Giving Thanks: Keepers of the Flame

This video from my friends at Fablevision (Peter and Paul Reynolds) made its way to my mailbox this week, as they offered to thanks to teachers in their network. It’s a quiet poem, with the power of gratitude, and it is infused with the Reynolds’ gentle touch of art and hope and wonder.

If you are an educator celebrating Thanksgiving today, thank you for all that you do (particularly if you are a teacher of my own kids). If not (either not a teacher or you live outside the US), thank you, too. I am grateful for those folks in my various circles.

Peace (and hope in the flame),
Kevin

Pinning Class Books on the Map

Mapping Books

My sixth graders have just finished a novel in which a character is sending postcards and letters and more from her travels around the world. I want to show my students how to use Google Maps for constructing maps of information. As a sampler, I began making a map of locations related to some of the class novels we will be reading this year.

This also nicely connects to the Mapvember theme of a CLMOOC Pop-Up Make Cycle. Come join in. Make maps!

I think my students will enjoy the making of maps within their Google Accounts, once they get comfortable with how to do so and with the different visual aspects of icons, images, etc. What I would like to also do is teach them how to use the different elements of mapping (such as distance calculation, connector lines/points, and more). And also, I’d like them to learn how to move the code from Maps into Google Earth.

Take a look at my book map so far …

Or check out the embedded version:

Different layers, different complexities.

I’ll share some student maps in the coming days …

Peace (mapped and known),
Kevin

Slice of Life: Hallways of Peace

(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 love this time of year for the ways our art teacher has decorated the hallways with a myriad of posters created by our sixth graders for the Lions Club Peace Poster contest.

Peace Poster sampling

Each year, the kids work off a theme about peace, and their posters are designed to capture the concept. This year is all about the Future of Peace. One student’s work will go on to the state level of competition, and then perhaps beyond.

Peace Poster sampling

The young artists cannot use words or text, only image and design. I work with the art teacher on the students’ writing of an Artist Statement that will hang with each piece. Students write about their artistic intentions, use of symbols, choice of elements and more, and that writing really exposes their thinking.

Peace Poster samplingYou can’t help but notice the possibilities of peace as you wander our school hallways. That’s a good thing.

Peace (beyond posters),
Kevin

Games, Learning, Literacy: Week 4 (Art Forms)

James Paul Gee Quote18

I’m off on a new reading adventure, diving into James Paul Gee’s book — What Video Games Have to Teach Us about Learning and Literacy — with discussion prompts by my friend, Keegan. 

This weekend, I came to the end of Gee’s book, and I found myself once again appreciating the perspectives he brings to the picture. It’s most pertinent now for me because I am bringing my sixth graders into their game design unit, starting today. While Gee’s work looks more at the player within a game system, and all the literacies that are part of it, my aim is more around teaching my students how to think of a game as a story, and the story as the framework of the game.

Gee’s wrap-up thoughts around Affinity Spaces and the fluid nature between game designer and game player (particularly as more and more games have open ended entry points for players to mod, or hack, games) is intriguing. It reminds me there is so much I don’t know about video games when it comes to reading and writing and thinking.

And Gee also admits that this kind of literacy moment is still emerging (he wrote the book a few years ago, but that is still true, I believe) and there is much we don’t know, and may not know, for some time. That makes it all very intriguing as a curious teacher of writing and reading, right? I think so.

James Paul Gee Quote19

Peace (reading and playing),
Kevin

Graphic Novel Review: Wires and Nerve

This graphic novel — Wires and Nerve — is my first brush with Marissa Meyers, who has written a series of books under the banner of The Lunar Chronicles. This graphic story has much of those stories as the backdrop but I dove in fairly easily even without knowing much of the past and I found myself quickly enjoying this graphic tale of the mending of relations between the Lunar society and the Earth one.

Like many good stories, this one revolves around heroes, and an emerging plot to bring them down. And as with many good stories, this one has its complexities, as a band of Wolf-like creatures (released on Earth during some earlier battle in some earlier story) are being brought together by a rogue agent, in an effort to bring down the new Lunar queen, Cinder.

Much of the story revolves around Iko, a cyborg friend of the queen, who has taken on the task of hunting down the Wolf-like creatures on Earth in a stealth missions. Iko is a complicated character, a creature of wires and circuits who seems to be on the verge of something mysterious (with plenty of hints for future story extensions).

This book moves along at a nice pace, and balances action with romance and friendship, and spends its time with character development. Even with this single book, I cared about Iko and her friends, and I look forward to future installments in the graphic novel series. I might even look at the novels.

Wires and Nerve is appropriate for middle school and high school classrooms. There is nothing here to warrant any red flags *unless kissing is your red flag. For girl and boy readers, Wires and Nerve might find an audience.

Peace (in the pages),
Kevin

On the NWP Stage: Dear Intolerant Parent

This spoken poem response to a parent critical of teachers bringing social justice issues into the classroom roused the Plenary Session of the National Writing Project this past week. Michelle Clark delivered this piece from the stage.

Clark and two other teachers were sharing the work they had done with the Holocaust Educators Network and then their own classrooms, and she had explained the powerful work that came from students’ project to create an art show/auction to support immigrant families in California as a way to open up dialogue. The poem is a response to a parent who sent her an email, critical of that project.

Peace (bring it on),
Kevin

Getting Playful at the City Museum

City Museum, St. Louis

Some museums are designed to places of playful learning. Some, teach you. No museum that I have gone to is quite like the City Museum of St. Louis (where we are attending a National Writing Project conference). The City Museum is like some Alice in Wonderland, brought into an old building and the only way you experience it is by following the unmarked paths, and getting lost for a bit.

You’ll come across dark caverns, a ten-story slide, more smaller slides than you can fathom, unlit tunnels, myriad nooks and crannies, displays of bizarre artifacts, a human hamster wheel, an airplane connected to the outside roof of the building, a tunnel of mirrors, a huge pencil for balancing upon, and so much more. Oh, there’s also a circus that performs daily. And a small train for little kids.

City Museum, St. LouisIt’s dazzling, disorientating and all designed for play and exploration. Sort makes me think of CLMOOC and its ethos of immersive learning.

City Museum, St. Louis

And what it also makes me think of how to design a physical space for play, and how to imagine a museum of sorts that pushes the boundaries of what we expect from such a space. There are museums of discovery, and then there is the City Museum. It was a fantastic way to cap our last full day here in St. Louis.

Peace (twisted and turning),
Kevin

Meeting Up in St. Louis … and Making the Path Forward

Elyse at NWP

She made the best of the situation. No surprise there. National Writing Project Executive Director Elyse Eidman-Aadahl worked the large crowd of hundreds of NWP educators and leaders at our annual meeting yesterday here in St. Louis, Missouri, by keeping to the script of a traditional Plenary Address — a celebration of the work and spirit of the 180 writing projects sites across the country.

Just as we have done every other year (see annual report).

We heard stories from the stage about the impact of the writing project. We were mesmerized by stories of three outstanding educators who took part in the Holocaust Educator Network, and then returned to their schools to engage their students in powerful discussions of social justice and equity. One of those teachers dazzled the audience with a spoken poem addressed to a parent concerned about the teaching social justice in schools.

All this came as inspiration and celebration, even as Eidman-Aadahl  acknowledged that the federal SEED funds that have supported the work of the writing project has disappeared, and the NWP itself is shrinking. The main office is dwindling in staff, whom we gave a rousing standing round of applause for, to show our collective appreciation for the work they have done and do behind the scenes on many projects.

NWP won’t be disappearing, but it will be smaller than it probably ever was since it was first founded on the campus of Berkley in the 1970s, and began to spread out, thanks to the energy and vision of founder Jim Gray. Our Western Massachusetts Writing Project site is nearly 25 years old.

WMWP Cohort at NWP Annual Meeting

“We are not closing shop, by any means,” Eidman-Aadahl told us. “We’ll still be here. You’ll still be here.”

What happens next is not exactly known, but it follows the trajectory of the wave of Republicanism in this country: cut the top level of everything (even if it causes disruption and chaos) and let the local community determine what survives and what doesn’t. (I don’t agree with that political rhetoric but it’s hard to ignore that’s what’s happening.)

“The future of your (writing project) site is in your hands. The future of our network is in your hands,” Eidman-Aadahl said, and I thought of the guiding philosophy of “teachers teaching teachers” as what might continue to guide us forward. “Walk towards your purpose. We will get through.”

And then she left us with a challenge. The National Writing Project is celebrating its 44th year this year. She wants us to be around to celebrate its 50th year in six years from now (maybe, this writer says to himself, a new president and administration will realize the impact of NWP on the quality of education in this country. Hmmm.)

So, she said, what about a “50 for 50” campaign of some sort. Local sites can determine what that might mean. Maybe it’s 50 new leaders at the site in six years. Maybe 50 new writing resources developed. Maybe 50 classrooms reached. Maybe 50 testimonials to the reach of the writing project.

50 for 50 … we can do this.

Peace (in St. Louis),
Kevin

Games, Learning, Literacy: Week 3.5 (Culture)

James Paul Gee15

I’m off on a new reading adventure, diving into James Paul Gee’s book — What Video Games Have to Teach Us about Learning and Literacy — with discussion prompts by my friend, Keegan. 

Gee’s earlier exploration of digital identity within the framework of video games now bubbles up again around cultural identity and cultural understanding. He posits that the immersive storytelling elements of video game design allows for an experience for the player that has the potential, at least, to bring them into the world of  “the other.”

This idea of “walking in the shoes” of another through a literary experience is not new, of course. Good books do the same. Video games can bring that to another level because of the player’s identity within the game itself.

James Paul Gee17Gee shares a few games that he has played which have done just that — shifted the cultural perspectives so that the player comes to understand motives and rationale for another. A game centered around the Middle East, where the player is an Arab as opposed to the traditional game where Middle Easterners are often the terrorist enemies (particularly in the wave of games that came after the 9/11 attack on the U.S.).

Gee’s argument that video games, with all of its complexities, provides the possibility of deeper context is intriguing. Notice that word “possible,” for not all video games rise to this narrative challenge.

He also notes that this kind of immersive play as learning can happen rather seamlessly in well-designed games, so that the player is barely aware of it. This ties back to his earlier discussions around how games teach players to get situated in the game mechanics.

James Paul Gee16

Peace (in games),
Kevin

The Last National Writing Project Annual Meeting Hurrah?

NWP Presentation Materials

It’s not easy to write the title of this post nor its contents, even while staying positive in spirit and tone.

Tonight, after a day of teaching, my wife and I head to St. Louis, Missouri, for what may well become the last Annual Meeting of the National Writing Project. The federal education department shut off the last bit of support for NWP’s work with teachers/professional development. While NWP will surely survive in a diminished form with other partnerships and initiatives, the lack of support by the Trump Administration (which had already started to diminish in the Obama Administration, too) will pose difficulties for many of the NWP sites around the country, I am sure.

The writing, so to speak, has been on the wall for years, even with the documented success of the writing project’s impact on classrooms and schools (see this report). A recent newsletter update from NWP indicates this kind of event may now fade away in its current form, which is the coming together of NWP educators to learn together, to share together, to connect together. I think I may have only missed one or two Annual Meetings since I started teaching more than 16 years ago. I suspect it is expensive to host these gatherings, and when looking at the bottom line, it makes sense that this would be something to cut (or merged into NCTE as a strand, perhaps?)

At a recent leadership retreat for our Western Massachusetts Writing Project, this topic of reduced and loss of NWP funding was front and center as we talked and set forth plans for the coming year. We know we can’t expect some rich benefactor to step in (but, heck, we’re open and ready for it to happen), so our site work around professional development and offerings for teachers will have to find some balance of bringing in funds for that work to pay for other projects. The fate of our core Summer Institute is OK for the immediate future, but unsteady in the years ahead.

In St. Louis this week, I am part of a presentation with the National Park Service that looks at how we can use National Parks and Historic Sites for engagement of teachers and students. Our work here with the Springfield Armory site has been fruitful for teachers and young people, particularly during our summer camp program. That project, which I facilitate, is funded through the Mass Humanities organization, for which we are thankful, and for which we know might be model of partnership support going forward. Still, small NWP grants have helped pave the way for this work in the years past.

So, yes, we will celebrate the National Writing Project at a the St. Louis gathering of the Tribe that has always energized us (and not far away, the National Council of Teachers of English meeting will be starting its meeting, too … another Tribe), and we’ll worry about the future of NWP, too. I consider the National Writing Project and the Western Massachusetts Writing Project my professional “home” and the prospect of such uncertainty is unsettling. It also makes me wonder which charter school, private venture, religious school is getting Education Secretary Betsy DeVos’ attention instead of the NWP.

Peace (in Missouri),
Kevin