At Middleweb: A Plethora of Writing Ideas

I recently reviewed this new book — The Writing Strategies Book: Your Everything Guide to Developing Skilled Writers by Jennifer Serravallo – and I thought it covered a lot of ground in a fairly easy-to-use format. There are a wide range of ideas for the classroom on engaging young writers. I counted about 300 ideas in here. That’s a lot of possibilities.

I wrote in my review:

Flip through the book to find a ton of great ideas — helping students engage more with their own writing process; organizing ideas for short and longer fiction and non-fiction pieces; structuring assignments for all learners, or providing structure for student collaboration opportunities.

See what you think. Read the review over at Middleweb.

Peace (in books),
Kevin

Slice of Life: Even Fools Can Dream of Spring

(This is for the Slice of Life, hosted by Two Writing Teachers. We write each Tuesday — and all through March —  about the small moments in the larger perspective … or is that the larger perspective in the smaller moments? You write, too.)

A good friend of mine yesterday sent his group of pals — including me — a beautiful shot of the beach near his house as a text message. Blue skies. Sun, bright as a flashlight. Waves lapping at the shore. Sand everywhere you look. He lives just a few hours south of me, in Connecticut.

“Lovely day at the beach,” he wrote.

It felt like he was taunting me.

I looked out my back door here in Western Massachusetts, saw nothing but hills of white, and a snowman my son and I built the other day leaning left, and texted back: “Still got $%&*load of snow in our yard.”

There is still way too much snow here, although this week’s warming weather — via the same weather front that is giving him temps in the mid-50s to low 60s — will likely melt off a few more inches, and likely create more ice for us to slip on. But still, who can argue with warmer weather during February break? We might even hit 50 this week.

My son rode his bike on the bike path all the way into the town center for a breakfast sandwich yesterday. No ice on the path, he reported, as if he were a scout on patrol for the changing season and monsters were just on the edge of the horizon.

I nodded at his keen observation.  It’s way too early to be looking for flowers and I am no fool. The calendar says “February,” and I know winter ain’t done with us yet.

But even fools can dream of Spring, right?

Peace (sunny and mild),
Kevin

Book Review: Best American Infographics 2016

I have a few favorite books that I put on my “wish list” each holiday season, and Gareth Cook’s Best American Infographics has been there since he started the collection a few years ago. Sure, we’re living in the world of Infographics now — with charts and maps and data grids everywhere you look — but there’s something about the story underneath the cream of the crop that makes this kind of curated book a joy to read.

And it is a joy. Visually, certainly, as the graphics here in Best American Graphics 2016 are wonderfully diverse and artistically rendered. But also, the short pieces that explain the rationale and the reasoning behind the visualization of the data bring to light how we can “see” the world different when we put it at another angle.

Interestingly, the opening pages to the book were a familiar sight to me – those of the postcards in the Dear Data collection, which I was in the midst of reading when I received the Infographic collection. We’re using Dear Data as inspiration for a postcard project now in the CLMOOC postcard club.

Other interesting data stories here that caught my attention here included Flowing Data’s What Americans Do All Day? (demonstrated by clusters of activity based on times of the day);  Fallen.io’s Human Toll of World War II (with its devastating reality check of the impact of war); FiveThirtyEight’s How to Hack Science (which shows how skewed data can show you want you want to see); Kevin Ferguson’s The Essence of a Western (in which he distills entire movies into a single frozen frame of light and shadows); and Atlas Obscura’s Literary Road Map (literally, a map tracking routes from famous American road-trip books, like On The Road.)

And there is the stunning A Galaxy of Trees by Nature. Wow. Three trillion trees are on earth. This map sought to show them all on a map visualization. Wow.

Some of the Infographics are online interactives, and some are just static points in time. Another interesting tidbit: the entire cover design of the book itself is an infographic, too (by designers Mark Robinson and Thomas Porostocky) so that you can unfold the cover and see an infographic wrapping up the book about infographics.

Sometimes, data can be a beautiful thing to behold. And read.

Peace (beyond data but not beyond visualization),
Kevin

Entering the Realm of Minecraft: A #NetNarr Adventure

I can’t say I am utterly unknowledgeable about Minecraft, but my basic understanding comes from the excited chatter over the years of my sixth grade students, particularly during our video game design unit, and my youngest son. It’s often confusing chatter to an outsider like me, with a vocabulary and a flow all of its own.

Whenever I have tried to jump into Minecraft, I have quickly gotten lost and felt aimless. I could always see the potential in collaborative World-building — and there are amazing examples of how educators are using Minecraft to connect with learning — but now I realized that what I needed were: goals with a interesting hook, a knowledgeable guide to keep me alive and a crew to hang out with.

My Networked Narratives colleague, Keegan (ie Crazyirishman7, there in the corner of the video), provided all three, by setting up a Minecraft Realm server space and inviting NetNarr folks into an exploration of a new world. I joined in, along with Terry G. (“the Annihilator”), and we spent about 90 minutes watching the sun rise and set at an alarming rate, as we began to build a home before the zombies came, with a bed to regenerate ourselves; a garden for food that Terry farmed with gusto; and a mineshaft where Keegan and I began to seek out ore and then diamonds.

Keegan, an educational technologist at the university level, clearly knew what he was doing. Terry and I clearly did not, as I scrambled to learn how to swim and walk and run and turn, and I kept a little command cheat sheet that he had sent us right at my fingertips. I’ve never been more grateful for fake torchlights and lanterns than I was yesterday.

But that’s how expert-novice relationships work, and that’s how the Connected Learning theory comes into action with immersive experiences like this. We dove in, made mistakes, died a few times, re-spawned, and had a steady hand following Keegan, who was generous and patient with us. I know a whole heck of a lot about Minecraft now than I did 24 hours ago, even with lots of reading about it. I even ended up with a Diamond Pickaxe, after using the crafting device that Keegan set up. Apparently, that’s a good thing to have.

Keegan also set up a livestream of our adventures in his Twitch Channel (a new experience for me) to share our experiences with the larger NetNarr community (more Connected Learning in action) and we used an app called Discord to be able to “talk live” amongst ourselves as we explored Minecraft. Keegan has since migrated the Twitch video to YouTube (where you can see me as Meatballlol5, which is my son’s avatar all suited up like Deadpool, since I borrowed his account to play with my NetNarr friends, much to his amusement. He even dropped a Minecraft Hacking book at my side while playing, as if that would help me. Thanks, kid.)

Keegan also cut up the video into themed pieces at his blog, and that is probably the best way to get a sense of what we were talking about and doing.

Since the Networked Narratives course is centered on a concept of Digital Alchemy, Keegan’s plan for the Minecraft World space is to move into “magic potions” and crafting of “elements,” as a way to explore the notions of Alchemy in a Worldbuilding Space. I find that intriguing, and watched as he wrote out our “goals” on the walls of the house we are building. He gave me a sign to play with, too.

Our next step is to find a common time to go back to our world, and maybe invite a few more folks to come along with us (I’d say, connect with Keegan on Twitter and let him know). I’m intrigued by the possibilities of us building a world of magic, and then thinking about how storytelling might evolve from the mix and flow of immersive open-ended gaming experiences like this.

Peace (until the sun goes down),
Kevin

When ‘Present You’ Reads What ‘Past You’ Wrote to ‘Future You’

FutureMe

The other day, I received an email that I first thought was some sort of spam that got through the filter. I almost deleted with the spam button. Then I realized, no, wait, it’s an email from “past me” to “future me” which is now “present me.” Ignore the space-time continuum for a second. It will all make sense.

The email was one I wrote to myself exactly a year ago, using a site called FutureMe, which archives emails and then ships them out at a given time. The catch is that it has to be at least one year into the future. The site allows you to designate the emails as private or public, so you can read what some people write (I have kept mine private).

This is the third time that I have done it (I realized this only after doing a search through my emails although the first time in 2011 was a very short one), and as soon as I finish writing this blog post, I am going to do it all over again, sending some words forward to myself in 2018.

Why?

Well, as I was reading through the email I wrote to myself, I realized both how much my world is the same and how much has changed, and how reading myself writing to myself was a sort of comfort. In the email, I am checking in myself and the family, and wondering how things have turned out. Oldest son off to college? Check. Writing songs? Check. Making comics in connected spaces? Check.

I even shared out my One Little Word from 2016 — “Remember” — and reminded me to keep that word in mind, and asked, what’s this year’s word? (It’s “Filter”)

We’ve used FutureMe as a Daily Connector activity with CLMOOC  (“Connect with Yourself!”) and Connected Courses but I don’t know how many folks have actually done it. You should consider it. A year from now (or further into the future), when you are reading what you wrote to yourself, you’ll be thanking me.

Peace (in the past and into the future),
Kevin

#NetNarr: Getting Enlightened on Aspects of FanFic

The third “studio visit” by the folks at the Networked Narratives earlier this week was with two interesting women with extensive experience and understanding about the worlds of Fan Fiction. If you know nothing about FanFic, then this studio visit is worth your time. There are entire communities — very large ones, in fact — where fans of novels (and television shows, and movies, and …) write entire offshoot stories with secondary characters, or mixing characters from one novel with characters with another.

I popped the video into Vialogues as a way to closely watch the discussion and think about what Flourish Klink and Elizabeth Minkle, of the Fansplaining podcast, shared during the hour-long conversation.

You are invited to annotate the discussion, too in Vialogues. There is also a Soundcloud audio file that the formal class is using for annotation. You can annotate that, too, if you prefer. Or both!

Here are some of my take-aways from listening in and some lingering questions in my mind:

  • FanFiction sites are composed of significantly more readers (ie, lurkers) than writers, which makes a certain kind of sense, I guess, although one wishes that more people were writing (that’s the writing teacher in me talking). What kinds of hurdles are there for new writers? What kinds of entry points are there? Is there as welcome wagon?
  • There seems to a fairly narrow demographic field of readers and writers, if I understood Klink and Minkle correctly. Most FanFic sites are populated by women (there was a real feminine theme emerging from this discussion), with a “Queer” sentiment (this is often known as “slash” fiction — ie, Spock/Kirk), and mostly white middle class. I wonder why? Is it cultural? What draws that demographic in? What keeps others out?
  • Comments by readers in the FanFic world can be supportive and they can be critical, although there is apparently a sense of criticism being done privately, not publicly. Does this private criticism run counter to why people write in these open sites? It’s more likely a sense of protectiveness of writers, I suspect.
  • There is a lot of explicit content in many FanFic sites, which makes it something to consider when introducing young writers (like mine) to the prospects of fan fiction. So, yeah, don’t start fanfic in your classroom with a tour of some of these sites. Just saying.
  • I wonder about the roles of writers in these spaces. Who is there because an avenue for writing has suddenly emerged and they want to write to write? And who is there because they want a career as a writer (good luck with that) and see fanfic as a stepping stone to something larger? This fault line seems important to me.
  • Finally, FanFic sites are built under the radar, purposefully (except for Harry Potter worlds, which is supported by Rowling and her publisher). If teachers teach fanfic, do we suck the fun out of it and ruin the very thing that makes fan fiction so wonderfully unique and important to communities of young people? (FanFic is mostly the domain of teens and younger adults). I grapple with this question on many occasions (ie, video game design).

Overall, the exploration was enlightening, and raised a lot of questions to consider and mull over. Flourish and Elizabeth seemed to have in-depth knowledge, but openly admitted they can’t speak for all of FanFic, since it is large and rather undefinable. But this very unknown nature — where writing and networking and creativity and literacy come together — is what makes learning more about FanFic worth the time.

Peace (/love),
Kevin

#NetNarr: The Magical Alchemy of Uncovered Lines

Blackout Poem of a Folded Story

I will be hard-pressed to explain this (go here and read more if you are interested) but one of the Networked Narrative assignments this week is the result of a blackout poem exercise the folks in the real course did and tweeted out. We are asked to find three “lines” from those blackouts and create a “story spine” without the words — only images and sound.

Interesting … just so you know, I borrowed lines from Mia, Quanesha and Hailey, and then added one of mine. BUT, they used a common text (I think) and I used something else completely — I did my blackout poem from the Folded Story project.

NOTE: I may even be doing this assignment completely wrong  .. but what the heck … there ain’t no wrong out here in the land of open learning ….

Here goes .. my visual story as image pulled from invisible text borrowed from other’s poems that you can’t see …


Miracle flickr photo by kiki follettosa shared under a Creative Commons (BY-NC-SA) license


You lost me in your dreams series flickr photo by Nick Kenrick.. back from Incredible India shared under a Creative Commons (BY-NC-SA) license


<=unravel flickr photo by Yersinia shared under a Creative Commons (BY-NC-SA) license


Assembly I flickr photo by liquidnight shared under a Creative Commons (BY-NC-SA) license

Meta-Analysis: Well, finding the right keywords that captured the essence of the borrowed sentences was tricky, and also, I had a tough time thinking about which images in my search worked on its own, and which images worked as one piece the whole. I’m not convinced I accomplished what I wanted, although I’m not too terribly disappointed either.

Does this sequence of imagery even hint at a story? Maybe that’s why we are just creating the “spine” of the story here.  Does this soundtrack help set the stage? The mood? Is its suitably mysterious and creepy?

If you want to cheat, you can also see the Zeega I created in which I inserted the images, and the sound file, and the lines from the texts. But, hey, it’s up to you.

Peace (beyond the words),
Kevin

 

Claymation and the Autistic Filmmaker

TIE claymation session

I attended an interesting presentation a few weeks ago by a colleague in my school district, John Heffernan, who shared out work he had done with one of his elementary students with Autism. Using Claymation Moviemaking and storytelling as the doorway, John helped this student make significant gains with social and emotional awareness of others, as well as becoming more connected to the larger school community.

As John told it, he and the special education teacher noticed that this student showed imagination and creativity one day when John shared some stopmotion software with the class. In fact, the teachers were so intrigued that they designed a year-long project in which John, the technology integration teacher, worked with the student regularly on claymation and stopmotion movies.

While the first films were rather sparse, as time went on, the short films, and then the scripts, began to show more emotional range for the characters in a claymation-filled imaginary world that this student began to create and construct, complete with back-stories and theme music. Audio narration added depth to characters. For a child with Autism, this emotional range represented significant progress, particularly using social cues (such as friendship or sadness) in the development of characters.

Claymation Box

Later, the student presented his collection of stopmotion movies to his peers, calling on other students with questions and listening with some focus to the interactions of his audience. We watched videos of some of the claymation work, as well as observations of the presentation of movies in the classroom.

As John observed, the characteristic of Autistic children with hyper-intensive attention-to-detail helped with making stopmotion movies — the frame-by-frame shooting of footage is difficult, believe me — as did the malleability of clay characters. Plus, this student invented this entire imaginary world in his mind, which he then worked to bring to life, and to an audience, through movie-making.

I was impressed — with the filmmaking by the student and with the way that John and his teaching colleagues took time to notice the high level interest and then built an entire project for this student around claymation, with the higher goals of fostering more social and emotional growth over time. (John also brought stopmotion into the classroom for the peers, too, who were inspired by the work of this student and wanted to do their own.)

My only disappointment? We didn’t make our own claymation movies in the workshop session.

Peace (mold it, film it),
Kevin

#NetNarr Invite: Random Emoji Writing Prompt

I was reading through the suggested activities for last week’s Networked Narratives course, and came across Alan Levine’s suggestion for doing a “Four Icon Story” that uses icons to tell a story with no words. I’ve done those before on Twitter via DS106. The visual aspect of writing (and trying to guess another’s four icon story) is interesting.

It reminded me of another post I had bookmarked, in which Eric Curts set up and shared out a Google Sheets Prompt Generator with emojis. It’s pretty nifty. I grabbed a copy, which Eric makes readily available, and began playing around with it.

One note: While Eric suggests that “control R” randomizes the emojis in the spreadsheet, my Mac wanted to do “command R” to get the randomizer working. So, you may need to tinker a bit.

I didn’t add any new emojis to Eric’s database, but it is certainly possible to do. Instead, I hit the “randomizer” button (Command R) and got my list of five emoji inspiration. How lucky is it that a saxophone was in the mix? Pretty cool!
Emoji Writing Prompt

And then, I wrote a story.

It was one of those blustery nights, the kind of night where every living thing in the jungle or the plains fell silent and tried to sleep, hoping for the sun in the morning. The Lion was hungry but not motivated to hunt. He knew there would be little out here, with the Wind blowing from the East. Hunting would likely be more trouble than it would be worth. Huddled in the leeward side of his rock, Lion pulled out his cell phone, and checked for service. Even with the Google Wireless Balloons in the air and Facebook towers dotting the plains, Internet service was spotty in these far reaches of the world. Lion imagined the Winds buffeting the Balloons, knocking over towers. Sure enough, there was no cell phone service on this night. Lion sighed. Hungry and disconnected from the world. He closed his eyes and sought out sleep. As he drifted off into dreams, he caught the faint sounds of music, as if someone were riffing off the melody of the Wind. The jazz floated above the plains, flatted fifths and augmented sevenths. Lion opened his eyes. Perhaps he might go hunting tonight, after all. The musician played on, unaware of the power of his song.

Wanna give it a try? You can either go to Eric’s post and grab your own database or you can view mine.

Peace (looks like),
Kevin

Slice of Life: Artwork in the Mail

(This is for the Slice of Life, hosted by Two Writing Teachers. We write each Tuesday — and all through March —  about the small moments in the larger perspective … or is that the larger perspective in the smaller moments? You write, too.)

For more than a year now, I have been involved in a postcard writing/mailing project with folks in my connected circles, mostly through the CLMOOC clan. This year, a subset of the Postcard-ers is doing Data Postcards along agreed-upon theme (So this month, it was “love”).

Postcards from friends

Yesterday, I gathered up a bunch of postcards that had arrived in the last week or so, and took a picture. We like to share out, if only to show arrival. You can see a woodcut postcard of Woody Guthrie, and a 3d keychain (and 3D shovel!), and messages about art and collaboration. And a mallard duck.

Postcards from friends

Then, yesterday afternoon, just after I posted my collection of recent arrivals, I received this gem of a postcard, and poem, from another friend, Sandy, in my mailbox. She and I connect in other spaces, such as the current Networked Narratives. Sandy does a whole other kind of postcard adventure around a magical art theme (I think). Her postcard — right from the beautiful colored handwriting on the envelope — was a work of part, and her poetry was pure beauty.

I’m lucky to have found my way into such a creative tribe.

Peace (in the post),
Kevin