We didn’t spent an hour with coding this week, but I did introduce my sixth graders to the Hour of Code site yesterday, and gave them time to dig into some of the activities. As in other years, I explained why we talk about programming and code in an ELA class this way:
Not all of us will be computer programmers but nearly all of us will use technology. It’s good to have a basic understanding of what goes on “behind the screen” and to understand that people program the software that runs our games, apps and more
Programming is a logic puzzle, requiring patience and sequential thinking. The Hour of Code activities are engaging and move from easy to challenging in a solid way
We’re into our Video Game Design unit, and I have been sharing information and video about paths towards game design opportunities down the road, and computer programming, obviously, is a huge and growing field
Some of my students were completely hooked by the Hour of Code, and I will be using the site as an “extension learning” opportunity as some finish other projects. Along with a new activity connected to Moana, the activities with Minecraft, Angry Birds and Flappy Bird are all favorites.
In one of my classes, I had a student how already used Scratch, and a small group gathered around him as he taught others how to build an animation in Scratch, all on his own. I thought that moment was pretty cool and just let it unfold without my interference.
We’re in the early days of our Video Game Design Project, in which my sixth graders are learning how to use a narrative “story frame” to design and publish a video game via Gamestar Mechanic. As a writing teacher, my aim is to show how story can become the backbone of a video game, and how the reader “plays” the story that the game designer has written. It’s all about expanding the notions of Digital Writing, and how games are emerging as the place for inventive storytelling.
This week, students have been brainstorming their “story frames” and that work is done before they can start designing their games. I want them to have a “map” of where they are going before they starting designing with blocks and avatars and rewards and more. I am always pleasantly surprise by the detail of their brainstorming and their imagination.
Our theme this year is “the Hero’s Journey/Quest” — a topic we have been building off since September (in the past, these games were all science-themed, but this year’s shift to Next Gen Standards for our science teacher created a bit of a problem for us, so we’ll try again next year).
We connect game design to writing process and we do a lot of writing in this unit, from Game Developer Reflections to writing persuasive Game Reviews (as podcasts) to using their “game worlds” as setting for short stories, and more. I aim to use their engagement in game design to spark their interest in writing across genres.
As a mentor text, I dissect my own game for them. My game – called The Odyssey of Tara — is a riff off The Odyssey, where our hero — Tara — has to make her way home, fighting monsters and battling obstacles along the way.
I’m looking forward to playing my students’ stories.
These are results of my annual survey of my sixth graders on their views and use of technology and social media. We used these slides as discussion points for a unit we call Digital Life, which we just wrapped up with a talk about advertising and the web, and how to use tools to filter out ads and tracking.
Here are steps to making and sharing a simple stopmotion animation with Para Para Animation (part of Mozilla’s Webmaker family … I think …) Warning: The site is kind of funky at times and not always completely stable. And I am not sure how well it works on mobile devices. Just warning you. But I have used it with students and they LOVE it for the simplicity and easy entry point. You will, too.
(This is a post for Slice of Life, a regular writing activity hosted by Two Writing Teachers. We write about the small moments. You are invited. Come write with us.)
“This is for you,” she said, finishing up the last bit of art on the page. I had been wondering what she was doing. As the rest of the class had moved on to another activity, she had been hard at work. “Because this is what you always tell us.”
And with that, this sixth grader handed me this beautiful hand-drawn sign, which I immediately put up in the classroom. Sometimes, it’s nice to hear that the message is getting through. Always, it’s humbling to receive a gift of your words coming right back, amplified through the art of a student.
I was reading and commenting and enjoying the discussion that has been unfolding in both the body and the comments of this Open Document/Slow Chat format centered on the nature of images as digital writing as part of the CLMOOC Pop-Up Make Cycle last week. You should read it. And contribute.
I was wondering how to make sense of the various threads, and decided to try my hand at a Found Poem. I narrowed my reading to just the comments off to the side. As I dug around, some common themes and phrases began to emerge, and I assembled and then re-assembled them in another document, tinkering with the flow — adding a few words here, changing some endings there — until a poem emerged. Of sorts.
I decided, in the interest of Digital Writing, that I wanted to do something different with the poem, so I opened up Keynote and began constructing the poem as Kinetic Text, using the animation feature within the slideshow to have parts of the poem appear and disappear. I could have gone fancier, I suppose, but I wanted to keep things simple so the words would not get lost for the flash. (I’ve done this kind of piece before. See my resource at Digital Is.)
My sixth graders finished our version of their Letters to the Next President right on Election Day. The next day, we knew who had won. Yes, we will add President Trump to the salutation and ship the letters out nearer to Inauguration Day. I hope the transition team isn’t in such disarray that the letters get lost.
It is no surprise that the environment was a popular choice. Young writers often are worried about what is happening with Climate Change (yes, Mr. President, it is real and not a hoax) and the plight of animals in the changing world. I suppose “pollution” could have fallen under the “environment” umbrella, too, but there was enough distinction to warrant its own category for my purposes.
Again, you can read more about what we were up to at Middleweb.
I led a deep and somber lesson this week with my sixth graders in our Digital Life unit about “Online Bullying.” I know the lesson is important but I always try to balance the negative aspects of online behavior with the many possible positives, and try to make sure my message is “Most of your experiences in online places will be a positive experience, but if it isn’t and you feel alone and threatened, know you have people like me who care deeply about you and can help you.”
We talk about the aspects of viral media, about how the potential for embarrassment and targeting can reach unknown levels, through YouTube or Instagram or Snapchat or whatever. The “public space” is greatly expanded with social media tools.
The very next day, in order to provide some ballast for that lesson, I talked about the not-so-negative aspects of various viral social media projects, such as the Ice Bucket Challenge. I asked if any had heard of the Mannequin Challenge. All hands in all four classes went up into the air. Well, I said, we’re going to do it. That led to cheers. Kids really do like being part of viral media, replicating what they see when they are online that seems cool and on the edge of something.
Since we are in the midst of reading independent books, I told them that our theme would be Frozen Readers. As I filmed with my camera, they should put themselves into a frozen reading stance. I later stitched the videos from all four classes together and shared it back with them (which I may share out publicly later, as I need to navigate the privacy issues — the short video here is just a taste of the larger video).
It was great fun, with lots of excitement, and a positive lesson on being part of something larger than our classrooms. Plus, our focus was on reading and books and literacy. Win-win.
For the CLMOOC Pop-Up Make Cycle for #DigiWriMo, we invited people to help annotate an interview of Troy Hicks about digital literacies. The Edutopia article by Todd Finley is a few years old, but holds up remarkably well, I think. We have been using the Hypothesis annotation tool, which allows you to collaboratively add comments and media in the margins of a web-based article. It’s a great way to “think out loud with others” in the margins of the Web. It’s also invisible, to some degree. You have to have the Hypothesis tool activated or you have to have the direct Hypothesis link to see comments.
Someone, perhaps it was Terry Elliott or Daniel Bassill, remarked in the margins of the Edutopia piece that writing in the margins like this is just the first step. It’s like raw note-taking. We’re readers reacting to ideas, and to each other, in a sort of rough take on what we are reading. (And in fact, I find myself completely wandering away from the main text at a certain point and only find myself reading and responding to the comments — I am removed from the anchor text completely.)
In the interest of some of the ideas there to somewhere else (like here), I began to try to find connecting points in the annotation texts. Here are a few, along with some of my thoughts and reflections. Maybe others will do the same.
Part of the discussion unfolded around the concepts of technology as another tool in the box, and the focus on the teaching and learning, not the digital means to get there. I agree. Let’s focus on the writing, not the Digital Writing, even though this question of what Digital Writing is continues to vex me (in a good, reflective way).
Daniel does a lot of great work on the topic of mentors in urban cities (like his own Chicago) and the benefits of after-school programs, and his reminder to us that we teachers need to be finding ways to draw ours students into meaningful learning experiences rings true for me. I am not always successful with this. But the reminder that every students has their own set of needs and inspirational points is something to keep in the back of our minds at all times.
Karen is talking about the nature of the digital reading experience here, and where the digital reading might enhance or inhibit our engagement with a text. This connects to Digital Writing (there’s that term again) in that a writer has to keep some sense of audience in mind (perhaps some may push back and say, the only true audience is Self), and so knowing that we are still in a transition time of digital texts is something worth considering when writing with technology.
I really appreciated this comment from Charlene, about seeing the potential of our students (and helping them see the potential of themselves) even within the world of constraints. She mentions time here, but I would add others: reliability of technology; workarounds for pushing technology to do what it is not designed to do; and so forth.
And finally, a regular reminder from Troy …. just because you write in a digital space doesn’t mean that you are harnessing the agencies of technology for your own writing. Understanding the potential of technology, used in the service of your writing and compositional goals, means pushing past those limits and making something potentially new. An essay written in blog form is just an essay on a screen.
My musical/songwriting and Western Massachusetts Writing Project educator friend, Michael Silverstone, wrote and recorded and shared out a beautiful song about love last week called To Give Our Love. I paid for the download via BandCamp and then asked if he would allow me to remix his song. He said yes, although at the time, I didn’t know what I was going to do with the song. I just knew I wanted to do something.
After mulling it over, I realized that his song about love and my demo song about hope (Hope Remains) might provide an opportunity to entangle our sounds together, and so I worked to try to find elements his song and elements of my song. It didn’t work quite the way I wanted for a variety of reasons: he went into a real studio, so the sound of his song is bright and professional — I used my iPad as a demo recording, so the sound is narrow and confined, tight. The key signatures for each song are different, as is the pacing. But — and this is important — neither had drums, so meshing them together was a bit easier. When rhythm is in the mix, the remix is more difficult.
Even so, after my first attempt, upon listening, it was clear that the transitions between his song and mine didn’t work. The jolting differences between the two tracks were too much. It needed something in the transition moments. Later in the day, I had one of those “aha” moments: What if I brought in the voices of poetry and speech to fill in the gaps? What if the poems/speeches were on the same theme, but provided transition points between the music?
So that’s what I did, chopping and remixing audio poems and readings by Martin Luther King Jr., Maya Angelou themselves and a poem by Emily Dickinson (alas, not read by her but still …) and cast myself as a sort of knitter, pulling threads here and weaving threads there, all in an attempt to get at something larger than either of our songs.
This kind of Digital Writing — composing without the written text in front of you, using only the sounds of text as the means for making something new with echoes of the old — is always a challenge. But when done right, it brings to surface themes that might otherwise be out of focus. We listen as writers, using sound as words, and we hope the listeners “read” the remix. (Note: Michael wrote in appreciation for the remix after I sent the final to him. That made me happy, that I honored his songwriting with something new).
What will happen if this audio remix file is taken a step further, and brought into some other site, some other media? Maybe we’ll see … you are invited to play with the track, if you want. It is downloadable. (be sure to credit Michael Silverstone, though.)