This is for Slice of Life. The NCAA comes around every Slice of Life, so I feel a bit as if I have posted this before, although it was last year (and the year before that). This year, neither my local team (UMass) nor my favorite team (UConn) are in the mix, so I feel a bit removed from the emotional drama of March Madness. Still, I got my brackets ready.
We are into Quidditch season right now and each sixth grade class gets to vote on a team name. We do it as open as possible, and the voting takes place over a few rounds (sort of like a Town Meeting election). First, we generate a list, and then we go through a series of votes to narrow things down, before finally ending up with a team name.
This year, they voted for …. The Sizzling Smurfs. (You should know that our class color is blue and the girls in my class as the leaders.)
I sort of like The Blue Eyed Peas, myself, but I don’t vote. They do.
This is for Slice of Life. We took our youngest to the Holyoke St. Patrick’s Day Parade yesterday. We figured he has to go at least once to one of the largest St. Paddy parades in the country (about 400,000 people come to watch). It was a bit cold, but it was fun, too. Who doesn’t like a good parade?
I’ve written before about our Crazy Dictionary project, which is near the end of our Origins of Words unit. Students invent their own words, and then add them to a wiki dictionary that we have been building since 2005. There are, by my calculation, more than 700 invented words (and a few hundred podcasts) on the wiki site now. It’s a fun activity but what I like most about it is how my current students are collaborating with past students (including some siblings) to create a dictionary of invented words that each year, grows and grows.
The wiki is a perfect venue for this activity and there is quite a bit of excitement on day we set up stations around the room to add words and record podcasts. And the fun is in the name of learning about words and the flexibility of the English Language to weed out and add new words all the time.
A few years ago, our principal hired a web designer to work on our school’s website. What came out of that venture was one of the annoying school websites I have seen, and it has driven me crazy for years. I get what the guy was trying to do: create a site that was kid-friendly. What he created was a mess of colors and images that are a prime example of what you should NOT do when designing a site for an organization.
See what I mean:
Among the most glaring deficiencies, in my mind, is the lack of audience. He built this for the kids. He should have built it for the parents. Students almost never have reason to visit the school website, except for the summer, when they are trying to get a glimpse of what is in store for the year ahead.
No, school websites are for parents, and the old design was the worst possible message to parents. I lobbied hard over the years to our principal, who admitted the web designer came cheap. (I won’t even go into the designer’s claim that teachers could easily update new content for their pages … if you know HTML … we might agree that some knowledge of HTML is good — see Paul Oh’s piece over at The Digital Shift — but the reality is that few teachers know what HTML is, never mind what it does.)
So, I was pleased as punch this week when our school’s website got a complete overhaul and now looks more professional than ever. It’s not perfect but at least it has potential. I don’t look at it and want to shoot the screen, as I often did with the old animal-themed one. And the audience has shifted back to parents.
Now, if we can just get classroom teachers to move on beyond using Teacher Class Pages (which reflects the early 1990s in their feel) and into the 2010s …. (actually, my colleague Gail Poulin has been doing just that, teaching a group about how to use a WordPress blog for their class site.) And maybe updating news from last year is a good start, too.
Our school held a hat day fundraiser yesterday (for a walkway near a new pavilion) and a student came in, bearing gifts of balloon hats (this is the same student I referenced the other day). I happily wore mine for most of the day. (Blue is the color of our class Quidditch team, too.)
I really wanted to like Upstanders HD, an app for the iPad that suggests it will give players the tools to stand up to bullies and not be just a simple bystander, watching the action unfold. I was lured in by the title, of course. (Smart move, that title.) Unfortunately, it is a simple game couched with the jargon of the moment, and not only is the game not very exciting but the learning is minimal. The game professes to put players in difficult situations and have them take action. The only real action is jumping around the school, grabbing bananas and other things, and “making friends” by jumping into people, so that you have enough confidence to “stand” in between the bully and the victim.
Empowered? Not really.
I’m not sure what I would do different for a game that teaches young people how to become more than a bystander to bullying. I think it is important and I do work with my students on this topic, particularly how it relates to digital platforms. I had been hoping this game might be an extension activity. But it won’t be. It just doesn’t have enough substance for a teaching moment or, a true mark against it, the gameplay to make the game worth playing. I don’t often post negative reviews but this was one dollar I wish I had back.
I decided to have some fun with the Hackasaurus X-Ray Goggles application, which allows you to layer in a hack on websites, by adding my band — Duke Rushmore — to the news feed page of Rolling Stone magazine (I am sure Jann Wenner won’t mind. Right?). In typical tongue and cheek, I created a series of news stories that poked fun at each of us in the band. If you knew us better, you’d get all the inside jokes. But I’d like to think the hacked Rolling Stone is still fun to read. I tried to make the writing I was doing in the form of short stories, thinking of the activity more as short story writing than information text. And let’s face it: humor writing can be difficult to pull off.
I didn’t leave myself out of the picture, either. (I’ve had my saxophone break apart on me before. Really. But I did not use Gorilla Glue. Really.)
Logistically, the most difficult part of the hack was the images. While X-Ray Goggles allows you to change most images, you need to have the image hosted online with a .jpeg extension. We have plenty of photos online but none that were in a format that worked for what I wanted. And we needed our own images on the site for the hack to work as I intended (as if we were really in the magazine). So, I ended up finding this site — Postimage — that hosts images, and allowed me to create thumbnails of the band.
One thing that is intriguing is that anyone can remix my hack, too (as long as you have the X-Ray Goggles button on your browser) and it would be cool to have my bandmates give it a try. (I actually rehacked my original hack to add more details to the stories that came to me later in the day, so this is final is the second itteration of the hack.) I’m not sure they will take me up on the offer, although they all loved what I had done with the hacked site.