This Saturday, our Western Massachusetts Writing Project holds a technology conference in conjunction with Digital Learning Day. We will have about 25 to 30 people (including the presenters) attend as we explore the intersections of popular culture, technology and the new (Common Core-influenced) Massachusetts Curriculum Standards. I’m pretty excited about it. I am leading a session with my friend, Tina, on video game design and kicking off the day with a quick introduction. Here is what I will be talking about to start off the conference: Pop Culture, Technology and the Common Core PDF
At a Western Massachusetts Writing Project meeting last week, we were given free sample editions of The Best of Teen Writing 2011, which is an anthology from the Alliance for Young Artists and Writers. It’s just page after page of wonderful writing, and the stories and essays and poems give such a great insight into not just the abilities of these young writers, but also their worlds. Loss and tragedy do filter through a bit too much in many of the stories, but I suspect those raw emotions are most powerful and most easily harnessed by the teens.
Each year, the Alliance accepts submissions from young people and then works it ways through the writing to come up with some of the best writing around. The stories here are from young authors who won medals in The Scholastic Art & Writing Awards. If they published this without the moniker of “teen writing,” you would assume they were professional and published authors — that’s how polished and inventive and wonderful the writing is.
I haven’t gotten through the entire anthology yet, but I will. You should, too, and if you teach middle school or high school and you are looking to inspire some of your own students as writers, hand them a copy of this. It’s full of possibilities and inspiration. (One note of caution: there is profanity in here, so one option is to pick and choose the stories to share with your students.)
This is an annual survey that I give to my students, with some changes each year, to give me a sense of my students. This year, it coincided nicely with Digital Learning Day and an upcoming unit around digital citizenship and safety.
Over at our iAnthology network, where teachers write every week, the prompt this week is to create a “literary recipe” as creative writing. I was mulling over what to write about when I noticed my young son completely immersed in the Dav Pilkey’s Ricky Ricotta series. So, here is my recipe for the books:
Take one tiny mouse and add a dose of smarts and courage.
Introduce giant robot who loves the mouse. Add “protector” to robot personality.
Toss in some villains from distant planets.
Be sure to dose liberally with alliteration spices. Shake thoroughly. Shake ’em hard.
Add a bit of mayhem to the plot. It helps if the world is about to be taken over by villains and Ricky is the only one who can thwart the aliens.
Place mouse in danger. Maybe, have his held captive. Let robot know mouse is in danger. Watch robot act.
Sprinkle witty dialogue here and there. If you can add a pun, do so. In fact, be generous with puns.
Make sure the illustrations move the story along. For extra taste, add a few flip-o-rama pages for the battle scenes.
Flip the flip-o-rama. Flip – Flip – Flip.
Bake entire book .. eh, I mean read … for about ten minutes from start to finish. (Five minutes, if you are an adult).
Savor the goofy aftertaste of a fun Dav Pilkey yarn, and then move on to the next book.
Next week, on February 1, it is Digital Learning Day. I have some technology ideas brewing for my students, but I thought I would pull together some of the ways that we engage in digital media and technology in my sixth grade classroom. Since I will be bringing my students into Glogster EDU next week, I figured I would use Glogster as my platform to showcase a few of our projects, and explain why it is that I do those things with my students.
We spent a good part of the month of December, working on our science-based video game project. But yesterday was the first day I have had a real chance to chat with my classes about what I saw when I was assessing their projects and to give another overview of the STEM Video Game Challenge. My teaching colleagues and I have identified about 15 projects (out of more than 50 video games) that we think, with some revision and more work, might have a chance. We haven’t shut the door to the others but I wanted to encourage students whose games really did rise up above the others and reflect interesting game play and integrated science themes.
We had long conversations about STEM, and what it is, and why that is the push of this challenge. They were most interested in considering how science, technology, engineering and math are going to be much of the focus of the employment world when they head off into the marketplace (in 10 years or so).
So, they are now going to review their games (made on Gamestar Mechanic) and consider if they want take the next step. I have given them about four weeks to make their decision. This work will involve game revision; writing a short narrative overview of their game; and then going through the registration process, which I have promised to help walk them through.
My guess is that we might have 8 to 10 games that move forward before the March 12 deadline.
This is the first year we have done game design at our school (and probably in our entire school district), and this is the first year anyone from our school will enter the challenge, so I am hard-pressed to know how it will go. But, there was a lot of excitement as we talked about the competition and our games, and whether our work would stack up against other middle school game designers in the country.
I think they do stack up, and they will be very competitive as game designers.
My students are in the midst of an adventure short story project. This is the first year I have required all of the stories to be typed, not handwritten, and so, much of our class time has given way to them using the laptops for writing. Most of them are in the rising action of their stories, but we have been talking mostly of how to create a climatic scene that the story will build towards and then resolve afterwards. One problem for a lot of young (and old) writers is starting with a great idea, moving it along and then …. the story never goes anywhere. We’re using structure to keep that focus and create a finishing point.
But, I am also spending time at the start of each class, sharing out videos of writers talking about writing. Here are a few worth sharing:
If you have links to videos like this, please drop me a comment so I can share it with my students and also, add it to my Writers Talk Writing Playlist.
Each year, our Western Massachusetts Writing Project develops a “theme” that focuses our work throughout the year. The thematic thread points us to readings we want to do together, inspires our writing when we gather together, and provides a lens for workshops and professional development opportunities.
Two years ago, we explored social justice as part of our work with the National Writing Project’s “Project Outreach” initiative. The theme had us questioning (in a positive) way how we were working to meet the needs of all the teachers in our area. We came out of the year with new Mission Statement that really set forth our ideals around the impact of teaching for social change.
This year, we have been working around the Common Core, which our state has adopted as its new curriculum framework. An upcoming technology conference (which takes place in conjunction with Digital Learning Day) connects digital composition with standards in the Common Core curriculum. At other times, we have dove deeper into the curriculum, noting changes that will soon be impacting the things and ways we teach. This spring, we will be looking hard at the way that the new assessments (PARCC for us) are shaping up, and how those tools are going to affect our schools.
We’ve decided that next year, our theme will be digital media and digital writing. We’ll be using NWP’s Because Digital Writing Matters as a primary text for discussions and then sites like Digital Is as a resource. Our WMWP Technology Team, which has about 10 active members, will be the leaders of the effort, and as the technology liaison for WMWP, this is exciting for me. I am hoping we can find ways to draw people into the possibilities of digital tools for their students, and find ways to showcase student engagement and student use of technology in meaningful ways.
The idea of a “theme”over a long stretch of time is valuable, and opens up a lot of possibilities. Too often, our work around professional development seems scattered.
Like many bloggers, I am curious about who comes knocking at my door from time to time. So, at the end of the year, I like to take a peek at the data from my blog traffic. Maybe I do it to reinforce the idea that I even have visitors, or to gauge some impact of my writing in a small sliver of the world. Mostly, though, I have become interested in data and how to interpret it.
So, here is the big picture: My blog had 27,568 hits last year (of which 20,941 were unique visitors, meaning not folks who keep coming back — but I like those folks who do, of course. ) Other data elements are interesting to me, but maybe not for you. Still, here is a collection of analytics related to my blog in 2011. The screenshots come from this blog, and my site on Vimeo (for video sharing), and from Feedburner.