Space: the new (literary) frontier

George Mayo, who helped pull together the Many Voices for Darfur project, is at it again — this time, he has launched an online magazine to showcase student writing. It is called Space and it is an offshoot of the YouthTwitter Project that he and others (including friend Paul Allison) have begun as a way to connect students together.

George is using Google Docs as a main platform for the online publication and students submit pieces of writing through YouthTwitter. I really wanted some of my students to get some “space” and so we joined YouthTwitter as a classroom account (for now) and submitted six short stories based on the Chris Van Allsburg book, The Mysteries of Harris Burdick (which I wrote about before and even did a podcast book review). I used Google Page Creator to put the stories on their own webpages and then shared the web addresses via YouthTwitter.

One day, I read a concrete poem that George submitted (about concrete poems, appropriately enougy), so I figured I would submit some writing myself — a concrete poem in the shape of a saxophone that I created a few years ago and share with my students every year.

Today is the first publication date of Space and it is a nice mix of student work. I would love to have my students move more into hyperlinked poetry (next month, I hope!) and multimedia creations (I have some burdening moviemakers in class). I think the digital platform holds some interesting opportunities for students to compose and publish for a real audience (always a good thing).

Space might even inspire me to venture into hyperlinked poetry myself, something I have considered but never pursued. Thanks, George, for the inspiration.

Peace (in publication),
Kevin

Slice of Life, Chapter 21

(This is part of the Slice of Life Project)

We are Ice Legend!

I could not resist that recent-movie-inspired opening, as my students have collaboratively and with great interest (and, I am happy to report, very little dispute) decided upon a name for our class team in this year’s Quidditch Tournament (coming up in April).

This decision on what to call ourselves is always an interesting process to watch unfold and I do try to guide it carefully to keep everything civil. Some years, the choosing of name can lay to waste a year’s worth of good will, particularly if the class divides itself down the middle. It’s only a name to me. To them, the name defines them, so I have to be sure to keep the weight of such a decision in mind as I move us through the process.

Over a few days time, they brainstormed a list of names. This gives everyone a chance to contribute, even if the contributions are sometimes silly. I allow room for this silliness since it helps keep us grounded (gotta foster silliness at times if you wanna stay sane). Thus, we get names like The Typhoon Penguins or Hodgepodge (they love to make fun of my name in times like this).

Next, we do some talking about the names and then move on to some silent voting, going through a couple of rounds to see which ones have no support at all and which ones seem to float to the top. The voting this year took four rounds to get to our final name.

Perhaps in some anticipation of this name emerging as a winner, one of my boys — not always on task — presented me with this possible symbol (soon, we will be designing t-shirts and posters and flags and other items and we try to have a common symbol):

So, We are Ice Legend.

But I kind of wish they have voted for Ice Writers (he says mournfully). But that name only got one vote in the early round (it wasn’t me — I don’t vote) and then it was knocked out of consideration.

Now, we need to invent the legend of the Ice Legend (cue music: Led Zep’s Immigrant’s Song: We come from the land of the ice and snow ….)

Peace (in collaborative decision-making),
Kevin the Ice Writer

Day in a Sentence: Off to Israel

Day in Sentence Icon

The Day in a Sentence continues on its world tour, moving from last week’s comfortable confines in Australia with Anne M. to the shores of Israel, where Bonnie is on her regular sojourn for a few weeks.

Next week, the moon? No. We’ll bring the homesick Day in a Sentence home for a week of rest and relaxation after the visit to Bonnie’s blog this week. All that travel makes the Day a bit worn out, but loving the memories.

And so, without further ado, Bonnie invites you to visit her blog and post your Day in a Sentence for this week, with any kind of vacation-themed writing you may to do. She even encourages the sharing of vacation photos. I decided to use a vacation-style metaphor for how things are going with me. You can feel free to twist the vacation idea any way that seems appropriate for you, of course.

Here is my Day in a Sentence:

While my body feels as if it is in London — all dreary and foggy on the outside of the world — my mind yearns for some little tropical island somewhere that no one else knows about — restful and relaxed from morning until night.

See you on Bonnie’s Blog!

Peace (in connections),
Kevin

Slice of Life, Chapter 20

(This is part of the Slice of Life Project)

The trees are about set to run.

Any day now, I will look out my window and see a few cans and buckets dangling from the bark of the trees in our front yard. A neighbor will have come over casually (and quietly, now that our dog has passed away) and he’ll pin up the buckets and attach a series of odd hoses to our trees. He makes do with whatever is handy. This is not a professional operation.

The warm weather is coming. The trees know it. We know it. And the maple sugar syrup-ers (what is the name for someone who collects sap and turns it into syrup?) certainly know it and are waiting with hopeful intent for a good season.

When the sap flows, it is pretty amazing.

The collection buckets fill up fast — sometimes within minutes, as if a little tsunami of liquid has surged from the tree — and we enlist our kids to carry the buckets over to our neighbor’s yard and return with empty cannisters, quickly. The sap sloshes in waves in the cans, so the kids move carefully to the corner house where our neighbor friend puts out a huge collection pan and stokes a fire. The sap in the pan smokes as water is steamed off, leaving behind some rich amber gold and bringing forth the sugary goodness. We lick our lips in anticipation of the first Sunday morning of pancakes and sausage with the syrup made from our own trees, in our own yard. We dip our fingers into it and don’t worry about manners. This is Our Syrup, after all.

Our neighbor — a rabbi and thoughtful man — goes beyond making syrup with his operations, What he really is making are connections in our neighborhood. He is showing us all how collectively, we can come together. He is showing us the richness of our world, if we would just take time to look for it. We never even considered our trees for anything other than shade until he asked if he could tap them.

Sometimes, a crowd of people gathers about over at his house, breaking wood, feeding the fire, bringing in small sap buckets and just chatting away. We don’t see each other as much in winter as we should, and by the time the sap is flowing in March, the kids all seem to have grown a few inches and news abounds from all corners of our worlds.

Yep, soon, there will be buckets. Soon, there will be spring. Soon, the neighborhood will be inching its way back to life.

Peace (in community),
Kevin

Slice of Life, Chapter 19

(This is part of the Slice of Life Project)

This week, it’s all about the students.

This is our spring stretch of parent-teacher conferences and along with getting a glimpse inside families, the meetings with families gives my team of teachers an opportunity to come together for an extended period of time to talk deeply about how all of our kids are doing in school. (Note: I am the writing instructor on a group of four — with other three teachers dealing with science, social studies and math, and then we all teach literature to our homerooms.) We talk about the students all the time, of course — before school, at lunch, after school — but not in so quite an organized and systematic way.

Yesterday, our team meeting became a three-hour marathon session and although I was tired from lack of sleep and still feeling sick, it was just so interesting to go in-depth on various students whose work and behavior and actions differ so greatly depending on the setting, the personalities around them and the content areas. A student who shines in writing may be struggling mightily in social studies. The hands-on elements of science might play right into a strength of someone who isn’t keeping up the district-mandated accelerated pace of math instruction this year (actually, almost every student is being “left in the dust,” as our math teacher tells it, and he is not even near the place in the curriculum where the district has told him he needs to be at this point in time). You come to realize how often skewed your view of a person can be when you only see them from one angle. As teachers, we need to remind ourselves to step back and see the whole child at all times.

There are times when my team and I use Google Docs for collaborative notes around students prior to conferences, although we did not do that for this spring session. (I can’t resist the opportunity to pull more people into the Web 2.0 Revolution). The writing on Google has been very helpful for us, I think, since parents choose to meet with just one of the four of us, and our job is to represent the rest of the team. Most parents would just like to meet the math teacher but we cap the limit of sessions that any one of us can have, so they are placed with the rest of us. They must wonder how the writing teacher is going to explain the math curriculum, but I actually have a pretty good handle on what is going on in the math class. I talk to my students all the time.

My meetings with parents yesterday went fine and the conversations were meaningful and instructive for both sides. As it turns out, the one meeting I was looking forward to about a very bright and creative student who seems to be putting no effort into the work unless it completely is of interest — oh, but he has put up dozens of home movies on YouTube and he was part of my claymation movie camp last year — was a no-go as mom was a no-show. That was frustrating.

We have more conferences today, and then, tomorrow, we finish things up. By then, my brain will be suitably numb with comments, suggestions and ideas on how we can best help all of our students to succeed.

Peace (in partnerships with parents),
Kevin

I Dream in Twitter: A Podcast Poem

I’ve been thinking about Twitter a lot lately, about the pros and cons, and I woke this morning with the lines of this poem dancing in my head. (Twitter is a network that connects people by asking them to write about what they are doing right at that moment) So I worked on it and recorded it as a podcast, sharing it out.

I would love to know what the Twitter friends think about it.

I Dream in Twitter
Listen to the podcast

I dream in Twitter
in 140 characters
that cut off my thoughts before they are complete
and then I wonder, why 140?
Ten more letters would serve me right
as I write about what I am doing at that moment
in time,
connecting across the world with so many others
shackled by 140 characters, too,
and I remain amazed at how deep the brevity can be.

I find it unsettling to eavesdrop on conversations
between two
when you can only read one
and it startles me to think that someone else out there
has put their ear to my words
and wondered the same about me.
Whose eyes are watching?

Twitter is both an expanding universe
of tentacles and hyperlinks that draw you in
with knowledge and experience
and a shrinking neighborhood of similar voices,
echoing out your name
in comfortable silence.

I dream in Twitter
in 140 characters,
and that is what I am doing
right
at
this
moment.

Peace (in poems and podcasts),
Kevin

Slice of Life, Chapter 18

(This is part of the Slice of Life Project)

Sometimes, buried treasures comes in cardboard boxes.

Our recent discovery was one of a cache of comic books that arrived via FreeCycle (the site where people get rid of stuff and other people bring stuff home — we’ve unloaded cribs and received a beautiful dining room table through Freecycle). The box was loaded with books, always a good thing for a house like ours, and there at the bottom, was a thick pile of comic books of all shapes and sizes.

Bonanza!

We immediately divvied things up. I grabbed the Baby Blues, which chronicles a couple raising children (perfect). One son took the Foxtrot while a friend went through The Far Side (still a big hit with kids and adults, I find). A plethora of Garfields lay scattered on the floor (no doubt, a comfortable repose for the fat cat).

A little while later, I surveyed the scene. Even the three-year-old had grabbed a Garfield book and was fully engrossed in the colorful pictures. The living room was silent. And it remained silent (except for the sudden “guffaws” now and then) for almost 20 minutes, which is quite a long time in our house. There is something about comics and humor that pulls most people in, isn’t there? I know we can often dismiss comics as juvenile but there is something about the narrative structure of telling a story in just a few frames, with visuals, that can be a powerful reading (and writing) experience.

Not long ago, my older son developed his own comic strip character called “The Ugly Peanut” and he wrote dozens of comic strips about the adventures of the strange little creature. Some of the jokes (excluding the obligatory fart jokes) were pretty advanced (although he later admitted that he “borrowed” from the books that he had read and adapted for his character, which I told him was perfectly acceptable for the starting of a character).

I will leave you with a look at his creation, The Ugly Peanut:

Peace (in frames),
Kevin

Slice of Life, Chapter 17

(This is part of the Slice of Life Project)

My wife and middle child have been soaking in the sun and fun in Florida for the past five days, taking in Red Sox games and Disney, while I have been battling a chest cold and trying to keep the older and younger kids amused and engaged. The kids have been mostly wonderful (although last night, the little one was chewing on an M&M and purposely spit the chocolate goo from his moutn onto the white futon cover of the couch, causing me to lose my cool for a short time. He wisely played quietly with his trains while I pounded around the house, fuming, and wrestled with the futon to get the cover off and the stain remover on.)

This weekend, the three amigos went to a local Butterfly Museum and I return with this audio-visual Slice of Life report, told in part by my three-year-old son and pictures from our visit. (A quick disclaimer: in one picture, the narration talks about a Monarch butterfly, when in fact, it is an Owl butterfly in the video. Somehow, I jumbled pics in the editing process. My older son corrected me on that one, quite firmly.)

[kml_flashembed movie="http://video.google.com/googleplayer.swf?docid=681539785303927390" width="400" height="326" wmode="transparent" /]

If you can’t see the video, you can listen to the podcast version (although the video is mostly in sync with itself)

Listen to me and my son talking.

Peace (while floating on the air),
Kevin

The MiniLegends Speak Out with a Blog Shout

Some of you may know that there has been blogging trouble brewing on southern part of Australia, as the government there shut down a potentially innovative and certainly exciting blogging adventure called The MiniLegends. The teacher, Al Upton, had his students create blogs and then asked for other educators in the world to server as “virtual mentors” to his students, following their progress in school via the blogs.

The government shut down the project on fears that the blogging mentoring concept exposed students to possible dangers, although Al had a pretty comprehensive document for parents to read and sign off on beforehand.

This morning, I was reading through the many (more than 100) comments at Al’s blog and I was pleased to see the students voicing their own sadness, frustration and outrage over the situation as it now stands (Al is trying to reverse the decision). I think it is vital that we hear the voices of the students in any of these matters.

I looked for my (former) mentee, Sam, but many of the students did not sign their names. I will assume he is there in the mix, somewhere. (Although Sam’s blog is closed, I am hoping by linking with a trackback, he will at least know that I am supporting him and hoping him the best. It’s a silent blogging protest in support of the kids)

Here are some of the thoughts of the MiniLegends (in the interest of not wanting to embarrass any students, I did a little editing cleanup here and there):

I was almost in tears when I heard my blog was shut-down. I was so sad and disappointed. I really enjoyed blogging. I absolutely loved my cluster-map. I sometimes might say all that work was for nothing. The vokis are cool. I start thinking that we wouldn’t be able to talk to our mentors. It used to be fun. Cheers. — Mini17

When I first heard my blog was shut down I felt sad,upset and worried about my blog and what would happen to my blog. How I can’t look at my comment’s and how I can’t look at other people’s blog’s. And how I can’t see my cluster map.The best is the communicating with people I don’t know. I get friend’s. You can put on pictures and posters. I learn faster on the computer’s and blogs. Our new form is called Article 13. I love blogging. — Mini14

When I found out that our blogs were closing down, I felt confused, sad and angry. I felt really sad because I felt that all Al had taught us had gone to waste. We had a vote on a name for our new forum. The new name for our forum is Article 13. It means Rights for the Child.I felt better with my blog in many ways. — Mini22

When I heard that the blog was closed, I was sad because the blog was like everything in my life . But now it is closed so we just have to do something that is like the blog . The blog was great and fun. I loved my blog. It was like my home. — Mini2

Perhaps the days ahead will bring some progress.
Peace (in action),
Kevin