Thursday, November 12, 2009

Give yourself permission to write bad lines or scenes...

When talking about how to overcome writer's block, playwright Edgar J. Shockley advised 5 classes of high school students to "give yourself permission to write bad lines or scenes ..." He added that when you give yourself permission to do this, you'll never have writer's block.

Rewind five hours earlier: I was working with our fellows during a virtual training session to help them design collaborative projects. As a group, we came up with a great list of best practices for designing videoconference collaborations - - but I wish I had been able to quote Ed when chatting with our fellows.

We are all still learning how to integrate videoconference project-based collaboration into our classrooms. Collectively, we are generating a framework of advice; but every project is different. Although we may not have an exact blueprint for how to put every project together, we can't stop innovating. We need to give ourselves permission to write bad lines or scenes. And then, of course, learn from them.

To me, it's all about iterative design (and if you've participated in one of my training sessions, you might be tired of hearing me say this!). We have to start with the learning objectives, decide what evidences understanding, and then design the learning experiences. But it doesn't end there! During the entire planning and implementation process, we must look critically at what worked well and what didn't work well. And about taking risks.

Ironically, looking back at the 3 hour training session I facilitated about developing collaborative projects and the 75-minute session I coordinated on playwriting (all within the same afternoon!), I've discovered striking synergies between advice given during each session.

For example, Ed told students that "writing something with a moral is rarely successful; but when we see truth on stage, the truth speaks to us. Great art makes the personal universal and the universal personal." Translation to project development? Don't have "this is the right way to do the project" tunnel vision when planning. Allow space for iteration, organic development and retrospection while designing. When you give yourself space to reflect, the project may be more sucessful.

Another theme that emerged during the playwriting session is the idea that in order to be a good playwright, one has to experience (not necessary excel!) all of the different jobs that go into producing a play (i.e. costuming, directing, set design, etc.). Same goes for developing a collaborative project. Educators and students should experience putting together all of the technological pieces that go into a project; technical support and students should assist with the curriculum design; and educators and tech specialist should assume the roles of students at some point. It gives everyone an appreciation of the talents and expertise that goes into designing and partaking in a project - - not that we all need to be experts at each piece!

And lastly, the playwrights joked that one of the best things about being a playwright is that you get to sleep in late and your day doesn't really start until 4:00 p.m. Conversely, by 4:00 p.m., my work day is almost done. :0)

Friday, November 6, 2009

Kaleidoscope Songs and Breaking In the NEW MCU!

Today we had two Kaleidoscope Songs VC sessions (one for grades K-2 and one for grades 3-5) with Alex Mitnick. Alex joins us in our studio every few months to make music with lots of students across PA, NJ, DE and KY! You can learn about Alex and the Kaleidoscope Band on their website.

We had seven elementary schools join our K-2 session, and due to some last-minute issues, only one school in our grades 3-5 session. The lucky students at Hopewell Elementary got some one-on-one time with our guest!

Although we used the Internet2 Commons for the K-2 session, we tried out our BRAND NEW Codian HD MCU for the Grades 3-5 session. It worked great! We're still working out some logistics concerning the MCU, but will be migrating all of our programs to that piece of equipment over the next few months. Look for information about how to book your own program/event/videoconference through our new MCU service VERY SOON. The service will be available to both MAGPI members and non-MAGPI members.

The grade 3-5 event ended with students from Hopewell Elementary and Alex singing "Together." You can listen to Alex sing the song through this mp3 and follow along with the lyrics:

Being together
And being myself
I feel my happiness
Go round about

When I see all my friends
Being happy and free
I know that together
We all love to be

Together, together
Learning today
Together, together,
Freedom is our goal
Together, together
Finding the way
Together, together
Together today.

Each is a light
Each is a spark
Each single life
A star in the dark

Everyone╩╝s faces
Together is us
All of our differences
Gives us a plus

Alex is coming back in December and we still have some spots available. If you're interested, please go to the, find the program under "programs and events" and register!

Thursday, November 5, 2009

Behind the Scenes at The Haunted Poe Videoconference

Today's Haunted Poe videoconference, a collaboration between MAGPI, Brat Productions and the Pew Center for Arts and Heritage, was a huge success! 12 schools joined us for the program from across Pennsylvania. Here's a brief glimpse 'behind the scenes':

It's the Philly Poe Guy! Edward Pettit shared historical information about Poe, his life and literary works - - specifically related to his time in Philadelphia. Check out Ed's "Ed and Edgar" blog.

Actor Dallas Drummond does a dramatic reading of the Tell Tale Heart.

Here is the dual screen display that Dallas was looking at while performing. He was able to view all 12 schools simultaneously.

Designer Alisa Sickora Kleckner shows off the puppets she created for the show, assisted by Michael Alltop, artistic producer for Brat Productions.

Alyssa shows off the prosthetic toothless mouth, worn by actress Jess Conda during the performance.

Jess shows the audience how the mouth was adhered to her face during make-up.

Michael explains the concept of Haunted Poe and how the production came to be.

Jess demonstrates how to 'move like a ghost' when explaining her scenes in the show.

At the end of the videoconference, the whole crew pulled up chairs to answer questions from our 12 connected schools.

We'll have the podcast of the event up on our iTunes site soon! In the meantime, check out a brief clip of Brat Production's Haunted Poe Production...

Many thanks to all! A great time in the studio and learning experience for the schools.