A Word About Copyright

Bound by Law

Bound by Law

Whenever I talk to teachers about using materials gleaned from the internet or about student products (especially multimedia creations) the conversation invariably turns to copyright. Is is okay to use cartoons from a web site in our lessons? Can students use pictures they find on the web to create their own comics?

The copyright law is complex and the fair use guidelines are just that – guidelines. It’s difficult for educators to know what they can and cannot do when it comes to using other’s intellectual property. A teacher’s occasional use of excerpts or images from published works in classroom lessons is probably fair use. Republishing someone else’s work on the school web site or in a newsletter that goes home to parents probably is not. While I’m not an expert on copyright, I usually give teachers one piece of advice – try to set a good example for your students.

When students ask me about using images from the web or music from their CDs in their projects, I first encourage them to create their own instead. I’m often amazed at what students can do when we set the bar high and challenge them. If they cannot produce original images or music, they should be taught how to search for Creative Commons licensed media.

Recently I was searching for resources for helping teachers answer copyright questions and I came across, of all things, a comic book about copyright! Bound by Law is a publication from Duke ‘s Center for the Study of the Public Domain. It’s an engaging comic that looks at copyright, public domain, and fair use through the eyes of a young documentary film maker. This is another example of how a comic book becomes an effective teaching tool. It takes a complex concept and presents it clearly and simply in a visual format that middle or high school students will appreciate. This comic has a Creative Commons Attribution, Non-Commercial, Share-Alike license. It’s offered for free in several digital formats or you can buy a print copy from Amazon.

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Just Me and a Few of My Friends

Promoting Literacy with Cartoons, Comics, and Graphic Novels

Promoting Literacy with Cartoons, Comics, and Graphic Novels

Last night I presented my first ever webinar. It was the final session of our MLTI online conference Pictures Sounds Numbers Words and, I must admit, I was a bit apprehensive at first. Although I have attended many webinars, I had never conducted one and I really didn’t know what to expect.

I was fortunate to have a few factors in my favor that made this a really enjoyable experience. My session was the last of a four-day event so I was able to attend several others first and get a real feel for environment. I had a pretty good idea of what would work for me and what wouldn’t and I had plenty of time to practice.

We promoted the conference through our various social networking sites so by the time I had tweeted it and written about it on Facebook, most of my colleagues and friends were aware of it. As the session was starting and I scanned down the list of attendees, I saw that they were mostly members of my huge MLTI network. It was like having a conversation with a group of old friends.

Of course, another factor that made it easy was the great content. I was able to talk for an hour about something I really believed in – that comics have a place in a well-rounded literacy program. As I watched the chat room fill with great ideas from the participants, it hit me. We’re finally allowing students to talk in class! Although we all know that learning is social, and discussion is powerful, teachers still ask students to be silent and give their full attention while the teacher is talking. It just seems too distracting to allow side conversations but in this webinar, the side conversations made the content so much richer.

If you’re interested in watching me and my friends talk about comics and literacy, check out the recording of this session and, while you’re there, drop in on some of the others.

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Free Comic Book Day

Free Comic Book Day

Free Comic Book Day

Saturday, May 2 is free comic book day. Participating comics stores across North America will be giving out free comics to anyone who stops in. This might be a good excuse for teachers and librarians to visit a local comic book store and see what’s available. Not only will you get at least one free comic but you also will have an opportunity to talk with knowledgeable people who can make some suggestions for titles you may want to add to your collection.

If you’re not sure where to start buying titles for your classroom or library, check out the Nickelodeon Magazine Comics Awards to learn which are kids’ favorites. You also might want to take a look at this blog post on the School Library Journal site.

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Learning Vocabulary Visually

I think one of the best uses of comics in the classroom is to teach vocabulary and I’ve recently discovered a site that does just that. It’s Weboword and it uses simple, stick-figure cartoons to teach new words (great for SAT study). There’s a new word every day and each post also includes a definition, pronunciation, situational uses, and related words. If you want to create your own word cartoons, you can upload them to the Weboword Ning.

Many teachers have discovered that when students associate an image with a word, they are more likely to be able to retrieve that word and remember its meaning. To learn new words, students must make connections between the new words and words or concepts they already know. Visualizing a new word can help kids make even stronger connections. The cartoons in Weboword could be used as models or springboards to get kids to make their own word cartoons. And because they are made with stick figures, anyone can do it, regardless of artistic ability.

You can subscribe to daily updates and have a new cartoon delivered to your email each day. Here’s today’s word: cogitate.

Cogitate

Cogitate

The cartoons are licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-Share Alike 3.0 license so they are copyright friendly for classroom use.

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Pictures Sounds Numbers Words

Pictures Sounds Numbers Words logo

Pictures Sounds Numbers Words

MLTI is offering an online conference for educators, May 4-7. This is an exciting new venture for us. For the first time we are running a conference that includes no face-to-face workshops; everything is online.

Former Maine Governor Angus King will be the keynote speaker, opening the conference on Monday, May4. There are 28 sessions scheduled for the four days of the conference – something for everyone. Registration is not required but is encouraged. To receive a certificate for contact hours you must pre-register.

My session Promoting Literacy with Cartoons, Comics and Graphic Novels will be the last one on Thursday night. This will be my first webinar and I’m looking forward to the opportunity to reach a larger audience than I would with a traditional face-to-face workshop. The one-hour time frame may be a challenge for me, but I want to make the participants aware of the possibilities, with the hope that they will follow-up with some hands-on work on their own.

As we were discussing how to market this, I came across a tool that has some possibilities for story-telling with comic characters. (Thanks, David P.) Xtranormal is a tool for easily making movies from a your written script. While it can’t really be classified as a comic creator, it serves the same purpose. I like it because it allows those students who may not have strong drawing skills to create a visual piece using their writing. If you create an account, you can save your movies on the Xtranormal site, or you can export them to a YouTube site.

As I was trying it out I had the online conference on my mind so that became the content for my first movie:

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A New Beginning

Tonight I begin giving this blog new life. I began it almost a year ago on Edublogs and intended to post at least once a month. All was well until Edublogs decided to put ads on all the blogs it hosted unless the owner paid a ransom of $39.95 per year to have them removed. I know that, in the big scheme of things, $39.95 isn’t a lot, but it annoyed me so much that I just abandoned the blog for a while.

A few weeks ago, I exported it from Edublogs and imported it here, in Word Press where I hope it will remain ad-free forever. I’ll be removing the original one soon and directing my readers (both of them) here.

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Reflecting on ACTEM MAINEducation Conference

It’s early Saturday morning and I’m finally finding a minute to reflect on the annual ACTEM Conference where I presented this week.  One of my sessions was Promoting Literacy with Comic Life and, I must admit, I was feeling uneasy about it.  It was a one-hour session and I’m finding it harder and harder to do a good session in that short time period.  I’m also fighting a cold and had two other sessions to prepare so I was afraid I was giving it short shrift.  In a one-hour session, with as many people as I had in the room (I’m guessing around 50 or 60) I couldn’t really give them a hands-on experience so I opted to talk more about the “why” than the “how.”

I distributed my Promoting Literacy with Cartoons, Comics, and Graphic Novels notebook which now resides on the ACTEM server as a web notebook as well as a downloadable NoteShare notebook. We talked a lot about teaching with comics in general before we turned to a discussion of Comic Life.  The crowd was very receptive to the idea of using images and text, both as a medium for conveying content and another way for students to demonstrate their learning.  Once again, I found two subgroups among the participants who really get it: librarians and foreign language teachers.  I think librarians, for the most part, understand that comics and graphics novels are legitimate reading material and they belong in their collections.  Foreign Language teachers (and ESL teachers) have always used images for teaching vocabulary and they know how powerful dialog combined with pictures can be.

When it came time to talk about Comic Life, I wanted to do something different so we attempted to make a comic of Act I, Scene ii of Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream.  It’s the scene where Quince has gathered all his players to begin working on the play they will perform for the duke.  I had my colleague Phil help me, and we got some volunteers to wear various hats and took a bunch of pictures of them in various poses.  We downloaded the pictures to iPhoto and then opened Comic Life and began making a comic of the scene, translating the Elizabethan language into modern English.  It would have been better if I had a longer period of time to do it but I think they got the idea.

The best part of the session was when I asked the participants for ideas they had for using Comic Life. We always learn from the collective wisdom of the group.

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