Blog Celebration: 10,000 Comments and Counting

Blog Comment 1

I know numbers are not everything. But some events still require a little celebration, right? Yesterday, during the Slice of Life, Chris posted a comment about my interaction with a student, and her comment became the 10,000th comment at Kevin’s Meandering Mind.

Blog Comment 10000

It’s funny because I kept checking in all morning to see if I would reach 10,000 during the morning, after posting my Slice of Life. I knew it would happen because the Slice of Life group is one that regularly reads and comments on Tuesday mornings.

I just didn’t know who it would be or when it would be. Thank you, Chris, for being the one.

I’m still staggered by that number, though. Ten thousand comments. That’s … like, a whole city of comments. A book could be made of the comments here. Pretty cool to consider.

I went back and searched my blog for the very first person to comment here and I found it was Will Richardson on July 27 2006. Will being the first commenter is sort of symbolic in a way because Will’s work early on with blogs, and wikis, and podcasts, helped inspire me to dive in with wonder when I first started blogging as a teacher (this blog came as a result of conversations and work with National Writing Project friends in a Tech Matters retreat in Chico, California, and I still have many close friends from that retreat.)

I went into the Wayback Machine to look for my blog in 2006.

My Blog: Wayback Machine 2006

I am grateful that people still bother to read blogs (now and then, but not as often as it once was, alas) and that they even bother to read mine, and then, take the time to leave comments. It makes blogging feel more like a public act of writing, as opposed to a private notebook posted for others to look at. I wish I were better at using comments to start larger conversations.

Certainly, social media platforms have overtaken blogging in many ways. People (and not just the young kids) are more apt to use Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Snapchat, Tumblr (sort of a blog), and more, and the decline of RSS readers (I still use one) as a way to gather aggregated feeds from blogging writers and educators is less a reading experience for many. Blogging isn’t dead, not by a long shot, but it has faded a bit into the busy background of the social media landscape.

So, if you have left a comment here sometime in the last 12 years, thank you. See you at 20,000 comments in about 12 more years … right?

Peace (making note of it),
Kevin

Trading Privacy for Profit When You’re the Product


Processing 06 flickr photo by crstnksslr shared under a Creative Commons (BY-SA) license

Funny. This post is NOT about Facebook. But it could have been …

We had a disagreement brewing in the kitchen the other day. My wife and I, and our three boys (the oldest, in college, and the youngest, in middle school). The whole family. The dog watched.

We were arguing about privacy, and technology, and the split between my wife and I (we both try to guard our privacy from apps and technology companies, and we both teach our students to do the same) and our sons (who shrug their shoulders, and accept that they give up their data to use technology) seemed striking to me.

At issue was MoviePass, a subscription service that allows you to pay a low price and access movies throughout the month at the theater (only 2D movies), one per day. It costs $6.95 a month (oops, now back to $9.95 a month), and we thought about getting it for our middle son for his 18th birthday. But as I looked deeper into the service, spending time digging into how the app and system works, I started to wonder how the company was pulling off such a thing — the price seemed to low for them to make any real money.

Too good to be true?

Yes, I think so.

A little research found that the MoviePass app sucks up data off your phone, about your location and other using habits, and uses that data to sell info about you, and makes money. Of course. Now, that makes sense. The moviegoer is the product. Sound familiar?

We told our son, no on MoviePass, which led to our heated discussion in the kitchen of parents vs. children, with our older son saying he bought and installed MoviePass and, and uses it regularly at college, and while he calls the gathering of data “kind of creepy,” he accepts that trade-off for movie access.

“Everyone is gathering all of our data, all the time, anyway,” was the response from the older boy, to which I nearly lost it, because while this is true (I’m looking at you, Facebook), it doesn’t mean we have to accept it. We can NOT use an app or technology. We CAN find alternatives, of different flavor maybe and perhaps not of the same range, but we can find alternatives.

Trading our personal information for convenience is a false bargain, I told my kids, when companies make us, our lives, our data, their “product” but even my kids seemed to have already tuned me out and accepted that this stance is a Lost Cause of the Modern Age. Perhaps this is another generational battle, with the old folks holding on by our fingernails to some sense of privacy.

I was listening to a piece on NPR with folks from the Pew Internet division, which does all sorts of interesting surveys, and the researcher noted that there is indeed a difference between older and younger users of technology. But not like we think. He noted that younger users do worry about privacy with technology but they are more apt to keep tabs on how their data is being used, and more apt to change privacy settings. They are also more apt to accept the devil’s bargain of data/privacy for access. Older folks complain and worry but do little other than not decide to not use the technology, or abandon it. They don’t monitor their activity as much as younger people, until something hits the headlines.

… younger people are much more active online, much more forgiving of some of the circumstances when their data are captured and used in some ways to deliver products and services to them. But they’re also more vigilant than their elders in monitoring. They watch what’s posted about them, they watch what pictures their name is tagged in, and they’re very concerned about the way that they present themselves online. So they curate their identity and their reputation very aggressively. — Lee Rainie, director of Internet and technology research at Pew Research Center

I don’t think this push against privacy intrusion for profit is all a lost cause, but it does feel like an uphill battle so much of the time and we can’t wait for Congress to take action (because we know how that story goes).

We did not get MoviePass, but instead, we paid what it would have cost us for a year into a gift card to the movie theater for our birthday boy.

“I’m just going to get MoviePass myself anyway,” the boy announced.

Sigh.

Peace (and protection),
Kevin

 

The Arming of Teachers? Are You Insane?

Let me get this out of the way. Arming teaching in schools as a policy to protect students is a completely insane idea. Let me also note: I live in liberal Western Massachusetts, where an aversion to the NRA’s right-wing politics is part of the environment. I lean politically left. But I was also in the National Guard, trained as an infantry soldier and I was a platoon sergeant, so I know my way around a wide assortment guns.

Arming teachers is an insane idea.

Kate Way Photography: G is for Gun: The Arming of Teachers in America &emdash;

Kate Way Photography: G is for Gun: The Arming of Teachers in America

The idea of arming teachers in schools is something I have been following for the past two years or so, as my documentary filmmaking neighbor and friend, Julie Akaret, has been working on a movie that was once called Good Guy with a Gun, and now is called G is for Gun (The Arming of Teachers in America). You can see a photo essay by one of the film’s producers. They have traveled to Ohio many times, visiting schools where teachers are being trained to carry guns in school.

I have supported her through Kickstarter and have been part of the early preview feedback audience of the film as she and her partner have worked on it. The first round of showing of their film will be taking place next month on Ohio public television in March and then they hope other affiliates will take up their story of guns in the hands of teachers in the schools where young people are. The time for the topic is right, sad to say.

Kate Way Photography: G is for Gun: The Arming of Teachers in America &emdash;

Kate Way Photography: G is for Gun: The Arming of Teachers in America

It’s insane.

And you knew it was only a matter of time before the rising up of youths in Florida would lead to the NRA-backed politicians saying that what we need is MORE guns, not fewer. Sure enough, the news this morning shows President Trump calling for the arming of teachers.

Insane.

But par for the course, unless those young people in Florida and elsewhere finally change the narrative and pressure on politicians to buck the NRA and gun lobby. More guns are not the answer. Making teachers into a militia is not the answer. More restrictive gun laws, and more support for enforcement of those laws, is what’s needed. Who will be brave enough on the GOP side to take a stand?

Don’t hold your breath.

Peace (in our schools),
Kevin

The Freedom, and Power, of the Press

I went into Steven Spielberg’s new movie, The Post, the other day as a fan boy of Katherine Graham, long-time publisher of The Washington Post, and came out humming with a powerful reminder that the press in America has a job to keep government in check. That’s being tested in this day and age of Trump.

If you don’t know the story, the movie is about the publishing of The Pentagon Papers, a secret report that showed the United Stated government knew for decades and over multiple administrations that the Vietnam War was a disaster, so they lied to the public and the press — time and time again — to avoid the shame of a military defeat. Meanwhile, tens of thousands of soldiers were sent overseas to fight, and to die.

The New York Times, and The Washington Post, led the charge to make the secret report public, and both were sued by the United States Attorney General to stop from doing so. Ultimately, the Supreme Court ruled in favor of the press in a powerful legal moment that defined one of the pillars of our society — the press has the freedom to ignore warnings from the government over what to publish.

At the end of the movie, after the Supreme Court ruled in favor of the newspapers, the entire audience in the movie theater I was in cheered and clapped at the court’s decision and at the bravery of the newspaper publishers like Kay Graham to risk jail and financial ruin, with the unspoken specter of Nixon and then Trump being in the room (neither would not want to be in that room, I am pretty sure), and all of Trump’s “fake news” utterings being exposed for what it is: a deflection of criticism and probably a real fear of the investigation underway.

“There is no collusion” being the modern version of “I am not a crook.”

The movie itself is a bit too melodramatic — it’s a movie, after all — but I found the portrayal of Graham to be solid, particularly in the scenes where she grapples with being a woman thrust into her position by the suicide of her husband and surrounded by men who think they know better than her about the company she leads. We see Graham come into her own as a powerful woman in a time when that was not common. A scene where she leaves the Supreme Courthouse and is surrounded by a sea of young women protesters is a powerful visual, and Spielberg lets the sight of Graham in the crowd tell the story of her impact in society.

The other thing I loved is the way Spielberg captures the printing press operations, and as a former newspaper journalist, I remember watching our presses rolling, and feeling the building shake as the newspaper was “put to bed” at night. The setting of type and the excitement of grabbing a paper fresh off the press … it’s all tangible reminders that the news business has changed, and we’ve lost the art of making a newspaper to the speed of updated webpages.

Peace (and power to the press),
Kevin

One Little Word for 2018: Compose

The One Little Word project is a yearly endeavor to think about a guiding word for the year ahead. I’ve used words like reflect, and remembering, and pause, and last year: filter. I had trouble coming up with my word this year, but decided upon “compose” for a variety of reasons.

First, my One Little Word for 2018 — Compose — captures how I see the shift in the way people write with media. We’re back to the word “composition” in my mind, using video and images and audio and words as a sort of stew of ideas. We compose when we write on digital platforms.

Second, the word is a remember to me to keep my anger fueled by national politics, yet also to keep it under control. Don’t get all riled up by every headline and every act. Keep focused on the task at hand: removing the GOP from power and kicking Trump to the curb (while not handing the reins to Pence). Stay composed.

So, that’s my word for 2018. I usually put it on my desktop as a little file in the corner of the screen, as a reminder. Time to archive “filter” and add “compose.”

What’s your word?

Peace (more than a word),
Kevin

Reading Student Stories by Playing Student Video Games

Student Video Games Collage

I’ll admit: it’s one of the oddest ways to “read” a piece of student work. I’m digging into the video game of a sixth grader made on Gamestar Mechanic, trying to make my way out of the maze and rescue a character in my role as a hero on an epic quest. I am confronted by dragons, spitting out fire as I dodge and weave, and die. And then, I start the story all over again.

This is how I spent large parts of my vacation week: assessing student stories by playing the video games they have built with stories as frames. I’ve had a lot of fun, but I’ve also done a lot of thinking about what it means to tell a story in the format of a video game.

Some of the projects are excellent. Games like Bartimaeus’ Quest by Hailey and The Wall’s Secret by Devin and The Quest of El by Megan show student game designers and writers who get it, who understand the idea of story informing the game experience. Other students, not so much, although all of the other writing and reflective work we have done has given me insights into their learning, and allowed me to focus my teaching. I have notes for our conferencing when we return to school next week.

One of my favorite projects, not so much for its final version but for its origin, is a game called Captain Zero and Turtle Man. Two boys have been working on a comic book of the same title, and wanted to use their comic book story as the basis for the game they wanted to develop. Of course, I said, yes! I love when ideas from one genre spill into another.

As I play student games as player and as teacher, I am also assessing these student video game projects through three distinct lenses (all of which the students know and have used as the basis for design):

  • Narrative Story Frame (in this case, the use of the Hero’s Journey loose template);
  • Writing Mechanics within the game’s text areas;
  • Game design

Given that this is the first time nearly every one of my sixth grade students has designed and published a video game, I am not overly strict with these elements (and our grading system is standards-based, meaning the range runs from “meeting expectations” all the way to “beginning to show understanding”). I am looking for growth, and for experimental writing of stories, and of games that engage and challenge and entertain the reader/player.

As a teacher, this work is a very different experience than facing a pile of essays or stories or analytical pieces to read. I am playing the stories of my students (often, over and over, for if I want to see how the story ends or continues, my only way forward is to beat the level and keep moving forward). I leave comments both in public, at the game itself within Gamestar Mechanic, and privately, on an assessment sheet that every student will get back from me.

I am intentionally balancing my remarks in those spaces, knowing that one audience is beyond the student and our classroom (but probably more important an audience than my role as teacher), and the other, is a space for more one to one with my young writer/game designer. I am critical in both, if I need to be, but more celebratory in public.

Peace (game on),
Kevin

 

 

Post-Election Reaction: Phew

Photo: This West Park sculpture in Birmingham, Ala., commemorates the four little girls killed in the Sixteenth Street Baptist Church bombing on Sept. 15, 1963. Denise McNair, 11; Carolyn Robertson, 14; Addie Mae Collins, 14; and Cynthia Wesley, 14.

There are many reasons why I could not fathom the rise and candidacy of Roy Moore in Alabama. But I read deep enough into the election from many sources to be reminded again that different parts of the country, particularly some sectors of the rural South, see the world very different from my perch here in liberal Massachusetts.

Still, this morning, when I read that Doug Jones won over Moore in that Alabama special election for Senate, I felt myself exhale and go … phew! I don’t expect Jones to be the progressive candidate I personally would like — that is not his constituency — but … phew.

Here’s another reason why I really wanted Jones to win (other than a thumb to the eye of Trump and another thorn in the side of the GOP-run Senate): Jones was the U.S. Attorney who helped prosecute the racist white supremacists who had bombed the church in Alabama that killed four little girls (and injured other children) that is the heart of the book we read in my classroom — The Watsons Go to Birmingham 1963 by Christopher Paul Curtis.

I always start the book with Curtis’ dedication page, in which he names the four girls who were killed, and we talk about what the dates next to the names mean (how young they were and how they were all killed on the same day). At the end of the novel, we circle back around, and talk about the girls and use primary sources to understand the Civicl Rights and the toll it took on so many people and families.

Now, when we read that book, I can point to Jones as one of the people who would not let that crime go unpunished, even though it took decades to identify and prosecute those responsible, and Jones’ rise to the US Senate is partly built on that experience.

Phew.

Peace (in the morning),
Kevin

Giving Thanks: Keepers of the Flame

This video from my friends at Fablevision (Peter and Paul Reynolds) made its way to my mailbox this week, as they offered to thanks to teachers in their network. It’s a quiet poem, with the power of gratitude, and it is infused with the Reynolds’ gentle touch of art and hope and wonder.

If you are an educator celebrating Thanksgiving today, thank you for all that you do (particularly if you are a teacher of my own kids). If not (either not a teacher or you live outside the US), thank you, too. I am grateful for those folks in my various circles.

Peace (and hope in the flame),
Kevin