Writing a Protest Song (of sorts)

We had an ice/snow day yesterday. Or, rather, I did but my kids did not, so I had some time at home to catch up on work and play. During the day, I noticed a tweet about Questlove calling for artists of all stripes to be the “voice of the times” when it comes to Ferguson and Staten Island, and race. I’d be dishonest if I say I wasn’t living the privileged life, as a white male in suburbia in a tolerant part of the United States.

But there was a time when I wrote only protest songs for my first bands, so I grabbed my guitar yesterday and worked for a short stretch on a song that might reflect some of my thinking, as I read the news and wonder where our country is heading. We’ve had large protests here where I live — we are in an area with five colleges, including UMass and Smith College — so I began with that scene, and moved forward from there. I wanted to end on a hopeful note. I think I did.

Here, then, is my rough song: Cities Rise Up

CitiesRiseUp

I am not naive to think I am in Questlove’s sphere or talent. But every artist has a chance to call for change, right?

Peace (in the muse),
Kevin

Honoring Anne Herrington at WMWP

(I thought I had shared this out earlier but I guess not …. never too late …)

Anne Herrington, whose work in the field of composition and digital writing, as well as her leadership for many years in our Western Massachusetts Writing Project and the National Writing Project, was honored this past weekend with the Pat Hunter Award at WMWP’s Best Practices.

I’ve known Anne for many years and have worked closely with her on many projects, and her work and inquiry and approach to issues always struck me as very insightful and full of wonder. She led our WMWP through a very difficult time in recent years, before stepping down as WMWP site director, and her continued interest in digital literacies in many forms helped inform my own work as a classroom teacher.

Here, Anne accepts the Pat Hunter Award (named after one of the earlier site directors of our writing project whose legacy still shapes who we are) with her usual insightful commentary on the work we do, and the learning community we are part of with the writing project.

Peace (to Anne),
Kevin

Slice of Life: A Pivot Point

(This is part of the Slice of Life writing activity sponsored by Two Writing Teachers. Come join us by writing about small moments each Tuesday.)

SOL

Something strange has happened in the dynamics of my classroom in the past two weeks or so. I’m not sure exactly where or what it springs from, and I struggling right now with how to right the ship, too. There are always pivot points each year in a classroom culture where the mood of a group of kids can suddenly turn from what you thought it was to something you were not expecting it to be at all.

I am at one of the pivots, and I don’t like it at all.

Sometimes, the pivot a good thing. Maturity kicks in. Friendships blossom. A cohesiveness emerges. You hope that, as the teacher, your work around community building has paid off, that the small things can make a big difference in the way kids see themselves, and the world — the small world of the classroom as well as the large world of the World.

Right now, my class is sort of in opposite mode, and I obviously won’t go into specifics, but there’s a small clique of students who are making negative ripples as part of social posturing, and I am worried about the tide. I’m not turning a blind eye to it. I’m addressing what I see, and what I hear, and what I hear about, as quickly and as judiciously as I can. I’m using positive reinforcement and negative consequences. Parents are involved. The administration is involved. And I am reaching into the teaching bag for all I have, in hopes I can change what needs to be changed so we can move forward with positive energy — all of us.

Still, youthful social dynamics can be a powerful force. On their own, each student in this clique is a nice kid. As a group, they become something I barely recognize at times when I hear some of the stories of how they treat others in the hallways, on the playground, on the bus. And, online, too. Never in the classroom, though.

I’m struggling to make it right, and it makes me sad and frustrated to know this, too, is part of teaching, when so many of my students just want a safe and fun place to learn each day.

Peace (in the think),
Kevin

 

Hour of Code: Make a Flappy Bird Game

One of the many great activities that are included at the Hour of Code site (and there are many) is learning how to program/code your own Flappy Bird-style app game. You can even share it out for others play after you learn and make your own game.

Check out mine:

flappy spaceship

You can even remix my game and make your own. How cool is that, eh?

My son also made his own version — Flappy Santa — and was very engaged and had to do some problem-solving. But he found success and when he learned he could publish it for others to play, he was highly motivated.

I am sharing this programming activity with my students this week, as it is a perfect companion to our video game design unit. I have also set up a Padlet site, where they are going to gather and collect each other’s games. I’ll share later …

Peace (in the flap),
Kevin

Book Review: Gaming the System (Designing with Gamestar Mechanic)

This book – Gaming the System: Designing with Gamestar Mechanic — could not have arrived at a better time. I am knee-deep in our science-based video game design project right now, and while I have done gaming for a few years now and have a pretty solid handle on it, this look at game design through the lens of systems provides me with a fresh insight into the learning that is going on each day in my classroom.

The book is part of a series put out by MIT Press called INTERCONNECTIONS: Understanding Systems Through Digital Design.  There was a NWP Blogtalk radio show with the writers/editors that is worth checking out. I should note that I was an early reader of another book in this series, and received a free version of that book for my time and effort. But I did not read this one on gaming and bought for it myself. Also, the National Writing Project is one of the partners in the putting together the series, so I do know some of the folks involved.

This book, while somewhat pricey for a cash-strapped teacher, gives a powerful look at the potential of game design, connections to literacy and science standards, and plays out like a how-to guide for getting started and how to push kids further into complex thinking. It references Gamestar Mechanic as its base of game design (a site which I also use) and includes numerous screenshots, handouts, reference sheets and lesson plan ideas for implementing gaming in a constructivist approach.

And all of this is done through the lens of “systems,” which is a conceptual frame of thinking of the whole being a sum of its parts, and how changes in one part of the system change the whole. Think of weather patterns. Or political maps. Or airports. Or manufacturing. While those are pretty advanced systems to consider for young people, game design makes it real by bringing them into a system they understand, and showing how a designer’s intentional approach changes the system of the game. It’s a brilliant approach, really, and I realize now that I have been teaching Systems withou quite realizing it, and without using some of the domain specific vocabulary that I now have in my pocket for our work in the classroom.

Here is a quote that helps frame this concept:

A game can be considered a system because how the game is played and how the game play unfolds are the results of multiple interactions among different components … It’s important to be able to reflect not only on how a system might be functioning currently, but also on how a designer might have intended it to operate (or intended to change it). — page 200-201

I’ve bookmarked a fair number of pages in my copy of Gaming the System, and I intend to share it with my science colleague (whom is my partner in our game design project) and if my new principal walks in for an observation and wonders why everyone is playing video games in ELA class, I have some materials to help me make my case about the value of our science-based video game design project.

Peace (in the system),
Kevin

Hour of Code: The Classroom 2.0 Live Archive

In case you are curious, here is the archived recording of a conversation that my colleague, Gail Poulin, and I had about coding and literacy and learning over at Classroom 2.0 Live. It was a lively conversation, with lots of sharing, and connecting into the Hour of Code initiative that takes place this week as part of Computer Science Week.

Along with the media archive, there is a long list of coding resources available at the Livebinder created for the session. While Gail and I had some started links and resources, it was the sharing by everyone in the session from around the world that makes the Livebinder a keeper.

Check out the Hour of Code Livebinder.

Peace (in the share),
Kevin

Compose/DeCompose

Before you read this, read this.

mmm (sips coffee)

mmm (pets dog)

mmm (eats banana)

Are you back? Did you read it? Man, I love when people like Terry do that … pulling back the curtain on digital composing. As I was reading his piece it occurred to me … we work differently. I was reading as he talked about the lists he makes, the lines he draws out, the resources he has at his finger tips, the thoughtfulness that goes into what he composes (in this case, with Zeega). He’s got a system.

He leads with the brain, and reaches for the heart.

Me?

I start at the heart, and aim for the brain.

What I mean is that when I do what Terry explains he is doing (honoring someone’s blog post by remixing it with digital media via Zeega), I dive in and let the muse take me to where it will in a person’s piece. I’m searching for anchor phrases and trying to find the center of the blog post. I hate to admit it — but I don’t think too much about it. I trust my instincts to find where it is I need to go.

Mostly, it works. I think. And Terry’s process? Oh yeah, it works, too. Both of our methods work, and there are probably a myriad of others out there (what’s yours?) but mostly, they seem a mystery to your audience. Doing as Terry has done — showing what he is thinking about as he composes and the tools he is using to compose what he is thinking about — is a valuable analysis, providing insights to the writer.

Here’s a Zeega I did this week in honor of Jim Groom’s fantastic piece about connected learning called Connected by Design. My composing process?

  • I read Jim’s post quickly once after finding it in my Twitter feed (via #ccourses)
  • Went back, read it again
  • Opened up Zeega
  • Picked phrases and sentences that resonated with me. Interested that he had also chosen some phrases and ideas from others, using those as anchors in his text. So I am anchoring my anchors in his anchors. Recursive anchors?
  • Considered fonts. Spent more time in fonts than anything else. Not sure why. Seemed important. How does shape of letters inform our composition? Not satisfied with fonts but gave up on it after a time.
  • Used the Zeega search engine to find animated gifs as background (struggled here for a stretch … what’s too busy? what’s evocative? what pushes up against the words?) Thought, what about still images? Fell back to animated images. Seems more Zeega-like.
  • Did a search for “connected” on Soundcloud. Replaced one track with another when I noticed the Stereo MCs in the mix. Like the shuffling hiphoppiness of the track. Connects to the freeflowing ideas of Jim’s post (in my mind, anyway).
  • Published Zeega and posted and shared with Connected Courses.

Peace (in decomposing the composition),
Kevin

Collaborative Coding with Kindergarteners

Hour of Code Collaboration 2014

In anticipation of the Hour of Code next week, my colleague Gail Poulin and I gathered her kindergarteners and my sixth graders together for our own Morning of Coding yesterday. We teamed up our classes, and each group worked on a coding activity at Code.org based on the movie, Frozen, where the task is to create visual fractals with Blockly code. Think of it like Legos as programming. (By the way, the activities at Hour of Code work great on interactive boards for whole-class activities and there are no-tech coding games available, too).

To be frank, we were not sure how it would go, but it soon become clear that the kids are alright … they figured it out (for the most part) and spent the time fully engaged as partners in code. Most groups got through about seven or eight levels of the game, but one group – two boys – almost made it all the way to level 20.

Hour of Code

Gail and I will be on Classroom 2.0 Live later today (noon on the East Coast of United States), chatting up the PD webinar about coding and literacy and technology and learning. Come on over, if you have time, to participate in the conversation. We’d love to see you there.


Link to join the session: 

http://tinyurl.com/cr20live

Full link: https://sas.elluminate.com/m.jnlp?sid n=2008350&password=M.438D554F4A450D77B901E14104C303
NOTE: When you click on the link to log in, enter your OWN full name in the box so we will know who you are (not the topic of the webinar).

Show Times:
9:00am Pacific/10:00am Mountain
11:00am Central/12:00pm Eastern

Time Zone Converter
Check for correct time in your area using the Time Zone Converter link.
Twitter hashtag:
#liveclass20

Peace (under the hood),
Kevin

Gauging Student Interest in the STEM Video Game Challenge

 

There’s a caveat to this post: my sixth graders have only just started the design stage of a science-based video game project. But I have already introduced them to the possibility of submitting their final video games (still a few weeks away from completion) to the National STEM Video Game Challenge.

Among other things, I am trying to help my students see an audience much larger than our classroom and to view their project as something with more potential than just a grade from me for the work they do. I want them to be creating a piece of digital work for the world.

Sure, it might be that the potential rewards and recognition is what interests them in this kind of video game design challenge. That’s OK. Extrinsic rewards can provide a path to intrinsic rewards, and I am already noticing a deep consideration of story, game design, quality and science as they begin moving from brainstorming and storyboarding into the design phase of their game projects on Gamestar Mechanic (which is a partner with the video challenge, meaning students can submit games into the STEM Video Game Challenge right through Gamestar, which makes things a bit easier on our end).

This graph shows the results of a question as part of the brainstorming process: Would you be interested in submitting your science-based game to the STEM Video Game Challenge? I am pleased at how many are considering that option (with the understanding that anyone can change their mind later on).

Interest in STEM Video Game Competition

Time to make the games …

Peace (in the challenge),
Kevin