Some More Thoughts from the NWP Web Retreat

We’re still working here in Kansas City around creating interactive, social networking spaces for National Writing Project teachers. I’ve been using Cinchcast to add some reflective podcast thoughts. Give a listen if you want to hear what’s been on my mind after a full day of “playing” and “building” in the Drupal site:

Peace (in KC),
Kevin

Some Initial Thoughts on NWP Web Presence


I am in Kansas City with a whole group of very talented and smart representatives of the National Writing Project where we are exploring ways we can use a new NWP Social Networking site to the advantage of the teachers in our various sites. Last night, we had some initial activities, including discussing the elements of a website that makes us want to come back it time and again. Themes that emerged included:

  • Usefulness to a specific interest
  • Fun, and use of humor
  • Collaborative elements
  • The voice of someone with experience
  • Multiple points of entry to content
  • Easy to navigate
  • and more

We then broke into our site teams (I am here with a wonderful teacher from the Springfield schools) and worked on a paper activity using widgets that might be available as we work today to design our space. My partner, Anne Marie, and I talked about simplicity of design and which elements would allow for the easiest way for our teachers to enter into conversations. It was pretty interesting and will lay the groundwork for some activities today.

Peace (in the NWP),
Kevin

Connecting with NWP (Connect)

I am off to Kansas City today to join so many other colleagues in the National Writing Project to learn about and go deeper into the fairly-new social networking platform of the NWP, which is called NWP Connect. With federal support now gone for NWP, a lot of sites like my own Western Massachusetts Writing Project is gearing up to use an online presence to keep a firm foothold in the world of teaching and professional development, and keeping our NWP folks connected.

This week’s NWP Web Retreat should allow us time to conceptualize how that might look and how we might use this new space for both connecting to the larger NWP network, and also, constructing smaller “communities” for our sites right in that larger space. For us at WMWP, this dovetails nicely with an ongoing effort to revamp and relaunch our website this summer. We’ve had lots of ideas in the past around lesson plan sharing, writing spaces, professional development, and more that could find a home inside the NWP Connect space.

The retreat also comes right before an important meeting we are having at WMWP on Monday in which we really brainstorm what our network will look like as funding comes to a close, and how we can best survive. I am hoping some of the ideas from this weekend will help me share out some possibilities with online spaces during those difficult conversations.

A few weeks ago, when we started the planning, I sent out an email to all the folks going to the retreat. I shared out a Prezi Meeting space and asked them to consider using it to write three words that describe their online selves — sort of an identity idea. A handful of my friends took me up on the offer, and the Prezi up above is the result of that sharing via Prezi Meeting (which I hadn’t used before, so I was curious to see how it would go).

Peace (with a little bbq sauce on the side),
Kevin

Technology/Writing Across the Curriculum

This morning, I am co-presenting a session at a regional technology conference on the topic of Technology Across the Curriculum. It might as well be Writing Across the Curriculum, with technology. But we will be covering assessment, too, and the changing curriculum landscape with Common Core.

We are linking this presentation to some of our work at the National Writing Project’s Digital Is site. The three of us are part of the Western Massachusetts Writing Project Technology Team.

Tina’s Digital Storytelling Resource
* http://digitalis.nwp.org/resource/1247

Tom’s Digital Portfolio Resource
* http://digitalis.nwp.org/resource/1251

Kevin’s Digital Picture Book Resource
* http://digitalis.nwp.org/resource/606

Here is the presentation:

Peace (in the sharing),
Kevin

At the 4Cs: Our NWP Connections

On Friday, I will be in Atlanta for the annual Conference on College Composition and Communication (4cs) and I am presenting an early morning session with some fellow National Writing Project/Western Massachusetts Writing Project colleagues– Anne Herrington, our site director and a professor at the University of Massachusetts; Donna LeCourt, a member of our WMWP technology team and a professor at the University of Mass, and Elyse Eidman-Aadahl, a co-director of  the National Writing Project.

Our talk is entitled “Broadening our Community to Reaffirm Connections with K-12 Educators” and our goal is to explore the connections between the university and the classroom, with the National Writing Project as a model for how those connections are made and nurtured.

Of course, our focus will shift a bit, given the latest news that the federal government has cut out all of its funding support for NWP, so we will be framing some of our discussion around what that change may mean for teachers and universities. (on a side note, the #blog4nwp effort continues to grow — read through the more than 200 blog posts so far in support of the Writing Project. It’s not too late to add your voice.)

My own part of this talk is entitled  “An NWP Site’s Teacher and Student Collaborations on Digital Projects,” and I have been thinking of what I can talk about in my 15 minutes or so. There are so many connections that have been made with the National Writing Project and so many ways in which my students have benefited from those connections.

So, here is an outline of my path of talking (still subject to change).

For me, the teacher

  • First year teacher — WMWP opened up my eyes to the value of what we now call PLC — that of teachers coming together to share and support and nurture each other.
  • Blogging in the Summer Institute with WMWP colleagues — realized the potential of blogging as a writing platform for my students — as publishing space, authentic audience, peer feedback
  • Led to Tech Friends (social networking space for NWP teachers across the country); the Collaborative ABC Movie Project; and the iAnthology (inspired by the eAnthology) which is now home to almost 450 NWP teachers for writing.
  • The Digital Is site is the latest iteration of collaborating for shared knowledge, with a focus on digital learning and how technology is shifting the way we teach and the way we learn.

For my students, collaboration opportunities

  • The Electronic Pencil — my classroom’s online home
  • The Flat Stanley Project (with fellow WMWP teacher Sara Palmer)
  • Blogging with DC (Maria Angala)– an online poetry collaboration
  • Making Connections — blogging with middle school students
  • Longfellow 10 Movie Site — movies by students
  • Youth Radio — podcasting with schools around the world
  • Voices on the Gulf — environmental exploration
  • Summer Writing Projects (through WMWP partnership with a local vocational high school) — Webcomics, Stopmotion Movies, Digital Storytelling, and Gaming.

The benefits of these connections/Projects

  • Authentic writing spaces
  • Authentic audiences
  • Fosters collaborative nature
  • Using technology for meaningful work and learning
  • The connections as WMWP/NWP teacher allowed me to tap into knowledge and expertise, explore it and then bring it into the classroom.

Peace (in the connections),
Kevin

Dear Sen. Brown/Sen. Kerry: Support NWP

ImnwpHere is a letter I just sent off to my two Massachusetts senators. If you are in Massachusetts, can you spent a bit of your time to do the same? You can contact Sen. Kerry (D) here and Sen. Brown (R) here.

Dear Senator,

I know in the past you have been a strong supporter of the National Writing Project and I am writing you to urge you and your colleagues to reconsider moves by Congress and President Obama to eliminate federal funding for NWP.

As a sixth grade teacher, the National Writing Project network, and the connections I have made through the local Western Massachusetts Writing Project, have been invaluable. My skills as an educator have been enriched and supported through my work with National Writing Project teachers, and my students have benefited from those connections. I have gone deep into research around writing, reading and my own area of real expertise these days — technology and 21st Century Skills.

I understand that NWP funding was an “earmark,” which is a political sensitive issue these days. And I understand that President Obama sees a shift to competitive block grants. I am hopeful NWP still finds a way to fit within the framework of federal support.

However, the immediate loss of funding for NWP at the federal level will directly impact work that we teachers are doing in the classroom to instill a love of writing and to help strengthen language arts and technology skills that are needed for the future.

Please continue to find ways to support NWP. I appreciate any help you and your staff can give to us teachers and our networks.

Sincerely,

Kevin Hodgson
Sixth grade teacher
William E. Norris Elementary School
Southampton, Massachusetts

Peace (in the lobby),
Kevin

The Half-Full NWP/WMWP Glass: We Still Have Us

Basic RGB

We had our leadership meeting for the Western Massachusetts Writing Project the other day. This is the first time we have gathered together as a team since we learned that federal funding for the National Writing Project, which provided crucial financial and logistical support for us, has been eliminated by Congress and President Obama.

The mood was somber and reflective, but it wasn’t a funeral procession. We still have a lot of hope and we still have  a lot of faith in NWP leaders to find a path forward for the organization that means so much to us. And we know the power of the network is with us, and not in budget line item.

As WMWP Director Anne Herringon noted, “A corp of us remember pre-NWP funding (before the group of WMWP founders hitched their wagon to NWP). At the least, we’d still be a loose confederacy of teachers. There won’t be nothing.”

Past WMWP Director Bruce Penniman noted that there may yet be ways to stay connected to funding in the federal government, but maybe not primarily with the Department of Education. Other departments, such as NOAH and the Department of Agriculture, have educational components who may want to partner up with a proven organization, like NWP.

“We can re-invent ourselves, if we have to,” Anne concluded, and then asked that we dedicate most of our April meeting to deeper discussions about the way forward in the face of uncertain federal funds.

Then, I heard a piece on the radio today about NPR, which is embroiled in its own difficulties and faces loss of federal funding. The piece showcased folks seeing this as an opportunity to try new things, to re-focus efforts on local communities, to push further into the web-based listener audience. Even NPR reporters see possibilities that weren’t there before.

And of course, I am still thinking of Bud Hunt’s blog post about needing to take a breath and look at what we have in the NWP. It’s a challenge, but it’s not the end of the world. We still have us.

So, if change is afoot, what kind of change might we envision for our WMWP site? How can we try to see the glass as half full?  I’ll put out a few ideas and I want to note very strongly that this is only me — one person — thinking things through, and not the WMWP leadership.

  • Since I came on board, we have seen our site’s direct engagement with students dwindle. This is mostly because of stipulations on how NWP/federal funds can be used. It can support professional development and teacher worker, but not student programs. I wonder if we can now re-double our efforts in helping meet the needs of student writers, directly. I feel as if student writing programs is an area that needs more attention, particularly in our urban and rural districts.
  • The reality is that our university, The University of Massachusetts Amherst, is very generous with its support of our WMWP, even in tough times. It provides release time for our leader (Anne, right now; Bruce, before that; Charlie Moran, before that) and office space and other intangibles that even I don’t quite understand. But that support is part of a matching funding agreement. Will UMass still support us without NWP funds? Given its own financial problems, I doubt it, a least in the long-term. Which means we might need to forge new partnerships with other community organizations. This won’t be easy and it is something Anne has been working on for years. I wonder if our cache as a place for teachers and writers and technologies might open the door for something at another space of higher learning? I’d hate to lose the UMass connection. But it might happen.
  • We need to redouble our efforts on grant programs. Anne and other do a lot of this right now — they work hard at this — and the fact is that we will need to cast a much wider net for grant opportunities, and begin to revamp some of our expertise to fit the needs of funding agencies. We can do this.
  • There has been tremendous work in creating inroads with our state’s Department of Elementary and Secondary Education. As we talked about in our meeting, the state’s shift to a Common Core Curriculum (already underway) opens up an opportunity for our WMWP folks, some of whom are already doing deep work (thanks to NWP and its connections to the Gates Foundation). I think we can position ourselves as a leader for school districts wondering how to help teachers re-envision their curriculum in light of Common Core. I see this as a real positive direction (oh, and my wife is part of our WMWP team working on it, so I have a vested interest).
  • Will the loss of NWP bring forth new energy to our  WMWP? Will this turn of events with federal funding be a rallying cry for local folks? Our energy ebbs and flows. We’d like more flow, and less ebb. Perhaps folks who take WMWP for granted will suddenly remember why they connected with us in the first place, and reconnect on the journey ahead.
  • Will the shift mean more online presence work for our site? It may have to. Which means that our work on redesigning our website better get in high gear soon (the delay is mostly me, sorry to say). If funding limits what we can do in physical space, perhaps we need to become more acute in virtual space. We’re dipping our toes into online classes and offerings. We may need to make a full push ahead in this direction to leverage our expertise across a wider spectrum.

Yes, I am uncertain and worrisome about it all. But it does no good to harp on all the reasons why change is bad. We also need to remember what we tell our students: the only thing certain is that things will change.

Peace (in the glass),
Kevin

Why the National Writing Project Matters

The National Writing Project has lost its federal support. Money to support the NWP, of which I am an active and vocal member and advocate, was on the chopping block during recent budget cuts. (See NWP Executive Director Sharon Washington’s response). It’s still too soon to say what the direct impact will be of losing that support, and what our local organizations (like my Western Massachusetts Writing Project) will look like in the near future. It’s been difficult to even digest the news, to be honest.

But we won’t go quietly.

Today and into this weekend, many of us with online voices are joining together for a Blog4NWP event (spearheaded by Chad Sansing, of Virginia) in which are using our spaces to lobby our representatives and our friends to push for reconsideration of the NWP’s importance in supporting teachers and their students.

As Chad writes:

On March 2nd, 2001, President Obama signed a spending bill to keep the federal government operating during budget season. The bill cut federal funding to the NWP as part of a Congressional effort to eliminate earmarks – federal funds legislated to support certain programs like the NWP. While pork-barrel projects are, perhaps, easy political targets for elected officials looking to make names for themselves as no-nonsense fiscal conservatives, the NWP is not a pork-barrel project and it makes no sense to eliminate funding to the NWP, a program with a proven track record in raising student achievement that provides teachers and students with authentic opportunities for communication, inquiry, and problem-solving – opportunities to practice those deservedly ballyhooed skills our students need to be college-, community-, and life-ready.

Here, I’ve tried to come up with a list of Reasons To Support NWP:

  • It’s Effective. No other professional development organization that I have come across has been more powerful than the model that is at the heart of the National Writing Project: teachers teaching teachers. The experts in the network are teachers themselves, sharing their best practices and pushing each other to continually move forward with instructional ideas and innovations. The organization began with a small group of teachers in Berkeley, talking about writing, to become something larger. But it’s heart is the same: What I know, I pass on to you, and what you know, you pass on to me, and what we both don’t know, we learn together.
  • It’s Far-Reaching. Whether it’s how to help rural teachers and their students in isolated areas, or urban teachers and their students in city centers, or considering how writing is changing in this Digital Age with multi-modal composition, or working to celebrate and support English Language Learners, or considering the possibilities of curriculum change like the Common Core or simply creating networks of teachers who come together to write as writers on regular basis, the National Writing Project is woven into the threads of the educational tapestry. It is about the major trends facing education and it is always moving in a direction that signals thoughtful, reflective work.
  • It’s About Students. Whenever I am in a room with NWP folks, the talk almost always turns to our students. It seems to be a common lens — this question of, how will this help MY students? You may think, well, of course. You’re teachers. But I have also been in lots of rooms with non-NWP teachers at non-NWP events, and the tone and tenor of the conversations are often different than at NWP spaces. The role of the student is never more front and center than it is when NWP teachers are talking about the struggles and successes of a young writer.
  • It’s About the Doing. The hallmark of a dull professional development session is the talking head at the front of the packed hall, disconnected from the folks there. I’ve been in that hall, all too often. Take a look at the audience, and they are most likely trying to check their cell phone or mobile device. In NWP sessions, the participants are almost engaged in activities, inquiries and construction of shared knowledge. The hands-on work of teachers actually and actively writing, sharing, reflecting, or constructing something new, or some twist on the old, is built into the foundational philosophy of NWP’s mission. You should always expect to be writing when you come into a NWP-led session.
  • It’s about Leadership Opportunities. One of the things I have always marveled at with the larger NWP network is how acute folks are at identifying leadership in its teacher cadre, and then, bestowing responsibility on them. I am quite certain that the NWP teachers who take on projects and other initiatives are also teachers who are doing the same in their own schools, now that they understand how to tap into that passion for change and learning. Leadership in NWP is not necessarily a title that you wear on your shirt. Leadership in the NWP means seeing a direction ahead, getting resources to support your vision and then finding similar-minded folks to come along with you.
  • It’s About Connections. I can’t even begin to name the incredibly talented folks whom I have worked with over the years on NWP endeavors. Bonnie, in Hudson Valley, and I are partners in many projects. I am forever indebted to thinking partners like Troy Hicks, Paul Oh, Christina Cantrill, Andrea Zellner, Bud Hunt and many others. I’d be hard-pressed to find a more willing audience for feedback and even more hard-pressed to find folks who are willing to share themselves and their work so often. The NWP is my professional network. It is not the only one, but it is the most powerful. And in the end, I think it my students who benefit from the influence of my NWP friends. I’d like to think, too, that I am not alone in this sentiment.

I could go on, but I’ll stop there.

I’ll leave you with information from Chad about Blog4NWP Day. He asks that we, “Please support the NWP by sharing your experiences with the project, its institutes, its teacher consultants, and the resources it freely provides for all teachers. As you post,  send the links to Chad via Twitter (@chadsansing, by @ or DM), or email your link to him. He will collect and publish the links at his blog: http://coopcatalyst.wordpress.com/.  If you tweet about NWP, please include @EdPressSec, @Ed_Outreach, @nwpsiteleaders, and @whitehouse in your tweet. Let’s use the hashtag #blog4NWP. If you post before or after this weekend’s window, please let me know and/or use the hashtag to make sure I pick up your article for inclusion on the #blog4NWP archive post. Please also consider sending your writing as an email to your local and state representatives in federal government.

Peace (in the NWP),

Kevin

PS — Here is an ongoing collection of posts during the #Blog4NWP effort (Chad is keeping the full list at his blog):

#blog4nwp Posts

Kate Willaredtsave the NWP

Mary Tedrow – Mourning in America

Joseph Kahne – Congress Decides Literacy is a Bridge to Nowhere

Delaine ZodyDo you teach writing?

Susan R. Adams – How a Teacher Becomes a Writer

Leslie Morton – I started thinking numbers…

Ellen SheltonWhy the National Writing Project Matters

Jeromy Winter#blog4nwp

Kristin H. TurnerThe Best Gift I Gave Myself – NWP

Bryan Crandall – In Support of the National Writing Project

Pam MoranI Write for Savannah

Chad SansingA student voice in games-based learning

Britton Gildersleeve#blog4nwp

Paul OhWriting is Thinking

Lisa @teachingfriendsWhy We Need to Save the National Writing Project

Chad SansingTo President Obama

Kathee GodfreeThe Value of the National Writing Project

Got Gaming? I’m in! But What about the Girls?

A looming deadline about whether or not to offer up a summer enrichment camp around Game Design and Development came and went, and yes, I decided to put my cards on the table and offer up the class this coming July. I really appreciated folks who helped me think this through a bit (I’ll need more help later on, friend, so don’t go anywhere) and for those who offered up kind messages of support for jumping into something new for me. (You can see my thinking from the other day around my ideas for a camp built around gaming).

Here is my camp description:

Introductory Game Development and Design

This session will look at gaming from the perspectives of both the player and the developer, as students will have ample time to both play and create their own games in cooperative working teams. We’ll also be considering the history of video game development and we may have a guest or two from the video game industry to talk and work with participants. Starting with board games and then moving into video games, students will design, develop and then publish their own original ideas. We will be using free software for development of simple video games that can be extended into more complex games for more advanced gamers.

Now that I know I am doing it, I am excited about the possibilities here.

The thing that makes this camp work for me is that these are middle school kids (grades five through eight) and that age group is so interesting because they are open to possibilities, not afraid to be “explorers” and yet they can be silly, too. (trust me). It’s also a select group. The kids in this program will want to be gaming, or else they would not have signed up.

I do wonder about this: will I get only boys? I hope not. The last few Webcomic Camps that I have done, there has been a solid mix of girls, and that has made a huge difference in the dynamics and creativity of the classes. From a teaching perspective, I want to reach the girls as much as the boys with the game course. I know that girls are often left on the sidelines of conversations around games and technology, even though some of my most talented and insightful and tech-savvy students are girls, not boys. This kind of camp might pry open the door a bit.

Now that I think of it, I wonder if there were any language tweaks I could have done on the course description that would better appeal to girls? Too late now, though.

If you didn’t hear this engaging radio story from National Public Radio, it is worth checking out. The reporter — a high school girl — talks about girls not getting the respect they deserve for being gamers. The piece is called “Why Do Girl Gamers Get So Little Respect?” by Jessica Cernadas.

I wonder if I can find any local female game designers to come in and talk about their work with the kids? Hmmmm. Time to network a bit …

Peace (in the pieces on the board),
Kevin

To Game or not to Game, that is my question

For the past few summers, our Western Massachusetts Writing Project has made a concerted push to offer youth writing programs in the summer. I have been involved with a partnership with a local vocational high school that offers summer enrichment programs for middle school students. I’ve been part of teams that have offered programs in stop-motion movie making, webcomics, digital storytelling and more.

Here’s what I am mulling over, and I need to do it fairly soon (like, in the next few days, when advertising for the summer already gets underway): Do I offer a course around Game Development and Design? Before I say “yes,” I am trying to figure out, “Can you pull this off, mister?”

The text to a speech about gaming that I found online is something I keep coming back to as a sort of guide in my thinking around using gaming for education. The Ten Commandments of Game Development Education by Ernest Adams is wonderfully frank and helpful, and even though it is aimed for the university level, I see a lot of advice here that I should follow, including allowing for failure, keep “play” at the center of the work, show the history of the field of work, and encourage collaborative teamwork.

I have a feeling such a class would be of interest to a lot of kids (don’t you?) and so I am brainstorming here a bit about what I would do with them over the course of the 12 hours spread out over four days. My aim would be to make the program fun and interesting (it is summer, after all) while still engaging them as learners around concepts of design, play, creation and technology. And I want them to “create,” not just play.

Here’s an outline of my thinking:

  • Some of the first day would be centered around non-tech gaming and development of a game as a collaborative process. I would use what we did at the National Writing Project session around gaming, where we worked in small groups with some unknown materials to develop a game, with rules, that we could teach others.
  • We’d look at some familiar board games, and then use this book that I found that comes up with different ways to play familiar games (such as, a new way to play Monopoly, etc.) This would lead into a discussion around design: how does a game invite a player and what elements work for play? I might toss some card games into the mix, too.
  • I’d love to do something about the history of Video Games (there must be a good resource somewhere) and bring them to one of those sites that allow you to play the old 8-bit games like Pacman, Pong, Astroids, etc.,. so they can experience where video games came from and how far they have come in a few decades.
  • We’d then move into looking at and playing some online games, as we mull over, once again, design elements. What animation, choices for the player, artwork, etc., makes a game effective? I bet we could compile a pretty good list of recommended games from the kids.
  • I’d show them Scratch, with an emphasis first on animation and programming, and then, shift gears into using Scratch to develop a simple game. (I know this can be done with the MIT freeware, but I haven’t yet done it.)
  • At this point, I would work on the concept of “story” — of the underpinnings of a good game, and how character and plot can guide the game developer along (and also, note that this is a point of argument in the gaming world — that not all games need “story” to be successful and sometimes “story” ruins a good game, right?).
  • Here’s where I might have them use Gamemaker8 (which I have been experimenting with) to develop a Maze Game, and for those advanced students, turn them loose for something larger. I imagine this will be the point where the differentiated instruction will come into play, and where students with background knowledge can become leaders with me of the session. (And to be honest, I am looking for platform that is a bit easier to use. Any ideas?)
  • I want to look more for other game development software that we could use. I know there are some for developing games for mobile devices and for the Xbox. And I seem to recall a gaming platform that students can use to learn about making games. I’d have to dig around my notes for that one (does it cost money?)
  • I might as well have a time when kids can bring in their Xbox or Wii and let them play, right? I’d have to structure what we are looking at while they play.
  • I’d develop a website for their games to be published and shared. They would not be creating in a vacuum. And they would be testers and sources of feedback for each other, too. This could be interesting — how do we adapt the Peer Writing Response for Peer Gaming Response?
  • I’d even dig up a video documentary or two about game design. There was a good one about Donkey Kong, if I remember correctly. (note to self: appropriate for kids?)
  • I know at least one person who had a career on working in the video game industry that I bet I could bring in to talk about his work. There must be others out there, too. I always try to bring in guests who have experience who can talk to the kids and answer questions that fall outside my own field of expertise.

So, what do you think? Is it viable? Do you have resources that could help me along the way?

Peace (in the brainstorming),
Kevin