At Middleweb: What They Wrote About

I wrote about this project, including the overarching plan and the collaboration between myself and my social studies colleage, in more detail over at Middleweb.

My sixth graders finished our version of their Letters to the Next President right on Election Day. The next day, we knew who had won. Yes, we will add President Trump to the salutation and ship the letters out nearer to Inauguration Day. I hope the transition team isn’t in such disarray that the letters get lost.

:0

As I was going through and assessing the final version of the letters, I kept track of the topics they chose to research and write about. This was a combination research/civics/writing assignment, mirroring some of the amazing work done by older students at the Letters to the Next President site (nearly 12,000 letters from middle and high school students).

It is no surprise that the environment was a popular choice. Young writers often are worried about what is happening with Climate Change (yes, Mr. President, it is real and not a hoax) and the plight of animals in the changing world. I suppose “pollution” could have fallen under the “environment” umbrella, too, but there was enough distinction to warrant its own category for my purposes.

Again, you can read more about what we were up to at Middleweb.

Peace (in what they write),
Kevin

Fake News about Fake News

Fake News about Fake News

(created via Mozilla’s XRay Goggles Remix tool)

I’m not on Facebook, so I don’t know the extent of the “fake news” filtering into feeds there during the US presidential election. But I have seen more than a few articles in which Mark Zuckerberg is defending the algorithms that might have allowed some made-up news to come into the system, and worries that such items might have influenced voting.

I could not resist taking one of Zuckerberg’s denials and popping it into Mozilla’s XRay Goggles for a bit of a remix myself. Yep. Fake news about fake news. In mine, he owns up to Facebook’s role and admits that Facebook itself is behind the fake news (it’s not true, as far as I can tell … just to be upfront).

Still, even if some of what he defending is true — that the automated system still allows items with no veracity and tilted political bents into millions of people’s feeds — the issue of fake news in feeds has larger ramifications about how a social networking site can play a role in elections, and … perhaps even more importantly … it raises the question: why aren’t more people getting news from multiple and reputable sources?

Good lord.

Who relies on Facebook for all of their news? I know. I know. Many people do. It reminds me of the need for us, as teachers, to double down on teaching media literacy, and rhetorical moves, and determining the surface truth and the deeper slants of everything we read, whether it is the Wall Street Journal, the New York Times, Facebook or your local newspaper (do you still get your local newspaper? Is there still a local newspaper to get? My old journalism hackles get raised here. I hope you still have a local newspaper).

Check out this report from Pew Research, which indicates that almost two-thirds of Americans get our news from social media. What? And that report is from the summer. Who wants to bet that the number went up during the election?

About 6-in-10 Americans get news from social media

Peace (but check the source),
Kevin

The Final Stretch of Writing Letters with Argument and Research

Letters to President Collage

Check out Letters to the Next President — there are more than 6,500 letters of all media types from students 13 and older and more seem to arrive every day. Since my students are under 13, I have been working on a similar project but not for that site (which does not allow letters for writers under the age of 13). Letters to the Next President is part of a National Writing Project/Educator Innovator project.

Letters to President Research Journals Collage

I’ve been able to guide my students into the research component of Google Docs, using tables to track information and sources. This rather small-scale research component sets the stage for longer research pieces later in the year. We’ve color-coded a few letters from high school students as a way to notice facts and opinion as a way to visualize how they can use facts from research to bolster their opinion on the topic they have chosen to write about. And they have been writing their own letters on a topic of choice, laying out an argument for action by the next president.

Last week, I put them into “virtual writing groups” with students in all four of my classes — they “invited” other students in other classes to comment on their Google Doc letters —  and today, they will be peer reading and reviewing other letters, with the Warm/Cool Feedback approach. Tomorrow, just in time for election day, they will read peer comments, revise their letters and then be just about done with the project. Well, except for the printing and mailing to the White House, which we will be doing.

I admit that I missed a few opportunities: I had an offer from a CLMOOC friend who teaches upper middle school to have his students peer review my students. I dropped the ball (maybe it’s not too late). I keep contemplating using Youth Voices as a publishing platform. I still might offer that option up, but it requires parent sign-off, and so I need to get my act together.

So, we are the finish line and yet, maybe not quite yet.

Peace (in words and wonder),
Kevin

Making Political Buttons (and Using Loaded Words)

Political Buttons

We’re in the midst of our version of the Letters to the President project right now. My students are too young to partake in posting to the site, but wow … I think I saw there are nearly 2,700 letters at the site already. What a rich resource of student writing and ideas!

My sixth graders have had lesson on the Electoral College (an eye-opener to them, who thought the candidate with the most votes wins the election) and worked on a short essay on whether voting should be mandatory or not. We’ve read articles and watched some videos. Yesterday, I had them set up a Research Journey in Google Docs and showed them the Research tool inside of their Doc. Today, they will determine a topic for their Letter and start diving into some websites to be informed when they start writing (and hopefully, podcasting).

And in-between, we had them work on a Political Button (via Make Beliefs Comix) in which they had to invent or use an imaginary candidate and create a catchy button for their candidate. We talked about phrases, rhyming and loaded words. Some of their buttons were very funny. It was a nice creative break from the serious talk of our country’s future.

Peace (right on the button),
Kevin

Once Every Four Years (But Not Like This)


flickr photo shared by dmaleus under a Creative Commons ( BY-NC-SA ) license

As a teacher and parent, I appreciated the first question from the “audience” during the second United States Presidential Debate, where the question talked about decorum and how to explain the presidential race to children. It was a question I have been asking myself ever since Friday’s release of the Trump video, and the responses to it. (Too bad Trump ignored the question almost completely and Clinton skirted over it, although she did come back to the question a few times, at least).

I think we educators have to both tread lightly here, depending on the age of our students, and address some of the important issues that seem to get sidelined by the personalities, and conflicts, in the race. This is a delicate act. But we can do it. We have to do it. This is their world, even if they don’t have a vote.


flickr photo shared by Ryan Bretag under a Creative Commons ( BY-NC-SA ) license

Yesterday, during the second half of a Professional Development day, my social studies colleague and I were given time to plan out an entire unit on teaching the presidential campaign. Over the course of about 2 1/2 hours, we debated between ourselves about how to best approach it and then got down to the planning of lessons that will weave in and out of my English Language Arts/Technology class and his Social Studies/Civics class. I’m appreciative that we were given the time and space to work on it, and I am pretty satisfied we have a solid plan in place that will give our students information, and a voice, in the 2016 Presidential Campaign.

A rough sequence of activities/lessons/projects include:

  • An overview of the electoral college/election system that counters the narrative of the popular vote that most young people seem to think is the way presidents are elected;
  • Highlighting main topics of concern for the nation;
  • Lessons on conducting focused research projects, with citations from sources;
  • A “Letter to the Next President” project (modeled on the Letters to the Next President site, open only to students 13 and up) that will be backed up with some research queries;
  • Possible entry into the Youth Voices network, for authentic audience for the Letters to the President (and maybe podcasting);
  • A political cartoon lesson and project;
  • A mock election for grades three through six at our school.

Our goal as teachers is to be neutral and balanced in our own political views, which is a necessity for our community, while trying to keep the focus on the issues themselves more than on the candidates. Who knows where this campaign will go in the next four weeks?


flickr photo shared by NedraI under a Creative Commons ( BY-NC-SA ) license

We may yet be dodging and weaving issues yet to appear on the front pages while digging down into the important issues that the candidates should be spending more time talking about. If they won’t, we will.

Peace (vote for it),
Kevin

 

#2NextPrez: Presidential Politics for the Young

Opening to Gazette piece

I wrote a column for our regional newspaper about teaching the election to our students. The quote above is how I began it, as I wondered how to make an election in which they have no voting power meaningful.

You can read my column, although the newspaper has a paywall. I believe the first few views are free. Our Western Mass Writing Project has a partnership with the Daily Hampshire Gazette around the Chalk Talk column and writing, in which we help teachers get published once a month.

Gazette

Meanwhile, I also joined in on Teachers Teaching Teachers webcast the other night, as host Paul Allison and other guests and I were talking about how we might extend the Letters to the President concept to students under the age of 13, by considering the revamped Youth Voices online space. (The Letters to the President publishing site is open to students 13 and older)

We’re making some plans …

Paul also shared out this great video documentary — Letters to the Next Mayor — which, while being site specific, lays out a foundation for how Letters to the President might unfold as a (digital) writing activity.

Youth Voices Letters to the Next Mayor from paulallison on Vimeo.

Peace (is more than rhetoric),
Kevin

 

Not Even Remotely Visibly True: More Distorted Graphs

I’ve spent the last week or so making another push to create a series of Distorted Graphs as a way to engage with the politics of the US Presidential Campaign. What I am doing is creating graphs and charts that look sort of real, but which have no data underneath. I am making it all up.

Why?

Mostly, I am seeing how I can use visual misinformation (which I clearly label on all of the graphs) to make a political and satirical point about the state of politics. I am also curious to see how something sort of polished might appear to be true, and how to remember not to trust my eyes with charts and graphs and polls and such. Although I try to poke at both sides, I don’t try to be “fair and balanced” with it.

But I am having fun. So there.

This round (done entirely in Haiku Deck and exported out as image files) began with an interview Donald Trump did about his “regrets” over some of his comments. Who really believed that? Seriously.

Distorted Graphs

I was wondering where Bernie’s folks have probably gone. Then I saw the news that he bought a $750,00o summer home, and the word “hypocrite” started to flow from my GOP friends. Would Bernie be inviting all those young people to his $750,000 home for a little summer break? I doubt it.

Distorted Graphs

The presidential debates are coming soon. Will they tackle important issues? Or will the idea of wondering what Trump will say trump anything of substance?

Distorted Graphs

I had a strange moment when I could not, for the life of me, remember who Clinton’s vice presidential running mate was. Really. Then I thought, it can’t be just me. (Note: his name came back to me not long after I forgot it. I didn’t Google it.)

Distorted Graphs

All of Trump’s rhetoric over “rigged elections” and “rigged polls” had me looking at my own Distorted Graphs. Rigged? Well, yeah.

Distorted Graphs

The Clinton Foundation is still a headline. I wondered if there was talk about changing its name. The “staff” referenced here is rather nebulous — did I mean I secretly polled the staff of the Clinton Foundation or my staff here at Distorted Graphs? (Hint: One of those organizations has more than one person. The other does not.)

Distorted Graphs

Just the idea of Trump flipping and flopping, and then getting heat from his own party and supports for it, is worth a graph.

Distorted Graphs

The most ridiculous stories in this latest news cycle, I think, has been one questioning Clinton’s health. One can’t help but hear Monty Python in the head (“I’m Not Dead Yet”) as this foolishness goes on.

Distorted Graphs

Peace (we always tilt towards it),
Kevin

PS — here is the entire collection of Distorted Graphs, which began in the Primary Season

My Son’s Remix Project: Trump and Futurama

Rowan's iMovie project

My youngest son (age 11) was watching an episode of Futurama a few weeks ago. In it, Richard Nixon (with his head in a jar) is talking to a crowd of people, about building a wall to keep space aliens out. A light when on in my son’s head. He remembered all the hoopla about Donald Trump building a wall.

So, he started to plan out this idea of a political remix, of meshing Trump’s call for a wall on the border with Mexico with Head-in-Jar Nixon’s call for a wall in outer space. I helped him get the videos he wanted to use but he knows enough about iMovie now to do the editing and mixing himself. I was mostly hands-off.

The result? Pretty cool political remix, I think, for an eleven-year-old kid who understood that he could make political commentary with pop culture elements. Of course, I am biased. He’s my kid. You’ll have to watch and see what you think.

Peace (remix it for greater effect),
Kevin

Spoken Poetry: Walls Are for Tearing Down

The theme of this week at Letters to the President is all about spoken poetry. I can’t seem to shake the metaphor of the “walls” going up and wanted to try to counter that image. What if the walls came down and we build something new out of the rubble? (After I wrote the poem and made the digital piece  — using the Adobe Spark app, if you are curious — I thought about the vote in Britain. So maybe tearing things down to rubble isn’t always the best political option.)

Walls Are for Tearing Down

Peace (please),
Kevin

#2NextPrez: Remixing the Visual Message

This second Make Cycle of this summer’s Letters to the President 2.o project (which invites teachers to make and remix all summer) is focused on art and remix of visual messaging. They give some suggestions for how to dip into the waters, but I used a DS106 Daily Create idea from the other day (around remixing old paperback novel covers) and then decided to use a Flowchart diagram as art canvas.

First, the book cover design. I took the book, A Bridge Too Far, and used its cover to make a point about the Digital Gap that still exists in many schools and community. These issues of access and equity are at the forefront of discussions at our local writing project, and are embedded into our mission statement. (I used the online PicMonkey to layer images and texts, in case you are wondering, and in case you want to try it yourself).

DigitalDilemmaRemix

The Flowchart diagram is my attempt at making a political statement in a sort of artistic way. My political stance is probably pretty clearly stated, although I did not feel the need to name the candidate. You can figure it out. Instead of a direct critique, I wanted to explore the ebb and flow of the candidacy. (I used a program I have called Simple Diagrams to make the chart.)

Words Matter

Peace (is something to hold on to),
Kevin