Book Review: The Fourteenth Goldfish

Coming on the heels of finishing Natalie Babbitt’s Tuck Everlasting with my sixth graders, I picked up Jennifer Holm’s The Fourteenth Goldfish merely on a whim as part our independent reading. I see it is on the New York Times bestseller list, and as a teacher, I love to discover new books I can recommend to my students. I was pleasantly surprised to see more than a few thematic overlaps between the two novels. Holm’s book explores the scientific element of tinkering with the aging process while Bobbitt uses unknown magic to explore the concept of living for forever.

Tuck Everlasting, of course, is a classic, and now in its 40th year, the book continues to resonate with young readers on many levels. The discussions we have in the classroom about the moral ambiguity of character’s choices and the desire for youth is always rich and deep. It’s beautifully written and I love teaching it.

The Fourteenth Goldfish is not in the same category, although it is a rather fun read. The story revolves around 11 year old Ellie, whose scientist grandfather discovers a way (via a certain jellyfish) to turn back the hands of time and become young again. The grandfather is now a teenager, living with Ellie and her mother, and the results are often funny. The plot revolves around Ellie helping her teenager grandfather recover his scientific notes from the company he has been booted out of.

It’s only at the end of the book, as Ellie considers the power and responsibility of science, that the deep questioning comes into play, and I was itching for Holmes to dig deeper than she did. The book is aimed at an upper elementary audience, and yet I think Holmes could have gone farther and still had the funny, entertaining story that she develops in The Fourteen Goldfish.

What Holm’s book does well is to show the power of scientific discovery and of asking questions, of being curious, of being open to the “possibilities” — as Ellie’s grandfather teaches her, even as Ellie herself begins to understand that some scientific discoveries come with a cost (the Atomic Bomb). Holm also name-drops plenty of scientists in the novel, sparking interest in the history of discovery.

Peace (in the life lived),
Kevin

Knowing that I Don’t Know What I Need to Know

Fork the Fedwiki

This is learning … and I can feel it in the pull in the back of my brain. I dove into something called the Federated Wiki, as part of a Happening that is taking place in March around Teaching Machines, with Audrey Watters. I won’t do justice to explaining a Federated Wiki (this is part of what is making my brain work overtime), but it is, as I understand it, a series of connected wikis hosted on different servers that intersect with each other. You can “fork” other people’s pages and make them your own, and you can view the “history” of the fork of your own page to see if anyone adds anything that you can use to make your entry better. My friend, Maha, noted that this allows for “multiple versions of knowledge” as opposed to one single Truth created collectively, as is the case is most wikis. (i.e., we all edit the same page.)

Listen: I don’t know what I am doing.

I barely know the questions to ask about what I am doing in the Federated Wiki that has been set up for me by the Happening folks (thanks!). But I am in there, absorbing the tutorials that Mike Caulfield has embedded, digging in here and there, and I can feel my mind grasping to understand the larger picture. I’d appreciate a visual map of what a Happening is, and what the nodes of a Federated Wiki looks like, and yet, I am perfectly happy that there is no map. I’m making my own mental map as I go.


(Ward Cunningham, who originated wikis, is behind the idea of Federated Wiki)

Because, this is learning. This is how you encounter something new and try to make sense of it. There’s confusion. There’s grappling. There’s the little moments of “aha” followed by more moments of “what the @##$%%” as something you think you had a handle on suddenly falls apart. Hopefully, that is followed by another “aha” moment. Or maybe you turn to others in the community and ask the question: how did you do that? And, how do I do that? Help. Help me to understand.

This is what it means to be a learner again, and to be frank, teachers like myself (if I am honest about it) sometimes forget that very intense and uncomfortable feeling of being lost. A good learning experience, however, helps you find your way, and guides you to the other end not just smarter for the struggle, but more expansive in your knowledge of the world. We forget our students might experience this on a regular basis.

My learning process has been laid bare this weekend. I am learning about how I learn. Yes, I am interested in reading about and contributing to the topic of Teaching Machines, with Audrey Watters and others. I am also interested in learning something completely new, something outside my regular comfort zone. I am wading into unknown terrain with this Federated Wiki Happening and it is both driving me a bit nutty (not in a bad way) and pushing me to make sense of the unknown.

The gears are turning. I’m learning.

Peace (in the think),
Kevin

Further Poetic Remix: Identity

Yesterday, I shared out how I remixed Identity by Julio Noboa Polanco and made a new poem from Polanco’s words. Today, I take a step forward into remix, by using my poem and a video version of Identity, weaving them together via Mozilla’s Popcorn Maker. The result is a mix of words and images and sound.

Feel free to remix it yourself. Just hit the remix button on the Popcorn video.

Peace (in the remix of the remix),
Kevin

A Poetic Remix: Breaking Through the Surface of Stone

In one of the learning cycles for Walk My World, we’ve been asked to read and think about two poems – Tupak Shakur’s The Rose That Grew From Concrete (actually, a song lyric, right?) and Identity by Julio Noboa Polanco. So much gets done with Tupak’s metaphor (amid some complaints that it is probably a bit too obvious), so I cast my eyes to Polanco. I have not read the Identity poem before, and thought I might try to deconstruct and then reconstruct the words into my own poetry remix. (I hope Polanco won’t mind).

I found myself focusing on some key phrases, including “breaking through the surface of stone,” which I found very evocative. Taking the words of the poem, and them moving words and phrases around, with the concept of keeping the theme intact but making it into something new, this remixed poem is what emerged for me. It’s still about identity, about being an individual, but I tightened up the stanzas and found my own voice inside Polanco’s lines. That what remix is all about …

BreakingThroughtheSurfaceofStone

And my voice:

 

Peace (in the poem),
Kevin

Book Review: Cool Careers in Video Games

I saw this book – Cool Careers in Video Games –  in our latest Scholastic Book order catalogue and used some of my “classroom points” to pick it up. I wasn’t sure what to expect, but given my students’ high interest in gaming, it makes sense to have it as a resource. I’m glad I grabbed it. The book is full of short non-fiction profiles of people in the video gaming industry, from writers to programmers to animators and more, with a nice balance of men and women.

The questions often have a focus on advice for students who are interested in gaming, and while most riffed on the theme of “follow your passion and dream,” there were a few who noted how math skills and writing/communication skills are critical.

What I most liked about the book (its former title apparently was Hot Jobs in Video Games) was the introduction overview of the world of the gaming industry, as it provides a handy progression of how a game goes from an idea to being published, and all the work that goes on in-between. And I like the glossary at the end, where there is a multi-page list of all of the different kinds of jobs and skills one would need to become part of that emerging job market.

As far as I can tell, you can only get Cool Careers in Video Games through Scholastic books.

Peace (in the game),
Kevin

 

App Review: Super (for media collage)

Tired of snow but I know ..

… from one the folks (Biz Stone) who launched Twitter comes Super … which is sort of a collage/media app, merging words with images. The free app is easy to use — you start with a list of starter words/prompts, write what you want to write, choose an image from its recommended files (via keywords), tinker with the image and words, and then publish.

Kids on the radio

Finished works on Super can be easily shared in other social media, and the visual element makes it worth checking out. Liker Twitter, this is “short form” writing — every word counts, or else the page gets cluttered. The most time I spent with Super is figuring out the right image to with my words, and then worrying about the visual design element of the piece. I have no idea where Super might be heading, in terms of its flow and sense of possibilities. It does seem a little artsy-whacky right now, but I am fine with that.

I #loveteaching

They also added a new feature called Strips, that allows you to tie together a few Supers into a sort of comic strip narrative. I have not yet given that a go but I will.

Peace (on the app),
Kevin

How They Wrote ‘Uptown Funk’

I like this kind of insight of songwriting … Uptown Funk started with a drum beat by Bruno Mars and the line about Michelle Pfeiffer/White Gold became a lyrical hook … here, Mark Ronson talks through the process of how the song came together collaboratively.

And you no doubt have heard the song:

Peace (in the song),
Kevin

A Poem, A Puzzle, An Act of Playfulness

So, I had this idea … what if I wrote a poem and delivered bits and pieces of it (let’s call them stanzas, shall we?) to a few friends in online spaces and asked them to piece the poem together over social media? What would that look like? How would you even pull it off? And this began an adventure this weekend with three of my friends — Charlene, Sheri and Terry — as I launched a poem like a balloon and watched it wander off.

My goal as a writer in digital spaces was to try to figure out how to make this kind of playfulness meaningful and to extend out the poem’s life beyond me writing it and me publishing it. It helped that I know Terry, Sheri and Charlene are game for the oddness of play, as we all were deeply involved in the Making Learning Connected MOOC experience over the last two summers.

In the end, what I decided to do was make the poem a puzzle. The embedded Thinglink here is an annotated version of a flowchart that I created (first, on scrap paper, and then later, with an app) to try to show what happened to the poem and the puzzle over the weekend. The challenge for them was to find their way to the website where the entire poem was published — all four stanzas (they only each received a single stanza, in isolation).

I put the poem a link beyond a password-protected website that I set up, and their task was to coordinate together to find the code word that would unlock the website that would lead them to the poem. Along the way, they made their own poems and pictures and websites, and used a hashtag on Twitter to share (and for me to give out clues).

It was fun to watch unfold — using writing and social media as “game” for reading, listening and collaborating, and trying to coordinate it from afar took some doing. But I think a variation of this kind of activity could be used as a model for how to think of literacy in the context of social media and social gathering.

It become the poem I let loose like a balloon to the sky …

Charlene later asked, how could this translate into a classroom experience? Good question and one I am still mulling over. I suspect you could replicate it in offline space by using stanzas of poems as clues to some larger mystery that students have to collaboratively solve. Or have students create the poems that become the clues … there are possibilities.

 

Peace (in the poem),
Kevin

Audio Poem: Before Dawn/Walking Home

SeeSound Audio Recorder

The image above is a visual wave-file representation of an audio poem I wrote for the learning cycle of Walk My World — where the focus is on the dawn. And it turns out, the YouShow theme recently has been audio, too. The audio recording here was done in a very nifty online tool called SeeSound, which I found thanks to two Maker/CLMOOC friends — Stephanie and Rob. I love the audio-becomes-visual element, and I wish I could download the live view as video (I guess I could take it as screencast).

I wrote this poem in the hours before dawn, when I am up before the world is up (mostly) and writing every morning. It’s just the dog and I, in the snowstorm this morning, and he goes back to sleep after our walk through the neighborhood while I pound on the keys here. I am often awake before I am awake. If I am working on an idea, I wake up, knowing my head was working out phrases and concepts during the night. If I don’t wrote, I lose it.

So I write before the sun comes up, just about every single day. (Like, right now).

Before Dawn poem

Here, then is my poem: Before Dawn. What I did was record it via SeeSound, downloaded the audio file, and then used the “reverse” switch to make the audio file go backwards (take that, Led Zep!), and tacked it on to the end of the forward file with Audacity, so that the poem is me moving forward and backwards. The poem then is hosted at Soundcloud.

Peace (in the visual poem),
Kevin