Where I’ve Been Writing (or at least, published)

While I was away from my blog, I had some pieces published in other spaces that I wanted to share with you.

Working_Draft3-240X300-broom

First, my MiddleWeb column as we end summer is about reflecting on my digital sites and doing a bit of housekeeping as school is about to start. It’s a nice time to reflect on what we project to our families and students before they come into the classroom for a year of writing and learning.

Second, I wrote a piece for the National Writing Project’s 40for40 blog, as NWP celebrated its 40 years with 40 posts from NWP teacher/writers. My piece reflected on a time when I traveled to Chico, California, to take part in a week-long technology retreat, where the people I met continue to be partners in online endeavors across the Internet. The piece is entitled “That Week in Chico” and it was a great way for me to ground myself in a time when so many doors opened up for me.

Finally, I took a break from blogging but still dabbled in Twitter while on break and found myself working on a regular diet of #25wordstory stories, which I then collected and shared out for Slice of Life via Storify. I love these stories for brevity and inference and revision, although it can be a struggle to find just the right words and leave just the right amount of story “out” of the story. You decide if it worked or not.

 

Peace (in the writing mode),
Kevin

Six Word Book Reviews (My August Reading Pile)

I’ve been away on a sort of blogging vacation, toning down some online work to re-center some gravity (which I do every August). But I’ve been reading a boatload of books, and instead of a review for every book, I figured I would just create six word reviews (making it challenging for me but perhaps easier on you).

Read Aloud Books with my Son

The Emerald Atlas

Literally, magical adventure on every page.

The Night Gardener

The Night Gardner

Creepy tale. No one is safe.

Breadcrumbs

Friendship and perseverance conquers bad magic.

Punished!

Punished

Playing with language makes fun story.

My Own Reading

Yeah! Yeah! Yeah!: The Story of Modern Pop

Fast-moving, engaging history of cultural soundtracks.

Help Thanks Wow

Deeply reflective, but light on humor.

Book I Abandoned

The Magicians

Too much of nothing going on.

I realize none of these reviews do fair justice to the books. I would highly recommend The Night Gardener for its writing and depth (and expect it to see in some book award lists), and The Emerald Atlas for its action and adventure (we are now reading the second book in the series). Yeah Yeah Yeah! is a phenomenal look at pop music over time but the book is huge and reads at a quick pace, and I need to revisit it in the future to keep absorbing pop culture in waves. The Magician did nothing for me, even though I enjoy the writer in other venues and I know the series is getting high marks (so it must be me). I wanted to like it but could not.

Peace (in the pages),
Kevin

 

Time to Unplug for August (my blog vacation)

blogvacation
It’s that time of year when I need to pull back from blogging and some other virtual writing, so this space will be nice and quiet for the rest of August. Along with some much-anticipated family vacation time, I will be doing some prep work for professional development I am facilitating and finally getting a chance to think about my keynote for the K12 Online Conference. Basically, it’s a breather.

See you in a few weeks!

Peace (in the silence),
Kevin

Working Out a Song as Media Project

I am not sure if this works, but I took a new version of a new song that I shared out last week (which Terry, and Scott, and Simon all remixed into Zeega media productions) and went into Popcorn Maker to make my own media version. I wanted to move away from distinct, concrete images, and instead, shift into something a little more quirky and visual. You may notice (now that I am telling you) that each section of the song has a visual theme, and believe me, that took a while to sync up!

I recorded the song’s music in Garageband app, and then the vocals were layered in via Audacity, and I think it sounds best with headphones, since you can hear some funky stuff going on in the background where I added piano and some vocal layers.

Thanks for listening!

Peace (in the song),
Kevin

 

Book Review: The Mark of the Dragonfly

You know a book has some lasting power when you get to the very last page of reading it aloud, and you and your listener (ie., my son) both have the same thought: I sure hope she is writing a sequel. Such was the case with The Mark of the Dragonfly by Jaleigh Johnson. The story is set in a place similar in some ways to Earth (or some version of Earth) where odd objects fall from the sky, some people (or versions of people) have special powers, two kingdoms are on the brink of war and exploration, and our hero, Piper, is a Scrapper trying to bring the lost Anna back home.

Of course, as in any good story, there is more to it than that, but I don’t want to give it away. The Mark of the Dragonfly hooks you quickly, immersing you into its world, and then pulling you into the action and motivations of Piper and the people she meets along the way of her journey.

Kudos go out to Johnson for creating a strong female protagonist in Piper, and in her companion, Anna, and for putting as much attention to character development as she did, without taking away from the action and adventure that moves the plot along. While my son and I had plenty of questions about the world where the story is set that Johnson hasn’t answered (yet?), we bought the premise of the land of Solace easily enough, and then raced through the second half of the book with every reading moment we had available.

It seems as if Johnson has set the stage for a sequel, but who knows? The book’s main plot does sort of resolve itself, and we remain fixed on Piper’s choices about where she goes now. And who can argue with a huge train, and all that it represents, as a significant setting for the novel. Plus, Piper’s own special powers, which I won’t reveal, open the door to some very interesting possibilities.

Peace (in the book),
Kevin

 

 

WE are Groot in the #CLMOOC

clmooc groot meme
I suspect that the Guardians of the Galaxy movie will not be for everyone. In fact, I know that, because I took my sons with another family this weekend to see the flick and my female friend and her daughter were not all that impressed. There may be some gender lines being drawn due to the violence and action of the Guardians … I thought the movie was entertaining  enough while my sons think it is Best of the Year material. Yeah. I don’t think so.

Still, I liked the banter, and the action, and the visual effects, and the use of music to connect with memories and personal history. The story revolves around part of the comic universe that I don’t remember reading as a kid, so there were plenty of surprises for me.

What has stuck out for me, however, is the character of Groot, as played by Vin Diesel. With just one line for most of the film — “I am Groot” — the nuance of how the words are spoken and the facial features says a lot about language, even from a walking tree like Groot. But there is a moment, when Groot is about to save the crew by doing something only he has the power to do, when he turns to his companions, who beg him not to make the sacrifice, and says wisely, “WE are Groot.”

That line — WE are Groot — has stuck with me as the Making Learning Connected MOOC has been winding down. That little bit of dialogue captures the collective connections that we have to each other. Not to get over-analytical about it, or too sappy, either, but there’s a real power of the way a community/network like CLMOOC can come together to support each other. We weren’t in any life-threatening danger, of course, but I like to think that our worlds became a little more connected this summer, and that WE are CLMOOC. We’ll be here, and will still be here, if we need one another. Count on that!

Peace (in the connection),
Kevin

 

Graphic Novel Review: Sailor Twain

(Note from Kevin: A few years ago, I was a reviewer for The Graphic Classroom. I really enjoyed the way we look at graphic novels with a lens towards the classroom. The site got taken over by another site, and then … I guess the owner of The Graphic Classroom stopped doing what he was doing. Which is fine. But I still had some reviews “sitting in the can” so I hav dug them out to share out here. This is the last one.)

 

Story Summary: It is often said that the sea holds many stories. So, too, do rivers, and Mark Siegal expertly explores this watery storytelling terrain in his graphic novel, SAILOR TWAIN, which comes with the subtitle of “The Mermaid in the Hudson.” Weaving history, literature, and the lore of mermaids and sirens into a complex story of a riverboat captain named Elijan Twain, Siegel brings the reader below the surface into a beguiling mystery of magic that centers on the saving of a mermaid’s life by Captain Twain and all of the ramifications that eminate from that event. (Yes, Twain is a purposeful and overt nod to Mark Twain, and Charles Dickens is also referenced here, too). The powerful Hudson River, in the 1800s, is the setting for this book, and echoes of Greek myths resonate, too. Siegel sets up expectations one way, only to turn the story another way, and the reader is rewarded with an original graphic novel that fully uses the graphic format to tell its story.

Art Review: Siegel, the writer, also is the artist here and his black-white charcoal sketch drawings are detailed, and full of mystery, too. Close-ups of eyes, in particular, tell much about the souls and thinking of his characters. We’re brought into their actions by the looks on characters’ faces, which is a testament to Siegel’s skills as an illustrator.

More Information:

• Hardcover: 400 pages
• Publisher: First Second (October 2, 2012)
• Language: English
• ISBN-10: 1596436360
• ISBN-13: 978-1596436367

Siegel has created and nurtured a pretty lively website about the book that is worth examining. See the site at http://sailortwain.com/

For the Classroom: Let me just say upfront that I believe this book is not appropriate for most K-12 classrooms. Not for the story content, but for the images of the half-naked mermaid and for the sexual escapades of one of the main characters (who believes having seven loves will cure him of the mermaid’s siren song that lures him beneath the water). While these elements certainly fit nicely into the story, it may not fit so nicely into the K-12 classroom. Which is unfortunate, since the story’s focus on the mythology of river lore and magic would be of high interest to many students. Still, for the university, this book might be a good example of how graphic novel storytelling can unfold along complex lines and stand up with a lot modern literature.

My Recommendation: I highly recommend this book, but with significant reservations about the nudity and sexual themes of a storyline. Therefore, I would not recommend this for young children. A teacher might want to consider it for a high school classroom setting, if they were to preview the book first. At the college level, however, I see it a solid example of graphic storytelling on many levels.

Peace (with references),
Kevin

In the News: Me, the teacher/writer

MassLive Article
The regional newspaper (for which I once worked as a journalist in my life before teaching) did a feature story on my role as a contributing writer for the collection, Teaching with Heart. I tried to raise the role of teacher advocacy in the interview, as best as I could, and I hope the message may resonate. The collection, by the way, is fantastic, with short essays by dozens of educators writing about poems that are important to them.

Read the article and check out the book (be sure to use the discount code at the bottom of the article)

Peace (on the page),
Kevin

What We Made: A Collection of Tech Tools

Peter Kittle started up a crowdsourcing activity early on in the Making Learning Connected MOOC — asking people to add tools and technology resources they were using as they were “making” projects this summer. I took that list and grouped things as best as I could, and share it here with you. A list like this can be useful to a limited degree — in the end, what you compose and make comes from your own ideas, not the tools themselves. Still ….

Curated Collection of #CLMOOC Tools

Peace (beyond the tools),
Kevin

Thanks to Fellow Facilitators, or All I Got Was a Comic

If you have been following me this summer, you probably figured out that I was a facilitator with the Making Learning Connected Massive Open Online Collaboration. It was a blast, and I was part of an amazing team of people who worked tirelessly to engaged participants and Make Cycle teams from late May right through, well, today (the official end of the CLMOOC).

As part of my work around making comics for CLMOOC, I made a few as thank you notes to my fellow facilitators:

For Karen, whose work at organizing Twitter chats and whose push for the CLMOOC Make Bank has been inspiring …

The Make Bank

For Joe, whose role as a coach for teams of folks leading the Make Cycles this year made all the difference in the world, so much so that you probably didn’t even realize how many moving parts there were …

Clmooc comics

For Anna, whose research lens has us all reflecting and hopefully, documenting our learning for ourselves and for others …

Clmooc comics

For Christina and Mallory, who really were the threads behind the scenes on the CLMOOC, making sure everything was organized and on time and in some thematic order ….

My Imaginary Friends

For Jordan, who worked all of last year and at the start of this year to make the launch of the CLMOOC smooth and seamless …

Friend Wanted

For Paul and Chad, who were busy with other things this summer but whose work last year and earlier this year informed the way we made the CLMOOC what it was this year …

Invisible Forces at Work

For Terry, my pirate-in-arms across many media divides this summer …

Pirates Make Adventure

And most of all, for Terry, Michael, Sheri and Rosie — who were all part the Support Team that I had the pleasure of facilitating this summer as we worked to support each and every person on their journeys.

Support Crew

Did I forget anyone? I hope not.

Thank you to all of you (and to everyone who dipped their toes into the CLMOOC waters and who might still do so in the days to come). I had a blast and I learned so much.

Peace (in the framing of the learning),
Kevin