What They Choose: The Science in the Video Games

We’re in the midst of a video game design project. I queried students about the geology/science theme that underpins their video game projects, and created this chart that breaks down the topics. It’s no surprise that Layers of the Earth gets the most attention, as it translates nicely to a multi-leveled game.
Video Game Science Concepts

Peace (in the topics),
Kevin

Storifying My #Nerdlution … so far

It’s Day 12 of the #Nerdlution and each day, I have been adding a few elements of what I have been up over at Storify as a way to curate my path. I can’t do this for 50 days, so I am wrapping up this part of my curating (but will keep participating and collecting where I have been for my 50 comments / 50 blogs / 50 days at Diigo).

Peace (in the tracks behind and path ahead),
Kevin

A Light Covering — A Winter Learning Walk

Since the summer’s Making Learning Connected MOOC, I have been trying to periodically take my camera/iPad and wander around my yard on a Learning Walk as a way to slow down, focus in and pay attention. I keep getting inspired by my friend Kim, who has been regularly blogging about her use of photography to connect with writing and reflection. A Learning Walk is more than a walk, I’ve found.

The other morning, this is what I found:
Winter Learning Walk
Yes, we have snow here in New England already. Not much, though, but the white covering on everything gives it a real December theme, doesn’t i? I realized later that I should have found my push mower, and snapped a shot of it. I’ve used it for various Learning Walk images. Darn.

Of all these, I find I like the pumpkin the best. It’s been on our front porch since early October, and the squirrels have had a feast with the seeds and insides, leaving it all hollowed out. The snow covering gives the orange a pretty mix. If you are wondering about the smiley face on the door, my son used wikistix to write welcoming words to friends who were visiting. The words have fallen and the eyes and mouth is all that is left at this point. I like the use of the reflection, too, as the centerpiece of the collage here.

Peace (on the walk),
Kevin

Scenes from our Hour of Code

All this week, in between our work designing science-based video games, my sixth graders have been learning about the Hour of Code initiative. Of my 80 students, only a handful have ever done any kind of programming. Most didn’t even know what programming is.We had a long discussion about what code is and why it is important to at least understand the underpinnings of technology. In kid language, I explained the importance of understanding our interactions with technology and about having some control over what we do when we use our computers, mobile devices and more. I didn’t use the word “agency,” but that is what I meant.

I am bringing them into a site called Tynker tomorrow, but yesterday, we worked on a great introductory activity located at the Hour of Code site that uses Angry Birds (familiar, annoying pop icon) to show how to use a style of Logos programming (called Blockly) to move around a maze. The site worked fantastic with our interactive board (and the video tutorials worked well), so that I did very little other than show them the code they were writing (the site reveals the programming code underneath the moves) and hand off the pen to the next student to solve the problem and level.

They got the idea of block-style programming, very quickly,  and they were very engaged in the activity, helping each other out to solve the problem of each level. By the end of the day, we had collectively written a total of about 145 lines of code and spent a collective 6,400 minutes with programming with Blockly (80 students, 20 minutes each class, four classes). I know learning is more than numbers, but it’s still pretty cool to see it that way.

Here are a few scenes from the classroom, as we worked on both the Angry Birds activity and then moved back into programming around our video games (using Gamestar Mechanic).

Hour of Code

Hour of Code

And on to video game design …

Hour of Code

Hour of Code

A few students asked about apps that use a style of programming language, so I created this visual to share with them about the apps I have on my iPad. My son plays some of them. I have not yet checked out the Code Academy app for teaching programming, but that is on my list.
Hour of Code app collection

Peace (in the code),
Kevin

Book Review: Mister Max – The Book of Lost Things

My son and I sort of stumbled on this book by Cynthia Voight by accident. We were in-between read-aloud books and my wife had picked Mister Max: The Book of Lost Things at a conference. It was the back cover that had me interested: “The trouble began with a mysterious invitation.” I read that blurb out loud to my son and he responded, “Well, now we have to read the book.”

So, we did.

The story — which lays the ground for at least one sequel, due out in 2014 — is about young Max Starling, whose parents are actors. The mysterious invitation is for the family to pack up and spend time in Kashmir as a teaching and traveling theater group. But when his parents go missing, Max is on his own (with help from his grandmother, a smart librarian who lives next door). Max embarks on finding independence, as he holds out hope that his parents are OK.

Much of the story involves Max solving problems — not as a detective, a label he does not like, but as a solutioneer — someone who finds creative solutions to problems, allowing him to earn enough money to live on while he ponders what might have happened to his parents. (You have to suspend reality here, as Max never goes to the police to inform them that his parents are missing. I would hope my kids would inform the authorities if my wife and I suddenly were gone.) The characters here are well-drawn, and Cynthia Voight is a writer with much talent, laying different pieces of different puzzles here and there, and then expertly pulling them together by the end, only to leave yet another mystery to untangle (thus, the sequel).

Mister Max was a perfect read-aloud and my son had a lot of questions about characters and foreshadowing, and those “aha” moments when Max figured something out. We thoroughly enjoyed the story, and appreciate how the random discovery of a book like Mister Max can light up a reading life.

Peace (in the mystery),
Kevin

The Collaborative Song: Tweeting ’bout a #Nerdlution

Nerdlution song lyrics
The other day, I created a collaborative document on TitanPad (open source/free writing platform) and asked folks to contribute lyrics to a remix of Tracy Chapman’s Talking ’bout a Revolution by making it into Tweeting ’bout a Nerdlution. Over a few days, a few folks joined me and added lyrics and ideas, and then I worked (see above) to pull it together into a song. This week, during our “frozen roads day” off from school, I finally had some time to record a version of the song (no one took me up on the offer to sing it with me so I was on my own, and I apologize in advance, y’all. It’s out of my natural range.).

Take a listen:
Tweeting ’bout A #Nerdlution by Dogtrax

And here are the final lyrics:

Tweetin’ bout a #Nerdlution
Don’t you know we’re talking about a Nerdlution
Found on Twitter
Don’t you know we’re talking about a Nerdlution
Found on Twitter

Well, we’ve got these personal goals in line
opening up doorways of creative invention
Making time to nurture body and mind
Sharing out our daily resolutions

Don’t you know we’re talking about a Nerdlution
Found on Twitter
Don’t you know we’re talking about a Nerdlution
Found on Twitter

All people are gonna rise up
and fight back their fears
All people are gonna wise up,
and tweet what’s theirs!

Don’t you know you better, tweet, tweet, tweet, tweet, tweet, tweet, tweet, tweet, tweet, tweet, tweet, tweet
Oh I said you better share, share, share, come on and let’s share

‘Cause finally the world is starting to turn
(talking about a nerdlution)
We’re  finding different ways to connect and to learn
(talking about a nerdlution)

And we’re moving through some awkward times
always on but we feel so disconnected
yet here we are, reaching for the stars
making friends and sharing out reflections

Don’t you know we’re talking about a Nerdlution
Found on Twitter
Don’t you know we’re talking about a Nerdlution
Found on Twitter

Peace (in the collaborations),
Kevin
PS — if you want to see the writing in real-time, check out this link.
PSS — I recorded this in Garageband, with a drum loop track. The guitar and keys are me, playing.

Lost Notes, Memory Tricks and the Discomfort Factor

 

The other night, at practice with my band (Duke Rushmore), we did something unusual. We’ve been working on some new songs for the past few weeks and as such, have ignored some of the old ones that we have always played. It’s part of learning, I guess, that we focus our energies on the present. But at practice, we decided to go back to some old songs that we used to know by heart. As the drummer kicked off the beat to the first one, I realized in a panic that I didn’t know what my first note was or how the song even began.

It was incredibly uncomfortable to feel so lost in the music.

The interesting thing is that I was not alone that night. In just about all of the old “chestnuts” that we pulled out, someone in the band — or more than one of us — didn’t know this note, or that chord, or where the break happened, or how to make the transition, or the order of the solos. We kept looking around at each other, asking: how could we have forgotten? Someone please help!

And we laughed.

But as a teacher, it reminded me something important. We take it for granted that our students are accumulating knowledge and experience, and that at any moment, they should be able to tap into the past work for the present assignment. Except, that doesn’t always happen, and we teachers get frustrated. Didn’t we already cover this? we wonder. The reality, though, is that without exposure and reminders, things get lost.

It was a humbling experience, floundering in a setting where I can usually thrive. I didn’t like that feeling, even in the company of friends who were not judging me for my missed notes, or wrong notes. My brain was working harder at retrieving information than it usually does acquiring it. I made a mental note about that process, and then got back to work re-learning my saxophone solos.

I’m still learning.

Peace (in reflection),
Kevin

Digital Composition: The Marriage of Image and Words


Created with Haiku Deck, the free presentation app for iPad

(Note of honest disclosure: I’m not sure where I am going with this post, so bear with me.)

Yesterday, I shared out the Haiku Deck of six word stories that were shared as part of the #nerdlution effort. I had asked folks to write and then wanted to celebrate their writing beyond the impermanence of the Twitter Stream. I turned to Haiku Deck, which I use quite a lot and really enjoy. As I was working throughout Sunday, though, I started to think about what I was doing, how I was composing with borrowed words of others.

This is one of the central underpinnings of composing digitally these days — how do we make decisions about the look and feel and overall design of our writing? In some ways, Haiku Deck — like so many sites — makes that process easier than ever. Built for short pieces of writing in a presentation mode, Haiku Deck is an interesting platform to consider choices around image and words. You only have two lines for writing and words get smaller as you write, so you start running into the distant horizon event — words become too small to read.

But for an activity like Six Word Memoirs, Haiku Deck is perfectly suited as a platform. The stories started flowing on Twitter early in the day and just kept right on rolling throughout the late afternoon. I had about 50 stories to work with when all was said and done. You should have seen me, reading the tweets on my computer while balancing my iPad on my lap, tapping away furiously to keep up (I know, Haiku Deck now has web platform but I haven’t had time to check it out).

This is where things get interesting.

In Haiku Deck, you access data bases of images for the backgrounds. It begins by using the text of each slide as a keyword search, but you can change or adapt as necessary. Now, when I do my own writing, I know what “feel” and mental image I am going for. It’s internalized and when I go public, I understand that I need to externalize what I am trying to convey. I won’t say I am an ardent stickler for the exact right image, but I am very conscious of how the image works in partnership with the words. I’m often tweaking the keywords and scrolling down pretty far through the bank of images to find the right fit.

But here, I was working with the words of others, not just my own. I felt a little uncomfortable, to be honest, as I were hijacking someone’s loved ones, even if I were doing it for all the right and good reasons. Words have value. Words have meaning, and sometimes, in online spaces, the inferred meaning of the writer can become very different from the meaning understood by the reader (particularly when you only have six words to play with — there’s a lot left unsaid.) I was conscious of the fact that my friends had placed an implicit trust in me, as their curator. And most didn’t even know I was creating a collection of stories.

What this all means is, I had a responsibility to the whole, as community; and to the individuals, as writers; and to myself, as curator. I worked very hard to find the right images, and that included thinking along lines of colors of images, so that the words would stand out, and to balance the implicit and explicit meaning of the image as part of the message of the slide. More than once, I came back to a slide, shook my head and began another search query. Sometimes, I visited a story multiple times.

So, for example, look at Michelle’s story slide. At first glance, it seems like a typical outdoor scene. But look closer, and you can see that I focused on her word “cornerstone” as the metaphor in her writing. This picture, with the view looking up, shows the power of cornerstones in holding things up.

michelle 6words

Or here is Kay’s. This is one that I revised a number of times, never quite happy with the results. I wanted to project movement, but with a static image, that can be difficult. I finally came to this image, which is colorfully kinetic in nature, and attuned to Kay’s words.

kay 6words

Finally, I grappled with Julia’s story, which she composed as a list. I focused so much on the breathing that I lost track of the message of peacefulness. One too many images of someone’s lips breathing out steam (or smoke, as most of them were) had me frustrated for quite some time. Then, as I toyed around with keywords, I saw this image of the statue, and I was hit with that feeling of “this is it.” The image is perfect partner to the words, in my opinion.

Julia 6words

So, why write this post? I knew you’d ask.

It’s because we need to make sure we are being purposeful in our digital composing. So many cool sites, like Haiku Deck, automate our decision-making processes in way that strips us of much of our agency as writers, and we need to continue to inject ourselves — as writer, as composers — into the process. It requires both effort and a step back from the technology.

We should use the tools out there — Haiku Deck is a beautiful platform — and we should tap into them as we see fit, but be sure to observe them as merely tools to our own vision. I could have quickly gone through and randomly chosen images to with the six word stories. In doing so, though, I would have cheated those writers in way that is difficult to articulate, and I would have cheated myself. Let’s teach our students and emerging writers in the digital age to be the ones in charge of the technology that surround them, not the other way around. Move beyond cool. Move into composing with agency.

Peace (in the meandering about),
Kevin

There’s Beauty in Brevity: Six Words from the #Nerdlution

Unlike Saturday, when encouraging folks to write haiku poetry was an impromptu thing, yesterday was a deliberate effort to encourage folks who are participating in the #nerdlution to write a six word memoir update on Twitter. You never know what to expect when you toss out a writing prompt, but it wasn’t long before the words were flowing. All through the day, more and more six word memoirs were published in the #nerdlution Twitter stream, and they were just beautiful examples of how teachers writing together can create a powerful experience.

Early on, I realized: I can’t just let these words go into the invisible ether of the Internet. So, I began grabbing the six word memoirs and put them into this (now quite large) Haiku Deck presentation, hoping to add a layer of imagery to the participants’ words, and showcase the writing. There are more than 50 six word stories here and each is a gem worth savoring over. I hope I did justice to everyone’s words and ideas.

Enjoy.

Created with Haiku Deck, the free presentation app for iPad

Peace (in the deck),
Kevin