How Rube Goldberg Design Spilled into Video Game Design

Don't Move: Game

Many times, my students surprise me. Take for example, this student, who decided to take the concept of informational design/expository writing with our work around Rube Goldberg Contraptions and make a video game project version in Gamestar Mechanic. He spent a long time in design mode, making sure that once a player hits “play,” all they have to do is watch the game unfold on its own.

As someone who has designed games in Gamestar Mechanic, I can tell you: this is very intricate and required lots of planning and troubleshooting, but it is pretty cool to play/watch as things unfold automatically.

Play Don’t Move

Peace (this leads to that),
Kevin

Slice of Life: My Other March Madness

(Slice of Life is a month-long writing challenge to write every day in March, with a focus on the small moments. It is hosted by Two Writing Teachers. This year, I’m going to pop in and out, but not write daily slices, as I did for the past ten years of Slice of Life. You write, too.)

Yes, I did my NCAA bracket (actually, I did two this year — one where I went with my gut on a few possible upsets and the other, I used a computer model to set the grids, just to see what happens). But yesterday, I was deep into another kind of charting system for another event that takes place this time of year, at least for us at my school.

Quidditch.

I won’t go into all our rules of our game (which differ quite a bit from the college game, as we play inside the gym — here is a video, if you are curious) but my role as coach is both to cheer and encourage team play AND determine who plays what position for each squad in a balanced and fair way. We don’t let our athletes get all the playing time and we don’t let our wallflowers watch from the sidelines. Everyone plays, equal amounts of time.

Coordinating positions and playing time is tricky business, and this is what my dining room table looked like last night as I worked on three different tournament games, each with seven squads, and each squad with six main positions and four supporting positions.

Quidditch March Madness (making squads)

I think I finally got something approaching successful. We’ll see. Tomorrow is our all-day Quidditch Tournament. This is the 20th year of our tournament for sixth graders, a unique (and loud) experience that they will long remember, no matter who wins the Quidditch Cup tomorrow.

Peace (in the game),
Kevin

 

Our Real Selves/Our Fake Selves/ Our Shadow Selves


The mic hears everything flickr photo by kreg.steppe shared under a Creative Commons (BY-SA) license

“We’re looking at the relationship between fake and real.” — NPR Host Alix Spiegel

The National Public Radio’s Invisibilia program turned its focus on the idea of our Invisible Selves, the way our online social media-infused identities are often in conflict with our offline identities. This radio program — Point, Shoot — is long, as a deep dive into an important issue, but it is worth the listen.

(Note: there is some profanity and references to violence)

Here is the transcript

Radio reporter Hanna Rosin centers, through her exploration of one person’s tragic story, on a boy named Brandon whose posting on social media led to tragic results in his small city, and she notes this premise:

“Maybe his online life would open the door to some dark side of Brandon that his family and some of his school pals knew nothing about … “

Later, after her exploration of how Brandon sought to represent himself on social media with guns and hints of violence — in contrast to the boy he was in real life — only to killed for his social media posting, which were seen as taunts to those who killed him, Rosen writes:

“We all do some version of this. Curate an aspirational online self. Most of us have one. And we outfit it with different props and costumes – like heirloom tomatoes, the dog we just rescued, a protest poster, a funny casual quip we spent 10 minutes crafting. This person has a relationship to us. But it is not us. “

In her discussions with family, and friends, the disconnect between who they knew — Brandon, the boy — with the identity he curated online — Brandon, the gangster — caused confusion that such posts would lead to his death.

Rosen:

… the problem is we’ve moved into a phase where the image – the version of Brandon constructed from a Facebook post can very easily eclipse the real. And we are just stubbornly failing to reckon with the consequences of that. It doesn’t matter who Brandon really was.

And this:

The confusion spread like a virus to Brandon’s friends and his enemies and the police and the courts until an entirely new code governed every part of the city, a code built on a giant misunderstanding about image and reality and how quickly the boundary between them is shifting.

A story like Brandon’s reminds us of how we need to be talking to all of our kids about identity and social media, and the power and consequences of words and images that get shared, sometimes in a fast and furious way. You can post something you think is cool, only to see it careen out of your control, and sometimes, that has tragic results.

Let’s help our kids be careful out there.

Peace (it’s real),
Kevin

 

Slice of Life: Here Comes the Neighborhood

(Slice of Life is a month-long writing challenge to write every day in March, with a focus on the small moments. It is hosted by Two Writing Teachers. This year, I’m going to pop in and out, but not write daily slices, as I did for the past ten years of Slice of Life. You write, too.)

If you have been doing Slice of Life for long enough, you start to notice the cyclical nature of the season — of how some things recur in March. I’ve not written much about Quidditch this year, mainly because I used to write about it so much in other years (although, with our Quidditch Tournament coming on Thursday, more writing is surely to follow).

Leeds Block Party

Our neighborhood Winter Blues Block Party/Pizza Party is one of those recurring events, where our entire neighborhood community is invited to the local country club to gather together after a long winter, chat up our lives and have pizza and a yankee raffle full of unnecessary items.

What is necessary is the reminder that we are more than our own house, more than our own yard. That we are connected to the others in our streets and cul de sacs and driveways. This year, the longtime MC — our good friend, Jim — asked for people to show hands over how long they have lived here, and the amount of hands for “under ten years” was pretty startling, a reminder that our part of the city is undergoing another cycle of turn-over.

We — my wife and I, and then our children — were part of a similar turn-over more than 20 years ago, coming into the established neighborhood block, surrounded by the old-timers. For a stretch of time, my wife and I were the only ones with a small child, and then suddenly, there were kids everywhere. And we are not the longest here, either, as a few of the elders were born and raised and stayed here. They had their hands up, too.

This turn-over now happens again, and it is a process of renewal, and an event like this allows us time and space to connect a bit with some of the people we meet during the cold winter walks, where everyone is so bundled up we can barely recognize the other. When a neighborhood comes together, it’s a reminder of how we are bound together by land and by identity.

Peace (around the block and back again),
Kevin

PS — I was navigating through our civic association website and found this video that my youngest son had created six years ago, when he was eight years old, about our community.

CLMOOC Book Group: Exploring the World of Nerdfighters

(Note from Kevin: I actually wrote this post two days ago, thinking I would post it yesterday. I left it lingering in my draft bin. Then, the massacre in New Zealand happened, and I had a poem spilling forth about madness and hate and social media that I just could not shake without writing it, and that poem is what I shared yesterday as a blog post.

The final stanza is a call about kindness in the world. I wondered where it is, where it was. I wrote: … no one ever seems/ to stream the kindness of/ the world, only the madness.

This morning, I revisited this post about Nerdfighters, and realized, THIS is about one of those places where the counter narrative of social media is already taking place, with young people leading the way. I also remembered Friday’s global walkout on climate change, where young people were protesting on a world scale for change. I had an answer, already written, to my question in the poem, but I had forgotten it, in my sadness and bewilderment of the world. It happens like that. We lose perspective. The horrible things push aside the good.

So, here, then is a post about an Affinity Network where young people are empowered to change the world for the better, and is thousands strong, too. It’s a reminder of how social media can be a tool for the good.)

I’ve enjoyed the Case Studies inside the book, Affinity Online, as we read the book in CLMOOC this month. The studies give us a more human story insider account of different Affinity Spaces and Networks. The focus on the Nerdfighters, which I knew of but never really dug deep, is fascinating for a few reasons.

What is Nerdfighters? They are not nerds fighting nerds, but nerds fighting for a better world. Or, in the words of the community, to decrease WorldSuck, their word for a world gone mad. Here’s a blurb from Wikipedia that provides a helpful overview:

Nerdfighteria is a community subculture, based mainly online. It began in 2007, when the VlogBrothers (John and Hank Green) rose to prominence in the YouTube community. As their popularity grew, so did coverage on Nerdfighteria, whose followers are individually known as Nerdfighters.[2] The term was coined when John saw a copy of the arcade game Aero Fighters and misread the title as Nerd Fighters.[3]

Hank Green describes it as “a community that sprung up around our videos, and basically we just get together and try to do awesome things and have a good time and fight against world suck”. He defines “world suck” as “the amount of suck in the world”.[4] The Greens established The Foundation to Decrease World Suck, in order to raise funds and launch projects that would help a variety of causes.

Nerdfighters believe in fighting world suck, promoting education, freedom of speech and the use of the intellect in modern society.[5]Nerdfighters and the Green brothers have collaborated on many projects such as the charitable drive, Project for Awesome which launched in 2007, and VidCon, the convention focusing on topics surrounding the world of digital media.[6][7] Nerdfighters have been documented by websites such as The Hollywood Reporter, and The Wall Street Journal, with a following estimated to be in the millions.[8][9]

The Nerdfighter community coalesced around two writers — the Green brothers, John and Hank– who early on saw the potential for video/vlogging as a means to make possible change in the world by reaching an audience of young people who often felt left out of the typical social circles.

The demographics, if still true from the statistics in the book, is predominantly a white, female majority (72 percent female and 85 percent white, in the information in the book, but also a high percentage of queer, gay and gender-fluid members) with an activist bent, using video and presence as its main media choice for messaging and connection points.

The Affinity Online rightly focuses on the Nerdfighters as an Affinity Network because of its deep civic action and reach. One of its main projects — Project for Awesome — has raised nearly $7 million for charities in the past five years, if I read the statistics right. Its homepage is chock full of user voice, with young people making and contributing videos as a way to engage and document and share.

Exploring the Nerdfighteria site, one quickly realizes how many strands are now out there, from various communities in other spaces to charity sites, to networking opportunities. It even has its own lexicon. And a map of local groups for local action projects. And a book club.

There is also VidCon, which is a digital media conference that showcases young and upcoming vloggers in the Nerdfighter networks. But the recent acquisition of VidCon by Viacom has me wondering about whether this Affinity Network event, designed to empower young video creators, will become another commercialized vendor space. If so, that sucks. And I use that word “suck” purposefully here.

How to become a Nerdfighter? The Green brothers explain, this video from a decade ago.

Peace (decrease the suck),
Kevin

Slice of Life: A Poem of Mourning and Madness

(Slice of Life is a month-long writing challenge to write every day in March, with a focus on the small moments. It is hosted by Two Writing Teachers. This year, I’m going to pop in and out, but not write daily slices, as I did for the past ten years of Slice of Life. You write, too.)

 

My personal way to deal with the world is often to write. All I have to offer in the wake of the tragedy of Christchurch, New Zealand, is a poem. It doesn’t seem nearly enough.

What madness writes
seventy-four pages of
nonsense, a diatribe
to destroy others,
in a bid to be recognized
by the world, splintered
as it is, already, by hate?

And what madness watches
the world splinter
even further on the
small screen, as if the knowing is not
enough, that the
seeing is required for truth?

What I know in this mourning
only is sadness, and grief,
and compassion, and no one ever seems
to stream the kindness of
the world, only the madness

Peace (to us all),
Kevin

The Shared Humanity in Our Digital Lives

Dangers of the PhoneThe other day — Sunday, in fact — my wife came home from service at our church, raving about the sermon from our passionate, activist, youth-orientated co-pastor. The theme was technology in our lives, and Pastor Sarah, who often uses hip and modern allusions in our sermons, talked about how our devices are removing us from our interactions.

My wife later sent me the link to her post/words/sermon later, which includes Sarah’s sermon (if you are interested in listening, you can, but I am by no means proselytizing here). She had a very catchy and provocative title: Is the iPhone the Devil? Reading through what she said connected me nicely with some of the inquiry that has been underway with Networked Narratives, on how technology’s dark side seems to have overtaken its potential and possibilities.

Think of what we miss because our hands and our heads are always so full of other things.

Most of all, our focus on our devices — on our hands, which are no longer free to be of use to us because they gravitate to our devices, Sarah notes — seems have to removed us from many human interactions, and the impact of that shift is seen in political diatribes, family arguments on Facebook, and the way we fail to ‘read’ the impact of our words on people.

There’s a moment where this important idea surfaces from Sarah:

Which is not to say that technology is evil. It’s not. But it’s not neutral either. It’s never going to stop trying to help us overcome our limits. Which means it’s up to us to remember that it is our limits that give life meaning.

Keeping on eye on our lives, and the people in our lives — our shared humanity — and the role that technology can play to make it better or worse — if we let it, and this is the most important part of this whole discussion, the way we use or take back our agency as users of our phones and computers and technology — is lesson we can learn from, whatever your spiritual centering.

This phone creates the illusion that you are infinite, but you are a finite resource. Your love, your time, your attention, you yourself are precious precisely because you are limited.

Peace (to you and you and you),
Kevin

Mentor Interactive Fiction Text: The Place of Lost Bones

Interactive Fiction Cave Map

As I wrote the other day, my students are in the midst of creating Interactive Fiction stories. Many are done while some are finishing up. It’s almost always the case that as they are doing a new project, I am doing the assignment with them. Here, I built out a story for them to play, and for me to use as a way to talk about Interactive Story construction in Google Slides.

The map above is part of a map-making activity in which students take a break from building the stories and take a fresh look at the setting by making a map of the terrain. This was my map for my story down below.

Plus, it was fun to write. The best way to play/read these is to go full-screen mode.

Peace (choose the way),
Kevin

Slice of Life: On the Stage and Into the Woods

Into the Woods at HRHS

(Slice of Life is a month-long writing challenge to write every day in March, with a focus on the small moments. It is hosted by Two Writing Teachers. This year, I’m going to pop in and out, but not write daily slices, as I did for the past ten years of Slice of Life. You write, too.)

One of the joys of being an elementary teacher is when, years later, you see your former students. You catch glimpses of the child that had once been in your classroom.

Yesterday, we took our current class of sixth graders to see a preview of a staged production of Into the Woods at the regional high school. I made it a game from my seat of recognizing those on the stage. The years gone past for many of them — in some cases, nearly six whole years — made this a rather tricky endeavor.

Still, I could hear echoes in voices and I could see past days in faces. I was also wonderfully mesmerized by the talent on display for this production — which is a complicated retelling of Grimms’ Fairy Tales, with weaving story and music lines.

The best part was after the preview, when the cast sat on the stage, answering questions from the audience of elementary students. They were so poised, funny, enthusiastic and … themselves, just as I remembered them (at least, those who had once been my students). They made me proud.

Peace (from the seats),
Kevin

Write Out: Connecting to the Community’s Conservation Efforts

Town of Southampton Conservation Lands

The other day, I met with two officials from the Open Space Review Committee of the town where I teach (different from the town where I live). We were talking about a grant they have received to gather landowners in town for a few meetings to talk about open space preservation and conservation, and I was curious about how I might dovetail their work with a community writing project with my sixth graders. (I had noticed an article in the local newspaper about the project and reached out)

Ever since the Write Out project last summer, I’ve been thinking of how I might get my students more involved in the wildlife and woods of their small but growing town. (Write Out is an online collaborative learning experience with a focus on historic and natural spaces, stemming from a long partnership between the National Writing Project and the National Park Service. I was one of the co-facilitators, learning along with others. This year, Write Out is planned for the Fall, in conjunction with the National Day on Writing)

The after-school meeting was great — they were enthused by the idea of the school in town connecting to their efforts to reach more landowners, and we agreed that my students might be able to do a research project on some of the endangered/threatened species in different areas of the town, perhaps by creating some public informational pamphlets before a community-wide walk scheduled for May.

Town of Southampton

For now, I am perusing the resources — maps, and informational packets, and more — and reaching to the local Audubon Society for help in thinking about the natural landscape of the town. The town sits on top of the one largest natural water sources underground in the region — the Barnes Aquifer — so I want to be able to incorporate that, too. The town officials have offered to line up folks to visit the classroom, to share information and answer questions.

We even talked about resurrecting an old field trip (long run by a retired teacher) to a nearby small mountain — the highest peak in the town — as  a way to connect the research work with another view of the place where they live.

It’s exciting to think about the possibilities.

Peace (outside, in),
Kevin