Slice of Life: You Go, Girls

(This is part of Slice of Life with Two Writing Teachers. We write about small moments. You write, too.)

SOL

They were standing in line, waiting to put the laptops back on the computer cart. We’d been gaming in the classroom, working with Gamestar Mechanic to begin the process of understanding video game design by playing and analyzing games. This week, they will start the initial stages of storyboarding and building their own science-based video games.

“Girls don’t like video games,” he said to no one in particular, and there was a moment of silence as all the girls turned around to stare at him. He seemed taken aback. “I mean, they don’t right? Girls don’t like video games?”

He spoke that last line as if he walked into a pit of vipers because there was a sudden burst of loud response from the girls. I think I saw a few of his friends shake their heads, knowing what was coming.

“What’s that supposed to mean?”

“Of course, I like video games. I’m probably better than you.”

“We may not like the same games, but we like games.”

He seemed a bit shaken by the response. That’s good.

“Sorry, sorry,” he mumbled, and that gave me a teaching moment to talk to the class about the stereotypes we have of gender and technology. It’s true not every girl likes video games. Not every boy likes video games, either. But some girls are great at both playing and designing video games. And we had just had a long discussion on game design elements, where plenty of girls shared deep thoughts about design and and the games they played. (Had he even been listening?)

I think he got it. I do. And if not, the girls are going to set him straight. Count on that.

Peace (in the room),
Kevin

Slice of Life: She Makes Worlds

(This post is part of the regular Slice of Life series over at Two Writing Teachers.)
kait game collage

Yesterday, my sixth graders all set up and started using their new accounts in Gamestar Mechanic as we gear up for a Video Game Design unit in which they will be designing, building and publishing video games to show knowledge of cellular structure. I’ll write about that another day …

But as I was getting ready to invite this year’s sixth graders into our “classroom” on Gamestar, I began weeding some former students out. I let them stay in the premium space until I need their slots for my classroom account, and then I boot them out. They all know this, so it won’t be a surprise, and they don’t lose their work. They just lose their premium status (unless they want to pay Gamestar). As I was removing students, I noticed something that caught my eye.

One of my students had not only created 61 video games, she had also reviewed 1,140 games of other players and left 2,120 comments on other people’s games. Now, that’s a lot, and I wondered what was going on with her since she left our school last June. I know she loved the site, and that she is very social by nature, but even for her, this amount of activity seemed excessive.

So, I trolled her account a bit, checking out her games, and it turns out, she was up to something very interesting. Throughout the summer, she had been constructing an informal network of other gaming kids to create a series of game design challenges, using the comment box/review box features for the games to organize the network of other kids. They would plan “meet” times in Gamestar, and then leave a thread of comments as they planned out the next activity, and then go through a voting system, and then announce the winners with a published game. They “followed” each other to keep track of the activity.

On one hand, this is the most inefficient system to do this kind of community building. The site is just not built for this. On the other hand, I am so proud of her for hacking the system to make it work for her, to some degree, and for constructing this whole framework of young gamers in Gamestar Mechanic. Reading through just some of the comment threads (there is no way I can get through 2,000 of them), I can see these kids navigating what it means to write in online spaces and using media to create things together and to find common ground among interests.

All of this … on their own, completely outside of the radar of any adults, as far as I know. I only stumbled upon it accidentally. Needless to say, I did NOT bump HER from my classroom account. I’m going to give her the room she needs to do what she’s doing, and see where it takes her.

Peace (in the game),
Kevin

Neighborhood Maps Spark Discussions Of Community

(This dovetails nicely with Slice of Life)
Map Collage1

My students were working on maps of their own neighborhoods, as part of the National Day on Writing yesterday. We were using mapping as a way to think about community, about how mapmakers focus on what is important and what is not so important by using color and scale. And as students shared out their maps (with our classroom and then, online, with the #6Connect project), the discussions of neighborhoods transformed into discussions about community (with a little help from me).

map collage2

I love the idea of visually representing a place, and my students enjoyed thinking of how to represent their neighborhoods as a map as well as providing some insights into where they live on a day when we were writing and thinking about community for the National Day on Writing.

map collage3

Peace (on the map and beyond),
Kevin

Slice of Life: In Case of Emergency, Break Heart

WRITE a slice of life story on your own blog. SHARE a link to your post in the comments section. GIVE comments to at least three other SOLSC bloggers.

We had a very sobering staff meeting yesterday, in which two police officers from our town talked to us for an hour about changes in the local and state policy of emergency lock-downs in our school. Our old policy was: lock the door, pull the shades, get in your hiding space, stay quiet. Wait for the police to set you free. During drills, our school seemed like a ghost town.

But now, there is no “policy,” only guidelines, and the main guideline for us teachers is this: if there is an armed intruder in the school, use your best judgement on how to react to protect your students – maybe hide, maybe run, maybe fight. I agree that having more options, in the event of something nearly impossible to consider (although, we know we need to at least consider it in this day and age), but thinking of the chaos and confusion of those moments is difficult to wrap my head around.

Which is not to say I would not be ready to do any of those options, should it be necessary. Or at least, I hope that I’d be ready. Alternatively, I hope I never find out if that is the case. One of those little doubts in my head is, what is you make the wrong choice about action? What if you run with your students into the problem when you should have stayed put away from the problem? How would you live with yourself after that?

Man, I hate that we live in a society where we even have to have these discussions of armed intruders in schools. The officers gave us an overview of Columbine, and then Virginia Tech, and then Sandy Hook. They even had us listen to some 911 calls, which I sort of wished I had not had to hear, to be frank. They shared the “lessons learned” — about barricading doors, about slowing down the event, about making decisions in the midst of confusion. They brought all of those news stories right back into focus, and I wish that hadn’t had to have been done.

How will we drill for this kind of response, in which every teacher makes their own decision? I don’t even know. All I know is that I left there thinking, In Case of Emergency, Break My Heart…..

Peace (please),
Kevin

Slice of Life: A #CCourses Folding Story

(This post is both for the Slice of Life writing with Two Writing Teachers and for the Connected Courses. It’s all about intersections).

WRITE a slice of life story on your own blog. SHARE a link to your post in the comments section. GIVE comments to at least three other SOLSC bloggers.

One of the main things¬†that gets me interested in online learning spaces is the possibilities for collaboration. All too often, it seems that the online experience is little more than a replica of the offline experience: the presenter speaks or shares, the audience listens and nod head, and then writes independently, a few folks comment and then … radio silence. (That seems like a topic for another blog post, another day.)

As I did with the Making Learning Connected MOOC, I wanted to spark some writing with other folks, so I set up what is known as ¬†Folding Story and invited people in to write with me. A folding story is when you write collaboratively, but you only see the part of the story directly above you, not anything earlier. (It’s a version of the Exquisite Corpse idea). And you have a set amount of space to write, before sending the fold forward to the next person. I’ve done this with paper with my students (a huge hit) and then found an online space called Fold This Story, which works great for online collaboration.

So, this weekend, I set the story in motion for the Connected Courses, with the somewhat provocative title of “You Call This a Course?” and then I began spreading the invitations through the Connected Courses network. A bunch of folks jumped in, and the story soon took off. For most of the story, it kept to the theme of connections. At the end, it veered into zombies. That’s a folding story for you.

Curious about how it came out? Here it is, as a pdf.

You Call This a Course (A Folding Story) by KevinHodgson

And, as I did with CLMOOC, I decided to read aloud the story as podcast, to give it a consistent voice and just to let you/me hear the story unfold in audio. It’s up there in Soundcloud so feel free to remix the heck of it, if you want.

I have not yet used the Fold a Story site with my students, but we will be diving in this year. I wonder how the stories will unfold …

Peace (in the colored threads of collaboration),
Kevin

Slice of Life: Darn Right, I’ve Got Homework

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

SOL T-Shirt on Ink to the People

“So, ” he said, juggling a neon green soccer ball in his hand, “I got all my homework done.”

I nodded. “Excellent. Now you can spend the afternoon outside, right?”

“Yeah. I have a soccer game,” my sixth grader answered, and then asked: “Do you have homework?”

“Me?”

“Yeah. Do teachers get homework? Like we get homework?”

I thought about the staff meeting I was going to with our new principal, where she would be handing out a pile of forms for teaching goals this year and for teacher evaluations. I’d have to fill those out. I thought about how I was going to a meeting after that meeting, with the Western Massachusetts Writing Project, and how I needed to create a plan of action for the year for our Technology Team. I thought about the stack of vocabulary quizzes sitting on my desk.

“Yeah. I’ve got homework,” I said, smiling at him. “Plenty.”

“Too bad for you,” he laughed, as the dismissal bell rang and he raced out to his bus, balancing the soccer ball in his hand, as I yelled out “have a great afternoon” and made my way back inside on a beautiful end-of-summer/start-of-fall afternoon, facing another four hours of meetings. And homework assignments.

Peace (in the share),
Kevin

Where I’ve Been Writing (or at least, published)

While I was away from my blog, I had some pieces published in other spaces that I wanted to share with you.

Working_Draft3-240X300-broom

First, my MiddleWeb column as we end summer is about reflecting on my digital sites and doing a bit of housekeeping as school is about to start. It’s a nice time to reflect on what we project to our families and students before they come into the classroom for a year of writing and learning.

Second, I wrote a piece for the National Writing Project’s 40for40 blog, as NWP celebrated its 40 years with 40 posts from NWP teacher/writers. My piece reflected on a time when I traveled to Chico, California, to take part in a week-long technology retreat, where the people I met continue to be partners in online endeavors across the Internet. The piece is entitled “That Week in Chico” and it was a great way for me to ground myself in a time when so many doors opened up for me.

Finally, I took a break from blogging but still dabbled in Twitter while on break and found myself working on a regular diet of #25wordstory stories, which I then collected and shared out for Slice of Life via Storify. I love these stories for brevity and inference and revision, although it can be a struggle to find just the right words and leave just the right amount of story “out” of the story. You decide if it worked or not.

 

Peace (in the writing mode),
Kevin

Writing About Songs: Katrina Blows In


(This is part of a series of posts about releasing some early music via Bandcamp. In these posts, I am trying to shine a light on the writing of the songs – where inspiration comes from and how it manifests itself in music.)

In the wake of Hurricane Katrina, I realized that I needed to try to express my anguish (at the devastation) and anger (at political incompetence) through song and out of those mixed feelings emerged Katrina Blows In, which became a standard song for my band, Sofa Kings, for a number of years. My attempt was to catch a feel of New Orleans with the sound and tell a story of survival from someone in the midst of the approaching storm.

There’s also the political element — of how the system failed people in the time of their greatest need, and how we need to rely on each other as much as possible.

“If we all pull together
we might find a way to weather the storm …”

I really like how my bandmates brought their own ideas to this song, shaping it into a full-blown track instead of the dirge-like demo that I had in mind. There’s life in here, just as there was still life in those who made their way out of Katrina, even though their world would never be the same. I was hoping to honor those people as best as I could, from my perch in the Northeast.

In live shows, the opening riff would often bring people to the dance floor, although I am not so sure they were listening to the lyrics. I think they were moved by the beat and the mandolin. I’m playing guitar on this one, and singing the lead. It’s one of those songs that I can listen to, and nod my head, and know that we pulled this one off pretty well.

Peace (in the storm),
Kevin

App Review: Adobe Voice for Digital Stories

I have to admit: the new digital storytelling app from Adobe, called Voice, is such a breeze to use that I wonder why other apps are not set up. With a clean design, clear steps and access to Creative Commons images and infographic symbols and my own pictures, Adobe Voice really raises the bar for how you can tell a story on a mobile device. I’ve been toying around with it for a few days.

Here, for example, is a book trailer that I did yesterday as my son and I finished reading Scat:

Here is one from the other day, as a promo for Making Learning Connected MOOC:

Both stories took me about 10 minutes each to make and to publish. I did not hit a single hurdle in either story. Clear commands on what to do — record your voice, add an image, choose a theme, pick a song — are easily accessible. You have to have an Adobe account to publish your story to the Web. And the story, as far as I can tell, can’t be saved natively to your mobile device, nor shared directly into YouTube or other video sharing sites. That’s too bad, but I suspect Adobe made this app free (yep, free) so that people would have to come under the Adobe umbrella.

If you are interested in Digital Storytelling, I suggest you check out Adobe Voice. For ease and design, I have not yet come across anything similar, and I can live with the drawbacks that I listed above if the trade-off is in design.

Peace (in the voice),
Kevin