Slice of Life (Day Nine): Writing Projects, National Parks and Summer Camps

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

Ok. Summer is not close. It’s early March, already. But yesterday afternoon, in a meeting, all we talked about was summer. I am the lead organizer of a proposed free urban Youth Summer Camp that connects middle school students from Springfield, our main urban center, with the Springfield Armory, our only National Park in Western Massachusetts.

A lot of the work ahead of us is contingent on a grant that the Western Massachusetts Writing Project has submitted to a regional arts organization, as we propose weaving narrative writing, primary sources and local history, and professional development for teachers who will design and run a free summer camp. We’re optimistic on the grant, which would fund two years of collaboration.

It’s a lot of juggling, though, to plan such a project. Sitting around the table with my colleagues, including a school administrator from the social justice/expeditionary learning magnet middle school we are targeting and a park ranger from the Springfield Armory, we were energized by the possibilities of the partnerships underway. The fourth colleague is another teacher who has been an educational consultant with the Armory and helped run a similar camp last year. (I’ve worked with the Armory via WMWP for Professional Development but was not involved in the camp in the past)

We talked about who will do what, and how things will unfold, and possible logistical hurdles (and solutions). We all agreed that the kids will benefit greatly from this endeavor.

I’ll be helping to run the Professional Development aspect, with mostly Social Studies teachers diving into writing about history and civics, and those teachers will co-design the curriculum of the summer camp at the Armory itself. This will be the third year WMWP has partnered with the Armory, thanks to support from the National Writing Project, so we are not starting from scratch.

Recruitment of teachers now begins and then the campaign to get as many as 40 urban middle school students into the camp for the last week of June. That seems far away. It’s not. I need to get working on a flier for students.

Peace (in connections),
Kevin

Slice of Life (Day Eight): Designing Interactive Fiction Story Trees

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

Last week, I wrote about my students reading and mapping out Interactive Fiction novels (Make-Your-Own-Ending is another term for the books), and now they have flipped and are becoming the writers of Interactive Fiction. We use Google Sites and the power of Hyperlinks to move the reader through the story. In fact, I did an entire mini-lesson yesterday about the innovative power of Hyperlinks, which are the digital architecture of the Internet.

Interactive Fiction Story Trees

First, though, is task of the creating of Story Trees and Decision Branches where choices will become part of the story. Yesterday, many students were finishing their Story Trees up, and talking about what is going to happen at different branches.

The project is called A Mystery of Ruins, and the theme of the stories are about an archeological dig or an explorer coming across the remains of a lost civilization or culture. They have to write in second person narrative point of view, use good descriptive writing, have at least five to seven branch points and three different endings, and no violence or death.

Interactive Fiction Story Trees

What I love seeing in the development of the Story Trees is the thinking out loud, and the connecting of story points, and how the narrative will be weaving this way and that way, and how a writer plans for the reader to be in charge of the story.

Interactive Fiction Story Trees

This is a very different kind of writing for my students, and many are deeply involved in their narratives, and are eager to get writing as soon as class starts each day. That is always a good thing.

Interactive Fiction Story Trees

Peace (branches here and there),
Kevin

Slice of Life (Day Seven): Cells, Cells, Everywhere You Look

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

Sometimes, it is a joy to wander the hallways and see what my colleagues are doing with our students.

Cells in the Hallway

In Science, the unit right now is Cells and these four posters — one from each of our sixth grade classes — were up on display yesterday morning.

Cells in the Hallway

I love the colors and the humor and the large-scale Comic Strip feel to them. Two of the posters deal with Animal Cells and two, with Plant Cells.

Cells in the Hallway

Each student had a different part of the Cell, and their job was to create the character (most used alliteration) and create a dialogue bubble for talking about their “job” in the Cell.

Cells in the Hallway

Peace (inside and out),
Kevin

Slice of Life (Day Six): Recording in the Home Studio

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

We have a relatively new bass player in our band. His name is Brian and we are all impressed by his chops, and focus, and kind personality. Turns out, he loves music, just like us, and he is dedicated himself this year to doing even more music. When I learned that he has a home recording studio set-up at his apartment, we connected with a plan to try a little recording of some songs outside of the band setting (but let the band know).

Hanging with Brian2

Yesterday, I drove over to Brian’s pad, and for about two hours, we talked about music and did some recording of scratch (rough) tracks with my guitar and my (still-sick) voice and two songs from a collection of songs that I have been writing for a few years as part of a much larger narrative project with poems and stories and …. oh, who knows anymore.

Hanging with Brian1

It was fun, though, recording again, and I am curious to hear what Brian does with the tracks. I explicitly gave him full permission to do what he wants with the guitar and vocal tracks, so he can feel free to experiment and add layers. We’re hoping this partnership extends into more formal recording down the road.

For now, for yesterday, it was just for fun. Sometimes, that’s the best kind of music to be made.

Peace (in the studio),
Kevin

Slice of Life (Day Five): On the Possibilities of Collaboration

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

One of my hesitations in jumping into Slice of Life is my participation in something known as Networked Narratives, a ‘course’ being run at Kean University by Mia Zamora and Alan Levine (remotely) which has an open online invitational component, which I am part of. So, this Slice of Life sort of converges with Networked Narratives. That’s a good thing.

My good friend, Wendy, from Australia, has been tinkering with the app Acapella as a way to foster more narrative collaborations with the NetNarr folks, mostly those of us out here in the wide open spaces. The students in the actual course seem a bit more restrained and follow the course’s activity guidelines pretty closely. Out here, we just do what we wanna do. We’re not getting graded, of course.

Anyhoo … Wendy and I have been trying to navigate the potential of the Acapella app, which has strange quirks around collaboration yet has some potential that we find intriguing enough to stay with it. We’ve messaging back and forth, working through the kinks and frustrations.

This is one of our impromptu collaborations.

Next up is an invite to a few more friends (Sandy and Terry) and plan out something a little more creative and focused.

Peace (in collaboration),
Kevin

PS — this is one acapella mix I made myself long ago, when I first tried out the app.

Slice of Life (Day Four): Watching Logan Run

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

My youngest son, age 12, wants to see Logan. Ain’t happening. I went with my nearly-17-year-old son last night, and I have to say, finally, there’s a movie out of Comic Book Land that has a rich story and a real heart, overwhelming the magical wonders of watching a character with a superhero power. But man, Logan (rated R, for good reason) is very violent. This is not a kid’s movie. (By the way, one preview piece I read before the movie repeated that phrase three times IN CAPITAL LETTERS. I concur.)

With three boys who love movies and who love comic books, I’ve had to sit through some real awful doozies, in my opinion. The Avengers‘ movies were a mess. Same with Civil War. Iron Man? Didn’t do much for me.  If I never see another Batman or Superman movie again, I’ll be just fine with that. The new Lego Batman Movie? It was OK, but not nearly as inventive as the first Lego Movie. If they never make another Batman VERSUS. Superman movie again, the world will be a better place. Trust me.

Give me Ant Man any day, though. I enjoyed the lightness of that one. I wish Doctor Strange were a bit better, but I liked it. I am a fan of Guardians of the Galaxy, which is my youngest son’s favorite movie of all time.

But so many of these Marvel and DC Comic movies are just so over the top with effects and glitz, with no attention to character and story. You get lost in the haze of fighting. Fighting for the sake of flashy violence. I often walk away from the theater, barely remembering what we watched.

Logan is deeper than most of the superhero movies (including the various XMen movies that disappointed me), as a character grapples with themes of age and family. There is a complex narrative that weaves through this flick, one that resonates most in the quiet moments. But the Wolverine has always been a dangerous character, so danger comes and so, too, does the fighting to survive. And the scenes are graphic, even as the violence and its impact on those who wield it is part of the thread of the story. I suspect some parents might make a counter-argument on the nature of the violence and why it is needed.

So yeah, our youngest son? He can wait a few more years on this one …

Peace (not war),
Kevin

Slice of Life (Day Three): The New Cold War Kids?

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

This is one of those slices that will be sort like a mirror of past year slices done on March 3, but from a slightly different angle.

Yesterday was Dr. Seuss’s Birthday Day, and we love that Mad Hat Cat writer around here in Western Massachusetts (where he was born and raised). I often use the opportunity to talk about Allegory with my sixth graders — connecting story to theme to overarching geopolitical ideas. And I almost always share The Butter Battle Book with them, as I did yesterday.

But where as in recent years I could talk about the Cold War and Arms Proliferation as some distant past — way distant for these 11 year olds but not so much for me — this year, I found myself musing over the recent headlines that link Russia and the United States, and we talked about the term “Cold War” coming back around again (particularly with Trump’s push for increased military and more Nukes).

I still appreciate that The Butter Battle Book ends on the unknown … and we talked about why Seuss left that cliffhanger in there. I also wondered if that stalemate between those crazy butter-toast-heads might not yet be something in the near distant future. Are we on a collision course again? I surely hope not. I’d hate to think of my students as the new Cold War Kids.

Peace (sometimes it rhymes),
Kevin

Slice of Life (Day Two): Searching for a Singer in the Band

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

Last night, we auditioned another singer for our rock and roll band. It’s been quite a journey for the past 18 months, after our band dissembled on a night when the singer left and the bass player, whose house we used for practice, said he was calling it quits. In the past six months, we finally added an outstanding new bass player, and have been bringing in singers. Last night’s Voice was about the seventh singer we have tried out.

There has been a wide range of talent. From the young 20-year-old kid who never sang with a band, ever (and that was clear from the first song) to another whose tenor-bass blues voice was interesting but forced us to change the key of every song to another who brought a friend who really wanted to sing, too, (eh, no) to another who just didn’t have the range or endurance (we already have that in a singer – that’s me). The Voice last night had some range and experience, and projected a rocking stage presence (he has played with other bands), and now we need to mull over the intangible: personality mix.

Band, Hanging Out After Practice

We’re going bring him back for another round next week, and try to get a better sense. Putting together a band is tricky. It’s a mix of musical tastes, personalities, musical chops and the strange unknown of working creatively with a bunch of people. In our group, three of us have been making music together for nearly 20 years now.

That reminds me of this satire site I once created:

boy band thimble

We’re hoping to get a singer in place and get gigging again in the next year. We’ll see where we end up from here …

Peace (sounds like),
Kevin

 

Slice of Life (Day One): Unexpected Turns in the Story

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

You know that moment when you introduce an entirely new concept to your students, and even as you are watching their eyes take in the new information, you can see the wheels turning in their heads as they process it all? That was me and that was them, yesterday, as I began a mini-unit around Interactive Fiction (sometimes known as Choose Your Own Ending stories).

We began with a discussion about its basic elements — reader in charge of story, multiple narrative paths, use of second person narrative point of view, story maps, etc.)

Story Branches of Interactive Fiction

And then I read a book out loud called The Green Slime, allowing the entire classroom to act as “reader,” making “choices” along the way about where the story should go. Funny, each of my four classes took four different narrative routes, so each time I read the story, it was different experience for me.

I mapped out the different “branches” of the story as I read, showing them a visual of where we had been, and making note that they would be doing this kind of mapping, too, but from the writing standpoint, with every possible choice for the reader made visible.

Oh, they were pretty excited. Only a few had ever even seen these kinds of books, although some of my gamer’s make quick connections to the ways that video games use the same techniques. In the next days, we will be doing some writing and then some deeper reading and mapping of these books, and then move into a larger project using Google Slides as a launching point for Interactive Fiction, where hyperlinks become the way a reader “jumps” through the decision trees.

Peace (active and interactive),
Kevin

Slice of Life: Reveling in a Quiet Room

(This is for the Slice of Life, hosted by Two Writing Teachers. We write each Tuesday — and all through March —  about the small moments in the larger perspective … or is that the larger perspective in the smaller moments? You write, too.)

Every year, for past nine years, I have looked at the March Slice of Life Challenge, and thought: I can’t do it. A Slice of Life post — looking at the small moments of the day — every single day? I have other things going on! But then, I seem to mostly do it, right through every day in March. Tomorrow will be the 10th March that I have dipped into Slice of Life with the folks and friends at Two Writing Teachers. It’s a reason to write. It’s a reason to take notice of the small moments of the world. It’s a reason to connect with others (commenting on other blogs is highly encouraged).

So, here I am on, on a regular Tuesday Slice of Life .. getting ready of the first March Slice of Life that starts tomorrow ….

We came back yesterday from Winter Break, and I returned with a cough and cold that lingered and returned from two weeks prior. It made for a long first day back, as you might imagine. I was sucking cough drops and chugging juice, and hoping my voice would hold out. It did, barely.

I also started the new week with an expected IEP meeting right at the start of the day. I had it in my calendar as being later in the day and made plans, and suddenly realizing that either I had it wrong or someone changed the time without me knowing about it had me scrambling like crazy for the substitute teacher, and that panicky sense of the day never left me.

At the end of the day, I just sat there in my chair in an empty room, taking in the quiet. It was one of those days.

Peace (in the room),
Kevin