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

Making Puppets: Complete Creative Chaos

Puppet craftsWe 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.

Peace (on a stick),
Kevin

Helping Students Navigate Online Bullying

 

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.

Peace (sharing it),
Kevin

Kindness Matters: Posters of Peace

Peace Posters 2018 Kindness Matters

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.

Peace (everywhere),
Kevin