The Arming of Teachers? Are You Insane?

Let me get this out of the way. Arming teaching in schools as a policy to protect students is a completely insane idea. Let me also note: I live in liberal Western Massachusetts, where an aversion to the NRA’s right-wing politics is part of the environment. I lean politically left. But I was also in the National Guard, trained as an infantry soldier and I was a platoon sergeant, so I know my way around a wide assortment guns.

Arming teachers is an insane idea.

Kate Way Photography: G is for Gun: The Arming of Teachers in America &emdash;

Kate Way Photography: G is for Gun: The Arming of Teachers in America

The idea of arming teachers in schools is something I have been following for the past two years or so, as my documentary filmmaking neighbor and friend, Julie Akaret, has been working on a movie that was once called Good Guy with a Gun, and now is called G is for Gun (The Arming of Teachers in America). You can see a photo essay by one of the film’s producers. They have traveled to Ohio many times, visiting schools where teachers are being trained to carry guns in school.

I have supported her through Kickstarter and have been part of the early preview feedback audience of the film as she and her partner have worked on it. The first round of showing of their film will be taking place next month on Ohio public television in March and then they hope other affiliates will take up their story of guns in the hands of teachers in the schools where young people are. The time for the topic is right, sad to say.

Kate Way Photography: G is for Gun: The Arming of Teachers in America &emdash;

Kate Way Photography: G is for Gun: The Arming of Teachers in America

It’s insane.

And you knew it was only a matter of time before the rising up of youths in Florida would lead to the NRA-backed politicians saying that what we need is MORE guns, not fewer. Sure enough, the news this morning shows President Trump calling for the arming of teachers.

Insane.

But par for the course, unless those young people in Florida and elsewhere finally change the narrative and pressure on politicians to buck the NRA and gun lobby. More guns are not the answer. Making teachers into a militia is not the answer. More restrictive gun laws, and more support for enforcement of those laws, is what’s needed. Who will be brave enough on the GOP side to take a stand?

Don’t hold your breath.

Peace (in our schools),
Kevin

Slice of Life: A Meme Walks Into the Classroom

(This is for the Slice of Life challenge, hosted by Two Writing Teachers. We write on Tuesdays about the small moments in the larger perspective … or is that the larger perspective in the smaller moments? You write, too.)

Most mornings, we have a Circle of Power and Respect in our sixth grade classroom. It’s a version of Morning Meeting, aimed more for older students. At this point in the year, I have my students lead all aspects of our morning.

One element of Circle of Power is the initial greeting, and there are all sorts of variations of activities that one could do, and I encourage my students to invent their own way of saying hello to every students in the classroom community, and making sure everyone feels welcome into the day.

The other day, the student leader — a bit of a goofball who straddles the line between serious and goofy on a regular basis — told us that the way we would greet each other is with the phrase “Do you know the way?”

Or, as he pronounced it with exaggerated emotion: “Do you know de wae?”

I did a little double-take because as soon as he said it, there was a lot of laughter in the room. I had never heard the phrase, but I could sense immediately this was some sort of online joke, video, game or meme that was outside my field of vision.

I had three options as teacher at that moment:

  • I could say, find another greeting, but that seemed like a knee-jerk reaction to youth culture
  • Stop everything and search online, but that would have gummed up the morning meeting time
  • Ask for more information, which I did

The student told me the phrase was from a game that became a meme, and he assured me it was not inappropriate for school. I decided to trust him, and the phrase of “Do you know de wae?” made its way around the circle.

Later, I immediately went into Know Your Meme, a database in which memes are deconstructed and traced back to their origins. According to Know Your Meme, the “Do you know de wae?” and found that it originated from a character in a Sonic the Hedgehog game called Uganda Knuckles.

From Know Your Meme:

Ugandan Knuckles is the nickname given to a depiction of the character Knuckles from the Sonic franchise created by YouTuber Gregzilla, which is often used as an avatar by players in the multiplayer game VRChat who repeat phrases like “do you know the way” and memes associated with the country Uganda, most notably the film Who Killed Captain Alex? and Zulul. The character is associated with the expression “do you know the way”, which is typically spoken in a mock African accent and phonetically spelled as “do you know de wey.”

The meme has gone in all sorts of strange directions.

There have been accusations that the meme has racist overtones, however, with the pronunciation in fake African accent and may be built upon African stereotypes. Roblox, a very popular gaming platform site, apparently even banned the character from its server games because of concerns about negative stereotypes.

After talking some more with my students about using the meme, now that I had some information to speak from, I realized that they were not even aware of the racist possibilities. They were just amused by the funny character who repeats the same ridiculous phrase over and over again. Still, a discussion helped frame the meme, and I haven’t heard it in the classroom since then.

I did ask my own 13 year old son when I got home that same day if he had heard of the “Do you know de wae?” meme. He goes to a different school in a different community, with a different crowd of kids, and he immediately knew of the meme, too. (A year or so ago, we had a long discussion with him about using Pepe the Frog and he was startled by the how the far-right had appropriated that meme for its own dark purposes.) Needless to say, he immediately knew the meme and said many kids in his school were saying it in the hallways, as they moved from lockers to classrooms — sort of as a directional sarcasm of the school-day experience.

All this goes to show the cultural power of memes and the difficulty we adults have in understanding their stickiness, never mind the origins and the mad rush of social sharing across platforms. Memes often are part of the language of youth, even if they don’t always comprehend the underlying cultural appropriations and potentially negative messages embedded in the memes they use.

Peace (meme-ing it),
Kevin

Slice of Life: You Call That Cheating?

(This is for the Slice of Life challenge, hosted by Two Writing Teachers. We write on Tuesdays about the small moments in the larger perspective … or is that the larger perspective in the smaller moments? You write, too.)

I live in the heart of New England, surrounded by New England Patriots fans. Yesterday was a somber day in the classroom. Many tired eyes following the defeat in the Super Bowl to the Eagles.

I’m no Eagles fan. Neither am I a Patriots fan. I am, alas (this year, anyway), a New York Giants fan, and my students know this. (They also know I am a Yankees fan, which is a kind of blasphemy here in New England but I stand proud in the storm).

The first student to arrive yesterday is my most competitive. He has often has trouble shaking off events from recess. He’s an athlete, a star football player. He came in shaking his head.

“They cheated,” he mumbled as he passed me, and I could see it was a phrase he probably had on his mind since the game ended the night before. “The Eagles cheated.”

He looked at me, calculating that a Giants fan could not be an Eagles fan. Surely, he was thinking, I’d agree with his post-game analysis. He was looking for affirmation.

“Don’t you think the Eagles cheated in the Super Bowl, Mr. H?”

He was looking in the wrong place.

“Nope. Nobody cheated. There were some … interesting plays, but the Eagles won, fair and square. They outplayed the Pats. It was a great game to watch.”

This quieted him. For a second. He clearly didn’t want to hear me. When another student, another athlete, came in and said, “They cheated,” the first student echoed, “I know. They did. Right?”

Which led to a discussion in our Circle of Power morning meeting about sports, and competition, and losing gracefully, and being humble when winning, and a reminder of how we are moving into our annual Quidditch season at our school, where bragging and accusations of cheating and more between classes and students will not be tolerated.

I thought I reached them, with some perspective on fandom and sports and maybe a view of the biases of reality that exist in favor of those ideas which we already support (ie, my team lost, therefore, the other team cheated). But, maybe not. As the class was moving out the door, I could hear the conversation going again. “I know, right? Even the refs were in on it.”

Sigh.

Peace (need not be competitive),
Kevin

Making Music in Colleagues’ Google Classrooms

Cell Music Analogy Project

We’re more than half-way through a professional development session on learning how to best use Google Classroom. The session is being run by my colleague, Tom Fanning, from the Western Massachusetts Writing Project. I’ve been using Google Classroom since the start of the year, but I asked our district to consider PD for other teachers, since I was getting a lot of inquiry from colleagues about how it works and why use it.

The session has nearly 20 teachers from our entire school district, and Tom has us making pilot Google Classroom spaces, inviting each other in as small groups of “students” to play the role of learner.

John Coltrane Jazz Project

My group has three other elementary teachers, and as I was working on their assignments — a cell analogy project, a state history project and a notable African American biography (and mine is a Parts of Speech project) — I decided to keep to a common theme of music across my work.

Taj Mahal BluesMan Project

My cell analogy project used a musical score as the point of comparison. I chose Taj Mahal as the Massachusetts history project, since he is the state Blues Artist. And I researched John Coltrane’s musical legacy for the biography project.

Look. Google Classroom is a fantastic work management tool that my students enjoy using and which has certainly made my work as a teacher a whole lot easier. It’s also clearly another finger reaching out to grab more Google users. We talked about this in our PD session and I talk about it with my students. Google wants to nurture young eyeballs for later in life, when it can target them for advertising, and make money. To think otherwise is to delude ourselves.

For now, I see more positives on our end than negatives with our dive into Google Classroom, but it’s always important to keep the larger perspectives in focus, on what we give up when we use free technology with our students. I’m glad we addressed and debated Google’s mission and motives in our PD. We can all move forward, knowing to some degree what we and our students are getting into.

Peace (in the rooms of music),
Kevin

Slice of Life: That Didn’t Go As Planned

(This is for the Slice of Life challenge, hosted by Two Writing Teachers. We write on Tuesdays about the small moments in the larger perspective … or is that the larger perspective in the smaller moments? You write, too.)

It wasn’t a disaster, but still, a lesson I had envisioned as a multimedia way to connect my sixth graders to characters in Watsons Go to Birmingham novel didn’t go the way I wanted, and now I am pondering how I might change things next time.

In the book, as the family gears up to head south, the father buys an Ultra-glide record player (a whole discussion about vinyl records ensued in class) and they listen to a few songs in the days before their journey south. Each year, I pull out the songs that Kenny, the narrator, loved — Yakety Yak — and mom loves — Under the Boardwalk.

Listening to the songs gives an audio connection to the story, and helps establish setting and character.

All good.

Watson Mix Tape Assignment

So yesterday, I thought: why don’t I have my students create a “mix tape” on Google Slides, finding songs to represent the other three members of the family on the road trip, and have students choose their own “travel song” for the mix tape. I even added a song of my own in there – Life is a Highway by Tom Cochran (the kids all knew the Rascal Flatts version from the Cars movie).

We dug into the project, and students were definitely engaged — but they seemed to be more engaged in the “search” for music than the connection to the characters. In my mind, I wanted them to really find songs that represented the characters as know them,  and perhaps I missed a step in my lesson. Perhaps a writing piece before the search would have helped. Or they needed our character trait chart in front of them.

Many students were just … well … listening to songs. Some had trouble with the search engine itself. What keywords should they use? What songs? Were modern songs OK or did they have to be “old songs”? None of them finished the assignment and I’m not sure that audio/music connection to the book really happened as I wanted it to happen.

And I admit I got a bit nervous when they were searching for songs to represent themselves. “Do we need to use the clean version of the song?” a few asked. “Yes,” I said, rather quickly, now looking closer at the screens near me.

Still, as one class was leaving, one student said to me, “That was so fun, Mr. H. I found a rebel song for Byron (the other brother whose troublemaking is the catalyst for the journey). When can we use music again?”

So, maybe the hook was there, after all.

Peace (in the music),
Kevin

Fourteen Years and Nearly a Thousand Words and Counting

invented words 2018 pt2

Invented Words 2018, Group 1

This project still amazes me, for both its goofy element and for its cross-time collaborative element. It’s known as the Crazy Collaborative Dictionary, a project connected to my sixth graders learning about the origins of words into the English Language.

Way back in 2005, I had this idea of students inventing their own words and definitions, and creating a small class dictionary. It was a huge hit with the kids, and allowed us to consider the evolving nature of our language — of how new words arrive all the time.

invented words 2018 pt1

Invented Words 2018, Group 2

What began on paper developed into a Wiki site, where students learned about wikis and collaborative writing. I’ve used different platforms over the years, and this year, I tried out a Submission Form to create a database of words. A few years ago, I added podcasting to the mix, too, so that all students get to have a recorded version of their sixth grade voice attached to their word in the dictionary project.

Take a listen to some of this year’s words and voices:

I’ve moved the dictionary from the wiki (for fear of another platform dissolving on me) to a page in our classroom blog space, which provides an easier and connected platform.)

Check out The Crazy Collaborative Dictionary (in its entirety)

Check out this year’s submissions to the Dictionary

We’re close, if not beyond, 1,000 invented words in the dictionary, and it occurred to me that the first set of words were created before my current students were even born. The original word-makers are now in their mid-20s. Some of the older siblings of my current students have their words in the same digital document as their younger brothers and sisters.

I often refer to the dictionary as a “collaboration across time.” There’s something about that idea — of a collaboration that unfolds slowly, over many years — that I find intriguing, sort of a nice counter-balance to the need for immediacy in our lives.

Peace (means …),
Kevin

Collection of Student-Made Hero’s Journey Video Games

We’re nearing the end of our video game design unit. Here are a few of the Hero’s Quest games created by my sixth graders that I think showed good use of story and game design. Not all are easy to play and to win (although I have, as I graded them for story and design).

Peace (in games),
Kevin

Dear Gamestar Mechanic .. letters from student game developers

Dear Gamestar Mechanic

One of the many writing activities that I do with my sixth grade students as part of our video game development unit (which is taught in writing class) is to write a letter to Gamestar Mechanic about their project, what they like about the site, and some ideas for making Gamestar even better.

Dear Gamestar Mechanic

I’ll be mailing the letters off in early January.

Dear Gamestar Mechanic

I don’t know if we will get a response from the company (my main contacts no longer work there and Gamestar is part of the larger eLine Media) but the act of writing to Gamestar — a site we we have been using rather extensively since the start of December — and articulating some ideas gives me a chance to see what they are thinking. The letter follows a community brainstorming about features they wish the site had.

Dear Gamestar Mechanic

The letters act as one sort of reflective end point as they finish up their games.

Peace (sincerely),
Kevin