President Trump Responds (not what you think)

Letter from President

It was the final days of the school year, late June, when one of my sixth grade students asked in the middle of class: Do you think President Trump will respond to what we wrote? Even now, I bite my tongue. Do you really want him to, I asked in my head.

Out loud, in my neutral teacher voice, I responded to his question: “Not yet but he might.”

My students took part in the Letters to the Next President project, even though they were too young (under 13 years old) to be part of Educator Innovator’s online initiative. We did it on our own, using the Educator Innovator’s framework for choosing topics, doing research on a topic, writing to the next president (at a time when we did not know who would win the election).

We mailed off a package of the student Letters to the Next President in late January, following the Inauguration, and then heard nothing. (We didn’t check his Twitter account, but we suspected he might be busy with other things.)

Then, I went to my classroom this week to bring in some books and do a little organizing before the start of our new school year coming up a bit too fast, and there on my desk was an envelope from the White House, postmarked mid-July.

Trump responded, or rather, his staff responded in an upbeat tone.

Letter from President (close)

I don’t get the sense that this was written by the president. I could be wrong. Now, to share it with my former students …

Peace (please),
Kevin

Visiting Artist: Learning About Life with Your Hands

Elton visits

“Remove the negative. Uncover and highlight the positive.” — Elton Braithwaite, speaking to my students about art and life.

We’re fortunate to have an acclaimed woodcarver — Elton Braithwaite — come to work our sixth graders (11 and 12 year olds) this coming week.

Elton has been a partner with our school for more than 15 years, and the collaborative projects created by sixth graders are everywhere in our school — from a table-game picnic table to a welcome sign to wood murals to a puppet theater. All show the artistic vision of Elton and about 70 students, and the coordination and dedication of our art teacher.

Elton visits

I appreciate the tactile learning experience that Elton provides, and also, his views on life and the spirit and creativity, and the desire many have to create new things out of the old.

This year’s project is a wood frame for an events calendar. I can’t wait to see how it comes out.

Peace (carved and polished),
Kevin

 

 

Create Bravely with Storytelling

Fablevision visit with Paul Reynolds

We had a visitor to our school yesterday with a clear and inspiring message. Paul Reynolds, author and president of Fablevision media company (and twin brother of Peter Reynolds, author of the The Dot and Ish and now out on tour to support his new book, Beautiful Dreamer) presented a message of nurturing creativity and perseverance to our students in an author visit.

Fablevision visit with Paul Reynolds

Paul’s overall theme — plastered on the front of this shirt — was “create bravely” in a world that sometimes doesn’t recognize creativity for what it is. (One of my students, during Q/A time, asked: “Where can I get your t-shirt. I really want it.” Paul laughed, and said he might need to talk to Peter about making the shirt available. I know I want one, too. You?)

Paul told the story of how and he and his twin brother, Peter, founded their own company to sell books after Peter’s first book got rejected by multiple publishers, and then how Fablevision moved into video game design, websites, software, and videos.

The platforms, Paul explained, are not as important as the underlying core: Storytelling. Telling stories. The narratives are the key to any project, regardless of platform, Paul explained. And he returned to the theme of underlying story over and over again. I was quite thankful for that, but not surprised, knowing the work of the Reynolds and Fablevision.

He also noted the four “c’s” of learning (from the Partnership for 21st Century Skills): creativity, communication, collaboration, critical thinking — and then how Fablevision embraces the fifth “c” —  compassion. Again and again, Paul reminded students to make an impact — a dot — upon the world, and that art has a role in changing the world for the better.

Fablevision visit with Paul Reynolds

I deeply appreciated that after the big session with all of our sixth graders (11 and 12 year olds), Paul and Andrea Calvin (of Fablevision) came into one of my classrooms and talked and worked and brainstormed and troubleshot for an hour with my students as they were using a beta version of a publishing site from Fablevision called Get Published. They are creating a memory picture book online that will later get published into a hardcover, bound book.

Fablevision visit with Paul Reynolds

Peace (brave and creative),
Kevin

 

Making (Digital to Bound) Picture Books

Making Picture Books

We’re in our second year of a partnership of sorts with Boston-based Fablevision, a media and publishing company run by author/illustrator Peter Reynolds (of The Dot fame) and his twin brother, Paul Reynolds. Last year, we beta-tested their publishing site that allows you to make picture books, with a Reynolds-artistic-feel, in an online space that connects to a publishing space. You create in digital; and end in bound books. This year, we are beta-testing a second version of what is now called Get Published (which is a whole lot better and a whole lot less buggier than the first version.)

Making Picture Books

And today, Paul Reynolds and some folks from Fablevision are coming to our school to talk with our sixth graders and perhaps get a look at what they have been up to with their original picture books (the theme: looking back at their elementary school years, with a touch of satire and humor). Peter is on tour with his new book, called Happy Dreamer. We had talked about asking him to Skype in to join Paul but I am not sure if that is going to work.

Paul, along with writing and illustrating with Peter (see Going Places, with its cool Maker Space theme), runs Fablevision, which does a lot of interesting work around digital media and educational software, as well as publishing. The Reynolds also own their own bookstore in Eastern Massachusetts called The Blue Bunny.

It’ll be a fun day!

Making Picture Books

For our project, the parent group for our sixth graders have offered to pick up the cost of publishing the books, which we hope to have in their hands before our last day of school. We also will have our sixth graders read and share their books with second graders, for an authentic audience experience.

Peace (making it happen),
Kevin

 

Poetry Book Review: Swimming Upstream

I am afraid I can’t remember who in the Slice of Life community wrote about this book of poems, but I am thankful. Swimming Upstream by Kristine O’Connell George was the perfect way to end our recent poetry unit. My sixth graders are in the final days of their elementary school lives, soon to shift to the huge regional middle and high school building.

They have a lot of anxiety about friendships, lockers, finding classrooms, new teachers, and the social pressures that come from being a middle school student. This book of poems – small verses for the most part — was a perfect way to address some of those anxieties and also, provide a way to talk about what comes next for them. With themes built around the narrator’s own navigation of middle school, George’s poems felt authentic in feeling and emotion.

The book does what good poetry should do: it brought to the surface much of what goes unsaid in the mind of the reader. I read this book out loud, letting the words and stanzas sink in, and the classes were quiet and thoughtful.

Swimming Upstream was a nice bookend text, too, as we began our poetry unit with a Poem for Four Voices by Paul Fleischman (from the book Big Talk: Poems for Four Voices) entitled Seventh Grade Soap Opera, which has a neat twist to its weaving voices, and brought to the surface some of the same social navigation waters as does George’s book.

Perhaps poems will help get them ready.

Peace (the next step forward),
Kevin

Nerdwriter Explains Fidget Spinners (with appreciated parody)

I enjoy (and support via Patreon) Nerdwriter, who creates all sorts of interesting videos on a range of topics. His latest video release is one about Fidget Spinners, which our school has just banned as toys because we had kids throwing them on buses, spinning them into people’s faces, and selling them for profit in the hallways.

As usual, Nerdwriter incorporates parody with history for entertaining results.

You know … the arc of a fad.

Although he uses parody here, Nerdwriter makes an interesting aside: the emergence of devices with no buttons or tangible way to interact might pave the way for more tactile toys and devices, as people want their fingers and hands to be doing something. Or maybe not. Maybe we just have short attention spans and need something to divert our attention from full focus.

I had written about the spinners a few weeks back for Slice of Life, and since then, the spinners are all over the news with varying points of view on whether they are good or bad for students (despite the claims of the Fidget Defense League, I have yet to see any of my ADD/ ADHD students benefit from the use of a fidget spinner for focus and sustained attention. It mostly has been the reverse.)

Peace (the world spins),
Kevin

Using Comics to Interpret Poetry

Poetry Comics

I hope it’s no surprise that I like to give my sixth graders opportunities to make comics, and to use art as well as words in their writing and analysis. We’ve done visual notetaking and added art to many writing pieces, and used a basic comic model for a variety of writing activities.

Poetry Comics

Last week, as we were examining the Henry Wadsworth Longfellow poem — Paul Revere’s Ride or sometimes entitled The Midnight Ride of Paul Revere — I had them create a comic by pulling important lines from the poem and illustrating them to help tell the narrative story.

Poetry Comics

What I like is it allows me to see what grabbed their attention in a piece of poetry, and provides entry into analysis, and hopefully understanding, for those students who struggle with traditional writing but could use an artistic anchor into a text.

Poetry Comics

I should note that our conversation about the poem also dipped into what (and whose) stories are left out of the American Myth, thanks to the power and reach of Longfellow’s poem.

Peace (and all that history),
Kevin

Exploring with Parents, Kids and Coding

Family Coding Night

I helped facilitate a Family Coding Night event at my school last night, and we had about 25 kids and parents attend the event, which is part of our push to get more families involved in schools, to introduce the possibilities of programming, and to show off the new laptop computers that our community recently purchased for our school.

Family Coding Night

It was a great event, with kids and parents working together on some of the Code Puzzle challenges. My math colleague came along, too, because he wants to design a Week of Code for our sixth graders in June, and is seeking some resources and support.

As I both helped and eavesdropped around the room, I could hear all sorts of problem-solving and congratulations going on between moms/dads and children. We had kids as young as kindergartener and as old as middle schoolers in the room.

Code.Org, which sponsors the Hour of Code, has a lot of information about Family Code Nights, if you are interested.

Peace (coded for collaboration),
Kevin