I know there is always a dispute in the athletic world about whether or not sports stars are role models for kids. They are. Those stars may not like it but in this culture of youtube-d power plays, ESPN highlight reels, and documentaries of the lives of popular culture figures, athletes are still looked to by kids for the ways to act, to play, to live. So, I was happy to see a piece in The Answer Sheet at the Washington Post about the ways that LeBron James uses his downtime to read books.
Check out this short television piece about James’ interest in reading. (His team, the Miami Heat, just won the NBA championship last night).
I don’t know about you, but I have some favorite books that I return to from time to time, reconnecting with the experience of that first read. Einstein’s Dreams by Alan Lightman is one of those books. This small collection of creative vignettes that explores the concepts of time, as envisioned through the mind of Albert Einstein, is just a pitch-perfect example of how narrative and science can come together in an entertaining and educational way. Each chapter unfolds along one of the lines of Einstein’s thinking about time, and then Lightman creates a vision of what the world would look like.
And so, in one world, time runs backwards. In another, time runs concurrently with other time. In another, time is local, so that one minute in one city might be ten years in a neighboring town. In another, time is finite and always a ticking clock about to expire. In another, time is a memory, and then it is not. It’s hard to explain how Lightman accomplishes what he does here, but I always find my head racing around the concepts of time when I pick this one up to read (again).
The other day, I noticed that a friend — Steve Moore — had posted three digital responses to a book he was reading, showing how different apps from his cell phone could be used to approach a single topic from different angles. I was intrigued by that idea, so I decided to create a visual poem inspired by Einstein’s Dreams, as a sort of reader response to the book and also an extension of inspiration.
A bandmate had someone do some filming at a recent show that my band, Duke Rushmore, put on. (That’s me, on the saxophone and hat). The woman singer from my last band came to join us on stage, with her wonderful voice.
On our last day of school, our tradition is to have every staff member standing outside on the sidewalk, waving goodbye to all of our students on the buses, which make about three or four passes through the bus loop. Horns blowing, voices yelling, we end the year in a rather raucous celebration of the time we have spent together and the oncoming summer break. I usually scan the bus windows for the faces of my students, making eye contact and smiling, and shouting out a few words. For some, it will be the last time we have contact, as they head off to the regional middle school and high school next year. There’s a touch of sadness to the day.
Yesterday, one of my students jammed her head far out the window and shouted, “Don’t forget me!”
No, I won’t forget you.
I’ll remember all those times you had books in your arms, and books piled in your desk, and how you somehow discovered every new book that I brought in and put on my desk. I have a feeling you were always waiting to see what came in to the classroom, so you could have first dibs on it. And I won’t forget that just the other day, at our last recess (actually, your last recess ever), you spent the entire time following a butterfly through the playing fields, completely focused on the activity. When I asked you later what you would have done if you could have caught it, you replied, “Let it go, of course.”
No, I won’t forget you. You, and all of your classmates, and all of the years of students, are lodged inside my heart, and in that place, it is hard to lose the traces of memories etched in there, like carvings of daily interactions.
Today is our last day of school of the year. Phew. As I often do, I was thinking a bit about the various kinds of technology that my sixth graders used this year to complement, enhance and inform their writing. Here’s a list of some of the things they did, although I may forget a few here and there.
The first days of school, they were on Photostory 3, working on creating digital story dream scenes . I returned to the collection the other day, just to remember how I remember them from the start of the year now that they are moving on and out of our elementary school. The combination of visual representation, setting forth aspirations, and using digital tools to tell a story is a fantastic way to begin the year in our class.
We participated in the National Day on Writing by writing and podcasting a short reflection on the topic of “why I write.” Listening to their voices, I am still amazed at the depth of the thinking of many of the students. The podcasting element (in which we used the Cinch app on our iPods) brings voice into the picture in a neat way. We even created a classroom Twitter account for the day, so that we could share our podcasts. (But then, we didn’t use it much for the rest of the year.)
Early on, my students went into Bitstrips for Schools and created an avatar representation of themselves. Watching and helping them try to navigate who they are in online spaces is a big part of what I do around technology. The webcomic space then became a place we returned to from time to time, but not often enough. Mostly, it became an extension activity zone for some of my students who needed something a little different.
I introduced the concept of video game design for the first time ever in my classroom, and I have to say, it was a huge success, and kids are still talking about it. We used Gamestar Mechanic, and we worked to connect the design process with a writing process, and how story narrative can be the backbone of a good video game. Plus, we made a lot of connections to our science curriculum with the game design project. I sort of took a chance on the idea this year, and it paid off.
Our Digital Life unit was another new addition this year, as we explored the many facets of digital citizenship. We used CommonSense Media curriculum as a starting point, but then veered off in a lot of different directions, all leading towards a digital poster project with Glogster in which students presented their understanding of issues around digital media. This was another new unit this year, and again, I think it was very successful.
Our Wiki Dictionary grew by another 80 words or so this year, as students invented words and then used our wiki to add their own words to an ever-growing collaborative (across time) dictionary.
The use of InstaGrok this year for a research assignment (with a media component) was a great find, and I thank whomever it was that tweeted that site out one day. InstaGrok really channeled my students’ interest and kept them focused on their essay topics, while providing a valuable space to collect and share notes while doing online research.
And of course, our main online home — The Electronic Pencil — continued to be the focal point of resources, links and some writing this year.
It’s been quite an adventure, and now I need to do some revamping of my Sixth Grade Curriculum Site to reflect the changes that we did and then think through what I need to do for next year, too, particularly as our district moves deeper into curriculum changes via our state’s adoption of the Common Core.
A colleague of mine who teaches the grade below me decided to try out a robotics program this year with her students and here, she is interviewed by the lead teacher who helped her with the integration of the technology into her classroom. I love how she talks about taking a chance on something new. She also seems energized by the robotics idea, and now she is asking me more about technology for her ELA class next year.
Actually, it was the subtitle of this book that caught my attention: 30 Projects That Integrate Technology into Core Lesson Plans (although both the title and the subtitle are mouthful, almost as if Fiona Apple were in charge). That said, this handy resource book covers a lot of ground around ways that technology and media tools like Google Earth, Storybird, blogging and wikis and more can be used by teachers to engage students around the Common Core learning standards. Each section is set out with a very basic format, and the writing — while not that exciting — is straight to the point, which is what you want in a resource guide.
Some of the lessons that popped out at me as being particularly interesting:
Creating student/peer book review with QR Codes that can be put on stickers, and placed in classroom books;
Studying the craft of writing by using webcomics for understanding main ideas of narrative structure;
Using mindmapping software for collaboration with other students around informational topics;
Tapping into timeline software for sequencing of ideas over a period of time;
Touring the world of setting of books with Google Lit Trips, and creating your own;
The book is put out by the Ask a Tech Teacher website, and the introduction reminds teachers that technology should no longer be a separate activity; Instead, as reflected in the Common Core and many state standards, technology and media production are part of the whole literacy package that students SHOULD be using for reading and writing, and listening and speaking. The 30 lessons in this book provide a helpful framework for teachers who are wondering where to even start, and the writers provide links to paid software and web resources, but also alternative free possibilities, too. I appreciated that.
I am aiming to participate with these two study groups this summer at the P2PU (Peer to Peer University) open course site. You come, too. Both are being coordinated with friends in the National Writing Project.
Curating Our Digital Lives – Register Now — July 9-23rd
How do you curate the huge volume of information that comprises our daily lives, particularly as it relates to professional knowledge? And how do we help youth do the same for the purpose of personal and academic growth? Join this three-week conversation to share your experiences as we consider curation as an opportunity to gather and annotate as well as publish and share as part of a knowledge-building network.
Making Writing and Literacy Learning Connections – Register Now — July 9-23rd
If “digital” is how we write, share, and participate today and into the future, what does that mean for the teaching of writing and for learning? Join a National Writing Project study group as we explore these questions together through our own experiences and those of the NWP Digital Is community. Each week we’ll focus on a different aspect of inquiry and practice related to writing, teaching and connected learning
One of the many things I like about Gamestar Mechanic is how it guides young game designers to continually improve their games, even after publishing it to online spaces for an audience of gamers. The other day, I shared out my Fueling the Fuel Cell game that I made as a mentor text for my students. Since then, the number of players who have tried the challenge has gone up every day (thank you, if you tried my game. If you want to try it, follow this link into Gamestar to play Fueling the Fuel Cells). But how does a game designer know about the experiences of the players? Well, in a bid to answer that query, Gamestar Mechanic provides you with a handy “stats” page that shows how many people have started the game, how many finished the game, and how many made it the end of each level (if your game has multiple levels).
Here are the stats for my fuel cell game:
You’ll notice that not too many folks got to the end of the game. That’s fine, although ideally, the middle funnel shape (shown in the guide to the left of the page) is what you are aiming for with your game. You don’t want everyone to win (too easy) nor do you want everyone abandoning the game (too hard). You want to find that sweet spot of true gamers sticking with you until the end.
When my students are coming back to revise games, after the first round of sharing, this is a page that I bring them to on their game. It’s funny how they interpret the data, though. Some are quite happy if no one can complete their game, as if it were a competition between them and their audience. Others can’t shift from a person who has spent hours creating a game and know every little square of the layout to imagine themselves as newbies to it, seeing the problems with the game from another angle. All of this is valuable for the iterative revision process of video game design, however.