Graphic Novel Review: March (Book One)

I know a bit about John Lewis just from my various readings about the Civil Rights, and even into the modern day. Lewis is one of those who led the floor fight on gun control this past year. But this first in a series of biographical graphic novels about John Lewis’ life, called March, was a powerful reminder of why change was needed in our country to end legal segregation and how brave the people were who fought for those changes.

Lewis, who remains an influential Congressman in the United States House of Representatives, was at the forefront of student demonstrations in Nashville and communities around the South, particularly as part of the protests to test the limits of the Jim Crow laws at lunch counters.

The overarching narrative of this series of graphic novels is the March on Selma, but this first book is more about Lewis as a young man, growing up on a farm and beginning to not just notice the racial injustice of the world. He also begins to see his won part in bringing it to an end. Or at least, trying to.

March (Book One) is a powerful story, written well and drawn in black and white ink. I’d be tempted to bring this in as part of our work around Civil Rights with our reading of The Watsons Go to Birmingham 1963 but some of the language in this graphic novel has me a little antsy about that for my white, suburban classroom of sixth graders. Instead, I might pick and choose some sections, particularly where it connects to the lunch counter protests and the Student Non-violent Coordinating Committee, which gets references in some of the primary source materials we read in class around the Civil Rights Movement.

I since read the second March book (I believe a third is just out) and found it just as engaging, if not more, than the first book. Even though I know how the Selma March ends and how its legacy ripples into the present, I am curious to go deeper into John Lewis’ story, to better understand the man and his deeds, and the fabric of our country.

Peace (let it be so),
Kevin

Ways to Stay Connected in the #CLMOOC Universe

Clmooc extends

As part of the final newsletter of CLMOOC 2016, we compiled a list of ways for folks in CLMOOC (even on the periphery) to remain connected throughout the year, and beyond the summer. I wanted to share that list here.

Throughout the Year There are many ways to stay engaged with CLMOOC’s connected community and beyond. Here are a few options to consider to remain active and connected with the people and the spirit of CLMOOC as summer fades away:

Peace (is stronger with all of us),
Kevin

Slice of Life: Pitching Relief

hacking bball

(A project I made in CLMOOC a few years ago, with Jim as the inspiration)

We arrived, my son and I, by bike, on the field, just before 5:30 p.m. with baseball gloves in a backpack. It was Monday night, time for the thrice-weekly Summer Ball pick-up game fun by our neighbor, Jim. But no Jim. Instead, a sign hanging on the fence, with Jim’s scratchy writing, said “Jim has some family business. Equipment in the green box. Have fun.”

Jim left all of his equipment at the field, and I was the only adult around. All the other kids — about 14 of them by now — had come by bike or their parents had dropped them off, and left. I had brought a new book with me, thinking I would enjoy some reading time while Jim led the kids in the craziness of baseball in summer. Sometimes, there can be nearly 30 kids on the field.

“I guess we can still play?” one older kid said, almost uncertainly. “Jim left the stuff. And a note.”

“OK,” another responded, as two younger kids grabbed the bases and began to unplug the field in order to anchor the bases at first, second and third. “We can make teams.”

“We just need someone to pitch,” the older one explained. In Summer Ball, Jim always pitches, to keep the game moving along and avoid squabbled over the pitching mound.

I stepped up in the quiet. They were looking at me, anyway. “I’ll pitch,” I said, putting the book away and taking out my glove, which I had brought just in case Jim needed a catcher. I stretched my arm, trying to remember the last time I pitched to kids. At least a year or so. I didn’t coach this past spring.

It showed. But I kept at it for nearly two hours, one pitch after another (a few out of control, but no kids were hurt) and they were pretty good-natured about it. The kids just wanted to play, so they just let me pitch. They hit and hit and hit, with the older kids cranking a few homerooms over the fence. They do that to Jim, too, so I didn’t feel so bad.

“This arm is going to hurt in the morning,” I told my son, who just laughed as I kept stretching after the game. I was right. My arm hurts this morning. Soreness in the shoulder. But they got to play baseball on an August summer evening and I got to go in as relief for Jim. As a reward, my son and I stopped for ice cream on the way home.

Some things are worth celebrating …

Peace (on the mound),
Kevin

Appreciate the Unexpected: Haiku Call/Response

Sunday morning. I see my friend Ray is sharing a haiku. It’s about jazz. I can’t resist. I riff off his poem, make my own and send it out. It starts there and then expands into something wonderful: a day of writing and sharing haiku.

I tried to curate the many strands as best as I could here:

Peace (words matter),
Kevin

At This Camp, Movies Get Made

Making Movies at Camp

My youngest son attended a day camp all last week, writing and shooting and editing and producing short films over five days. on Friday, family members were invited in to watch the results, and the movies were not only entertaining, but pretty well done, given constraints (of locations and time and props). The camp, at a local Montessori School, borrowed high-quality video cameras from the local Cable Access Station (which will showcase the short films on its television channel and online sites). You can see the difference — the video is rich and professional grade quality.

The camp facilitators let the kids do all of the heavy lifting — writing the scripts, setting up the cameras, and editing with iMovie. My son has done most of these things before — he loves to make his own movies — but it was nice to have him in a group, working with other kids and being creative. I don’t think he wrote all that much, though, which is too bad.

There were three short narrative films (including one very intense one about a puppet and a cruel puppeteer that had the audience in silent wonder) and a few music videos, most using Green Screen effects. Later, the videos will be hosted online. I’ll share out when that happens, in case you are interested in what kids can do with cameras and iMovie and imagination.

Peace (from small screen to real life),
Kevin

Book Review: The Black Reckoning

(This review has been in my draft bin since Spring)

Now, this is how you write the last of a trilogy. John Stephens began this story of three siblings and three books of magic with The Emerald Atlas, which my son and I read and were hooked, and the series has now come to a close with The Black Reckoning.  In between, there was The Fire Chronicle. The series is called The Books of Beginning, due to the mythology of the three books themselves — one of which transports people through time; another of which brings people back from death; and the third, which is the center of the last book, gives power to the Keeper over the Land of the Dead.

While there are so many echoes of other stories here — from Harry Potter to The Lightning Thief and beyond — Stephens keeps the narrative fresh and fast-moving, spending ample time on the development of characters — the three children: Kate, Michael an Emma. All are changed by the experiences of the books and Stephens brings the story to a satisfying close with a few twists in the end to keep it from becoming too predictable.

If you have readers looking for an adventure, get them started on The Emerald Atlas. They will surely be hooked for the trilogy. I have a student waiting, somewhat impatiently, for me to finish The Black Reckoning so he can dive in to the story. He’ll be happy to see me today.

Peace (in the story),
Kevin

WMWP: Shifting From Technology Towards Outreach

For as long as I have been part of the Western Massachusetts Writing Project (which is going on 15 years now, starting with my very first year of teaching after a 10-year career in newspaper journalism), I have been involved with technology in the writing project. It all happened rather inadvertently, as then WMWP Technology Liaison Paul Oh was moving on to begin work with the National Writing Project, and our WMWP Summer Institute had played around with something new (it really was brand new at the time) called “blogs” to great success.

As Paul was leaving, he and the site director pulled me aside and asked if I would be willing to step up and replace Paul as the WMWP Technology Liaison (a designation NWP/WMWP no longer uses), and I said: I guess so (rather reluctantly, since I did not see myself as a techie at the time even if I was an enthusiastic experimenter). I wrote about some of my journey into technology with WMWP and NWP for a site celebrating 40 years of NWP.

In the past years, our WMWP site has put a renewed importance on technology across programs, creating a Co-Director position on the Leadership Team. I have been the Technology Co-Director for the Western Massachusetts Writing Project for some years now, following my role as technology liaison (which was more an advisory position). Since Paul left, and I took over, I have been in the same slot (with different names). I’ve loved all of it, and count many successes.

From overseeing a massive blogging project called Making Connections funded by a NWP grant that connected middle school students across socio-economic areas, to running youth digital writing camps; to documenting with video and audio the work of WMWP; to facilitating a WMWP Technology Team; to launching the iAnthology social network in partnership with Hudson Valley Writing Project; to facilitating workshops and planning Technology Conferences; consulting on the launch of a new WMWP website and now consulting on yet another version of the WMWP website; and on and on. Not to mention all of the NWP activities on the larger stage, such as helping to facilitate CLMOOC in the past four years and writing regularly for the Digital Is website.

But I began to feel in a rut, a bit. Not that I had done everything I wanted to do but that there just wasn’t that spark of energy. Perhaps, I began thinking, it was time for me to be doing something else in WMWP.

Last Spring, after considerable thought, I decided to propose a change to my WMWP fellows. We had an opening on the WMWP Leadership Team. The position of Co-Director for Outreach was available, and I had already been focusing more and more on how to use more social media tools to reach our WMWP teachers.  We revamped our Facebook account, became more active with Twitter, and launched an Instagram site. Our YouTube site was growing with each conference WMWP hosted.

I proposed to WMWP that I leave the post of Technology and move into the post of Outreach, where I would still harness technology with the goal of reaching and connecting teachers together (something I was sort of doing already with Technology).

And now, I am happy to say, one of my WMWP Technology Team colleagues — and someone with whom I have worked closely with over the years on a variety of projects — has stepped into the role of Technology Co-Director. Tom Fanning will do a fantastic job, breathing new life into the role of technology in our writing project site and laying out his own vision and plans for where WMWP goes next.

Our site director, Bruce Penniman, always says, The first task of any leadership position is to start looking for your replacement. I’m very happy that Tom in is place and that I get to keep working with him. If Bruce is right, though, now I have start looking for my replacement for the Outreach slot. Hmmm.

Peace (here, there, everywhere),
Kevin

Six Countries … 30 Postcards … Many Connections

Making postcards

I spent part of my day yesterday, working on completing another round of CLMOOC postcards. This one has a sort of secret gift involved, so I won’t say much about the content of my postcards. But I mailed out 30 postcards (along an old picture book theme), and noticed that I had SIX different countries as destination points. That’s pretty darn cool (if a bit expensive … but worth it!).

I keep wondering of the postmaster at our small neighborhood Post Office is finally going to break down and say all right … what’s up with all of these postcards you keep sending out? But he remains curiously impassive.

Learn more about the CLMOOC Postcard Project at the CLMOOC Make Bank.

Peace (it’s in the post),
Kevin

No One Reads the Manual: My Steps to New Tech

In my new role with the Western Massachusetts Writing Project (I guess I haven’t written about that yet .. will do later), I have been tasked with putting together our twice-yearly newsletter of events and activities for our writing project. I’m fine with that job. I like to write and share and connect. But the WMWP newsletter is created (for now, anyway) with a certain software program loaded on a specific WMWP laptop, and now that I have both computer and program in my hands, I’ve realized that learning a complicated piece of technology is … well … complicated.

As I was diving into the software this week to immerse myself in its inner workings, I realized I was going through some stages of “new technology” immersion. It began when I realized I would have be venturing back into an aging PC, as opposed to my Mac, and continued when I opened the software program up and saw dozens upon dozens of keys and buttons and options, all written in some language that didn’t make sense to my brain. Many, many bells and whistles.

Then, as I am apt to do, I just dove in, starting clicking things and working in the space, seeing what I could figure out as I went along. I’d get frustrated, try something else, get it working, hit another dead-end, try to find information help online, go back in, try again, and keep going. There were periodic little successes that at least allowed me to push forward with some limited sense of accomplishment.

For example, all I wanted to do was find a way to replace a photo. (apparently, that is done by “pointing” and that took me nearly 30 minutes to figure that out). And then I wanted a quick way to “preview” the newsletter I was creating, out of edit mode. I’m still searching for how to do that, believe it or not. It must be me, right? Where’s the big fat “This is What It Looks Like” button?

The next day? I had mostly forgotten what I had done the day before and how I had done it. A pitfall of diving in and not being methodical with new technology is the lack of clear paths and archival maps for the return journey. I didn’t document my dive in because there was never any method to the madness.

So, I began all over again.

The comic is just another way for me to deal with the feeling of frustration. I know I will figure out what I need to know (I already know more than I did just a few days ago), and I know I will turn to those within the writing project who have used the program for tips of the trade. It will all work out.

But I also know that I follow a certain pattern when it comes to new technology, and I hope that by making my own thinking somewhat visible — with a bit of humor — it shows me a bit more clearly how my own students learn when they come up against new technology. And if I can better understand that process, perhaps I can be a better teacher.

Let’s face it — no one reads the manual.

Peace (it’s in there, somewhere),
Kevin