It’s morning and I am sitting in Reagan National Airport, waiting for my plane to head home. It’s been a whirlwind weekend at the Teaching and Learning Conference in DC, with plenty of interesting sessions and keynotes, capped with a fantastic overview of a new National Parks Initiative unveiled with the help of filmmaker Ken Burns and NPS Director Jonathan Jarvis. (Did you the know the plan is to get every single fourth grader in America to visit a National Park in 2016? Wow.)
I was a co-presenter in two different sessions yesterday with the theme of “Readers, Writers, Citizens”, although both were on the theme of digital literacies and digital learning. My focus was on video game design as literacy practice, and both sessions went well, with plenty of sharing and discussions among educators in a very meaningful way. My colleagues were Troy Hicks, Janelle Bence, Gail Desler and Tanya Baker — all of the National Writing Project.
One of the participants shared this out via Twitter, which I appreciated (Thanks, Genevieve!). Here is our handout and more resources can be found at this Digital Is resource that Troy Hicks and I put together yesterday morning (Well, he created and I looked over his shoulder, offering suggestions).
Here are two photo collages from two conferences that I am in the midst of: our Western Massachusetts Writing Project Spring Symposium and the Teaching and Learning Conference (tied in with Digital Learning Day).
And the session I facilitated around remixing …
Lots to share and little time to do it …
Peace (in the whirlwind),
PS — Here’s a bonus from a session on Scratch that I sat in on:
(This is a Slice of Life post, for a month-long writing activity hosted by Two Writing Teachers. We write about the small moments of our days. You write, too.)
The next couple of days are just going to be nutty, and I am hoping I can still Slice. I’ll make time, of course, and I probably will share out what’s going on in the two conferences that I am attending in three days.
This weekend, I am flying down to Washington DC for the Teaching and Learning Conference. I was only vaguely aware of this conference, but I guess it is pretty huge, and the National Writing Project (facilitated by Tanya Baker) is sending me, Troy Hicks, Janelle Bence and Gail Desler (four of my favorite NWP people .. actually, that list is pretty long) to do two sessions on Saturday around digital learning. My own area will be talking about video game design as literacy practice.
The conference also collides with Digital Learning Day this year. I’m not sure what to make of the conference, as the tone of the programming seems very different from the writing project-flavored conferences that I often attend. There are a lot of consultants and administrators/education officials on the program, and my very informal and very unscientific analysis of the presenter list a few weeks back indicated this:
I’m not sure what to think of this analysis (will it be all EduSpeak all the time? Will teachers’ voice be front and center, or sidelined?) but I am going in with an open mind and see what I can see, learn what I can learn, and hang out with friends.
Meanwhile, tonight, I am helping to facilitate our Western Massachusetts Writing Project Spring Symposium, with the theme of Technology, Assessment and Justice for All. I am also co-presenting a session around the Remix Culture and learning, and our hope (crossing fingers here) is that we will get everyone making media with Webmaker Popcorn Maker. Our session is in a lab that I have not ever used … so, yeah … a little antsy about that unknown element. I am interested to hear our keynote speaker, and to learn more about the work he has done empowering urban students with media and social justice themes.
So, late night tonight for WMWP and then a very early flight to DC tomorrow for Teaching and Learning (plus, a visit with one of my best friends who lives in the DC area) …. lots going on!
This is a video I never got around to sharing, but I had joined Paul Allison, Chris Sloan and others at Teachers Teaching Teachers webcast a few months ago (!) to talk about gaming, game design and learning a few weeks ago. Here is the video of that discussion:
Nothing like some collaborative energy to celebrate a friend, and that’s what Maha, Simon and Susan and I have been up behind the scenes for our friend, Terry, whose birthday is today. We recorded a song, and then some thoughts — all via on online collaborative audio tool called Soundtrap (I’ll share out more about it later).
At the National Writing Project Annual Meeting in November (this post has been in my draft box for a bit of time), I attended a session by a representative of GlassLab Games, which has been working in a partnership with NWP folks to develop a video game app designed to teach elements of argument to middle school students.
The game is called Mars Gen One: Argubot Academy, and it is a free app from the Apple Store. Mat Frenz, of GlassLabs, was very knowledgeabout about game mechanics, and of why games are a natural way to pique the curiosity of students. He notes that good games can be an “engagement bridge” for students to learn difficult material, and the hope for Argubot Academy is that players “will master the mechanics of argument with the same passion as mastering the mechanics of Pokemon.” The game developers build some of the mechanics and look/feel/design of the game with echoes from the Pokemon universe.
Mars Gen One: Argubot Academy has a narrative of science, as the player is on a discovery mission and is forced to create “argubots” that are powered by the strands of strong argument claims and evidence. The player asks questions, explores the spaceship and then goes into “battle” against others with their argubots, seeing if their claims and evidence is strong enough to hold up to scrutiny. A teacher account allows you to track progress of students, and it charts out where strengths and weaknesses of the individual player/students are. That is all handy information.
I played the game a bit over the summer, when it was first released and promoted via NWP and Educator Innovator, and then again during the session, as Mat gave us an overview and tour of the game itself. I know a lot of teachers in the room were excited about. I have my slight reservations. First of all, my classroom does not have iPads, so for all practical purposes, the game is not in our future. I also found the game a bit too wordy, knowing my students as I do, although when I mentioned this is conversation with other teachers in the session, they disagreed with me. So, maybe it is my own perception. I am also not sure it would engage my students over multiple sessions, although Mat shared testimonials from teachers using the app, praising it as tool for engagement.
But, don’t listen to me. Give the app a try. It’s free, and a lot of thought has gone into the development. It might just work for you, particularly as we shift into higher gear away from persuasion and deep into argument. The game might be just the hook for your students.
For everyone who is in all of my various online networks and communities and adventures, I thank you. Here is a song, with some animated words, as my humble thanks for all the inspiration and support you give me throughout the year as I write and explore and learn.
I’m sorry I forgot your name. I apologize if my eyes darted quickly from your face to your name tag, and then back up to your eyes as you began to speak. Did I look confused? Lost? Or out of place when we were talking? I probably was. My brain was working to remember your name, to place you in my constellation. I blame Google for making me stupid. No. I blame genetics and memory cells. Darn you, Mom and Dad.
The fact is that as much as I love coming to educational conferences and hanging out with everyone in person after all the time that we spend in online spaces exploring writing and making cool stuff, I am finding it a wee bit trickier over the years to remember all of you when we finally get to a face-to-face situation. That’s not completely true. I never found it easy and I always thank the Conference Gods who provide us with name tags.
It’s not you; it’s me.
You seem to have no trouble remembering me. I appreciate that. Perhaps my restless online presence translates into a strong physical presence? <Cue laugh track>. Of course, you would not likely recognize me from my “dogtrax” avatar. Unless you squint your eyes, use your imagination and maybe do a few shots of whiskey first. And by the way, if we are at the same bar when you do that whiskey shot to spark your imagination, call me over. I am buying. We can imagine together.
Maybe it’s my walk and not my avatar that you recognize. My wife says I have a distinctive walk, and one of my former colleagues who I ran into at NCTE (no, I did not recognize her when she called out my name and she even taught two doors down the hall from me … 11 years ago … But still, I should have her face in my memory banks, right? Right. Sigh) said she recognized me from afar from the way I was walking down the hallway. I find that hard to believe. Do I have a funny walk? I personally think it is the rest of the world that is slightly off-kilter. I walk with perfectly normal strides.
But, if you recognized me by my walk or from my avatar or from some various hangout or whatever (maybe even from that whiskey bar), and I failed to do the same of you and your walk, I am so sorry. Perhaps your walk is on the so-called normal scale. There were a lot of people there, after all. (although now that I think of it, if we did hang out in that whiskey bar, both of our walks might be a bit funny by the end of our conversation.)
Still, when I hear someone saying “Kevin” or “Dogtrax” from across the room, I think: This .. is … so … cool. Someone I know is here. I get excited about the connection. I do. After all, what we do online should spill to what we do offline, if the possibility exists. When it happens, it’s an amazing connection, like some two-pronged electrical plug. Inevitably, though, I draw a blank when your hand reaches out to me and I feel dumb (again …. Google) and scramble my brain for your name. I mean, you took the trouble to remember me. I should remember you. I quickly calculate, what space were you in with me? What projects did we collaborate on? Are you sure we know each other? I don’t want you to ever think that what we did together is inconsequential nor without meaning, which is why a small panic builds inside of me. I valued our work. I just can’t retrieve your name from my data banks right at this second.
I have decided a strategy is in order. So I have begun stringing various name together, sort of like lights on the holiday tree. Or a run-on sentence. Names name names. I just need to make sure none of the lights go out on that string of ours, and I will be good to go. There’s a whole year to go until our next big conference. A whole year to learn how to remember.
Or a whole year to forget … Damn it. See you at the bar. I’ll be the funny-walking writer who looks a little confused. Come on over and let’s talk about things for a bit. Make sure you introduce yourself first.
I had this urge to create this comic as a sort of reflection point, drawing in connections that have me pushing my own ideas about what it means to be a writer in this digital age. Think of it as a token of gratitude for all those who are helping me along on this journey. I created the comic (making up representative characters for my friends: Simon, Terry, Anna, and Maha) in Bitstrips for Schools, and then moved it into a flipbook creator.
At one of the sessions I attended at the National Writing Project meeting, with the theme of expanding the contexts of composition, I sat at a table and made a brush bot. We ripped apart a cheap electric toothbrush, yanked out the motor, connected a battery with a soldering gun, and then used various arts materials to decorate our bots.
We then set them loose on the table. Meanwhile, we talked about the connections that this kind of Maker Faire work might have on the classroom, with connections to science (via circuits) and writing (via either fictional narratives of the bots or the expository texts that could go along with creating something like a bot — a “how to” do this text).
Mostly, it was fun, and frustrating, and with that frustration (why didn’t this work?), there was the exhilarating sense of success when it did work, and the bot ran around the table. Or scooted in circles. Same thing. We had lots of laughter and lots of helping each other out, and it reminded me the power of making things out of other things, and how I need to do more of that in my classroom.