WMWP Programming: At the Springfield Armory

WMWP Armory PD

For the second summer in a row, the Western Massachusetts Writing Project collaborated with the Springfield Armory (a US National Park site) on a summer youth program. Middle school students spent a week in the Armory, learning about innovation, immigration and role that the Springfield Armory played in our country’s history.

WMWP Armory PD

This week, I joined some other presenters –in conjunction with WMWP, a regional educational collaborative (which is running the program, as part of its history programs and Library of Congress access and support), the Springfield Armory and the  Veteran’s Education Project —  in a three-day Professional Development that uses the Springfield Armory as the source for primary documents and experiences.

My facilitation role in the PD is more central to the second session taking place in a few weeks, when teachers will be exploring Narrative Writing, History and Primary Sources, as they develop lesson plans for the classroom. My goal will be to explore “voice” and “perspective” from the angle of writing and primary sources.

One of the goals of the program is to get teachers inside the National Park site, and consider bringing students there. I admit: I remain a little leery of mixing my students with displays of guns, but the innovation and invention elements of the museum are pretty intriguing.

Here is a playlist/collection of students from the summer program, presenting student research on various aspects of the Armory and its historical connection to the Pioneer Valley region. Note: I was not a facilitator of the summer youth program.

Peace (in student voice),

Kevin

#2NextPrez: Presidential Politics for the Young

Opening to Gazette piece

I wrote a column for our regional newspaper about teaching the election to our students. The quote above is how I began it, as I wondered how to make an election in which they have no voting power meaningful.

You can read my column, although the newspaper has a paywall. I believe the first few views are free. Our Western Mass Writing Project has a partnership with the Daily Hampshire Gazette around the Chalk Talk column and writing, in which we help teachers get published once a month.

Gazette

Meanwhile, I also joined in on Teachers Teaching Teachers webcast the other night, as host Paul Allison and other guests and I were talking about how we might extend the Letters to the President concept to students under the age of 13, by considering the revamped Youth Voices online space. (The Letters to the President publishing site is open to students 13 and older)

We’re making some plans …

Paul also shared out this great video documentary — Letters to the Next Mayor — which, while being site specific, lays out a foundation for how Letters to the President might unfold as a (digital) writing activity.

Youth Voices Letters to the Next Mayor from paulallison on Vimeo.

Peace (is more than rhetoric),
Kevin

 

WMWP: Shifting From Technology Towards Outreach

For as long as I have been part of the Western Massachusetts Writing Project (which is going on 15 years now, starting with my very first year of teaching after a 10-year career in newspaper journalism), I have been involved with technology in the writing project. It all happened rather inadvertently, as then WMWP Technology Liaison Paul Oh was moving on to begin work with the National Writing Project, and our WMWP Summer Institute had played around with something new (it really was brand new at the time) called “blogs” to great success.

As Paul was leaving, he and the site director pulled me aside and asked if I would be willing to step up and replace Paul as the WMWP Technology Liaison (a designation NWP/WMWP no longer uses), and I said: I guess so (rather reluctantly, since I did not see myself as a techie at the time even if I was an enthusiastic experimenter). I wrote about some of my journey into technology with WMWP and NWP for a site celebrating 40 years of NWP.

In the past years, our WMWP site has put a renewed importance on technology across programs, creating a Co-Director position on the Leadership Team. I have been the Technology Co-Director for the Western Massachusetts Writing Project for some years now, following my role as technology liaison (which was more an advisory position). Since Paul left, and I took over, I have been in the same slot (with different names). I’ve loved all of it, and count many successes.

From overseeing a massive blogging project called Making Connections funded by a NWP grant that connected middle school students across socio-economic areas, to running youth digital writing camps; to documenting with video and audio the work of WMWP; to facilitating a WMWP Technology Team; to launching the iAnthology social network in partnership with Hudson Valley Writing Project; to facilitating workshops and planning Technology Conferences; consulting on the launch of a new WMWP website and now consulting on yet another version of the WMWP website; and on and on. Not to mention all of the NWP activities on the larger stage, such as helping to facilitate CLMOOC in the past four years and writing regularly for the Digital Is website.

But I began to feel in a rut, a bit. Not that I had done everything I wanted to do but that there just wasn’t that spark of energy. Perhaps, I began thinking, it was time for me to be doing something else in WMWP.

Last Spring, after considerable thought, I decided to propose a change to my WMWP fellows. We had an opening on the WMWP Leadership Team. The position of Co-Director for Outreach was available, and I had already been focusing more and more on how to use more social media tools to reach our WMWP teachers.  We revamped our Facebook account, became more active with Twitter, and launched an Instagram site. Our YouTube site was growing with each conference WMWP hosted.

I proposed to WMWP that I leave the post of Technology and move into the post of Outreach, where I would still harness technology with the goal of reaching and connecting teachers together (something I was sort of doing already with Technology).

And now, I am happy to say, one of my WMWP Technology Team colleagues — and someone with whom I have worked closely with over the years on a variety of projects — has stepped into the role of Technology Co-Director. Tom Fanning will do a fantastic job, breathing new life into the role of technology in our writing project site and laying out his own vision and plans for where WMWP goes next.

Our site director, Bruce Penniman, always says, The first task of any leadership position is to start looking for your replacement. I’m very happy that Tom in is place and that I get to keep working with him. If Bruce is right, though, now I have start looking for my replacement for the Outreach slot. Hmmm.

Peace (here, there, everywhere),
Kevin

No One Reads the Manual: My Steps to New Tech

In my new role with the Western Massachusetts Writing Project (I guess I haven’t written about that yet .. will do later), I have been tasked with putting together our twice-yearly newsletter of events and activities for our writing project. I’m fine with that job. I like to write and share and connect. But the WMWP newsletter is created (for now, anyway) with a certain software program loaded on a specific WMWP laptop, and now that I have both computer and program in my hands, I’ve realized that learning a complicated piece of technology is … well … complicated.

As I was diving into the software this week to immerse myself in its inner workings, I realized I was going through some stages of “new technology” immersion. It began when I realized I would have be venturing back into an aging PC, as opposed to my Mac, and continued when I opened the software program up and saw dozens upon dozens of keys and buttons and options, all written in some language that didn’t make sense to my brain. Many, many bells and whistles.

Then, as I am apt to do, I just dove in, starting clicking things and working in the space, seeing what I could figure out as I went along. I’d get frustrated, try something else, get it working, hit another dead-end, try to find information help online, go back in, try again, and keep going. There were periodic little successes that at least allowed me to push forward with some limited sense of accomplishment.

For example, all I wanted to do was find a way to replace a photo. (apparently, that is done by “pointing” and that took me nearly 30 minutes to figure that out). And then I wanted a quick way to “preview” the newsletter I was creating, out of edit mode. I’m still searching for how to do that, believe it or not. It must be me, right? Where’s the big fat “This is What It Looks Like” button?

The next day? I had mostly forgotten what I had done the day before and how I had done it. A pitfall of diving in and not being methodical with new technology is the lack of clear paths and archival maps for the return journey. I didn’t document my dive in because there was never any method to the madness.

So, I began all over again.

The comic is just another way for me to deal with the feeling of frustration. I know I will figure out what I need to know (I already know more than I did just a few days ago), and I know I will turn to those within the writing project who have used the program for tips of the trade. It will all work out.

But I also know that I follow a certain pattern when it comes to new technology, and I hope that by making my own thinking somewhat visible — with a bit of humor — it shows me a bit more clearly how my own students learn when they come up against new technology. And if I can better understand that process, perhaps I can be a better teacher.

Let’s face it — no one reads the manual.

Peace (it’s in there, somewhere),
Kevin

 

WMWP: Considering Experiential Badges and Micro-Credentials

Draft: WMWP Badges and Micro-Credential Brainstorming

At a leadership retreat for our Western Massachusetts Writing Project, we have been talking about “pathways” into leadership opportunities for teachers at our site. It’s part of a larger initiative supported by the National Writing Project. I am not part of the core group at our site (which is led by my lovely and talented wife), but I did join in the meeting yesterday as we broke into three groups to further some topics under discussion.

I joined a small group that focused on the idea of “micro-credentials” or badges, and whether our site might benefit from this concept. We’re building off the work done by a NWP Pathways Project, which put together resources on badges for NWP sites to mull over (thanks to Bud Hunt as the main facilitator there). Their draft work and resources have been helpful for framing micro-credentials within the concept of a Writing Project site, particularly via the Summer Institute experience.

I have some experience with the notions of Open Badges in open learning spaces — in fact, we just launched an Open Badge project for the CLMOOC, after a participant asked about badges and then followed her interest to create the system for CLMOOC badges.

Medium badge

I have mixed feelings on the merits of badges, but I have an open mind, too, and I think the CLMOOC experiment was a good one for a number of reasons (including: someone had an interest in badges and they followed that interest into action, providing a resource for everyone else). But what would micro-credentials look like at a Writing Project site? And how would it have value and meaning?

The Western Massachusetts Writing Project

We didn’t reach any conclusions but I think our thought processes has taken us in an interesting direction. The core experience at our WMWP site, as it is in most NWP sites, is the Summer Institute — an intense, immersive experience in writing and teaching. There are three core themes to the Summer Institute:

  • Teacher as Writer
  • Teacher as Presenter
  • Teacher as Researcher

When you emerge from the Summer Institute experience (which actually unfolds throughout the following school year with a classroom action research project), you get the designation of a Teacher-Consultant, or TC, which puts you on the map as WMWP fellow and opens doors to leading professional development and other activities.

Back to Badges: If we think of becoming a TC as one level of experience, we could possibly provide a badge for that experience, based on evidence that they were writing, presenting to share knowledge with others and diving into classroom research. So, three badges would lead to a Teacher-Consultant Credential. That makes sense.

However, what we are more interested in is this: What about educators who want to do the WMWP Summer Institute, but can’t do it, for logistical or personal reasons (it is three full weeks in the summer). What if we had a badge system that provides an alternative path for those folks to eventually get the TC Credential, but instead of attending the Summer Institute, they did menu options over time? They would have to earn Teacher as Writer badge, a Teacher as Presenter badge, AND a Teacher as Researcher badge.

Earn those three … and you become a TC.

Taking it a step further, we wondered about the next tier up above TC. How might we use badges and micro-credentialing to provide more opportunities and incentives for current Teacher-Consultants to stay involved. If we had an Advanced TC tier, then we would use the same framework themes (writing, presenting, researching) but these TCs would have to earn those badges in various WMWP offerings, perhaps in clusters (such as curriculum, digital literacies, etc.) or perhaps leapfrogging around, as long as they earned the three badges (writer, presenter, researcher).

That’s a lot to think about, and when we started to imagine the logistical elements of keeping track of all of this … we sort of came to an end to our conversation. I’d love to get some feedback on this, and if you use a similar system for your organization, could you let me know?

Peace (more than a badge),
Kevin

WMWP: Celebrating Student Writing

Emerging Voices WMWP Youth publication 2016

I was only part of this event from the peripheral, but our Western Massachusetts Writing Project hosted a youth writing event in the Spring that was hugely successful on many levels. Now, an e-book of student writing from that day has just been finished and I am helping to get the word out about it.

I love the variety of the writing and how the themes of the writing pieces reflect the mission statement of our WMWP site. The organizers — led by WMWP Youth Co-Director Justin Eck — set the stage for stronger outreach for student writing programs. (Note: We used to events like this quite a bit but then funding issues forced us to focus primarily on teacher programs, not youth programs. A crowdfunding campaign allowed this particular program to run this spring.)

Read: Emerging Voices

Western Mass Writing Project: Emerging Voices E-Text by KevinHodgson on Scribd

Peace (starts with the kids),
Kevin

Go Forth and Write Your World

Kevin Hodgson Chalk Talk

I wrote a column for the local newspaper that ran this week. Its theme format is an “Open Letter to My Young Writers” as the school year comes to a close today. In the piece, tried to look back on the year and encourage them beyond my classroom, and our school (they transition to the regional middle school next year).

Here is an audio excerpt from the last section of the column …

I read the piece out loud to all of my classes yesterday. They appreciated it, I think. I know I appreciated them.

Peace (more than words),
Kevin

Call Me Disappointed: A Connected Course and A Camp Go Kaput


flickr photo shared by corydalus under a Creative Commons ( BY-NC-SA ) license

I’m having a hard time writing this post. Seriously. I had such high hopes for a summer in which I would bring the elements of Connected Learning in full swing to my Western Massachusetts Writing Project site with a graduate level course offering connected to two summer youth digital camps.

Summer Connected Course Description

In the graduate course through UMass, educators would learn about technology and digital literacy, with the pedagogical anchor of Connected Learning. I was really jazzed up about bringing the Making Learning Connected MOOC into the course itself (the timing would have worked) and then having teachers plan/co-facilitate two youth digital summer camps at our vocational high school that would center around student interests, with highlighted sectors of video game design, webcomics, paper circuitry, digital storytelling and more.

A WMWP educator and friend who is in a grad program around digital studies and education was going to help me facilitate the summer. He helped run a MOOC in this grad program, so his experience would have been valuable. Plus, he is doing all sorts of good work with youth programming.

It was all good …

… until reality kicked in.

Here’s how many kids signed up for the camp: Zero.
Here’s how many teachers signed up for the course: Two (and one was only “iffy”).

This week, we pulled the plug on both offerings, and I am sad about having to make that decision. That’s why it’s hard to write this post. It feels like a failed attempt to push us forward. I feel as if I failed to push us forward.

There are all sorts of factors that might be at play here — time of the year, maybe teachers didn’t want to teach kids this summer after teaching all year, advertising issues with the school that would host the summer camp — but I can’t help feel as if …

  1. I did a poor job writing up what Connected Learning is all about, and therefore, took the attractiveness out of a technology course, which WMWP teachers have been asking for, or …
  2. Teachers are just not really ready to dive into the core principles of Connected Learning because it remains an unknown idea. I have been working with the concepts for three years or so, and in the CLMOOC, lots of folks are exploring the pedagogy, but maybe I am stuck inside my own little bubble, or
  3. Something else that I don’t quite see right now.

The youth summer camp turnout (zero? really?) surprises me, to be honest, since in the past, we have had a waiting list of students for our digital camps on similar themes. We’ve engaged middle school students in moviemaking, game design, comics, and more. It’s been very popular, albeit we took a few years off from sponsoring the digital camps.

So, we will go back and mull over what we could have done differently, and think about either next summer or offering a course during the school year. I am not personally interested in running a grad course built around “how to use” technology. I am more interested in facilitating a course in which digital learning and literacies are at the forefront, with the technology being tools we may, or may not, have our disposal to use, as the backdrop.

Peace (and solace),
Kevin

 

Slice of Life: Celebrating Youth Writing

(This is for the Slice of Life challenge for March, hosted by Two Writing Teachers. We are writing each day about the small moments in the larger perspective … or is that the larger perspective in the smaller moments? You write, too.)

sol16I opened up the local newspaper yesterday morning to find a front-page feature article about our Western Massachusetts Writing Project’s shift to nurture youth writing programs again as part of our mission. With images and a good story, the newspaper showed students in the act of exploration and writing, and teachers helping to lead discussions on social justice and activities in which students went deep into the well of ideas for writing.

I was only on the very periphery of this particular youth writing day project at the University of Massachusetts, which WMWP funded through a crowd-sourcing campaign, and give props to the folks who pulled it off. But given that there were more schools and classes interested than we could realistically accommodate, I think the success of the day shows how much teachers and administrators, and students, want more opportunities to connect and write together.

WMWP youth writing

We used to do more youth programs in WMWP, including events on campus like this, but narrowing funding restrictions for the writing project, and the required focus on professional development and teachers, forced us to use our dwindling resources in areas that moved away from direct contact with students (although, by supporting teachers, we hoped that there would be an impact on students, of course.)

This summer, I am facilitating two Digital Writing Youth Camps at  vocational school through WMWP that will use Connected Learning as the center design hub of the activities, and the camps for middle school students will be designed and run by teachers taking a graduate level course on Connected Learning via WMWP and UMass. This is new for us, and I am excited and a bit nervous about how it will turn out.

But the focus on youth? Yes. That is always worth celebrating.

Peace (in the write),
Kevin