Slice of Life: Twining Play and Literacies Together

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Last year, I introduced a whole new genre of novels: the Make Your Own Ending (or Interactive Fiction) concept. I now have a box full of those books where you come to a page as the reader/character, are faced with a decision, make a choice, and move on through a certain branch of the story. The students LOVE these books and many have not ever encountered them before (which seems odd to me, but there was a time when the publishers stopped publishing, and that seems to now have been reversed).

http://i.huffpost.com/gen/1187144/thumbs/o-CHOOSE-YOUR-OWN-ADVENTURE-MOVIES-facebook.jpgThe key is not just the reading, but the writing of these stories. Yesterday, I brought two of my classes into the freeware called Twine, which allows you to construct and build interactive fiction stories. They are now working on an archeological-themed project called “The Mystery of the Ruins” in which they will be writing and publishing their own stories.

Here is a story map from last year, in Twine (read the story, too):

http://farm9.staticflickr.com/8380/8645332164_6ed9894e8a.jpgThere was so much laughter and discovery yesterday as I told them “to play” with the software and not worry about the project. Just go on and make something. Make a story, build branches and see what works and what doesn’t work. Ask questions.

We don’t do this enough — give time to play with technology — but it remains a very crucial element in my classroom, and now, as we gear our way forward later week to actually writing the real story, they will have some understanding of the strengths and weaknesses of Twine. They will have some ownership of the process, and not be quite as hemmed in.

Or so I hope.

Peace (in the classroom),
Kevin

Graphic Novel Review: Tales of Sand

(Note from Kevin: A few years ago, I was a reviewer for The Graphic Classroom. I really enjoyed the way we look at graphic novels with a lens towards the classroom. The site got taken over by another site, and then … I guess the owner of The Graphic Classroom stopped doing what he was doing. Which is fine. But I still had some reviews “sitting in the can” so I am finally digging them out to share out here.)

Story Summary: Surreal is the only way to really describe TALE OF SAND, which is a graphic novel based on a “lost” screenplay by Jim Henson, of Muppet fame, and his writing partner, Jerry Hujl. The screenplay was found collecting dust in the Henson archives and was given over to the very talented graphic novelist Ramon K. Perez, whose vivid illustrations tell the tale of a stranger known only as “Mac” set in motion on an adventure in the American southwest. I can’t even begin to do the story tangents justice here, except to say that the narrative shifts from scene to scene, from danger to danger, just like particles of sand blowing in the wind of chance and imagination. (Think Rod Serling and the Twilight Zone, and you will be in the right ballpark.) There are hints of old Westerns, and rampaging football players, Arabs in the desert, the continuing image of an unused cigarette, bombs and guns, and elaborate champagne dinners, and so many oddball twists that it seems clear to me that only a graphic novel could capture that kind of energy of story. (And it is even clearer why Hollywood kept turning down the screenplay.) In fact, once you buy into the surreal nature of the story, TALE OF SAND becomes magical, unpredictable and thoroughly enjoyable.

Art Review: Perez is a master of surreal imagery, and the oversized nature of TALE OF SAND provides him with a large canvas from which to work. There are overlapping images, colorful splashes contrasted with pencil sketches, multiple storylines unfolding in adjacent frames, and yet through all that craziness, Perez keeps the reader completely focused on the travails of Mac, with his square jaw that echoes of Clark Kent and eyes betraying confusion over his predicament of being caught up in something outside of his control. Perez immerses the reader in the story with the visuals, and if you stay with it, the artwork becomes the main narrative device. (I particularly loved how the savage football players talked in x’s and o’s, like a football play handbook).

More Information:

• Reading level: Ages 8 and up
• Hardcover: 152 pages
• Publisher: Archaia Entertainment; 1 edition (January 31, 2012)
• Language: English
• ISBN-10: 1936393093
• ISBN-13: 978-1936393091

In the Classroom: This book might have value for upper high school students, or university students, around the ways that surrealism can be used in narrative writing, and how art connects to story. Also, for those with an interest in Jim Henson, the introduction and ending of TALE OF SAND provides inside information about Henson’s work and the development of this story. Those small pieces of writing gives the book some historical weight, particularly now with the pop cultural resurgence of The Muppets.

My Review: I was fascinated by TALE OF SAND and completely dove into the surrealistic nature of the story. I RECOMMEND this book for upper level HIGH SCHOOL students, but teachers should know there is one scene that shows the naked chest of a woman near the end of the story. I don’t think middle school readers would follow the narrative with any interest, given its surreal format.

Peace (with Henson),
Kevin

Making a #CLMOOC Zine

CLMOOC Zine
Once again, my friend Chad Sansing has created a cool remixable project via Webmaker that I just had to check out and remix myself. Chad made a ‘zine template with Thimble, which you can adapt for your own area of interest, print out, fold up and hand out to friends.

How cool is that?

I went in and made a little zine for the Making Learning Connected MOOC, which launches into its second iteration this coming summer (Come sign up and join the fun!). If you hit the remix button on either Chad’s or my #CLMOOC zine project, there are all sorts of helper notes in the code that Chad has written than will walk you through the process of coding the page.

After making the #CLMOOC zine, I printed it out (this took a few trial and errors to get the setting right on the page — I went landscape, at 60 percent, with my Firefox browser), and folded it up, and then shot this short Vine piece of the zine.

Peace (in the zine),
Kevin

 

Comics Collection Review: Zits (Sunday Brunch)

(Note from Kevin: A few years ago, I was a reviewer for The Graphic Classroom. I really enjoyed the way we look at graphic novels with a lens towards the classroom. The site got taken over by another site, and then … I guess the owner of The Graphic Classroom stopped doing what he was doing. Which is fine. But I still had some reviews “sitting in the can” so I am finally digging them out to share out here.)

Story Summary: With all of our focus on graphic novels, it is easy to lose track of the power of the daily comic strip. The connections between art and words and character coupled with the confines of just a few panels is something magical when done right (and painful when done wrong). SUNDAY BRUNCH: THE BEST OF ZITS SUNDAYS by the partnership of Jerry Scott and Jim Borgman is a massive collection of comic strips featuring a the growing teenager, Jeremy, and his two befuddled parents, Walt and Connie, as they weave their ways around life. The comics have perfect pitch (at least, to me, as a parent of a teenager) but what sets this collection apart from some others are the guest narratives of other comic strip writers and artists as they talk about their own inspirations. These short narratives are interspersed throughout the book by comic strip colleagues, and the personal writing provide a wonderful lens into how comics played a part in nurturing writers and illustrators. It’s interesting to see how subversive comic strips were for so many of them – tales of flashlights under covers abound. Add to that the little annotated notes that Scott and Borgman put beneath most of these comics to explain where the ideas for the jokes and art came from, and you have an insider’s view into the world of newspaper comic creations. And you can laugh while you learn.

Art Review: What sets the comic strip Zits apart from most of its brethren is the art, and I was really fascinated by the explanations for some of the experiments that Borgman (the primary illustrator, although the book gives some nice insights into the partnership between the two collaborators) provides as he works all sorts of echoes of modern art into a comic strip. There’s also some nice commentary on the impact of the shrinking comics sections on artists, and what that has meant to how an illustration perceives their canvas.

More Information:

• Paperback: 256 pages
• Publisher: Andrews McMeel Publishing; Original edition (November 1, 2011)
• Language: English
• ISBN-10: 1449407978
• ISBN-13: 978-1449407971

In the Classroom: I have lots of comic collections in my classroom. Calvin & Hobbes remains a hit. When we talk about having variety of reading materials, we should consider comic collections as another way to draw kids (particularly, boys) into reading. SUNDAY BRUNCH: THE BEST OF ZITS SUNDAYS is a great collection that would fit nicely in the bookshelves of a middle or high school classroom. From a teaching perspective, the narratives around the impact of comics on writers and readers might open up doors of discussion around the kinds of reading and writing that your students do outside of school. What are they reading that we never see? It’s worth finding out.

My Recommendation: I highly recommend SUNDAY BRUNCH: THE BEST OF ZITS SUNDAYS for middle and high school classrooms, and for the teacher with teenagers in their lives – either sitting there in that desk or lounging around at home.

Peace (in the frames),
Kevin

The DS106 Board Game Idea

Today’s Daily Create is to invent a Board Game for DS106. Here’s what I came up with:
DS106 BoardGame Idea
I created it with Coggle If the image is a bit fuzzy, you can do right to the project on Coggle itself and zoom around.
Or do it here with the embedded version:

Peace (in the play),
Kevin

Free Comic Book Day is Today

Hey — Today is Free Comic Book Day! (And tomorrow is Star Wars Day — May the Fourth be with you). Find a store near you that is giving away free comics and get a few, if not for yourself then for your kids or your students. The Free Comic Book Day website has more information, including a handy “store locator” tool.

Good luck!

Peace (in the comics),
Kevin

 

Keeping on with the Daily Create

The Daily Create with DS106 keeps me on my toes. Even on days when I don’t do the Daily Create, I find myself thinking about it during odd moments during the day, as if I were creating in my head. It’s strange. But that’s the power of a good idea, right?

Here are a few Daily Create assignments I’ve been tinkering with in the past few days:

This morning, the assignment was to create a persona poem. It could be real or fictional, and I went with a poem about Charlie Parker (see my blog tagline).

Bird
Musical, Inventive, Groundbreaking, Addicted
Pioneer of jazz saxophone soloing
Who loves riffing off a melody, making music on the stage in a dark bar and escaping from banality of the ho-hum
Who fears rejection of lovers, uninspired moments that lead to boredom, and lost notes played at midnight
Who wants to see all music transformed by creativity, an end to racial inequality, and the acceptance of Jazz as an authentic original American art form
Parker

Sometimes, I share out this old digital poem about Charlie “Bird” Parker.

Bird: a video poem from Mr. Hodgson on Vimeo.

One of the strangest Creates in some time was something known as the PetSwitch. We went into a site that allows you to superimpose your image on your pet’s image, to create … this odd thing. The assignment was to write the story, but I could not get past seeing my dog Duke with my mouth and eyes, and so I went with a simple six word story.

What was in that kibble anyway?

And here is the image:
Dad and Duke
Weird, eh?

And finally, the other day, we had a Prime Number Poetry assignment, where we had to use five different prime numbers as part of poem where the numbers were the rhyming words of couplets. That’s not as easy as it sounds (or maybe it doesn’t sound easy).

Here’s what I wrote:

At the ripe old age of 89,
I came to the realization of something left behind
in a house whose address was 643
on Main Street, near the post office, by the big ol' tree,
and so if you would like to earn a reward of 109
dollars, I would be most appreciative if you took the time
to gather my stuff, including my pets, all 5,
if they happen to still be living there, and if they happen to be alive.
Give me a call -- my area code is 367
unless I've gone away, then you can text me in Heaven.

And how could I forget? The other day, in honor of my fellow dawg’s birthday (Alan Levine, aka @cogdog), the Daily Create theme was creating a dog-themed photograph for Alan, one of the minds behind DS106. I went into webcomic mode, riffing on a periodic cat vs. dog idea.
CogDog Party Time

Peace (in the creative spirit),
Kevin

 

Bringing Voice Front and Center: Student Haiku Podcasts

I don’t know of a better format for class podcasting than the haiku poem. It’s a theme that is short, focused and allows for easy sharing of words as a group. We continue to work on poetry, even after April ends, and yesterday, some students shared their poems as podcasts as National Poetry Month came to an end. We used our class Soundcloud account to share out.

Peace (in the poems),
Kevin