Appreciate the Unexpected: Haiku Call/Response

Sunday morning. I see my friend Ray is sharing a haiku. It’s about jazz. I can’t resist. I riff off his poem, make my own and send it out. It starts there and then expands into something wonderful: a day of writing and sharing haiku.

I tried to curate the many strands as best as I could here:

Peace (words matter),
Kevin

At This Camp, Movies Get Made

Making Movies at Camp

My youngest son attended a day camp all last week, writing and shooting and editing and producing short films over five days. on Friday, family members were invited in to watch the results, and the movies were not only entertaining, but pretty well done, given constraints (of locations and time and props). The camp, at a local Montessori School, borrowed high-quality video cameras from the local Cable Access Station (which will showcase the short films on its television channel and online sites). You can see the difference — the video is rich and professional grade quality.

The camp facilitators let the kids do all of the heavy lifting — writing the scripts, setting up the cameras, and editing with iMovie. My son has done most of these things before — he loves to make his own movies — but it was nice to have him in a group, working with other kids and being creative. I don’t think he wrote all that much, though, which is too bad.

There were three short narrative films (including one very intense one about a puppet and a cruel puppeteer that had the audience in silent wonder) and a few music videos, most using Green Screen effects. Later, the videos will be hosted online. I’ll share out when that happens, in case you are interested in what kids can do with cameras and iMovie and imagination.

Peace (from small screen to real life),
Kevin

Book Review: The Black Reckoning

(This review has been in my draft bin since Spring)

Now, this is how you write the last of a trilogy. John Stephens began this story of three siblings and three books of magic with The Emerald Atlas, which my son and I read and were hooked, and the series has now come to a close with The Black Reckoning.  In between, there was The Fire Chronicle. The series is called The Books of Beginning, due to the mythology of the three books themselves — one of which transports people through time; another of which brings people back from death; and the third, which is the center of the last book, gives power to the Keeper over the Land of the Dead.

While there are so many echoes of other stories here — from Harry Potter to The Lightning Thief and beyond — Stephens keeps the narrative fresh and fast-moving, spending ample time on the development of characters — the three children: Kate, Michael an Emma. All are changed by the experiences of the books and Stephens brings the story to a satisfying close with a few twists in the end to keep it from becoming too predictable.

If you have readers looking for an adventure, get them started on The Emerald Atlas. They will surely be hooked for the trilogy. I have a student waiting, somewhat impatiently, for me to finish The Black Reckoning so he can dive in to the story. He’ll be happy to see me today.

Peace (in the story),
Kevin

WMWP: Shifting From Technology Towards Outreach

For as long as I have been part of the Western Massachusetts Writing Project (which is going on 15 years now, starting with my very first year of teaching after a 10-year career in newspaper journalism), I have been involved with technology in the writing project. It all happened rather inadvertently, as then WMWP Technology Liaison Paul Oh was moving on to begin work with the National Writing Project, and our WMWP Summer Institute had played around with something new (it really was brand new at the time) called “blogs” to great success.

As Paul was leaving, he and the site director pulled me aside and asked if I would be willing to step up and replace Paul as the WMWP Technology Liaison (a designation NWP/WMWP no longer uses), and I said: I guess so (rather reluctantly, since I did not see myself as a techie at the time even if I was an enthusiastic experimenter). I wrote about some of my journey into technology with WMWP and NWP for a site celebrating 40 years of NWP.

In the past years, our WMWP site has put a renewed importance on technology across programs, creating a Co-Director position on the Leadership Team. I have been the Technology Co-Director for the Western Massachusetts Writing Project for some years now, following my role as technology liaison (which was more an advisory position). Since Paul left, and I took over, I have been in the same slot (with different names). I’ve loved all of it, and count many successes.

From overseeing a massive blogging project called Making Connections funded by a NWP grant that connected middle school students across socio-economic areas, to running youth digital writing camps; to documenting with video and audio the work of WMWP; to facilitating a WMWP Technology Team; to launching the iAnthology social network in partnership with Hudson Valley Writing Project; to facilitating workshops and planning Technology Conferences; consulting on the launch of a new WMWP website and now consulting on yet another version of the WMWP website; and on and on. Not to mention all of the NWP activities on the larger stage, such as helping to facilitate CLMOOC in the past four years and writing regularly for the Digital Is website.

But I began to feel in a rut, a bit. Not that I had done everything I wanted to do but that there just wasn’t that spark of energy. Perhaps, I began thinking, it was time for me to be doing something else in WMWP.

Last Spring, after considerable thought, I decided to propose a change to my WMWP fellows. We had an opening on the WMWP Leadership Team. The position of Co-Director for Outreach was available, and I had already been focusing more and more on how to use more social media tools to reach our WMWP teachers.  We revamped our Facebook account, became more active with Twitter, and launched an Instagram site. Our YouTube site was growing with each conference WMWP hosted.

I proposed to WMWP that I leave the post of Technology and move into the post of Outreach, where I would still harness technology with the goal of reaching and connecting teachers together (something I was sort of doing already with Technology).

And now, I am happy to say, one of my WMWP Technology Team colleagues — and someone with whom I have worked closely with over the years on a variety of projects — has stepped into the role of Technology Co-Director. Tom Fanning will do a fantastic job, breathing new life into the role of technology in our writing project site and laying out his own vision and plans for where WMWP goes next.

Our site director, Bruce Penniman, always says, The first task of any leadership position is to start looking for your replacement. I’m very happy that Tom in is place and that I get to keep working with him. If Bruce is right, though, now I have start looking for my replacement for the Outreach slot. Hmmm.

Peace (here, there, everywhere),
Kevin

Six Countries … 30 Postcards … Many Connections

Making postcards

I spent part of my day yesterday, working on completing another round of CLMOOC postcards. This one has a sort of secret gift involved, so I won’t say much about the content of my postcards. But I mailed out 30 postcards (along an old picture book theme), and noticed that I had SIX different countries as destination points. That’s pretty darn cool (if a bit expensive … but worth it!).

I keep wondering of the postmaster at our small neighborhood Post Office is finally going to break down and say all right … what’s up with all of these postcards you keep sending out? But he remains curiously impassive.

Learn more about the CLMOOC Postcard Project at the CLMOOC Make Bank.

Peace (it’s in the post),
Kevin

No One Reads the Manual: My Steps to New Tech

In my new role with the Western Massachusetts Writing Project (I guess I haven’t written about that yet .. will do later), I have been tasked with putting together our twice-yearly newsletter of events and activities for our writing project. I’m fine with that job. I like to write and share and connect. But the WMWP newsletter is created (for now, anyway) with a certain software program loaded on a specific WMWP laptop, and now that I have both computer and program in my hands, I’ve realized that learning a complicated piece of technology is … well … complicated.

As I was diving into the software this week to immerse myself in its inner workings, I realized I was going through some stages of “new technology” immersion. It began when I realized I would have be venturing back into an aging PC, as opposed to my Mac, and continued when I opened the software program up and saw dozens upon dozens of keys and buttons and options, all written in some language that didn’t make sense to my brain. Many, many bells and whistles.

Then, as I am apt to do, I just dove in, starting clicking things and working in the space, seeing what I could figure out as I went along. I’d get frustrated, try something else, get it working, hit another dead-end, try to find information help online, go back in, try again, and keep going. There were periodic little successes that at least allowed me to push forward with some limited sense of accomplishment.

For example, all I wanted to do was find a way to replace a photo. (apparently, that is done by “pointing” and that took me nearly 30 minutes to figure that out). And then I wanted a quick way to “preview” the newsletter I was creating, out of edit mode. I’m still searching for how to do that, believe it or not. It must be me, right? Where’s the big fat “This is What It Looks Like” button?

The next day? I had mostly forgotten what I had done the day before and how I had done it. A pitfall of diving in and not being methodical with new technology is the lack of clear paths and archival maps for the return journey. I didn’t document my dive in because there was never any method to the madness.

So, I began all over again.

The comic is just another way for me to deal with the feeling of frustration. I know I will figure out what I need to know (I already know more than I did just a few days ago), and I know I will turn to those within the writing project who have used the program for tips of the trade. It will all work out.

But I also know that I follow a certain pattern when it comes to new technology, and I hope that by making my own thinking somewhat visible — with a bit of humor — it shows me a bit more clearly how my own students learn when they come up against new technology. And if I can better understand that process, perhaps I can be a better teacher.

Let’s face it — no one reads the manual.

Peace (it’s in there, somewhere),
Kevin

 

Getting Fused: Blending Images and Making Art

I’m enjoying a new app that my friend, Simon, shared with the CLMOOC community. It’s called Fused and it allows you to blend together images (and maybe blending videos on images? I need to explore that but I think Simon did it).

We have a postcard project going in CLMOOC, too, and this week, I received two different postcards on two different days (a total four postcards in three days!). I tried the blending technique with Fused to pull together the pair of postcards on each day, and the result is pretty lovely.

This is from postcards that arrived from Karen and Stephanie

Fused Clmooc postcards

This is from postcards that arrived Scott and Kim

Fused Clmooc postcards

Peace (in the post),
Kevin

Book Review: Harry Potter and the Cursed Child

Just imagine about the boatloads of young readers this summer sitting down to read … a full-length play. That’s the text format of Harry Potter and the Cursed Child, the latest story set in J.K. Rowling’s world of wizardry. I am both pleased with the decision to use the drama/theater format, and also, I am a bit worried that it will turn kids off from the book (my son started it and stopped, saying he didn’t want to read a play).

Still, the book is a great opportunity to expose readers to the ways in which live productions are created (the book is script to the play now on stage, and is labelled Special Rehearsal Edition Script) and written, and sustaining the story throughout an entire book-length play forces the reader to imagine the stage itself, with actors and props and effects. I know many of us do this with novels, too, but here, it is explicit, with stage direction as text.

Does the story hold up?

Sort of. The beginning feels a bit slow, with many familiar themes emerging, as Harry and Ginny are now parents, and one of their boys, Albus Severus Potter, is off to Hogwarts. Albus feels different from the family, and finds a friend in Scorpius, the son of Draco Malfoy.

The two boys get themselves into a world of trouble soon enough, and the return of Voldemort might be imminent, as a result. I won’t go into the story too much, so as not to ruin it, but suffice it to say that the second half of the book found its footing and was quite entertaining, I think, as it broke away from echoes of the past Harry Potter tales.

As a father, I was particularly attuned to the tension that Harry feels with Albus, and the difficulties that the son and father have with each other, acknowledging the imperfect resolution of their relationship at the end of the story. I’m not sure how much that theme will resonate with young readers. One never knows.

This new book doesn’t quite match the storytelling flair of other books in the series, in my opinion, but then, that probably wasn’t the intention of publishing Harry Potter and the Cursed Child as a play in the first place. In fact, Rowling is not even the listed playwright (that would be Jack Thorne). Instead, the book is “based on an original new story by J.K. Rowling,” although she clearly was integral to the development of the project (as noted by her presence in the back pages of the book). This fact is listed in huge letters on the cover, so the publisher was not trying to pull one over on the audience.

Harry Potter and the Cursed Child is worth the read, if you come in with realistic expectations. And who knows? Maybe some readers will use the script and start planning their own productions. Wouldn’t that be cool?

Peace (in all worlds, magical and muggle),
Kevin

 

And Then … They Danced

Sometimes, a crazy idea becomes the thing that actually gets done. A few weeks back, I had first jokingly commented on something that Wendy Taleo had written for CLMOOC that we should have a Dance Party. Then, I wondered: COULD we pull off a virtual CLMOOC Flash Mob Dance Party? How would we do THAT?

And so it came to be. First, some of us went into Soundtrap, a collaborative music platform, to create a music track. Then, we invited people to create dancing videos, of themselves or other things (or animals) and they did. We then asked them to upload the videos into a Google folder, and they did.

See? That’s the beauty of a network like CLMOOC. You try an experiment and lots of people are open to participate. Wendy and I were open about the fact that we neither knew exactly what we were doing nor how we would pull it off. Folks still danced and still participated.

Although we explored the possibility of collaborative video editing, in the end Wendy took on the task of editing the pieces together into a dance mob. I just love the video for the zaniness and happiness of it, and for the fact that we all pulled it off in time to get it at the top of the Make Cycle 3 newsletter. (Sorry if you didn’t get your video in on time … We can still revise)

CLMOOC Dance Party Collage

Peace (put on yer dancing shoes),
Kevin