saw all three performances. 

Hamlet (Wall Street Journal review herewas a little slow going in the beginning, but I thought the second half was mesmerizing.  The actor who played Hamlet really dug into the anguish and madness that sustained the title character throughout the play.  I also thought that the actress who played Ophelia was incredibly talented.

Around the World in 80 Days, which was based on Mark Brown's adaptation of Jules Verne's novel, (NY Times review here) was absolutely hilarious.  I don't think I've ever laughed that hard at a play before.  The actors were perfectly cast and Jason O'Connell's comic antics were simply fantastic.  He plays seventeen different characters and plays them all so well.  

I just saw The Comedy of Errors (Times Herald-Record review here) this past week and had a blast.  I was a little distracted in the beginning because I got ten mosquito bites on my feet in the first five minutes of the show (I ended up wrapped my new HVSF t-shirt around my ankles...thanks, JF!), but as the play went on, I loved every moment of it.  I wasn't really familiar with the synopsis, but I thought that the director did a great job keeping the audience up to speed with all of the mistaken identities and plot twists.  I thought the circus theme was very clever and lent to the story with its eye-catching costumes and original portrayals of each character.  I was surprised at all the younger audience members there, but they seemed to have a great time.  It got me thinking about how I would love to bring my kids to future performances...DN in maybe two or three years and LT and RT when they can sit in one spot for more than ten minutes (probably in seven or eight years).  

There are only fifteen performances left, so if you have a free evening and you're in the NY area, be sure to pack your picnic basket with some fruit, pastries, and Prosecco, and head over to the festival (buy tickets here).  It is a thoroughly enjoyable evening.  Plus, you can buy Go-Go Pops at the concession tent.  You definitely can't beat that.  

Happy Friday!


Teaching/Tech Tuesdays--Practice Makes Perfect

Last night while I was looking for a book to read, I came across an old typing manual I used back in high school.  Published in 1966, it emphasized the use of repetition to teach touch typing.  Flipping through the pages, I remembered the exercises that had me typing lines like"ddd ded ded dea dea ddd ded ded dea dea" and "clip flip chip ship skip drip grip quip" over and over again until my fingers moved to the right keys automatically.  Sure, it would have been fun if I played keyboarding games where I shot an alien down each time I typed a letter correctly, but I think plain old repetition really got the job done.

I don't teach keyboarding to my students, but I do use repetition when I want my kids to learn a large amount of vocabulary over an extended amount of time.  My students need to know hundreds of literary terms (comprehensive lists found here and here), so I usually give them a vocabulary packet at the end of the first week and I tell them that they will be quizzed on the first five words in the packet the following Wednesday.  They usually laugh, but then I tell them that the following week, they will be quizzed on five words that I will choose from the first ten words in the packet.  The next week, they will be quizzed on five words that I will choose from the first fifteen words and so on and so forth.  By the time the Wednesday before their big exam comes around, they will be quizzed on five words...but on any five words from the entire packet.  They constantly review the same words over and over again, adding to their vocabulary repetoire a little at a time.  I do incorporate more "fun" ways of learning different terms (I'll talk about a vocabulary twist I add to the Story Starters creative writing activity in a future post), but this weekly exercise is extraordinarily effective.  At the end of the year, I always ask my kids to review my course and give me some constructive criticism for next year's students.  They always say that the quizzes helped them tremendously, which is pretty high praise for what could easily be a really boring weekly routine. 


Belay On? On Belay!

Busy, busy day, but had a blast going indoor rock climbing with DN. Thank you, Groupon! After the clinic, I thought I would get a chance to type up my blog post at my parents' place, but little did I know that my mom set up the kids' bedding in the room with the computer. The kids are having a sleepover with Grandma while I sit in the guest room and type a semi-coherent post on my Droid. At least I managed to throw a collage together of DN's newly acquired climbing skills. My own proud moment came when I reached the top during my climb, so I'm pretty happy. I did get a few nervous flutters in my stomach when I looked at DN and the instructor waving at me, but going back down is always a lot of fun. DN and I are definitely looking forward to two weeks of free access to The Cliffs. Hmmm...not bad for a Droid entry.


Sentence Fragments--NYC Edition

Unbelievable round trip drive without any traffic whatsoever
Sailboats anchored here and there in the Boat Basin
UP's old apartment building
Pulling into the parking garage (parking coupons rock!)
Thai food with my two best friends
Comedy improv debut (hilarious/disturbing birth scene...had to be there)
Easy conversation at The Tempest
Late night walk
Sweaty, stinky subway
Cool AC of apartment lobby
Up and out in fifteen minutes
Thoroughly savoring the early morning calm
Hating pigeons
Watching cabbies play backgammon
Glimpse of Times Square (not a big fan)
Grande Soy Chai Latte (please)
Easy drive to West Side Highway
Gorgeous view of Hudson River
Composing odes to NYC in my head


My Three Blessings

Three of us afloat in the meadow by the swing,
Three of us abroad in the basket on the lea.
Winds are in the air, they are blowing in the spring,
And waves are on the meadow like the waves there are at sea.

Where shall we adventure, to-day that we're afloat,
Wary of the weather and steering by a star?
Shall it be to Africa, a-steering of the boat,
To Providence, or Babylon or off to Malabar?

Hi! but here's a squadron a-rowing on the sea--
Cattle on the meadow a-charging with a roar!
Quick, and we'll escape them, they're as mad as they can be,
The wicket is the harbour and the garden is the shore.

Pirate Story by Robert Louis Stevenson (From A Child's Garden of Verses...thank you, SK!)

Little known facts about my kids:

  • DN loves dinosaurs and can recite a dinosaur for every letter of the alphabet forward, backwards, and in random order.  She is planning to be an artist/baker/paleontologist when she grows up.
  • LT named all of his toy horses "Goofy."  He named his bumblebee Pillow Pet, "Buh-Bye."  
  • RT is named after a real estate agent I saw on HGTV two weeks before I had the twins.  She will jump up and down and laugh maniacally if you offer her candy or a popsicle.  


Teaching/Tech Tuesdays--A Room of One's Own

You know how potential buyers on HGTV always say that they can picture themselves living in a house that they're checking out?  They imagine themselves cooking gourmet feasts in the huge kitchen with the island.  They envision the great parties that they're going to throw in the backyard next to the Olympic-size infinity pool.  They look at the guest bedrooms and mutter that they're too small or dimly lit.  Then the husband usually walks into the cellar/basement/attic, breaks into a big smile, and says, "Now, THIS is what I'M talking about!"  The wife then rolls her eyes, looks at the real estate agent, and shrugs, "I guess that room will be his man cave."

I don't know when man caves became standard (my husband claimed the bonus room for his very own), but I do know that when we walked through our house for the first time, I saw the spare bedroom downstairs and knew at once that it was going to be my study.  It was located in the back of the house, perfect for deep thoughts and intense grading marathons during the school year.  Soon after we bought the house, my husband painted it a lovely green color  and I decorated it with pictures of close friends, mementos from my travels, and russet and brick red accents.  I originally had a window seat surrounded by bookshelves, but my husband and I decided to move the windows to the other wall and filled up the windowless space with even more bookshelves.  

I love bookshelves.  As a lifelong bibliophile, I am reading anywhere between two to five books at a time.  As a teacher, ample shelf space is a godsend.  On the left side, I keep my books for work.  This includes books that I teach, study guides, literary criticisms, and related materials.  My DVDs, audiobooks, copier, and printer are located in the center section and my leisure books can be found on the right side.  You can barely see the four wicker baskets behind my watermark, but I fill those with art supplies, greeting cards, notes, printer paper, and miscellaneous items ranging from my husband's old guitar songbooks to my kids' stickers.  

Over the past two years, my oldest daughter's artwork took over my study, but today, I decided to reclaim it for my own.  My little ceramic vases reemerged from behind the paper boxes DN made during her origami phase.  The art supplies and art books went into her room and the extra scraps of paper filled two large trash bags.  There are still a few signs of DN's handiwork.  A paper tree branches its way up one side of my bookcase and her pteranodon pictures grace the wall next to my pictures of Senegal.

I'm starting to get there...wherever "there" may be.  


One Month Left!

I will be welcoming students back to school in exactly one month.  After two and a half months on bedrest and two years and nine months home with my three kids, I will be responsible for anywhere between one hundred and twenty and one hundred and fifty students for forty-five minutes periods, five times a day, and five days a week.  I finished organizing all of my literature and writing units on Google Docs a few weeks ago, but my to-do list is a billion miles long.  I'm feeling ambitious, excited, nervous, sad, tired, and  stressed all at once.  I guess that's normal.

A few things I need to take care of:
  • work on my Maus unit
  • make lots and lots of photocopies
  • go shopping for school supplies (I really love doing this)
  • move all of my files, art supplies, materials, and fans into my new classroom
  • put up my bulletin board paper and borders
  • figure out how to set up the chairs and desks
  • read the books on the summer reading list that are new to me
  • reread the books I teach during the fall semester (this includes Twelve Angry MenTo Kill a Mockingbird, Macbeth, King Lear, Crime and Punishment, and A Midsummer Night's Dream)
It would be great if I could also potty train the twins, declutter my house, destroy the hornet's nest on the roof, and replace the numerous burned out light bulbs inside and outside my house, but I think that might be pushing it. 

What I'll have on my desk this year:

  • Desktop Magnetic Board , complete with notes to myself, pictures of my family, and inspirational quotes
  • Tons of essays and other pieces of writing in manila folders--stacks, I tell you.  I am going to try to incorporate Google Docs into my classroom this year though...my attempt to go green.
  • Halls Cough Drops--I keep them in a tall cedar candy box on my desk for me and my students.  Winters are a rough time for all of us.  I think my immunity shield is going to be a lot weaker after being away from students for so long.  Laryngitis, I know you're waiting for me.
  • Alessi Dozi Paper Clip Holder, for all of my stray paper clips
  • Post-it Desktop Organizer, for my Post-its (an absolutely necessity), pens, highlighters, and tape

At least that's taken care of.  

If I had even more extra time and got everything done, I would also consider thinking about how to deal with our newest...uh...pet.  

Say hello to my little friend.  I'm just going to refer to it as she, for convenience' sake:
She's a little shy.  

My kids love her, but I'm just afraid that she's going to make that crack even bigger.  That, however, is a problem for another day...but hopefully not a day when I have one hundred rabbits scampering around my yard.  


Across the Walkway Over the Hudson

The more we live, more brief appear
Our life’s succeeding stages:
A day to childhood seems a year, 
And years like passing ages.
The gladsome current of our youth,              
Ere passion yet disorders,
Steals lingering like a river smooth 
Along its grassy borders.

--excerpt from The River of Life by Thomas Campbell (1777–1844)


Teaching/Tech Tuesdays--Old Fashioned Correspondence

Postmistress. Such a fun word, but whenever I think of it, images of Elvira appear in my head..."Mistress of the Dark" and all that jazz. Weird, but true. I guess if I want to be politically correct, I should say Postmaster General. Anyway, I had a conversation with my local Postmaster General a few months ago and she was lamenting the fact that a college student walked into her post office the other day and asked her how to address a letter. A discussion about various topics including the state of education, lack of motivation among students, post office closures, and the general move from snail mail to email and now Facebook ensued. Then I mailed my package and went home.

This exchange reminded me of a letter writing activity that I created that was inspired by the fabulous Griffin and Sabine books by Nick Bantock. My best friend, SK, introduced these books to me when I was in high school and I was immediately drawn to their content, artistry, and uniqueness.

Based on the vocabulary and concepts, I would say these books are appropriate for high school students. In the first trilogy, the reader is brought into the perplexing yet intriguing correspondence between Griffin and Sabine. The book consists of postcards (the front of the postcard is on one page and the writing on the next page) and letters (you can remove the letter from the envelope), creating the sense of secretly reading letters between two people learning about each other's existence and trying to solve the mystery of how it all began and how it is supposed to continue. The art is incredible.

After introducing the premise of these books to my students, I have them break up into groups of four or five, look at the books, and talk about various aspects of the letters and postcards, such as effective writing, descriptive imagery, structure, and organization. They brainstorm ways they can use this format to analyze whatever book they're reading in my class. They then learn how to write a business letter (perhaps used with characters from Death of a Salesman) and a personal letter (the examples are endless). Each group is then responsible for writing six to eight letters that are at least two to three paragraphs each. They can use the letters to explain what characters are thinking at a particular spot in the reading or use their imaginations and create an alternate event or ending for the book or play we're reading. I've also used this to great effect with my literature circles when each circle was reading their own book.

I tried this activity with my creative writing students my first year of teaching and they created the most amazing correspondences. One was between a slave and a freeman, another was between a mother and child. I was so blown away by their writing and presentation that I had them their showcase their work and invited administrators, teachers, and other students to take a look at their final drafts.

The Griffin and Sabine books are definitely too sophisticated for elementary and middle school students, but an excellent list of books that include letters and letter writing can be found at The Letter Exchange, an organization that connects pen pals through their descriptions or interests.

Happy letter writing!


The Amateur Localvore

Zinnias and blueberries from Secor Strawberries
Basil from Adams Fairacre Farms

Even though I'm hardly the world's best gardener, I definitely appreciate all of the great farm markets and local restaurants around me. With The Culinary Institute of America (notable alumni include Grant Achatz, Anthony Bourdain, and Michael Chiarello) less than an hour from my house, I've been very lucky to find many hole in the wall restaurants that are run by amazing chefs and bakers. Beef empanadas and lychee bubble tea from Twisted Soul in Poughkeepsie, alfajores from Los Hornitos in Wappingers, a lemon garden party paleta (enjoyed this afternoon!) from Zora Dora Paletaria in Beacon, crispy Boston haddock tacos from McKinney and Doyle in Pawling, and butter crust lemon squares from Wild Hive Farm, Store, and Cafe Bakery in Salt Point are just a small number of delicacies that I've enjoyed in the past few months. Yelp and Chowhound have provided excellent culinary detours around the ubiquitous fast food chains.

My appreciation of good food comes from a few sources. My mom is a fantastic cook. Whenever we took her out for dinner, she would scoff at the dishes we praised, go home, and whip up the same thing, but ten times better. Living in NYC for a few years also fostered my love of food. Ethiopian at Meskerem one night, Vietnamese at Monsoon another...and they would deliver! It was great. Luckily, walking those avenue blocks to work helped me stay somewhat in shape.

When I dig a little deeper, I think the main reason why I enjoy trying new foods so much comes from the books I read when I was a little kid. Pippi Longstocking made me want to try pepparkakor (a Swedish cookie). Robinson Crusoe piqued my interest in breadfruit (I pictured breaking open a large grapefruit-like exterior to reveal piping hot bread). I wanted to try pomegranates after reading about Persephone's dilemma. I knew that I couldn't travel to all of the locales I read about, but I could imagine the tastes, smells, and sounds. All of those sensory images stuck with me for years. I distinctly remember how tickled I was when I found Turkish Delight at the grocery store. I could finally have some idea of why Edmund from The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe was so addicted to this treat.

In my childhood, it was my imagination that created vivid depictions of the foods I wanted to try. In my twenties, I was lucky enough to travel around the world and create my own first-hand experiences. Now, I look for hidden savory (and most definitely sweet) treasures in my little corner of New York, often with my three kids in tow.