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).
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).
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.)
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.
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!)
As part of Letters to the Next President 2.0, we are being asked to annotate articles about the political sphere. The organizers suggest Hypothesis, which I already regularly use. Hypothesis is a web-based annotation tool. You can use the bookmarklet that you can install right in your browser (that’s what I do) or use direct links (see my invite below).
I was curious about how technology is changing politics, and dug out this article: Three Ways The Internet Has Changed Political Campaigns, and dug into it as best as I could. It’s short and I invite you to come annotate with me. That’s the beauty of crowd annotation — we can all dig into the same articles together.
The idea behind a public annotation activity is to get all of our voices into the mix. This summer’s Letters to the Next President seems to be designed to allow teachers to play and remix and use the tools, in hopes of discovering some ways to engage their own students in the fall when Clinton vs. Trump becomes loud and overwhelming.
Note: Hypothesis also collects annotations around common tags, so if you want to see/read all annotations on all articles with the #2nextprez tag, you can do that.
I continue to play around with graphs and data in order to make fun of the political season. This is all loosely connected to the Letters to the Next President 2.0 initiative underway this summer. My aim is to make fun of the politics and also, to show in a visual way what I see when I read the news and headlines.
Needless to say, there is no data there. Not even one iota of data to back up any of this.
All this talk of presidential politics and writing Letters to the Next President had me revisiting a song of mine called Woody Guthrie Lives Inside of Me. I had recorded this song a few months ago as a Corner Concert (where I turn the camera on and just sing a song), so I took that audio file from the video and used it in a Zeega for a multimedia project.
I aimed to celebrate the resurgence of Guthrie’s message, and to try to use Zeega layering for various images and movement. Some worked. Some didn’t. I also framed the Zeega as a multimedia letter itself.
In reality, the politics of Guthrie is “Left” of me these days (I am more Center, although where Center is these days seems less and less solid). Still, Guthrie’s notion of fairness and of advocacy, and of using music and song to connect and inspire action? That is something that has always stuck with me.
Special thanks to Terry for continuing to host Zeega for playing and tinkering and making.
I’ve written about our school’s new connection to writer/illustrator Peter Reynolds and the Fablevision media company out of Boston. Reynolds is a writer and illustrator, perhaps best know for his picture books, including The Dot. We’ve helping to beta-test a publishing platform for Fablevision, and Peter and Paul Reynolds (of Fablevision) came to our school to interact with our young writers and illustrators, and gave an inspiring presentation full of upbeat messages about engaging with the world and imagination.
Our art teacher took the idea of The Dot’s message (that everyone is an artist in their own way and that everyone can be creative) and turned it into a school-wide chalk art display in the front of our building during our annual Field Day celebration. Kids from all grades were making chalk dots all day long, and our sixth graders got the flagpole to sign their names, as it is nearing their last days at our elementary school.
I love both the simplicity of using a circle/dot for art (anyone can be an artist .. that’s the whole point) and the ways in which young people take that simple idea and stretch it.
(I wanted to try out the Highlight Reel tool on my phone to see how well it works)
I grabbed the template from the Make Cycle and tinkered with the wording (but kept the same image). If you hit the remix button, you can remix mine as another iteration. So, for example, my friend Michael created a poster that was a message about more localized politics in Arizona, and I remixed it with a larger message.
I like Thimble but wish you could easily embed or share the image of the page, once the coding is all set. Instead, you have to take screenshot or share the link out.
So, consider me intrigued … I just re-discovered the MediaBreaker tool by The Lamp as part of the Letters to the Next President campaign. MediaBreaker is like the old Popcorn Maker (I still miss you, Popcorn!) by Mozilla, in that you can layer media and text on top of video content. In this case, the idea is to make commentary on top of political videos.
I tested it out with a video from a Trump Supporter, and added some textual commentary as a counter propaganda move. I could not figure out how to publish/view the final edited MediaBreaker, nor how to create my own account in MediaBreaker itself (I did create a teacher account in its Studio). I did hit the “submit” button, so maybe it gets processed and reviewed before becoming public (I think that is the case). The MediaBreaker YouTube channel is here.
Ideally, the site would allow me to save and then kick out an embed code for sharing. But it doesn’t seem to do that. So, not only did I just lose all of my work (ack), I can’t share with anyone outside of MediaBreaker what I was doing. This may be intentional — a way to keep student work behind a “wall.” (Students have to be 14 years old or older to use MediaBreaker so that counts my students out).
I like the possibilities of MediaBreaker, but it still feels a little funky and clunky to use. You have to download a video to your computer and then upload it into the editing tool. I am not sure if students can upload their own videos, or if they can only use what the teacher has uploaded. I wish the video being used could be native to the Web itself, as folks with slow Internet speeds will be left out of the remix possibilities.
As our school year keeps moving towards a close (Why do all my friends keep asking if my year is over? Not yet!), there are plenty of projects still to be juggled. One is a Picture Book Project that our sixth grader did in a pilot digital site. This week, my librarian colleague has been connecting sixth grade writers with first grade readers to share the books and stories.
I wish we did more of these cross-grade connections in our school. It’s a powerful way to bring students together, particularly as writers and artists and readers.