Slice of Life: What Would Mr. Rogers Do Is the Wrong Question To Ask

(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.)

There’s a moment towards the end of the fantastic new documentary about Fred RogersWon’t You Be My Neighbor? — where a gentleman, Junlei Li, who works at the Fred Rogers Center looks directly at the camera, and says something along the lines of: It’s not what Mr. Rogers would do. That’s not the question we need to be asking. It’s what are you going to do?

The comment comes as the film wrestles with the current climate of incivility, of unkindness, of using media for personal gains by finding and exploiting the faults in others. Fred Rogers saw the world was changing in the years before his death, and he was saddened by it.

Aren’t we all?

Li’s point is that we can’t look to media figures, just as we can’t look to sports icons, to change the world for the better. We have to look to ourselves, and how we treat each other, how we tap into kindness and caring and understanding. It’s heart-breaking that such talk sounds old-fashioned in the current age of a president who acts like a thug on the wires, but it’s true.

We can take care of each other. We need to take care of each other.

My wife and I — and pleasantly surprising us both, our 18-year-old son joined us — got out of the scorching heat yesterday to watch the movie in the theater, and my wife and I were nearly crying at times (not sure about the kid). I didn’t watch Mr. Rogers’ Neighborhood as a kid, but I know of him, of course, and of his work. To see his journey and his mission, and his impact on kids through the medium of television, is powerful viewing.

There’s another moment in the movie that also stuck with me. Right at the end, all of the people who are being interviewed as given a minute to remember someone who impacted their life in the positive. The camera stays with them, holding their gaze, quietly, as they think and remember, and even cry at the memory.

Let’s remember those people who helped us, and be the people who others might remember, too.

Peace (in the heart),
Kevin

At Middleweb: The Last Working Draft Column

I’ve loved writing for Middleweb, a site dedicated to teaching the middle grades. After five years, I have decided to pull the plug on my monthly column (which began as a bimonthly column) called Working Draft. It’s been fun to write, and inspiring to think about topics, and reflective practice from teaching perspectives, and I have nothing but praise for editors John and Susan.

Read my farewell piece

I also linked in the final column to a handful of pieces that I think still resonate for me.

I am also pleased that my National Writing Project friend and collaborator over the years, Jeremy Hyler, will soon be launching his own ELA column at Middleweb, filling in the gap I leave behind. Jeremy starts writing sometime this month.

Peace (in the writing),
Kevin

#CLMOOC Goes Doodling in July

Day One Enter

It’s CLMOOC season! That means invitations and connections via Connected Learning MOOC, and this July, every day, there is an open invitation to doodle on a theme, all related to open spaces and mapping. You can doodle every day, or just join in when the muse strikes you.

Learn more about the doodle effort, an online poetry exchange project, and more at the CLMOOC website.

You can also get the daily prompts via email or RSS feed through The Daily Connect, where we will be posting each day’s prompt as a new post.

I’m not much of an artist, but I still love to doodle, particularly when others are doodling, too. Today’s theme is Enter/Welcome.

What will you draw and share?

Peace (in pens and crayons),
Kevin

An Invitation to Write Out and Explore the Terrain

I want to invite you to join in for the upcoming Write Out project, an open learning adventure sponsored by the National Writing Project and the National Park Service and built off the concepts of the Connected Learning MOOC (CLMOOC) experiences of the past few years. I am one of the facilitators of this new experience.

Write Out is being designed to connect educators to open and public spaces, such as the National Parks network (but not limited to those places), and we will be working on mapping as a central theme this summer. We aim to have teachers and park rangers and other explorers in the mix.

The Write Out website

Write Out officially begins on July 15 and will run for two weeks. There will be invitations for making maps and making connections, for making media and writing stories, and more.

If you have five to ten minutes, we’ll have some suggestions. An hour? We’ll have suggestions. A day or two? We’ve got you covered. As with CLMOOC, you engage where it interests you, with no pressure other than a sense of connection and community.

Our aim is to open more doors for teachers, and their students, to the outside world. If you go to the Write Out site, you can sign up for newsletters and information.

Take a listen to the overview via NWP Radio from some of the facilitators:

I hope to see you in the mix this summer.

The Write Out website

Peace (inside and outside),
Kevin

PS — By the way, CLMOOC is still happening, too, in a sort of parallel and connected path as Write Out, with CLMOOC-inspired daily doodle prompts on map and open space themes, and art swap sharing activities happening. See more at the CLMOOC website.

Book Review: Light the Dark (Writers on Creativity, Inspiration and the Artistic Process)

This book — Light the Dark — is a fantastic tour of the creative mind, as a few dozen writers talk about where their inspiration comes from, important moments that spurred them on, and the books and poems and passages that helped inspire them.

Each small piece comes with a quote from a source of the writer’s inspiration and beautiful woodcut illustrations that draw you into the text. I read this collection over two months, dipping in now and then to savor the writing about writing (which I am admittedly a sucker for).

The stories remind us that we find our inspiration far afield sometimes, and in unexpected places, too. Some novels, some poems, some small passages have the ability to resonate for years to come, in creative ways. Here, the writers — such as Junot Diaz, Stephen King, Amy Tan, Roxane Gay and a slew of others, ending with Neil Gaiman — explore their inner creative terrain.

The result is a journey into the imagination and power of writing. What else might you want out of a book?

Peace (reading in),
Kevin

 

Armory Summer Camp: The Double V Campaign for Social Justice

Lee Hines: Double V Compaign

At our summer camp at the Springfield Armory, where our themes all week have centered on social justice issues, middle school campers explored the notions of the Double V Campaign — when returning WW2 African American veterans searched for racial equality and respect, and the end to segregation, at the home-front after serving as heroes in the war.

Our visitor — Lee Hines — is part of the Veterans Education Project, and he has done extensive research on the Double V. Hines is also a decorated veteran of the Vietnam War. He flew airplanes and helicopters over Laos, Thailand and Vietnam. In his talk with the camp, Hines notes the ways the African American soldiers of WW2 paved the way for the Civil Rights Movement, and how the Double V Campaign sparked dissent in our country and caused government officials like FBI Director Edgar Hoover to move to squelch it.

Earlier, we had watched a powerful digital film created for National History Day by other middle school students on the topic of the Tuskegee Airmen, whose heroism is now celebrated but whose existence at the time was the cause for much argument around segregation, military service and more. Our campers come from a social justice middle school, so these topics resonated with them.

Following Hines’ talk, we had students create their own versions of a Double V Campaign poster, in hopes of getting them think about all of those brave men, and women, who fought against evil in the war and then came home, and fought against injustice in their own communities.

Double V Campaign PostersThis is the second year of our Minds Made for Stories project, which is funded by the Mass Humanities organization with support by the National Writing Project and the National Park Service. I am the head facilitator of the camp through my work with the Western Massachusetts Writing Project, and our student campers all come from a social justice magnet school in our main urban center, Springfield, Massachusetts.

Peace (always ready),
Kevin

 

Using Material Culture to Understand the Past

Using Material Culture to Understanding History

We had some guest visitors to our summer camp at the Springfield Armory historic site yesterday. Reba Jean and her daughter, Piper, are both historians, who conduct immersive workshops with students as a way to teach them about the past. She calls this “material culture,” as in the objects from the past can bring to the surface the stories of the people who lived in a certain time.

A little research on this term, which was new to me, showed me that this is a common historical concept.

Material culture is the physical aspect of culture in the objects and architecture that surround people. It includes usage, consumption, creation, and trade of objects as well as the behaviors, norms, and rituals that the objects create or take part in. The term is commonly used in archaeological and anthropological studies, specifically focusing on the material evidence that can be attributed to culture in the past or present.

Material culture studies is an interdisciplinary field that tells of the relationships between people and their things: the making, history, preservation, and interpretation of objects. It draws on both theory and practice from the social sciences and humanities such as art history, archaeology, anthropology, history, historic preservation, folklore, literary criticism and museum studies, among others. Anything from buildings and architectural elements to books, jewelry, or toothbrushes can be considered material culture. — via Wikipedia

Since we are exploring World War 2 and women at the home-front (when men went to war, the women of Springfield were recruited in neighborhoods to work in the Armory, disrupting families and forever altering the social fabric of the city), Reba Jean and Piper presented our young writers with objects and stories of the time period. It was fascinating to watch our middle school campers come to learn about rations, and gender expectations, and the sacrifices of children.

They held a jar of recycled aluminum foil balls that would be donated to the war effort, fingered old sugar and food cloth sacks that were used to repair socks when other materials were not available, smelled the old rubber tire used for soles of shoes, read comic books with superheroes fighting for the Allies, and more.

The most powerful stories came from the objects of her own father-in-law, who had inscribed into his tin water cup the many places he fought in the trenches in WW2 but never talked about at home. She also had a recovered bayonet from Germany that her father-in-law brought home, not as a souvenir of war but as a reminder of childhood. Inside the bayonet casing, you can smell the mix of oil and materials that evoked the smell of crayons, and she said her father-in-law and other soldiers would smell that smell when they were scared or lonely or homesick. All of us in the room took a sniff, experiencing what he also smelled as the war raged around him.

Our Own Rosie

Finally, a student volunteer was “dressed” to resemble the famous Rosie the Riveter image of WW2 home-front, with the student nearly falling over with all of the “stuff” Rosie had to carry to stay strong at home.

Overall, our campers learned so much, through the touching and exploring of the “material objects” which brought the stories of the past to the surface in tangible and important ways.

This is the second year of our Minds Made for Stories project, which is funded by the Mass Humanities organization with support by the National Writing Project and the National Park Service. I am the head facilitator of the camp through my work with the Western Massachusetts Writing Project, and our student campers all come from a social justice magnet school in our main urban center, Springfield, Massachusetts.

Peace (from the past),
Kevin

 

Slice of Life: Inquisitive Kids at Writing Camp

(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.)

You may know this feeling if you have ever imagined and then brought to reality a writing camp in the summer. In the hour before camp starts, you wonder: will anyone actually come? They signed up. But will they get out of bed and get here? And then, they do arrive, and you realize, this was a great idea!

That was me, and my colleagues, yesterday, as middle school kids arrived at the Springfield Armory Historical Site for our week-long free summer writing camp. It was a relief that they showed up.

And then we had a fantastic day of looking through and writing about primary source images from the Armory’s history, touring the historic buildings on the grounds of the site, learning about innovation exhibits on the museum floor, and pretending to be innovators in the manufacturing of a “lock plate.”

What great campers! What a great day!

And today, we get to write and to explore once again.

This is the second year of our Minds Made for Stories project, which is funded by the Mass Humanities organization with support by the National Writing Project and the National Park Service. I am the head facilitator of the camp through my work with the Western Massachusetts Writing Project, and our student campers all come from a social justice magnet school in our main urban center, Springfield, Massachusetts.

Peace (from the past to the future),
Kevin

 

The Start of a National Parks Historic Site Summer Camp

Welcome to Springfield Armory Camp.001

We have the snacks.

Armory Camp Snacks

We have the notebooks, pencils and writing materials.

Armory Camp Supplies

And now, we’re off to start the first day of our Minds Made for Stories summer camp at the Springfield Armory, a National Parks Historic Site, where we will explore stories, and primary sources, and social justice issues.

This is the second year of our Minds Made for Stories project, which is funded by the Mass Humanities organization with support by the National Writing Project and the National Park Service. I am the head facilitator of the camp through my work with the Western Massachusetts Writing Project, and our student campers all come from a social justice magnet school in our main urban center, Springfield, Massachusetts.

Peace (digging into the past),
Kevin

 

Chalk Talk: Learning Beyond the Curriculum

Chalk Talk June 2018

I wrote a piece that was published this past week in the local newspaper about some activities for our sixth graders at our school that seem to fall outside of our traditional curriculum, but which still have a huge impact on the learning for our students.

This column, which honors the work of colleagues at my school, is part of a regular feature our Western Massachusetts Writing Project has in partnership with our local regional newspaper, The Daily Hampshire Gazette. Each month, WMWP teachers are featured as columnists.

Read Of Archers, Actors and Artists

and read the Chalk Talk archives for other pieces from WMWP teachers

Peace (is how we learn),
Kevin