Book Review: Airborn

This book — Airborn by Kenneth Oppel —  has been kicking around my house and classroom for years now. Long ago, I had started it as a read-aloud for my oldest son (now a high school senior but then, in elementary school) and the vocabulary was too dense for him at the time, so we put it aside. My middle son later found it when he was in middle school, read it, and then devoured the next two books in the series.

He then proceeded to pressure my youngest son (now in fifth grade) to read Airborn this past summer. There was resistance (maybe due to brotherly recommendation), and I put Airborn on my “maybe to read aloud” pile of books. Well, let’s just say that my youngest son and I finally read this story with a steampunky theme  — airships replace airplanes as main modes of travel — and we were very quickly knee-deep in the adventures of protagonist Matt Cruse in a tale that involves air pirates, the beauty of airships, friendship across economic lines and a mysterious flying creature that lives in the clouds.

Oppel does a fantastic job with character, which means the story gets off on a sort of slow pace as he sets the stage for Matt Cruse and his friend, Kate, before kicking the plot into high gear with a pirate attack and an emergency landing on what seems to be a deserted island. Ingenuity, friendship, sacrifice … all the themes are here.

Peace (in the adventure),
Kevin

PS — Since the time I wrote this review, and let it sit in my blog bin (I seem to have a fair number of book reviews hanging around in there), we have read the two other books in the series — Skybreaker and Starclimber.  They were good, too, but not as good as Airborn, I don’t think.

Digital Access and Equity: What if THEY is all of US?

What if they is us?

I am in the midst of reading Participatory Culture in a Networked Era with the Digital Writing Month community and thoroughly enjoying the format (discussions among Ito, boyd and Jenkins) and the topics, which connect nicely to my own diving into Connected Learning.

Chapter Three of the book centers on access and equity issues (under the academic guise of “genres” — at least, in my mind) and as I was reading, this comic began to form in my mind. It’s a bit metaphorically simple: the locked door and no access to the inside from those on the outside.

But it was tagline that seemed most important to me: What if they is all of us?

What if we (us teachers, us adults, us) are the ones closing that door on different elements of our population? What if we are doing it inadvertently? What if we don’t even know the door has been closed? Who’s waiting out there, wondering?

And then, of course, the ancillary question: how do we break that door open wide so no one feels left out? Pass me that sledgehammer won’t you?

access issue

Peace (in the think),
Kevin

Book Review: Magnus Chase and the Sword of Summer

It’s hard to escape the voice of Percy Jackson in the new series launched by Rick Riordan that moves away from Greek and Roman mythology and into Norse myths. Magnus Chase and the Gods of Asgard: the Sword of Summer is the kick-off point for some new adventures, and my sixth graders are all over this book right now. I read it aloud with my 11 year old son, and he loved it, too.

I liked it.

But Riordan’s style of writing and sense of voice with his main character, Magnus Chase, is so similar to Percy Jackson — with sarcasm and teenage humor and tenacity tinted with doubt — that I wondered aloud to my son if maybe Riordan isn’t pulling some sort of narrative trick on us — transforming Percy into Magnus in a new mythology. Heck, even Annabeth Chase — my absolute favorite character from Riordan’s growing archive — makes a visit, as she is Magnus’ cousin.

My son scoffed at me, as if I were crazy. But … we’ve been wondering about this ever since reading The Red Pyramid stories, too. How can Riordan NOT be pulling these stories together sometime in the future?

So, here’s what to like about Magnus Chase and the Gods of Asgard: the Sword of Summer: the pace of the plot moves quickly; there is plenty of humor and references to past Riordan stories; we learn a whole bunch about a relatively unknown and untaught mythology (who knew a giant nutso squirrel protects the tree of the worlds?); and this one kicks the series into high gear in an engaging way.

You know what I had the most difficulty with? Reading aloud all of those Norse names for the Nine Worlds. My tongue got tied more than once.

Peace (in the book),
Kevin

 

Entry Points in the Interaction Universe

participatory culture mapping

There has not been a whole ton of interacting itself for our slow-read book talk on Participatory Culture in a Networked EraFolks are still getting the book, or recovering from the holidays, or just plain ol’ busy in their lives. But that hasn’t stopped Terry Elliott and myself (mostly Terry) from trying to encourage open participation along many different sites and technology platforms.

Mostly, this is because no single experience captures the kinds of participatory activity we envision for a book talk. But also, this is because exploration and dispersion of ideas is part of the experience itself. We don’t want ideas confined to one space.

The chart above is my attempt to keep track of it all, and I am sure I have missed bits of it. I know, and I hope, there are discussions unfolding outside our field of vision. There be dragons …

But there is the danger of too much dispersion of interaction, too, and the worry is that all will be lost in the haze of connections. Or, that someone entering now will think, I’ve missed it all and don’t know where to begin. We can say “there is no fixed beginning point” all we want, but we need to show that and keep the invitations open. Terry is working on a place where links to all of these discussions can be had for anyone just entering the discussions or interested in what’s going on.

What I realized as I was putting the chart together is that it is not easy to keep something like a slow-read book talk moving forward over weeks and months time. Momentum gets lost rather quickly. Maybe our aim to build a participatory culture experience around a book about participatory culture ideas won’t quite work. If all of the energy falls to the organizers, is it truly participatory? Don’t know. Prob not. What you get then is a small book group or conversation, not a participatory experience.

It’s worth trying, though. It’s always worth trying.

Me? I aim to keep reading and reflecting on it all, as best as I can. I am finding the book useful and the authors interesting, and I look forward to what others are noting and observing.

You’re invited, too. Of course, you are invited.

We’re on Twitter with the #digiwrimo hashtag. And in the Digital Writing Month Google Plus community. Folks are annotating with the Kindle app in Amazon. Goodreads is another place for notes and reactions (here are my notes). Blogs are another means of book talk writing. Heck, send notes as smoke signals. We’ll find a way to see them and connect.

Peace (in the chart),
Kevin

The Year of Good Things: Slate

Over at another writing space, I shared out this project by Slate to document a Year of Good Things. It’s a nice way to balance out the front pages of the newspaper (if you still read newspapers) or television news (if you still watch television) or even sharing in your social media stream (You use that, right?).

My writing prompt for folks is to find your birthday or some important date from 2015, and read the Good News from that day, and then write a short poem or reflective piece about it. Keep the good news rolling.

On my birthday, a rookie batter for the Twins stepped up to the plate and cranked a homeroom on his very first pitch in the Big Leagues. His family, in the stands, went wild.

The crowd’s noise faded:

His eyes locked on the baseball:

First pitch; First homerun!

Peace (it’s always good),
Kevin

Book Talk: Youth Culture, Youth Practices


Participatory Culture slowread – Created with Haiku Deck, presentation software that inspires

The second chapter of Participatory Culture in a Networked Era is a fascinating discussion and inquiry in ways in which youths use technology and digital media on their own terms, and I appreciate that Ito, boyd and Jenkins tear into the notion of a Digital Immigrant/Digital Native divide. I hope we can all agree by now that such a dichotomy is too simplistic to be of any value.

I went back to my highlighted notes and pulled out some quotes that I like from the three researchers in their discussions, and put them into Haiku Deck for a visual tour of the chapter.

Peace (in the think),
Kevin

 

We Flicker, On and Off

Over at our iAnthology writing space, the writing prompt by my friend Janet this week is all about light and holidays. I wrote a poem that captures, in metaphor, how we find someone on which we can lean and find balance in the crazy days of our lives.


May you have that someone, too.

And then, another friend, Jan, wrote a lovely poem, which I was inspired to “remix” into something new. Consider it a found poem inside of a poem … on the theme of hope.

Expect Hope

Peace (in the poem),
Kevin

Hidden Wires (On Remembering in a Digital Age)

These Hidden Wires

I had the strange experience recently of deeply misunderstanding a situation because the interaction was online, where I misread nuances of words, and was not face-to-face, where I would have been more in tune with things. I don’t want to get into the situation itself, since it has passed and I am fine with it. In the end, I am glad that I was misunderstanding the whole thing, though.

But in my misunderstanding, I started to wonder about the act of remembering in the digital age, and how often, our worlds and daily writing become so ephemeral. Words here. Images there. Videos here. Sounds there. I’ve written along these strands before, I think, but I keep circling back around on it.

It must be important.

How do we remember where we were (and how do our loved ones find us) when what we write and share are scattered in so many online places? Maybe this is why so many people like Facebook — it’s the one-stop social space where. We trade privacy and information ownership for the known anchor point of social media.

I guess I must have been sort of on a morbid path the other day, but I realized: my wife would not likely be able to find much of what I am writing and sharing, if I were suddenly gone. Do I make a list of sites and passwords for her? Honey, here is where all of my songs are … here are my poems … these are my games …. here are my book reviews …. my videos are here and here and here …

Or my sons. They know only a bit of what I do when I am pounding away on the keyboards here. My world as teacher and artists and writer in this space intersects with my world as father at home, of course, but only at times.

Sometimes, I have this vision of my sons, years from now, deep into the future, uncovering the things I have made and created over the years, and realizing: that’s what he was doing: writing songs, writing poems, writing posts, making connections. I remember once finding a vinyl record that my father (a drummer) cut with a band, and it was a sort of powerful magic of listening to him as a musician.

What if that never happens to me and my sons? What if they never find it? What if what we create, just disappears?

We are scattered, and in danger of being lost, forever.

I don’t curate myself nearly enough. Do you?

This thinking, sparked by the misunderstanding, led me to this melody that I found myself writing when thinking of this act of “remembering” the past week. I am not much of a guitar player, as a solo guitarist, and this is where my muse took me. The haiku is part of a daily poetry that I am doing on Twitter.

Will I ever find this poem and this song again? I need to remember …

Peace (together),
Kevin

Deconstructing Video Game Advertisements (and Making Their Own)

Game Advertising1

I have the good fortune of having a very talented paraprofessional in my classroom for one period each day. She is compassionate and firm and helpful. She also had a career in design and advertising before coming into education, so when I was thinking of a lesson plan around Video Game Advertising and the use of persuasive media and writing, I asked if she would lead part of the lesson.

She said yes, and yesterday, our students were engaged in deconstructing advertisements in order to create their own advertisements for their science-based video game projects (with central themes of Buoyancy and Gravity).

She brought her own experiences in designing brochures for the company she used to work for, explaining techniques for blocking out advertisements in draft form, how to consider audience for a product, using “loaded words” to sway the customer, the importance of catch-phrases/slogans, how fonts can be most effectively used, and ways to avoid “floating texts.”

I learned a lot just from listening to her, honing in on the power of art and words together to create persuasive text/media.

Game Advertisement Deconstruction

I created a slideshow of video game advertisements for the lesson, and after deconstructing the first one, we had students talking through what they saw in the other ones, noticing what seemed most effective.

Game Advertising2

 

Then, they got to work. And work, they did. It was an incredible contrast to what I described in my post yesterday — when we had some chaos in the room during a peer review activity of video games. They were intensely engaged in this advertisement activity. Most will be finishing up today, our last day before holiday break.

I can’t wait to see what they have created ..

Peace (free of charge, always),
Kevin