Fifteen Years of Adding Words to the Crazy Collaborative Dictionary

Invented Words of 2019Since 2005, I have had sixth graders in my classroom inventing and creating new words as part of our Word Origin unit. That’s 15 years of making words. Which is pretty cool. And even cooler, I think, is that each year, every student contributes a new word the online Crazy Collaborative Dictionary, which now boasts about 1,000 invented words.

In recent years, I’ve added a podcast element, so every student contributor’s voice is now embedded as part of the dictionary, a time capsule of sound. Even cooler. I’ve written before, too, about the element of “collaboration across time” here, with siblings working with siblings, but years later — sometimes, many many years later. Of all, this is the most interesting.

The dictionary has had a few homes over the years, from wikis that are no longer around, to a Google Doc one year, and now it is part of our class weblog site, The Electronic Pencil.

Visit the Crazy Collaborative Dictionary

The above word cloud image is most of this year’s new word collection (a few stragglers didn’t make it to the image). Here are a few of my favorites from this year’s addition of about 75 new words (every student invents three new words but only “donates” one of their words to this project).

Visit just this year’s words

 

Peace (in any name available),
Kevin

Writing for a Reason: Advice to a Gaming Platform

Advice for Gamestar 2019

I work quite a bit of writing into our video game design unit, and one of the final pieces of writing is a letter all students write to the folks at Gamestar Mechanic, explaining what they have enjoyed about the platform and some advice for features they would like to see incorporated. We did some class brainstorming of ideas first, as a way to guide their thinking.

Here are some of the responses:

In my ELA class we are using your website on a project to create games. We are working with the Hero’s Journey theme. My game is called Journey To Treasure. My game has 5 levels. The first level is the character finding a map of a ship wreck and buried treasure. The second level is the character on the journey to find the treasure. The third level is when the character found the treasure in an underwater cave and they have to fight enemies to get the treasure and go home. The fourth level is the journey home and the fifth level is when they are home and can take a relaxing vacation. What I like about Gamestar is that there are multiple quests and you can play other peoples games. There is also a wide variety of games within the quests. Some advice for making Gamestar Mechanics a better game is adding a multiplayer mode so that you can invite your friends to join so you can play together. You should also add more music so that the sound effects and music in the game helps you get into character in the game. Another thing I think you should add is an update so that enemies can drop rewards like more health or a key.  

— LG

 

During class we have been working with your platform me and my fellow peers (our whole grade) have been assigned to create a game and do your quests. My partner Gabby and I had so much fun and were always looking forward to class. My game is about a wolf Sky and her journey to help a queen. Sky needs to fight all the king’s evil minions (the evil wolves and polar bears) and then the dragons.

What I really like about Gamestar is that you have to earn lots of things you might need as an example earning the publishing rights. I absolutely love the variety and the creative freedom.

In like every game platform there is some flaws. Lots of people and I agree that it should have auto-save during the process of making a game and all the time. I know some groups lost their games because of this. Another thing that should be ABSOLUTELY changed is the limit of words\text throughout the game I wasn’t able to type all of the messages I needed to making my game I was very upset to learn about this and so was my partner, my friends, and lots of other who had this issue.

Otherwise I love the platform it is so fun and lots of people including me think the platform is great for kids and adults alike.

— RF

 

In my class, we have been doing a project with Gamestar Mechanic. We have been making games and seeing how literature is incorporated into it.We were using the platform “The Hero’s Journey.” My game is called the Iron Fortress. It is about Ronin, a warrior, who has to find a magical sword and defeat the evil wizard Shakhar. Ronin travels through the Iron Fortress in his Quest to defeat Shakhar.

I enjoyed many things about your gaming platform. One of the things I enjoyed was the simplicity. Nothing is too hard to understand and the controls are simple. I also enjoyed the Quests. I like the idea of playing to earn blocks, backgrounds, or sprites.

One thing I think would improve Gamestar Mechanic is the ability to customize sprites and blocks. Even though you can customize backgrounds, I think it will take the game to a whole new level if you could customize sprites and blocks. You could make challenges that give you material to build your own sprites and blocks. You could put a section in the workshop that is purely for customizing.

— TY

 

I am a student in Massachusetts learning about game design in ELA. We have been playing quest to learn about the Hero’s Journey concept of all video games. We have also been making a game of our own using the Hero’s Journey concept. There are many things I like about Gamestar Mechanic, here are a few. I like how you can play Quest to learn how to create a game of your own. (play to learn) It is also very easy to use, I can switch between workshop and quest very easily. Even though there are many things I like about Gamestar, there are a few things you could work on. I think first person would be a great concept of this game. I think there should be more sprites and avatars to choose from. Finally, I think there should be more music, and I should be able to customize it. Thank You for reading.

— CC

I’ll be shipping these off to the Gamestar Mechanic office, in hopes some developer receives them and reads some of the insights.

Peace (in writing),
Kevin

An Invitation to Play: Hero’s Journey Video Game Project

We’re nearing the end of our video game design project and as I play the games created by my students (exploring the Hero’s Journey narrative arc), more than a few have surfaced as fine exemplars for next year (or just for sharing out).

I invite you (or your students, if you want) to play these video game projects, created through Gamestar Mechanic. (You don’t need an account to play the games linked here but you do need to be on a computer and enable flash.)

Peace (the journey),
Kevin

 

Student Reflections: Choice in Books and Time to Read


reading flickr photo by Ken Ronkowitz shared under a Creative Commons (BY-NC) license

I’ve been trying to work more independent and choice reading time into my classroom this year. I’ve always done so, but this year, I’m stretching the time frames and trying to be more thoughtful about the time they need in the school day to read. I’m inspired by books like Game Changer (Donalyn Miller and Colby Sharp) and Book Love (Penny Kittle) and others.

As we neared the end of a recent seven-week block of an independent reading unit, following a class novel unit at the start of the year, I asked them to write a bit about what they liked or didn’t like about this extended time.

Reading their responses, three main themes emerge across the board (and of my nearly 80 students, only two did not like the independent unit all that much, citing too much choice and freedom).

  • They liked the choice and the variety of books they could read, and some notes resistance to teacher-driven books, even if they like the story
  • They liked the quiet space we created in the classroom for reading — sometimes it was only 10 minutes a day but often I stretched it to 20 minutes — and many noted they don’t have time to read or desire to read outside of school
  • They appreciated learning about more books from other classmates reading, getting recommendations from peers (as opposed to me, the teacher, although many did ask and receive books from my classroom library upon my recommendation)

Here’s what some of them wrote:

I have enjoyed this extended independent reading unit from the moment we started it. One of the reasons why I liked it is being able to read what I wanted instead of what other people wanted or were reading. I like having my own book that is harder to have a spoiled finish than others that people already read. Some of the books that I read other people didn’t read or had forgotten about reading it. This experience of independent reading has made reading something more enjoyable. – GM

 

During the last several months I have enjoyed the independent reading unit. I have had trouble finding time to read in the past, which is a hobby I enjoy, so it is not only helpful but to have the opportunity in class but also fun. I like deciding where to sit in the classroom, and I enjoy the quiet atmosphere it provides. – CC

 

I enjoy independent reading. I like it because, If I did not have a time to read, I might of stopped reading or forgot about the book. I like choosing a book because the books that people pick out for me might not meet my interests. At school, the teachers pick out good books, but if anyone else did I probably would dislike it. — LB

 

I really enjoyed our independent reading. One reason is, I get the freedom to chose the book of my choice. I also like that if I don’t like a book I can stop reading it and chose a book that I will better enjoy. Lastly, I like that I can read at my own pace and I don’t have to stop reading if I’m enjoying something. In conclusion, I really enjoyed our independent reading. — JS

 

I have enjoyed it because teachers don’t always pick the best book for the class. I know because all last year I did not like the books. Also, it gives me freedom to try different genres. Also, because it is fun to read all kinds of books. – EM

 

I have enjoyed the independent reading unit. I love to read and I have really enjoyed being able to pick out my own books so that I can understand what I’m reading and enjoy. I have been able to read 2 books and I am starting a third. Even though I like to read I don’t usually read so it was nice to read every day in class. – LG

 

Yes I did enjoy it because you are able to pick your own book. I like it better than having to read an assigned book. Also it allows me to read diverse books. – LP

 

I have enjoyed quiet reading because,  it is nice to have sometime in the middle of the school day to sit back and quietly read a book after all the rushing around. It is nice to also be able to pick out the book that I want to read, unlike being forced to read a book That I may or may not like. When it is time for quiet reading, it is nice to be able to pick out where to sit, what to read, and how fast or how slow you read. – SB

 

Yes, I have enjoyed this independent reading unit. I like how I have the freedom to pick a book that particularly interests me. However, I did like the book that we read as a class. I also liked that I did not have a reading limit. Especially when I am at a suspenseful part. When reading in class I agree that it was really quiet and peaceful. I think that the amount of time we spent reading in class was good, not too long but not too fast. – OM

 

I love reading so naturally I love silent reading. I also enjoy the fact that we get to choose our own books because it encourages me to read more. Reading has always been one of my favorite things to do. However, when I’m forced to read a certain book I enjoy the book less even if it is a good book. – AH

Peace (pondering),
Kevin

These Games They Play

GameReviews2018

One of the writing tasks for students with our video game design unit (still underway) is to write a persuasive video game review, using a design lens (controls, audio, visual, playability, etc) as the lens in which to examine a game. It’s also a helpful zeitgeist moment for me, the adult in the room, on the trends of video games that young people are playing.

The word cloud above is a gathering of the titles of games my young writers chose to review. Fortnite, for sure, has the highest number of reviewers, over all, and it is a mix of girls and boys. Minecraft, for years the most-reviewed game, has slipped in popularity while Roblox has gained traction, mostly with girls, it seems. Gamestar Mechanic, which we use to make and publish games, was the default choice for those who don’t regularly play video games but still needed to write a review.

I notice more kids writing about playing games on consoles (Xbox, etc.) than on mobile apps, which is another interesting shift I noticed this year. I’m not sure it is a trend or an indication of the increasing popularity of multi-player games, like Fortnite. Many students write about the lag time on big games like that, and how the lag makes for frustrating gaming.

There always some video games that get reviewed that I don’t know about — Tank Stars, Fishing Break and Avakin Life, for example — so at least having these titles on my radar screen is helpful as I weave in game design with writing this time of year. I’ll be sharing out some of the reviews another day.

The persuasive nature of video game reviews provides an opportunity for them to express their opinion about something, sometimes rather strongly (bad reviews of terrible games were as acceptable as good reviews), and to examine the genre of video game reviews. Many of students watch reviews on YouTube, which makes me wonder if I need to begin to adapt this assignment for video as well as text.

Peace (gaming it forward),
Kevin

Video Game Design: Mid-Point Reflections

GameReflectCollage

I love adding in all sorts of writing into our video game design unit — sort of a sneaky way to get them to think about writing in context of a media project. They are in the midst of building video games in Gamestar Mechanic on the theme of the Hero’s Journey. We are approaching our publishing date, but things always take longer than expected in this unit.

Last week, I had them write me a mid-way reflective letter on how things are going. I love how the writing gives me insights into their progress and provides some nice entry into conversations during our conferencing.

Here are a few samples:

Peace (game it),
Kevin

Video Game Design: Story-Framing and Storyboarding

Game Design: Storyboards

We’re in the midst of our Hero’s Journey video game design unit, in which my sixth graders are developing and then publishing a video game based on the concept of the Hero’s Journey. We use Gamestar Mechanic, which teaches students how to build games by playing games, and provides tools for publishing.

Game Design: Storyframes

The first phase is all about story-framing (what is the story that will be the backbone of the game) and storyboarding (what will your game look like) and this work provides some rich moments of questions and conversations and thinking through the game before it is under construction.

I love the variety of games under consideration. I have traditional “make your way home” and “rescue mission” stories, as well as ones that are inspired by novels they are reading, and even this year, one in which the character is inside a “book” as the setting of the game. I’m looking forward to watching that one get developed.

The story-framing is a way for young game designers to articulate the spine of the narrative, and they often require reminders during the building of games to refer back to the story-frame.

I tell them this as a sort of daily mantra:

The player is the reader, playing your story as a game

Meanwhile, the storyboarding gives rise to questions of design, of where things might be and how things might look, and often prompts questions about what they can and cannot do in Gamestar Mechanic as designers. I do a lot of huddling around work-arounds and alternative ideas once they are deep into design. But this early work gives me a glimpse of what they are thinking, and provides them with a map from which to begin work.

Peace (designed, played, won),
Kevin

PS — if you want to learn more about how we move game design into the ELA classroom (and some years, with connection to science), check out the resource site we created the first year. We tried to include materials that you are free to use: Video Game Design

 

Slice of Life: Novels to Plays and Back Again

(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 was hard to miss the sounds of laughter, engagement and collaboration in the classroom yesterday. It was one of those small moments where you, the teacher, silently give yourself a high-five because a new lesson idea seemed to work out almost exactly as you thought it would. Not every new idea for the classroom unfolds as you think it might.

Celebrate success, right?

Here’s what we were doing. We are in the middle of a extended Independent Reading unit, where students have choice in reading and I give them a block of time to read during nearly every school day. I’ve been pretty strict with myself on this allocation of reading time, knowing that choice and reading is key to literacy development.

Every now and then we do different reflective reading activities — they have an online reading journal that they access once a week or so to write about characters, and setting, and more. But I remembered a lesson from a long-lost unit on writing theater plays, and so I dug out some old resources and found what I was looking for and adapted it.

Scene from Time Bomb by Joelle Charbonneau

Scene from Time Bomb by Joelle Charbonneau

Students worked to choose an important “scene” from the novel they are reading and then become a scriptwriter, reworking the scene into a formatted play skit. I have them freedom to leave out what didn’t work, add in what is needed, but stay true to characters and scene. They really loved this writing assignment, and many had never written in a script format before, so it was lots of mini lessons on formatting.

Scene from The Littlest Bigfoot by Jennifer Weiner

Scene from The Littlest Bigfoot by Jennifer Weiner

Then, when everyone had scenes done (note: the writing took longer than I expected, and lasted parts of a few class periods over a few days), I put them into small groups, where each reader/scriptwriter shared their books and their scenes, by taking on parts in a read-aloud activity. The negotiations (which parts shall we read?), the collaboration (“Should I have an accent?”) and the literacy moments (novels coming to life through scripts) were all interesting to watch unfold.

Scene from Hollow City by Ransom Riggs

Scene from Hollow City by Ransom Riggs

Students in each group read one script after another, and then each group chose one script to perform/read/share to the rest of the class (more negotiations). In this way, every student was exposed to at least three to four new stories from novels, which maybe … just maybe … might spark their interest as a reader.

Scene from Chomp by Carl Hiassen

Scene from Chomp by Carl Hiassen

All day, in every class, this activity went relatively smooth and I realized (again) how much my students just love to read plays, and to do it in groups, and that the opportunity to write a skit for others was truly a motivational writing experience.

Yahoo!

Peace (telling stories about listening to stories),
Kevin

Slice of Life: Brewing an Audio Stew with Words, Loops, and Sounds

(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.)

We’re in a digital writing unit that centers on expanding the notions of what it means to compose, with a focus on writing with sound. The way it works is that my students will be creating small Sound Stories (about a paragraph or so) in which they will record their voices, weaving in sound effects from a library of audio I provide them and layering looped music underneath it all. It’s composition, in the fuller sense of the word.

Sort of like an audio stew.

This is one I did a few years ago that I share with them as an example. They all get a kick out the ending:

The other day, I showed them how to use Garageband, and for nearly all of my students, this was their first taste of this powerful music-making, sound-mixing software application on the computer. A few have used the Garageband mobile app (which remains one of the more powerful music-making apps available for Apple devices – sorry, Android. Nothing you have comes even close.)

Snow days and ice delays have put a dent in my plans for making the Sound Stories, so we will start again on the Sound Story activity when we get back from Thanksgiving break.

But here’s what I notice with Garageband — there is a real excitement about making songs and creating music when you have access to interesting sound loops, and the most creative students are sometimes the ones you expect least. I don’t mean that as a disparaging comment … I mean, in the writing classroom, you don’t often see the music engineer ready to bloom, or not unless you give them the seeds and soil to bloom in. Software like Garageband, or sites like Soundtrap, can do that.

Now, my students are coming into class, earbuds in hands, asking if today is a Garageband Day in writing class. Today, in fact, will be one of those days, once we get some other writing done (we’re also working on converting a scene from their independent reading books into a play/movie script … that’s another write-up for another day).

Time to make some music.

Peace (sounds fine),
Kevin