Book Review: Thing Explainer

Cover of the book Thing Explainer

What Randall Monroe pulls off in Thing Explainer reminds me a bit of what Dr. Seuss did with his early books for young readers: he purposefully uses a minimal amount of words to explain the complicated world (although Dr. Seuss sought to teach young people how to read with The Cat in the Hat and Green Eggs and Ham).

In the case of Thing Explainer, Monroe limited himself to 1,000 common words, and no more (he lists them at the end of the book). That may seem like a lot, until you realize the complexity of the world he is explaining — such as computerized data centers that make up cloud computing, and the space stations, cells, and the human body, and more.

What Monroe brings to these explanations is his witty sense of visuals and webcomic ability, which are always on display at his xkcd webcomic, but here, his visuals are given full pages (the book is oversized, and I would probably recommend going with the physical book over a digital book, but that’s just me). He may only use stick people, but those stick people are hilarious in their poses and verbal asides, and they fit in perfectly with Monroe’s visual design of our modern world, told in simple language.

It’s fun learning.

My students are in the midst of expository writing right now, and I might see if I can get a few of Monroe’s drawings out of the book and up onto my classroom walls. The pencil one in particular is very interesting and inviting, and it would surely draw the attention of my students (we’ve been doing diagram drawing all year long for creative writing).

Monroe also created a “simple writer” website, for trying out yourself how to explain something in few words, using his database of common words. I popped this entire blog post into it, and discovered many words above and beyond the complexity point.

Using SimpleWriter

 

Peace (in the thing, explained),
Kevin

 

Webcomic: The Wild West Adventures of the Internet Kid

InternetKid1

Last weekend, I was reading up on Alan Levine’s move to push ahead with a Western-style DS106 course, even though the college where he was to teach it pulled out due to lack of enrollment. Lack of enrollment in the course? Do they even know Alan Levine and DS106? Their loss, but Alan is launching the course as an open invitation.

There is sure to be lots of critique of the Western genre — of violence, and gender, and more — and I hope to do as much of it as I can, if only to be part of another DS106 adventure.  I am already part of an Outlaw Brigade with Wild Toady. I was thinking about Western DS106 this past weekend and started to get inspired to do a webcomic which has come to be called The Wild West Adventures of the Internet Kid.

Really, the comic has little to do with the Wild West and more to do about technology. No surprise there, if you follow my blog and comics. Before I knew it, I had more than a handful of comics created, and so I have decided to “publish” the comics, one per day (except today, when you get one plus my cover), on Twitter via the #western106 hashtag

I also just now realized that a Tumblr site would make sense, so here it is: The Wild West Adventures of the Internet Kid tumblr site. 

My aim is to have some fun with tweaking the Western genre AND technology and writing.  Plus, I like making comics. Honestly, some of the Internet Kid storylines work better than others, but I am sending all of them into the Wild anyway. I hope you get a chuckle now and then. And if it makes you think, well, all the better.

So, here you go — the first comic of The Wild West Adventures of the Internet Kid:

InternetKid2

Peace (partners),
Kevin

Audio Letter 3: Dear Mimi Ito

mimiquote

This is the third and final “audio letter” that I created as a reader response to Participatory Culture in a Networked Era.  The letters use a quote from the three writers of the book as an inroad to a reflective response. The first audio was to Henry Jenkins. The second, to danah boyd. And this one is to Mimi Ito.

Peace (in thinking out loud),
Kevin

 

My One Little Word for 2016: Remembering

(This is a Slice of Life post, part of a weekly writing adventure with Two Writing Teachers. Come write, too.)

I’m not losing my memory, but I do find the quickening flow of information and all of my making of media creates this underlying sense of anxiety about remembering. About curating the conversations and the creating so that I may learn from what has been done (and maybe do better next time). Remembering “the here and the now” before “what comes next” comes next.

So, my own little word for 2016 is “Remember.”

Remember the little things of life.

Remember the larger things of life.

Remember the context of all those things as they play out.

Remember to connect, offline as much as online.

Remember to write to reflect.

Remember to put each day in its proper perspective.

Remember that for some young people, you are the anchor point in their lives.

Remember that each act has potential to change the world.

Remember

Last year, for 2015, my one little word was “pause” and a gif that I created for that word sat on my desktop all year long. I did, in fact, pause as I saw the word each morning, but maybe never quite long enough. Still, I remembered the pause because I left a sign-post for myself.

I am not retiring “pause” — merely, adding it to my daily thoughts, and maybe adding it into this year’s word, too. Pause to remember. I need a “one little phrase” more than “one little word,” perhaps.

And a poem:

remembering

Peace (in the memory banks),
Kevin

 

Audio Letter 1: Dear Henry Jenkins

After finishing up Chapter 4 in Participatory Culture in a Networked Era as part of a slow-read with Digital Writing Month folks, I felt this impulse to respond in voice to the three writers as they talked through complex issues of learning and literacy.That led to the idea of three “audio letters” to the writers — Henry Jenkins, Mimi Ito and danah boyd — and the first is here, to Henry.

henryquote

I took a quote from the chapter and built my response around the ideas in the quote. I’ll share out my audio letters to Mimi and danah in the next two days.

Peace (thinking),
Kevin

Short Poems for Shortened Days (Twitter Haiku)

For just about every day in December, as the days got shorter and shorter, I joined a group of friends in writing poetry, mostly haiku, and sharing out via Twitter each morning. Some others wrote at their blogs and then shared the links on Twitter. I decided that I would just use Twitter, and then half-way through the month, I realized something: I was losing track of the poems. They were disappearing into the media stream.

So I set up a Storify project and began backtracking in time, gathering the poems together, and then each day afterwards, I made sure to add the new poem into the collection. Phew.

What’s interesting *and a bit frustrating* is that the haiku lining formatting gets flattened in this kind of sharing. I guess you will have envision the 5/7/5 syllables. Still, in this way, the tweets seem like another form of poetry, with words flowing across the character confines.

Thank you Mary Lee, Carol, Steve, Leigh, and Carol.

Peace (in poems),
Kevin

Book Review: Airborn

This book — Airborn by Kenneth Oppel —  has been kicking around my house and classroom for years now. Long ago, I had started it as a read-aloud for my oldest son (now a high school senior but then, in elementary school) and the vocabulary was too dense for him at the time, so we put it aside. My middle son later found it when he was in middle school, read it, and then devoured the next two books in the series.

He then proceeded to pressure my youngest son (now in fifth grade) to read Airborn this past summer. There was resistance (maybe due to brotherly recommendation), and I put Airborn on my “maybe to read aloud” pile of books. Well, let’s just say that my youngest son and I finally read this story with a steampunky theme  — airships replace airplanes as main modes of travel — and we were very quickly knee-deep in the adventures of protagonist Matt Cruse in a tale that involves air pirates, the beauty of airships, friendship across economic lines and a mysterious flying creature that lives in the clouds.

Oppel does a fantastic job with character, which means the story gets off on a sort of slow pace as he sets the stage for Matt Cruse and his friend, Kate, before kicking the plot into high gear with a pirate attack and an emergency landing on what seems to be a deserted island. Ingenuity, friendship, sacrifice … all the themes are here.

Peace (in the adventure),
Kevin

PS — Since the time I wrote this review, and let it sit in my blog bin (I seem to have a fair number of book reviews hanging around in there), we have read the two other books in the series — Skybreaker and Starclimber.  They were good, too, but not as good as Airborn, I don’t think.

Digital Access and Equity: What if THEY is all of US?

What if they is us?

I am in the midst of reading Participatory Culture in a Networked Era with the Digital Writing Month community and thoroughly enjoying the format (discussions among Ito, boyd and Jenkins) and the topics, which connect nicely to my own diving into Connected Learning.

Chapter Three of the book centers on access and equity issues (under the academic guise of “genres” — at least, in my mind) and as I was reading, this comic began to form in my mind. It’s a bit metaphorically simple: the locked door and no access to the inside from those on the outside.

But it was tagline that seemed most important to me: What if they is all of us?

What if we (us teachers, us adults, us) are the ones closing that door on different elements of our population? What if we are doing it inadvertently? What if we don’t even know the door has been closed? Who’s waiting out there, wondering?

And then, of course, the ancillary question: how do we break that door open wide so no one feels left out? Pass me that sledgehammer won’t you?

access issue

Peace (in the think),
Kevin