Slice of Life: When the Picture Books Arrive

Picture Books Arrive

Many of you know me as someone who enjoys dabbling in technology and digital writing projects, but I am a sucker for the emotional pull of a solid, physical book. Make it a book that a student has written and created, and you have me hooked.

The Books Arrive

So, the delivery of four huge boxes of student-created picture books that arrived at my classroom the other day almost had me thinking of making one of those “unbox it” videos that seem so strangely popular on YouTube. I didn’t make the video so you will just have to accept that I was pretty darned excited when I opened up the boxes and dug out the books.

Not as excited as my sixth grade students, though, who were buzzing throughout the day after my librarian collaborator and I handed out the books with the words, “Congratulations! You are now a published writer. This is your book.”

The published books — picture books designed around the theme of remembering their years at our elementary school as they head off to middle school — were the culmination of a beta-testing project with software by Fablevision that allows students to write and illustrate picture books in a digital space, and then send the books directly to Lulu publishing.

It all reminded me of this short video from Lane Smith:

I’m happy that the physical book still holds allure for my students, living as they are in an age of digital screens, and I am glad it was a gift we could give them as they end their time in elementary school. It’s been a perfect way to end the sixth grade (still a few days to go!)

Peace (past to present),
Kevin

 

Slice of Life: You Make It All Right

Sometimes, I pick up the guitar, and the songwriting flows as if it were something else beside me. As if the song were just there, waiting patiently for the moment. This demo of You Make It All Right (Glitter and Gold) is one of those songs. I randomly sang the first line, and in that moment, I knew the entire song and story. The chords fell into place immediately. I wrote this whole song, which I really like, in about 15 minutes, tops. Maybe not even that.

Songwriting rarely goes that easy. Usually, it’s a struggle with parts of the song, moving words and editing phrases and adding bridges, and reworking the entire meaning. It’s not unusual for me to start writing a song about one thing and end up with something else entirely when I am done.

When the song just falls into place, it’s a strange, magical feeling. I’m proud of this one, for the story it tells of friendship in the face of hardship, for the mandolin-sound of the guitar (the capo is the neck) and for the possibility with my bandmates. We’ll see how it goes. Sometimes, a demo falls apart when it becomes part of the band sound.

Peace (flowing in song),
Kevin

Slice of Life: Cheering On the Ump

baseball still life jun08 002

“Are you here to cheer on the umpire?”

I nodded, and watched my middle son (age 16) crouch behind the plate. He was the sole umpire of the Little League game under way, and my younger son and I were there. My youngest wanted to see his old team play, a sort of baseball trip down nostalgia lane.

I was curious to see how my 16-year-old handled himself on the field, with adult coaches shouting and complaining on behalf of players (all part of the game, in a way, as long as it is respectful), and young players pitching and hitting.

I held my tongue as the strike zone seemed to expand (although one of the coaches made this fact crystal clear from the dugout) and admired the strong voice that called out the pitch count. I watched as he faced the coaches and informed them that the league-designated clock for starting a new inning was running out, and that the game would soon be over (even as one team was positioned to make a comeback run).

He’s a good baseball player himself, on the high school team and now about to begin a summer elite league. But I know he has always been a keen observer of the game, too, and that he always wanted to be an umpire.  When he was younger, he would stage entire baseball games in the backyard with a whiffle ball and bat. We’d hear him through the windows, calling plays and staging dramatic comebacks.

Last year, he started in the field as an umpire for a few games and now he is behind the plate, running the show with confidence. And getting paid for it, too.

Yep. I was there, cheering on the umpire. He did a fine job.

Peace (in the call),
Kevin

Slice of Life: Fostering Fan Fiction

sol16

Can I confess? I was inspired to do this writing activity …. by PARCC. There, I said it. I never would have even thought of writing a sentence like that. But, it’s true. Our state has merged some PARCC elements into our state testing this year, and the PARCC Literary Task reminded me of Fan Fiction, and so …

Let me back up. My students are deep into their independent reading books this time of year. I give them a good 20 minutes every class period to stretch out around the room and read, quietly. Even in May, with the end of the year jitters in the air, they revel in their quiet reading mode, and complain loudly if they don’t get that time. How great is that, eh?

We’ve been doing writing about reading activities, but the other day, a few weeks after getting them ready for the state ELA test, one element of the new PARCC elements has stayed with me as something rather interesting. In the task, students are given a passage from a novel or short story, and then they are to either continue the scene or do some variation of the story, paying attention to character or setting or whatever.

It dawned on me one day that this writing assignment was really just a twist on Fan Fiction, and that I could easily get students thinking in terms of the ways that technology and social spaces encourage readers to become writers. It also harkened back to a keynote address by Antero Garcia at a local technology conference, where he extolled the Connected Learning virtues of Fan Fiction communities. That planted a seed that just needed time to grow.

So yesterday, I gave a mini-lesson to my students on what Fan Fiction is (a fair number knew the term but not too much about what it was) and how it works. I mentioned how some Fan Fiction writers connect with others in online spaces (like one of the Harry Potter site that has 80,000 fan fiction stories) around shared interests of books and authors,  and then:

  • write prequels
  • write sequels
  • spin off minor characters
  • create alternative histories
  • create alternative story paths
  • mashup characters and settings from different novels

So, we wrote, and then, instead of sharing out the stories they wrote, we shared out the technique they used to write their Fan Fiction stories, and the struggles they encountered (or not) in doing so. It was such an interesting discussion, and I think many now have their interest piqued about Fan Fiction. Certainly, all have now experienced it as a reader/writer.

Side Note 1: So, I did not get into some of the adult themes that emerge for some Fan Fiction sites, such as sexual trysts and other, eh, explicit materials. And I realize a day late that I should have broached the copyright conundrum (is it protected derivative work?) of using someone else’s material for your own writing, and publishing it to the public view. Obviously, this did not pertain to our writing activity, where the stories were in their writing notebooks, but still …

Side Note 2: I wrote, too, of course, taking a minor character from the book I was just finishing up — The Boy Who Lost Fairyland — and creating a short story that could have happened in the book during a time gap when the character was “off stage.” The character is a magical Gramophone, who spins records to communicate, and I had the character, Scratch, meet with a mysterious character who is a DJ who spins discs. You can see where my story was going, right? Scratch gets scratched into a little hip-hop in the Fairyland. It was blast, writing it.

Peace (among the fans),
Kevin

Slice of Life: Another Firefly Fanboy (A Dad’s Role, Done)

“I’m going to show you Firefly,” I told my youngest son the other day. He is 11 1/2 and has been completely taken over by the recent Star Trek movies, which we finally let him watch this year, and so I knew he would be ready for Firefly.

“Ooooh,” his older brothers teased, as they are apt to do. “Firefly. Now you get to watch a real show.”

Which isn’t a fair statement at all. We’ve been watching The Flash together, my youngest and me, and I think that show is fine entertainment. And he has watched some of the older Star Trek: Next Generation series with me, too. And he is and remains a massive Star Wars fanboy.

Still, the older ones can’t resist a chance to poke fun at the younger one. You know how it is.

And Firefly IS sort of a rite of passage, at least in our house. Not only is it Joss Whedon’s great remix of space and westerns, it is legendary as the television show that launched a protests when it was cancelled after only one season (but later, those growing fan protests led to the creation of the movie, Serenity, which I had to see in theaters alone when it came out because my wife is not a fan of sci-fi and my kids were too young.)

He knows Whedon’s name now from those loud (and I think, overwrought) Avenger movies. (Joss Whedon and JJ Abrams are household names here, as my sons are all deep into movies and moviemaking).

One of the pleasures (there are many) about having kids to show things like this to is that you get to sit with them and experience it all over again, too. It has been some years since I last watched Firefly (now streaming on Netflix, thankfully), but I still enjoyed the set-up of the pilot, the introductions of characters, and the strands of the story that Whedon spins. A few scenes were a little adultish for the 11 year old, but nothing too bad. (Cover your eyes, I said during one scene, and he did.)

We watched the pilot show (and the older boys stayed, too) and I could tell he was hooked. I sort of feel bad about it, because when the season ends … that’s pretty much it (except for the movie). But, I can say, I did my job as a dad here. I’ve got another fanboy in the house.

Now, if I can just get them interested in Lost

Peace (in space),
Kevin

Slice of Life: Planetary Leap


flickr photo shared by Hubble Heritage under a Creative Commons ( BY-SA ) license

My youngest son’s elementary school hosts an annual Science Fair. It’s a voluntary thing, with showcases during the day for students and at night for parents. My son, who has done entries in the past but only half-heartedly, wasn’t all that interested this year, even though it is his last year at his elementary school.

“What about designing and showcasing a video game that other kids can play during the fair?”  I asked. “With a science element?”

That got his attention, and we chatted about getting him back into Gamestar Mechanic to design a game that he could put on display, for kids to play. I reminded him that it would have to connect with science, and he brainstormed the idea of the Solar System.

His game is called Planetary Leap, and involves the “story frame” of an explorer going to check out Pluto but who has crash-landed on Neptune, and now needs to find portals to come back home to Earth. He’s sprinkling researched information about some of the planets within the story itself.

So far, so good. I am acting as technical director only, and a bit of an editor on the writing. He’s in a bit of a crunch because Friday is the Science Fair, and we sort of waited until the last minute to get on board (due to hemming and hawing). Just like a game designer with deadlines looming, right?

Meanwhile, he is interesting in building his video game even further after the Science Fair for the National STEM Video Game Challenge, which runs through August. That sort of motivating factor is interesting to see and witness, and I am enjoying watching him as a fifth grade video game designer coming into his own.

Peace (in the game),
Kevin

PS — this is my site for video game design in the classroom. Steal and use whatever might be helpful.

Slice of Life: Poetry and Image Collecting

I’ve been using primary source images from the Library of Congress to write poetry for the past few days and it’s been pretty interesting to get inspired by history. I gathered them all up here in a Storify as a way to curate the poems and images and reflection points.

Peace (in poems),
Kevin

Slice of Life: Art on a Large Scale

Polar Vortex Quidditch

On Thursday, we hold our annual (17th annual, apparently) Quidditch Tournament. The other day, all four sixth grade classes were hard at work on posters. There were kids and posters and paints everywhere in the cafeteria. It was pretty cool to see the floor turned into a colorful art gallery. We don’t do enough of those kind of large-scale art endeavors like we should. The banner posters (our team name is Polar Vortex) will hang up on the gym walls on behalf of each of the four teams that will play all day long before crowds of younger students and parents and others.

I gave my blue t-shirt to some students to paint for me (they are working on their own, too). They gave me a nickname and a number, and I am just about ready to coach, and have a blast.

Then, on Thursday night, after a full day of running and jumping and competing, the students get to team up and play against us teachers (our team name: Pink Fury). I’m tired just thinking about it.

:)

Peace (in the art),
Kevin

 

Slice of Life: Are You Listening, Mother Nature?

Every Tuesday, the crew at Two Writing Teachers invites educators and others to write about the small moments of the day. It’s called Slice of Life. You write, too.

grass in snow in april

We shoveled the driveway three times yesterday. That’s a good indication for how much snow fell during an April day when, really, it should have been all sun and flowers. Right? April? Look at that poor tuft of grass from our backyard. It looks confused and out of place. Instead of sun, we had snow, totaling about five to six inches, and a whole day off from school.

The boys, of course, were happy to have an expected long weekend (and we streamed the Star Wars movie, so it wasn’t all bad).

But I see now that our last day of the school year is set on a Friday. If we have any more of these Spring Snow Days, it pushes the final day to the Monday, and that impacts a wobbly balance we chanced on this year when booking an early vacation week up in Maine in late June (normally we go later in the summer but with the oldest son going off to college for the first time in August, we moved our vacation back and then took advantage of the pre-summer-vacation rates. Seemed like a good idea at the time.)

So, now, more snow, please. Are you listening, Mother Nature? It’s me, Kevin.

Peace (in the think),
Kevin

Slice of Life: The Mosaic Project — Imagine and Create

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

School Mosaic

I was not part of this project. Our art teacher and a visiting artist worked with students in our school to create this amazing mosaic project on the theme of “create” and “imagine” and it hangs right outside my classroom right now. I am one lucky teacher.

Every time I wander by, I see stories emerging from the tiles of this mosaic. Students in the upper grades worked during a week on this, designing the images and laying out the tiles. The closer you get, the more detailed it becomes. But even from a distance, there is creativity in bloom.

School Mosaic

This is what school is about. Where else would most of these kids have a chance to do a full mosaic art project like this? And what a gift to the school for years to come. Did I mention it is right outside my classroom?

<grin>

Peace (in the imagination of creativity),
Kevin