#2NextPrez Make Cycle: Remixing Campaign Posters with Thimble

Thimble: NextPrez

The first teacher-centered Make Cycle for Letters to the Next President 2.0 is ongoing this week, and I have been dipping into some of the tools being suggested. One of the ways to create a message is to use Mozilla’s Thimble remix site. Thimble is a web-based platform for building websites and allowing for remix opportunities.

I grabbed the template from the Make Cycle and tinkered with the wording (but kept the same image). If you hit the remix button, you can remix mine as another iteration. So, for example, my friend Michael created a poster that was a message about more localized politics in Arizona, and I remixed it with a larger message.

2NextPrez Thimble Remixes

I like Thimble but wish you could easily embed or share the image of the page, once the coding is all set. Instead, you have to take screenshot or share the link out.

Here’s another one, from the Political Quote concept. I found a quote from Obama about the nature of change:

2NextPrez Thimble Remixes

And from the Letters to President site:

Click on “Remix” to get started and notice there is an online tutorial within each activity to walk you through step-by-step:

Want to take it another step further? You can speak back by make your own version of the news with this Hack the News Activity.

Peace (remix it and make it better),
Kevin

#2NextPrez Make Cycle: Breaking the Media with MediaBreaker

So, consider me intrigued … I just re-discovered the MediaBreaker tool by The Lamp as part of the Letters to the Next President campaign. MediaBreaker is like the old Popcorn Maker (I still miss you, Popcorn!) by Mozilla, in that you can layer media and text on top of video content. In this case, the idea is to make commentary on top of political videos.

Using MediaBreaker

I tested it out with a video from a Trump Supporter, and added some textual commentary as a counter propaganda move. I could not figure out how to publish/view the final edited MediaBreaker, nor how to create my own account in MediaBreaker itself (I did create a teacher account in its Studio). I did hit the “submit” button, so maybe it gets processed and reviewed before becoming public (I think that is the case). The MediaBreaker YouTube channel is here.

Ideally, the site would allow me to save and then kick out an embed code for sharing. But it doesn’t seem to do that. So, not only did I just lose all of my work (ack), I can’t share with anyone outside of MediaBreaker what I was doing. This may be intentional — a way to keep student work behind a “wall.”  (Students have to be 14 years old or older to use MediaBreaker so that counts my students out).

I like the possibilities of MediaBreaker, but it still feels a little funky and clunky to use. You have to download a video to your computer and then upload it into the editing tool. I am not sure if students can upload their own videos, or if they can only use what the teacher has uploaded. I wish the video being used could be native to the Web itself, as folks with slow Internet speeds will be left out of the remix possibilities.

Peace (in the breaking of the media),
Kevin

 

Connecting Sixth Grade Writers with First Grade Readers

Reading Collaboration

As our school year keeps moving towards a close (Why do all my friends keep asking if my year is over? Not yet!), there are plenty of projects still to be juggled. One is a Picture Book Project that our sixth grader did in a pilot digital site. This week, my librarian colleague has been connecting sixth grade writers with first grade readers to share the books and stories.

I wish we did more of these cross-grade connections in our school. It’s a powerful way to bring students together, particularly as writers and artists and readers.

Peace (it’s in the connection),
Kevin

 

Book Review: The Girl Who Raced Fairyland All the Way Home

 

The Girl Who Raced Fairyland All the Way Home

It’s not easy to bring a sprawling, creative series of books that bustle and brim with incredible doses of imagination to a close.

But Catherynne M. Valente does a pretty decent job with The Girl Who Raced Fairlyland All the Way HomeSuffice it to say that if I tried to summarize the plot here, you would be completely confused (I’m not sure exactly what happened all the time, either) but the gist of the book is that the protagonist, September, does indeed find a sort of “home” by the end of this book, which began many books ago with The Girl Who Circumnavigated Fairyland in a Ship of Her Own Making.

September has become Queen of Fairyland, and in order to keep her crown, she must go off on a race and find the Heart of Fairyland in order to keep her crown. All other past royals who ruled Fairyland (including a quite happy talking Stone) want to regain the crown, too, and duels and mishaps happen. The race is called The Cantankerous Derby, and that it is.

What strikes me is how true Valente has stayed to her vision of Fairyland and imagination itself, and how every page in every book in the series provides the reader with places to pull the fabric of reality aside, to see another world of strange creatures and odd ideas, and September trying to figure out her place in one world while hoping to return, and then leave, the other world.

As always, the language in this last book in the series is challenging and interesting, as Valente writes like no other writer in the young adult market that I have come across. It’s not just the vocabulary. It’s syntax and sentence structure, and the periodic way the narrator is suddenly there, right by the reader’s side, giving advice and inserting herself into the story. It all works together like a magic reading spell.

I was hooked from the first book, but I know this series is probably not for everyone. Maybe hidden worlds are not made for everyone. Maybe only some readers can enter through those passageways. Good luck, Rachel.

Peace (there and back),
Kevin

Slice of Life: A Song for the Boys

The 'rents performing These Boys

My eldest son has just graduated high school, and we threw a large party at our house the other day for the family and and friends of our family and his friends. As a surprise, I wrote a heartfelt yet slightly sarcastic song for the group of “Boys” who have known each other for many years. A group of parents (and my dad, at the last minute, got on the snare drum) came together to rehearse the song (well, we rehearsed once), and then, we performed it for them at the party.

Peace (sing it),
Kevin

Bringing the Animals In

Today’s Daily Create for DS106 was one for the audio senses. It asked us to use a Nature Soundmap project (where people post audio recordings of animals in nature) and mix five sounds together. I was tempted to add some backing drumbeat … but then found that the first track, of frogs, created its own internal rhythm.

The way it works is you can download some of the audio tracks from the map and use an audio editing system to mix them together. I used Soundtrap but Audacity or Garageband would work just fine, too.

In this track, along with the chorus of frogs, I have birds and raccoons and even the rush of bats leaving a cave. It’s a nifty meshing of natural sounds.

Peace (it sounds like …),
Kevin

An Inside Glimpse of Digital Picture Books

Gabby Book Overview

My students have been beta-testing a site that is designed to allow students to design Picture Books that lead to publishing in hard-cover format. It’s been an interesting experience, which I hope to write about down the road a bit, but last week, they finished working on their books (about their years at our elementary school as they prepare to move on to the regional middle/high school).

I took some screenshots for this video teaser ….

Peace (in the pictures in the book),
Kevin

Design Problems: What You Get Is a Mess

I am participating in an online course through FutureLearn about using movies as literacy moments in the classroom. It’s been interesting, but in the first week, one of the activities was about creating context for a character and then sharing a photo on a Padlet wall.

I went there, just to see what was going on. I thought my computer was melting down. The Padlet Wall is so overstuffed with posts that it is impossible to even look at. Well, unless you are intrigued by bad design, as I am. Then, you realize, this activity in a massive, online course is not the right scale for an interactive wall such as padlet.

What you get is a mess.

Bad Padlet

Now, there is a certain chaotic beauty to the wall. But discerning any one thing is now nearly impossible. I suspect that this wall was used for previous iterations of the course, too, and folks just keep on layering.

Peace (the wall’s crowded),
Kevin

Book Review: The Trials of Apollo (Hidden Oracle)

Well, Rick Riordan is at it again, taking on mythology to weave a story of action and adventure. And he succeeds again at spinning a solid story (and start to a yet another new series of books) with The Trials of Apollo: The Hidden Oracle. If the title isn’t self-evident, the god Apollo has been cast down to Earth as a mortal by Zeus, and he must earn his godhood back by performing heroic deeds.

If you like Percy Jackson and all of the other Riordan books about Greek, Roman, Egypt and Norse mythology, then you are sure to enjoy this one. I’ve had a handful of students loving the book, and as a read-aloud book with my son, I enjoyed it for what it is. I’m finding the narrative voice of his characters a little too much the same, but that’s my own critical reading, I guess.

Actually, I don’t want to review the story here. Rather, I want to note a subversive element that Riordan is working into his stories these days. Let’s note that, in my estimation, the target audience for these books is probably nine year olds to 13 year olds.

The subversive element (which perhaps is the wrong choice of words) that I am noticing began with Nico di Angelo, the son of Hades, in the Heroes of Olympus series, and continues with Apollo in this one. Riordan is making visible the gay sexuality of some of his characters, and while it did not make me or my son uncomfortable (if you knew the community we live in, you’d know why … diverse families are part of the fabric of our city), it did strike me as a daring move by Riordan, given the size of his youthful audience.

Now, let me be clear. There is nothing risque about what Riordan is doing. In fact, there is a tenderness to it. And Riordan does not make a big deal out of Nico being a gay character in this story (in an earlier book, we learn that that he had a crush on Percy Jackson). But here, Nico has a male partner (Will) in Camp Half-Blood. The two hold hands and show love openly. And Apollo, as Gods are oft to do, is clearly bisexual. He has loved and cast away female loves of the past as much as male loves of the past, and those memories haunt him.

In particular, Apollo recalls multiples times in the novel how Hyacinth was one of his “true loves.” Apollo regrets how his own jealous actions led to Hyacinth’s brutal death, and how the flowers he created from Hyacinth’s spilled blood is a reminder of that love between God and man.

Now, Riordan could have ignored this sexuality element of Apollo’s mythology, but he hasn’t. I can only imagine the discussions going on with publishers. I may be wrong. Perhaps the turning tide of acceptance makes this homosexuality element a non-discussion point.

But I doubt it.

I admire that Riordan has not flinched from that part of the mythological stories, particularly in these controversial days of awareness of gay rights and equality. Still, I can’t help but think that some parents (and maybe teachers, even), if they bother to read what their kids are reading (as many are no doubt reading Riordan on a regular basis), might feel different about the move, given the conversative political and strict religious views of parts of the country.

I remain hopeful that the storylines will spark a discussion that can lead to understanding of lifestyles. Maybe a young reader, confused about their own sexuality, will see themselves in the story and find a path forward themselves. It may take writers like Riordan to plant seeds of compassion in young readers with literature, and the flowers may yet bloom in years to come. Adults are always more difficult.

Peace (is not a myth),
Kevin