We make stick puppets for our school’s annual craft fair. I know I probably should be doing beautiful ornaments, or maybe holiday trinkets, or perhaps some kind of interesting project with a Maker Space mentality, like LED bracelets with binary code names or whatever.
But I still prefer the madness of hands-on puppet making with sticks, paper, glue and assorted stuff. I live with the chaos of feathers floating in my room for a week afterwards, and I tamp down the worries of hot glue guns in the hands and fingers of 11-year-olds, and I scramble to see if I have enough pink paper (who knew pigs were popular this year?) and more material that they suddenly need.
It’s complete creative chaos during our puppet making sessions. I just go with the flow, knowing they might not get another real chance to make puppets in their lives. The laughter and movement and helping each other (“I need a white pom pom. Anyone have a white pom pom?” “I have a white pom pom. Here you go!”) is worth the mess we make of the room.
We’re nearing the end of our Digital Life unit and yesterday’s topic was about the negative aspects of digital spaces — of how online spaces and apps can become a place of mean behavior and bullying, and how one can navigate through if it happens.
The presentation here is part of our discussions, with an emphasis on ways to handle bullying if it happens in digital spaces and making sure students hear the overarching message that we teachers care about all of our students, in and out of school, and that we are “trusted adults” they can turn to for help. Also, I emphasized the overall concept that different is good, cliques can sometimes be bad, and we all have an obligation to look out for each other.
Don’t adults bully other adults, too? — a student asking a question during our work on bullying.
It occurred to me later that I never really dove into Twitter Trolls and Facebook bots and other tools that adults misuse online spaces to attack others for reasons of political views, religious ideology, gender and other reasons. I may need to rethink and revamp this again for next year.
This song doesn’t run in the Prezi anymore but it is a powerful message that my students all appreciated.
Walking through the hallways of our school is an experience in artistic expression. The flat walls have become pop-up galleries of sixth grade artists, whose work on the theme of “Kindness Matters” for this year’s Peace Poster challenge is a beautiful reminder of what is in all of our hearts. Using only image and design, and no words, the young artists have to express kindness in the world through visuals. Viewing the art is a chance to breathe, to remember that beyond headlines of the madness and the violence of the world, so many of us only want peace. The art of children, the hearts of these students, show us a way forward.
This is a project of our wonderful art teacher, Leslie Marra, and is part of a Lion’s Club initiative. I work with students to create artistic statements, reflection points from the artists.
These dances are known as “emotes” (that link will give you full details about each move, and its visual messaging to other players, and it is fascinating to explore). If you didn’t know about emotes, they are used in the game to express a player’s emotion, usually in victory over someone else. Also, players can pay money for more emotes beyond the handful of free ones. So, you know, no surprise, but there’s a profit margin here.
Anyway, last night, my wife and I were at a Bar Mitvah celebration for the sons of some close friends, and the DJ had all the kids on the dance floor for extended periods of time, and the large crowd of kids (again, mostly boys but some girls) were doing a variety of intricate dance moves learned in Fortnite.
It seemed like every kid knew every dance move.
They were even teaching the DJ some new ones, which shows how quickly things change. Later, as we adults all took the floor to dance, too, the DJ added a few Fortnite references to the shout-outs for us, although he was careful to mix them in slowly and not choose the more bizarre ones (we did not all Floss at the same time, although that would have been rather amusing).
It’s a testament to the current power of the video game to influence pop culture and an intriguing way to use dance as cultural currency outside of the game itself. Perhaps I only see a narrow view of the world (my classroom and other related spaces with my teenage son), but I’ve never seen more boys interested in dance moves than now, with the Fortnite influence in full effect.
There are other more concerning considerations, too, such as the message it sends of dancing in victory over another defeated player, as an indication of professional sports impacting game design; the influence of any video game on emerging youth culture (nothing new); and the public complaints of artists about Fortnite not crediting and paying for their original dance moves used in the game itself. (Is there a Creative Commons for dance moves?)
Emotes are another under-the-radar element of youth culture worth noticing, at least. Something new is coming. It always is.
I continue to be intrigued by how my sixth grade students “Map the Internet” by artistically representing themselves to technology. This is a riff off Kevin Kelly’s The Internet Mapping Project. Two more classes did this activity this week.
I am at in the middle in our Digital Life unit with my sixth graders, and the one component that I am adding to and beefing up in the last few years is a “critical digital media” component, with a focus on the veracity of news. I’ve been searching for a good book that might introduce the topic in an interesting way, and came across the perfect picture book and tale: The Nantucket Sea Monster (A Fake News Story) by Darcy Pattison and Peter Willis.
This true story of fake news takes place not too too far from where I teach (Nantucket is a few hours east and then a ferry ride) but I know plenty of kids know where Nantucket is and some have even visited or vacationed there (my wife and I had our honeymoon there).
The book centers on 1937, when an elaborate spoof of the public — the newspapers, some department stores and a few locals were all in kahoots on it — unfolded in the newspapers, first locally and then nationally. It had to do with the sighting of a monster in the fishing waters of Nantucket, and the curiosity and fears that came from it. The newspapers printed “authentic” accounts of sea monster sightings and spun the story from different angles.
Finally, the collaborators let the public in on their joke — an elaborate stunt by a local balloon maker getting ready for Thanksgiving Macy’s Parade. The monster was inflatable.
The picture book story is helpful for framing a discussion about Fake News because it points to gullibility of readers, responsibilities of the media outlets, and the way businesses use these elements to market products or information. I’ll also reference the use of radio in the War of the Worlds broadcast in 1938 (a year after the Nantucket incident).
Cut to modern day and the political use of news items and news outlets as rhetorical arms. Our work in the classroom is to make visible as much of the fake news phenomenon as possible and give them strategies for considering source and material for what we call “news” these days.
(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 was nearing the end of a class-long lesson on issues of privacy with digital apps and websites — which included instructions on how to ensure greater privacy controls for Instagram, Snapchat, YouTube and more — when a sixth grader raised her hand.
“Now I’m scared.”
She said it with a laugh but I knew she was worried, if not scared.
It’s a reaction I try to avoid, framing much of our discussion in our Digital Life unit around the positive elements of what social media can do — around connections, around sharing, around empathy and understanding, around learning. But I know all of our talk of data mining by companies like Google, web browser cookies, and targeted advertising with technology will rattle a few of my students, particularly if they have never considered the issues before.
“You don’t need to be scared,” I assured her, and the others. “You need to be wary. You need to understand that you have some control over what you share. Who you share with. Why you share. Be wary but be empowered.”
They laughed again when I noted there is a sure-fire way to avoid all of the privacy issues of the Digital Age: completely unplug and don’t use technology. The looks of disbelief on their faces told me the reality (which I already knew).
I suspect some of these insights on privacy and agency will sink in now, and some will sink in over time. I hope some rushed home to check their privacy settings (that’s what I encouraged). I hope others installed ad blocking extensions (another action I suggested). I hope some had conversations with parents and family about the issues. I hope some of them, some day, will be the ones pushing back against the large companies.
This is the second year I have tapped into Kevin Kelly’s The Internet Mapping Project to have my sixth grade students metaphorically connect their lives to their technology, and the Internet. I always worry the concept will be too obtuse for them and each time, they remind me of how capable they are in using art and reflection to understand the world (or at least, try to).
This presentation has assorted student maps, after a few videos that I share with them to spark initial conversations about what the Internet is, and what its origins are. Most don’t know.
The maps that my students create lead to small group discussions about what we noticed among our collective maps. Topics include the prevalence of YouTube in their lives, the ways we are still at the center of the Internet universe, the influx of mobile devices as the way to interface with technology, the social aspects of the Web in their lives. (Interestingly, Kelly shares a link to a taxonomy project about the Internet Map Project.)
It’s a strange bit of circumstance but the shift in discussions for Equity Unbound this week — in the form of a slow Twitter chat, unfolding over days — is about technology’s reach and impact into our lives. The odd part is that I had just been interviewed last week by a science/technology/education reporter at The New York Times about Google’s reach into the classroom through its “Be Internet Awesome” site.
The reporter had seen something I had written way back when the program was first announced and asked if I could talk. I did, explaining that while the site has some solid potential for teaching about technology use, the branding of it by Google clearly is a business strategy to hook kids into the Google ecosystem, early and often. I suggested that teachers use more than just the Awesome campaign when teaching about digital life. (I use elements of the CommonSense Media Digital Citizenship resources, for example.)
The issue is complicated further in that we are a Google Apps for Education school district, and we use our Google accounts regularly for writing and for media making and more. It’s a valuable addition to our writing and technology and research work. I find the Google accounts more than handy … yet …. yet … I know that GAFE and cheap Chromebooks are all ways to get more schools to use Google’s infrastructure (even with privacy protections on GAFE accounts, if we believe it). More schools, more kids, more users.
And the more we use Google, the more ads they sell. (To be clear, there are no ads directed at students within GAFE itself.)
As it happens, I am right now in the midst of teaching my sixth graders in a Digital Life unit, where we discuss and explore issues of privacy, identity, choices, and the ways corporations like Google are using our browsing histories and data to target us with advertising. You won’t find mention of that state of the modern day technology world in Be Internet Awesome.
I am quoted about halfway down, and then again at the very end. It’s interesting to see myself in The New York Times — when I was a reporter (before I became a teacher), I often wondered if my career would ever take me to the Times (it didn’t and I am glad for where I am as a teacher, and I don’t think I ever had the skills or talent for the NYT, anyway.) Now I find myself in there, in the newspaper itself.
I’m going to get a paper copy today and share it with my students.
(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 was shuffling papers, trying to find something. I had a meeting in an hour.
I held up a give-me-a-sec gesture. The paper seemed important in that moment. The voice, a distraction.
I stopped, looked up. She had come in from recess, all smiles. She bounced on the heels of her feet.
“I just wanted to say hello. Hi!”
She added a wave. I chuckled.
“Thank you. Hi!”
“Thank you! You’re welcome!”
She scooted off, skipping a bit, and I started to go back to my task of paper-finding, smiling to myself about the curious nature of kids, and the impact of kindness.
Peace (in the moment),
PS — a version of this was also shared as a small story in another space.