ReWriting the Script: GBL, POS and a Game of Tomes

Last Saturday, at the Western Massachusetts Writing Project annual fall conference, which had the theme of “Rewriting the Script,” I sat in on some interesting workshop sessions. I’ll be doing some sharing out from the conference in the days ahead.

I appreciated that the presenter in this workshop entitled, with pun fun, A Game of Tomes admitted that he was still tweaking the lesson/unit plan and that he wanted us to experiment with the ideas, and give him feedback.

He explained how his inquiry project, which he started in our WMWP Summer Leadership Institute, has been looking at game-based learning, and how he hopes to liven up his classroom work around the always-tricky Parts of Speech by adopting and adapting elements of Role-Playing Games into review activities for his middle schoolers.

What he has done is created the idea of a Fantasy World, in which students first explore character attributes to determine a character for play, and then they shift into a series of activities (all connected to Parts of Speech review) that provide “experience points” which, ideally, move the player through a story of adventure. Some of the activities include a mystery story (where removing different Parts of Speech should reveal a clue to something else); map-making and direct giving; story, journal and sentence writing; and more.

I was intrigued by the plan but it still felt as if it weren’t cohesive enough in my mind. For example, it wasn’t clear even as we were playing in the conference workshop in a pilot version how we would leverage experience points for advancement in the game.

There was a fuzzy clear story arc set into motion (a narrative frame that we as a tribe lived underground and an untrustworthy character was about to lead an expedition above ground for resources, and would we join them in that journey) that we, as characters we invented, were part of. And some of the activities — like the mystery story — didn’t reveal anything; it just gave us Parts of Speech practice. You’d lose my students quickly if they did that work, only to find there was no reward to it.

Still, I can see elements that might work for my students, too, for engaging them in an adventure that embeds curriculum design for play. Of course, the dilemma is always the balance — how to make it fun without ruining the game with too much focus on “learning in school.”

The presenter was appreciative of our feedback and is continuing to work on elements of his game. I’m looking forward to seeing where his game idea ends up (and how I can steal and remix it for my own classroom).

Peace (roll the dice),
Kevin

ReWriting the Script: Exploring Research with Tech Tools

On Saturday, at the Western Massachusetts Writing Project annual fall conference, which had the theme of “Rewriting the Script,” I sat in on some interesting workshop sessions. I’ll be doing some sharing out from the conference in the days ahead.

One of the sessions I went into was all about doing research and presentation with various tools connected to Google Apps for Education. As it turns out, I had just attended an after-school Professional Development session about Read & Write for Google a few days prior, as we are moving to implement some of those interesting possibilities with students this year. Read & Write has features such as word prediction, voice to text, text to voice, a vocabulary generator (with image connections), and others.

Notes about Trane (simulated research)

In the WMWP session, we dove into the Read & Write tool that allows for highlighting of online text, which then gathers and sorts those highlights based on one of four colors. By designating each color a certain idea, a student can gather research by categories. In this presentation, that’s what we did, working on a biography of a famous person (I chose John Coltrane). This will be quite handy for students, who struggles to keep notes while doing online research and reading.

We then took those highlighted notes and put them into a grid, which then became part of the narration of a screencast of a slideshow we built, using a template that the presenters provided us via a Google Classroom space. The notes were used to put narration into our own words. As we moved from one app to the other, I could see the flow of work, but I also know, this will take time to show my students how to use the tools effectively.

Coltrane Report with Google tools

Our final project was a video, with us narrating the main points of the biography over a video slideshow format, shared with other participants within the Google Classroom space. We could have all used more time, but the workshop provided a lot of possibilities and resources.

Peace (beyond Google),
Kevin

ReWriting the Script with WMWP: Turning Fact Into Fiction

On Saturday, at the Western Massachusetts Writing Project annual fall conference, which had the theme of “Rewriting the Script,” I sat in on some interesting workshop sessions. I’ll be doing some sharing out from the conference in the days ahead.

The first workshop session I attended was all about being a teacher/writer. It connected nicely with the ethos of “teacher as writer” that those in the writing project believe in. In this session, led by WMWP colleague and writing consultant erin feldman, we worked first on the idea of a “Do Over” — or a moment in our life when we might have made a different decision or choice, and altered the trajectory of the event itself.

This was the true piece of writing — something real to reflect upon.

Then, we moved into a brainstorming session in which we created characters and personality traits and setting ideas (not related to our Do Over piece). Finally, we merged those ideas together, writing a piece in any fictional genre that explored the truth of the non-fiction piece through the lens of the fiction piece.

I found the process interesting, and ended up with a short story told in Second Person Narrative Point of View, which only hinted at what I had written about earlier (I see all of the connections, of course) and I can see how the fiction gave some distance to take chances to process the real event.

Here is a rough little blurb from what I wrote:

       You’ll remember the decision you made in the tomorrow of this very same picture, when your step-father will take your brother on the day trip to the ocean, and you will decline, hoping to hide with your books for the day. You’ll remember the sound of your mother’s voice, the tilted echo of cries, the car with a shattered fender and the empty seat where your brother had been, but was no longer. You’ll remember your step-father’s broken arm. His broken eyes.

And you’ll remember, again, the balloon and the way you and your brother struggled so much over the string, in the minutes after this picture was taken, when the balloon broke free, and began its lopsided ascent into the sky above the pier. Both of you were so unusually quiet in that moment, and he even took your hand, as you both looked up and he was the one who wondered out loud about where it is that things go when they disappear from view.

Peace (it’s real),
Kevin

WMWP in the Newspaper: Chalk Talk

Chalk Talk Quote Sept19Part of my role as outreach co-director with the Western Massachusetts Writing Project is to recruit teachers in our network to write a monthly column with the local regional newspaper. The column is called Chalk Talk and provides a teacher voice to the newspaper’s education section. Usually, once a year, often to kick it off, I’ll jump in and write, too.

The first piece of this school year is about Dreams and Aspirations, and getting to know my young students. You can read the Chalk Talk piece here and peruse the archives of our columns, too, if you want.

Peace (writing it),
Kevin

Stories and Place: WriteOut/WMWP/Springfield Armory

WMWP Writing Marathon Flier

Next month, the second year of Write Out will be taking place. From October 13 through October 27, with the National Day on Writing right in the center on October 20, we hope to engage teachers and students and park rangers and other public space stewards into looking at how stories inform our sense of place.

Here in Western Massachusetts, on the National Day on Writing, we are hosting a Writing Marathon on the grounds of the Springfield Armory National Historic Site, with hopes of teachers exploring the museum, its history and primary sources as inspiration for writing, and to bring that sense of curiosity back to students.

If you live and teach in Western Massachusetts, we hope you will consider joining us for this writing celebration. We may even have a Button-Making-Activity! The Armory is even offering small stipends for registered teachers.

More information and registration link is available at the WMWP website

Peace (in the past),
Kevin

PS — you can sign up for news and information about Write Out at the site

WMWP: ReWriting the Script for Change

WMWP Best PracticesOur Western Massachusetts Writing Project annual fall event is about a month away. This year’s theme is ReWriting the Script: How to Make Change in Classrooms, Schools and Communities.

WMWP teacher-consultants will be leading a variety of workshops and the keynote speaker is a principal from the Springfield school system who made the news last year for publicly announcing they are transgender.

You can get more information, including the program flier and registration link, at our WMWP website. If you are a teacher in Western Massachusetts or nearby, you are cordially invited to attend and join in our conversations about how to make positive change in our schools and communities.

The theme of our conferences reflect the mission statement of our writing project.

Peace (mulling it),
Kevin

 

 

What To Do When Your Classroom is Filled with Guns

Scott and Kids in front of the Organ of Muskets

Yes, my blog title was designed to be provocative. Thanks for following it here.

I am a few years into a partnership between the Western Massachusetts Writing Project/National Writing Project and the Springfield Armory National Historic Site/National Park Service, and this topic of guns is often on my mind. The Armory, after all, as one of two main arsenals of our United States government for decades (the other was in Harper’s Ferry), is all about guns and weapons of war, and we use the Armory Museum itself as our classroom for summer camps (one just ended) and professional development courses for teachers (another one is planned for the fall.)

Reconciling the use of a building housing devices of violence with the rich history and the amazing primary sources it provides as windows on the past is one I still grapple with, although I continue to find the partnership to be fruitful and collaborative and informative at all levels. Still … guns. They’re everywhere in our learning spaces.

Here’s what we have done to try to balance or mitigate these two often conflicting ideas when we have worked with middle and high school students at our summer camp we run at the Armory itself (and also, some of these are how we work with teachers to use local history in their classrooms):

  • We focus on the engineering design and innovation of manufacturing. We don’t ignore that what was being built here at the Springfield Armory was designed for war. But we pivot to the ways that innovations at the Armory transformed our Pioneer Valley, and the entire country, as the Armory’s work influenced other elements of the United States government operations.
  • We focus on the workers — from explorations of how immigration patterns during WW2 helped the Armory expand its workforce to meet the demands of war; to the role that women played when men went off to war, and the generational impact that had in the years following the wars; to the racial divisions that often played out at the Armory as a microcosm of the United States itself.
  • We use the stories behind the weapons — either from the manufacturing side or from some of the guns on display that have been personalized by the user, with engravings of tales and years and battles, and humanize the soldier on the battlefield, not glorify the guns they held. The object as holder of stories is a powerful instrument of learning.
  • A deep look at Shays Rebellion — when farmers and former soldiers of the Revolutionary War rose up in protest over taxes and marched to the Springfield Armory with a plan to take the guns — allows us to make connections to the present ideas of community protest, and the fuzzy line between right and wrong, and acceptable and unacceptable use of force, and the role of the federal and state government in the lives of its citizens.
  • We use creative writing to push the idea of guns in the museum in other directions. For example, one prompt was to design a “gun for good” by creating a patent design, with labels and explanations, for a gun-delivery-system for something positive. Campers designed guns that sent forth ice cream, money, technology, music and, my favorite, new homes for the homeless of Springfield. Another prompt had them designing their own museums, using the Armory as a mentor text. And yet another was to design a board game about the Armory, with history as the springboard for play.

Four years into my partnership with the Armory (which began two years before I even came into the mix with other WMWP colleagues), and I still feel a bit unsettled by the weapons part of the museum. It’s an entire wing of weapons, including grenade launchers and machine guns and other advanced killing technology. Cases and cases of them, all tied to history, of course.

Manufacturing at the Armory

Even as a former soldier (infantry sergeant, National Guard) who was once trained on many of the modern weapons in the cases, I always encounter my own internal resistance to bringing young people in there. I am strongly in favor of gun control legislation and abhor the political work of the NRA to influence politicians to thwart any kind of reasonable measures to protect lives from guns.

Hopefully, by finding other ways to connect to the history of the Armory, we bring the importance of the building and the site to the surface for city kids who might not otherwise be aware. For some, the guns are what brings them to camp. This is the reality. Our job is to the show the toll of guns, and the role they played in America’s wars, but also to use them to tell the stories of the people behind them.

Peace (I mean it),
Kevin

Springfield Armory Camp: Exploration and Inquiry at a National Historic Site

We just finished up our week-long summer camp for inner city students (middle and high school) at the Springfield Armory Historic Site. It was a blast, and we wove in writing with inquiry and history and a sense of place.

We

  • explored the art of mapping as a representation of time of a place — using historical maps of the Springfield Armory site itself on a walking tour
  • learned about how to closely “read” historical images that are part of the Armory’s curated archives
  • wrote into the day every single day on a variety of prompts, ranging from designing a board game based on the Springfield Armory to seasonal poetry
  • inquired about Shay’s Rebellion with primary source materials at the Armory, the site of the uprising and the firing on Shay’s men by the militia protecting the Armory
  • heard of Pearl Harbor and the way WW2 changed the Armory and Springfield forever, and then examined how different voices (Americans, Japanese, and Japanese-Americans) told different stories of the event
  • worked to understand design and engineering with a Lock Plate Activity that replicated the experience on the Armory manufacturing lines
  • explored immigration from many different angles, including the heritage of campers and the roots of many immigrant workers at the site

Yesterday, we had more than 40 family members join our campers at the Armory, for a celebration of writing and to explore the Armory Museum with campers. It was another great year of camp, as the video diary attests to.

And because Ranger Scott Gausen could not be there for the last day, we had campers do some writing for him, and sketch out his picture. His beard is a main facial feature, as you can tell.

Ranger Scott Sketch Collage

Peace (in explorations),
Kevin

Springfield Armory Camp: The Scents and Smells of Learning

Armory Camp: Scent of HistoryOf all the senses that educators tap to help students learn something new, the sense of smell is often the one we use the least, right? Yet, scents provide deep learning experiences. Memories connected to smells are powerful, lingering long after the event. We saw that idea in action yesterday at our Springfield Armory summer camp, where a visitor who does historical demonstrations – Reba Jean — arrived with vials and bottles of smelly substances, and a quarantine sign on the door.

The theme of the day at our camp was immigration, and Reba Jean made distinct connections between migration and immigration (and emigration) and the Influenza outbreak of 1918, when millions and millions of people around the world died from the epidemic, also known as the Spanish Flu. Unless you were in Russia, then it was called the German Flu.

“Someone always wants to blame the other, the ones they don’t know or don’t like or don’t understand,” Reba Jean, who is a historical interpreter at another local history museum, explained, tying the discussion to something we had spent the morning on — the reasons behind immigration patterns and how newcomers are met at borders by those already there.

Yes, this was history — the Springfield Armory itself was a magnet for many immigrants across the globe during the World Wars because it needed workers and because potential workers wanted to help soldiers fight the wars — tied up with modern days news cycles of our southern border.

In the demonstration, Reba Jean had campers sniffing a variety of scents before telling them what it was they were smelling. All of the scents representing ways that people tried to ward off Influenza in the 1918 outbreak, which began at a military base in America and spread to the world when those soldiers were shipped off to war fronts.

Among the scents:

  • Pine oil
  • Vicks Vapor Rub
  • Camphor
  • Garlic
  • Vinegar
  • Listerine (Lister oil)

The looks on the faces of our campers — all middle and high school students from a social justice school in Springfield — was priceless as they closed their eyes to sniff out history in little cups. Reba Jean did a brilliant job of connecting the sensory experience to the topic of immigration, too.

Afterwards, I realized how little I have ever used the sense of smell in my own classroom, but how powerful it was. I could see it on the faces of campers, and afterwards, in reflection, they explained how they found the activity memorable, connecting what they discovered through their noses with historical information Reba Jean was sharing.

Peace (on the winds),
Kevin

Springfield Armory Camp: Messing Around in a Maker Space

Armory Camp: Maker Space 3D ActivityYesterday was our first day of this year’s Springfield Armory Camp – a writing partnership that was first forged years ago between the National Park Service/Springfield Armory National Historic Site, the National Writing Project/Western Massachusetts Writing Project, and Springfield Schools/Duggan Social Justice Academy.

One of our activities was to consider the reasons why Springfield was chose (along with Harper’s Ferry) for a national armory by George Washington and other military leaders, and we used excerpts from a letter by General Henry Knox that explained the rationale — the nearby Connecticut River, the abundance of lumber and timber, the local community of experienced workers and the high plains bluff that overlooks the entire region.

HenryKnoxLetterActivity

We then had our campers work in small teams to create a 3D map of the main elements of Knox’s letter, visualizing how their community was chosen so many years ago to play a crucial role in the country’s history. It was fun to watch them plan out and try to build out these maps, with glue and paper and odds and ends of things. The resulting maps then helped spur some writing and some conversation about the geography of Springfield itself.

Peace (into Day Two),
Kevin