Slice of Life: Sixth Graders in the Wild

(This is for Slice of Life, a regular feature with Two Writing Teachers).

Study of Sixth Graders

My latest column at Middleweb is a humorous take on an ethnographic study of my four classes of sixth graders. I was trying to have some fun, even as I was thinking of the trends of class characters that can emerge after a few weeks of teaching into the new year.

Read An Unofficial Field Guide to Sixth Graders in the Wild

Peace (and quiet),
Kevin

A #Whyiwrite Collaboration for National Day on Writing

(This is for Slice of Life, a weekly writing adventure with Two Writing Teachers, and for the National Day on Writing 2015).

Why I Write for NDOW

Over at our iAnthology writing space, an unofficial online site for National Writing Project-affiliated teachers to hang out and write each week, I put out the call for teachers for today’s National Day on Writing celebration. The Day on Writing is hosted by the National Council of Teachers of English (NCTE) and supported by a wide range of other organizations, including NWP.

(View the slideshow in Google Slides)

Each year, there is a theme, and this year’s theme is “Why I Write,” a theme that was explored during the first years of NDOW (National Day on Writing) and provided some interesting depth to responses of writers in all age groups.

I’m doing a podcasting activity with my sixth graders today. They wrote a prompt yesterday about “why I write” and I will be showing them Garageband today, and we will be using my Blue Snowball microphone for sharing out thoughts with voice, and then connecting with the world via the #whyiwrite hashtag on Twitter. I love getting voice out in the mix.

For this collaboration with NWP teachers, I went a simple route with a low technology threshold. I set up a Google Slideshow and sent out the link, asking folks to choose a slide and write. (I will be doing a similar activity this coming weekend at an event for Western Massachusetts Writing Project). The whole idea is to invite us in as writers, and explore writing from a meta-thinking angle.

The range of reasoning, and how writing so deeply impacts our daily lives, is at the heart of this kind of prompt. From the joy of writing to the need to understand the world to coming to terms with loss to tapping into childhood memories, the responses hit on many topics, all with a three word prompt.

So, why do you write?

Peace (in the words on the page),
Kevin

 

Slice of Life: Out in the Orchard

(This is for Slice of Life, a writing feature by Two Writing Teachers. You write, too)

apple picking oct2015

“… and no climbing trees.”

“What?”

“No climbing trees. That’s what the rules are. We pick apples, not climb trees.”

“These are the best climbing trees in the world.”

“Still, no climbing.”

He sulked off. I understood. An apple orchard is a dream field of climbing trees, but I also understood the reasons why the apple orchard owners would prohibit it. Think of liability. Think of kicked apples.

I was Mister No. But I could see what he was thinking. Apple trees do make for some fine climbing, with branches close together like steps, and the insides of the tree curving and hidden, like some secret fruit-scented tunnel off the ground.

It’s a banner year here in New England for apples, and you can see clusters and clusters of apples on just about every single tree in the orchard we visit as a family. Some family drove in from Rhode Island to experience the start of fall colors (already spectacular) and the picking of apples. Yummy.

“Why do they get to go in the tree?” He pointed to some kids in a tree, as their parents looked up from below.

“They shouldn’t be.”

“But, they are.”

“I know. They aren’t following the rules.”

He crunched an apple angrily.

In summer, we go blueberry picking. In fall, it’s apples. It’s more than an excuse to get the family together. It’s also a way to remind us, and our children, that food comes from somewhere, and that the farmlands of New England hold a special place for all of us. It’s a reminder of things we often forget.

“Stop that.”

“What?”

“Don’t throw apples like grenades.”

“Why not? There are apples everywhere. A few more on the ground won’t make a difference.”

“It’s the …”

“Rules. I know.” He dropped the apple and huffed off, disappearing into the green branches of a tree. An apple came zooming out of the tree. I chose to ignore it.

This year’s apples are juicy and sweet, and a reminder of the wet spring we had so many months ago. It’s interesting how one season affects the other, and how we forget about the recent past until some faint echo sneaks up on us again.

Peace (in the orchard),
Kevin

Slice of Life: A Moose in the Meadow

(This is a post for Slice of Life, hosted by Two Writing Teachers.)

Moose in the Neighborhood

We live in the suburbia of Western Massachusetts, but it is not unusual to see wild animals wandering nearby. The influx of new homes on what used to be forest lands and open space has pushed animals into contact with humans on a regular basis. We have bears regularly traipsing through our backyard. Deer often wander into our neighbor’s large side yard. I won’t get into the mice that try to set up shop in our basement, except to say it is a season-long struggle to keep them out.

But a moose? Not so often. The last time I saw a moose in our Western Massachusetts neighborhood was many years ago, when I was taking a walk with my two older sons (who were much younger than they are now) and we came upon a mother and child moose in small dingle around the corner. We were startled. They were startled. They took off. We just gawked.

Did you know moose, with its lanky legs and odd-shaped torso, can run pretty fast? I know that now.

So, the other day, as I was driving my son to his clerk job at the family-owned grocery story, we were noticing a lot of cars on the side of the main road. Uh oh. I thought it was an accident. But it turns out, a moose was standing there, in the meadow off the road, watching the people watching it (they had phones out; he didn’t). It was a fairly large moose, just staring out. A few police cars were nearby, to protect the people as much the moose.

On the way home from dropping my son off, the moose was still there, but had moved to the further side of the field, and was now munching on the leaves of a tree. More people were stopped, and traffic crawled. I got home and told my middle son to get on his bike and drive down the street to see the moose.

“And take your camera!”

He did, and he did, and the picture above is the best that he could get. The moose had moved deeper into the field, and by the time I went out again about 30 minutes later, the moose was gone, as was all of the traffic. I went to get my youngest son from baseball practice, and he would not believe me that a moose was in our neighborhood.

“It was not.”

“It was. It’s true.”

“Dad!”

“Really! A moose!”

Luckily, my other son backed me up. And he had photographic evidence.

Peace (along the moose tracks),
Kevin

Slice of Life: A Little Bit Goes a Long Way

(This is a piece for Slice of Life, a weekly community writing adventure with Two Writing Teachers.)

FREE E-BOOKS FOR YOU!

I found this in my email bin this morning, and I was quite happy. You see, I have started to contribute each month to support a few artists that I like via Patreon, which is a crowdsourcing site that puts into practice something I like to believe in: your audience will not only find you if you do creative things, but they will also help support you in order to support your art. (I did a book review last week on Cory Doctorow’s book – Information Doesn’t Want to be Free — in which this idea was a central tenet of how artists can survive, and thrive, in the digital age.)

At Patreon, I pitch in a dollar each month to support a few folk — including Audrey Watters and her insightful pieces about education and technology; David Finkle, and his work on creating comics about teaching called Mr. Fitz; and Dave Kellett, whose Sheldon comics I love to read every day for their wit and humor. It was Dave who sent out some free ebook gifts as thanks to his supporters. Audrey and David Finkle often send out material that we get to see first, or works in progress.

A dollar doesn’t sound like much, but if a lot of people pitch in a dollar, it can make the difference between an artist making art or flipping pancakes for a living. Kellett, for example, wanted to remove advertising from his website for Sheldon, and so the Patreon campaign is designed to replace the income from ads through direct support from fans.

I was happy to support Sheldon Comics even without the ebooks but now … now, I need to get these on my iPad for pleasure reading …

Peace (in the giving and in the receiving),
Kevin

 

Typing with My Voice: A Poem Constructed on the Fly

(This is for Slice of Life, a writing activity hosted by Two Writing Teachers)

Using Speech to Text tool

I wanted to try out the new feature in Google Docs that allows you to speak so that the computer will type for you. (See the Google site for more information). I have to say, speech recognition has sure come a long way, and now I am wondering how I can bring this into my classroom for struggling writers once we get into our Google Apps for Education accounts this year.

The Voice tool wasn’t perfect, but it was good enough for me to write this poem on the fly and then do some quick editing on it. I wrote a poem, inspired by flowers on the table. I realized later that you can add in some simple commands for line breaks and punctuation. I’ll remember that for next time.

Peace (you hear me?),
Kevin

 

Slice of Life: On A Day When Nothing Happened

(This is part of Slice of Life with Two Writing Teachers.)

IMG_4193-0

Nothing happened yesterday. Nothing of note. I am sitting here, early morning with a cup of coffee, mulling over what I might write about for my Slice of Life. There’s always something. But, I can’t find a little nugget to grasp and build a single story around.

So, on the day when nothing happened, here are some small bits of a day that might fold into something:

  • I wrote a blog post in the morning. No one commented.
  • We began an overview of narrative story writing in class, examining and charting out some plot ideas as a way for my students to envision the structure of a story;
  • We did character sketches — short pieces of writing about a character that goes beyond name and description, focusing in on motivation and the strengths/flaws that enrich a character in a story. We used my oddly weird Storyteller Cards for this. The kids loved the cards.
  • It was Picture Day. The weather cooperated, so we were able to do it outside. It disrupted the day’s schedule but we rolled with it.
  • I kept moving forward with Benchmark Reading Assessments in every free moment of the day, and the prospect of weeks of testing this way has me tired every time I think of it.
  • A union meeting after school about stalled contract talks made me weary. I know contract talks are always negotiations, but it seems like we are pretty far apart right now.
  • I was met at home by my son, who asked if I had remembered to bring home the last book in the Maze Runner series. I had. Also, the prequel. He dashed to the car, and came in, book open, already reading the first pages.
  • Restaurant Week is this week in our small city, known for its arts and restaurants. My wife and I slipped out and away from the kids to enjoy a nice meal together at an upscale restaurant we normally could not afford. It was yummy.
  • Confirmed meeting with the owner of a music practice space. Our band is reforming and on the roam for new space to practice in. It’s stressful to be a homeless band.
  • My son decided to go for a bike ride at dusk. “A quick ride,” I said, before heading off to get another son from baseball practice. I came back, and the bike rider is still gone, and the streets are getting dark. Grabbed the dog and started looking, slightly worried (he is known not to always look at street crossings). No signs. I come home, and then see the note from him that he is with a friend and family at the neighborhood school. I go there, and they are just coming home. It’s dark now. I say, meet me at the top of the street. He cruises right home. We have a “discussion” about “listening skills.”
  • Read Aloud to my son and then reading quietly to myself, and then … sleep.

Peace (in the daze),
Kevin

The Beginning and the Ending: An Image

Start of fall, end of summer
Kim had us thinking of how to capture the start of something or the end of something via an image, as part of our Photo Fridays adventure. (Actually, she is gathering folks to do an image a day for September. I don’t think I can do it, but you might want to try. At least, follow along with her ideas for photos as literacy.)

I live in New England, and already, the trees are beginning to change. We know it’s coming, this thing we call Autumn, but to see it happening in a few select trees (the same trees, changing first every year, and those are the trees we think of the dreaded Harbinger of Winter on the Horizon.)

I found this leaf on a walk and it seemed to perfectly illustrate the start of something (Autumn) and the end of something (Summer) with its color pattern. The deep green, run through with golden brown. It is as if the leaf was resisting. Resistance is futile.

Autumn is coming … maybe it is here.

Peace (in the air),
Kevin

 

Getting All Glitchy With It

It’s always exciting when the first Make Cycle of the Making Learning Connected MOOC kicks off, and yesterday, it finally did.  The faciliators — two colleagues from the Tar River Writing Project — of the Make Cycle want to do a little twist on how we go about introducing ourselves, by bringing a sort of media mediation into the mix.

They write:

The theme this week is Unmaking Introductions. Let’s consider the ways we name, present, and represent ourselves and the boundaries or memberships those introductions create.

Among the suggestions to explore is to slice up and glitch some media. I see the use of intentional glitch as a way to upend our expectations of media, to turn the expected into the unexpected, and maybe find something new in the mix. It’s interesting because we often think of a “glitch” as something broken (like in the clip above, where her glitch is later what saves the day). But mistakes and miscues, and the unexpected are what makes life interesting.

So for this activity, I turned to a few apps to help me out, including one called Fragment that does what it sounds like — it takes apart images and reconstructs them back into unusual images. (It was free when I got it.)

I began with a photo of me and my dog. I use the handle/moniker Dogtrax in a lot of social media spaces. It has nothing to do with dogs, although I often make canine-inspired jokes. You can read more about my nickname here, if that interests you. Hey, I do love dogs. (Cats are cool, too, so no hate comments, please). And my dog, Duke .. he is pretty cool. He puts up with a lot from our family. (We feed him, so that helps).

So I took this photo of Duke and I in repose. He seems like he is thinking: Sigh, here we go again:

With dog

and made this with Fragment. I was really trying to find a ways to layer our faces in different ways and I love that Duke’s nose just hangs out on the edge of the frame on the right:

Dogtrax and his dog

and then this collage with another app. The bottom right image was done in another app, and it was another image where my eyes look up. That simple movement changes the flow of the collage, don’t you think?

Dogtrax and dog

and then I used an online site called Image Glitch Experiment suggested by Make Cycle facilitators for creating “glitch” images to make this version. The small bands of color seem to me as if there is a television set going, and the lower half of the screen — all dark — changes the composition of the image, too, giving contrast to the light.

dogtraxdog-glitched

I’ll keep exploring how media impacts identity. It’s an intriguing topic.

Peace (in the glitch),
Kevin

 

Slice of Life: I Wore My Sticker (Less Testing/More Learning)

SOL

(This is a post for Slice of Life, a weekly writing activity hosted by Two Writing Teachers in which bloggers examine the small moments of life for larger reflection.)

less testing

Yesterday, many teachers in our state of Massachusetts wore the sticker I am showing here in the picture. It’s part of a larger week-long effort by the Massachusetts Teachers Association to push back on the demands of standardized testing. The slogan of “Less Testing/More Learning” is an indication of the push, as our MCAS and now PARCC testing takes up more and more of classroom learning time — both in preparing students and in the actual taking of the tests.

I had a lot of students ask me about it, although one of my colleagues noted that our audience of students and teachers for the stickers we were wearing was rather insular — the schools in which we teach where exasperation with high-stakes testing already runs high.

But still, it was the notion of pulling together as a teaching community with a single message about caring for our students as learners in this age of data collection. And here I am, writing about it to an even larger audience.

Peace (and making it stick),
Kevin