Book Review: One More Cup of Coffee

It’s early morning — my writing time — and I am at home, not a cafe, but I am still traveling along with local writer/artist Tom Pappalardo as he brings me on his tour of coffee cafes in Western Massachusetts in his self-published book, One More Cup of Coffee.  The subtitle says a lot: “In which the author barely talks about the coffee.”

Which is not completely true. Tom talks about the coffee, but more often, he talks about the people and the atmosphere, and his own state of mind when the coffee hits the cup in the various places in my hometown and beyond. I am a sucker for local writing, set in local places, and Tom is a gifted observationalist — a bit biting and sarcastic in his views of the world, perhaps, but he has a keen eye for overheard conversations (so much so, I was hoping he wasn’t ever overhearing me in the booth next to him).

The passages here are short and often very funny, and Tom is not above calling the coffee bad when he tastes it, or the conversation, when he hears it, but he also celebrates something about the independent coffee shops that goes beyond the cafe itself — he is celebrating the public gathering spaces they represent, bringing people together to quietly write (as he does) or to loudly talk (as many do) or to just wonder about the state of the world (what I often do). Oh, and he is not afraid to tear down the corporate places, too. We do have Starbucks and Dunkin Donuts but only with great reluctance in these parts.

I don’t visit the downtown coffee places like I used to, give my family and teaching job, but Tom’s book brought me right into the heart of our Pioneer Valley’s lively centers. I know most, but not all, of the places he writes about (and appreciated some of the local history of how-this-place-used-to-be-that-place), and I could sense that I was hanging out with Tom as he wrote (which he probably wouldn’t appreciate or like, as my presence would interrupt his writing).

I bought this book to support a local self-published writer and the One More Cup of Coffee more than met my expectations, so much I just ordered another from Tom — a collection of comics and graphics. I think I recognize his work from our local alternative newspaper. I realized, too, that I have seen his music posters and artwork around my small city for years, and never knew it was him. Now I do. Good work, Tom.

Peace (and a hot cup of java),
Kevin

NetNarr: Exploring the Notions of Digital Alchemy

I am diving into the unknown terrain of Networked Narratives, an adventure set to unfold in 2017 across multiple platforms. Facilitated by Mia Zamora and Alan Levine, two people I always enjoy playing around with on the Web, NetNarr officially launches next month as a university course and an open education invitation. In other words, you don’t need to take Mia’s course to engage in the work.

I’m still figuring out what it is (but am intrigued by the concept of “civic imagination’ and wondering how the ‘world building’ will unfold), and where and how I can engage (I am pretty certain I already am engaged in it with these words). It all starts somewhere … so how about a loop song that merges a myriad of sounds together, pulled into a multimedia file that mixes visuals with sound?

I am trying to explore the notion of Digital Alchemist as maker and writer and creator with digital compositional tools. More on this topic later, I am sure ..

Consider it an invitation.

NOTE: If this Zeega doesn’t play as an embed, it might be because Chrome or your browser doesn’t recognize the scripts. You can change that in your browser url bar. This is because Terry Elliott hosts this version of Zeega, and it’s a bit wonky at times. You can also go directly to the file.

Peace (in here),
Kevin

 

Slice of Life: A Tin of Anchovies

(This is a post for Slice of Life, a regular writing activity hosted by Two Writing Teachers. We write about the small moments. You are invited. Come write with us.)

Eat the fish!

My middle son (16) gifted my younger son (12) with something that caused ripples of laughter throughout the last few days. The middle child works at a neighborhood grocery store, and he eyed a tin of anchovies one day as a gag gift for his younger brother. It was under the tree on Christmas Day, wrapped up tight. After all of the presents were unwrapped and with neighborhood friends over for a brunch,  and after much daring and much back-and-forth, the younger one finally got the courage to open the tin.

Eat the fish!

With all of us watching, he slowly and dramatically peeled back the foil top, stared at the little salty fishies in the olive oil and shuddered. He backed away, then backed back in, all the while being encouraged and dared by his older brothers. (OK, maybe some of the adults joined in the chorus, too.)

Eat the fish!

He did, slowly and with great fanfare, and with scrunched up eyes, and then scrunched up lips, as if he had just sucked on a salt bar. He ate it, and declared: I am never going to eat another anchovy again in my life!

But yesterday, when we had a large family gathering, he had something even better than the fish. He had a story to tell to his cousins, uncles and aunts. That’s a gift worth celebrating.

Eat the fish!

Peace (comes a little salty at times),
Kevin

App Review: StickNodes

A few weeks ago, for the #CLMOOC DigiWriMo Pop Up Make Cycle, the focus was on animation. There are all sorts of apps that allow you to animate now, and StickNodes is one of my favorites (I paid the $1.99 for the Pro version). It’s an update on an old freeware that I used to use with students called Pivot Animator. When we shifted to Macs, I had to move away from Pivot (it is a PC-only freeware) and tried Stykz for a bit.

StickNodes Pro is pretty easy to use, and has a lot of powerful features for animating stick figures. It’s also pretty darn fun to use. You can create and then export your animation as video or gif files, which can be hosted elsewhere.

Here is one of my early experiments: Stickman Walking. (I had uploaded it into Vine, which you can no longer do)

 

No surprise that there are tutorial videos on YouTube for using the app. Here is the first in a series done by this person.

Give it a try. Or try some other app, and let us know. We’re animating this week!

Peace (in the frame),
Kevin

Stopmotion: A Little Nomad’s Christmas Tree

My friend, Sarah Honeychurch, send me a lovely holiday postcard for the CLMOOC Postcard Project, and she included a little traveling knitted “Nomad” with the card (see her online moniker for why that is a perfect name for the little knitted traveler). It was so cute!

My first reaction was how cool it was to get this little gift like this from across the world. My second reaction was that this Nomad is the perfect size for stopmotion animation. My third reaction was, I can finally use this USB Christmas Tree that sits in my closet all year long.

I got to work … eh, play.

Thank you, Sarah, and thank you to everyone else who is part of my various networks. That hug that the Nomad gives the tree at the end is symbolic.

Peace (let it it light the world),
Kevin

 

Student Video Game Reviews (with design focus)

Many of my students are finishing up their video game reviews, an activity in persuasive writing in which they used a design focus to explore the pros and cons of a chosen video game.

They don’t mind this writing at all. In fact, my students who struggle the most with writing but who enjoy gaming find intense focus on this assignment, as they are tapping into their own knowledge and expertise and interest. We do this reviewing with a focus on design: playability, graphics, music, controls, etc.

Here are a few:

Along with looking at the writing, and noting to them that this kind of persuasive writing will soon shift into argumentative writing, I am always curious about which games are most popular in a given year. Last year and the year before, Minecraft had everyone beat.

Video Game Review Roblox

Not this year, so much. This year, I am finding a lot of kids reviewing, and playing, ROBLOX, which I had not heard much about until my own son came home from his Minecraft Club saying everyone had moved over to ROBLOX for the afternoon. Apparently, in ROBLOX (which I have yet to explore), you play games that others in the community build, and you build games that other people play (sort of like our work with Gamestar Mechanic, which is designed more to teach basic game design principles and is a closed system).

Peace (design it better),
Kevin

School-wide Engineering Challenge: Building Towers

As part our week-long Spirit Week this week (hosted by our new Student Council, which I am advising and helping), we are hosting a school-wide challenge for a designated “Engineering Design Day” today.

My sixth grade science colleague, Lisa Rice, suggested this Marshmallow Tower Challenge as a way for our entire school to come together as designers. I love that! We hope all teachers take part, but there is no requirement. Lisa is collecting school-wide data, though, in hopes of sharing out a huge experiment across the building, and getting kids and teachers excited about engineering design.

Look who does the best in this TED presentation? The kindergarteners!

And notice the talk about “high stakes” (adding money reward to the challenge) and how the high stakes negatively impacted the creative design of the towers … I guess we could easily draw some parallels to the current educational climate of high-stakes testing, right?

Peace (in collaboration),
Kevin

 

Slice of Life: Inauguration or Not?

sol16(This is a post for Slice of Life, a regular writing activity hosted by Two Writing Teachers. We write about the small moments. You are invited. Come write with us.)

Eight years ago, we showed the first inauguration of Barack Obama to our sixth graders, live, and we got an angry call the day of the event from a father, who demanded we pull his child from the viewing. There were less-than-subtle racist overtones to the request.

I am trying to spark a conversation with my colleagues and administration over the question: do we show the inauguration ceremonies of Donald Trump next month to our sixth graders?

I even asked teachers on Twitter. Granted, the pool of contributors was small, but indicative. Or maybe it is more indicative of my “echo chamber” of friends in social media. But, I lean towards the “yes” — it’s an event related to a presidency race that we followed and wrote about all fall, and I teach in a town that voted nearly 50/50 Trump/Clinton in November.

I can put aside my own personal feelings (mostly) and view it as a learning experience (somewhat) and let my young students see how the transfer of power happens. I would be cringing the entire time, to be frank. But I could pull it off. I am a professional.

Then my wife, who is an administrator at a high school, noted that her school is also in similar discussions, but their fear over showing the event live to all students is that something disruptive or violent will happen during the live event, and there will be no way to filter the experience.

I hadn’t thought of that. I didn’t want to think of that. I don’t want to think of that. But I guess I have to. Sad, right? For now, I am leaving the decision in the hands of the administration, and seeing what their take on the matter will be.

One option is to let students “opt in” to watch the ceremonies and provide an alternative to those who don’t want to see it (but then we will be dividing up our student population by politics, I fear). Another is to show an edited version on the following Monday (the ceremony is on a Friday), which might be the more restrained approach.

What are you going to do? Why?

Peace (is always needed),
Kevin