Slice of Life: Gaming the Gaming System

(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 am always impressed when my students find new ways to “hack” or game a system. Last week, one of my students created a new video game in Gamestar Mechanic that everyone in the grade began playing. Not because it is a good game or a fun game or a challenging game. In fact, quite the opposite.

The game is called Spam Enter, and as soon as you hit play, you win the game. Hit replay. You win again. Again and again. No, the “game” my students were playing, which began with one or two kids and soon became a viral challenge across classes, was to help the game achieve more than 10,000 plays.

This morning, when I looked, it had more than 13,o00 plays.

One on hand, it’s nonsense. This means a bunch of kids were just hitting replay on the computer. They were. And it was rather funny, as kids had their fingers on the return button of their computer keyboards while holding conversations with each other about the coming vacation and the Olympics and such.

On the other hand, they saw the activity as a way to game the Gamestar System, to see what would happen if a single game suddenly got thousands of plays. One student starting telling others to rate the game high. Their informal plan was to move the game into the Gamestar Mechanic featured game section of what is known as Game Alley.

Did it work? I don’t know. But they keep hitting play.

Peace (in the game),
Kevin

Slice of Life: A Meme Walks Into the Classroom

(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.)

Most mornings, we have a Circle of Power and Respect in our sixth grade classroom. It’s a version of Morning Meeting, aimed more for older students. At this point in the year, I have my students lead all aspects of our morning.

One element of Circle of Power is the initial greeting, and there are all sorts of variations of activities that one could do, and I encourage my students to invent their own way of saying hello to every students in the classroom community, and making sure everyone feels welcome into the day.

The other day, the student leader — a bit of a goofball who straddles the line between serious and goofy on a regular basis — told us that the way we would greet each other is with the phrase “Do you know the way?”

Or, as he pronounced it with exaggerated emotion: “Do you know de wae?”

I did a little double-take because as soon as he said it, there was a lot of laughter in the room. I had never heard the phrase, but I could sense immediately this was some sort of online joke, video, game or meme that was outside my field of vision.

I had three options as teacher at that moment:

  • I could say, find another greeting, but that seemed like a knee-jerk reaction to youth culture
  • Stop everything and search online, but that would have gummed up the morning meeting time
  • Ask for more information, which I did

The student told me the phrase was from a game that became a meme, and he assured me it was not inappropriate for school. I decided to trust him, and the phrase of “Do you know de wae?” made its way around the circle.

Later, I immediately went into Know Your Meme, a database in which memes are deconstructed and traced back to their origins. According to Know Your Meme, the “Do you know de wae?” and found that it originated from a character in a Sonic the Hedgehog game called Uganda Knuckles.

From Know Your Meme:

Ugandan Knuckles is the nickname given to a depiction of the character Knuckles from the Sonic franchise created by YouTuber Gregzilla, which is often used as an avatar by players in the multiplayer game VRChat who repeat phrases like “do you know the way” and memes associated with the country Uganda, most notably the film Who Killed Captain Alex? and Zulul. The character is associated with the expression “do you know the way”, which is typically spoken in a mock African accent and phonetically spelled as “do you know de wey.”

The meme has gone in all sorts of strange directions.

There have been accusations that the meme has racist overtones, however, with the pronunciation in fake African accent and may be built upon African stereotypes. Roblox, a very popular gaming platform site, apparently even banned the character from its server games because of concerns about negative stereotypes.

After talking some more with my students about using the meme, now that I had some information to speak from, I realized that they were not even aware of the racist possibilities. They were just amused by the funny character who repeats the same ridiculous phrase over and over again. Still, a discussion helped frame the meme, and I haven’t heard it in the classroom since then.

I did ask my own 13 year old son when I got home that same day if he had heard of the “Do you know de wae?” meme. He goes to a different school in a different community, with a different crowd of kids, and he immediately knew of the meme, too. (A year or so ago, we had a long discussion with him about using Pepe the Frog and he was startled by the how the far-right had appropriated that meme for its own dark purposes.) Needless to say, he immediately knew the meme and said many kids in his school were saying it in the hallways, as they moved from lockers to classrooms — sort of as a directional sarcasm of the school-day experience.

All this goes to show the cultural power of memes and the difficulty we adults have in understanding their stickiness, never mind the origins and the mad rush of social sharing across platforms. Memes often are part of the language of youth, even if they don’t always comprehend the underlying cultural appropriations and potentially negative messages embedded in the memes they use.

Peace (meme-ing it),
Kevin

Slice of Life: You Call That Cheating?

(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 live in the heart of New England, surrounded by New England Patriots fans. Yesterday was a somber day in the classroom. Many tired eyes following the defeat in the Super Bowl to the Eagles.

I’m no Eagles fan. Neither am I a Patriots fan. I am, alas (this year, anyway), a New York Giants fan, and my students know this. (They also know I am a Yankees fan, which is a kind of blasphemy here in New England but I stand proud in the storm).

The first student to arrive yesterday is my most competitive. He has often has trouble shaking off events from recess. He’s an athlete, a star football player. He came in shaking his head.

“They cheated,” he mumbled as he passed me, and I could see it was a phrase he probably had on his mind since the game ended the night before. “The Eagles cheated.”

He looked at me, calculating that a Giants fan could not be an Eagles fan. Surely, he was thinking, I’d agree with his post-game analysis. He was looking for affirmation.

“Don’t you think the Eagles cheated in the Super Bowl, Mr. H?”

He was looking in the wrong place.

“Nope. Nobody cheated. There were some … interesting plays, but the Eagles won, fair and square. They outplayed the Pats. It was a great game to watch.”

This quieted him. For a second. He clearly didn’t want to hear me. When another student, another athlete, came in and said, “They cheated,” the first student echoed, “I know. They did. Right?”

Which led to a discussion in our Circle of Power morning meeting about sports, and competition, and losing gracefully, and being humble when winning, and a reminder of how we are moving into our annual Quidditch season at our school, where bragging and accusations of cheating and more between classes and students will not be tolerated.

I thought I reached them, with some perspective on fandom and sports and maybe a view of the biases of reality that exist in favor of those ideas which we already support (ie, my team lost, therefore, the other team cheated). But, maybe not. As the class was moving out the door, I could hear the conversation going again. “I know, right? Even the refs were in on it.”

Sigh.

Peace (need not be competitive),
Kevin

Slice of Life: That Didn’t Go As Planned

(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 wasn’t a disaster, but still, a lesson I had envisioned as a multimedia way to connect my sixth graders to characters in Watsons Go to Birmingham novel didn’t go the way I wanted, and now I am pondering how I might change things next time.

In the book, as the family gears up to head south, the father buys an Ultra-glide record player (a whole discussion about vinyl records ensued in class) and they listen to a few songs in the days before their journey south. Each year, I pull out the songs that Kenny, the narrator, loved — Yakety Yak — and mom loves — Under the Boardwalk.

Listening to the songs gives an audio connection to the story, and helps establish setting and character.

All good.

Watson Mix Tape Assignment

So yesterday, I thought: why don’t I have my students create a “mix tape” on Google Slides, finding songs to represent the other three members of the family on the road trip, and have students choose their own “travel song” for the mix tape. I even added a song of my own in there – Life is a Highway by Tom Cochran (the kids all knew the Rascal Flatts version from the Cars movie).

We dug into the project, and students were definitely engaged — but they seemed to be more engaged in the “search” for music than the connection to the characters. In my mind, I wanted them to really find songs that represented the characters as know them,  and perhaps I missed a step in my lesson. Perhaps a writing piece before the search would have helped. Or they needed our character trait chart in front of them.

Many students were just … well … listening to songs. Some had trouble with the search engine itself. What keywords should they use? What songs? Were modern songs OK or did they have to be “old songs”? None of them finished the assignment and I’m not sure that audio/music connection to the book really happened as I wanted it to happen.

And I admit I got a bit nervous when they were searching for songs to represent themselves. “Do we need to use the clean version of the song?” a few asked. “Yes,” I said, rather quickly, now looking closer at the screens near me.

Still, as one class was leaving, one student said to me, “That was so fun, Mr. H. I found a rebel song for Byron (the other brother whose troublemaking is the catalyst for the journey). When can we use music again?”

So, maybe the hook was there, after all.

Peace (in the music),
Kevin

Slice of Life: Collaboration with the Kid

(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.)

The other day, my 13-year-old son says, Dad, do you want to make a song with me?

You bet I do, kid.

We used a online music collaboration site that I like, called Soundtrap, and he put down the foundation of the song while I added some of the melodic elements on top. He’s been teaching himself all about loop compositions, and he’s also been mysteriously writing lyrics to hiphop songs at night (for some possible collaborative recording effort with a friend from school, we think. He’s been pretty mum on the whole thing.)

When we were done with the collaboration, I took the audio file and used an online site to create the video, to make the presentation a little more impressive (mostly, for him).

Anytime your 13 year old asks, Do you want to … — the answer should almost always be Yes.

🙂

Peace (in the song),
Kevin

 

Slice of Life: Mystery Words

(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 introduced a game-style activity yesterday for our vocabulary lessons called Mystery Word, where you give a series of escalating clues for the guesser to guess the word. Honestly, I needed about twice the time I allocated for this during classtime (we had other things to get to, too), and it all felt too rushed to be as effective as I wanted it to be.

Next time … more time.

This is my very simple sample (which I followed with a sample of a word from our class vocabulary list):

Mystery Word Sample

But, the students really enjoyed the challenge of coming up with clues that pointed to a vocabulary word without giving it away completely at the start. I had them write the clues out on notecards, which we then distributed around the room. A better version would have been to have each one read the clues, one clue at time, to a partner, and use our listening skills to locate the words. And I probably should have done more quick mini-lessons on syllables, Parts of Speech, rhyming, etc.

Mystery Words Help Slide

I didn’t make up the Mystery Words activity, and I was trying to remember where it came from. I think it is both a variation of a Mystery Number activities that our math teacher does earlier in the year (complex clues to find a number) and an adaptation of a lesson from a writing project teacher who co-taught a digital writing summer project for struggling high school students with me as my English as a Second Language partner, and I gleaned a lot of vocabulary acquisition ideas from her work.

The game-and-guess format makes for an engaging time, and adds a wrinkle to learning and using new words.

Peace (is the lesson),
Kevin

Slice of Life: Holding It Together

(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.)

The email from our principal began: “Nobody knows why sad things keep happening to our faculty/staff.”

It has indeed been a year of loss within our teaching staff family. Two colleagues have lost their husbands in unexpected and tragic circumstances, the most recent happening just the other day. A cloud of concern hangs over us all at the school.

We talk to each other in low voices in the hallways, checking in with other. We ask about news from those who are dealing with grief, using the informal friendship grapevine to keep track and show support when we can.

Our principal has been there for all of us, making sure we have space and a place to share thoughts and connect, and those simple gestures of understanding and compassion go a long way in any place where people work together. That email invited us to come together, after school, in the library, for some community time. The upper administration also seems to understand, sending its thoughts (and gifts of food and nourishment) to us.

All of us are looking ahead to brighter days while opening our hearts to those of us still deep in the darkness of loss.

Peace (sent forth),
Kevin

Slice of Life: Unexpected Chaos

(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 don’t know all the details. The entire sixth grade class was outside for a short recess and I was in the office when a call came in over the walkie-talkie about a student falling off the slide, and landing on their head. The nurse rushed by me with a wheelchair.

As the class came in from the outside, I heard murmurs about the incident, with some students telling me that another student had pushed the fallen student off the top of the slide, on purpose.

The next class period in my classroom was chaotic, as the student who fell is a member of that class and all of their friends were worried (I am purposefully writing gender-free here, to protect privacy). Some students got called down midway through class to talk about what happened on the slide to the vice principal, further disrupting the learning.

I did my best to acknowledge the incident in very general terms — expressing concern for the student who had been hurt — without opening up the classroom to accusations. I had the sense that any opening about the incident could easily turn my classroom into a courtroom.

Unfortunately, this particular class needs very little distraction to get off-track – nearly every day requires a command performance to keep the lessons going forward — and I spent the entire hour trying to keep them on task with our reading and our game design project. I can’t say I was all that successful.

The ambulance pulling into the school driveway just outside my window didn’t help. It just made us all more worried and concerned, and for the fallen student’s friends, even more angry. I kept the calm as best as I could.

A note later from the vice principal confirmed some of the incident that students had suggested to me in the hallways, about the push seeming to be intentional (but probably not the severity of the injury). Some things are hard to explain, difficult to understand. The impulsiveness of adolescents is a known and yet surprising part of child development.

I just hope my fallen student is doing OK.

Peace (on the playground),
Kevin

 

Slice of Life: That Girl Can Teach

(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.)

She had been asking me for weeks now. In fact, after every lunch, she and her friend would rush back to our sixth grade classroom before others arrived, stand before the whiteboard with my daily agenda, and use their “teacher voices” to explain to an invisible classroom of students what the plan for learning was today. They would deepen their voices, an adolescent playfulness combined by a fake adult voice, and then crack themselves up.

“Can I teach a lesson? For real?” she asked, and I had told her, yes. I just wanted to find the right time and content, so before Thanksgiving break, I asked if she would like to lead us in the next vocabulary lesson. She sure did. She was so excited. She took her book home to make sure she knew what she was doing and came back, with the lesson dotted with sticky notes.

Yesterday morning, she checked over the pronunciation of words with me (‘monotonous’ seemed rather challenging), asking some questions on how to best proceed, and then later in the day, she took over my classroom, leading the lesson on vocabulary. The class was amused that I had handed over the reins but mostly game (one boy was a little too amused and had to be separated from the rest) as she called on students to help with words and definitions.

She was confident and knowing, giving encouragement and helping with challenges. This girl can teach!

She will continue as our teacher during the next days of this vocabulary unit — and she informed me she had figured out how to explain a rather difficult and new section in our book this week — while others, including the “rather amused boy,” asked if they, too, could lead a lesson in the future.

Yes, I told them, now wondering how to balance all of this “visiting teacher” out, but knowing that I will.

Peace (and sharing),
Kevin

Slice of Life: Hallways of Peace

(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 love this time of year for the ways our art teacher has decorated the hallways with a myriad of posters created by our sixth graders for the Lions Club Peace Poster contest.

Peace Poster sampling

Each year, the kids work off a theme about peace, and their posters are designed to capture the concept. This year is all about the Future of Peace. One student’s work will go on to the state level of competition, and then perhaps beyond.

Peace Poster sampling

The young artists cannot use words or text, only image and design. I work with the art teacher on the students’ writing of an Artist Statement that will hang with each piece. Students write about their artistic intentions, use of symbols, choice of elements and more, and that writing really exposes their thinking.

Peace Poster samplingYou can’t help but notice the possibilities of peace as you wander our school hallways. That’s a good thing.

Peace (beyond posters),
Kevin