Strange Things in Sixth Grade (Picture Book Project)

Sixth Grade Picture Books

Last spring, my sixth graders worked on a book of memories from their time at our elementary school (they have now all moved on to either the regional middle/high school or another place). It’s a tradition that our librarian and myself have started with our writers as they leave our school.

For the past two years, we have also been working with author/illustrators Peter and Paul Reynolds through the Fablevision media company out of Boston, beta-testing their Get Published publishing site for writing, illustrating and publishing books. Like any beta system, the spring project had its glitches and only this week did the boxes of published picture books get delivered.

Sixth Grade Picture Books

The books look great, and I am coordinating with families to get them into the hands of the writers. It’s pretty neat to see a story in a bound edition like these, looking very official. And the books are packed with memory stories from kindergarten through sixth grade.

I was also writing and illustrating with my students, so that as they were working, so was I. Partly, it was to experience what my young writers were experiencing, from a technological standpoint. And partly, it was because I wanted to write a book, too.

My picture book is called Strange Things in Sixth Grade. It’s about funny things that have happened in the classroom over the years. I’m pretty happy with how it came out.

Take a look. I used Animoto to make a video book of the book’s pages.

Speaking of Peter and Paul Reynolds, tomorrow is International Dot Day! Make your mark and get creative!

 

Peace (between the pages),
Kevin

Graphic Novel Review: Mighty Jack and the Goblin King

I am a huge fan of Ben Hatke, and this second book in his Jack series  — Mighty Jack and the Goblin King — has only deepened my appreciation for his talents as a storyteller and artists.

Hatke has taken the Jack and the Beanstalk into strange, new territory here, and I love that the story splinters and then comes back together in a way you might not suspect. He always has strong female characters, too.

Mighty Jack’s story is not over, and the end of the novel brings another movie-like twist, reminding my son and I of another Hatke character that drew us into his world many years ago: Zita the Spacegirl (another series you should read).

The Jack series is a solid read for elementary students, but middle school readers would probably enjoy it, too.

Peace (in adventure),
Kevin

Slice of Life: The Ethical Questions of Ease (Who Pays the Price?)

(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’ve been a Google Apps for Education (or whatever they call it now) classroom for a few years now, using Google Docs and Slides and more on a regular basis with our sixth graders, but I haven’t dipped into the Google Classroom space until this year.

One reason I was holding off is an ongoing concern that everything we do is becoming more and more Google, a company that just loves to bring more young people into its data fold and nurture future Google Search users. Because the business model is pretty transparent: more searches means more money for Google.

So while I recognize and utilize the power of Google Apps with my students for peer editing, collaboration, use of media and words, publishing and more, I am always a bit reluctant to keep telling my students to crawl into the Google hole. (Maybe it’s just me but there’s something odd about the whole Google Superstar Teaching retreats that go on … I can’t quite explain it but it makes me feel icky to think that Google sponsors Professional Development and then has those educators self-identify as Google teachers … It’s also a brilliant marketing move.)

Another reason I haven’t ventured into Google Classroom is that I wasn’t quite ready to try something new. I was learning the management of Docs and Slides and how my curriculum might best use those features. I wanted to get a handle on what we were doing, and why we were doing it, before diving into new terrain.

This summer, I devoured an ebook by Alice Keeler who shared out 50+ ways to use Google Classroom (very helpful, but the Foreward in Keeler’s book by Google Product Management Executive Jonathan Rochelle made me cringe) and I have scanned through some of her videos, also helpful.

I learned enough about Google Classroom to know that I really needed to try out its features this year, if only to make my own life as a teacher tracking 75 students with Google accounts a bit easier and more manageable.

And it does. It really does, from allowing me to assign activities across multiple classes, to tracking who has finished and who has not, to a shared virtual classroom space, to scheduling assignments, to automatically creating student versions of my templates and putting them into a new Google Drive folder … there’s a lot that Google Classroom gets right.

Dang it. I’m sipping the tasty Google juice, and sharing it with my students.

But … I am also regularly talking about tech company’s intentions for gathering data and information about us, as means for making money from advertising and more. I hope that all balances out, and that in my attempt to make my life easier as a teacher I am not putting my students in the crosshairs of a technology behemoth.

Peace (go a little deeper),
Kevin

 

Making Music: Worlds Fall Apart

Worlds Fall Apart

I was following a number of threaded discussions over the weekend on Twitter, about Twitter. Concerns about its negative elements (trolls, privacy, etc.) versus its positive elements (connections, discussions, etc.) continue to play out in all sorts of ways.

My friend, Sherri S., wrote a blog post response to George S.’s observations that criticized Twitter as a narrowing space of echo bubbles we create for ourselves (I’m summarizing my reading of his points), and I found her deep dive interesting. So I took her words for a walk in a remix version (which sparked its own discussion on Saturday about the value and rationale of remix).

And that conversations lingered in my mind, as I sat down to do some songwriting yesterday. I can hear it in the lyrics of this new song — Worlds Fall Apart — about the idea of starting over, and building something new.

The song is also on Soundcloud.

Maybe I had Mastodon, and its federated ideas of freedom from corporate control of social media spaces, on my mind as I was writing. Or maybe it was the watching of the first Mad Max with my son the other night.

This is the second Making Music post this week. I have at least one more coming. I’m suddenly finding myself back to some songwriting and thinking about music making, at least for a bit.

Peace (arrives in rubble),
Kevin

Making Music: Compass Pointed North

Lyrics from Compass Demo

I challenged myself yesterday. I had about one hour alone with an empty house. Could I write and record a new song in that time?

I grabbed my guitar and sheet of paper, sat on the floor, and started writing. What came out was this song: My Compass Pointed North. It may nor may not be inspired by the images of the mass evacuation going on down south right now. I quickly set up my microphone and recorded a demo. It came out OK, I think.

You can also listen on Soundcloud.

Peace (sounds in the air),
Kevin

Helping Houston: Doing Good in the World

My class

In the first days of school, we don’t know each other. The incoming sixth graders wonder who I am, as their teacher. I’m trying to get a handle on them, my new students. Sometimes, things come together unexpectedly in ways that sets the tone for the year.

A week and a half ago, when our school year started, Hurricane Harvey and the deluge of Houston was underway (and now it’s Irma bearing down on Florida). It is difficult not to want to reach out somehow and help when natural disasters happen. On the first day of school, I asked my homeroom class if they wanted to try do a school-wide event to help the families of Houston, somehow.

It was unanimous. Yes. After some brainstorming of ideas, they voted as a class to host a Sports Day (with the start of the NFL season, it seemed nicely in tune with the season) and to ask our school community for donations for Houston’s recovery efforts.

Yesterday, we raised more than $900 with our Sports Day event, with my sixth graders doing most of the announcement work to the school community throughout the week. They went on school television each morning. They hung posters. They chatted it up with friends and other students.

Still, $900 is a lot for our Western Massachusetts school community. Clearly, we tapped a desire by others to help, too. There were bags of quarters, a dollar coin, crumpled bills stuffed into envelopes, staff members wandering in all day with donations to add, and even a surprising check from a family to the cause.

The American Red Cross was an obvious choice for where our donations could go, but I was more interested in finding a smaller, more focused connection. I wanted to find a school, preferably an elementary school like ours, that could use some help from the outside world, from another school. I wanted my students’ altruism to have a more immediate impact.

I did some searching and kept my eye on Twitter, and sure enough, I found a reference to the Bear Creek Elementary School in Houston, where the librarian had put out a public call for assistance and she has organized a Wish List on Amazon for cleaning materials, school supplies and more.

Last night, I got in touch via email with the Bear Creek Elementary School folks (Hi Anna) and learned more of the story there. The school is still closed. They will set up temporary operations in a high school. Families are in desperate need of help. They just met with families and students for the first time since the storm. Emotions and loss are running high. It’s been a very difficult time for all. They are grateful for help.

I know my new students feel proud of what they accomplished, and now, I hope to have them choose items off the Wish List that might help the Bear Creek folks. We’re working on the logistics of that part of things. Maybe something more durable will come of this, too. Maybe our school and Bear Creek could make a real connection.

And to top of off, we started the year off on a positive, productive note, looking to the greater world through the lens of compassion. Now that is a learning experience.

At the end of the day, one student asked, “What can we do to help Florida?”

Peace (to those in Irma’s path),
Kevin

Doodles Away: Starting the School Year with Sketchnoting

rikki tikki sketch1

One of my goals for my sixth grade students this year is to learn how to do visual notetaking, or sketchnoting. When I asked each class of students how many doodled in the margins of notes, many hands went up. When I asked how many doodled to help remember what the teacher was saying or doodled as they were listening to a video or as they were reading a text to capture main ideas, very few hands stayed up.

We’re gonna bring those doodles into the main frame this year (and hopefully, not suck all of the fun out of drawing for them.)

rikki tikki sketch 2

I’ve started rather slow and simple. I traditionally begin the year reading Rudyard Kipling’s Rikki Tikki Tavi as my touchstone text for the year. It’s a story I will return to again and again as a common experience, and we work the story through discussions of protagonist, antagonist, conflict/resolution, foreshadowing and setting early and often.

This year, I had them sketchnote as they listened to me read aloud the story. (I did a small bit of this last year, around the presidential inauguration address.) I shared a video that gives a good overview of what sketchnoting is, and told them not to be intimidated by the young person’s amazing art, and then set them free to doodle as they did active listening.

Each day, after reading, I have shared my own sketchnotes with them (see the embedded images, which captured my drawings on the interactive board) and then talked my way through how the sketches help me remember characters and story. I also want them to show them that you don’t need to be a great artist to do this kind of work. You just need to have a library of shortcuts and a logical systems approach (my system moves from left to right, and then right to left, with arrows to help move me along in the reading).

Sketchnoting Rikki Tikki

That’s what this is all about: active listening. And it is what this particular class of students needs, given what I know about them in the past year and what I am already seeing. I am hoping the art element draws in more of them as learners.

I realize I have some questions yet to tackle when it comes to using this sketchnoting concept with them:

  • How to help students already easily distracted to listen and doodle at the same time?
  • How to help them filter out what is important enough to be doodled and how to figure out what to leave out?
  • How to teach them the use of artistic lettering in order to use words as art in meaningful ways?
  • How do I demonstrate that sketchnoting has actually helped improve their writing and understanding of complex topics?
  • How to help them form a personalized systematic approach for the flow of their own sketchtnoting?

These will all be on my mind as I move forward into the school year. If you have experience or advice, I am all ears. This concept got a real boost this summer with my CLMOOC experience, as we used the theme of art to explore visual notetaking in ways that inspired me to begin early, and often, with my students.

I also have used this book — Visual Note-taking for Educators —  by Wendy Pillars to think about this whole concept, and now that I have started with students, I need to go back and re-read some of her helpful suggestions and ideas.

Peace (drawn in ink),
Kevin

Book Review: My Life with BOB (Flawed Heroine Keeps Book of Books, Plot Ensues)

A book about reading books? I’m in. I know that sounds strange to be reading books about the reading of books, yet I find it strangely fascinating to wonder what other people are thinking as they read and love (or hate) their own books.

Pamela Paul has an envious and powerful job — she is the editor of the New York Times Book Review. Part of what she does is discover new writers and determine which books get reviewed, which get noticed, which get featured. Needless to say, Paul reads a lot of books.

The BOB in the title of this memoir is not a man, but a book of books (or Book of Books: BOB) that she has been keeping as a private curation for years. My Life with Bob: Flawed Heroine Keeps Book of Books, Plot Ensues taps into her love of books, as she connects novels to major events of her life, and dives deep into why we love reading so much and how powerful books can shape a life, anchor our memories and change our perspectives on the world.

It helps that Paul comes across as a regular, if voracious, reader, and her style of writing is very inviting. You can sense the reluctance to share BOB with the world. It really is her private list, and I envy that she has BOB. I have Goodreads, which is not the same, is it? Amazon owns Goodreads, which means someone else owns my list. If only I, too, had kept a BOB of my own for the past thirty years or so. What would I notice?

Overall, I enjoyed Paul’s tour of her literary world, and her world escapes, and the connection between the writing she was reading, the writing she was writing, and the bridges made visible between our reading lives and our lives outside of books.

Peace (I read it),
Kevin

Slice of Life: Moon Over My Shoulder

(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.)

I spent Labor Day night in Boston, bringing my middle son and his friend to a Red Sox game at Fenway Park (we gave him tickets for a birthday present way back in winter). It was a beautiful night in Boston, and at one point, after many of us in the seats noticed the moon being shown on the small television monitors, we all turned our heads to look behind us.

The moon was dangling in the air, a beautiful orb of light.

Later, I grabbed a selfie with the moon.

Boston Moon

Peace (shine on),
Kevin