Writing with Light: I Fear I Left the Poem Behind

I fear I left the poem behind

I was reading the Sunday newspaper, when I came upon an interview with a writer who has published a new book about the history of computer Word Processors. The writer is Mathew Kirschenbaum and his book is Track Changes: A Literary History of Word Processing.

The conversation was interesting (including one point where he found historical references to writing on the screen as “writing with light” — that stuck with me and became ‘refolding these pockets of light’ in the poem), as it centered on the ways early Word Processing programs changed the way some people write (or at least, the perceptions of the writing process).

The interview references a famous quote by Joan Didion about how writing is a bit like sculpture, and a writer chips away to create form. Didion was referring to creative non-fiction writing from the strands of inquiry and research, I am sure, but I starting thinking of poetry in context to her insight, and how space and inference play a part in writing poetry. What you leave out is as important as what you leave in.

Writing nonfiction is more like sculpture, a matter of shaping the research into the finished thing. - Joan Didion

I’ve seen the Didion quote before but something about it, in context to the discussion about digital writing, stuck with me for the day, and that led to the poem above, called I Fear I Left the Poem Behind.

Peace (with hammers and chisels),
Kevin

App Review: Music Memos

Music Memo App

Well, now … this is some sort of magic. I had a songwriting friend who urged me to check out this new free app by Apple called Music Memos, and I finally got around to it yesterday. Yes, it is pretty nifty. You can record ideas, and not only will the app record (not all that special, really), it will lay out the chord structure (see image), and allow you to add in automated bass and drums.

So, the musical idea takes shape in the app. Sort of. It’s not perfect (the drums start off and end rather awkward and the bass doesn’t always want to be in tune with the song) but it is a great way to “jot down” musical ideas and at least hear them begin to come into formation. I jangled in a few chords and was pretty impressed with the results.

Did I mention this one is for free?

Here is a song I did in the app, moved to Garageband for a slight mix, then into Soundcloud, and then into Zeega …

Peace (in making music),
Kevin

Graphic Novel Review: Brass Sun (Wheel of the Worlds)

Wren lives in a dying world. A world that is part of a mechanical solar system, created long ago, and now its inner clockwork is slowing down. That system is now dying, and it is up to Wren and some companions to make her way through the inner workings of the solar system to find the disparate “keys” that will connect to rewind the clock and save the Sun, and all of the worlds that are revolving around it.

Brass Sun (Wheels of the World) is an intriguing ride as a graphic story, immersing you fully into an imagined world in which a Blind Watchmaker acted as a sort of God to create the mechanical solar system, and then divvied out the keys to different planets so that they would have to work together in times of crisis. It didn’t work. Instead of seeing each other as partners, they went to war with each other, trying to be the planet that would have the upper hand with the most “keys.”

Part steampunk, part sci-fi, part tech adventure, Brass Sun centers on Wren, who is sent on her mission by her grandfather just before he is captured and killed by a government suspicious of his activities (which run counter to the political, religious narrative of the time). There are lots of complicated smaller stories unfolding in Brass Sun, and writer Ian Edgington never lets you forget that this is a strange world he has imagined. The art by I. N. J. Culbard is wonderful and engaging, particularly in the oversized book that I got from my public library.

This book is part of a larger series apparently (since the story does not resolve at the end of the version I read). It would be appropriate for any middle and high school classroom and would surely engage those young readers who enjoy the concept of alternative world building. Wren, as a protagonist, is a strong female character.

Peace (in the worlds beyond worlds),
Kevin

At Middleweb: Digital Portfolios (teacher edition)

 

Kevin professional digital portfolio

In my latest blog post at Middleweb, I explore the potential of digital portfolios for teachers. (My follow-up in a few weeks will focus on how my students are creating their own digital writing portfolios as the school year comes to a close). Here, I explore my own shift towards a digital teaching portfolio as home for evidence and reflection for my educator evaluation process.

Check out: Exploring the Potential of Digital Portfolios

Peace (port it),
Kevin

Collaboration and Chaos: The Best Laid Plans Sometimes Fall Apart

Collaborative HaikuI am a big fan of the potential of collaborative projects. I’ve instigated my fair share of activities in online spaces, inviting people to make with me, and I’ve participated in even more. There’s often a certain “magic” with writing and creating with other people with digital tools that demonstrates attributes that get at the heart of how technology is changing the ways we learn. Collaboration has often been the heart and soul of the Making Learning Connected MOOC (and some of us still hope to launch a version of CLMOOC this summer) and Digital Writing Month and Rhizomatic Learning, etc.

I’ve done versions of those projects in my classroom, too, but harnessing the energy of 12 year olds can be a bit tricky, so I often have to think through the process before launching into them.

A collaborative poetry project this week reminded me of the difficulties of working with young writers not all that accustomed to working with others this way. We’ve used the “sharing” element of Google Docs and Slides this year, mostly for peer feedback. I know they share with friends, and I’ve seen some “side projects” among them.

In this case, I created a large Google Slideshow for our haikus, and told them to “choose a blank slide as your own” and create a haiku image. I also did a mini-lesson on using Creative Commons images as well as design principles, which we clearly are still working on. I had this vision of a beautiful and engaging activity, where nearly 80 haikus with images from across four classes would come together in a seamless way.

I reminded them not to tinker with anyone else’s slides because it was an quasi-open slideshow (they needed to be logged into school Google accounts to access it).

You see where this is going?

The first class of the day was wonderful. They did a great job, although some of their images wouldn’t load later in the day. It went nearly exactly as I planned. It was downhill from there. The second class did fine, but I got a few who shouted across the room to other students to “get out of my slide.” Some were confusing the icons at the top of the project (which shows all collaborators) with intrusion into an individual slide. A mini-lesson ensued.

The third class had trouble right at the start because the wireless connection caused the slideshow to load slow, and some chose what seemed to be an empty slide, only to realize it wasn’t empty after all. And some students there tried to leave little notes for friends in their slides. That got some writers upset.

The fourth class (a challenging group at times) .. I decided to assign a slide number of blank slides for each to work on. You are Slide 56. You are Slide 74. This seemed logical to me at the time as a way to avoid confusion over who was working in which slides.

But then, someone added in a few slides at the start, by accident (maybe), and all of the numbered slides were suddenly off, and so we had some more confusion over which person had which number. Someone deleted a blank slide. The numbers were off yet again. Another student accidentally set her image as the theme for the entire slideshow, so that now everyone had an image of green grass as their background. Shouts and murmurs. The “undo” key fixed it but not before a wave of complaints hit the air.

Collaboration suddenly edged up to chaos. It was like some strange comedy routine unfolding in a virtual space in real time.

At that point, I just said “grab a slide and add your poem” and let it be what it was. The result is an interesting slideshow, and a story to tell, but not everyone got their poems into the collaboration project. The ones that are there are very cool, though. I still love the idea.

And off course, I have not given up on collaboration. Still, my experience does raise the question of how to best guide students in this kind of low-stakes activity. And it reminds me, too, of why many teachers often don’t take that step forward into online collaboration. I was doing a lot of unexpected management of collaboration when what I really wanted the day built on implicit trust that they could do this rather simple task of collaboration.

What I forgot to remember was the innate curiosity and social nature of sixth graders. Duh.

Peace (in collaboration with you),
Kevin

 

Book Review: The Girl Who Soared Over Fairyland and Cut the Moon in Two

I’d be lying if I said I know what happened in this third book by Catherynne Valente. The Girl Who Soared Over Fairyland And Cut the Moon in Two, like its predecessors (The Girl Who Circumnavigated Fairyland in a Ship of Her Own Making and The Girl Who Fell Beneath Fairyland and Led the Revels There), is a trippy adventure into an unknown landscape that requires you to allow Valente to lead you forward into the unknown. (And what I didn’t know until now is that this Fairyland series grew out of a reference to a book in a previous book that Valente wrote …).

This not your typical fairy story. Disney, this is not.

At one point, the narrator even interrupts the story, to let us readers know that the path ahead will be strange and winding. We need to hold the narrator’s hand and trust in the story.

Everything that goes down must come up again. When you leave the world, the going gets tough, whether you are a chemical rocket or a little girl. Take my hand, I know the way. Narrators have a professional obligation not to let their charges fall onto the pavement. (p. 89)

I still fell, and I am grateful for it. With the hero (of sorts) a girl named September; a blue-skinned magical friend from Fairyland with the name of Saturday; a red fire-breathing dragon getting smaller with every burst of flame due to a curse; and a fast-moving Yeti who is the midwife to the Moon itself … you get the picture. This is an adventure that will keep you off balance for days with each character wilder than the previous.

It is Valente’s writing that is the glue that holds it all together, thankfully. Her style of writing is unlike anything I have come across in recent years, as she both tries to build off the Alice in Wonderland narrative of “anything is possible if you withhold reality” and metaphorically tells of a girl, September, growing up and moving out of childhood, and what that means when you lose touch with your imagination.

You really do have to read the first two books to understand this third one, though, and even then … well …. you do your best. Me? I am now reading the fourth one: The Boy Who Lost Fairyland. (And yet another book just came out later this year: The Girl Who Raced Fairyland All the Way Home)

I’ve never been able to get any of my students interested in this series, for whatever reason. Maybe it is the “fairy” reference in the title, or maybe it is Valente’s writing style and voice. The vocabulary can be a challenge, too. But it saddens me, because I think some of my higher reading students could plunge into the adventure and maybe never come out the other side.

Peace (in fairylands all around us),
Kevin

Free Comic Book Day is Nearly Here

In case you were unaware, this coming Saturday (May 7) is Free Comic Book Day at many local and independent book stores. I usually go with at least one of my boys and grab a few titles, some of which I bring into the classroom for literacy activities in the school year. I also tell my students about Free Comic Book Day and let them know a few places where they can go.

You can check your geographic area at the Free Comic Book Day website and it will let you know which stores are participating. Each year, the crowd gets larger in our area.

Peace (in the book),
Kevin

Interact: A Q from a Past S


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

I received this email the other day from a past student. They were in one of the first classes I ever used Twine with, as we were crafting interactive fiction stories as a writing activity. Years later, I guess that experience still sticks.

Dear Mr. Hodgson,

               Hi, how are you? I need a refresher on how to operate the Twine program for my science project. Is their any written form of instructions to operate the system that I could have a copy of? Or any other ideas to help me with my project will be fine. Thank you for time, I look forward to hear from you.
Sincerely,
(Student)

I was so happy to hear from this student because I last saw them in the high school theater production but I was also very happy that they were asking about how to use something we did in sixth grade for a high school project. That’s pretty cool, eh?

I sent this email, and a few others have gone back and forth in the last few days between us.

Hi (Student)
It’s great to hear from you.
Twine has a new version out, called Twine 2. It’s more web browser-based and more stable, I think.
For the older version of Twine, which was a software download, which we used in class, I always went to this site for help and instructions
We have begun using Google Slides and hyperlinks that jump from slide to slide as our main tool for Interactive Stories. It’s been pretty effective. You can do it right in your school Google account.
Inkewriter is another online tool
I hope that helps. Let me know how it goes. I’d love to play your project!
Sincerely,
Mr. Hodgson

I really do hope they sent me their project to play.

Peace (interact),
Kevin

Slice of Life: Another Firefly Fanboy (A Dad’s Role, Done)

“I’m going to show you Firefly,” I told my youngest son the other day. He is 11 1/2 and has been completely taken over by the recent Star Trek movies, which we finally let him watch this year, and so I knew he would be ready for Firefly.

“Ooooh,” his older brothers teased, as they are apt to do. “Firefly. Now you get to watch a real show.”

Which isn’t a fair statement at all. We’ve been watching The Flash together, my youngest and me, and I think that show is fine entertainment. And he has watched some of the older Star Trek: Next Generation series with me, too. And he is and remains a massive Star Wars fanboy.

Still, the older ones can’t resist a chance to poke fun at the younger one. You know how it is.

And Firefly IS sort of a rite of passage, at least in our house. Not only is it Joss Whedon’s great remix of space and westerns, it is legendary as the television show that launched a protests when it was cancelled after only one season (but later, those growing fan protests led to the creation of the movie, Serenity, which I had to see in theaters alone when it came out because my wife is not a fan of sci-fi and my kids were too young.)

He knows Whedon’s name now from those loud (and I think, overwrought) Avenger movies. (Joss Whedon and JJ Abrams are household names here, as my sons are all deep into movies and moviemaking).

One of the pleasures (there are many) about having kids to show things like this to is that you get to sit with them and experience it all over again, too. It has been some years since I last watched Firefly (now streaming on Netflix, thankfully), but I still enjoyed the set-up of the pilot, the introductions of characters, and the strands of the story that Whedon spins. A few scenes were a little adultish for the 11 year old, but nothing too bad. (Cover your eyes, I said during one scene, and he did.)

We watched the pilot show (and the older boys stayed, too) and I could tell he was hooked. I sort of feel bad about it, because when the season ends … that’s pretty much it (except for the movie). But, I can say, I did my job as a dad here. I’ve got another fanboy in the house.

Now, if I can just get them interested in Lost

Peace (in space),
Kevin