A Boatload of Journalistic Excellence

It’s not that there are not excellent pieces of journalism floating around the Internet. It’s that finding them can be difficult, unless that kind of task is your full-time job. So, it is always a pleasure when someone else, like Conor Friedersdorf in Atlantic, does it for you. He has collected “slightly more than 100″ examples of excellent journalism, and I could spend a few hours moving through them, I suspect.

Friedersdorf also curates a Best of Journalism email newsletter. I haven’t yet subscribed but having someone with his lens on the world of quality news and quality writing might be worth the cost attached to getting his newsletter on  regular basis, particularly if this collection at Atlantic is an indication of how he works.

Check out Slightly More Than 100 Fantastic Pieces of Journalism

Peace (in the news),
Kevin

Dear Ysabelle, Who Hacked the Hallways

(In order to understand why I am writing this letter to Ysabelle, you need to read Paul Bogush’s post over at Medium. It’s a powerful reminder of how students react to the stifling nature of our educational system by pushing at the boundaries of rules.)

“Despite Thomas Jefferson’s famous “A little rebellion now and then is a good thing,” in America, and in public schools, any rebellion now and then is a little rebellion too much. People who do rebel are seen as outsiders, as weirdos, as the crazy ones. Most kids who rebel are seen by teachers as being kids who do not have the qualities to be successful, yet they possess the very qualities that we would include when we list the attributes of heroes, role models, and leaders.” — Paul Bogush, Legacy at Medium

So, I found myself writing to this student that Paul featured in his post. This letter to Ysabelle goes like this:

Dear Ysabelle,

This morning, I read Mr. Bogush’s piece in Medium about your thought-provoking project to hang signs encouraging creativity and independent thought throughout the hallways of your school. I appreciated that you took the time to wrote a letter to Mr. Bogush about the rationale for what you did and why. I want you to know that I, a teacher too, applaud you, and so much of what Mr. Bogush writes in his piece, inspired by your act, is what I believe in, too.

Ysabelle, your response seemed reasoned, passionate and a powerful call to action for your fellow students. Your “hacking the hallway”, which is how I think of what you did, sent forth a strong message that no one is in this world is alone but that doesn’t mean we have to think and act like everyone else, either. The world changes for the better not because we shun those who think different and have a tilted lens on things, but because we embrace the crazy ideas that have the potential to become innovative ones.

I know enough about Mr. Bogush to know that he admires what you did, and so do I. Although I spend the school year with my sixth graders working to engage them as independent thinkers, so many students have already fallen into the comfortable role of following rules so closely they don’t know where to begin when given a task with no directions or specific outcomes. This is not their fault. It’s society’s fault. It’s us as parents who micromanage their days, and it is us as teachers who have clear expectations that narrow the possibilities of learning, and it is the world at large that casts a sneer at anyone with an original thought that falls outside of expectations … until that thought becomes something that alters the way we engage with the world (prime evidence: the admiration crowd surrounding the myth of Steve Jobs).

Your project reminded me of a Hackathon that I joined during a convention of teachers in Las Vegas a few years ago. Like you, we decided to “hack the hallways” by posting sticky notes on the artwork that was hanging throughout the convention center. Yes, even teachers like to be creative and break the rules. The task was to spark thinking in our fellow teachers in the convention, and to use the public artwork on the walls as a space for art. It was a blast, and even more importantly, there were a lot of teachers who asked what we were doing and who stopped to read our satirical notes. We hope we made a difference, just as you do. The convention center staff was not pleased, however, and some followed a few minutes behind us, ripping down our hacked signs as if we had used Sharpies and not sticky notes. It didn’t matter. The point had been made. Pictures had been snapped of the hacked art and the hacked notes were shared in online spaces, becoming a viral part of the conference. Our mark had been left behind.

The same goes for you, Ysabelle. Sure, your signs were probably taken down at some point. But the signs were only temporary outposts to your thinking, and yes, you have “accomplished more than just helping a few people…I have hopefully made every reader of this article’s day better,” as you write in your letter to Mr. Bogush. You did with me, Ysabelle.

If you ever find yourself in Western Massachusetts, Ysabelle, I invite you to come hack my classroom. Hang posters up all over the place. Spark my students to think creatively and independently. Take what you’ve done there at your school and pay it forward. In some ways, your poster brigade is a small act with small ripples. But ripples can become waves, and waves can change the world.

Thank you, and thank you to Mr. Bogush for sharing your story.

Sincerely,

Mr. Hodgson
Sixth Grade Teacher
Southampton, MA

Peace (in the response),
Kevin

 

Intentionally Imbalanced Infographic: NextGen Testing

Intentional imbalanced Infographic
The PARCC test has been on my mind a lot lately, due to its piloting all over the world (or so it seems, even though I know it is only in PARCC states). More and more news items are coming into my RSS feed of parents opting out, of teaching refusing to give it, of superintendents telling families how much they don’t like it already, of parents at a school in my city picketing PARCC with signs and everything, of criticism that our state Educational Commissioner has a role in the PARCC consortium, of talking to teachers at my school (and parents of kids) who administered the PARCC pilot (although they are not allowed to talk about the test), and more, more, more.

A very powerful piece ran in the New York Times opinion section by Elizabeth Phillips that is a must-read: We Need to Talk About the Tests.

And I saw from Diane Ravitch that Pearson, who is developing the PARCC, is searching for scorers, but they are targeting college students and paying only $12 an hour. These are the scores that are going to be used for teacher evaluations someday down the road? for student graduation requirements?  Ack. for revising the PARCC? (cue fake laughter on that one).

It’s hard to keep an open mind with all that floating around. So, I went and decided to make a completely unreliable infographic of what I believe will be the end result of PARCC, which is that the testing companies will make out like bandits in the end. ‘Cause they will.

Read Valerie Strauss’ piece at The Washington Post: March Madness.

Meanwhile, with the federal test-creating grants running out later this year, the future of the two consortia is not clear. But for now, they’ve got a pretty good deal: They get millions of field testing subjects — for free.

I know I’m being grumpy and pessimistic here, but it’s hard to see things unfolding in a positive light right now around the Common Core testing systems underway, and if any of my sons were in classes where Pearson is piloting the PARCC, I would probably have them opt out. (Hey, Pearson gets free data from our kids, doesn’t have to share any of the results with anyone? That’s a coup. Maybe they should donate a cart of laptops to every school that has piloted the PARCC.)

Sigh.

Peace (in the test),
Kevin

I had Stickers – An Early Childhood Appreciation

The other day, I volunteered to lead a family poetry workshop at Barnes and Noble to support our Western Massachusetts Writing Project. I didn’t know what to expect, so I gathered up a bunch of supplies for a Post It Sticky Note Poetry idea. I had a bunch of small mentor texts (haiku, couplets, shape poems, etc.) along with lots of art supplies.

 

I set up in the little staging area of the children’s section, still not sure who would come and participate. Now, remember, I teach sixth grade and spend my days in the midst of 11 and 12 year olds. And I have three boys of my own, two teenagers and one 9 year old.

So, imagine my surprise when I was surrounded by a group of five girls — ages 3 and 4 — with their parents for the poetry workshop. I was a fish out of water because clearly my plans for writing and understanding poetry styles would not connect with this group of energetic mostly-pre-writing girls. I was in a sixth grade mindset and that would not work here.

Luckly, I had stickers! Lots of stickers! And that led to some post-it poems, of a sort (well, more like drawings) and some basic rhyming games. Some of the girls could write some basic words, so we wrote rhymes. For others … it was all about the stickers and post-it notes.

That was OK but it reminded me (again) of the task before our early childhood colleagues who are often faced with a class full of young learners who might or might not have had preschool experience, might or might not have had parents read to them regularly, might or might not have had pre-writing experiences, and the range of literacy was staggering in that little group.

It was fun and enlightening, and certainly a very different kind of teaching experience for me, one that reminded me to appreciate the kinds of days that my colleagues often have, and how grateful I am as a sixth grade teacher for all the work that gets done in the years before my students reach me to get them ready for the rigor of our learning.

Thank you, teachers.

Peace (with stickers)
Kevin

 

Remixing the Comics: Standardized Testing


You might guess that we are into standardized testing time in our school and state. Hey. You’d be right! I was reading the comics with that on my mind and frames began jumping out me. I just had to hack and remix the comics as a sort of commentary about testing. I used ThingLink as way to embed some comments for each frame, although I suspect you could get my message even without my words.

Honestly, though, it was that kid staring at his test in the Nancy strip that got me going. He looks so … sad.

Wondering how I did this kind of remix?

First, I read all the comics and tries to piece together a possible story sequence. This is the most difficult part because you need to look for narrative threads and understand there will be some gaps in whatever story you remix with the frames. Once I started to identify possible pieces of comics, I got to work.

I started with old fashioned scissors and tape, and blue paper. I scanned it as an image file (when I have taken a picture of this kind of remix in the past, the words get fuzzy. You might have a better camera than I have, though). Then, I uploaded the image to Flickr, where I used the Aviary app in Flickr to add text, and “borrowed” the completed image over at ThingLink. That allowed me to layer in some commentary.

Peace (in how we frame things),
Kevin

As I watched far afar … DML Ignite Sessions

I snuck in moments to watch the short Ignite sessions that have been archived at the Digital Media and Learning Conference YouTube channel, and tweeted out my comments and reactions. Here, I collect them all together. There are a few Ignite sessions at the end of the very long video that I have not seen. Maybe later …

Peace (in the Ignit-ion switch to learning),
Kevin

Sharing out a Presentation on Cyberbullying

I adapted a presentation that I made to NCTE two years ago around cyberbullying for my students before February vacation, and figured I’d share it out. Feel free to use it, copy it, remix it as needed. We used it as part of a larger Digital Life unit, emphasizing positive aspects of digital tools as well as ways to stay safe.

In fact, during our digital life survey, the percent of students who say they have had a negative experience in online spaces is minimal, and no one reported any cyberbullying (although given the nature of things, they might not admit to it, either). The strongest message here is a reminder to kids that they have trusted adults they can turn to to help them in difficult situations. I’ve been intrigued by danah boyd’s exploration of this issue in It’s Complicated: The Social Lives of Networked Teens and how kids see behavior in online spaces differently than adults.

Peace (in the talk),
Kevin

Re-Envisioning the Failed Digital Composition

All hail the fail. So said my friend Terry the other day as part of his response to my post about a digital composition that I attempted that just did not work for me. But part of failing can also perseverance (a theme which we did a whole lesson around in the classroom the other day) and as I took in Terry’s comments via Vialogues (see below) and then read some reactions from another friend, Molly, I began to rethink how the piece might yet come together.

Here’s Terry’s comments on the composition and some of my responses:

Here is Molly’s tweet:

It was a combination of both of their voices, plus my own doubts, that stuck with me, and as I was out shoveling last night (for the fifth time that day), it dawned on me how I could maybe “fix” the failure, and it required moving away from the video app that had inspired the composition to begin with. I realized that the PicPlayPost app was one of my problems. It was Molly’s comment about finding a way to cut and connect that made me realize that I could use Popcorn Maker, perhaps, to re-engineer the video sequences, and cut out the Tellegami ads at the end of the videos, too. (which Terry agreed gave the composition a very halting effect).

So, here it is.

What’s interesting is that my original intention was to try to avoid a sequential left-to-right kind of video message and that is what I went back to. But with Popcorn, I could add another layer of music, and the project is now remixable by anyone who wants to give it a whirl. That was something that Molly could not do with PicPlayPost, although that was her first instinct (which I applauded). Popcorn can still act quirky at times, and is periodically laggy. But, if not completely at ease with how it came out, at least it better matches my vision.

Peace (in the remix),
Kevin

My Word: Make


I’ve seen a lot of friends on Twitter using the “one word” idea. It’s a simple but powerful way to focus in on a theme for the new year. Or maybe not so simple. I’ve struggled with a single word that is large enough to encompass how I want to approach the year and not so intangible as to be meaningless. I’ve settled in on the word “Make” for a few reasons.

First of all, I really got involved in learning more about the Maker’s Movement this year, through work with the National Writing Project. Our CLMOOC was focused on the “make.” I am intrigued by how helping students learn through doing, and creating things/ideas is coming back around again.

Second, I am not a physical maker. I bumble my way through any project you hand me. When I fixed the toilet in our house one day, you should have heard the cheers and seen the high fives we gave each other. I mean, I had fixed the toilet, for goodness sake. That was a breakthrough.

So, this idea of focusing on “make” is always a way to slowly get me out of my own comfort zone. I know I have students who struggle with writing a story but could take apart a car engine, and even put it back to together again. I know I have students who can make an engaging video, publish it on YouTube, and yet, they can’t quite write a paragraph with deep meaning.

I can’t say right now how this word “make” will make its way into my daily life. But I do have a wide definition in my head of what it means to “make” and I’ll keep mulling this one over. It’s digital, physical and internal, and I am going to “make” 2014 a year of diving in as deep as I can.

In that vein, one of the things I have been doing is pulling together a Flipboard magazine around the connections of making and learning, and Connected Learning. It’s a start, and I am making the magazine happen. (meta-make?)

Peace (in the word),
Kevin