On the Mystery of Memes

We had to deal with is likely a “sign of the times” as our youngest son moves from adolescence into teenager (we still have six months!), and he learns more about the reach of media. I won’t share the whole story but it has to do with him sending an email blast to a bunch of friend and teachers with an image he thought was cute and funny.

It wasn’t.

It was an image of Pepe the frog. Which, if you followed the election and the emergence of the so-called Alt-Right, you will know that the image of Pepe has been, let’s say, taken over by the extreme right wing for racist insults. A frog is not just a frog on the Interwebz anymore. Pepe is a cartoon from the days of MySpace comic, and artist Matt Furie is trying to reclaim his image. Good luck with that.

To be fair, my son only shared an image of Pepe and not any of the nasty, dangerous memes. He was clueless about the back story of Pepe until I saw what he had done and sat down, and we had a conversation about the hidden meanings of many memes. Many times, the harsh meaning of memes is disguised behind a cute image. I had printed out an article about how the Anti-Defamation League had declared Pepe a “hate symbol” after the election, and showed him a blurb in Time Magazine about it.

This, from the ADL:

Images of the frog, variously portrayed with a Hitler-like moustache, wearing a yarmulke or a Klan hood, have proliferated in recent weeks in hateful messages aimed at Jewish and other users on Twitter.

“Once again, racists and haters have taken a popular Internet meme and twisted it for their own purposes of spreading bigotry and harassing users,” said Jonathan A. Greenblatt, ADL CEO. “These anti-Semites have no shame. They are abusing the image of a cartoon character, one that might at first seem appealing, to harass and spread hatred on social media.”

My son was taken aback, as he should have been, and then proceeded to write out apology notes for two of his teachers that he shared it with over email (we also had a longer talk about careful and considerate use of email and sharing  media with people), explaining his ignorance of the hidden meaning and stating that he is not a racist or right-wing fanatic.

Of course, they know that, but it was the act of apology that made the action right to do (and it turns out, one of his teachers was completely ignorant of Pepe, too.)

One resource that is valuable for us, as adults, and perhaps for kids, too, is Know Your Meme — a vast database of information about the histories of memes and the current usage of them. We all might want to spend some more time and thought on what we are sending before we send them out into the world.

Peace (in reflection),
Kevin

Book Review: But What If We’re Wrong?

This latest book by the always-interesting Chuck Klosterman has the subtitle “Thinking About the Present As if It Were the Past,” and that just about sums up Klosterman’s expansive dive into his ongoing question of wonder: Will the things we think of as important in the present really live up to the scrutiny of the future?

Probably not.

Klosterman is all over the place in But What If We’re Wrong, and I like that. From looking at the prospects of pop music now and into the future (and wondering if the Butthole Surfers might resonate more than The Beatles but ultimately decides that Chuck Berry would likely be the icon of the rock and roll era), to which films and television shows might stand the test of time (not for their art but for the way they reflect, perhaps inaccurately, on the present time), to whether American football will survive (even as numbers of drop, but he suggests it will become a narrow sport field, like boxing, with perhaps even more violence in the future than the present to appease its dedicated hard-core fans).

What Klosterman is doing here, again and again, is calling into question what the “present” thinks of the “past” and the strange lens that comes to bear on events, centuries after the fact. It’s hard to know what will last when you are in the midst of it. This is what historians do, too. But Klosterman thinks they go about it all wrong, too, trying to make sense of a distant time by artifacts that probably don’t accurately reflect the actual time period, and so .. we probably get a lot it wrong.

Klosterman (who used to write The Ethicist column for the New York Times) writes with wit and humor, and admits often to the reader that he is stretching to the deep end of thinking. He even offers up an apology in the end credits for a hedgehog story. (Yep — you’ll have to read about it). He does what we want writers to do, by pushing the way we think about the world in new ways, and you could do worse that cozy up to Klosterman on a wintry day.

But, of course, I may be wrong about that. Just ask Chuck.

Peace (into tomorrow as well as today),
Kevin

Book Review: Photos Framed

This is a quick read, but one that might require a few reads, if that makes any sense at all. Not because it is confusing. It is so interesting. I am one of those people who has come to photography late, thanks to the emergence of mobile devices for visually capturing the world (and double-thanks to the work of my friend, Kim Douillard, whose photography and image prompts always get me thinking at odd angles).

Photos Framed, by Ruth Thomson, is a collection of very famous photographs. What Thomson brings to the table is the curation and reflection on the composition of these famous photographs. In tight text alongside the images, she explores the back stories of the images and photographers. She also pulls out small moments (literally … cropped shots sit alongside the full image) from within the larger visual frame, asking questions about lighting, perspective, colors, textures and more.

Sure, I’ve seen the famous images of Migrant Mother (Dorethea Lange), The Horse in Motion (Eadweard Mybridge), The Kiss by the Hotel de Ville (Robert Doisneau), Afghan Girl (Steve McCurry), The Cottingly Fairies (Elsie Wright), and Tank Man (Jeff Widener). Thomson showed me aspects of these famous images I never saw or considered before.

She reminds us that images are story, with contexts. To ‘read an image’ is to dive through the lens at many levels. That doesn’t mean these photos don’t stand on their own. They do. What it means is that each one can draw you in further, if you choose to go on that journey. Photos Framed is a nice tour guide.

Peace (well-lit and standing still),
Kevin

Another One (about to) Bite(s) the Dust

Bye Bye TitanPad

I’ve written this kind of post before — the feeling of loss when a favorite technology site announces it is closing up shop. I guess I should be grateful the announcements even happen.

The latest is TitanPad — a powerful collaborative document tool that I have used with many other people over the years, mostly for collaborative poetry. TitanPad was built out of a wave of other collaborative document makers from the roots of Etherpad and Google’s acquisition of a key element of open collaborative document makers, but I liked it for the simplicity and for the way it archived every keystroke, turning the static document into something you could watch unfold like a movie.

Here is a collaborative poem from this past summer’s Connected Learning MOOC:

I know there are add-ons in Google Docs and a host of other sites that do much of what TitanPad has done and I appreciate that the programmers (who reasonably cite changes in web browsers, underlying code and issues of privacy as rationale for pulling the plug) are doing a “graceful shutdown” so that people can make decisions about their work. No more new pads after May and then by the end of 2017, the site will be gone.

I’ve always thought of the collaboration we have unfolding in TitanPad to be mostly temporary writing, sometimes captured beyond the pad in other ways (such as with video and audio), so I don’t even have many links to past work I have done with others to save, even if I wanted to.

The programmers helpfully point to a resource that has “sites similar to” TitanPad, which might be useful. I’ve bookmarked that resource, and hope that my bookmarking tool doesn’t fade away on me, too. (I’ve had that happen …)

Peace (shared),
Kevin

 

What in the World Have I Been Writing About?

Yesterday, I noticed I had pushed the number of tweets in my account to 54,000 tweets. Holy smokes! What the heck have I been writing about? (Just a bit of math on the writing blog: That means, given the 140 character limit, that I posted 7.6 million characters on Twitter.  Ahem. I won’t vouch for the character of those characters … some are good, some are bad, some are meh. A scant few might have been gems.)

Well, I write about teaching, about writing, about collaboration, about Connected Learning, about comics, about digital literacies, and, yes, a lot of other stuff that often seems ancillary to my identity as an educator. Twitter is one of my go-to platforms to engage with others. Despite all of the reasons why people may not like Twitter (some of which are very valid), I still find it valuable for discovering new ideas and reflecting with others on the journey forward.

Still, 54,000 small bits of writing? That sure seems like a lot.

I wondered what my 54,000th tweet actually was. I think it was this one:

tweet number 54,000

Shoot. I can live with adding more debris of words to the world if it means being part of something like the #HaikuForHealing project that Mary Lee Hahn and others have been engaged in for the past month or so, as a way to grapple with the fallout from the election and the emerging chaos of the Trump years to come. Some days, it feels as if words are all we have. And Twitter is made for Haiku.

Interestingly, Twitter also has a tool that allows you to go back in time to find your very first tweet. Here’s mine.

first tweet feb2008

That was nearly nine years ago. That was before Obama even took office? Time sure flies. Gotta run. I have another haiku to write. See you on Twitter.

Peace (writing it over and over),
Kevin

Musical Slice of Life: Sing for the Trees

sol16(This is a post for Slice of Life, a regular writing activity hosted by Two Writing Teachers. We write about the small moments. You are invited. Come write with us.)

It snowed. And from a small window in our studio area, I was watching this one tree get snowed upon, its branches grabbing the heavy wet snow like a blanket. Then, as the day grew warmer with sunshine, I watched the snow drop off, almost in slow motion, as if the tree branches were reluctant to let go.

During the first Snow Day of the year, I started to write this song, with that tree in mind. It’s a musical Slice of Life today, constructed from loops and imagination.

Peace (hearing it everywhere),
Kevin

 

When #CLMOOC Met #DigiWriMo

(A collage of “grounds” from the Look Down to the Ground Collaboration)

We’re wrapping up two weeks of Pop-Up Make Cycles that the CLMOOC Crowd (past participants who have stepped up to facilitate the Connected Learning MOOC this past year) organized for what used to be Digital Writing Month (but may be no more). We invited people to share photos, annotate and curate on the Web, make and share animations, discuss Digital Writing in a variety of formats, produce inspirational images and messages, and more.

It’s probably not the ideal time of year to hope that many, many people will take the CLMOOC up on the invitation to make, create, share. Still, that’s the beauty of the Pop-Up Make Cycle idea (first launched by Joe Dillon and Terry Elliott, I believe). It comes. It goes. It’s an open invitation.

Two of the pieces I am proud of making:

and

Do I wish more folks participated? Yes. But then I remember something we said early this past summer at all due to a different focus for the National Writing Project, when it seemed that CLMOOC might not happen in 2016.

A few us (participants and past facilitators) chatted and decided: Yes, CLMOOC will indeed happen, and those few soon grew to more than a dozen people who volunteered to become the CLMOOC Crowd (my name for it). We agreed that “small” is perfectly fine. The “M”  in this mooc does not have to be “massive” anymore. It just has to be “meaningful.” So, “minimal” works, too.

And you know .. this is the Open Web. Anyone at anytime can access any of the ideas. You’re invited. You’re always invited.

Peace (and connect),
Kevin

 

Talking in the Open: Conversations with Howard, Ian and Greg


flickr photo shared by *Robert* under a Creative Commons ( BY-SA ) license

In the past six weeks or so, I have found myself being interviewed by three different people I respect greatly: Howard Rheingold, Greg McVerry and Ian Guest.

All had different reasons for reaching out — Howard has been doing a series of video interviews for Connected Learning; Greg and Sarah Honeychurch are exploring an open research project about literacy and leadership; and Ian is interviewing educators for his own research on how Twitter might impact professional growth of teachers.

Kevin Hodgson on Connected Learning from Connected Learning Alliance on Vimeo.

I was honored and humbled to be on the other side of the screen with these people. Howard, of course, is a towering figure of the Internet Age, whose thinking about the ways we interact and write and create community on the Web stretches back to some of the Web’s origins. Greg is someone I have known from when I took part in the Massachusetts New Literacies Institute (while Sarah has been a long friend through many projects, including the most recent CLMOOC), and he and I (and a few others) have remained connected, through projects like Walk My World. And Ian is someone I know from online activities like Rhizomatic Learning.

The Internet, and the possibilities of connections and sharing, is pretty amazing, with lots of potential and lots of barriers. I hope I was articulate enough in answering their questions. As a former journalist, I think I am more comfortable on the other side of the microphone. But I appreciated that all three wanted to share their interviews out in the open.

I know that the discussions swirled in my head even after we had turned off Skype or Google Hangout, so their questions about learning, technology, digital literacies, leadership and more continue to be part of my reflection.

Ian Guest interviews me

Here is the link to the podcast interview with Ian.

 

Peace (shining a light),
Kevin

 

 

An Hour (or so) of Code

Hour of Code 2016

We didn’t spent an hour with coding this week, but I did introduce my sixth graders to the Hour of Code site yesterday, and gave them time to dig into some of the activities. As in other years, I explained why we talk about programming and code in an ELA class this way:

  • Not all of us will be computer programmers but nearly all of us will use technology. It’s good to have a basic understanding of what goes on “behind the screen” and to understand that people program the software that runs our games, apps and more
  • Programming is a logic puzzle, requiring patience and sequential thinking. The Hour of Code activities are engaging and move from easy to challenging in a solid way
  • We’re into our Video Game Design unit, and I have been sharing information and video about paths towards game design opportunities down the road, and computer programming, obviously, is a huge and growing field
  • You can read what I wrote for Middleweb two years ago about Why We’re Learning About Coding in Writing Class. I think my argument remains valid.

Some of my students were completely hooked by the Hour of Code, and I will be using the site as an “extension learning” opportunity as some finish other projects. Along with a new activity connected to Moana, the activities with Minecraft, Angry Birds and Flappy Bird are all favorites.

Hour of Code 2016

In one of my classes, I had a student how already used Scratch, and a small group gathered around him as he taught others how to build an animation in Scratch, all on his own. I thought that moment was pretty cool and just let it unfold without my interference.

Hour of Code 2016

Peace (coded to run in all of us),
Kevin

Before The Video Games …. There Are Storyboards

Game Design 2016

We’re in the early days of our Video Game Design Project, in which my sixth graders are learning how to use a narrative “story frame” to design and publish a video game via Gamestar Mechanic. As a writing teacher, my aim is to show how story can become the backbone of a video game, and how the reader “plays” the story that the game designer has written. It’s all about expanding the notions of Digital Writing, and how games are emerging as the place for inventive storytelling.

Game Design 2016

This week, students have been brainstorming their “story frames” and that work is done before they can start designing their games. I want them to have a “map” of where they are going before they starting designing with blocks and avatars and rewards and more. I am always pleasantly surprise by the detail of their brainstorming and their imagination.

Game Design 2016

Our theme this year is “the Hero’s Journey/Quest” — a topic we have been building off since September (in the past, these games were all science-themed, but this year’s shift to Next Gen Standards for our science teacher created a bit of a problem for us, so we’ll try again next year).

Writing and Game Design Compared

We connect game design to writing process and we do a lot of writing in this unit, from Game Developer Reflections to writing persuasive Game Reviews (as podcasts) to using their “game worlds” as setting for short stories, and more. I aim to use their engagement in game design to spark their interest in writing across genres.

Writing in Game Design Classroom

As a mentor text, I dissect my own game for them. My game – called The Odyssey of Tara — is a riff off The Odyssey, where our hero — Tara — has to make her way home, fighting monsters and battling obstacles along the way.

Odyssey of Tara video game

I’m looking forward to playing my students’ stories.

Peace (jump dodge run),
Kevin