Neil Gaiman – Make Good Art

Neil Gaiman’s inspirational speech at the University of the Arts 2012 deserves to be shared with older students, graduates and anyone likely to be inspired by his exhortation to “make good art.” He points out how good it is to start a career in the arts without knowing the rules, because that way nobody can tell you what is impossible. His advice applies to all artistic disciplines and emphasizes the importance of risk-taking and failure in the route to doing good work.

Takatsu Cell Phone Novelist

Takatsu wrote the first North American cell phone novel. I met with him to speak about creativity, multimedia art, writing, and education reform. His current project, Espresso Love, is a Wattpad novel. You can look at the video trailer, which he produced himself using Animoto to add mysterious signs to the urban landscape. His multimedia productions include songwriting, stories, video and graphic arts.

Takatsu praised the rigour of the Japanese school system and the close relationships and teamwork inherent in Japanese culture. Paradoxically, the strictness and high expectations bring out students’ talents and develop their abilities. Takatsu says that by working inside such a strong box, students learn to think outside it.

The same students who work together on a rigorous curriculum during school, and then clean their classrooms together, must participate in one club after school. These clubs involve many hours of daily practice in one area chosen by the student according to interest and talent. Choices include music, sports, visual arts and drama. The creative or athletic skills developed last a lifetime. Takatsu laments that in North America, although many people have a passion for the arts, many forget their talents once they enter the workforce.

There is a place for teachers on platforms like Wattpad, according to Takatsu. Educators are needed for collaboration, to teach net etiquette and also to mentor and teach writing skills.

I hope you enjoy this interview in which Takatsu speaks passionately about art and education. You can find his multimedia projects at Takatsu.tk.

 

Cursed Dishes by Jennifer Lott

I recently enjoyed interviewing Jennifer Lott about her first chapter book. As an early childhood educator, she had insights into writing for children and teaching as well. Cursed Dishes is based on a ‘revenge’ story Lott wrote when she was sixteen about her uncooperative younger sisters. Ten years later this completely reworked version is volume one in the Family Magic series, published by Reality Skimming Press. Told with humour and with illustrations by Doriano Strologo, the story dramatizes conflict between three sisters entangled in a messy little curse.

I hope you find Jennifer’s story inspiring. This was my first Skype author interview and hers as well. Using Skype to connect your classes with authors is free and simple and requires only that you and the author both have a Skype account, and that you ‘add’ each other to your Skype address books. I used a H2N Zoom microphone but most newer computers and laptops come with built-in microphones and cameras that make the process easy. Read Kate Messner’s article in School Library Journal for more information about setting up Skype for author visits. You can also read up about it on the Skype website.

Are Flipped Classrooms Bad For Students?

Students today have grown up in a digital environment. They do not remember a time before Googling was a verb or before games were ubiquitous on smart phones and computers. This makes today’s kids the most informed and sophisticated generation of entertainment consumers, but it undermines the value of educational videos. In the past, when teachers wanted to present material that was difficult to broach, or was outside their area of expertise, “Show them a video,” was the quick fix. Remember awkward sex ed. videos?

Students in our classrooms and libraries don’t see educational videos as a treat. It isn’t uncommon for students to groan when you offer them an informative video, but cheer for a Hollywood blockbuster.

According to the Kaiser Family Foundation, American students aged 8 to 18 spend nearly 4 hours a day in front of a TV screen and nearly another 2 hours on the computer (outside of schoolwork) and playing video games. Canadian children and youth average close to 8 hours of screen time per day according to the Canadian Health Measures Survey. Childhood obesity rates have accordingly increased from 15% to 26% from 1980 to 2004, with rates in the 12-to-17 age group more than doubling—from 14% to 29%. Kids are simply sitting too much and moving too little.

Parents are frustrated too. If they arrange a play date, instead of heading outside, the first thing kids want to do is fire up their gaming systems or play the latest movie. It has become part of modern hospitality.

Yet quality educational websites and videos are some of the best teaching resources we have, and form the core of the flipped classroom. Principals, researchers and school boards tout the benefits of the flipped classroom. Stats say it lowers dropout rates and increases student achievement, but selling the idea can be tough. To concerned parents, the idea of assigning more screen time seems counterproductive. And if their kids do less homework at home, doesn’t that mean the teacher is slacking off?

Ironically, reducing mindless screen time is one of the benefits of the flipped classroom. By assigning students homework on the computer, part of students’ screen time becomes educational. In class, students and teachers can concentrate on more personalized, hands-on activities which, because they are linked to at-home viewing, make students accountable for the content they learn at home. Communicating these benefits to parents is key.

It’s also important to make the online viewing portion of homework short and packed with information. Teachers can make their own videos or refer to materials they have previewed. Tutorials and research tools made specifically to teach children academic subjects, such as those available through Khan Academy websites or a public library, are good places to start.

Teaching is Contagious

The first follower transforms a lone nut into a leader.

–Derek Silvers

Have you ever wanted to get something creative going in the classroom but faced resistance? How about during a staff meeting? It’s not always easy to entice others to take a risk or do something extra. Collaboration with staff, students and community makes new projects better, if you can stir up excitement. The question is: how?

This charming video by Derek Silvers packs a lot of inspiration into three minutes.

First Follower: Leadership Lessons from Dancing Guy

Viewing this clip could inspire a creative-thinking activity for students as well:

Watch the video and collaborate on a three-minute video or skit of your own. Topics could include leadership, risk-taking, peer pressure or dancing. Use a serious or comic tone.

 

Word on the Street Toronto

I visited Word on the Street this past weekend. It’s my favourite celebration of booky goodness. The weather was sunny and warm, the crowds large and cheerful. There was even some fun street theatre to compliment the books, talks, signings, sales, giveaways and concerts. I came away with too many books but why not? As vices go, a book fetish isn’t so bad. Here is a little video of my impressions. It’s shot with a flip camera and edited with Adobe Premiere Elements.

The Fiendish Plot of Doctor Cyclone

I had my 3 showings of my video, The Fiendish Plot of Doctor Cyclone yesterday. People seemed to enjoy it and it was a pleasure to see the cast get up and get some applause after all their hard work. Here’s the blurb:

The Fiendish Plot of Doctor Cyclone, a lunar comedy orbiting your funny bone…

You’d have to be crazy to raise kids on the Moon but when you work on a lunar base, what choice do you have?

When parents start acting strangely, it’s up to the kids to find answers:
Why doesn’t their teacher act like a teacher?
Is Shao’s father really a traitor?
Can they stop Doctor Cyclone from attaining total galactic domination?

I wrote the script in July, cast students in grades 6-8 in December. Since then we have spent lunch hours and after school rehearsing or filming three days a week. I had all my footage by the end of April which gave me time to edit and figure out how to use Adobe Premier Elements. Not a bad program for the price. I like having the ability to edit the sound clips and to use colour key editing. Most of my scenes are filmed with a stationary camera in front of a green screen. I had a lot of fun later, putting in backgrounds. The story is set on the Moon so I used lots of copyright free pictures from Nasa. It was fun, way too many hours of work to edit but I’ve learned a lot. Next time it’s going to be easier…