Book Review: The Trials of Apollo (Hidden Oracle)

Well, Rick Riordan is at it again, taking on mythology to weave a story of action and adventure. And he succeeds again at spinning a solid story (and start to a yet another new series of books) with The Trials of Apollo: The Hidden Oracle. If the title isn’t self-evident, the god Apollo has been cast down to Earth as a mortal by Zeus, and he must earn his godhood back by performing heroic deeds.

If you like Percy Jackson and all of the other Riordan books about Greek, Roman, Egypt and Norse mythology, then you are sure to enjoy this one. I’ve had a handful of students loving the book, and as a read-aloud book with my son, I enjoyed it for what it is. I’m finding the narrative voice of his characters a little too much the same, but that’s my own critical reading, I guess.

Actually, I don’t want to review the story here. Rather, I want to note a subversive element that Riordan is working into his stories these days. Let’s note that, in my estimation, the target audience for these books is probably nine year olds to 13 year olds.

The subversive element (which perhaps is the wrong choice of words) that I am noticing began with Nico di Angelo, the son of Hades, in the Heroes of Olympus series, and continues with Apollo in this one. Riordan is making visible the gay sexuality of some of his characters, and while it did not make me or my son uncomfortable (if you knew the community we live in, you’d know why … diverse families are part of the fabric of our city), it did strike me as a daring move by Riordan, given the size of his youthful audience.

Now, let me be clear. There is nothing risque about what Riordan is doing. In fact, there is a tenderness to it. And Riordan does not make a big deal out of Nico being a gay character in this story (in an earlier book, we learn that that he had a crush on Percy Jackson). But here, Nico has a male partner (Will) in Camp Half-Blood. The two hold hands and show love openly. And Apollo, as Gods are oft to do, is clearly bisexual. He has loved and cast away female loves of the past as much as male loves of the past, and those memories haunt him.

In particular, Apollo recalls multiples times in the novel how Hyacinth was one of his “true loves.” Apollo regrets how his own jealous actions led to Hyacinth’s brutal death, and how the flowers he created from Hyacinth’s spilled blood is a reminder of that love between God and man.

Now, Riordan could have ignored this sexuality element of Apollo’s mythology, but he hasn’t. I can only imagine the discussions going on with publishers. I may be wrong. Perhaps the turning tide of acceptance makes this homosexuality element a non-discussion point.

But I doubt it.

I admire that Riordan has not flinched from that part of the mythological stories, particularly in these controversial days of awareness of gay rights and equality. Still, I can’t help but think that some parents (and maybe teachers, even), if they bother to read what their kids are reading (as many are no doubt reading Riordan on a regular basis), might feel different about the move, given the conversative political and strict religious views of parts of the country.

I remain hopeful that the storylines will spark a discussion that can lead to understanding of lifestyles. Maybe a young reader, confused about their own sexuality, will see themselves in the story and find a path forward themselves. It may take writers like Riordan to plant seeds of compassion in young readers with literature, and the flowers may yet bloom in years to come. Adults are always more difficult.

Peace (is not a myth),
Kevin

Scenes from a Student Video Contest

I am a teacher advisor to the Student Council at my school. I’ve given up planning and prep time, on and off over the years, for the Student Council as a way to empower students and give them an opportunity to be leaders in the school. This year, a group of students asked me personally if I would help re-start the Student Council because they had ideas for school spirit activities, and how could I say no to that?

I said, yes.

The last project of the year has been a Video Contest. This came from the students, who wanted to do something different and creative, and it has been a real interesting experience. The council put out the call for short videos to our entire PreK-Grade 6 school (about 500 students) in four categories (documentary, comedy, music and “freestyle”), and they wondered if they would be barraged by cell phone videos.

Not quite (which sort of surprised me for I, too, wondered how a small group would handle the load of video submissions, and I even began a back-up plan of inviting more students into the Student Council to help.) We only had a handful of videos, but it was enough for the Student Council to award prizes (gift cards to a bookstore) to winners in each category, and to recognize some honorable mentions, too.

The above video is a small compilation of clips from the winning videos, which ranged from a Lego stopmotion movie to a music video about a sandwich to a movie teaser featuring a strange raccoon to a digital story capturing the small town in which the school is located.

The 2016 Norris Tiger VideoRama was a success (and we will be sharing the winning videos over our close-circuit television system next week), even if I wonder how we could get even more students to be making videos in the future. (For my sixth grade students, I just never found time to do a lesson on using iMovie, which I now regret.)

Peace (and pass the popcorn),
Kevin

Slice of Life: You Make It All Right

Sometimes, I pick up the guitar, and the songwriting flows as if it were something else beside me. As if the song were just there, waiting patiently for the moment. This demo of You Make It All Right (Glitter and Gold) is one of those songs. I randomly sang the first line, and in that moment, I knew the entire song and story. The chords fell into place immediately. I wrote this whole song, which I really like, in about 15 minutes, tops. Maybe not even that.

Songwriting rarely goes that easy. Usually, it’s a struggle with parts of the song, moving words and editing phrases and adding bridges, and reworking the entire meaning. It’s not unusual for me to start writing a song about one thing and end up with something else entirely when I am done.

When the song just falls into place, it’s a strange, magical feeling. I’m proud of this one, for the story it tells of friendship in the face of hardship, for the mandolin-sound of the guitar (the capo is the neck) and for the possibility with my bandmates. We’ll see how it goes. Sometimes, a demo falls apart when it becomes part of the band sound.

Peace (flowing in song),
Kevin

Data? Who Needs Data? I’ve Got Graphs!

Distorted Graphs: Where's the Party At?

So, I have been having more fun that I have a right to have by making political-themed distorted graphs that have no data correlation whatsoever. I don’t even think or consider any numbers when making these. Who cares about data when you have cool graphs in a misinformation campaign!

Distorted Graph: Path to the Presidency

Actually, along a serious line of thinking, the making of Distorted Graphs (which was inspired by a Make Idea via the Letters to the President 2.0 project hosted by National Writing Project and Educator Innovator) has forced to think very visual when trying to make a satirical political point.

Distorted Graph: Healthy Run

I usually have a general topic in mind when I begin these, and then the decision becomes, what kind of graph format? Do I need a pie chart or a line chart or a something else. What visual will complement the satirical?

Distorted Graphs: Bottom Lines

I’ve been using a combination of apps to create the charts , including the chart creator built into Haiku Deck. It’s pretty, if limited. But limiting myself has been fine because it forces me to consider the content and message.

Distorted Graphs Biased News

I’ve shared some of these into the Letters to the President Twitter stream, but I have wondered, is that hashtag for students? I see some in there. What are they thinking of this Dogtrax dude, setting forth fake graphs? I hope they make their own. I was inspired by some of their real, true graphs. And I’ve been sensitive to my audience, however, and have avoided any profanity. When it comes to this presidential race, that has not been as easy as it seems.

Distorted Graphs: Talk about Education

I’ll make more as I get inspired, and share them out when I can. For now, just know that these Distorted Graphs represent the whole Distorted Political Spectrum, and like memes, offer another way to engage in discourse on the way the presidential campaign is unfolding before our eyes.

Peace (it’s off the charts),
Kevin

In October: Teachers Teaching Teachers about Technology

Big image

I am so honored to have been asked to be a keynote speaker for the 4T Virtual Conference on Digital Writing coming in October — a virtual conference on digital writing and learning that is free. Yep, free.

4T Virtual Conference Bio

My keynote session is entitled “A Day in the Life of a Digital Writer.” I aim to explore how writing is at the heart of the digital, from my own perspective and from the lives of my students. There are other many fine presenters, too, all worth checking out.

And there are a bunch of National Writing Project connections, and a push into Digital Writing Month.  You can view the flier here, and register here. The entire conference is online, but made to be as interactive as possible.

Here’s a promo:

Peace (write it digitally),
Kevin

 

Call Me Disappointed: A Connected Course and A Camp Go Kaput


flickr photo shared by corydalus under a Creative Commons ( BY-NC-SA ) license

I’m having a hard time writing this post. Seriously. I had such high hopes for a summer in which I would bring the elements of Connected Learning in full swing to my Western Massachusetts Writing Project site with a graduate level course offering connected to two summer youth digital camps.

Summer Connected Course Description

In the graduate course through UMass, educators would learn about technology and digital literacy, with the pedagogical anchor of Connected Learning. I was really jazzed up about bringing the Making Learning Connected MOOC into the course itself (the timing would have worked) and then having teachers plan/co-facilitate two youth digital summer camps at our vocational high school that would center around student interests, with highlighted sectors of video game design, webcomics, paper circuitry, digital storytelling and more.

A WMWP educator and friend who is in a grad program around digital studies and education was going to help me facilitate the summer. He helped run a MOOC in this grad program, so his experience would have been valuable. Plus, he is doing all sorts of good work with youth programming.

It was all good …

… until reality kicked in.

Here’s how many kids signed up for the camp: Zero.
Here’s how many teachers signed up for the course: Two (and one was only “iffy”).

This week, we pulled the plug on both offerings, and I am sad about having to make that decision. That’s why it’s hard to write this post. It feels like a failed attempt to push us forward. I feel as if I failed to push us forward.

There are all sorts of factors that might be at play here — time of the year, maybe teachers didn’t want to teach kids this summer after teaching all year, advertising issues with the school that would host the summer camp — but I can’t help feel as if …

  1. I did a poor job writing up what Connected Learning is all about, and therefore, took the attractiveness out of a technology course, which WMWP teachers have been asking for, or …
  2. Teachers are just not really ready to dive into the core principles of Connected Learning because it remains an unknown idea. I have been working with the concepts for three years or so, and in the CLMOOC, lots of folks are exploring the pedagogy, but maybe I am stuck inside my own little bubble, or
  3. Something else that I don’t quite see right now.

The youth summer camp turnout (zero? really?) surprises me, to be honest, since in the past, we have had a waiting list of students for our digital camps on similar themes. We’ve engaged middle school students in moviemaking, game design, comics, and more. It’s been very popular, albeit we took a few years off from sponsoring the digital camps.

So, we will go back and mull over what we could have done differently, and think about either next summer or offering a course during the school year. I am not personally interested in running a grad course built around “how to use” technology. I am more interested in facilitating a course in which digital learning and literacies are at the forefront, with the technology being tools we may, or may not, have our disposal to use, as the backdrop.

Peace (and solace),
Kevin

 

My Son’s Video Journey

When my oldest son, now graduating high school, was young, he wanted to learn how to make movies. It turns out, I was teaching myself how to make stopmotion movies at the time, thinking I would bring that kind of moviemaking into my classroom (which I did for a few years). So, my son and I made movies, together. It was a blast.

Mouse and Cat Together from Mr. Hodgson on Vimeo.

Then, he began to venture on his own, planning more complicated and longer films, and using a little flash video camera for shooting and MovieMaker software on our old PC. Sometimes, he would ask me to help or to be in the movie. Sometimes, not.

The Squop from Mr. Hodgson on Vimeo.

Then, he began to go deep with the idea of making movies and explored various editing tricks. He would storyboard, just like I showed him, and once he had a YouTube account, he’d post some of his short films online.

For his senior year Capstone Project, he spent months making this documentary of his friends’ rock band, and as I watch his work from behind the camera and in the editing “room,” I see how far he has come and how much he has learned on his own.

I still remember with fondness those early years, though. And the videos bring me back …

Shovel Trouble from Mr. Hodgson on Vimeo.

Peace (over time),
Kevin

CLMOOC: Cultivating Connections and Community

A bunch o’ folks are working to plan and launch the fourth year of Making Learning Connected (CLMOOC) in July. We’re sort of on our own this year, as the National Writing Project is turning its resources and attention to another great summer project (see below). We’re aiming to crowdsource the Make Cycle activities of CLMOOC as much as possible. A bunch of folks are tinkering in Slack space to get organized.

What will CLMOOC look like? We don’t yet know.

But we have faith … and we have an overarching theme: Cultivating Connections and Community. Cool, right?

If you want to get on the list for news updates about CLMOOC, we have a Google Form all cooked up for you.

You can follow events on Twitter (#clmooc) and in Google Communities, and who knows where else. Ripples happen, right?

Wondering how to stay creative and engaged until then? Be sure to check out Letters to the President 2.0 project, overseen by National Writing Project and Educator Innovator (the two organizations which seeded the CLMOOC to begin with, three summers ago). The Connected Learning themes resonate through that entire L2P project of raising student voice into the political stage.

Peace (it’s always ongoing),
Kevin

Distorted Graphs: A Misinformation Campaign

Distorted Graphs: Talk about Education

Maybe this idea will have some legs during the Making Learning Connected MOOC this summer (July! More to come!), but I was culling through some of the cool projects with the Letters to the President and noticed the Infographic Make activity. It occurred to me that making faulty infographics spun out out of “no data at all” to make a political point might be interesting and a bit subversive.

Infographics look like they know what they are doing. But anyone can make something pretty that seems official. That doesn’t make it so. What if I purposely ignored data and made infographics based on political stance?

So, I concocted this first Distorted Graph this morning, wondering when candidates are going to really explore our US educational system as a campaign issue, even as it dominates discussions between parents and teachers.

Peace (don’t distort that),
Kevin

Book Review: The Perfection of the Paper Clip

Here’s a book that will force you to look at all of the odds and ends on your cluttered desktop (sorry, I am sure yours is nice and tidy but mine rarely is) and wonder about the stories behind the objects that we use everyday with a single thought as to their origin: the paper clip, staplers, Scotch tape, Post-it sticky notes and more. The Perfection of the Paper Clip: Curious Tales of Invention, Accidental Genius and Stationery Obsession by James Ward is a delightful romp through the mundane elements of the office, and while sometimes the chapters feel a bit too obsessive (look, the title gives you fair warning, right?), the uncovering of the stories is impressive and intriguing.

The book is rich with Ward’s humorous take on life (he runs the Boring Conference … which seems intriguing in its own way, right?) on the objects we often take for granted, and plays up the spoils of competition among inventors and manufacturers.

Actually, I found the opening chapters about the invention of the “pen” itself, and all of its various evolving natures over time (from quill to ball-point to space pen and beyond) to be rather fascinating, for some reasons. Maybe it is the hold-out for tactile writing elements or maybe it is the unending drive by engineers to keep perfecting an object even as they try to find a market to buy what they are inventing.

The Perfection of the Paper Clip is a nifty ride through the objects on your desk. You’ll never staple a paper, write a note to a lover, tape that ripped letter back together or file things away in that filing cabinet again without some story coming to mind. It’s already happening to me.

Peace (in the stick of the story),
Kevin