Literacy Collaboration: The Technicolor Adventures of Catalina Neon

Here’s a neat project just finishing up, in which Juan Felipe Herrera (United States Poet Laureate) and artist Juana Medina were “slow writing” a picture book story, with input from second and third grade classrooms around the country. I say “slow writing” because the story had been unfolding one chapter at a time, over months, and the book apparently has just been completed.

There are five chapters, and an epilogue, and the prompt for one of the chapters gives you a nice taste of the story and the characters: How does Catalina use the poetry book to unleash her neon powers and save her familia?”

Herrera and Medina used input from elementary students who responded to the prompt (via a teacher submitting ideas with an online form) as the spine of the next part of the story. Then, they give credit to the schools where the ideas were submitted from.

Cool, right? You bet it is. I hope they do it again.

Check out The Technicolor Adventures of Catalina Neon.

Peace (writing it forever),
Kevin

Book Review: Minds Made for Stories

Thomas Newkirk‘s idea that story is everywhere, in everything, is not all that new, but his framing of the issue in the Common Core-infused world of the US education system is worth noting. Minds Made for Stories: How We Really Read and Write Informational Texts is Newkirk’s, well, story of how he came to see stories in the anchors of all texts.

“The hero of this story is narrative itself –how it comes to our aid as we sort out the welter of information that is available, as it undergirds our belief that our world is comprehensible, and meaningful, and one in which our actions have consequences. Narrative is there to help us ‘compose’ ourselves when we meet difficulty or loss. It is there to ground abstract ideas, to help see the pattern in a set of numerical data, to illuminate the human consequences of political action. It is home base.” — Thomas Newkirk, Minds Made for Stories, p. 5

Newkirk refers to many of those before him, including Peter Elbow, James Moffett and others, whose work and insights about writing has informed the teaching and thinking of writing in the past 50 years. Here, Newkirk argues that “narrative” is not a genre, and that the Common Core classification breakdown of writing into the three rungs of Narrative, Information/Expository, Argument/Persuasion is faulty categorization system, in that it fails to acknowledge that all texts have a narrative beneath them.

He advocates the direct teaching of noticing these stories, in all sorts of texts in the world of young people, and by noticing the frames of narratives, young people will be more apt to compose their own, breathing life into arguments and into informational texts, which often take on the lifeless role of teacher-as-audience assignments.

In one example, he breaks down the box score of a baseball game, to show how one can ferret out the true story of the game from just the mere numbers. In another section, he praises the role of Miss Frizzle and the Magic School Bus series for the way is uses story to contextualize science themes. He does the same with many picture book authors, too, such as Eric Carle. We lose that sense of underlying story in the content fields as students get older. Why is that?

This book  is part of our framework for a summer camp we are now designing in a partnership between my Western Massachusetts Writing Project, the Springfield Armory National Historic Site, and an urban middle school in Springfield. Our program is even called Minds Made for Stories. All that we are planning to do during our free summer camp (we are being supported through a grant from Mass Humanities) will be done through the lens of story, through historical documents, a social justice mindset and a larger community project.

I appreciated Newkirk’s insights. The reminder of how powerful a role stories can play in our lives, in school and certainly beyond school, is always welcome in this day and age of standards, testing and information overload. We need stories to make sense of the world, maybe now more than ever.

Peace (tells the story),
Kevin

What If You Met All of Your Virtual Friends?

MassMoca Day Trip

My wife and I took a personal day (no kids!) last week to visit MassMoCA, a huge and expanding contemporary art space in the Berkshires of Western Massachusetts. It was my first visit there (see yesterday’s Slice of Life for what I saw) and as we wandered around huge galleries in an old manufacturing facility, I was amazed by the depth of the artwork (and we even got a chance to try Virtual Reality Goggles for the first time, too, which was a neat immersive experience).

One of the exhibits that caught our attention was by Tonya Hollander, whose Are You Really My Friend? seeks to break down the barriers between the “friends” we make in online spaces and our interactions out here, in the worlds beyond the screen. Hollander decided to visit, with her camera, all 626 of her Facebook friends, documenting her journeys. Along with photos, she has sticky notes from folks, stuff given to her along the way, documents of her journey, and much more. The exhibit itself is multi-layered, in interesting ways, with translucent banners of artwork hanging from the rafters of the room.

It’s fascinating to see how she breached the wall between our virtual identities and our offline identities.

I was struck most by the humanity of the exhibit. It’s easy to lose track of the stories behind those who choose to follow us, and those we decide is worth our time to follow. Can you imagine spending fives years on a journey of documentation? Can you imagine how powerful that would really be? How it would strengthen your network?

Given all of our worries about how digital spaces are dipping towards chaos and negativity, the act of sharing our lives with a stranger, who becomes a friend, reminds us of why many of us went online in the first place: to find our Tribe and connect with others, and to expand our own notions of what it means to be a citizen of the world (or World).

Peace (in all spaces),
Kevin

 

Visual Slice of Life: Silent Museum Tour

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

We went to MassMoCa, now one of the largest contemporary arts museums in the country. Here’s some of what we saw.

MassMoca Day Trip

MassMoca Day Trip

MassMoca Day Trip

MassMoca Day Trip

MassMoca Day Trip

MassMoca Day Trip

MassMoca Day Trip

MassMoca Day Trip

Peace (and art),
Kevin

We Don’t Own It (and That’s the Problem)


Land flickr photo by star5112 shared under a Creative Commons (BY-SA) license

About 15 years ago, our neighborhood was engaged in a huge fight against a developer. He came from New York City, bought a large swath of undeveloped land in our suburban neighborhood, and proposed to build a subdivision of rather ritzy houses here in Western Massachusetts. The undeveloped land was beautiful — with walking paths, a bubbling brook, deer and even moose, and more.

Here’s the problem: We (the neighborhood) didn’t own the land. He did. An attempt to raise funds from our middle class neighborhood as a way to counteroffer to buy the land for protection failed.

In the end, the woods were cleared and decimated (a process still underway today) — I still get sad with memories of the old woods as we walk through the subdivision loop where the homes are slowly being built and sold and bought — although some environmental mitigations were put into place after the legal battle. The brook has been kept pristine and some wetlands are protected. We haven’t seen  moose in there for years, though.

I was thinking of that story recently as folks in the #DigCiz community mull over how to protect people in various online digital spaces — such as Twitter, and Facebook, and others — as we consider the topics of Civic Engagement and Digital Citizenship. Two articles shared by Doug Belshaw in his newsletter about the Feudal Internet (run by companies such as Google and Apple and Facebook and Twitter, etc.) gave this discussion a metaphorical hook. (Doug also wrote a great piece about Facebook’s data mining)

Who owns what

Are we all just serfs now? Is our sharing and writing our work and what the “feudal lords” get is our data and privacy as payment?

Like my neighborhood’s battle against an outside with money, our conflict with the technology giants of today is that we (society) have let them (the companies) build out our common lands, and now we don’t own much of it anymore (maybe a little wetlands here and there).


Behind the Screen by @andrewchilts flickr photo by giulia.forsythe shared under a Creative Commons (BY) license

And if you don’t own it, you don’t control it. That’s the problem.

Perhaps experiments around “federated spaces” like Mastodon will help pave a new path forward. (In federated spaces, no one entity owns the experience — it is shared across networks, which connect but remain distinct). Mastodon is an alternative to Twitter. I’ve been in there and will write about my experiences some other day. I’ve also begun researching how to host a hosting ground in Mastodon (might be too technically tricky for me).

What to do? Michael Bauwens, in his piece How to Fight the Feudal Internet, notices signs of encouragement in Europe (but not much in the United States, particularly in this political climate where billionaires run the country and profit is put above all else, including the common good) and lays out what I think are some excellent suggestions:

Bauwens advocates for:

  • A strict 30 day time limit on storing behavioral data.
  • The right to opt out of data collection while continuing to use services.
  • A ban on the sale or transfer of behavioral data, including to third-party ad networks.
  • A requirement that advertising be targeted strictly to content, not users.

I’m not suggesting we the people buy up the Internet. Still, I don’t know about you, but I feel we are near or at or beyond a tipping point here with concerns and worries about discourse in online spaces. There’s still plenty of positives. But either we fix the spaces we inhabit (through pressure or force) or we abandon them for better spaces, perhaps one we build together. Then, we can own the land.

Maybe then, the moose will return.

Peace (freely and openly shared with you),
Kevin

Remember the Children (Digital Rights in a Digital Age)

What the Kids Say

Someone in the #DigCiz community shared out a research piece about the rights of children in the Digital Age, and I spent some time the other day looking through it. You can, too. The two researchers — Sonia Livingstone and Amanda Third — scoured through research on children to parse out what rights young people have, or don’t have, in the digital world.

As we talk about Digital Citizenship and Civics in the Digital Age, I find it important to remember the balance of adults and children, and how too often young people’s unique concerns and issues of agency get left out of the discussions.

Really, the focus should be all about the kids.

Ideal social media user (company perspective)

Yes, as an adult, I have my own personal concerns about digital platforms (See Doug Belshaw’s post: Friends Don’t Let Friends Use Facebook), and the commercialization of our data, and the privacy decisions made behind closed doors. As adults, we can navigate, react, resist, leave, stay, pause.

Kids have a tougher time, for all sorts of reasons related to developmental growth, social pressures and more. I hope I am not being too authoritative here when I suggest, from my experience as a teacher of 11 and 12 year olds and father of three boys, that young people are:

  • less apt to understand the mechanics behind digital sites
  • less open to individual inquiry about what is happening to their data
  • or are more likely to shrug off the trade-off because they see things “in the moment” and not in the larger picture
  • less likely, particular as teenagers, to have an adult they can turn to for help and advice (parents are often the adult of last resort during the teen years)
  • more apt to follow the social herd into something new without fully understanding the trade-offs
  • more likely to have their unique concerns be ignored by adults when a technology is in the sphere of public debate (read danah boyd’s work for a better understanding of all of this)

Take a look …

This video pulls some of the ideas from the research article, and hopefully, it allows for several point of discussion, including:

  • What rights should young people have in the Digital Age?
  • How do we articulate their concerns?
  • How can we empower young people to be part of the conversation and support their unique status when technology companies and governments try to exploit them?
  • Where is the line between adult protectiveness and youthful exploration?

I don’t have the answers. But, as a teacher and a father, I am often thinking about it. I hope you are, too.

Peace (in the kids’ world),
Kevin

Visiting Artist: Learning About Life with Your Hands

Elton visits

“Remove the negative. Uncover and highlight the positive.” — Elton Braithwaite, speaking to my students about art and life.

We’re fortunate to have an acclaimed woodcarver — Elton Braithwaite — come to work our sixth graders (11 and 12 year olds) this coming week.

Elton has been a partner with our school for more than 15 years, and the collaborative projects created by sixth graders are everywhere in our school — from a table-game picnic table to a welcome sign to wood murals to a puppet theater. All show the artistic vision of Elton and about 70 students, and the coordination and dedication of our art teacher.

Elton visits

I appreciate the tactile learning experience that Elton provides, and also, his views on life and the spirit and creativity, and the desire many have to create new things out of the old.

This year’s project is a wood frame for an events calendar. I can’t wait to see how it comes out.

Peace (carved and polished),
Kevin

 

 

Book Review: Horizon

I am always on the look-out for adventurous and exciting books to read-aloud with my son. He’s 12 but still enjoys having me read, and I am holding on to that with all I’ve got (he is the youngest). I’ve had mixed results with special series that get put out by Scholastic over the years, even though we get a good deal through the book club.

I have to say: Scott Westerfeld’s Horizon is a pretty fun read, with lots of action and adventure, and a brimming mystery that had my son and I talking about the possibilities of What the heck is going on in this story?

Horizon is centered around a plane crash, in which a handful of kids survive (while everyone else is gone, apparently dead) in the middle of a jungle where not everything is as it appears to be. In fact, clues around them suggest that they may not even be on Earth. But if not, then where? I won’t give it away (and I don’t have much to give away, to be honest) but it has that sense of Lost, in that we experience this strange place through the eyes and stories of the young protagonists.

So, yeah, we’re ready for the second book. Apparently, the books in the series will be written by different authors, a common Scholastic We hope someone is hard at work writing it.

This book is a nice fit for older elementary and middle school students. There are some scenes of injury and death, but nothing too gruesome.

Peace (in another world),
Kevin

#DigCiz: Debating the State of the World

Echo chamber pop

Count me as curious. I am dipping into DigCiz — a schedule of online interactions in the open designed to generate discussions about Civic Discourse in the Digital Age, and Digital Citizenship.

Loud voices

These are topics that have certainly risen to the surface in the past few years and remain of high interest to me, as a teacher and writer. Some of the issues that I find worth wondering about:

  • The Role of Authenticity and Identity in Online Spaces
  • How Moderation of Discussions Can Be Mixed Blessings
  • How Cultural Norms Play Out in Digital Platforms
  • Whether Digital Platforms Encourage or Inhibit Discussion and Interaction
  • Who Gets Left Out and Who Gets Invited In to Conversations
  • The Act of Writing and How It Can Become a More Powerful Player in the World of Connections, Compassion
  • The Role that Multimedia Plays to Inform and Disinform Us
  • Finding a Clearer Path Forward to Make the World a Better Place for Open Discourse (minus the hatred and anger)

Earth Responds

The first week, which has just begun (see Mia Zamora’s post), is about creating a four-word story about what digital citizenship might be. Here’s mine. Not quite a story, as much as a reflection. Or maybe a hopeful conceit.

Remain engaged

I also read with interest a post by Bonnie Stewart (The Crosshairs of the Split Hairs), and her ideas about agency and technology and the interactions between our devices and our world … as well as the difficult navigational points … had me thinking. Thank you, Bonnie. I went back to the post and used some of the text for a video interpretation. Bonnie and Mia are facilitating this week.

Come join in the inquiry, if you can and if it interests you. I’m going to try to make some webcomics as much as I am able, if only to poke fun at myself as I think through ideas. I will also follow the conversations and reflect.

What if ...

Peace (the world and us),
Kevin