Hidden Wires (On Remembering in a Digital Age)

These Hidden Wires

I had the strange experience recently of deeply misunderstanding a situation because the interaction was online, where I misread nuances of words, and was not face-to-face, where I would have been more in tune with things. I don’t want to get into the situation itself, since it has passed and I am fine with it. In the end, I am glad that I was misunderstanding the whole thing, though.

But in my misunderstanding, I started to wonder about the act of remembering in the digital age, and how often, our worlds and daily writing become so ephemeral. Words here. Images there. Videos here. Sounds there. I’ve written along these strands before, I think, but I keep circling back around on it.

It must be important.

How do we remember where we were (and how do our loved ones find us) when what we write and share are scattered in so many online places? Maybe this is why so many people like Facebook — it’s the one-stop social space where. We trade privacy and information ownership for the known anchor point of social media.

I guess I must have been sort of on a morbid path the other day, but I realized: my wife would not likely be able to find much of what I am writing and sharing, if I were suddenly gone. Do I make a list of sites and passwords for her? Honey, here is where all of my songs are … here are my poems … these are my games …. here are my book reviews …. my videos are here and here and here …

Or my sons. They know only a bit of what I do when I am pounding away on the keyboards here. My world as teacher and artists and writer in this space intersects with my world as father at home, of course, but only at times.

Sometimes, I have this vision of my sons, years from now, deep into the future, uncovering the things I have made and created over the years, and realizing: that’s what he was doing: writing songs, writing poems, writing posts, making connections. I remember once finding a vinyl record that my father (a drummer) cut with a band, and it was a sort of powerful magic of listening to him as a musician.

What if that never happens to me and my sons? What if they never find it? What if what we create, just disappears?

We are scattered, and in danger of being lost, forever.

I don’t curate myself nearly enough. Do you?

This thinking, sparked by the misunderstanding, led me to this melody that I found myself writing when thinking of this act of “remembering” the past week. I am not much of a guitar player, as a solo guitarist, and this is where my muse took me. The haiku is part of a daily poetry that I am doing on Twitter.

Will I ever find this poem and this song again? I need to remember …

Peace (together),
Kevin

Deconstructing Video Game Advertisements (and Making Their Own)

Game Advertising1

I have the good fortune of having a very talented paraprofessional in my classroom for one period each day. She is compassionate and firm and helpful. She also had a career in design and advertising before coming into education, so when I was thinking of a lesson plan around Video Game Advertising and the use of persuasive media and writing, I asked if she would lead part of the lesson.

She said yes, and yesterday, our students were engaged in deconstructing advertisements in order to create their own advertisements for their science-based video game projects (with central themes of Buoyancy and Gravity).

She brought her own experiences in designing brochures for the company she used to work for, explaining techniques for blocking out advertisements in draft form, how to consider audience for a product, using “loaded words” to sway the customer, the importance of catch-phrases/slogans, how fonts can be most effectively used, and ways to avoid “floating texts.”

I learned a lot just from listening to her, honing in on the power of art and words together to create persuasive text/media.

Game Advertisement Deconstruction

I created a slideshow of video game advertisements for the lesson, and after deconstructing the first one, we had students talking through what they saw in the other ones, noticing what seemed most effective.

Game Advertising2

 

Then, they got to work. And work, they did. It was an incredible contrast to what I described in my post yesterday — when we had some chaos in the room during a peer review activity of video games. They were intensely engaged in this advertisement activity. Most will be finishing up today, our last day before holiday break.

I can’t wait to see what they have created ..

Peace (free of charge, always),
Kevin

Slice of Life: Well, That Was Chaotic

(This is for Slice of Life, a weekly writing invitation by Two Writing Teachers to capture moments in our lives. Come write with us.)

Buoyancy Games Collage

Well, that was chaotic.

My goal in class yesterday was pretty straightforward. We are working on nearing the end of our Science-based Video Game Design unit, and peer-review/play-testing is an important element for young game designers to gather an outside perspective. When you build a video game, you know all the ins and outs of it — all the tricks of the game —  and at some point, that is not a good thing. You lose perspective.

What you need is an outside voice. A player to play your game.

So, our activity had students working the room, playing each other’s games in a rather logical sequential order, and writing out “warm” and “cool” feedback on the games. We’ve used this same strategy with writing this year, so it is not new. I even had sentence starters for both feedback points on the interactive board and situated around the room as paper copies.

But clearly, giving feedback on writing (while not easy) is much more focused than giving feedback on student-created video games. I don’t know what I expected but the craziness that ensued was not quite it.

First of all, every game took a different amount of time to complete, so we were never quite in sync with the rotations. Some were still playing while others were done and ready to move on.

Second, the designers of the video games kept their eyes and ears open for players talking about their games, and they would leave the game they were play-testing to talk to the players of their game. That messed up the whole rotation idea. (It also made me think, next time I am going to more of a partner/feedback activity to allow for this to happen in a more controlled fashion.)

Third, I had to keep emphasizing that “cool” feedback did not mean merely writing “this is hard.” Some of the games are indeed hard to beat and play. That’s why we were getting a peer reviewer, to give that perspective. Instead, I said over and over and over (and over and over and over) that good advice would follow that with “and here is my recommendation …” and be specific.

Fourth, the noise noise noise noise. Ok. So my room can get noisy at times, particularly with game design when work and sharing and socializing seem to mingle more than usual, but this was just a bit too noisy even for me. (Good thing my supervisor didn’t wander in). I suspect it is the combination of holidays – vacation – game design – adolescence. I needed ear plugs.

I would not call the peer review/play-testing activity a failure, but I was not sure I quite achieved what I hoped for — the learning objective centered on giving and receiving specific feedback on a project that will provide insights for revision and improvement.

And then .. and then … as they shifted back to our games, I noticed so many of them reading with attention the comments left on their games by peers, and then they were asking follow-up questions, and then some of them (thankfully) began the process of revising levels — adding more lives, fixing the narrative text, revisiting the science concepts, removing obstacles — and suddenly, the chaos was worth it.

Some days are just like that, aren’t they?

Peace (beyond the games),
Kevin

PS — this chart that I put together one year guides my thinking here ..

Writing and Game Design Compared

 

A Growing Collection of Science Video Games

Buoyancy Games Collage

Look at this growing collection of science-based video games my students are creating and publishing in Gamestar Mechanic. It’s pretty cool to see them all in a collage box like this … and more of the games get published every day … now, I need to start playing the games so I can grade the projects … The science theme this year has been “buoyancy” and “gravity.”

I’ll start featuring some of you to play, if you want, as I start looking at them more closely.

One early game I would recommend for her use of story in creating her game is this one — Stolen, by Suzannah — notice how she used message blocks to create a strong narrative.

stolen game (by S) screenshot

I’ve been stressing until my voice hurts the three intersecting elements of our project: Game, Science, Story.

Game Story Science

Peace (in the game),
Kevin

Graphic Novel Review: The Arab of the Future

It’s hard not to connect the graphic story of growing up in the Middle East and Europe during the late 1970s and early 1980s by writer Riad Sattouf with events unfolding in the modern day. Syria. Libya. France. In The Arab of the Future: A Childhood of the Middle East, Sattouf explores the world of shifting political sands through the eyes of his own childhood and family.

The result of using a child’s lens on the world, as told through graphic storytelling (in a style reminiscent of Marjane Satrapi in Persepolis although I reluctantly make the reference because such echoes to the other famous Middle Eastern graphic novelist does not diminish Sattouf’s art and writing in the least) is that the privileged Western reader (ie, me) and the young Riad experience the unknown together. I am brought into his world with the same sense of the unknown and unbalance.

This is the true power of writing and graphic novels. We are brought visually into the time period and setting, and we experience it on a very visceral sense. Sattouf’s use of smells, which any young person is sure to remember over time, is a constant element here — the smell of perfumes, and of sweat of women and men, of the scent of rubbish on the streets and of the foods and spices. The young Riad navigates us through the transitions of his family from France to Libya (as Gaddafi is in full power) to Syria (where the elder Assad is in full power) and back to France again, with all of its historical connections to the Middle East.

I am grateful for the experience of a world both apart and of the same as my own, of growing up in another country in a similar time period (I am a little older). Reading and enjoying The Arab of the Future reminds me of how narrow our own childhood visions of the world become when all we see is what is around us, not beyond us. Graphic novels like the one that Sattouf has created here have the potential to stitch our world together, making common ground through understanding.

Peace (in the world),
Kevin

 

All Join Hands: A Global Musical Collaboration

All Join Hands musicians

I am fortunate. I have friends who are willing to collaborate with me, and it doesn’t matter where on the globe they live. We connect and create, regardless of time zones and languages. This was once again made clear to me over the past two weeks when I recorded a song that I had written a few years ago, moved it into Soundtrap, and began inviting folks to sing along with me on the chorus.

The song — All Join Hands — is a response to the violence in the world, a pushing back against discord. An acknowledgement that we need to help those in need, and that we all have an obligation to each other. We all need to join hands.

All Join Hands music tracks

The chorus goes:

All join hands and light the candle
We are one tonight
Peace and love and faith inside us
We are one tonight

So, out went the invites, asking for voices, and in came the amazing array of sounds as Ron, Sarah, Maha A., and Wendy all lent me a gift that we wove together for this version of the song.

Thank you, friends. Thank you for taking the time to sing with me. Thank you for honoring the lyrics with your voices and passions and melodies. Thank you for connecting with me, again, and reminding me of the power of those connections.

Thank you.

And I am excited that my other close friend and regular collaborator, Bonnie Kaplan, may use this song as part of the soundtrack for her annual Digital Storytelling collaborative project, in which she invites folks to send her images on a theme. This year’s theme is “Joy.”

Peace (and love and faith inside us),
Kevin

 

Now, this is a map … of the Gaming Worlds

I have a version of this map hanging up on the wall of my classroom right now. Groups of students stand there, reading it, for long stretches of time.

The map comes from the Boston Sunday Globe. We are deep into our game design unit right now, and so when I saw this map created by this 17-year-old (Martin Vargic), I saw it as a perfect complement to our discussions around the impact of gaming on the world at large.

You can read more about Vargic here at the Globe.

I see that Vargic also has a book of his maps out for sale. It’s worth a gander. I have it ordered for myself (a little holiday gift)

Peace (on and off the map),
Kevin

 

Student Video Game Designers At Work

Student Game Designers at Work

It’s hard to resist gathering snapshots of the work going around my room during the science-based video game design project. I like how these students have their storyboards right next to them, using them as guides for the design.

Student Game Designers at Work

Peace (by design),
Kevin

Found Poem: Toward a Collective Ownership of Stories

Defining participatory culture

We’re just launching our #DigiWriMo slow-read of the new book — Participatory Culture in a Networked Era — by eminent scholars Henry Jenkins, Mimi Ito and danah boyd. Terry Elliott has set forth a few collaborative annotation options for people to feed into as a way to demonstrate participatory culture as a shared reading experience.

I hope we begin to examine how technology platforms promote and/or hinder participatory involvement.

After reading the first section — which is, as the rest of the book, mostly in the form of a transcribed/edited conversation between the boyd, Ito and Jenkins — I was struck by a number of phrases and ideas. My highlighter (I am reading paper copy of book) had been busy, and as I looked over my notes, I began to see a found poem taking shape.

The phrase “Toward a collective ownership of stories” keep ringing around in my mind. This phrase resonated with me and all of the collaborative projects that we undertake in places like #DigiWrimo or #CLMOOC or #Rhizo(add year) or whatever. While the platforms of technology open up possibilities, it is always the people that make the collaborations happen. We tell stories, together. I am making connections between that work/play and what the three writers here are talking about when it comes to participatory culture.

Those words in the text became the anchor point for a found poem. I had this vision of doing it as a podcast, and trying to get many people to read that line “Toward a collective ownership of stories” together, as a chorus. I might still try that, but I have been swamped and I know others are, too.

Found Poem from Participatory Culture in a Networked Era

You are invited to slow-read this book with us, too. This slow-reading idea means we are not in any rush. The discussions will probably unfold over a few weeks, right into and through the new year. People will get their books when they can. Semesters need to end. The holidays need to pass. We’re starting but there is no real starting point.

Come along with us.

Some of what we will do will be in our DigiWriMo Google Community. Some will be via the Twitter hashtag of #digiwrimo. Some will be at your blog. Or my blog. Some may unfold in Facebook. Some will take place who knows where. That’s good. That’s fine. We like that. Disperse your ideas in ways that help you move forward.

Peace (and participate),
Kevin