Slice of Life (Day One): Unexpected Turns in the Story

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

You know that moment when you introduce an entirely new concept to your students, and even as you are watching their eyes take in the new information, you can see the wheels turning in their heads as they process it all? That was me and that was them, yesterday, as I began a mini-unit around Interactive Fiction (sometimes known as Choose Your Own Ending stories).

We began with a discussion about its basic elements — reader in charge of story, multiple narrative paths, use of second person narrative point of view, story maps, etc.)

Story Branches of Interactive Fiction

And then I read a book out loud called The Green Slime, allowing the entire classroom to act as “reader,” making “choices” along the way about where the story should go. Funny, each of my four classes took four different narrative routes, so each time I read the story, it was different experience for me.

I mapped out the different “branches” of the story as I read, showing them a visual of where we had been, and making note that they would be doing this kind of mapping, too, but from the writing standpoint, with every possible choice for the reader made visible.

Oh, they were pretty excited. Only a few had ever even seen these kinds of books, although some of my gamer’s make quick connections to the ways that video games use the same techniques. In the next days, we will be doing some writing and then some deeper reading and mapping of these books, and then move into a larger project using Google Slides as a launching point for Interactive Fiction, where hyperlinks become the way a reader “jumps” through the decision trees.

Peace (active and interactive),
Kevin

Visual Notetaking: Sketchnoting The Watsons Go to Birmingham

Visual Notetaking: Watsons Go to Birmingham

I wrote a few weeks ago about implementing aspects of “visual notetaking” into my classroom as we were watching the presidential Inauguration Ceremonies as a way to keep them in “active listen mode.” I pulled the technique out again a few days ago as we hit the two chapters in the novel, Watsons Go to Birmingham 1963, that I always read out loud to them. One is about a near drowning of the main character, Kenny, and the other is of the bombing of the church where Kenny’s sister, Joetta, is attending Sunday School (she’s is not hurt but Kenny sees things in the bombed-out church that no child should see).

Visual Notetaking: Watsons Go to Birmingham

Both chapters are high drama, and emotionally charged, as author Christopher Paul Curtis shifts the tone of the story from a whimsical tale of family and childhood to one of Civil Rights and violence. Reading these chapters out loud gives me a chance to pause, and coordinate the pace of the narrative for high effect and for questions that students might have, right in the moment after listening.

Visual Notetaking: Watsons Go to Birmingham

With sketchnoting, I was hoping my students would actively listen and pick up on some of the main themes of the chapters, with visuals as reminders, and it was very effective in many ways.

You can see the thinking of the student as they listened, and the sketches provided anchors of discussions afterwards.

Visual Notetaking: Watsons Go to Birmingham

Peace (let it be),
Kevin

Crazy Collaborative Dictionary Project: From Amic to Zzaj

New Words 2017

Now in our 12th year of collecting newly invented words (ranging alphabetically from Aamic to Zzaj) from sixth graders, our Crazy Collaborative Dictionary is pushing nearly 1,000 invented words. The invention of language is part of our lessons around the origins of words, and the roots of the English Language, and we have a blast with this word-invention activity.

But what amazes me is that this year’s class of word inventors weren’t even born when the first class of word inventors began making up words in 2005. Actually, we didn’t use a wiki until 2006, I think, but we used to publish the words as an in-house dictionary document. We started with an old wiki site called Seedwiki, and then moved to Wikispaces when Seedwiki kicked the bucket.

Once I had the first version of the wiki dictionary up, we shifted to the online dictionary concept (as well as lessons about this thing called the Internet and what in the world Wikis were). I’ve had them submit words all sorts of ways. This year, we set up a Google Form to collect words into a database.

A few years ago, we added podcasting to the activity, giving students a chance to record their word and definition. As I now pitch it to them, their voice will be forever (well, we’ll see about that, right? Forever is a long time in Internetland) linked to their word, in this moment in time. Five years, or ten years, from now, they should be able to “listen” to their sixth grade self, reading out their word and definition at the Crazy Collaborative Dictionary. (I am still connecting podcasts to this year’s collection of words)

I think that idea is pretty nifty, as is the concept that many of my students are now “collaborating” with older siblings, some of whom have graduated and are in college, or in jobs. But their words are there, in our dictionary, as are their siblings’ new words. As a father of three kids, I find that idea of cross-year collaboration pretty magical indeed.

Peace (words matter),
Kevin

#NetNarr: Worldbuilding in Writing Notebooks

WorldBuilding Collage

In the Networked Narratives adventure just now unfolding, there is some talk down the road about “world building” and as my students were just finishing up an entire unit on video game design (telling a Hero’s Journey story inside of a video game structure), I decided to riff off the idea with some daily writing activities in their notebooks.

Day One’s prompt was to map out an imaginary world, either in the form of maps or an atlas, and to name landforms and water forms within their world.

WorldBuilding2

Day Two’s prompt was to use that Imaginary World as the setting for a short story, sending a character on an adventure through the new world they had conceived the day before.

What struck me was how closely many of the student’s maps and atlases of their new worlds resembled Earth. I expected more of them to take more creative license with the prompt. However, the stories were imaginative, conceptualizing a strange and imaginary place for adventure, and I wonder if their ability to “tell” stories (something we work on all year) gave them more freedom to explore the unknown elements of an unknown world.

BONUS: I made this prompt into a prompt for the Daily Digital Alchemy the other day. Give it a whirl. Create a world.

Peace (somewhere, there’s a world),
Kevin

Flocabulary Gets It Right: Civil Rights Hip-Hop Resource

(This is a post from the past that seems worth re-sharing today. — Kevin)
MLK Day Dream

Flocabulary has a great musical resource available for remember Martin Luther King Jr. and honoring the Civil Rights movement. Along with the hip hop song that brings in words and imagery into the flow, the group provides a set of lyrics you can print out. Whenever I use Flocabulary and their mad rhymes, my students pay attention. The site even has a classroom view, allowing the video to come into center focus. You can’t embed the video in other sites because Flocabulary sells subscriptions (and periodically, makes resources like this one free).

Check it out.

And remember and honor the man whose voice continues to ring out and resonate with much of the country.

Peace (on this day),
Kevin

Student Interactive Showcase: Playing Hero’s Journey Video Games

Game Design 2016

My sixth grade students are just now finishing up their Hero’s Journey video game projects in Gamestar Mechanic — they worked hard on design and story narrative and peer review and publishing — and many of the games have the elements that show solid learning.

A few rise up as exemplar video games, in my opinion, so I want to showcase a few. I used ThingLink to create a jumping off point (the links to lead to embedded games at our classroom weblog site) for you to play, if you care to try your hand at student-developed video game projects.

Peace (play it and win it),
Kevin

Making Video Game Advertisements

As my sixth grade students were working on the final stages of their Hero’s Journey Video Game Design Project, I turned to my paraprofessional in the classroom, Sandy, to teach a lesson around advertisement. She had an entire career as an artist and magazine designer before moving into education, and her expertise about design and art is always worth tapping into. I am eternally grateful for her, on many more levels than this. She’s a real partner in the classroom, every single day.

Sandy taught them about the visual — of the icon being large and representative of the game concept — of lettering and color, of catch-phrases, and so much more. We looked and broke down some traditional video game advertisements, too, talking about technique and loaded words and phrases.

The results of the advertisements were pretty cool, and the ads are now being hung in my classroom. But I grabbed a few and made a video with them, too, as a way to celebrate my sixth graders as artists and designers.

Peace (in the art),
Kevin

Student Video Game Reviews (with design focus)

Many of my students are finishing up their video game reviews, an activity in persuasive writing in which they used a design focus to explore the pros and cons of a chosen video game.

They don’t mind this writing at all. In fact, my students who struggle the most with writing but who enjoy gaming find intense focus on this assignment, as they are tapping into their own knowledge and expertise and interest. We do this reviewing with a focus on design: playability, graphics, music, controls, etc.

Here are a few:

Along with looking at the writing, and noting to them that this kind of persuasive writing will soon shift into argumentative writing, I am always curious about which games are most popular in a given year. Last year and the year before, Minecraft had everyone beat.

Video Game Review Roblox

Not this year, so much. This year, I am finding a lot of kids reviewing, and playing, ROBLOX, which I had not heard much about until my own son came home from his Minecraft Club saying everyone had moved over to ROBLOX for the afternoon. Apparently, in ROBLOX (which I have yet to explore), you play games that others in the community build, and you build games that other people play (sort of like our work with Gamestar Mechanic, which is designed more to teach basic game design principles and is a closed system).

Peace (design it better),
Kevin