I was lucky to be invited to join a gathering of National Park Service sites from the northeast for a week-long retreat to learn more and to think more about how to connect park spaces with schools and students as authentic learning experiences. I came away from nearly a week of sharing, presentations and discussions with a head full of ideas that my partners at the Springfield Armory Historic Site and I will be mulling over in the weeks ahead.
I used a new tool at Visual Thinkery called Storyline to get some basic “aha” take-away moments down before I forgot … particularly with school about to start … but also, with the free Write Out project coming soon in October, where park and public spaces are seen as resources for learning for schools and educational organizations. I layered some basic-takeaways with photos I took while at the Delaware River Gap Recreation Area, where the PEC retreat took place.
The last few years, I’ve noticed a clear trend with my sons when we go to watch movies, on the big screen in the theater or even on video. There’s a heightened interest in the post-credit video teasers. I’ve sat through more endless credit texts than ever (which, I suppose, is a good thing, to acknowledge how many people are working on so many aspects of a movie) just to see 30 seconds or so of video.
The other night, my son and I watched the Wolverine movie, Logan, and he was determined to see if there was a post-scene video on the disc, and then searched online afterwards, even though the movie is a few years old now and any post-credit scene would have already unfolded and long been outdated (perhaps this is what intrigued him most .. making the connections between what is teased and what really unfolds).
First of all, from a movie production standpoint, this trend has to be viewed as a success. The movie companies get us to sit through the credits, and they get to promo some upcoming movie. Of course, they have to it with style and inference, and that “What?” quality to pique the interest.
From a viewer/fan standpoint, the viewing of the post-credit videos gives some cultural cache (I stayed to watch, did you?) and has some of the Easter Egg qualities that are dug deep into the modern digital media world (I found it, did you?).
It used to be that my boys (who have made their own films) and students all wanted to make bloopers whenever we made videos — in fact, they wanted to elevate the blooper to the forefront, right from the start, scripting blooper moments instead of capturing mistakes as they happened. Now, these post-credit scenes seems to have mostly replaced the blooper reel.
I guess what I find intriguing about all of this is the elevation of these scenes to equal status of the movie itself. Perhaps it speaks more to our attention spans (the videos are short, although you do need to sit for some time to get to them) than anything else, and feeds nicely into the YouTube viewing habits.
First, what is a meme? “Memes are pieces of content that travel from person to person and change along the way …” according to Amanda Brennan, a meme librarian, and Mina’s own definition runs parallel to Brennan’s idea. Mina makes the case, too, that memes are not just digital pieces but can have a life outside of technology.
Mina, in her book, also repeats an important assertion time and again that memes, by themselves, are not forcing cultural and social change, but that the combination of image, message, remix and virality are echoing and enhancing changes already afoot, through amplification of messaging.
Mina examines Black Lives Matter (and its oppositional movements, such as Blue Lives Matter) and the pink pussy hats (as physical memes) of the Women’s March in the United States, the Arab Spring, the Umbrella Movement in Hong Kong (now suddenly back in the news), the subversive use of memes in China, and the ways the Chinese government is countering such attempts, and more, all with a close look at how memes (digital and physical) are created, spread, have impact, and — for some — have long-lasting effects.
She also explores the popular conceptions of cats as the source for memes on social networking spaces, balancing a historical approach to how memes — remixable, shareable, riffable media — tap into something rich in people’s sense of storytelling. The intersections between art, culture and politics, along with an easy way to share, have made memes a powerful messaging platform, even if memes can also be untrustworthy (see Know Your Meme for where memes originally spring from)
Some of the more fascinating sections in this book involve China (where Mina has worked and done advocacy), in which activists often use memes to get around censorship through imagery and symbolism (the llama, or grass mud horse, has political meaning, for example) and support for those imprisoned by the government.
Just as you start to think, memes might be another tool for political change, Mina shifts her focus, showing governments — autocratic and otherwise — have started to reverse course on trying to block memes and now floods the networks with its own social media, in an effort to overwhelm users and create doubt about truth and veracity in the minds of users.
The writing here in this book is lively, and researched, and global on scale. If you have interest in social media and literacy, and the way viral messaging seems to be overwhelming the way people share news, jokes and information, then this book is well worth your time.
This coming October, in conjunction with the National Day on Writing, the National Writing Project and the National Park Service are once again joining collaborative forces to offer Write Out — a free, open, online, connected learning experience to explore public spaces (not just national parks and not just rural wild spaces) for teachers and students.
As the updated Write Out website explains, the central theme of this year is all about stories and spaces:
Making Stories of People, Place, and Perspectives
Beginning October 13, 2019 Write Out will be a free two-week series of activities where educators, National Park Service Rangers, and youth they work with, are invited to:
explore national parks and other public spaces, including rural and urban settings, whether on-site or online
create using a variety of media, including text, image, video and others
connect to learn about using place-based learning as a critical cultural and environmental lens
Bookending the October 20th National Day on Writing, Write Out consists of activity cycles that include prompts that invite participants to write across a variety of media and curricular areas, facilitated online meet-ups, curated resources, and Twitter chats. Participants take part in as many or as few activities as fit their schedule. Additionally, through collaborative online possibilities, participants will be invited to share their creations, write, learn, and connect with the larger community.
You can sign up for information about this free event at the Write Out site and look for more details and activities on Twitter with the #writeout hashtag.
In case you are wondering, I am part of an amazing team of Write Out facilitators — from writing project and classroom teachers to National Park Service rangers — working to develop all sorts of activities and sharing possibilities for students and teachers, all in hopes of surfacing place-based learning and uncovering the stories of those spaces.
I hope you will join us with Write Out this October!
An experiment of sorts is underway. It’s a new online space for adult writers and teachers and artists and others to come together, in a safe and closed environment, to share work and connect, and support, each other in their endeavors.
Yap.Net is the brainchild of Geoff G., whose work with young writers through the Young Writers Project, based in Vermont but with a global reach, has opened up many possibilities for emerging authors. Now, with Yap.Net (tagline: A community of creative people who share unfinished work and ideas for feedback), Geoff hopes to extend the same invitation to adults.
Yap.Net is free, and closed, and designed for members to share drafts of works in progress, but also to serve as a publishing and sharing space. You can register here, but know that Geoff approves all members, as another barrier to the online riff-raff that sometimes filters into spaces.
Even if you have your own blogging space, as I do, the addition of Yap.Net opens up other possibilities. In just a few months time, there are already hundreds of posts and hundreds of supportive comments for the first wave of participants. There are themed challenges as options and a variety of different media on display. Geoff envisions an active and supportive network, and you are invited in, too.
Mostly, I’ve been creating image-themed collages — of the front and back yard of my home, of the sky, of my saxophone, of the beach, etc. — with an eye to paying closer attention to the world I am walking through. I also had this notion in the back of my mind that I wanted to do something with all of the collages, but what?
I decided to go meta — to make a collage, each with multiple images, of the nine collages that I had created (above) and then to go one step further and make art from the collage collection by filtering nine copies of the master collage, and then pulling those into yet another collage. Layer upon layer upon layer.
The result? An interesting weaving of themes and images, which get lost in the final art remix but I found that I was OK with that — something new surfaces there, I think, a fuzzy, beautiful world of worlds, all connected to the original impulse to lean in a little closer and see things with more detail. The art collage project reverses the telescope of the Feldgang moments, giving me yet another lens to think about.
For July, I’m going to be taking a pause/break/rest from much of my digital writing and some of the connecting with others (but not a clean break — I’ll still be doing some CLMOOC stuff). I try to do this every year, step back as a way to recharge. I’ll be reading books, writing music, hanging with family, doing other activities. I won’t be completely quiet in all the spaces. Just mostly quiet.
But first, before I go, a Back Yard Feldgang for CLMOOC, to complement yesterday’s Front Yard Feldgang.
Yes, my blog title was designed to be provocative. Thanks for following it here.
I am a few years into a partnership between the Western Massachusetts Writing Project/National Writing Project and the Springfield Armory National Historic Site/National Park Service, and this topic of guns is often on my mind. The Armory, after all, as one of two main arsenals of our United States government for decades (the other was in Harper’s Ferry), is all about guns and weapons of war, and we use the Armory Museum itself as our classroom for summer camps (one just ended) and professional development courses for teachers (another one is planned for the fall.)
Reconciling the use of a building housing devices of violence with the rich history and the amazing primary sources it provides as windows on the past is one I still grapple with, although I continue to find the partnership to be fruitful and collaborative and informative at all levels. Still … guns. They’re everywhere in our learning spaces.
Here’s what we have done to try to balance or mitigate these two often conflicting ideas when we have worked with middle and high school students at our summer camp we run at the Armory itself (and also, some of these are how we work with teachers to use local history in their classrooms):
We focus on the engineering design and innovation of manufacturing. We don’t ignore that what was being built here at the Springfield Armory was designed for war. But we pivot to the ways that innovations at the Armory transformed our Pioneer Valley, and the entire country, as the Armory’s work influenced other elements of the United States government operations.
We focus on the workers — from explorations of how immigration patterns during WW2 helped the Armory expand its workforce to meet the demands of war; to the role that women played when men went off to war, and the generational impact that had in the years following the wars; to the racial divisions that often played out at the Armory as a microcosm of the United States itself.
We use the stories behind the weapons — either from the manufacturing side or from some of the guns on display that have been personalized by the user, with engravings of tales and years and battles, and humanize the soldier on the battlefield, not glorify the guns they held. The object as holder of stories is a powerful instrument of learning.
A deep look at Shays Rebellion — when farmers and former soldiers of the Revolutionary War rose up in protest over taxes and marched to the Springfield Armory with a plan to take the guns — allows us to make connections to the present ideas of community protest, and the fuzzy line between right and wrong, and acceptable and unacceptable use of force, and the role of the federal and state government in the lives of its citizens.
We use creative writing to push the idea of guns in the museum in other directions. For example, one prompt was to design a “gun for good” by creating a patent design, with labels and explanations, for a gun-delivery-system for something positive. Campers designed guns that sent forth ice cream, money, technology, music and, my favorite, new homes for the homeless of Springfield. Another prompt had them designing their own museums, using the Armory as a mentor text. And yet another was to design a board game about the Armory, with history as the springboard for play.
Four years into my partnership with the Armory (which began two years before I even came into the mix with other WMWP colleagues), and I still feel a bit unsettled by the weapons part of the museum. It’s an entire wing of weapons, including grenade launchers and machine guns and other advanced killing technology. Cases and cases of them, all tied to history, of course.
Even as a former soldier (infantry sergeant, National Guard) who was once trained on many of the modern weapons in the cases, I always encounter my own internal resistance to bringing young people in there. I am strongly in favor of gun control legislation and abhor the political work of the NRA to influence politicians to thwart any kind of reasonable measures to protect lives from guns.
Hopefully, by finding other ways to connect to the history of the Armory, we bring the importance of the building and the site to the surface for city kids who might not otherwise be aware. For some, the guns are what brings them to camp. This is the reality. Our job is to the show the toll of guns, and the role they played in America’s wars, but also to use them to tell the stories of the people behind them.
We just finished up our week-long summer camp for inner city students (middle and high school) at the Springfield Armory Historic Site. It was a blast, and we wove in writing with inquiry and history and a sense of place.
explored the art of mapping as a representation of time of a place — using historical maps of the Springfield Armory site itself on a walking tour
learned about how to closely “read” historical images that are part of the Armory’s curated archives
wrote into the day every single day on a variety of prompts, ranging from designing a board game based on the Springfield Armory to seasonal poetry
inquired about Shay’s Rebellion with primary source materials at the Armory, the site of the uprising and the firing on Shay’s men by the militia protecting the Armory
heard of Pearl Harbor and the way WW2 changed the Armory and Springfield forever, and then examined how different voices (Americans, Japanese, and Japanese-Americans) told different stories of the event
worked to understand design and engineering with a Lock Plate Activity that replicated the experience on the Armory manufacturing lines
explored immigration from many different angles, including the heritage of campers and the roots of many immigrant workers at the site
Yesterday, we had more than 40 family members join our campers at the Armory, for a celebration of writing and to explore the Armory Museum with campers. It was another great year of camp, as the video diary attests to.
And because Ranger Scott Gausen could not be there for the last day, we had campers do some writing for him, and sketch out his picture. His beard is a main facial feature, as you can tell.