Book Review: 100 Years From Now Our Bones Will Be Different

What a find! This book — 100 Years From Now Our Bones Will Be Different by Lawrence McWilliams and Anand Vedawala — is a treasure and inspiration, as it weaves vignettes and epitaphs of a single fictional African American family over 100 years, with illustrations. The stories are powerful, with overlapping narratives that foreshadow stories and hint back to past stories, weaving the family tree in a way that a diagram could never do.

In here, you will experience the echoes of slavery, of discrimination, of family connections, of hope, of dreams, of tragedy. In short, it’s a family story, with all of its imperfections surfacing through the voices of the multitude of characters (the first, born in 1878, and the last, died in 2015).

There are many applications for this kind of fictional narrative, from historical perspectives to story writing. I am bringing pieces of it into a professional development session tonight, in fact, where our focus is on oral history, and I am going to do a roundtable reading (hopefully, I will record it for a podcast resource later).

And what’s cool, too, is that this was funded via Kickstarter.

Peace (tell the tale),
kevin

What We Write About When We Write About Digital Writing

Collaborative writing at the small scale

Terry took the time to grab some of my questions about digital writing (see more at this post by Terry) and popped them into a collaborative Etherpad, and then joined those questions with thoughts of his own. I made my way back this weekend to continue the conversation, and Sarah joined in a bit, too. Maybe others have done so by now, as well. The topics revolved around digital writing, related to some riffing I had done off of a piece by Anna into the margins of the writing (see my original post).

Here is the Etherpad. You are invited to add to the mix, too.

Peace (in writing),
Kevin

Sharing Out the Alchemy Lab Immersive Storytelling Collaboration

I was fortunate not too long ago to be part of a discussion group with some National Writing Project colleagues that convened to share and discuss the possibilities of virtual and augmented reality for learning. We all brought examples from the field.

I shared out the Networked Narratives project — The Alchemy Lab. It’s a rich example of collaboration and storytelling, and how objects can inspire us to make media and to experience media in a virtual space. And now NetNarr is launching again …

Peace (real and reality),
Kevin

Writing for a Reason: Advice to a Gaming Platform

Advice for Gamestar 2019

I work quite a bit of writing into our video game design unit, and one of the final pieces of writing is a letter all students write to the folks at Gamestar Mechanic, explaining what they have enjoyed about the platform and some advice for features they would like to see incorporated. We did some class brainstorming of ideas first, as a way to guide their thinking.

Here are some of the responses:

In my ELA class we are using your website on a project to create games. We are working with the Hero’s Journey theme. My game is called Journey To Treasure. My game has 5 levels. The first level is the character finding a map of a ship wreck and buried treasure. The second level is the character on the journey to find the treasure. The third level is when the character found the treasure in an underwater cave and they have to fight enemies to get the treasure and go home. The fourth level is the journey home and the fifth level is when they are home and can take a relaxing vacation. What I like about Gamestar is that there are multiple quests and you can play other peoples games. There is also a wide variety of games within the quests. Some advice for making Gamestar Mechanics a better game is adding a multiplayer mode so that you can invite your friends to join so you can play together. You should also add more music so that the sound effects and music in the game helps you get into character in the game. Another thing I think you should add is an update so that enemies can drop rewards like more health or a key.  

— LG

 

During class we have been working with your platform me and my fellow peers (our whole grade) have been assigned to create a game and do your quests. My partner Gabby and I had so much fun and were always looking forward to class. My game is about a wolf Sky and her journey to help a queen. Sky needs to fight all the king’s evil minions (the evil wolves and polar bears) and then the dragons.

What I really like about Gamestar is that you have to earn lots of things you might need as an example earning the publishing rights. I absolutely love the variety and the creative freedom.

In like every game platform there is some flaws. Lots of people and I agree that it should have auto-save during the process of making a game and all the time. I know some groups lost their games because of this. Another thing that should be ABSOLUTELY changed is the limit of words\text throughout the game I wasn’t able to type all of the messages I needed to making my game I was very upset to learn about this and so was my partner, my friends, and lots of other who had this issue.

Otherwise I love the platform it is so fun and lots of people including me think the platform is great for kids and adults alike.

— RF

 

In my class, we have been doing a project with Gamestar Mechanic. We have been making games and seeing how literature is incorporated into it.We were using the platform “The Hero’s Journey.” My game is called the Iron Fortress. It is about Ronin, a warrior, who has to find a magical sword and defeat the evil wizard Shakhar. Ronin travels through the Iron Fortress in his Quest to defeat Shakhar.

I enjoyed many things about your gaming platform. One of the things I enjoyed was the simplicity. Nothing is too hard to understand and the controls are simple. I also enjoyed the Quests. I like the idea of playing to earn blocks, backgrounds, or sprites.

One thing I think would improve Gamestar Mechanic is the ability to customize sprites and blocks. Even though you can customize backgrounds, I think it will take the game to a whole new level if you could customize sprites and blocks. You could make challenges that give you material to build your own sprites and blocks. You could put a section in the workshop that is purely for customizing.

— TY

 

I am a student in Massachusetts learning about game design in ELA. We have been playing quest to learn about the Hero’s Journey concept of all video games. We have also been making a game of our own using the Hero’s Journey concept. There are many things I like about Gamestar Mechanic, here are a few. I like how you can play Quest to learn how to create a game of your own. (play to learn) It is also very easy to use, I can switch between workshop and quest very easily. Even though there are many things I like about Gamestar, there are a few things you could work on. I think first person would be a great concept of this game. I think there should be more sprites and avatars to choose from. Finally, I think there should be more music, and I should be able to customize it. Thank You for reading.

— CC

I’ll be shipping these off to the Gamestar Mechanic office, in hopes some developer receives them and reads some of the insights.

Peace (in writing),
Kevin

Video Interview: A Student’s Perspective on Project-based Learning

At the Western Massachusetts Writing Project, our site is working with a local school district on implementing the design of Project-Based Learning (something my WMWP colleagues have already done in another school district.). I am not directly involved in that work but I am facilitating a Professional Learning Community in my own school district on Project-Based Learning.

So when our WMWP UMass intern Grace Dugan sat down to share her experiences in high school at a charter school based on the PBL philosophy, I was grateful to have an ear open (and I helped edit the video). I appreciated how Grace talked about her experiences, and how the inquiry model really shaped how she approaches learning and PBL has a resonance effect.

Peace (more than a project),
Kevin

Call Me Naive: We are Part

Part of the Whole

Sometimes, I ponder the possibility that I might just be naive in my digital spaces. (Does pondering about it, negate it?)

I spend a lot of time in digital platforms like blogs, Twitter, Mastodon, etc., in the hopes of forging new collaborations; entering new networks; and finding new, and strengthening existing, connections.

I really do see the power in the possible.

Then I read the news and follow stories, and I see how dark the Internet and social platforms can become, and I think: How is THAT (doxing, attacking, etc.) happening in the same places as THIS (learning, connecting, etc.) is happening?

But it is.

I guess our choices are to either leave those places or work to make them better, or passively hope for the best. I’m naive in this, I know, but I think small actions and people connections still count and can make a difference (this is the teacher in me, for sure, with the faith of seeds planted now blooming later on), so I keep on keeping on, hoping a positive energy and a way forward, step by step, might improve the whole.

The above animated quote — taken from a post by Sheri and created with an image by Sarah — captures a lot of this line of thinking that I cling to in my naivety, that we are indeed connected to the larger possibilities of learning. But this always requires positive action on our part to improve things.

Let’s do it together.

Peace (I hope),
Kevin

My Year in Books (via Goodreads)

Year in Books 2018

I use Goodreads regularly to keep track of my reading, and I always do the annual reading goal challenge (keeping it at 100 books to be read each year). What I like is the final Year in Books that Goodreads spits out, giving a cool glimpse of the books read and reviewed over the past year. I am always taken back by the number of pages I have read (40,000 in 2018).

Peace (in pages),
Kevin

 

Making the Heart Map Digital

Sheri wrote about a Heart Compass, which made me remember Georgia Heard’s work around Heart Maps. Both had me wondering how one might move such a project of interior exploration of the heart into a digital form.

I wondered if ThingLink might work, so I gave it a try and created my own linked Heart Map. The ability to add media layers helped extend my short writing along topics of teaching, family, writing, reading and more.

Mostly, the map came out fine (I may yet add more) but I think not having the hand-drawn images of Heart Maps, as shared by Georgia Heard, and Heart Compasses, as shared by Sheri Edwards, is a loss of style, perhaps. The hand-drawn element makes those maps more … human … than mine, I think. I don’t know. Still thinking on this. Maybe this observation says something to me about the digital tools and our need to individualize our passions in this kind of personal mapping work.

Peace (in the heart),
Kevin

An Invitation to Play: Hero’s Journey Video Game Project

We’re nearing the end of our video game design project and as I play the games created by my students (exploring the Hero’s Journey narrative arc), more than a few have surfaced as fine exemplars for next year (or just for sharing out).

I invite you (or your students, if you want) to play these video game projects, created through Gamestar Mechanic. (You don’t need an account to play the games linked here but you do need to be on a computer and enable flash.)

Peace (the journey),
Kevin

 

Student Reflections: Choice in Books and Time to Read


reading flickr photo by Ken Ronkowitz shared under a Creative Commons (BY-NC) license

I’ve been trying to work more independent and choice reading time into my classroom this year. I’ve always done so, but this year, I’m stretching the time frames and trying to be more thoughtful about the time they need in the school day to read. I’m inspired by books like Game Changer (Donalyn Miller and Colby Sharp) and Book Love (Penny Kittle) and others.

As we neared the end of a recent seven-week block of an independent reading unit, following a class novel unit at the start of the year, I asked them to write a bit about what they liked or didn’t like about this extended time.

Reading their responses, three main themes emerge across the board (and of my nearly 80 students, only two did not like the independent unit all that much, citing too much choice and freedom).

  • They liked the choice and the variety of books they could read, and some notes resistance to teacher-driven books, even if they like the story
  • They liked the quiet space we created in the classroom for reading — sometimes it was only 10 minutes a day but often I stretched it to 20 minutes — and many noted they don’t have time to read or desire to read outside of school
  • They appreciated learning about more books from other classmates reading, getting recommendations from peers (as opposed to me, the teacher, although many did ask and receive books from my classroom library upon my recommendation)

Here’s what some of them wrote:

I have enjoyed this extended independent reading unit from the moment we started it. One of the reasons why I liked it is being able to read what I wanted instead of what other people wanted or were reading. I like having my own book that is harder to have a spoiled finish than others that people already read. Some of the books that I read other people didn’t read or had forgotten about reading it. This experience of independent reading has made reading something more enjoyable. – GM

 

During the last several months I have enjoyed the independent reading unit. I have had trouble finding time to read in the past, which is a hobby I enjoy, so it is not only helpful but to have the opportunity in class but also fun. I like deciding where to sit in the classroom, and I enjoy the quiet atmosphere it provides. – CC

 

I enjoy independent reading. I like it because, If I did not have a time to read, I might of stopped reading or forgot about the book. I like choosing a book because the books that people pick out for me might not meet my interests. At school, the teachers pick out good books, but if anyone else did I probably would dislike it. — LB

 

I really enjoyed our independent reading. One reason is, I get the freedom to chose the book of my choice. I also like that if I don’t like a book I can stop reading it and chose a book that I will better enjoy. Lastly, I like that I can read at my own pace and I don’t have to stop reading if I’m enjoying something. In conclusion, I really enjoyed our independent reading. — JS

 

I have enjoyed it because teachers don’t always pick the best book for the class. I know because all last year I did not like the books. Also, it gives me freedom to try different genres. Also, because it is fun to read all kinds of books. – EM

 

I have enjoyed the independent reading unit. I love to read and I have really enjoyed being able to pick out my own books so that I can understand what I’m reading and enjoy. I have been able to read 2 books and I am starting a third. Even though I like to read I don’t usually read so it was nice to read every day in class. – LG

 

Yes I did enjoy it because you are able to pick your own book. I like it better than having to read an assigned book. Also it allows me to read diverse books. – LP

 

I have enjoyed quiet reading because,  it is nice to have sometime in the middle of the school day to sit back and quietly read a book after all the rushing around. It is nice to also be able to pick out the book that I want to read, unlike being forced to read a book That I may or may not like. When it is time for quiet reading, it is nice to be able to pick out where to sit, what to read, and how fast or how slow you read. – SB

 

Yes, I have enjoyed this independent reading unit. I like how I have the freedom to pick a book that particularly interests me. However, I did like the book that we read as a class. I also liked that I did not have a reading limit. Especially when I am at a suspenseful part. When reading in class I agree that it was really quiet and peaceful. I think that the amount of time we spent reading in class was good, not too long but not too fast. – OM

 

I love reading so naturally I love silent reading. I also enjoy the fact that we get to choose our own books because it encourages me to read more. Reading has always been one of my favorite things to do. However, when I’m forced to read a certain book I enjoy the book less even if it is a good book. – AH

Peace (pondering),
Kevin