Slice of Life: Hitting Balls Against the Wall


flickr photo shared by Bill David Brooks under a Creative Commons ( BY-SA ) license

I’m trying something new this summer, and it has nothing to do with teaching or creating or technology. This summer, I am trying to re-learn how to play tennis.

Yesterday, for the first time in many years, I grabbed my old tennis racket (which I bought in college) and a new container of tennis balls (which I bought from Target), and biked to our local park, where they have tennis courts. After ponying up for a year membership to use the courts (my commitment ceremony … now I have to go back at least nine more times to make it worth it), I signed out the court with a wall and spent the next hour hitting the ball back and forth.

I did OK. My arm and shoulder are sore this morning, so I guess I was using parts of my body that have not seen much use in recent years. I hit the ball over the wall, and the fence, about a dozen times, swearing at myself. But learning to get better to control, too. The walk to get the balls over the fence was sort of long, so I concentrated on keeping them in the court (it was hot outside yesterday).

My tennis years, if you can call them that, were sporadic and I won’t claim to have been all that good. But my roommate in one college urged me to get a racket and hit balls with him. Then, when I transferred, another roommate asked the same (it turns out he was a nationally-ranked youth tennis player in high school … he kicked my butt every game … but I got better just trying to keep up with his serves and hits). As an aside: cold beer tastes great after playing tennis on summer days.

What I like about the game of tennis is the rhythm of the movement of the ball and feet. When a volley happens, it’s magic. It’s sort of mesmerizing and trance-like. I also admit: I like the competitive spirit of the game itself. I want to win and push myself to do so. Even when I lose a game, which is often, I still enjoy it.

So now, I am trying to recruit some of my family members to play with me (and realized, yesterday, I forgot how to keep score in a game … need to Google it). The wall was fine — I found a rhythm — but I want someone else on the other side of the net. I am pretty sure I can convince my middle son (age: 16, and an athlete) to move from our garage ping-pong tournaments (we’re pretty even on the little court) to the tennis courts. And my wife said she would try it.

If not, I have the wall.

Peace (in love),
Kevin

Tech Pedagogy: An Annotated Exploration


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

My friend, Terry, recently published an entire series of blog posts in which he introduces and explores various technology tools, from an angle of pedagogy. He wonders as much of “the why” as much as the “here it is,” and I like that.

I’ve collected his series of posts as an Outliner in my Diigo bookmarking world, pulling out some of Terry’s words and adding a few of my own as an attempt at annotating what he was doing.

You can can view the Outline here on Diigo, if you want.

Or you can see it all right here in a sort of messy version of the Diigo Outliner.

In either case, bookmark what he was up to, and share it out. I’m sure that will make Terry happy.

Tellio’s Tour of Tech Pedagogy
  • RhetCompNow | Nowhere but here.
    “I also believe that unless technology evokes fun and the spirit of play it will never be personally useful to you as a teacher and learner.  So…I propose to bring you a series of tech tools, processes and information that you will come to find are “as handy as a pocket on a shirt”.” — TerryDon’t know Terry Elliott’s blogs? You should. He’s always up for the unexpected — either through sharing of what he is learning at one of his online spaces or asking questions meant to push our thinking. Revive the signals? Yes. (That’s the tagline at one of his blogs) This outline list of links tracks and shares Terry’s work to uncover the pedagogy behind various technology for learning. While he made these posts for his Writing Project Summer Institute, he is kind enough to share them out to the world. Enjoy. Learn. Create.

    • Writing Project Tech Pedagogy: Episode Thirteen (6/24/2016) | RhetCompNow (Managing the Media Overload)
      “Today’s post strays into a briar patch where only rabbits feel comfortable: the sense that the noise of the net is drowning the inner signal that is trying to get out of ourselves, our voice.” — Terry.
      Me: Here, Terry pulls back the cover on how he manages his media stream. It’s easy to feel overwhelmed. Having a means to manage it all is important.
    • Writing Project Tech Pedagogy: Episode Twelve (6/23/2016) | RhetCompNow (Finding Media to Use for your Projects)
      “Do you need free?  As in “copyright free, CCBY,  public domain sounds and music for a student or personal project” free?  If so, your options are extraordinary and here are a few of them.” — Terry.
      Me: Remixing and using media for creation can get tricky. The best option? Make stuff yourself. The next best option? Find someone who is freely offering their work for your use, and then point back to the artist.
    • Writing Project Tech Pedagogy: Episode Eleven (6/21/2016) | RhetCompNow (Assorted Summer Reading Doo-Dads)
      Me: Terry gives us some options for online summer reading.
    • Writing Project Tech Pedagogy: Episode Nine (6/18/2016) | RhetCompNow (Neat Stuff)
      “Some websites are cool tools unto themselves. I am going to share a few of those today. They have proven to be artesian wells of knowledge and prompts to action. I hope you enjoy them as well.” — Terry.
      Me: I didn’t realize he had my blog on there. Well. Thanks. I love how Terry annotates as well as shares. He models for the rest of us how we can think out loud, for the benefit of the self and for others, about the “whys” of what we’re doing.
    • Writing Project Tech Pedagogy: Episode Eight (6/18/2016) Analog Meets Digital: the Fountain Pen as Strange Attractor | RhetCompNow (Of Fountain Pens and the Analogue World)
      ” love fountain pens. I love what you can do with a decent one. ” — Terry.
      Me: Writing comes in all forms. I do find myself leaning in to the digital a little too often, perhaps, and I admit, I have not written with a fountain pen since … I was a child, playing with ink. This is a nice reminder that the tools we use to write can often shape the writing we are doing.
    • Writing Project Tech Pedagogy: Episode Seven (6/17/2016) | RhetCompNow (Make YouTube and Online Videos Work for You)
      “Want to use YouTube in the classroom, but find it a bit risky and potentially embarrassing or worse with younger students? Wish you could convince your district to open up YouTube but not sure how to argue for it?” — Terry.
      Me: For teachers wondering how to safely use the vast media out there in the classroom, Terry points us in some various directions.
    • Writing Project Tech Pedagogy: Episode Six (6/16/2016) | RhetCompNow (Twitter and Its Potential)
      “Today, a simple suggestion. Use Twitter for professional development.” — Terry.
      Me: I’m not sure if his Writing Project colleagues took him up on the offer, but there is little doubt that Twitter has completely changed the way teachers can connect and share and learn from each other. It has completely turned the whole PLC concept on its head … in a good way … (but avoid the echo chamber effect)
    • Writing Project Tech Pedagogy: Episode Five–the Ides of June Edition | RhetCompNow (Audio Annotation)
      “My post today is about annotating SoundCloud. Yes, you can make time specific notes on sound files. It’s free, easy to use, congenial to share, and worth having in your repertoire.” — Terry.
      Me: Over the years, Terry has reminded me time and again about the power of adding text annotations to digital media, and here, he explores the very rich opportunity that Soundcloud has baked into its system.
    • Writing Project Tech Pedagogy: Episode Four (6/14/2016) | RhetCompNow (Annotating Images)
      “All of this activity falls under what I think of as “developing a repertoire.”  The Internet is still a collection of small tools loosely joined.  All you need is a small collection of tools in order to create and share.” — Terry.
      Me: Here, Terry introduced Pablo. I never heard of Pablo. You can do fun things with images and text, such as write short text pieces or add annotations. There are, of course, many ways to do this, but sometimes, it’s worth checking out a new technology in order to see what might happen, even if the tech is not designed for that experience. And I like Terry’s words about having a collection of things to pull from.
    • Writing Project Tech Pedagogy: Episode Three (6/13/2016) | RhetCompNow (Annotate the Web)
      Hypothes.is allows you take any web page on the Internet and annotate the text.  Like Vialogues, it is free and open to all.  You just need to sign up with them and then begin.” – Terry.
      Me: What happens when your thinking meshes in harmony and reacts in contrast to others’ opinions? You get a conversation. Technology like these ones provide a path through the gap. Not perfect. Not yet. But a path, just the same. We can talk and react and learn.
    • Writing Project Tech Pedagogy: Episode Two (6/12/2016) | RhetCompNow (Close Read This)
      “Close reading is an old buzzword.  The idea of slowing down and breaking open a text in order to explicate its meaning goes back to the the very earliest Biblical scholarship.  Like most ideas it bears a bit of skepticism.  In other words use it and don’t be used by it. ” — Terry.
      Me: Good words, there. Terry turned me on to Vialogues some time back and I love that it allows people to interact with a video, and that you can skip and jump from comment to comment, and it lands on the video the comment is about. Nice.
    • Writing Project Tech Pedagogy: Episode One | RhetCompNow (What He’s Up To)
      “Life is short, teaching time is precious.  If the tool is handy and you find it is valuable to you personally, pedagogically or professionally, then “have at it, hoss”.  If not, then move on to the next one. I will promise to do my best to not waste your time. ” — Terry
      Me: Thanks, man.

Peace (it’s all good),
Kevin

Book Review: The State of Play (Creators and Critics on Video Game Culture)

“… video games are a complex and rapidly evolving form, where different qualities intertwine and influence each other in subtle, often surprising ways. A progress, critical approach to games and their place in culture does not preclude the appreciation of them as the rich and wonderful pieces of entertainment they are. But if our understanding of them is to move beyond the simple escapism, games must be held up to the same standards and allowed the same scrutiny as any other form of creative expression. “ — Daniel Goldberg and Linus Larsson, editors, from introduction to The State of Play: Creators and Critics on Video Game Culture

This rather uneven collection of essays — The State of Play: Creators and Critics on Video Game Culture — is nonetheless an important look at how video game culture reflects both the good and the bad of this still-emerging form of popular culture entertainment. Tackling topics like Gamergate head on and exploring issue of gender and race, the writers here go deep with insights. And many of them are game developers themselves, as the subtitle suggests, and so, reading their insights from the other side of the console, so to speak, is an intriguing element of The State of Play.

One of the more intriguing essays here is from Hussein Ibrahim, whose piece entitled “What It’s Like to Always Play the Bad Guy: On the Portrayal of Arabs in Online Shooters” does what it says — it gives Ibrahim a platform to explore the culture of video game design that always seems to pit denizens of the Middle East as the enemy terrorist with guns and bombs.

“The problem is, the ‘authenticity’ (of games like Medal of Honor) is only on one side. As an American, you get to relate to the hero defending his country from terrorists threatening your freedom. As an Arab, you get to relate to the guy who wants to blow up your city, and that’s all,” Ibrahim writes. “Often, it seem more time is spent making sure the guns in the game are authentic than on accurately representing the culture I belong to.”

Interestingly, Ibrahim plays those very games, and finds himself feeling “Indifferent (about the portrayal), which is unsettling.” He then notes an event in which someone noticed a map in Modern Warfare had a saying from Allah hanging in a virtual bathroom. An uproar ensued among Middle East gamers (Ibrahim says there are “several million” players of the franchise in the Middle East) and the map was later revised, the Allah engraving removed. He wonders why this event (the engraving) caused more uproar than how Arabs are used as villains.

“… I guess we have all grown a little numb,” he notes.

Another interesting essay — “A Game I Had to Make” by developer Zoe Quinn — explores a game designer’s quest to make a game for themselves, to understand a confusing world. In this case, the game in question — Depression Quest — is designed to help a player deal with depression. Writing in second person, Quinn tracks the development of the game and the release into the world. She never expected the kind of splash her game received.

“You have inadvertently become a beacon for the cause of depression,” Quinn writes. “A massive conversation has begun around the game, sometimes positive, sometimes negative … you’re happy that a lot of people feel like they can talk about this enormous, invisible thing (depression) they have always been unsure of in the public eye.”

In “The Squalid Grace of Flappy Bird,” Ian Bogost explores how such a simple app game became so popular (before the developer, overwhelmed by the success, pulled the game from the Apple App store). Bogust’s exploration of game design, and the ways in which Flappy Bird both ignored and followed the “rules” is intriguing, particularly when he dips into how games reflect culture, and vice versa.

“In game design circles,” Bogost writes, “we sometimes wax poetic about the elegance and simplicity of a design, the way complex emergent behaviors arise from simple rules and structures … The best games are not for us (or for anyone), but instead strive to be what they are as much possible. From this indifference emanates a strange squalor that we can appreciate as beauty.”

The State of Play is a needed book, in that it steps back from video games and examines the ways in which culture and gaming are meshed together, warts and all. NOTE: there are some themes and language in here that might not be appropriate for classrooms, so you might want to read it first before bringing it in for students to read or use.

Peace (beyond the game),
Kevin

Choose Love

I so appreciated that John Spencer shared out this video message to his young son in the wake of the recent Orlando tragedy. It’s message of “love” should resonate with all of us. Should, but may not. I created this Distorted Graph, tilting us all towards love.

Distorted Graph Choose Love

Peace (everywhere),
Kevin

A Fad Returns: Rubik’s Cubes Here, There, Everywhere

It’s always difficult to pinpoint the start of a fad. One of my gifted students brought in a Rubik’s Cube on a mid-year wintry day (maybe back in December). His is a very mathematical mind, prone to solving complex challenges. When this student shared the cube with other students, and noticed how “cool” it seemed to them, he brought in more. A whole bag of Rubik’s Cubes. I didn’t know they came in so many shapes and configurations, to be frank.

They do. Small ones. Big ones. Geometrically shaped ones. Different colored ones.

Suddenly, other sixth graders were bringing in their Rubik’s Cubes, twisting the blocks during passing times in the hallways, or at lunch, or at recess. There were informal Cube Challenges going on all the time. I had never heard of Speed Cubing before, but they had, and that was one of the challenges. How fast can you solve a Cube?

Some did “research” on YouTube, figuring out strategies. Others shared what they knew with friends, teaching how to twist the block into winning mode.

At the end of the day, at the bus loop, I now see younger students with Cubes in their hands. The fad has spread from the older grades to the younger grades.

As someone who remembered the Cube fad as a kid, it was fascinating to watch.  Not just how some students figured out the algorithm of solving a Cube, but also, that this little block of blocks had survived over time. It likely has to do with the algorithmic challenge, and that some people are more adept at the pattern recognition than others.

I don’t expect Silly Bands to make a come-back. I maybe wrong on that. (Please don’t make me wrong on that.) But apparently, these kids dug Rubik’s Cubes out of closets and attics and basements, and maybe ordered some new ones. I’m not sure how or where they found them. But I am pretty sure that it’s just one of those odd things that surfaces for a time, and then disappears again in the midst of an elementary school year. I’ll let you know in September.

Peace (this way and that way, and this way),
Kevin

 

When Monkeys Fly: Celebrating Student Writing

Flying Monkey Award Monkeys

We had our annual awards ceremony yesterday morning, where certificates of accomplishment for all sorts of subjects were handed out to upper elementary students. A few years ago, I wanted to break up the seriousness of the ceremony and so, I created The Flying Monkey Award. Students have a chance to earn The Flying Monkey Award by keeping every single writing notebook prompt from the course of the school year. This year, there were 75 writing prompts in their notebook, and some went through two or three notebooks of writing.

I call out the sixth graders who have won (it is a lottery and your “ticket” is your notebook) off the stage, and fire a Flying Monkey across the cafetorium to them. It’s great fun, with lots of cheers and celebration, and many incoming students ask me about the Flying Monkey early in the school year.

I guess that’s what we call a “school tradition.”

Peace (flying, soaring, screaming like a monkey),
Kevin

Go Forth and Write Your World

Kevin Hodgson Chalk Talk

I wrote a column for the local newspaper that ran this week. Its theme format is an “Open Letter to My Young Writers” as the school year comes to a close today. In the piece, tried to look back on the year and encourage them beyond my classroom, and our school (they transition to the regional middle school next year).

Here is an audio excerpt from the last section of the column …

I read the piece out loud to all of my classes yesterday. They appreciated it, I think. I know I appreciated them.

Peace (more than words),
Kevin

#2NextPrez: Remixing the Visual Message

This second Make Cycle of this summer’s Letters to the President 2.o project (which invites teachers to make and remix all summer) is focused on art and remix of visual messaging. They give some suggestions for how to dip into the waters, but I used a DS106 Daily Create idea from the other day (around remixing old paperback novel covers) and then decided to use a Flowchart diagram as art canvas.

First, the book cover design. I took the book, A Bridge Too Far, and used its cover to make a point about the Digital Gap that still exists in many schools and community. These issues of access and equity are at the forefront of discussions at our local writing project, and are embedded into our mission statement. (I used the online PicMonkey to layer images and texts, in case you are wondering, and in case you want to try it yourself).

DigitalDilemmaRemix

The Flowchart diagram is my attempt at making a political statement in a sort of artistic way. My political stance is probably pretty clearly stated, although I did not feel the need to name the candidate. You can figure it out. Instead of a direct critique, I wanted to explore the ebb and flow of the candidacy. (I used a program I have called Simple Diagrams to make the chart.)

Words Matter

Peace (is something to hold on to),
Kevin

Slice of Life: When the Picture Books Arrive

Picture Books Arrive

Many of you know me as someone who enjoys dabbling in technology and digital writing projects, but I am a sucker for the emotional pull of a solid, physical book. Make it a book that a student has written and created, and you have me hooked.

The Books Arrive

So, the delivery of four huge boxes of student-created picture books that arrived at my classroom the other day almost had me thinking of making one of those “unbox it” videos that seem so strangely popular on YouTube. I didn’t make the video so you will just have to accept that I was pretty darned excited when I opened up the boxes and dug out the books.

Not as excited as my sixth grade students, though, who were buzzing throughout the day after my librarian collaborator and I handed out the books with the words, “Congratulations! You are now a published writer. This is your book.”

The published books — picture books designed around the theme of remembering their years at our elementary school as they head off to middle school — were the culmination of a beta-testing project with software by Fablevision that allows students to write and illustrate picture books in a digital space, and then send the books directly to Lulu publishing.

It all reminded me of this short video from Lane Smith:

I’m happy that the physical book still holds allure for my students, living as they are in an age of digital screens, and I am glad it was a gift we could give them as they end their time in elementary school. It’s been a perfect way to end the sixth grade (still a few days to go!)

Peace (past to present),
Kevin