Interact: A Q from a Past S


flickr photo shared by monojussi under a Creative Commons ( BY-NC-SA ) license

I received this email the other day from a past student. They were in one of the first classes I ever used Twine with, as we were crafting interactive fiction stories as a writing activity. Years later, I guess that experience still sticks.

Dear Mr. Hodgson,

               Hi, how are you? I need a refresher on how to operate the Twine program for my science project. Is their any written form of instructions to operate the system that I could have a copy of? Or any other ideas to help me with my project will be fine. Thank you for time, I look forward to hear from you.
Sincerely,
(Student)

I was so happy to hear from this student because I last saw them in the high school theater production but I was also very happy that they were asking about how to use something we did in sixth grade for a high school project. That’s pretty cool, eh?

I sent this email, and a few others have gone back and forth in the last few days between us.

Hi (Student)
It’s great to hear from you.
Twine has a new version out, called Twine 2. It’s more web browser-based and more stable, I think.
For the older version of Twine, which was a software download, which we used in class, I always went to this site for help and instructions
We have begun using Google Slides and hyperlinks that jump from slide to slide as our main tool for Interactive Stories. It’s been pretty effective. You can do it right in your school Google account.
Inkewriter is another online tool
I hope that helps. Let me know how it goes. I’d love to play your project!
Sincerely,
Mr. Hodgson

I really do hope they sent me their project to play.

Peace (interact),
Kevin

Slice of Life: Art on a Large Scale

Polar Vortex Quidditch

On Thursday, we hold our annual (17th annual, apparently) Quidditch Tournament. The other day, all four sixth grade classes were hard at work on posters. There were kids and posters and paints everywhere in the cafeteria. It was pretty cool to see the floor turned into a colorful art gallery. We don’t do enough of those kind of large-scale art endeavors like we should. The banner posters (our team name is Polar Vortex) will hang up on the gym walls on behalf of each of the four teams that will play all day long before crowds of younger students and parents and others.

I gave my blue t-shirt to some students to paint for me (they are working on their own, too). They gave me a nickname and a number, and I am just about ready to coach, and have a blast.

Then, on Thursday night, after a full day of running and jumping and competing, the students get to team up and play against us teachers (our team name: Pink Fury). I’m tired just thinking about it.

:)

Peace (in the art),
Kevin

 

Slice of Life: The Mosaic Project — Imagine and Create

(This is for the Slice of Life challenge for March, hosted by Two Writing Teachers. We are writing each day about the small moments in the larger perspective … or is that the larger perspective in the smaller moments? You write, too.)

School Mosaic

I was not part of this project. Our art teacher and a visiting artist worked with students in our school to create this amazing mosaic project on the theme of “create” and “imagine” and it hangs right outside my classroom right now. I am one lucky teacher.

Every time I wander by, I see stories emerging from the tiles of this mosaic. Students in the upper grades worked during a week on this, designing the images and laying out the tiles. The closer you get, the more detailed it becomes. But even from a distance, there is creativity in bloom.

School Mosaic

This is what school is about. Where else would most of these kids have a chance to do a full mosaic art project like this? And what a gift to the school for years to come. Did I mention it is right outside my classroom?

<grin>

Peace (in the imagination of creativity),
Kevin

Slice of Life: Clockstoppers and Timetellers

(This is for the Slice of Life challenge for March, hosted by Two Writing Teachers. We are writing each day about the small moments in the larger perspective … or is that the larger perspective in the smaller moments? You write, too.)

sol16Friday mornings, we do our fluoride in the classroom. About half the kid grab their cups of stuff (the other half don’t participate) and, at this point in the year, I tell them to time themselves for a minute. They stare at the clock on the wall, in a sort of trance, watching the second hand tick the seconds away.

Interestingly, it is one of the few times they make note of the analog clock in the room.

In almost every other occasion other than fluoride time, when they have to pay attention to the minute mark, they squint at my active board for the small digital clock in the upper corner. Sometimes, they don’t notice that I have the board on “freeze” mode (so the screen stays frozen and I can work on my computer) and they become lost in time. I had one student yesterday, signing out for the bathroom, who kept looking back and forth from the screen to the wall clock, trying to figure out why they were not in sync.


flickr photo shared by Bennett 4 Senate under a Creative Commons ( BY-SA ) license

On some mornings, like yesterday, right around 9 a.m., our wall clock sometimes … stops. Just pauses. Takes a break. It’s the building clock system adjusting to “real time,” I guess, but when it happens — when the hands of time come to a complete and full stop — all the swishing-spitting kids’ eyes bulge out, as if they can’t believe it. As if it hasn’t happen many Fridays before. They point with dramatic fingers at the clock, and try to get my attention. As if I can fix it.


flickr photo shared by bibendum84 under a Creative Commons ( BY-SA ) license

I nod, as if knowingly, and say, “Well, I guess your teeth get a little extra protection this morning,” to which their reply is as predictable as mine: a shake of theirs head in a dramatic “nooooooooo” shake and then relief when the clock starts up again.

The more attuned kids have realized by now that the second wall clock in the room — the one I brought in from home, with a saxophone on it — may be “off time” a bit from the world of Time, give or take five minutes, but it never stops working. Therefore, it’s a much better device for fluoride. I think the other just like the idea of watching time stand still.

Peace (in the seconds),
Kevin

Slice of Life: The Return of the Polar Vortex

(This is for the Slice of Life challenge for March, hosted by Two Writing Teachers. We are writing each day about the small moments in the larger perspective … or is that the larger perspective in the smaller moments? You write, too.)

sol16If you have read my blog over the years in March, you know that our school plays a version of Quidditch that is now in its 15th year, I believe. Each year, each sixth grade class decides on a team name and in April, we hold a full-day Quidditch Championship celebration, and the whole school comes out to watch the sixth graders play.

It’s crazy fun, and we weave in all sorts of art and writing activities into the mix.

I have a whole process for how my homeroom class chooses its team name, from brainstorming to voting. Our main color is blue, so we often have cold or water themes. Alas. But as with last year, this year’s group of students had already mostly agreed on a name before the voting happened (with a name suggested by the quietest student in the room, which I think is great) — we did the voting anyway, just in case anyone had other ideas not yet considered.

In the end, they chose the name “Polar Vortex” — which I like now that winter is nearing an end — over the second place choice — Arctic Apocalypse (which I have a hard time spelling, and which is hard to say) —  and this is our student-created team design that will go on the T-shirts they are making, as well as posters we will be creating in the coming weeks.

polar vortex

And this is how you play our game:

Peace (on the Quidditch Pitch),
Kevin

Slice of Life: Pete’s Pigs, Finney’s Fish, Klotz and Glotz and More

(This is for the Slice of Life challenge for March, hosted by Two Writing Teachers. We are writing each day about the small moments in the larger perspective … or is that the larger perspective in the smaller moments? You write, too.)

sol16We had a roaring good time in class yesterday, as I began a review/introduction to Figurative Language/Literary Devices with my sixth graders. They’ve had bits of it in past years, of course, but we are working to pull them all together now as part of the “writers’ toolbox” for adding more “oomph” to their writing.

And, well, standardized testing is coming up soon, too, and there are always some questions about personification and imagery and other elements of Figurative Language.

We focused in on Alliteration yesterday, using tongue twisters to set the stage for the rhythm of repeating sounds at the start of words. I have this long alphabetical list of tongue twisters that anchor on sounds from A through Z, but the real fun came by whipping out the Dr. Seuss book, Oh Say Can You Say? and after reading a few of the oddball twisters, letting them have a try at it.

Oh my. We were all laughing up a storm as we tripped over the stories of Pete Briggs and his pigs; of Pinner Blinn and his dinosaur pins; of Fritz and his dog, Fred; of eating at Skipper Zipp’s Chip Chop Shop; and more.

Today, we will dig out another Dr. Seuss classic — Mr. Brown Can Moo, Can You? — to play around with Onomatopoeia and sound words, with a little comic making to use sound effects.

Peace (in the oddness of Seuss),
Kevin

Real Men Write (Perceptions of Gender)


The first page of Sharon Creech’s Love that Dog cuts to the heart of this post in many ways. Jack, a young student, is doing a poetry assignment in class, and he writes: ... boys don’t write poetry. Girls Do.

Not.

As Jack learns over the course of exploring something traumatic, writing can become the key to unlock his understanding and writing can help him come to grips with the world, at large, in all of its unfairness and potential. Creech’s free verse novel is an important read on so many levels, including puncturing the perceptions that boys don’t write poetry, or about feelings.

They do. We do.

Greg A. —  over at his blog, Dash: Life Between the Numbers — wrote a very powerful post for Slice of Life the other day that has stuck with me for days and had me writing this post as a sort of response.

In a very eloquent way, Greg circled around the idea of what a “real man” is in this world of gender expectations. It was the reading of a short story with his students that got Greg moving in this direction, wondering how it is that we put ourselves in such confined gender boxes, and then he ended his post with these lines:

Dash: On Men

I wrote a comment for him, suggesting in a half-joking way that a social media campaign about what “real men” were in the world of writing and sharing might be appropriate. That’s the image below here — my meme attempt to celebrate men as writers. Of course, there are plenty of male writers in the world, but there are still many boys in my classroom who fall into the gender trap of males as athletes, not as poets; of men as leaders, not as collaborators; and on and on.

Real Men Write

We teachers often dispel those myths as soon as they pop up (I hope), as learning moments, although sometimes (too often?), you can feel the invisible pull of the views from home informing and constructing our young people’s views of the world.

I am very sensitive to this situation, and never openly disparage conflicting points of view, particularly if influenced by parents. Instead, I seek to provide alternative views of the world, where balance and equity prevail. We talk. We write. We try to understand.

And, as Greg suggests, I try to show what I believe a man can be in this world by my own example. This idea that writing, particularly emotional writing, is just for the girls and not for the boys, does an injustice to the power of the writing to dig deep, to gather ourselves into reflection, and to write about the world so that we can better understand the inner landscapes of who we are when no one else is looking. I wonder if this perception originates in the elementary years, when so many of our teaching colleagues are women, and not men. (In our sixth grade, three of the four of us are men, but I know that is a rare occurrence, indeed)

So, I write with them. I share with them. I am careful not to share too much, of course, but I am deliberate in showing how my writing expresses myself, and how young writers of any gender can accomplish great things. I show I care.

Yet, even in my own writing life, I see this gender split. I can’t help but notice that our Slice of Life community, which Greg and I are part of, is mostly composed of women. I am being careful here, because I am not putting blame on anyone for this disparity. They are wonderful women in the Slice of Life world. I am just noticing, as I have in other years, that the disparity is there. The gender balance in Slice of Life is out of balance, although that has always been very anecdotal.

This year, however, we were given access to a database of Slicers, as a way to create “writing pods” (great idea, although I am wary of making “male writer” pods as a solution to this post for fear of further isolation, right? And Two Writing Teacher folks are not suggesting we gather by gender, anyway). I wondered if I could discern gender by looking at the more than 300 people in the database who signed up as Slicers looking for Writing Pods.

Mostly, I could indeed get a sense after some analysis, although my data chart should not be considered scientifically accurate (some usernames and blogs had no discernible gender, and others are blogging without filling out the form, and so on).

But, I think this chart, and its wide gender disparity, does capture my sense of the Slice of Life community. Maybe it captures the teaching profession itself. (And a whole other range of questions around race would no doubt fill many more blog posts).

The numbers generate a few ideas I have that you are invited to dispute, as they are my own general observations only:

  • The “Two Writing Teachers” group are all women, with many connections to female educators and writers;
  • Many women educators, more than male educators, seem to seek a safe and supportive online writing community to share ideas and solicit feedback;
  • Men are reluctant to share personal details and emotional insights in a public space for fear, as Greg notes, of the Man Card gender issues.

And now I have to say this again and be clear: I have only ever felt nothing but supported and invited in the Slice of Life and Two Writing Teachers‘ communities, and there has never been a single practice of exclusionary invitation to anything I have seen. Ever. Not once.

So why aren’t more men writing in the Slice of Life? Why aren’t they taking part in rich discussions about writing and teaching and connections? I don’t know. They should. You should.

sol16Consider yourself invited to the Slice of Life, a daily writing activity through March and then every Tuesday throughout the year. Find your small moments. Write your experiences.

Real men write. They really do.

Peace (in equity and understanding),
Kevin

 

 

Slice of Life: Endless Youth on the Stage

(This is for the Slice of Life challenge for March, hosted by Two Writing Teachers. We are writing each day about the small moments in the larger perspective … or is that the larger perspective in the smaller moments? You write, too.)

sol16It seems like each year in March, we get a chance to see a preview of a musical production by our regional high school. Some years, they come to our school. Most years, we go to them. Yesterday, we went to the high school and watched with wonder as these talented high school students put on a preview of Peter Pan.

P pan

About two-thirds of the theater group are former students, so part of the game for us teachers is trying to remember names and faces, and look beyond costumes to remember their time in sixth grade. It’s not easy, and we laugh about it at lunch later on, but we sit there in our seats, so proud of them anyway. We remember Captain Hook as the kid with incredible musical talent, even early on, and Peter Pan as the girl with a dreamy look in her eye. We see the “lost boys” and shake our heads. We watch the dance routines and remember Talent Show nights.

The Peter Pan production was lavish, even though we could not witness the “flying” that will happen in the three days of the run of the musical play this weekend. Apparently, that involves some intricate systems and contraptions and lots of adult supervision that was not available for us.

At the end, they left time for questions from the audience of younger students, and the range of questions — from auditioning for parts (everyone who auditions gets a part) to rehearsing (since January) to the backstage coordination — showed a high interest from the audience. Again, I was reminded of how important the Arts are for so many students, and how dreadful it is when the Arts get cut or curtailed due to funding or the push into standardized testing.

Peace (off the stage),
Kevin

Slice of Life: One Reader, Many Texts

(This is for the Slice of Life challenge for March, hosted by Two Writing Teachers. We are writing each day about the small moments in the larger perspective … or is that the larger perspective in the smaller moments? You write, too.)

sol16One of the more significant “shifts” in any version of Common Core-aligned curriculum in the upper grades (and maybe even some lower grades) is having students reach across varied texts and then synthesize what they have read in a piece of developed writing. I am trying to do more of that with my sixth graders, but still find the coordination of texts, graphic organizers and thoughtful writing components is a lot to ask of many of my students.

We did some work with this ‘reading across texts’ yesterday in class. It was one of those “teacher-led, think-aloud” days, where we worked together with the reading (the passages were about zoos and animals, so there was high interest by many), the annotated highlighting of passages, the breaking apart of the inquiry question (compare/contrast), building on graphic organization strategies from the whole year to adjust to more than one text, citing evidence from the three passages in a single piece of writing,  and then talking through the writing piece.

It was fruitful but exhausting, in many ways, and some students still had that ‘deer in the headlights’ look in their eyes. We’ll be doing this more than a few times this year, of course, and normally I go deeper into multiple texts and synthesis writing later in spring as we move more into argumentative writing. But our state is moving some of the PARCC style components into our state test this month, and waiting for my curriculum map to catch up to us would be an injustice to students who likely will be confronted with these multiple-text questions (we saw some last year, too, but this year, the state has told us there will be PARCC components).

I’m not saying being able to read and comprehend, and write about, varied text is not a good skill to have. It is. I just know I, as teacher, need to keep learning more varied and better ways to teach it because even after what I think was some pretty decent teaching (if I do say so myself), I know it was not enough. And I have been thinking and working with this for quite some time now. I even led some PD with my colleagues a few years back.

But we always can learn more …

Peace (here, there, everywhere),
Kevin

Slice of Life: The Face on the Floor

(This is for the Slice of Life challenge for March, hosted by Two Writing Teachers. We are writing each day about the small moments in the larger perspective … or is that the larger perspective in the smaller moments? You write, too.)

sol16One of the best things about Slice of Life (there are many, of course) is that writing about moments every single day focuses your attention on things otherwise forgotten or ignored. You are always on the look-out for something you missed.

I was walking down the school hallway yesterday morning, taking a break from an early morning of filling out report cards, when I saw a face that I see every day, and think: I should take a picture of that.

So, I did, knowing that I would be writing about it this morning. This Face on the fFloor, shaped by the construction of the floor tiles — and a chip in the tiles that has expanded into a sort of mouth — and the emergency door system, is just a wonderful surprise, and sometimes, I try to imagine what it is thinking all day long. (Heck, that just might be a Daily Create suggestion in the future).

Face in the Floor

The Face seems contemplative about the world around it, doesn’t it? Almost … amused. 

We all see the world in different ways and I never asked students, How many of you have noticed the Face in the Floor? They pass over it and by it a dozen times a day. They are more likely to be chatting with friends, or thinking of lunch, or juggling books and binders, or looking at the artwork on the walls.

This might be a good writing prompt in my classroom …

Peace (on all of our faces),
Kevin