Girls, Gaming and Gender Stereotypes

lego gender remixerI’ve shared this Lego Gender Remix site before but it is so powerful in what it does that it is always worth sharing out again. I used this site yesterday in my class of sixth graders as we begin diving into the concepts of our Digital Life unit, in which we explore technology and media from a variety of angles. Talking to 11 year olds about the permanence of the web and technology … it’s an eye-opening experience for many of them.

One of the many angles we explore is advertising and gender stereotyping (a term which is relatively unfamiliar to them and which leads to a long discussion about cultural values placed on gender). If you spend time with the Lego Remixer site, you’ll see why it is so powerful for this conversation. By mixing the media of a “boys’ commercial” with the media of a “girls’ commercial,” you can deconstruct the stereotypes embedded in the advertising.

It’s a real eye-opener for many of my students when we do this, and in one of my classes, it led to a long discussion about the design of aisles in toy stores (the few that are left in existence). The girls’ aisle? All dolls and filly pink dresses and unicorns and horses. The boys? Guns and vehicles and action heroes.

“You know,” one of my astute girls observed, “if we saw a boy walking down the girls’ aisle at the toy store, we’d probably make a judgment about them. We’d look at them funny.”

Another piped in. “But if a girl is in the boys’ aisle, no one cares,” he added, and the room went silent as we thought about that. No one disagreed with those assumptions.

We talked about avatars, which was the main hub of our lesson, and how people represent or misrepresent themselves in online spaces. I asked my students why they think a boy might use a girl avatar or vice versa. More quiet thinking.

“In some gaming sites,” said one boy, “girls are not always welcomed. Maybe a girl would want a boy avatar so they can just play and not get harassed.”

No one took exception to that insight — that girls are treated differently in gaming sites that they visit. But when I asked if girls are as good gamers as boys, everyone agreed that gender does not connect with gaming skills.

So, I asked, why are girls treated different? More quiet.

“I think it’s because some sites are like clubs for boys,” a girl suggested,” and they think they own the world. They don’t like having girls in the club.”

“Or,” suggested another girl, ” they don’t like that girls being better than them at the game.”

Some of you know that I teach a video game design unit, and I do try to pay attention to these gender issues. It’s not a boy-centric unit of learning, yet I do find I have to be attentive to supporting and elevating the girls to a certain confidence level. Many girls seem apt to cede the expertise to the boys, and I work against that tide.

When I showcase student-created games as exemplars, I make sure the girls get slightly more equal footing than the boys. I ask girls who have figured out “workarounds” to share that knowledge and insight with the class. I don’t ignore the boys, but I pay attention to the girls a little bit more in our gaming unit. I have never heard any of my boys speak down to girls when we do gaming. But I am not naive, either. I know it happens in the spaces where I don’t go and that the adult world simmers with these inequities.

Look at this quote from Anita Sarkeesian, who is the heart of #Gamergate.

“The notion that gaming was not for women rippled out into society, until we heard it not just from the games industry, but from our families, teachers and friends. As a consequence, I, like many women, had a complicated, love-hate relationship with gaming culture.” from New York Times

What is very obvious each year is this insight as a teacher: my girls often design and build and publish more engaging games than my boys do. Ok, so I am generalizing a bit and maybe stereotyping my kids, but it’s true. (Note to self: document this during this year’s project?) The girls often design their video games with rich storytelling, where the game play informs the storytelling (the while premise of our game design unit). The boys go for the rapid fire action, the shooting avatars, the survival of the protagonist. Their stories are often the weakest element of their projects.

My challenge as a teacher is to do my best to remove those walls and have girls and boys share the best of what they bring to the table, so that we can all learn together as a community of many, not a group of two genders. I can’t take it for granted that gender issues do not exist as a wedge in the world of gaming and beyond. It does. I just need to be cognizant of this reality, and make sure girls are not just invited into the party, but are front and center alongside the boys at all times.

Peace (in the think),
Kevin

 

Speaking of the Web …

The focus on the Web in Connected Courses reminded me of this fascinating, if slightly alarming (for sheer flow), tool from Gary Hayes that shows the flow of social media being created and shared at any given moment in time. Get it running and then come back after a few minutes. You’ll see what I mean …

I show this to my students, and with parents, and even with other teachers, if only to give a representative scale of how technology and digital media inform our lives these days.

Peace (in the flow),
Kevin

The Path of a Poetic Thought

I had the pleasure of being part of an impromptu chain of poetic events yesterday, which stems in part from discussions in the Connected Courses, although all of those in this poetic chain are existing connections.

I may have gotten the very start of the poetic path wrong. I wasn’t there at the gathering, so I am interpreting from the echoes of words left as breadcrumbs from others, and I suspect there may be more to this that unfolded outside my field of vision. Isn’t that always the case anyway? Aren’t we always left to our interpretations of where an idea has begun and where it may yet end up?

So … I made a map, of sorts. Follow along, and take the connection further, if you will. We made room for you. Find an anchor and write. Make a connection and invite us in.

Peace (in the pursuit of a poetic idea),
Kevin

What We Made: A Collection of Tech Tools

Peter Kittle started up a crowdsourcing activity early on in the Making Learning Connected MOOC — asking people to add tools and technology resources they were using as they were “making” projects this summer. I took that list and grouped things as best as I could, and share it here with you. A list like this can be useful to a limited degree — in the end, what you compose and make comes from your own ideas, not the tools themselves. Still ….

Curated Collection of #CLMOOC Tools

Peace (beyond the tools),
Kevin

Six Image Memoir (as digital story)

During some discussions over at the Making Learning Connected MOOC about this week’s Make Cycle of a Five Image Story, I wondered aloud about whether another variation might be a Six Image Memoir, inspired by the Six Word Memoir idea.

I decided to give it a try, using Adobe Voice to create a digital story. I am happy enough with how it came out, but I don’t think it came out as a story — it was more of a list of personality traits and roles I have in life, so I am still wondering how this might work better to tell a narrative of a memoir. I mulled over whether I needed to have any text, and I decided, it needed it for context (another discussion point going on this week with using images to tell a story.)

You will also notice that I used info-art, not real images, and that was a purposeful choice in that I wanted consistency of tone and composition across the six images. Maybe I will do a variation where I find images to represent the six traits.

What about you? What would your six images be?

Peace (in the memoir),
Kevin

 

Fruit Horror: A Movie Short (by my son)


I wrote about my 9 year old son being part of Apple Movie Camp last week, and here is his final short movie about fruit and a blender called Fruit Horror. I helped only with the filming (holding the video camera for him, and using the big knife). He made the soundtrack, did the editing, etc, and I had to resist the urge to do too much with him.

On the last day of the free(!) camp, we watched about three dozen short movies (true!) made during the week by kids, and most had no or little narrative structure. Some seemed to go on forever about nothing and others were just video taken of self. I am not being critical of the kids, who were making movies after all instead of watching them so that is good, nor of the Apple camp, which only ran three days for 90 minutes each day and that’s not enough time to do much (did I mention it was free?).

But the Showcase Viewing that we experienced does point to the need for us educators to still teach story and narrative and pacing, even in video production (storyboards help), and to have young people consider audience and all of the elements of storytelling that we have always taught for print media. It still have value in the digital age. It brings to mind how we can’t assume young people know what they are doing when we put them in front of a screen, or put a video camera in their hands, or a microphone, or whatever.

We still need to teach the skills that underly how they compose for the world.

Peace (in the blender),
Kevin

In Praise of Silent Picture Books

The most recent Make Cycle for the Making Learning Connected MOOC is all about visual storytelling, with a focus on what is known as the “five image” story – using only visuals to relay a narrative. I’m still mulling over where to turn my camera lens, but it reminded me of how much I love “silent” picture books (or wordless picture books) where the story is told entirely in illustrations and art — no words.

One of my favorite writers/illustrators of this genre (is it a genre? Subgenre?) is David Weisner, whose books are so fun to read and explore and consider, and the absence of words is a brilliant stroke of creative expression, drawing the reader into the mystery of the stories themselves.

Read his picture book, Tuesday, or maybe Flotsam, and you will be hooked. Someone even made an animated version of Tuesday that is fun to watch, although I prefer the silent, page-turning book better.

By the way, The Arrival by Shaun Tan, is another outstanding story told entirely in pictures. It’s a powerful tale worth viewing/reading. Here’s an interpretation of that book:

Two graphic novels that my sons have loved over the years, and I do too, also tell a narrative in silence, and both are excellent stories. These two are Robot Dreams and  The Adventures of Polo.


So, given the CLMOOC idea of telling a story in five images, how can you write one of these kinds of books?

Of course, there is the traditional ways (pull out your artbook and get drafting) and there are ways to use technology to do it, too. Storybird is one site that is worth exploring. Here, you use artwork that the site provides to create books. While most users add words to tell the story, you could just sequence a series of illustrations to do a silent picture book.

I went in this morning and created this book — Dreaming of Something Better – and I admit, it was a bit of a struggle to tell a wordless narrative in five slides, with artwork that I did not create myself (although if you ever saw my artwork, you would be thanking me for sparing you). You both lose some agency as a writer and yet, you gain something, too. Stories of all sorts take place in your head as you look at the array of artwork. Inspiration has to come from digging around the bin of art.

What stories will emerge?

In this short picture book, I was going for a girl who feels left out of her family and sits in her room, dreaming of escape. The last frame/page in the story is key, as the artwork is an entirely different texture and feel, so that the shift represents the dream not the reality. If I had one more frame, I would have tried to show her back in bed or with a book. But I think it works as it is. (Or did I ruin it by explaining it?)

wordless book

Interestingly, Storybird normally allows you to embed the books in other sites, but it did not like that I didn’t use any words at all, and so it closed down the embed ability. Hacking Storybird?

What can you make?

Peace (no words needed),
Kevin

 

An Evolution of a Poem Inside Media Spaces

RememberingMusic
The past few days, I have been using a single poem across multiple media (taking part virtually in a National Writing Project writing marathon underway in New Orleans called Finding Your Muse), trying to shape and reshape it with tools at hand to see how the poem might remain in the center of presentation. I think it worked, and I think each piece of media composition gave the poem a little twist.

Draft Remembering Music

I began here, on paper, with thoughts of a poem about music and New Orleans and jazz, and my own work as a college student listening to early jazz in order to understand our country’s history and its original art form. I scribble out a lot when I write. I mostly use pen and paper for poetry because I like the writing to be tangible and scratchable (is that a word?) as I write and move things around. On the computer, when I write drafts of poems, I lose my trails (I know, there are revision steps in software but I find them rather cumbersome — I need something like a shadow revision button that allows me to see shadows of what I have written, removed, shifted, etc.).

I then moved the poem into two different formats for Kinetic Typography. In one, I used Prezi and in the other, I used Keynote (exported to YouTube). I can’t say I was all that happy with either one of them, although the process of decided font size, path of the viewer, animation of words to emphasize meaning, design elements and more were intriguing to consider for a poem written outside of the kinetic typography experience, if that makes sense. In other words, I did not write the poem, thinking: I am going to animate this sucker. I reverse-engineered it, and so that made the compositional act a little tricky.

Next, I created a digital story with the Adobe Voice app. Now, I like Voice for its simplicity and user-friendly design, but I don’t like how you can’t share it beyond an embed from the Adobe site. You can’t export the digital story to YouTube, and you can’t save it as a video file on your mobile device (although I guess you could screencast it and save it that way).  As a digital story, the poem did come alive, I think, as I chose specific images to create a sense of place for the poem. I did not like the limited selection of music soundtrack, and don’t feel that part of the emotional undercurrent did justice to the sentiment of the poem itself.

The next variation was visual, as I used a site called Visual Poetry to create another way of reading the poem, where the words become the paint on the canvas that becomes the new version of the poem. The site allows you to use words as lines for images, if that makes sense, and so the poem became a Shape Poem of sorts.  Here, I found myself paying closer attention to phrases within lines, thinking about what words I wanted outside of the poem itself. It took more than a few tries at Visual Poetry to get what I wanted because you have to be careful and thoughtful about what words you use, and when. I broke the poem down into parts before reassembling them as a Shape Poem.

Normally, I would have created a podcast version earlier in the process of writing a poem. Here, for some reason, it took me nearly to the end. I knew I needed some jazz sounds underneath my voice, so I used FreeSound to find some street musicians, and layered that audio under my podcast of the poem, giving a sense of jazz infused atmosphere (I hope).

The final variation, as shared yesterday, shared the poem over at Poetry Genius, which allows you to annotate text (your own work or the work of others, and the Genius family has spaces for songs, essays, etc.) and open up the annotations for others. This work allowed me to layer in thoughts on top of the poem, to give some context, and I played with text, images, audio, and video annotations. It was intriguing to step back from the poem, and try to offer personal insights, sparked by phrases in the lines of the poem.

One addition thing: as I have been re-composing this poem over the past week, so has my friend, Terry, been doing work on his own poem (The World is Curving), and our sharing has mingled with each other in various social media spaces. I’ve been inspired by what Terry has done, and I began to consider connections between our two works of writing. I tried to visualize the ways our writing processes were becoming entangled in a good way, and created this:

Kevin and Terry Weave a Poem

Peace (in the poem of many colors),
Kevin

 

Remembering Music: Final Variations on a Poem (Poetry Genius)

As I work with various media around a single poem, I decided for the final variation to use Poetry Genius to layer in annotations and other media. This annotation site (part of a suite called Genius) brings strands together in interesting ways, adding the writer’s voice to the poem in a way that other media has not allowed me to do. Click on links within the poem and you will see what I mean. I also did a podcast so that my voice could be embedded into the Poetry Genius page.



Tomorrow, I will work to wrap up what I have learned, and share more about what Terry has been up, too.

Peace (in the layer),
Kevin

Remembering Music: Variations on Poem 4 (Visual Poetry)

I’ve been working with the idea of using a single poem across multiple media, creating variations of a poem. I have shared the basic text and then I spiced it up a bit with Notegraphy. Today, I share out the poem as rendered in a site called Visual Poetry, that allows you to “paint” the canvas with words. Nifty.
remembering music cloud

Peace (in the variation),
Kevin