Graphic Novel Review: The Brain (The Ultimate Thinking Machine)

This is the third or fourth book in the Science Comics collection from FirstSecond Publishing, and all of them have been fun, informative and densely packed with scientific information. For the casual youth reader, it might be too much information. For those readers interested in any of the topics (such as dogs, dinosaurs, coral reefs, etc.), the Science Comics collection is a gold mine.

This latest — The Brain: The Ultimate Thinking Machine by Tory Woollcott and Alex Graudins — is a prime example. (Note: I received this as an advance copy). Built around a story framework (Fahama, our young female protagonist, has been kidnapped by a mad scientist and she buys time asking questions about how the brain works), the book is jammed with fascinating intricacies of how our brains function and work, with quite complex vocabulary and concepts assisted by interesting comic work.

I really liked that the writer/illustrator chose a young Muslim girl (and her younger sister, Nour) without making a big deal about it, incorporating her as a character as if it were common to have someone like Fahama a main character. It’s not. Or not enough. It works like a charm here, since Fahama’s curiosity and humor and Nour’s bossiness and feistiness bring them to life.

Still, for some readers, seeing characters who look and act like them in a graphic novel will be a big deal, and one that we readers (particularly we teachers, who can bring these books to our classroom) should celebrate. And the book holds up on its own, with story and science.

This graphic novel is aimed at middle and high school students, although elementary students might find it interesting if a bit of complex reading. It’s the vocabulary and science concepts that push it towards older readers, in my mind.

Peace (reading it),
Kevin

 

I Am Reading This


dogs welcome flickr photo by djg0333 shared under a Creative Commons (BY-SA) license

The first line of the invite to Stephen Downe’s newest adventure — E-Learning 3.0 — says:

If you’re reading this, then this course is for you.”

I guess I’m in!

Short Intro: I teach emerging adolescents. I am a writer. Those two passions often intersect. As such, I am always looking for places where educators and writers can connect about learning through digital spaces and immersive experiences. I learned about Stephen’s course through friends’ sharing out on Mastodon, so in some ways, following the trails from those posts and toots (what you post on Mastodon) to the course overview by Stephen (with its first lines of welcome) is a rather natural pathway. This blog post is my first foray into the exploration, and gives me something to feed the RSS Dragon.

Course Site: https://el30.mooc.ca 

Peace (dogs allowed),
Kevin

Locating Yourself: The Internet Mapping Project

Internet Mapping Project 2018

This is the second year I have tapped into Kevin Kelly’s The Internet Mapping Project to have my sixth grade students metaphorically connect their lives to their technology, and the Internet. I always worry the concept will be too obtuse for them and each time, they remind me of how capable they are in using art and reflection to understand the world (or at least, try to).

This presentation has assorted student maps, after a few videos that I share with them to spark initial conversations about what the Internet is, and what its origins are. Most don’t know.

The maps that my students create lead to small group discussions about what we noticed among our collective maps. Topics include the prevalence of YouTube in their lives, the ways we are still at the center of the Internet universe, the influx of mobile devices as the way to interface with technology, the social aspects of the Web in their lives. (Interestingly, Kelly shares a link to a taxonomy project about the Internet Map Project.)

What would be on your map? Download, make and share.

Peace (in charts),
Kevin

 

 

Comics … On Kids, Technology, Algorithms, and Openness

Kids today .. it’s all perspectiveI’ve continued to make comics as a sort of reflective response to some of the discussions going on in the Equity Unbound course, where I pop in an open participant from time to time, mostly via Twitter. The comic above was my attempt to think of the confidence that my students have with technology and then, how overwhelmed some of them become with the choices and the possibilities. Who’s in control of our tech use? For adults, it’s difficult. For kids, it’s even trickier.

Hiding Behind Words

This comic was from some frustration of the limitations of online endeavors — where sometimes we use big words as a way to grapple with difficult topics, and the words water down our actions. This is not pointed to anything in particular, just a critique of academic spaces (including my own).

Occupy the Algorithm

Someone in the #unboundeq hashtag used the phrase of “occupy the algorithm” and something about that resonated with me. It’s about taking ownership of your own experience, of knowing where your data is being used (or trying to grapple with it), of pushing back on the Googles, the Facebooks, the Twitters of the world. It’s not yet clear if that is a losing battle.

Where you at?This comic also stems from watching a discussion unfold, where the idea of “country of origin” seems to juxtaposition against the “place where we are.” I was also attuned to a reference to Facebook, asking the question of “country where you were born” and using that information to geo-locate you in the platform. I find this unsettling, for a lot of reasons (privacy, location data, advertising, etc.)

Knock knockFinally, for now anyway, I was paying attention to the tension that happens when any open networked project works to keep an open door but sometimes ends up closing the door. I think any of us who run open learning networks know the difficulty of this balancing act, of how to protect a space for conversation while also inviting more voices into the mix.

Peace (in the open),
Kevin

 

 

Google’s Reach into Classrooms (via NYT)

Piece from New York Times

It’s a strange bit of circumstance but the shift in discussions for Equity Unbound this week — in the form of a slow Twitter chat, unfolding over days — is about technology’s reach and impact into our lives. The odd part is that I had just been interviewed last week by a science/technology/education reporter at The New York Times about Google’s reach into the classroom through its “Be Internet Awesome” site.

The reporter had seen something I had written way back when the program was first announced and asked if I could talk. I did, explaining that while the site has some solid potential for teaching about technology use, the branding of it by Google clearly is a business strategy to hook kids into the Google ecosystem, early and often. I suggested that teachers use more than just the Awesome campaign when teaching about digital life. (I use elements of the CommonSense Media Digital Citizenship resources, for example.)

The issue is complicated further in that we are a Google Apps for Education school district, and we use our Google accounts regularly for writing and for media making and more. It’s a valuable addition to our writing and technology and research work. I find the Google accounts more than handy … yet …. yet … I know that GAFE and cheap Chromebooks are all ways to get more schools to use Google’s infrastructure (even with privacy protections on GAFE accounts, if we believe it). More schools, more kids, more users.

And the more we use Google, the more ads they sell. (To be clear, there are no ads directed at students within GAFE itself.)

As it happens, I am right now in the midst of teaching my sixth graders in a Digital Life unit, where we discuss and explore issues of privacy, identity, choices, and the ways corporations like Google are using our browsing histories and data to target us with advertising. You won’t find mention of that state of the modern day technology world in Be Internet Awesome.

Here is the link to the piece in the New York Times.

I am quoted about halfway down, and then again at the very end. It’s interesting to see myself in The New York Times — when I was a reporter (before I became a teacher), I often wondered if my career would ever take me to the Times (it didn’t and I am glad for where I am as a teacher, and I don’t think I ever had the skills or talent for the NYT, anyway.) Now I find myself in there, in the newspaper itself.

I’m going to get a paper copy today and share it with my students.

Peace (in the ink),
Kevin

 

Slice of Life: Just Saying Hello

(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 was shuffling papers, trying to find something. I had a meeting in an hour.

“Mr. H.”

I held up a give-me-a-sec gesture. The paper seemed important in that moment. The voice, a distraction.

“Mr. H?”

I stopped, looked up. She had come in from recess, all smiles. She bounced on the heels of her feet.

“Yes?”

“Hi!”

“Hi.”

“I just wanted to say hello. Hi!”

She added a wave. I chuckled.

“Thank you. Hi!”

“Thank you! You’re welcome!”

She scooted off, skipping a bit, and I started to go back to my task of paper-finding, smiling to myself about the curious nature of kids, and the impact of kindness.

Peace (in the moment),
Kevin

PS — a version of this was also shared as a small story in another space.

Avatars (and Identities) on the Classroom Windows

Sticky Note Avatars 2018

We’ve moved into a curriculum unit called Digital Life, in which we examine technology and digital media, and privacy and data, with sixth graders, and we begin this work by talking about avatars and identity.

Our discussion leads us to two main points about avatars: they are designed to be a privacy buffer between the user  and the digital space they are in(using art instead of image), and avatars offer a chance for a user to project an identity, or a sliver of identity, into the world. We get to craft how the world sees us, if only in a visual way.

We work on an activity in which my students quickly design a paper/sticky note avatar for the classroom window before exploring some online avatar creation sites.

There are plenty of sports and game themed avatars (two of the most popular things my students do) in the mix but also, you can see more than a few avatars that have hidden stories that make you wonder as you look. I don’t have my students defend or explain their avatar, only make and share. We then put the sticky note avatars up on display as a visual reminder that we all inhabit both digital and classroom spaces together, and that we all have different interests and different identities.

Plus, it looks like cool art, doesn’t it?

Peace (on the pane),
Kevin

My Students and Their Technology Use


Digital Tree of Life flickr photo by ehren deleon shared under a Creative Commons (BY-NC) license

Each year, as I begin a unit called Digital Life, I ask my sixth graders to take a survey, and the results help frame discussions about the role of technology and media in their lives.

Personally, I look for trends across the years of doing versions of this survey (Facebook, almost non-existent now; Snapchat, increased use; less negative experiences; more adults talking about technology; etc.)

Here are this year’s results:


Or here

Peace (wondering),
Kevin

Class Podcasts/Student Voices: This is “Why We Write”

Today is officially the tenth annual National Day on Writing.

Get writing!

Yesterday, I had my students work on a small piece of writing, in which they explored the question of “why I write” and then we did a class podcast of their voices. I am always so pleasantly surprised (should I be?) about the depth of their thinking about why they write, and am always so hopeful afterwards that our work around writing has some resonance with them.

Here are the podcasts from all four of my sixth grade classes:

 

Peace (in the voice),
Kevin

Celebrating the National Day on Writing

Tomorrow is the National Day on Writing, now in its tenth year (I believe), through the support of the National Council of Teachers of English and other organizations, like the National Writing Project. But tomorrow is a Saturday.

Today is when I will do some activities with my sixth graders. I had hoped to try to do a Zine project, but I dropped the ball on my planning and worries about time necessary to do a quality job. So, I am pushing the Zine idea out further into the year. (I connected with our city library, which runs a Zine project for teens, and they have some examples and resources I can borrow.)

So, I am going to do a version of what I have done other years, which is to have my sixth graders write about why they write (the theme of NDOW is Why I Write), and then share their ideas in the classroom. From there, students will volunteer to do an audio podcast (when I mentioned this the other day, they were excited about it), and then we’re going to use Make Beliefs Comix site, turning the writing piece into a comic.

Here’s mine:

Why I Write 2018 Comic

I hope to have a Wall of Comics about Writing in my classroom by the end of the day and to have student voices released into the #whyiwrite world, too.

These are voices from last year:

And a few years ago, I asked my colleagues at the Western Massachusetts Writing Project, why do you write? This is what we said.

What about you? What will you do? Why do you write?

Peace (writing it down),
Kevin