Slice of Life: The Fortnite Effect

(Slice of Life is a month-long writing challenge to write every day in March, with a focus on the small moments. It is hosted by Two Writing Teachers. This year, I’m going to pop in and out, but not write daily slices, as I did for the past ten years of Slice of Life. You write, too.)

One family told the story of their child, our student, breaking their bedroom television and then suggesting to the parents that they not replace it. Another said they had curtailed time spent on it after listening in to conversations. Another said they were going home right after our meeting, to delete the program. Another admitted they did not know much about what their child was doing in it but they witnessed a change in personality that worried them.

The video game of Fortnite unexpectedly became a theme of conversations across meetings with families last night for our spring conferences, each time brought up by the parents and not by us teachers. Clearly, for many families, the Fortnite phenomenon is causing concern over the emotional health of their children and the impact on school.

I am usually one of those who argues that there are some virtues in many gaming platforms, and I have constructed an entire teaching unit around video game design as a way to help my students see gaming as a possible way to compose in a media storytelling mode, to shift them from player to builder.

Of course, I’ve watched as Fortnite became the “go to” game for many, girls and boys, over the last year or so. I even wrote a few times about the noticing the emergence of Fortnite.

There are some positives to Fortnite worth knowing. It is a communal experience, where players often work in teams to help each other survive. The violence of the dying, while baked into the game, is not often explicit, unlike some games where the blood and gore of killing and dying can be alarming. There are easy entry points into the game, and it is cross-platform.

But … it has become clear that the social aspect of the game — particularly the chat function of social interaction — can also be its worst feature, as gamers use the physical distance from each other, and the possibility of unaccountability for language and words, to create a negative element to an addictive environment (Fortnite developers are brilliant in leveraging the many psychological ways to keep players, playing, for hours.). All the things one may worry about — bullying, peer pressure, profanity, etc. — now seem to play out in the Fortnite battlefields, and sometimes spill over into the school day.

In a few cases, teachers and parents could delineate either a decline in work quality (child started using Fortnite) or an increase in quality and happiness (child stopped using Fortnite) so clearly that it was rather startling, to be honest. It’s a small sample pool, to be honest, but still … something to mull over.

I’ve noticed the trend of playful remarks about Fortnite shifting this year into more negative, cutting remarks about playing ability and skins and more. It may just be this particular cohort of students — and there are one or two students who clearly are the leaders, admired by others for their Fortnite prowess yet more negative than positive to others, using their social cache in the game platform in all the wrong ways. When a handful of parents all bring the game up in a school conference, it suddenly feels as if we as teachers should find a way to address it.

I intend to gather more resources about screen use and game effect on growing minds and on Fortnite, in particular, in hopes of making a resource for parents who may be struggling with this issue and need a way to have a conversation at home. And I will be thinking of how I might use our upcoming Argumentative Writing unit to tackle Fortnite.

If you have ideas or know of resources, please leave them in the comment bin. Thank you.

Peace (turn off to turn on),
Kevin

 

 

Slice of Life: The Head in the Door

(Slice of Life is a month-long writing challenge to write every day in March, with a focus on the small moments. It is hosted by Two Writing Teachers. This year, I’m going to pop in and out, but not write daily slices, as I did for the past ten years of Slice of Life. You write, too.)

He stuck his head in the door. A colleague from another grade. We don’t see each other all that often because his classroom is in another wing of the building, up a set of stairs.

“I wanted to tell you,” he said, “that for a paper for my class (for administrator licensing), we had to write about digital learning in our building where we teach. I focused on the EPencil.”

The Electronic Pencil is our sixth grade home base for digital literacy learning and sharing.

“You’re doing some great things with the kids,” he said, “and I wish more of us were, too. Sometimes, we do things that we think no one ever sees. We still do them, anyway. I appreciate what you are doing with our students. Thank you. Great work.”

And then he was gone, but I sat there for a few minutes at my desk, pausing in my pile of papers that were helping me with the approaching report card deadline, and glowed a bit in appreciation for his gesture as one colleague to another.

The noticing is a powerful thing. It only took a few seconds but those few seconds set the tone for the rest of my day. I need to remember to do more of that, too.

Peace (sharing it),
Kevin

BookSnaps: Getting Close to the Text

BookSnaps Collage 2019Last year, I tried out this close-reading technology activity called BookSnaps — an idea shared by Tara Martin — in which students use an image “snapped” from their independent reading books as a way to reflect on what they are reading. They layer “stickers” on the image that connect to the story and use text “call-outs” to put their own ideas/reflections in there.

The other day, I had my sixth graders work on BookSnaps (we use Google Draw, through Google Classroom) and my readers were quite engaged in the activity, identifying snippets of text and asking questions, making predictions, discussing characters. There were a lot of helping hands, as most needed help holding the books while snapping the picture.

While the BookSnaps themselves don’t allow for deep literary analysis, they do provide an visual and engaging means to discuss the books they are reading, and just as important, they spark interest in other readers, as a sort of BookSnap/BookShare concept.

This was the one I did as a sample for them to see — I was reading The Stars Beneath Their Feet.

Mr H BookSnap SampleHere is a video collection of the BookSnaps that were finished by students during our class period:

Peace (snap it into place),
Kevin

PS — Tara Martin did a talk on this concept, which is when I first heard about it and wanted to try it out

How Rube Goldberg Design Spilled into Video Game Design

Don't Move: Game

Many times, my students surprise me. Take for example, this student, who decided to take the concept of informational design/expository writing with our work around Rube Goldberg Contraptions and make a video game project version in Gamestar Mechanic. He spent a long time in design mode, making sure that once a player hits “play,” all they have to do is watch the game unfold on its own.

As someone who has designed games in Gamestar Mechanic, I can tell you: this is very intricate and required lots of planning and troubleshooting, but it is pretty cool to play/watch as things unfold automatically.

Play Don’t Move

Peace (this leads to that),
Kevin

Mentor Interactive Fiction Text: The Place of Lost Bones

Interactive Fiction Cave Map

As I wrote the other day, my students are in the midst of creating Interactive Fiction stories. Many are done while some are finishing up. It’s almost always the case that as they are doing a new project, I am doing the assignment with them. Here, I built out a story for them to play, and for me to use as a way to talk about Interactive Story construction in Google Slides.

The map above is part of a map-making activity in which students take a break from building the stories and take a fresh look at the setting by making a map of the terrain. This was my map for my story down below.

Plus, it was fun to write. The best way to play/read these is to go full-screen mode.

Peace (choose the way),
Kevin

Slice of Life: On the Stage and Into the Woods

Into the Woods at HRHS

(Slice of Life is a month-long writing challenge to write every day in March, with a focus on the small moments. It is hosted by Two Writing Teachers. This year, I’m going to pop in and out, but not write daily slices, as I did for the past ten years of Slice of Life. You write, too.)

One of the joys of being an elementary teacher is when, years later, you see your former students. You catch glimpses of the child that had once been in your classroom.

Yesterday, we took our current class of sixth graders to see a preview of a staged production of Into the Woods at the regional high school. I made it a game from my seat of recognizing those on the stage. The years gone past for many of them — in some cases, nearly six whole years — made this a rather tricky endeavor.

Still, I could hear echoes in voices and I could see past days in faces. I was also wonderfully mesmerized by the talent on display for this production — which is a complicated retelling of Grimms’ Fairy Tales, with weaving story and music lines.

The best part was after the preview, when the cast sat on the stage, answering questions from the audience of elementary students. They were so poised, funny, enthusiastic and … themselves, just as I remembered them (at least, those who had once been my students). They made me proud.

Peace (from the seats),
Kevin

Write Out: Connecting to the Community’s Conservation Efforts

Town of Southampton Conservation Lands

The other day, I met with two officials from the Open Space Review Committee of the town where I teach (different from the town where I live). We were talking about a grant they have received to gather landowners in town for a few meetings to talk about open space preservation and conservation, and I was curious about how I might dovetail their work with a community writing project with my sixth graders. (I had noticed an article in the local newspaper about the project and reached out)

Ever since the Write Out project last summer, I’ve been thinking of how I might get my students more involved in the wildlife and woods of their small but growing town. (Write Out is an online collaborative learning experience with a focus on historic and natural spaces, stemming from a long partnership between the National Writing Project and the National Park Service. I was one of the co-facilitators, learning along with others. This year, Write Out is planned for the Fall, in conjunction with the National Day on Writing)

The after-school meeting was great — they were enthused by the idea of the school in town connecting to their efforts to reach more landowners, and we agreed that my students might be able to do a research project on some of the endangered/threatened species in different areas of the town, perhaps by creating some public informational pamphlets before a community-wide walk scheduled for May.

Town of Southampton

For now, I am perusing the resources — maps, and informational packets, and more — and reaching to the local Audubon Society for help in thinking about the natural landscape of the town. The town sits on top of the one largest natural water sources underground in the region — the Barnes Aquifer — so I want to be able to incorporate that, too. The town officials have offered to line up folks to visit the classroom, to share information and answer questions.

We even talked about resurrecting an old field trip (long run by a retired teacher) to a nearby small mountain — the highest peak in the town — as  a way to connect the research work with another view of the place where they live.

It’s exciting to think about the possibilities.

Peace (outside, in),
Kevin

 

Another Form of Literacy: Sports Play Diagramming

Quidditch Diagram Play collageAs we shift into Expository/Informational Writing during our school’s season of Quidditch, I use the opportunity to expand the notions of literacy by incorporating the diagramming of a sport play into the classroom. Students must invent a play to be done on the floor of our game of Quidditch (which we play in the gym), and then both diagram out the movement of players and write an expository piece of writing, explaining how the play unfolds.

This kind of literacy — connecting writing to the athletic field — opens up the doors for some of my students who play sports but who are reluctant to write. They immediately see the connection of clear, sequential writing, and imagine themselves as a coach in a timeout, giving out instructions on the basketball court, or the football or soccer field, with a small whiteboard in hand.

Sports plays are a language all of their own, defined by the sport. Here, for example, in our game, you may not know that CH is chaser, K is keeper, SL is sideline, and SK is seeker. The colored floor lines have meaning, too, to our game. The arrows and dotted lines indicate movement. It’s visual information with a writing companion (with a bit of trickery, since the writing is mostly what I am most after here).

This kind of activity comes from a workshop presentation I was in many years ago now, through the National Writing Project, where a fellow writing project member shared her work in using football play diagrams to teach reading to her struggling high school students. Something clicked when I saw that. It has stayed with me, this idea of meeting the literacy needs of our students on the fields where they play.

In a resource she created for NWP on Redefining Text, Bee Foster writes:

When we expand our view of text, we celebrate and support a greater number of our students on a regular basis. We acknowledge the ways in which our students are already reading and writing. We give them credit for their strengths and begin an important dialogue around the transfer of skills from one mode to another. We more effectively provide differentiation both in what students read, and in what students write. Most importantly, we more regularly allow our struggling students to take on the role of expert.

Hey – I even found her video:

Peace (run it, catch it, win it),
Kevin

Slice of Life: Art as Social Activity

Making Quidditch T-shirts

(Slice of Life is a month-long writing challenge to write every day in March, with a focus on the small moments. It is hosted by Two Writing Teachers. This year, I’m going to pop in and out, but not write daily slices, as I did for the past ten years of Slice of Life. You write, too.)

This requires more context than I can give right now but we play a version of Quidditch at our school (created by students 20 years ago). I’ve written about our game of Quidditch during many Slice of Life March moments over the years.

Along with the game itself, we incorporate all sorts of art and writing and much more. Yesterday, my students were making team t-shirts (team name: Arctic Bandits) and I watched with appreciation as they shared paints and ideas, offered help to each other when needed and made art as a social activity.

Things were messy, but art often is.

Peace (painted, chalked, drawn, shared),
Kevin

PS — this is a video we made years ago to show how we play our game of Quidditch

Interactive Fiction: Mapping All Possibilities

Greece Interactive Story Map

We’re in the middle of a small digital writing unit on Interactive Fiction, which is a “choose your own ending” sort of storytelling, using Google Slides and Hyperlinks as a way to publish a story.

Wolves Interactive Story Map

As much as I enjoy the final products — a story with choices for the reader, told in second person narrative — I truly love viewing the mapping by students of the possibilities. These maps lay bare the thinking, the possibilities of story. You can see an overview of the narrative arcs, the thinking behind the stories.

Dungeon Interactive Story Map

We get to this point of story mapping by first reading Interactive Stories and mapping out the journey into the story as a reader, noting where branches are and what paths we took. Then, they flip their role, making maps before writing the actual story for others to read.

Chamber Interactive Story Map

The theme of the project is a discovery of ancient ruins, and the reader is the traveler in the story, finding adventure and mystery as they move along through the story of choices.

Most of my students really enjoy this writing, as it is very different from traditional pieces we do, but a few do struggle with the unconventionality of it. That’s OK, too, for what I am trying to show them is that writing is not one form, but many forms and always adaptable.

That is a choice the writer has (although, not always in school, unfortunately)

Peace (take the path),
Kevin