On Twitter, I’m a Teacher/ On Mastodon, I’m a Writer

Last month’s theme in CLMOOC to “audit” our digital lives and activities has been quite valuable. I’ve done some weeding of followers/following in Twitter and beyond, and cut back on my email notifications designed to draw me into social media spaces. I’ve spent time thinking about the role of social media, and my use of it.

One observation that I made about myself is this: On Twitter, my identity is mostly as a teacher, talking learning and connecting with other teachers. But on Mastodon (a federated social network free of corporate influence), I feel like I am a writer.

Of course, there is overlap — I sometimes write about teaching in Mastodon and I sometimes make and share other kinds of work than educational pieces on Twitter — but my digital identity has sort of solidified in those spaces on one spectrum or the other (at least, in my head).

I noticed this landscape as I was culling through and removing hundreds of followers and those I follow on Twitter (literally, I think I cut back on nearly 1000 people, and counting, as I continue to prune), and thinking about why I would keep whom I kept. Mostly, those who remained were connected to education. Which makes sense. I write a lot and share a lot about being a teacher. I ask for resources from other teachers. My hashtags that I follow in Tweetdeck are nearly all related to learning and teaching.

In Mastodon, that is not the case. There, I write and share spaces with other writers. Some are fellow teachers (with overlaps in Twitter, even) but even they are less likely to go on about teaching. We write about other things there. I’ve taken to writing in a “small stories” section of Mastodon with regularity. I also share small poems and pull out small quotes from books I am reading. (Small as a form of writing is a common theme for me in Mastodon).

Now, some of this observation of Twitter-teacher/Mastodon-writer is due to the folks who inhabit the spaces, I think. I have long been connected to other teachers, mostly through National Writing Project, since my first day of Twitter, thanks to the guidance of my friend, Bud Hunt. My entry point was a network of teachers, with mostly a United States connection.

In Mastodon, what I see are all sorts of other people in other professions, from other parts of the world. There are computer programmers, social activists, social service workers, artists and animators, professional clowns and more. I’ve tapped into something grander than Twitter, and it feels like a more nurturing space for writing. Maybe that’s because Mastodon is still fairly small in size and reach. It’s also due to the underlying philosophical concept of Mastodon — that the users are in control of the network, not the network itself (for, there is no main organization overseeing it all — it is spread out across many servers in a federated space).

And here? This blog? I think this blog is the space is where those two worlds — teacher and writer — often intersect, collide and sometimes even crash.

Peace (writing it, learning it, teaching it),
Kevin

The Freedom, and Power, of the Press

I went into Steven Spielberg’s new movie, The Post, the other day as a fan boy of Katherine Graham, long-time publisher of The Washington Post, and came out humming with a powerful reminder that the press in America has a job to keep government in check. That’s being tested in this day and age of Trump.

If you don’t know the story, the movie is about the publishing of The Pentagon Papers, a secret report that showed the United Stated government knew for decades and over multiple administrations that the Vietnam War was a disaster, so they lied to the public and the press — time and time again — to avoid the shame of a military defeat. Meanwhile, tens of thousands of soldiers were sent overseas to fight, and to die.

The New York Times, and The Washington Post, led the charge to make the secret report public, and both were sued by the United States Attorney General to stop from doing so. Ultimately, the Supreme Court ruled in favor of the press in a powerful legal moment that defined one of the pillars of our society — the press has the freedom to ignore warnings from the government over what to publish.

At the end of the movie, after the Supreme Court ruled in favor of the newspapers, the entire audience in the movie theater I was in cheered and clapped at the court’s decision and at the bravery of the newspaper publishers like Kay Graham to risk jail and financial ruin, with the unspoken specter of Nixon and then Trump being in the room (neither would not want to be in that room, I am pretty sure), and all of Trump’s “fake news” utterings being exposed for what it is: a deflection of criticism and probably a real fear of the investigation underway.

“There is no collusion” being the modern version of “I am not a crook.”

The movie itself is a bit too melodramatic — it’s a movie, after all — but I found the portrayal of Graham to be solid, particularly in the scenes where she grapples with being a woman thrust into her position by the suicide of her husband and surrounded by men who think they know better than her about the company she leads. We see Graham come into her own as a powerful woman in a time when that was not common. A scene where she leaves the Supreme Courthouse and is surrounded by a sea of young women protesters is a powerful visual, and Spielberg lets the sight of Graham in the crowd tell the story of her impact in society.

The other thing I loved is the way Spielberg captures the printing press operations, and as a former newspaper journalist, I remember watching our presses rolling, and feeling the building shake as the newspaper was “put to bed” at night. The setting of type and the excitement of grabbing a paper fresh off the press … it’s all tangible reminders that the news business has changed, and we’ve lost the art of making a newspaper to the speed of updated webpages.

Peace (and power to the press),
Kevin

In the Newspaper: Game Design Sparks Student Writing

Chalk Talk Game Project

The local newspaper published a column that I wrote about our sixth grade video game design unit, and how I use what we do as a way to encourage more writing out of my students, in different genres and different audiences.

The column is part of a monthly series of teacher-written pieces that come from a partnership between our Western Massachusetts Writing Project and the Daily Hampshire Gazette. I coordinate that project — helping WMWP teachers develop ideas and coordinating the contact between teacher writers and newspaper editors — and every now and then, I write, too.

Since the Gazette has a paywall, we have permission to move all of our pieces to our WMWP website. It also allows us to archive all of our teacher writing for the Chalk Talk series.

Read The Games They Make

Peace (in the write),
Kevin

 

#NetNarr Research: (re)New Media Art and Cultural Jamming

A research endeavor in Networked Narratives is an invitation to curate and document early examples of New Media Art from a book no longer readily available, except for its examples in the Internet Wayback Machine. Cool. Work done to document the art will eventually end up in this Tumblr site.

Students from different NetNarr classes and the open web are invited to join in. Scroll down through this post, about midway, and you will find instructions. From that same NetNarr call to help document early New Media Art:

For an appreciation of current digital art we will explore these foundational examples of digital, networked art. They represent a time of wild experimentation, new technologies, but also to see what could be done with much slower and less sophisticated internet. But also, we will examine the issues of how well digital art holds up over time, especially when many were created with technologies not currently available, or have themselves vanished. It also opens the door to question the ephemeral nature of digital art.

Here is mine, which looks at an example of early cultural jamming with technology and media and art:

  • Title of Art Work: ToyWar
  • Artist name(s): ®TMark
  • When it was published on the web: October 5, 2013
  • Technologies used: Website design
  • Current URL (if still available online): Not available
  • Link to Wikibook page (in Wayback Machine)https://web.archive.org/web/20131005190945/https://wiki.brown.edu/confluence/display/MarkTribe/RTMark (or specifically, for ToyWar: https://web.archive.org/web/20131005021204/http://toywar.etoy.com/)
  • A brief summary of the piece, not just copied from the book (quotes are okay, but write your own analysis of the piece): The ®TMark (or art mark) was a network of anti-corporate parody and satirical artists, designed to poke holes in the nature of the emerging Internet and information networks through what is known as “cultural jamming.” It’s first venture was known as the Barbie Liberation Organization and it later was the target of a legal battle from the musician, Beck, for its appropriation of his music. ®TMark often asked for ideas from its audience, and supported and even funded the development of such art. Its work had a significant anti-corporation nature to it that rattled the business world. The ToyWar effort is a good example, as it used biting satire in a real-life legal battle that unfolded in the courts over the use of the name “etoy,” with an actual toy company fighting a small artistic collective over the name and the web domain name. ®TMark’s project zeroed in on the way the business world takes ownership of names through legal battles and intimidation, and this cultural jamming project is reflective of an era when corporations began gobbling up URL and domain names. The®TMark group seemed to have developed extensive “war documentation” of the battle between a small company and the larger corporation, turning the financial and legal battle into a form of public art and protest, including the development of a “game” in which ®TMark members took part in Denial of Service attacks at the corporate website in a form of virtual “sit ins” and other new media protests.
  • Screenshots that represent the work
    The ToyWars Documentation Project
    The ToyWars Documentation Project
  • The ToyWars Documentation Project
  • Information on where the artist is now: It seems as if the ®TMark may have fallen apart or merged into other anarchic collectives. Online searching reveals little information about the project and the collective’s website link seems to have been taken over by some Japanese contraception company marketing the “after pill.” Joke? Not? Subversive Art? I don’t really know.

Interesting stuff …

Peace (in the documentation),
Kevin

#NetNarr Photo Indoor Safari: Seven Photos in a Mad, Crazy Twitter Dash

NetNarr Photo Safari

The cool thing about taking photos is that you have to look at the world a bit different. It’s not just the device you see through, it’s the way your eye sees the world through the lens that sees the world.

Yesterday, before the Networked Narratives Twitter Chat (which I forgot about until it had started), there was a NetNarr Safari activity, which involved taking seven photos over 15 minutes with different visual prompts coming in over Twitter.

I arrived when it was over (or, as we say in CLMOOC, I was right on time), but then decided, what the heck … and so I did it on my own, scrolling back through the NetNarr Twitter feed.

I didn’t leave the room I was in, so my safari was not all that wild. Microphones instead of monkeys. Socks instead of snakes. But I liked how the physical confines of my space forced me to consider the visual prompt (like, two objects that don’t match or one color or some kind of tracks), then look quickly, make a decision, snap the shot, tweet the results and move on.

The downside is it felt one-sided with no interaction with other NetNarr folks (and except for Wendy, whose safari I see this morning, I haven’t seen anyone else’s), since I was late and the Twitter Chat had already started (I was late to that, too, but enjoyed the topic of Digital Art.)

Peace (looks like),
Kevin

Slice of Life: That Didn’t Go As Planned

(This is for the Slice of Life challenge, hosted by Two Writing Teachers. We write on Tuesdays about the small moments in the larger perspective … or is that the larger perspective in the smaller moments? You write, too.)

It wasn’t a disaster, but still, a lesson I had envisioned as a multimedia way to connect my sixth graders to characters in Watsons Go to Birmingham novel didn’t go the way I wanted, and now I am pondering how I might change things next time.

In the book, as the family gears up to head south, the father buys an Ultra-glide record player (a whole discussion about vinyl records ensued in class) and they listen to a few songs in the days before their journey south. Each year, I pull out the songs that Kenny, the narrator, loved — Yakety Yak — and mom loves — Under the Boardwalk.

Listening to the songs gives an audio connection to the story, and helps establish setting and character.

All good.

Watson Mix Tape Assignment

So yesterday, I thought: why don’t I have my students create a “mix tape” on Google Slides, finding songs to represent the other three members of the family on the road trip, and have students choose their own “travel song” for the mix tape. I even added a song of my own in there – Life is a Highway by Tom Cochran (the kids all knew the Rascal Flatts version from the Cars movie).

We dug into the project, and students were definitely engaged — but they seemed to be more engaged in the “search” for music than the connection to the characters. In my mind, I wanted them to really find songs that represented the characters as know them,  and perhaps I missed a step in my lesson. Perhaps a writing piece before the search would have helped. Or they needed our character trait chart in front of them.

Many students were just … well … listening to songs. Some had trouble with the search engine itself. What keywords should they use? What songs? Were modern songs OK or did they have to be “old songs”? None of them finished the assignment and I’m not sure that audio/music connection to the book really happened as I wanted it to happen.

And I admit I got a bit nervous when they were searching for songs to represent themselves. “Do we need to use the clean version of the song?” a few asked. “Yes,” I said, rather quickly, now looking closer at the screens near me.

Still, as one class was leaving, one student said to me, “That was so fun, Mr. H. I found a rebel song for Byron (the other brother whose troublemaking is the catalyst for the journey). When can we use music again?”

So, maybe the hook was there, after all.

Peace (in the music),
Kevin

Writing Poems in the #NetNarr Network

I’ve been trying to make sure I curate and collect some of the poems I have been writing each day for the Daily Arganee in the Networked Narratives space. I worry about poems getting lost. My intention with these particular poems with this particular project is to come to the prompt at a slant, so the poem may not always match up with the prompt. Instead, they are inspired by the prompts.

Peace (poetics),
Kevin

Graphic Novel Review: One Trick Pony

Huh.

Ok. So I am not sure if I completely enjoyed One Trick Pony or not. On one hand, the narrative and visuals feel compact on the page and so busy and dense with narrative jumps that I didn’t get a chance to breathe. On the other hand, there’s something interesting in this world-building that Nathan Hale (he, of the fantastic Nathan Hale’s Hazardous Tales series) has created here.

The story revolves around a world (ours? Earth? our Earth?) where aliens are devouring all of the technology and metals, and the scattered tribes of people left on the planet are on the run from strange creatures doing the devouring. These creature are called Pipers, and there is some hints of The Pied Piper story that doesn’t ever really develop further.

Three youths, out on a secret expedition from their caravan community, discover a hidden trove of robots, including a golden robot pony (the “one trick pony”) that helps them to escape and then, sacrifices its life to save Strata, a young girl who adopts the horse and rides it, and the entire world. The pony becomes a hero.

What I write here is not a bad review. The book is intriguing. But I guess I prefer more space in stories, more room on the page, more quiet in the corners of my books. One Trick Pony is brimming with lines and shapes and words, and three or four different converging stories and characters, and Hale’s intricate drawings propel it all forward.

I think this graphic novel could be appealing to upper middle school and high school readers. Younger readers might find the story confusing, although they might be drawn in by the pony. Because … well… ponies.

Peace (crowded and dense),
Kevin

#NetNarr: New Media/Video Game Art Examples

New Media Art quote

These come from the annotation activity of an article called New Media Art, a chapter from a collection published in 2006. In Networked Narratives, one of the activities this week is to annotate the article and examine the nature of New Media Art (or whatever title it has these days.)

I was intrigued by some of the early examples of video games as the source for art, and found two examples referenced in the writing that still live on the Internet. Notice how each artists used elements from the game, but remixed and remediated them in such a way to create something new and inventive.

Pretty interesting ….

The first video example of Game Art is The Intruder (although this is only a video capture since the original experience no longer exists with modern browsers, as far as I can tell)

From a description of the original experience, via BookChin

In Natalie Bookchin’s piece, The Intruder, we are presented with a sequence of ten videog ames, most of which are adapted from classics such as Pong and Space Invaders. We interact via moving or clicking the mouse, and by making whatever we make of/with/from the story. Meaning is always constructed, never on a plate. The interaction is less focused on video game play than it is on advancing the narrative of the story we hear throughout the presentation of the ten games.

The Intruder – Natalie Bookchin (1998 – 1999) from jonCates on Vimeo.

The second example is Velvet Strike

From its description:

Velvet Strike was a set of counter-military graffiti sprays for a spray-gun modification in the networked game Counter-Strike. Players could both download and spray images from the collection in-game and also create and contribute new spray paint graphics to the intervention. The project was created in response to the U.S. wars in Afghanistan and Iraq and specifically the proliferation of militaristic anti-Arab, anti-Muslim Counter-Strike modifications following 9-11. Velvet Strike faced a massive backlash from gamers (particularly in the form of misogynist verbal attacks directed at Schleiner), raising important questions surrounding the uncritical acceptance of violent military fantasy in games and the role of networked multiplayer games as public space.

And then there is something simple, and yet beautiful, about something like this: taking video of the clouds in Super Mario and making the clouds into their own video. That’s what Cory Arcangel did in 2002.

In the NetNarr Twitter stream, one of the students shared a blog post with images of cities he built within a gaming city itself, and I decided to do a little remix. Using game worlds as the setting for Media Art is intriguing.

What I wonder about is this: are there communities out there doing this kind of work of appropriating video games into art still today, in 2018, and how might I learn more about how to teach my sixth graders — who are now video game designers — to do something similar with their own video games designed and published this school year?

Hmmm.

Peace (game on, into story),
Kevin

 

 

Fourteen Years and Nearly a Thousand Words and Counting

invented words 2018 pt2

Invented Words 2018, Group 1

This project still amazes me, for both its goofy element and for its cross-time collaborative element. It’s known as the Crazy Collaborative Dictionary, a project connected to my sixth graders learning about the origins of words into the English Language.

Way back in 2005, I had this idea of students inventing their own words and definitions, and creating a small class dictionary. It was a huge hit with the kids, and allowed us to consider the evolving nature of our language — of how new words arrive all the time.

invented words 2018 pt1

Invented Words 2018, Group 2

What began on paper developed into a Wiki site, where students learned about wikis and collaborative writing. I’ve used different platforms over the years, and this year, I tried out a Submission Form to create a database of words. A few years ago, I added podcasting to the mix, too, so that all students get to have a recorded version of their sixth grade voice attached to their word in the dictionary project.

Take a listen to some of this year’s words and voices:

I’ve moved the dictionary from the wiki (for fear of another platform dissolving on me) to a page in our classroom blog space, which provides an easier and connected platform.)

Check out The Crazy Collaborative Dictionary (in its entirety)

Check out this year’s submissions to the Dictionary

We’re close, if not beyond, 1,000 invented words in the dictionary, and it occurred to me that the first set of words were created before my current students were even born. The original word-makers are now in their mid-20s. Some of the older siblings of my current students have their words in the same digital document as their younger brothers and sisters.

I often refer to the dictionary as a “collaboration across time.” There’s something about that idea — of a collaboration that unfolds slowly, over many years — that I find intriguing, sort of a nice counter-balance to the need for immediacy in our lives.

Peace (means …),
Kevin