Graphic Novel Review: Defend until Death (Nickolas Flux)

Here’s one of the better character names that I have come across in some time: Nickolas Flux. Isn’t that a cool name? He’s the young hero of a series of new graphic novels from Capstone Press that ties into history. Nickolas is a kid who has an odd ability to suddenly, and unexpectedly, get zapped into the past (it has to do with a science experiment gone awry), right at the juncture of major events in history. He also gets zapped back into the present before any danger happens to him. Convenient, right?

Defend Until Death tells the story of the Battle of the Alamo, and I want to give kudos to the writer and publisher for giving young readers both sides of the story. Nickolas (zapped from the stands of a high school football game) first finds himself in the ranks of the Mexican Army, with General Santa Anna, as they march into Texas to reclaim lands stolen from them. The start of the story is sympathetic to the march towards the Alamo.

At least, for a few pages.

Then, Nickolas is in the Alamo itself, hanging out with Jim Bowie and Davy Crockett, and the story’s perspective turns very pro-American, as the fort is overrun and the defenders perish as Santa Anna’s forces overwhelm the outnumbered Texans. Nickolas gets to back to his football game just as the fort falls and Bowie is about to die.

The story, aimed at elementary students, has a quick pace to it, and multiple historical perspectives, and there are small text boxes on the bottom of many pages that gives interesting historical tidbits about the scenes played out on the pages. Also, as with most of these Capstone books, a section at the end gives even more historical details about the theme of the story, so here, we learn more about the Alamo and the fate of the Mexican-Texas-United States dispute.

Peace (in the fight),
Kevin

Looking at the Data of their Digital Lives

DlDay Voicethread
Each year, I present my sixth grade students with what we call the State of Technology and Digital Media Survey. The idea is to get a snapshop of their impressions and to get a glimpse of their use of technology, particularly outside of school. This year, for Digital Learning Day, I put the results into a Voicethread and narrate some of what I see.

I used these results for conversations this week around the idea of digital lives, digital footprints and digital citizenship as we launched into a new unit around technology. (By the way, if you want a copy of the survey, here is a template from my Google Docs. Feel free to steal it, remix it, use it as you need.)

But I invite you, too, to add questions and observations to the Voicethread. Make it a conversation. Do the results of my students resonate with what you know about your students? (Note: I teach sixth grade, so these are 11 year olds). Haven’t used Voicethread before? Now’s the time to give a new tool a try.

Peace (in the sharing),
Kevin

Social Media: A Note Home About Digital Lives

As part of Digital Learning Day (tomorrow), we have moved into our unit with sixth graders around Digital Lives. One thing we do is put together a letter/email for parents about Facebook and other social media sites, so that the conversations that start in school about privacy, identity and more can continue at home. Feel free to use this letter, or remix it, if it fits your needs.

Dear Parents … About Facebook


We also share this video, from last year, when John Roberts of Fox News visited our classroom on Digital Learning Day.

Peace (in the communication),
Kevin

Slice of Life: Musical Notes

(This is for Slice of Life with Two Writing Teachers)

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There’s a been a lot of music happening in the past week, so here are three musical slices from my end of the world.

First, I recently dug up an old son that I had written back when my oldest sons were little, capturing that feeling that the world was pulling them away from my influence. This is natural, of course, but as a parent, it’s one of the most disconcerting things when you realize that peers and media and other elements are beginning to influence your children in ways you had not yet comprehended or understood, or planned for. This song — Innocent Boy — has been around in my guitar case for years, but I pulled it out recently and recorded it in Garageband if only to make sure I have it around as a legacy song for my three sons. <sap alert>

Innocent Boy

Second, two weekends ago, with my wife and kids out of town, I grabbed the guitar and wrote a quick song. After sharing it out a bit, I thought: I should send this to Luke and see if he has any interest in adding some trumpet to it. His #nerdlution resolution is get back to his horn. He agreed and wrote and recorded the horn track, and then sent the file back to me. I have not done much musical collaboration like that. We may keep working on the song together. We’ll see. But my bandmates in Duke Rushmore are interested, so this one may become a full band song soon.

Lift You Up (with guest horn by Luke)

Finally, speaking of Duke Rushmore, the other night, at practice, we began working on I’ve Got My Anchor in You, which was a song I wrote a few months back and used as a remixing and reflective activity for Make/Hack/Play. It’s one of the better songs that I have written in some time, and to listen to it come alive with my bandmates – with a real singer, and the coming together of many instruments — is quite a feeling. This video reflection from a few months ago of how I came to write the song is still powerful, I think. If the band records our version, I’ll get that out, too.

Peace (in the muse),
Kevin

Movie Review: The Watsons Go to Birmingham

I finally got the time to watch The Watsons Go to Birmingham movie last week with the two classes who read the book earlier in the school year. The DVD had been sitting on my desk but finding the time was difficult. Still, I wanted to see what the folks at the Hallmark Movie Channel did with a book that I love reading and teaching, and students were eager to see the movie version, too. So, we did.

I could quibble with some of the changes made to the Christopher Paul Curtis story and some of the casting choices and other things, and we did quibble in our post-movie class discussions, but I understand a bit about the need to make changes to a novel to fit the screen. The one thing I was disappointed in but wasn’t surprised by was the removal of the vision the kids have of each other in times of danger, of each becoming the savior of the other in times of trouble. We talked a lot about that missing element in class. Oh well.

Overall, I enjoyed what they did with the story. Most of all, I was very much pleased with how the producers brought in archival footage from the news of the day (1964) in Alabama, as it really sets the tone and stage for the unfolding of the story as the Watsons visit the south. The scene of the famous church bombing is chaotic and emotional, and I found it hit the right notes for my students to feel compassion and fury, and to understand Kenny (the narrator) a bit more as he searches for his younger sister.

Also, I give high praise to the movie folks for making the Children’s March a secondary storyline, with the Watsons’ cousins telling how they are marching with other children in protest. The book never mentions the Children’s March. The movie uses that event in a way that gives the story a different emotional feel, particularly when Byron (the oldest brother, a troublemaker) sees it as an opportunity for him to make a difference and make his parents proud of his actions.

Overall, the movie fits in nicely with the teaching of this powerful story of growing up in the era of civil rights and racism, and how our families are the center that holds us together. The movie gets that right, time and again.

Peace (in the past),
Kevin
PS — an interview with Christopher Paul Curtis about the adaptation of the book:

#Nerdlution Update: And the word is …

H
I haven’t been writing and blogging about it much but I continue to invent and publish a new word for my #Nerdlution effort to create a fake dictionary of made-up words. I’ve been using an app called Notegraphy for publishing because of its design elements, and I find my mind wandering in quiet times to new words. So far, so good. Today word — H — is named after my own name. The tricky part has been finding a balance between humor and insight.

This video collects the words from A through today’s letter of H so far ….

Peace (in invention),
Kevin

Invented Words: Student Sampler

Invented Words 2014
(I love this word cloud)
Although I continue to invent and publish a new word every day for the #Nerdlution (round 2), that initiative was inspired by my students’ work around invented language (as part of our study of the origins of the English Language). The other day, they used our wiki site to begin adding a word of their own (and a podcast of their word) to a 9-year project to create an online dictionary of invented words. I’ll share that out some other day. For now, check out this prezi with a few words and I have embedded the podcasts of their voices right into the prezi (just click the play button).

 

Book Review: Lincoln’s Grave Robbers

My co-teacher wandered in and saw Lincoln’s Grave Robbers on my desk. He picked it up, “Is this fiction?” and when I replied, “It’s all true,” he looked closer at it. Such is the tale that writer Steve Sheinken digs up and tells in this book, and it is a crime story of stealing the bones of Abe Lincoln that is almost too strange to be true.

The story, from the late 1800s, is of counterfeit operations and jail time, and a noted crime boss who wants his best engraver freed from jail so that he can keep making fake money. The plan is to steal Lincoln’s bones and ransom them back to the government in return for the jailed companion to be set free. Needless to say, things go awry, and Sheinken gives a nice sense of place and history, including old photographs and drawings to bring the reader into the time and place.

I admit: I don’t always like Sheinken’s writing style, but I can’t put my finger on what it is. It doesn’t flow for me. But he certainly has an eye for historical stories (Bomb was fascinating, too, although the writing didn’t always work for me there, either) and storytelling presence. I really love how he uses primary documents to help tell his stories, and I suspect lots of teachers could turn to Sheinken’s books as examples of non-fiction writing that packs a literary punch while still remaining fairly true to the historical record.

The crook never did get Lincoln’s body but they certainly tried. In a time when news moved slow, a core group of supporters of Lincoln’s memory remained vigilant and ensured that the physical legacy of Lincoln would be free of a robbery attempt that still baffles the imagination.

Peace (in the bones of history),
Kevin

You is Us: A Digital Zooming Poem

As Digital Learning Day approaches, the folks at Educator Innovator have a suggestion that we and/or our students use Prezi to tell a digital story. I decided to give it a try, particularly since I have not yet used the audio upload option at Prezi before. It seemed ripe for a poem of some sort, and then I was watching a #walkmyworld video by Molly called I is We about her identity and digital spaces, and so I composed a response called You is Us.

See what you think. The “play” button on the lower left (once you start the prezi) will lead you through the poem, with audio loading automatically and the poem advancing automatically.

Peace (in the poem),
Kevin