My students are hacking the card game, UNO, as a way for me to talk about game design and game mechanics and creative thinking, as well as to weave in expository writing, speaking and listening skills, and scientific engineering principles (shhh .. don’t tell them that part … they just think they are playing games).
Yesterday, on our second 20 minute design challenge, they had to revisit the rules of their hacked games they worked on earlier this week and as a group, they were tasked with collectively writing out an instruction “manual” in clear, concise language so that, next week, another group of students can play their games.
Lots of discussions and revising and clarifying and making visible what was inferred took place, as they tried to play the game through a visitor’s eyes. I’m not sure all of the instructions are as clear as they could be, but we will have “home station hosts” at each game area to help others understand how to play the games.
We would love to keep the conversations going with Digital Writing Month, even though the so-called “month” is over. So, we are inviting friends (and you are a friend, so you can join in, too, even if you did not take part in DigiWriMo) to read this new book by Henry Jenkins, Mimi Ito and danah boyd: Participatory Culture in a Networked Eraas a way to stay connected and explore a fascinating topic with some talented researchers/writers.
We’ll be starting some discussions over our existing DigiWriMo Google Plus space, but I suspect things will spill over into other platforms as we move along. In fact, I would hope so. I am only part of the way into the first chapter, and already, the three have made it clear that we should never talk about platforms being “participatory” — it is the culture of the community that can be considered participatory.
So we hope that members of the group will become leaders of the book talk as we move ahead. As such, we will likely platform jump through the book ….
Please, join us. We’d love to have you in the mix.
Their task: Redesign the game of UNO into something new (or, hack the game of UNO, as I pitched it) by collectively agreeing in small groups to new rules of the new game and then writing out a draft set of expository instructions. Oh, and prototype the game, if time.
The timer is ticking! Have fun!
They did, and as I watched each small group of students work collaboratively together yesterday, I noticed:
Speaking and listening skills on full display
Shared/common language on game design mechanics (Variables, Prototype, Play-testing, etc.)
Negotiation of ideas through rules of discussion
Agreement and dissent, ending in resolution
Expository writing practice
Later, they will formalize the rules of their hacked UNO game and use an instruction manual from Monopoly as a “mentor text” to put it into a common format. Then they will “teach” their game to other students in other groups.
This activity is all part of the introduction to our unit on Game Design, which we have just started in our ELA class, and which will move into designing a science-based video game project. We have a long way to go, but this is always a good start ….
I’ve been writing about our Interactive Fiction Project for Digital Writing Month, and most of my students are now done or nearly finished. Here are a few of their stories that you can “play/read” to get a sense of what we have been up in the past 10 days or so. We were working on these stories in conjunction to lessons around Early Civilizations in the Social Studies class.
This was one of the coolest and oddest collaborations that went on during Digital Writing Month: the Storyjumpers Project. It is an “exquisite corpse” story in which a story unfolded piece by piece across 26 blogs over 30 days.
The infographic above is my attempt to make some sense of what happened beyond the story itself. Plus, we had done some exploration around using infographics in Digital Writing Month, so it seemed appropriate to try to use one to explain the Storyjumper Project.
Down below here is the map that represents the story:
And then there was also the Thinglink version that Wendy put into place to track the story:
I’d be interested in pulling the entire story together into one single document to share. That’s for another day. Right now, all of the text runs about 50 pages in a Google Document.
And to think … it all started with a single Tweet ….
I recently read a great book by New Yorker magazine writer John Seabrook called The Song Machine: Inside the Hit Factory. It’s a fascinating, if scary, look at how the songs we hear on pop radio are constructed together these days, in an era where producers and engineers are more influential than many of the artists themselves.
The concept brought to light in The Song Machine harkens back to the era of the Brill Building, in which songs would be written and handed out to artists, and sales would primarily benefit the music publishers, not the writers nor the artists. Today, thanks to technology, assembly lines of engineers produce what our ears hear: one person might work only on riffs for verses; another on the chord progressions for choruses; another singing nonsensical sounds for melody; another only doing guitar lead parts.
And few of them know where their “parts” will end up because the engineers and producers “stitch” pieces together from vast computer files … creating songs from parts that were composed and recorded out of context. It’s a quilt of disconnected threads, made ear-pleasing by the mixing and splicing.
I was reminded of the book again this week as I was collaborating a remix of a song in the collaborative Soundtrap site. The backstory is this: a student (and classmates) of an online teaching friend has shared out some songs that they wrote as part of finding an audience and pursuing their interests (in true Connected Learning fashion). They found us, in Digital Writing Month. An earlier song led to various remixes. A second song, the one we worked on last week, was a reflective piece that they recorded and shared on YouTube and as I listened, I hoped we could collaboratively remix, record and then share back to the young songwriters as a “gift.”
And we did. A handful of us took the words and chord progressions (which the student shared) and used Soundtrap to record a version of the song, and then another friend took the audio track and created a visual companion piece. I had told the young writer via Twitter that we would be working on the song, but I never invited them into the process.
This lack of direct invitation, I see now, might have been an inadvertent mistake, perhaps, as another online friend who was part of the music collaboration pointed out in a fantastic post about the uneasiness they were feeling about reworking a piece of art without the original artists involved in the collaboration. This friend wondered if we had not taken away something special from the art itself by remixing it.
… it feels like we asked him for a beautiful new thing to play with, then closed the door that we’d opened. He couldn’t even watch from the window as we had fun creating some magic with his song. We closed the door and let him wait while we had a party.
I don’t quite agree, but the post, as good writing does, forced me to step back and think reflectively about why I didn’t agree with this premise. I could be wrong about this, but here’s why I think our collaborative idea has merit in this digital age of composing and sharing.
Unlike the system of making music in Seabrook’s The Song Factory, we musical collaborators always had a notion of what the song was and what we were doing with it. We were honoring the young songwriters. We weren’t splicing in unknown parts. We were not a factor. Their ideas became the inspiration for what we did. We were creative echoes of their art. We also were in global collaboration mode, layering in tracks together from the United States to the Netherlands and beyond, in an online space, working on the song connected by our networks.
We took their Connected Learning inquiry and we used it for our own Connected Learning experience. That’s a powerful notion, for teachers to be inspired by students.
We were working from the heart, and I always knew the song was theirs, not mine. Not ours. Theirs. It was, and is, and always will be, their song. I still see what we did as a gift of an appreciative audience, but I recognize my friend’s trepidation of determining where the line is between the writer and their audience. I have long argued that in the emerging field of digital writing, the line between writer and audience is thin and getting thinner, and that this shift is a good thing. I know not everyone agrees.
Do you know the story of musician Ryan Adams and his tribute to Taylor Swift? Adams, a songwriter of immense talent, was so struck by the latest album, 1989, by Swift (herself, a songwriter of immense talent) that he recorded and released an entire cover album, song by song, that just blew me away (and led to high critical appraise.)
“It wasn’t like I wanted to change them because they needed changing,” he says. “But I knew that if I sang them from my perspective and in my voice, they would transform. I thought, ‘Let me record 1989 like it was Bruce Springsteen’s Nebraska.'”
Same here. It wasn’t that the song needs changing. It is great as it is, with the three of them singing and a single guitar. The song stands by itself. It was us, the audience, that changed, by reinterpreting the song in a gesture of appreciation. I understood the song deeper once I started to play it. Recording it brought me even further into the theme and the words of the song. It was not theft or misuse of ideas, in my opinion. It was learning.
The song is theirs. It always will be theirs. It was never ours. I am happy for that.
Peace (in the think),
PS — Irony Alert: Swift recorded parts of her album with the same folks who are featured by Seabrook in The Song Factory.
PSS — I invited the young songwriter into the Soundtrap file this morning, with this note:
PSS — I also asked if they wanted to reverse-engineer a song of mine, to interpret it as they see fit. I followed their example, doing a simple demo on YouTube.
I’ve been writing about my Interactive Fiction project with my sixth graders these past few days (and I will try to share a few projects tomorrow) as we use Google Slides, but I also wanted to share out a quick tutorial on using the online version of Twine for making Interactive Stories. This is all part of Digital Writing Month, too.
Twine is a freeware program but there is now a beta version that works right in your browser. It allows you to create “choices” and branches, and it is quite interesting to use. The main downside of this kind of story creation is the hosting of the final file, as Twine itself is not a story hosting service. Also, know that this web-based version of Twine is still in development.
This part of my transmedia story from last week is an example of what Twine looks like. This piece by my friend, Anna, is what the older version of Twine looks like.
Yesterday, I shared out some screenshots on how you might use Google Slides for Interactive Fiction in the classroom, as I am currently doing with my sixth graders. Along with some of the “non-traditional writing” we are engaged with, I am also having them write more straight-forward pieces, too.
Last week, I asked them to compose an expository paragraph that walks someone through the process of creating Interactive Fiction with Google Slides. We did this offline because I still want them writing on paper, and given all of our discussions in Digital Writing Month about the continued emotional power of handwritten pieces in a digital age, I though I would share their pieces directly here.
This reflective practice — of pulling back from a project and taking stock of how you are doing it — is very valuable on many levels, including for me as the teacher to know if they truly understand the processes of digital writing.
I love the ending to this one: “When you are finished, send it to me!”
I’ve been trying to create resources for the various digital writing pieces I am doing, in order to help me explain better to my students how to use technology and also, to encourage you to give it a try.