Graphic Novel Review: Dogs (from Predator to Protector)

The latest in a series of Science Comics coming out of First Second Publishing will surely catch kids’ attention. It’s about dogs. Artist/writer Andy Hirsch’s Dogs: From Predator to Protector is a lively romp through the canine world, told with humor and gusto and jam-packed with science.

In fact, there is so much scientific information — told engagingly and with a nice mix of comic images and writing — that I wonder about the audience of this book. The text complexity pushes it into upper middle school/high school, I would think, as we learn about behavioral science, mapping of genetics, breeding for traits, the history of humans to animals (and vice versa), and more.

It’s all very interesting, but deep and dense. Luckily, the mascot of the book — a dog off chasing his ball as a portal into time — is cute, and engaging, and very dog-like in his mannerisms.

I suspect many kids will pick up the book because of its cover, and hopefully, they will stay to learn more about the complex canines in our midst. This book is another example of how the graphic story/comic format can engage learners and impart informational text, in a fun way.

Peace (woof),
Kevin

 

Book Review: Everything I Need to Know I Learned in The Twilight Zone

Rod Serling Quote

I understood the gimmick behind this book but I could not resist it. Mark Dawidzkiak’s Everything I Need to Know I Learned In The Twilight Zone is a fabulous read, with references to a myriad of stories that unfolded in Rod Serling’s Twilight Zone. I won’t pretend I got all of the references to all of the episodes, but there were enough to jar my memory banks to the crafty stories of Serling’s show.

Broken up into 50 lessons — from Always Keep Your Heart Open to the Magic that Comes Your Way to Don’t Live in the Past to Imagine a Better World to Angels Are All Around You and more —  this book explores the strange terrain of the television show by reminding us of how stories can expose the truth of our lives.

Reading the book had me digging out my old box set of DVDs of The Twilight Zone, to find reference points. It’s pretty amazing how Sterling’s production and his and many other writers’ stories still stand up over the decades. That is probably the result of the stories themselves, and the twists and themes that emerged on the small screen.

Dawidzkiak is a media critic, whose beat has often been television. You can sense the love he has for Sterling’s art, and how these narratives can be grouped around important themes, or lessons that we best learn (or suffer the consequences, as often happens in the twisty ending of the show). Dawidzkiak remind us that Sterling sought to bring to the surface the good of people, yet was never afraid to punish those whose choices damaged the world, those around them, or themselves.

Reading Everything I Need to Know I Learned In The Twilight Zone is sure to draw you back into the Zone. That’s not a bad place to be, as long as your heart is true.

Peace (twists and all),
Kevin

 

Students Engaging in Reading with #BookSnaps

BookSnaps from Students

I wrote the other day about my plan to try out BookSnaps with my sixth graders. BookSnaps are images of reading books, with “stickers” and short text annotations. While the original idea is to use Snapchat, we used Google Draw, and it worked out just fine.

BookSnaps from Students

My aim was to talk about annotations, with text and images. I also wanted to show them Google Draw, another app within their Google accounts that can be tapped for various projects.

BookSnaps from Students

I walked them the process. We ended up using PhotoBooth to take the pictures (while I was going to use an extension created by Alice Keeler, I realized that our students don’t actually log into the Chrome Browser but instead, log into Google itself.) It turns out our librarian had already shown them how to use PhotoBooth, so that was … a snap.

BookSnaps from Students

Next, I talked about what could be in the texts, which were call-out shapes within Google. I explained that annotations make thinking visible, so they could

  • Ask questions of the text
  • Make predications
  • Find connections with other books
  • Pull out phrases or words that seem interesting

BookSnaps from Students

One friend suggested creating a Google Draw template with call-outs and stickers in the margins of the drawing field, which is a good idea, but I went with a blank Draw slate, and let them build from there. It took longer but I think it gave each BookSnap its own flavor.

BookSnaps from Students

And the ‘stickers’ were merely Google Images, related to the text on the page. I did some mini-lessons around cropping (which some used and some apparently didn’t), and the fading tool, so that they could better manipulate the image within the design of the page.

BookSnaps from Students

Overall, the BookSnap project was a success, and kids were very engaged in the activity. I have now shared all of the folders of BookSnaps with all students across four classrooms, so they can peek in and see what their friends and fellow readers are reading, and maybe get inspired to pick up a new book.

BookSnaps from Students

Peace (and stickers),
Kevin

Aw Snap — Introducing Digital Annotation with #BookSnaps

BookSnap Mentor Example

I ran across a reference to an idea called BookSnaps that seemed intriguing so I followed the thread to Tara Martin’s blog, where she shared out information about how to use digital tools, particularly Snapchat, for annotation and layering of media.

Watch Tara’s short talk/presentation about the idea:

I was intrigued because I am interested in finding more ways to engage my sixth graders with annotation and digital tools, for many of the reasons that Tara gives: the ways annotation focuses attention, how it helps us remember, how to it makes visible the learning of a text.

While Tara shares about Snapchat as the platform, I was more interested about using something within our students’ Google accounts, to make it easier to teach and easier to save. We are in our Independent Reading unit right now, so this is a perfect way to share the first pages of books they have chosen, I am thinking.

My sample — for Philip Pullman’s The Book of Dust, see above — was done in Google Drawing and it all went quite well, using call-out text boxes for the writing and some images searches for the “stickers.” There’s not a lot of space, so finding focus will be key, as will setting parameters for how many overlays can be on a page. I can see my kids getting carried away with images.

Tara does have a video about using Google Drawing that helped me think this through:

(Note: Google has now changed the way one can take image snapshots within its system, so the direct method that Tara mentions in her video may no longer work. I used PhotoBooth for my sample, but Tara kindly mentioned a free extension by Alice Keeler for Chrome that takes pictures and puts them into a Google Drive folder, which can then be moved into Google Drawing. I tested it out and it seemed to work quite well.)

I envision this BookSnap idea as one of the first steps of our work with digital annotation, and the connection to Snap Chat (even though we won’t be using it) with layered text and layered image, and sharing, should grab my students’ attention. And sharing out books, and reading about what others are reading, is always a powerful sharing experience, made more fun with layers of annotation.

I’ll let you know how it goes …

If you are thinking that the use of Snapchat App is of interest, this video by another teacher (not Tara) gives a good walk-through of each step along the way:

Peace (layer it and annotate it),
Kevin

Games, Learning, Literacy: Week 4 (Art Forms)

James Paul Gee Quote18

I’m off on a new reading adventure, diving into James Paul Gee’s book — What Video Games Have to Teach Us about Learning and Literacy — with discussion prompts by my friend, Keegan. 

This weekend, I came to the end of Gee’s book, and I found myself once again appreciating the perspectives he brings to the picture. It’s most pertinent now for me because I am bringing my sixth graders into their game design unit, starting today. While Gee’s work looks more at the player within a game system, and all the literacies that are part of it, my aim is more around teaching my students how to think of a game as a story, and the story as the framework of the game.

Gee’s wrap-up thoughts around Affinity Spaces and the fluid nature between game designer and game player (particularly as more and more games have open ended entry points for players to mod, or hack, games) is intriguing. It reminds me there is so much I don’t know about video games when it comes to reading and writing and thinking.

And Gee also admits that this kind of literacy moment is still emerging (he wrote the book a few years ago, but that is still true, I believe) and there is much we don’t know, and may not know, for some time. That makes it all very intriguing as a curious teacher of writing and reading, right? I think so.

James Paul Gee Quote19

Peace (reading and playing),
Kevin

Graphic Novel Review: Wires and Nerve

This graphic novel — Wires and Nerve — is my first brush with Marissa Meyers, who has written a series of books under the banner of The Lunar Chronicles. This graphic story has much of those stories as the backdrop but I dove in fairly easily even without knowing much of the past and I found myself quickly enjoying this graphic tale of the mending of relations between the Lunar society and the Earth one.

Like many good stories, this one revolves around heroes, and an emerging plot to bring them down. And as with many good stories, this one has its complexities, as a band of Wolf-like creatures (released on Earth during some earlier battle in some earlier story) are being brought together by a rogue agent, in an effort to bring down the new Lunar queen, Cinder.

Much of the story revolves around Iko, a cyborg friend of the queen, who has taken on the task of hunting down the Wolf-like creatures on Earth in a stealth missions. Iko is a complicated character, a creature of wires and circuits who seems to be on the verge of something mysterious (with plenty of hints for future story extensions).

This book moves along at a nice pace, and balances action with romance and friendship, and spends its time with character development. Even with this single book, I cared about Iko and her friends, and I look forward to future installments in the graphic novel series. I might even look at the novels.

Wires and Nerve is appropriate for middle school and high school classrooms. There is nothing here to warrant any red flags *unless kissing is your red flag. For girl and boy readers, Wires and Nerve might find an audience.

Peace (in the pages),
Kevin

Games, Learning, Literacy: Week 3.5 (Culture)

James Paul Gee15

I’m off on a new reading adventure, diving into James Paul Gee’s book — What Video Games Have to Teach Us about Learning and Literacy — with discussion prompts by my friend, Keegan. 

Gee’s earlier exploration of digital identity within the framework of video games now bubbles up again around cultural identity and cultural understanding. He posits that the immersive storytelling elements of video game design allows for an experience for the player that has the potential, at least, to bring them into the world of  “the other.”

This idea of “walking in the shoes” of another through a literary experience is not new, of course. Good books do the same. Video games can bring that to another level because of the player’s identity within the game itself.

James Paul Gee17Gee shares a few games that he has played which have done just that — shifted the cultural perspectives so that the player comes to understand motives and rationale for another. A game centered around the Middle East, where the player is an Arab as opposed to the traditional game where Middle Easterners are often the terrorist enemies (particularly in the wave of games that came after the 9/11 attack on the U.S.).

Gee’s argument that video games, with all of its complexities, provides the possibility of deeper context is intriguing. Notice that word “possible,” for not all video games rise to this narrative challenge.

He also notes that this kind of immersive play as learning can happen rather seamlessly in well-designed games, so that the player is barely aware of it. This ties back to his earlier discussions around how games teach players to get situated in the game mechanics.

James Paul Gee16

Peace (in games),
Kevin

Games, Learning, Literacy: Week Three (Text Connections)

James Paul Gee Quote14

I’m off on a new reading adventure, diving into James Paul Gee’s book — What Video Games Have to Teach Us about Learning and Literacy — with discussion prompts by my friend, Keegan. 

In many ways, this chapter’s exploration of story and text is why I wanted to read this book in the first place. I am intrigued by how video games may or may not push our understanding of story into new directions, and how “texts” might play a role in the player’s experiences and learning.

James Paul Gee Quote13There is certainly an immersive quality to media-rich storytelling, and video games — if done well — pull you into that story in a rather disorientating way. While Gee explains how many games give you teaser introductions as a way to “teach” game mechanics for the user, most successful games weave the design of play in the design of narrative in ways that are intricate and finely woven. As Gee notes, sometimes the player doesn’t realize that they are being surrounded by story.

James Paul Gee Quote12Here, Gee is analyzing in detail how we “read” video games by playing video games, and what is going on with the learning process in doing so. He argued that games are, in fact, rich in various texts, some more visible than others.

James Paul Gee Quote11A section in the book about the written or digital instructions that come with games (which may be less and less part of the gaming experience now) are often part of the “semiotic language” of the game, in that the vocabulary and language of instructions are in tune with the mechanics of the game design system. Reading them in isolation is disorientating. Picking and choosing parts to read, when you need them — as gamers do — surfaces a language all of its own, with transactional values.

James Paul Gee Quote10

The real “reading” happens with the “playing” and that moment when the story and the game merge together seamlessly is the reason why players play these kinds of games (with a narrative arc).

James Paul Gee Quote9The player, and the choices they make along the way, act in partnership with the writer/game designer, so that agency for character development and plot arcs are done in mutual agreement, even if that thread between writer (game designer) and reader (game player) is not always evident.

James Paul Gee Quote8What I appreciate here is that it has me thinking again of what writing is, and how writing changes with digital media like video games. And therefore, how can I as a teacher help my young students tap into that immersive element to bring new ways to write?

Peace (game on),
Kevin

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Book Review: Diary of a Wimpy Kid (The Getaway)

Has it really been nearly 12 years since Jeff Kinney put out his first Diary of a Wimpy Kid book? I just put down his twelfth book — Diary of  Wimpy Kid: The Getaway — and thought to myself: I remembering reading the first of these dozen books out loud to my oldest son, now in college, when he was nine years old, and my youngest son is in seventh grade and was only two years old when the first one came out. The middle child was in there, too.

Yikes!

When I brought home The Getaway this past week, I wondered if my youngest would want to read it or would he be too old for it now? Well, he was adolescent cool about it, but said he’d “take a look,” and then read it in one sitting in about 30 minutes.

These books are still light and funny — short on depth and long on humor and gag jokes — and the adventures move along. The Getaway is no exception, as Greg Heffley and his family head off on a holiday cruise to a beach resort that sparks a week full of disaster, right from the airplane flight to the resort where they are staying.

Funny ensues.

As always, Kinney’s artwork is hilarious, without being too mean to his characters. And there is a gentle vibe under the surface of his jokes. I appreciate his books for what they are. And just look at the bookshelves to see the Kinney Effect in action. Tons of books have copied his style of storytelling of cartoon and text. Some of these are good, but many are just pale imitations.

Overall interest by my students seems waning in The Wimpy Kid series (no mad rush to order them via Scholastic books, as in the past), but I can tell that Kinney is still having a blast as he is writing and illustrating his stories. There’s something to be said about the infectious energy of a book like this. And I had to pass one of my copies to a student, who begged me to be able to read it over the long weekend.

So, there’s that.

Peace (going away),
Kevin