In Celebration of Reading and Writing: Mobile Storytelling

In a time when so many of us bemoan a seemingly apparent decline in writing and reading in young people, this video reminds us that maybe we are looking and observing in all the wrong places. Check it out. Candice Faktor shows us where and how young people are engaged in stories and fiction.

This is part of a cool video series I found that dovetails nicely with my thinking of how to use technology to transform writing and literacies. I’ll sharing out other videos in the coming days, too.

Candice Faktor – Mobile Storytelling: The Rebirth of Reading and Writing

Peace (read it, write it, live it),
Kevin

Music: Stones of Hope (Son/Father Collaboration 2)

My 13-year-old son and I continue to make music together, with him starting songs and inviting me to collaborate. I am enjoying the opportunity to engage him with some creative collaborative practice, and it’s been fun, watching him learn about music creation with technology. It’s become a real passion for him.

This song is the second one we did together, using audio clips as loops for a message of hope.

Peace (sounds like hope),
Kevin

 

The Arming of Teachers? Are You Insane?

Let me get this out of the way. Arming teaching in schools as a policy to protect students is a completely insane idea. Let me also note: I live in liberal Western Massachusetts, where an aversion to the NRA’s right-wing politics is part of the environment. I lean politically left. But I was also in the National Guard, trained as an infantry soldier and I was a platoon sergeant, so I know my way around a wide assortment guns.

Arming teachers is an insane idea.

Kate Way Photography: G is for Gun: The Arming of Teachers in America &emdash;

Kate Way Photography: G is for Gun: The Arming of Teachers in America

The idea of arming teachers in schools is something I have been following for the past two years or so, as my documentary filmmaking neighbor and friend, Julie Akaret, has been working on a movie that was once called Good Guy with a Gun, and now is called G is for Gun (The Arming of Teachers in America). You can see a photo essay by one of the film’s producers. They have traveled to Ohio many times, visiting schools where teachers are being trained to carry guns in school.

I have supported her through Kickstarter and have been part of the early preview feedback audience of the film as she and her partner have worked on it. The first round of showing of their film will be taking place next month on Ohio public television in March and then they hope other affiliates will take up their story of guns in the hands of teachers in the schools where young people are. The time for the topic is right, sad to say.

Kate Way Photography: G is for Gun: The Arming of Teachers in America &emdash;

Kate Way Photography: G is for Gun: The Arming of Teachers in America

It’s insane.

And you knew it was only a matter of time before the rising up of youths in Florida would lead to the NRA-backed politicians saying that what we need is MORE guns, not fewer. Sure enough, the news this morning shows President Trump calling for the arming of teachers.

Insane.

But par for the course, unless those young people in Florida and elsewhere finally change the narrative and pressure on politicians to buck the NRA and gun lobby. More guns are not the answer. Making teachers into a militia is not the answer. More restrictive gun laws, and more support for enforcement of those laws, is what’s needed. Who will be brave enough on the GOP side to take a stand?

Don’t hold your breath.

Peace (in our schools),
Kevin

Slice of Life: Gaming the Gaming System

(This is for the Slice of Life challenge, hosted by Two Writing Teachers. We write on Tuesdays about the small moments in the larger perspective … or is that the larger perspective in the smaller moments? You write, too.)

I am always impressed when my students find new ways to “hack” or game a system. Last week, one of my students created a new video game in Gamestar Mechanic that everyone in the grade began playing. Not because it is a good game or a fun game or a challenging game. In fact, quite the opposite.

The game is called Spam Enter, and as soon as you hit play, you win the game. Hit replay. You win again. Again and again. No, the “game” my students were playing, which began with one or two kids and soon became a viral challenge across classes, was to help the game achieve more than 10,000 plays.

This morning, when I looked, it had more than 13,o00 plays.

One on hand, it’s nonsense. This means a bunch of kids were just hitting replay on the computer. They were. And it was rather funny, as kids had their fingers on the return button of their computer keyboards while holding conversations with each other about the coming vacation and the Olympics and such.

On the other hand, they saw the activity as a way to game the Gamestar System, to see what would happen if a single game suddenly got thousands of plays. One student starting telling others to rate the game high. Their informal plan was to move the game into the Gamestar Mechanic featured game section of what is known as Game Alley.

Did it work? I don’t know. But they keep hitting play.

Peace (in the game),
Kevin

Book Review: Wishtree

If, like me, you were blown away by The One and Only Ivan, then you will be swept up with the same magic in Wishtree, as writer Katherine Applegate weaves another powerful story told in such simple language.

Applegate gives voice to a neighborhood tree, called Red, whose long-view of the people and animals that inhabit her space provides her with deep compassion and love for the ways in which everything is connected. And what a voice she is. Red, a tree, is a character you won’t likely forget.

Red, a red oak, is also a Wish Tree, meaning it is a place where each year, people come to hang notes with their dreams and desires on her branches, in hopes that they might come true. She is a gathering point for the neighborhood, and in this story, Red also becomes a flashpoint for hate and intolerance.

An immigrant family is targeted. A word is carved on Red as a message to the family. Vandalism happens. A young immigrant girl feels abandoned and friendless, and Red works with the animals of her tree to give the girl her one wish from the tree: to have a friend. Meanwhile, the owner of the property where Red has her roots has decided the time has come for the tree to be cut down, for safety, and only a story from the past can save Red from the stump grinder.

Applegate artistically weaves these strands of story together with delicate writing, always guided by the calm, compassionate voice of Red. This novel would be a perfect read-aloud for elementary school, and the topics of how we welcome new families — particularly those who speak a different language or come from a different culture — is central to the theme of Wishtree.

As it is to the world outside our door. May we all be like Red.

Peace (and wishes),
Kevin

Inside the #NetNarr Alchemy Lab: An Open Invitation to Collaborate

NetNarr Invitation to Collaborate

A group of us who are in the Wide and Wild Open Community of Networked Narratives decided we want to put into practice the elements of those networks and narratives with a collaborative transmedia project. Transmedia concepts involve various forms of digital media, and digital platforms, connected together into one larger story thread.

We’re calling this project “MediaJumpers”, and our tagline is “Every Object Tells a Story.”

We’re using the concept of the magical “Alchemy Lab” as the setting for the backbone of our narratives, and folks like you who join in will have their own digital art and stories connected inside elements of the lab. We’ve got a cool idea brewing in the background for how this might all work as a final project.

Come play the invitation and sign up to be part of what we think will be an interesting collaboration.

We hope the students in the Networked Narratives classes (Mia Zamora and Alan Levine are professors in the US and in Norway this semester, and Maha Bali will be joining in later from Egypt) as well as friends and collaborators from other networked spaces — like CLMOOC and DS106 and beyond — will join us.

We hope YOU will join us.

The first step is to play the invitation … then sign up at the form at the end of the game … the Master Alchemist will be in touch in the days ahead with further instructions (basically, create some digital work).

It’s going to be a blast! And the more, the merrier.

Peace (and MediaJumping),
Kevin

Video Annotation: Emilio Vavarella and the Art of the Digital

Emilio NetNarr Visit

A Networked Narratives hangout last week with digital artist Emilio Vavarella provided some keen insights into how an artist might use digital tools and technology to make statements on the connected world. I popped the video of the interview into Vialogues so I could watch at my leisure and add comments/ questions/ observations as I went along.

Emilio has done some pretty interesting art endeavors and museum installations, including:

  • The Captcha Project, which critiqued the concept of human labor in the digital age
  • Do You Like Cyber? — an audio installation using digital voices of bots from dating sites
  • Animal Cinema, of animals caught taking pictures with cameras
  • Driver and Cameras, which focuses in on the selfie images made by mistake by Google drivers taking images for its Streetview Maps
  • Digital Pareidolia, in which Emilio documents the errors of Facebook’s face recognition software

I invite you to join me in the margins of the video.

Peace (asking questions),
Kevin

The Fragmented Me (Exploring Selfies in an UnSelfie World)

Eye selfie #tdc1111 #dailycreateWe’re exploring the art and act of Selfies in Networked Narratives, as Mia Zamora and Hannah Kelley are researching the impact of selfies and plan to curate a public art exhibit under the banner of #SelfieUnselfie in Norway. Both are on Fulbright Scholarships right now and focused on digital literacies (I think).

Take a look/listen to their project and their invitation:

True story: an hour after watching that video by Mia and Hannah and thinking about the idea of the Unselfie the other night, my wife and son and I sat down to watch an episode of the Modern Family sitcom, which opens with the parents berating the older daughter for laying around all day, taking selfies on her phone. (Later, we learn she’s been building a blogging site for fashion and making money of her images of herself and her fashion choices).

My 13-year-old son pointed to the television.

“That’s what the girls do,” he observed, “at school. All the time. Selfies, all day long. It’s annoying.”

Not boys, we asked?

“Some,” he admitted. “Not like the girls. It’s like they want their image everywhere.”

There are a lot of layers to the act of creating Selfies — from identity in the digital world, to capturing moments as memories, to connecting in social media with others, to artistic choices that get made (or not). More and more apps now help you “touch up” the Selfie, which seems at odds with its original intent to me (which might say more about me, as a middle aged white man, than many selfie takers.)

I went into my own Flickr account to search for “selfie” and only a few popped up. Either I haven’t done many, or I don’t save them. I suspect I don’t often think enough of the Selfie itself to put them into my Flickr for saving. Selfies seem more … momentary, temporary, fleeting. Interesting.

Bad Selfie (with Webcomic Photobomb)

Some of these I found (like the eyeball image at the top) are from DS106 prompts, I realized. And a few are from an old webcomic site I used with my sixth grade students. In it, they would create avatars as representations of themselves.

Remember that year, those movie stars at the Oscars created that famous group selfie? Suddenly, everyone knew what a Selfie was.

I used that a visual prompt for students that year to create webcomic selfie collages. I did one, too. Some of the characters in here are avatars of friends from the Connected Learning MOOC and other social spaces.

My Self, My Selfie (comic-style)

And my students did their own Selfie collage activity, with friends avatars joining them.

Comic Selfie Collage

The SelfieUnselfie project asks us to create an unselfie, so the other night, I did.

They also ask for an Artist Statement:

With my comic, I was trying to capture the idea that instead of us using our technology to capture an image of us as Selfie, it would instead be the reverse: our technology using us, on a Selfie Stick, to capture a representation of it for the world. Sort of like a cultural mirror. And of course, the devices wants to know how it will be perceived on social media.

Underlying the lightheartedness of this comic Unselfie is the real concern about technology driving our agency for us, instead of the other way around (us, making decisions with technology as a tool for expression), and how our devices seem to become a larger part of how we sculpt and curate our digital identities. Are we pushing boundaries or are we falling prey to our devices?

Selfie unselfie

Peace (capture it),
Kevin

 

Book Review: What Would She Do? (25 True Stories of Trailblazing Rebel Women)

This might be the perfect book for our times. What Would She Do? (25 True Stories of Trailblazing Rebel Women) does what it says — it gives us stories of some amazing women who fought against stereotypes and prejudice and brought women, and the world, a little bit further along.

From Cleopatra to Frida Kahlo to Harriet Tubman to Marie Curie to Junko Tabei to Malala Yousafzai, this book is packed with interesting biographical sketches of these women. It’s hard not to be inspired and to be at least optimistic in the face of this presidency that the power of women to make change in the world is not only set in motion but also has historical roots (I knew that already, but our sons and daughters and students need to be reminded of that).

Along with an engaging style of writing that shows these women in the positive light of rebels who refused to take no for an answer from the men in their lives (and a few who were supported by the men n their lives but looked down on by others in culture), and some beautiful illustrations that will take your breath away, the book includes short little advice pieces for readers, using questions about body image and bullying and social media and family to provide some advice based on the biographical piece just read.

The authors never say, this is what this particular woman would have done (they are not that presumptuous), but instead, say, this is what they might have done in this situation, given the obstacles they overcame in their lives. The message of the advice is always encouraging, positive and empowering.

I have two copies of this book, via our Scholastic account (I see it is not yet available via Amazon), and I aim to put them front and center for all of my students to explore. This book seems geared towards upper elementary to middle school readers, but there are plenty of edges to that reader span.

Peace (in the world),
Kevin